Chinese Sailors on the Titanic

There were eight Chinese passengers aboard Titanic, all of them sailors who found themselves out of work because of the coal strike in Britain.

All were reassigned to a Donald Line freighter, Annetta, which was docked in New York and chartered by the Atlantic Fruit Company to sail to Cuba.  From there, the sailors hoped to make their way back to Hong Kong.

Their names vary on a number of manifests, but U.S. Immigration record them as Ah Lam (or Ali Lam), Len Lam, Bing Lee (or Lee Bing), Fang Lang, Chip Chang (or Chang Chip) , Foo Cheang (or Choong Foo), and Ling Hee. They all travelled on a single ticket, number 1601 (£59, 9s, 11d).

The Lams were Cantonese; the others were British subjects from Hong Kong. Bing Lee was married, all the others were single.  Asians, even if they travelled on British passports, were marginalized in Europe and North America in 1912. They were tolerated but not accepted in society and would have been shunned and not have been able to socialize with other steerage passengers aboard Titanic.

Perhaps because they were sailors and knew the inner workings of a ship, all of them made it into the lifeboats, but only six survived. According to one newspaper, the two who died, Len Lam and Ling Lee, hid themselves under the slats in the lifeboat and were “crushed to death by the weight of the other passengers sitting on top of them. ” In fact, they probably died of hypothermia.

There is disagreement over which boats they escaped in. Four of the men are thought to have escaped in Collapsible C, one possibly in lifeboat 13 and the sixth was picked up from the water by the sailors in lifeboat 14.

 

Re: Collapsible C.

According to Mrs Frank Goldsmith some of the Chinese sailors were discovered when Murdoch and Wilde attempted to prevent a rush on Collapsible C. Four of the Chinese sailors allegedly refused to get out of the boat and hid down among the women passengers; Mrs Goldsmith said that the officer didn't dare fire at them for fear of hitting the women, so the boat was eventually lowered away with four of the Chinese sailors still aboard.

Second Officer: Charles Lightoller:

Board of Trade Inquiry
14001 Ultimately she was filled with women, the collapsible boat?
Yes, I believe it was a new boat, where a couple of Phillipinos or Chinese got in, they stowed away under the thwarts or something. But for that there were no men except crew - except the men I ordered in.

Quartermaster George Rowe and Bruce Ismay testified that the men were only discovered after the boat had been lowered.

Senate Inquiry
Senator BURTON. The passengers, aside from your sailors, were all women and children?
Mr. ROWE. Except Mr. Ismay and another gentleman. When daylight broke, we found four men, Chinamen, I think they were, or Filipinos.
Senator BURTON. Were those additional to the 39?
Mr. ROWE. Yes, sir.
Senator BURTON. All the rest of the 39 were women and children, except two, Mr. Ismay and another gentleman?
Mr. ROWE. Yes, sir.
Senator BURTON. When day broke, you found four Chinamen or Filipinos under the seats?
Mr. ROWE. Not under the seats then, sir. They came up between the seats.

Board of Trade Inquiry
17646. And the rest of the people were what?
What I thought were women and children.
17647. Did they prove to be women and children? –
No, not at daybreak.
17648. Why? Tell us about that? -
I found four Chinamen aboard.
17649. Where were they? –
I could not see at the time.
17650. They were in the boat somewhere? -
They were in there at daybreak.
17651. How they got in you do not know, I suppose? -
No.
17652. (The Commissioner.) Were they all women and children, with the exception of three Chinamen? -
Four Chinamen and Mr. Ismay and Mr. Carter.
17653. I have two male passengers. Were the rest all women and children with the exception of the crew and the four Chinamen?
And the two gentlemen.

First Class Passenger: J. Bruce Ismay

Senate Inquiry.
Senator FLETCHER. How many men were in the boat?
Mr. ISMAY. Three - four. We found four Chinamen stowed away under the thwarts after we got away. I think they were Filipinos, perhaps. There were four of them.

Board of Trade Inquiry.
18563.Am I right, then, in this, that there were women and children and some members of the crew to man the boat and two passengers, yourself and Mr. Carter?
Yes, and four Chinamen were in the boat.
18564.Four Chinamen who, we have heard, were discovered after the boat was lowered?
Yes.


Re: Lifeboat 13

Saloon Steward: Frederick Dent Ray.

