World War I

The EMPRESS OF ASIA, returning from Europe with Canadian troops, approaches Victoria harbour on 24 January 1919.

The EMPRESS OF ASIA, commanded by Captain Samuel Robinson, sailed from Victoria on July 9th 1914 bound for the Orient on a regularly scheduled and typical commercial voyage. After arrival at Hong Kong war fears resulted in requisition by the Royal Navy and the ship was quickly converted into an Auxiliary Cruiser with the installation of eight 4.7” guns.  A complement of Royal Navy Officers assumed command of the ship and only Officers with Royal Naval Reserve status were retained.  The First Naval Captain was Commander C. Walcott who was succeeded by Commander P. Colomb.  Samuel Robinson remained aboard as Navigational Officer.

The crew was comprised of Chinese sailors, Royal Navy sailors, and a party of French sailors from the French ships on the Yangtse.

The first assignment of the EMPRESS OF ASIA was to the Yellow Sea to assist the battleship TRIUMPH in the blockade of the German naval base at Tsingtau.

The next deployment was to the fleet stationed off the Philippines whose mission was to prevent German and Austrian ships from escaping from Manila harbour.  This fleet also contained the ship’s sister, the EMPRESS OF RUSSIA.   During this assignment the EMPRESS OF ASIA unsuccessfully chased the German steamer MARKS who managed to reach the security of neutral Manila. 

Following the Philippines deployment the EMPRESS OF ASIA was based at Colombo and assigned to escort transports in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.  The ship participated in the pursuit of the German cruiser EMDEN during October and November of 1914 and reached Keeling Island in the Cocos Islands group. The EMDEN was eventually lost to the Australian cruiser HMAS SYDNEY on November 9th 1914; subsequently the EMPRESS OF ASIA began searching for survivors of the EMDEN fleeing on the schooner AYESHA

Following the EMDEN incident, the ship returned to Colombo and convoy escort duties.

The next assignment was to the Middle East where the EMPRESS OF ASIA became the flagship of the British auxiliary cruiser squadron patrolling the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.  For several months Aden was a base of operations and activities including the bombardment of the Ottoman garrison at Sheiksaid and the blockade of Ottoman port facilities from supply dhows.

Upon completion of Middle East assignments the ship was dispatched to Bombay for dry-docking and overhaul.  On October 22 nd 1915, while at Bombay she was released from war duties and returned to her owners, Canadian Pacific Ocean Services. 

During November of 1915 the ship was in Hong Kong undergoing a thorough conversion to a condition appropriate for a return to the Trans-Pacific mercantile trade.  By April the re-fitting was complete and on May 6 th 1916 the EMPRESS OF ASIA, now commanded by Capt. Wellesley Davison entered Victoria harbour and once again resumed sailing the familiar voyage to the Orient.

The ship remained on the Trans-Pacific mercantile run for two years when the demands of war resulted in the requisition of the ship again, this time as a troop carrier on the Atlantic. 

The EMPRESS OF ASIA was requisitioned by the Government of Canada on April 13th, 1918 and sailed for New York on May 22nd, 1918.  The ship carried 3, 600 Chinese labourers, members of Labour Battalions, who were required in a supportive role in the War in Europe, and reached New York via Panama.  At New York, the crew on Chinese Articles signed off, and a replacement crew of 431, obtained from the EMPRESS OF JAPAN at Vancouver, was rushed across the continent by rail reaching New York on June 17th, 1918.  On June 20th, 1918 the EMPRESS OF ASIA sailed from New York bound for Liverpool.  The ship was to make four round trips from the eastern coast of the United States to Great Britain and France carrying American soldiers.

With the Armistice of 1918 the EMPRESS OF ASIA was almost immediately enlisted to transport Canadian troops home.  The ship sailed from Liverpool on January 2nd 1919 with over 1,300 military personnel on board.

Victoria was reached on January 24th 1919 and Vancouver the following day.

The EMPRESS OF ASIA was quickly re-fitted for peacetime duties at the Wallace yard in North Vancouver and re-entered the Trans-Pacific mercantile trade beginning the first post-war voyage on February 27th 1919 bound for the Orient.

At both ports the ship and passengers were greeted with large and enthusiastic welcomes.

The EMPRESS OF ASIA, returning from Europe with Canadian troops, enters Victoria harbour on 24 January 1919.

The photographs on this page depict the EMPRESS OF ASIA, returning from Europe with Canadian troops, entering Victoria harbour on 24 January 1919.

Both photographs on this page are courtesy of Drew Waveryn.

For a complete list of the soldiers who returned in January 1919 on the Empress of Asia, use the two links below!

Victoria

Vancouver

Follow the link below to see the crew serving on the Empress of Asia during this voyage!

Crew List

Follow the link below to read about the Asia Land Settlement Committee formed on the Empress of Asia during this voyage!

Asia Land Settlement Committee

Follow the link below to read about the Chinese Labour Corps!

Chinese Labour Corps

LIST OF CASUALTIES

The following names are crewmembers of the EMPRESS OF ASIA who lost their lives during the First World War. If available, a photograph of each casualty's respective tombstone can be seen by clicking on their name.

Thanks to Chris Morris of http://www.tadcaster-ww1-memorials.com/ for providing information on Ip Yee and Lung Sack.

NAME

RATING

NATIONALITY

COMMEMORATION

Fong, Tsang

Cook

Chinese

Merchant Navy Memorial,

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Poa, Ho

Cook

Chinese

Merchant Navy Memorial,

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Fisher, E.

Steward

Canadian\British

Merchant Navy Memorial,

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Smith, Alexander

Joiner

Canadian

Merchant Navy Memorial,

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Wong Wong

Greaser

Chinese

Merchant Navy Memorial,

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Ip Yee

Trimmer

Chinese

Borella Cemetery, Sri Lanka

Lung Sack

Fireman

Chinese

Borella Cemetery, Sri Lanka


Canadian Pacific Employee Memorial

If you have arrived here and cannot see the Table of Contents to the left,

Please click HERE and visit our mainpage!