The Personnel Files The Saga of William Hopkins The Takao Club

The Saga of William Hopkins (1856-1880)

(Based on an article originally published in 2001 by Karen Schmitt in 'New Views of Southern Taiwan')

William Hopkins, proud son of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland, felt a tug on his heart. His brother, James, had left home and settled in Australia. William missed James terribly. So when the opportunity arose to join the crew of the 'West Glen', a Swedish trading ship bound for Asia, William Hopkins jumped at the chance.

Hopkins had had little experience at sea, but he reasoned his chores would not be difficult. Besides, the 'West Glen' was scheduled to call at Melbourne, Australia. Although he knew his stay at Melbourne would be brief -  just long enough to replenish cargo and make repairs -  he figured that he would have the chance to be reunited with his brother, James.

William Hopkins was the only Irishman in the crew as the 'West Glen' set sail from Antwerp ...

     Thus William Hopkins' voyage from Europe to Australia began. A trip by sea was a remarkable event during the late 19th century. The route, followed the coast of Africa and then into the Bass Strait north of Tasmania, which was especially perilous. Many vessels, even ocean-going steam ships, were lost in these waters as they made the approach to Melbourne.
     There the tale might have ended but for the diligence of two Kaohsiung residents, Mai Han-ming and Andrew Mahon.

     Whilst searching for the graves of his own Hokkien ancestors, Mai Han-ming stumbled across the long-forgotten tombstone of William Hopkins on the slopes of Shou Shan Mountain behind the National Sun Yat-sen University.

      Drawing on local records and an article in the Belfast Gazette, the two were able to piece together more of the story.

     William Hopkins had indeed survived the perilous voyage through the Bass Straits and duly arrived at the port of Melbourne. There he was reunited with his brother James for a few days before setting sail once more, this time for Japan.

     The 'West Glen' then called in to Takow (Kaohsiung), but, as the seas were rough, was forced to anchor out at sea. In those days a shifting sandbar in front of the lagoon entrance made any entry perilous during the southwest monsoon.

William Hopkins' Gravestone, 1979

William Hopkins' Gravestone, 2004

     To enter the harbour of Takow to collect supplies, some West Glen crew members boarded a small skiff. However the July seas were incredibly rough and William Hopkins was thrown from the boat.

     As Hopkins was already sick from the long voyage he was unable to swim back to the skiff and drowned.

     This incident is further embellished in the 1880 Maritime Customs Report for Takow. Mr W B Russell, the Assistant-in-Charge, in elucidating the problems caused by the Takow Bar, sadly relates that : 'On the 20th July a boat, manned by Europeans belonging to West Glen, when attempting to enter the harbour, was capsized, and its occupants all thrown into the water. A very heavy sea was breaking at the time, and it was with great difficulty that the men were able to regain their boat, which was floating bottom upwards. Fortunately, the tide was running in, or it is doubtful if a single soul would have been saved; as it was, catamarans and sampans of all descriptions were ready inside the smooth water to render all assistance possible, and as the boat drifted in the men were taken off one by one and carried ashore. It was then found that a man named WILLIAM HOPKINS was missing, and although every effort was made to recover the body - one of the drowned man's messmates diving for it several times, - it was not found until two days afterwards.'

     Distant relatives of William Hopkins were delighted to learn that Mai Han-ming had taken such an interest in William, and a friendly correspondence ensued between Northern Ireland and Southern Taiwan. Because the foreign gravestone is a curiosity in its present location, and because it has been neglected over the years, Mai Han-ming tried to find a suitable way to transfer the remains. Superstitions surrounding spirits, especially foreign spirits, apparently made the task difficult.
Note: Mai Han-ming's related work concerning his ancestors' graves was published in 'Takao Histiography'. Jul-Sep 1999.
The Personnel Files The Saga of William Hopkins The Takao Club