Senate Inquiry.
Senator SMITH. I would like to know how many first-class male passengers there were.
Mr. RAY. I could not say, sir. There was one Japanese. I remember a Japanese, very well, being there. I have no idea, because I could not discriminate second from third class passengers.


Re: Lifeboat 14

One of the other sailors, identity not definitely established but sometimes listed as Fang Lang, was later found, lashed to a door or board by Officer Lowe when he took lifeboat 14 back to pick up survivors from the water. This fact was verified by Saloon Steward: George Frederick Crowe:

Senate Inquiry.
Mr. CROWE. ... also a Japanese or Chinese young fellow that we picked up on top of some of the wreckage - it might have been a sideboard or table - that was floating around...

Second Class Passenger: Charlotte Collyer:

A little further on, we saw a floating door that must have been torn loose when the ship went down. Lying upon it, face downward, was a small Japanese. He had lashed himself with a rope to his frail raft, using the broken hinges to make the knots secure. As far as we could see, he was dead. The sea washed over him every time the door bobbed up and down, and he was frozen stiff. He did not answer when he was hailed, and the officer hesitated about trying to save him.
"What's the use?" said Mr. Lowe. He's dead, likely, and if he isn't there's others better worth saving than a Jap!"
He had actually turned our boat around; but he changed his mind and went back. The Japanese was hauled on board, and one of the women rubbed his chest, while others chafed his hands and feet. In less time than it takes to tell, he opened his eyes. He spoke to us in his own tongue; then, seeing that we did not understand, he struggled to his feet, stretched his arms above his head, stamped his feet, and in five minutes or so had almost recovered his strength. One of the sailors near to him was so tired that he could hardly pull his oar. The Japanese bustled over, pushed him from his seat, took the oar and worked like a hero until we were finally picked up. I saw Mr. Lowe watching him in open-mouthed surprise.
"By Jove!" muttered the officer. "I'm ashamed of what I said about the little blighter. I'd save the likes o' him six times over, if I got the chance."


Once the six survivors arrived in New York, they were detained, “placed under guard by U.S. Immigration officers,” and immediately escorted to the Annetta, which sailed the next day for Cuba.  Four of the survivors later filed damage claims with the White Star Line: Chip Chang for $177, Fang Lang, for $137, and Bing Lee $99.34 and Ling Lee’s wife  filed for $91.05 for the loss of her husband,

References
Charlotte Collyer: The Semi-Monthly Magazine, May 1912, How I was Saved from the Titanic
Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55[279])
List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigration Officer At Port Of Arrival (Date: 18th-19th June 1912, Ship: Carpathia) - National Archives, NWCTB 85 T715 Vol 4183
United States Senate (62nd Congress), Subcommittee Hearings of the Committee on Commerce, Titanic Disaster, Washington 1912
Wreck Commissioners' Court, Proceedings before the Right Hon. Lord Mersey on a Formal Investigation Ordered by the Board of Trade into the Loss of the S.S. Titanic

Contributors
George Behe, USA
Chris Dohany, USA
Peter Engberg, Sweden
Michael A. Findlay, USA
Alan Hustak, Canada

Related Biographies:

Lee Bing
Chang Chip
Choong Foo
Ling Hee
Ali Lam
Len Lam
Fang Lang
Lee Ling

Comment and discuss

  1. Gavin Bell said:

    I am interested to know what became of the . Does anyone know what happened to them after the disaster, i.e., when they died, where they lived out their days, etc? If anyone can help me please either contact me personally or send the information to Encyclopedia Titanica. Thanks Cameron Bell

  2. Michael Findlay said:

    Dear Cameron, After the Chinese sailors sailed aboard the Anetta, we lose all track of them. My fellow historians and I have tracked down almost all of the surviving passengers, but we undoubtedly agree that the Chinese will be the last to find, if ever at all. Their names appear differently on every official list compiled so their real names may never be known. I have relied on the spellings of their names that appeared on their claims against the White Star Line. These documents are housed at the National Archives in New York City. These documents actually contain their own... Read full post

  3. George Behe said:

    Hi, Cameron! On April 21st the six Chinese survivors sailed for the West Indies on board the steamship Anetta. After that, AFAIK, the Scribe is silent. :-) All my best, George Behe

  4. Hydie Cheung said:

    Hi! My name is Hydie and I am new to this forum. I have been visiting this site for a year already. Such a cool site! I always have this question in my head. Are there any information regarding to the eight Chinese passengers in the third class? Since I was born in Hong Kong, I have a special feeling on these poor souls who were suffering in that terrible disaster in 1912. The only info I know about them is that they were from Hong Kong and they worked as firemen. Does anyone has more information about them?? It would helps. Just out of my curiosity. Thanks!! - Hydie

  5. avatar

    Dave Gittins said:

    Hydie, welcome to our merry band. The Chinese firemen were going to join their ship in the US. I don't seem to have the name of the ship but I have some basic information about some of the men. It's not very legible, so I'll try to make sense of it and pass it on. There really isn't much known though.

  6. Hydie Cheung said:

    Thanks Dave - Hydie

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  7. George Behe said:

    Hi, Hydie! The ship that the Chinese passengers were intending to join was the Anetta of the Donald Steamship Co. They sailed on that vessel for the West Indies on April 20th. All my best, George

  8. Hydie Cheung said:

    ^^ West Indies!! Hmm.. that's interesting.. Thanks a lot, George =D - Hydie

  9. Hydie Cheung said:

    So that means they did come to the United States and stayed, huh? Hmmm.. or.. did they? Any extra info about their lives after the disaster? - Hydie

  10. avatar

    Dave Gittins said:

    Hydie, I'm still working on this but the US records show that they had no intention of staying in the US. They are listed as "non-immigrant aliens". Their fares were paid by the Donald Steamship Company. They all originally came from Hong Kong but they seem to have been wandering workers. They gave their last address as London, England. I'm still not happy with the names given on ET and I'm going to consult a Chinese friend.

  11. Hydie Cheung said:

    I see. Thanks for the information Dave! It's make much sense to me that they are wandering workers, for most of the people who took the job as a fireman at that time must be fairly poor. And about the names, it's actually hard to check if they've changed them, for Chinese names often have different translations in English. Thanks a lot of looking up the info for me, Dave! I appreciate it! :D - Hydie

  12. Iain Stuart Yardley said:

    I read somewhere that one of these Chinese men was last known to be living in the north of England and running a restaurant up until the 1960's. It's likely not true though. Cheers, Boz

  13. Hydie Cheung said:

    Wow~ Thanks Boz~ That's very interesting. I am surprise that you guys can get their news, since there are only a very limited info of them after the disaster. Thanks a lot~! Love, Hydie

  14. avatar

    Dave Gittins said:

    I think I've heard the same tale somewhere but I'm pretty certain it's another fairy tale.

  15. avatar

    Dave Gittins said:

    OK, with the help of my Hong Kong educated friend, Rebecca Wong, I am able to provide a corrected list of the Chinese passengers. Many thanks to Rebecca for her knowledge of Chinese tradition. We looked at two primary sources. The oldest is the list of alien passengers who boarded at Southampton. (BT27/780B). This was hand-written and the clerk used a single column containing both surnames and given names. He put the surnames last, as in, for example, Rosa Abbott, so western names appear normal. This is the reverse of Chinese practice, in which surnames are placed first, but the... Read full post

  16. Hydie Cheung said:

    Wow, Dave~ This is very detailed and interesting indeed!! Thank you very much for taking time to do this little research. I'm amazed by how diversed the Titanic passengers are. Incredible informations!! Thank you very much! Always, Hydie

  17. Jeremy Lee said:

    So what happened to the men after the disaster if they left America after the sinking? I think that little research is done on this aspect of Chinese on board the Titanic compared to the others. Another question - were all the Chinese men from Hong Kong?

  18. avatar

    Dave Gittins said:

    The US immigration records merely gives the birthplace of the 6 survivors as China, which covers a bit of real estate. They may have been from Hong Kong, which was a British colony at the time. Presumably they joined their ship and got on with life. Barring something from the Hong Kong papers, they'll remain men of mystery.

  19. Bob Godfrey said:

    A little more from Craig Stringer's - the claims against White Star for property loss (using Dave's version of their names): Chang Chip $172.14 Cheong Foo $96.16 Ling Hee $91.05 Fang Lang $137.09 Lee Bing $99.34

  20. Chris Dohany said:

    Ellis Island records give the places of birth of all but one of the surviving sailors as Hong Kong; the remaining man, Lam, is listed as having been born in "Canton," China.

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2003) Chinese Sailors on the Titanic ( ref: #1150, published 28 August 2003, generated 2nd July 2020 01:07:46 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/chinese-sailors-titanic.html