The Takao Club



Early Days : 1855 - 1870

Heyday : 1870 - 1895

Latter Days : 1895 on

Present- day with Map


     The following pages attempt to give an introduction to the history of the ShaoChuanTou area, which lies just to the north of the First Harbour Entrance of Kaohsiung Port in Taiwan. The first three pages describe the unsteady beginning, the subsequent success and then decline of the foreign settlement at ShaoChuanTou, while the map page provides a link between the history and its modern day traces as of 2004. 

As ever, any comments, criticisms or contributions are most welcome via takao [at]

The Early Days - 1855 to 1870

     Following the expulsion of the Dutch by Koxinga in 1661, Taiwan was not opened to foreigners again for another 200 years. The opening came in 1860, two years after the Treaty of Tientsin of 1858 which concluded the Second Opium War. However, despite the official arrangements for foreign residence not being finally concluded until 1864, certain foreigners had already established themselves prior to that date in the south of Taiwan.

     The port that attracted the interest of the foreigners was not that of An-ping (Tainan), which had lured the Dutch in the 17th century, as the bay had silted up. The harbour that now offered safe anchorage from the typhoons, and perhaps shelter from the pirates, was the lagoon beside Takow (Takao, Kaohsiung) further to the south.

The Harbour

     The engraving on the right shows the entrance into the lagoon (or, inner harbour) during this early period. On the right in the engraving can be seen Saracen's Head, on the left is ShaoChuanTou, in the background is the Central Mountain Range, and within the harbour can be seen the masts of trading vessels.

     The image, taken from Collingwood's 1868 book, also shows a large rock apparently in the centre of the entrance. In fact the entrance was, and is, to the right of this rock. Brown & Co of Amoy were later to construct a breakwater to close the left channel and reclaim the land behind it; and the Japanese to blast away parts of the central rock and Saracen's Head to widen the harbour entrance.

Entrance to Takow Harbour in 1860s

The Sugar

          A junk trade had existed with the mainland of China for many years in Formosan sugar, which was mainly cultivated in the south of the island. This trade, valued at around half a million silver (Mexican) dollars, attracted the interest of the American firm of Robinet & Co. The head of the firm, W M Robinet made a successful trading voyage from Hong Kong in 1855 and set up in Takow in 1856.

An 1859 illustration of a sugar godown in south Formosa

     There was also a Captain Crosbie, another US citizen, who entered Kaohsiung port in early 1855, possibly preceding the others. He recounts that he was carried by sedan chair up to Tainan (Taiwan-fu) where he negotiated an agreement with the Tao-tai (Circuit Intendant, or mandarin official responsible for Taiwan prefecture).

     According to his report published in the San Francisco Daily Herald of 28 July 1855, he offered officials $100 as port dues plus $1 per 100 bags of rice or sugar, and 50 cents upon every bale of opium, "a cargo which he brought to the island."

     The engraving on the left, which appeared in the Illustrated London News of November 1859, shows a crew of 'Manilla men, Chilians and a negro' preparing to load a cargo of sugar. It is interesting to note that Robinet was described as a Chilean, though also a Peruvian, and as a naturalised US citizen. This latter claim to US protection the British government was to dispute.

The Camphor

     A second trade to attract attention was that in camphor. C D Williams, representing his firm of Williams, Anthon & Co, made a successful trading journey to Takow also in 1855. In June the same year, he managed to obtain from the local circuit intendant (Tao-tai), a lawful right for the export of camphor on the condition of aiding in the suppression of piracy. 

     This right Williams subsequently agreed to share with a naturalized American citizen, William Robinet of Robinet & Co (see above), and thus the flag of the United States was first flown on Taiwan.

     The pre-eminence of these American traders raised some concern with the authorities in Hong Kong. Probably through diplomatic pressure, Messrs Robinet and Williams were shortly persuaded to give up their interests in Takow to Jardine Matheson & Co and Dent & Co.

The People

     As part of this early, but not sustained, American interest in Formosa, a certain Captain Rooney had assumed charge over the harbour of Takow and set himself up in a hulk within the lagoon. He is also said to have spent considerable sums on improving the harbour and to have a fine godown on the northern shore at ShaoChuanTou. (see Map page) 

     Captain Matthew Rooney, an Irish-American adventurer holding a British passport, was a practical man. He seemingly continued on at Takow as the commander of one of Jardine Matheson & Co’s opium receiving ships, called 'Pathfinder', which was probably the very same hulk upon which Rooney had lived. This ship though was for the trade of opium. 

An opium receiving ship in the Canton roads

Father Sainz OP

    Another significant arrival was that in 1858 of Father Fernando Sainz (see picture on the left) of the Spanish Dominicans who went on to found two of south Taiwan’s finest churches: one along the lagoon from Shao-chuan-tou at Cheng-kim (in modern-day Kaohsiung's Wu-fu Road); the other at the foot of the mountains in Bankimcheng (Wanchin). 

    Captain Rooney was to save Father Sainz from the clutches of the local mandarin. Sainz had been summoned before the Fengshan mandarin, for 'examination', after his tumultuous first few days on the island when he had exceptional difficulty in finding any place to lodge. 

     Rooney, who had at that time never met the man, saved him from the mandarin by vouchsafing for him and guaranteeing his good behaviour. The two men were thus to become unlikely friends with the fine mix of opium and religion.

     (For more on the story of Father Sainz read 'The Road to Bankimcheng').

     Later in 1858, Takow saw the arrival of Captain Oliver, a renowned and highly-skilled opium clipper captain, commanding the beautiful Dent & Co clipper ‘Eamont’ (see picture on right). An event retold in somewhat embellished version in Captain Lindsay Anderson's A Cruise on an Opium Clipper, written some thirty years after the fact.    

     Despite a strong antipathy between the purveyors of religion and opium on the one hand, and the two premier opium ‘hongs’ on the other, these men did commendably stand by each other.     

     The apparently magnanimous Captain Rooney was also to witness Captain Oliver’s purchase, or rather permanent leasing, of a large swathe of the foreshore below Ape Hill, called Shao-chuan-tou, the name given to the northern shore of the lagoon lying opposite Takow (Ke-how, Kiao) which then lay at today's Chi-hou on Chi-chin island (see map and explanation below).

The ex-slaver 'Nymph'. 

The opium clipper 'Eamont', built by White of Cowes in 1852 for Dent & Co,

 was probably modelled on the 'Nymph'.

The History

Detail from an annotated copy of a British Admiralty chart

     The map on the left, laying more or less North-South, is a detail from a British Admiralty chart (2376) that had been revised and updated, with forts inserted in 1888. However, it seems to show many elements that hark back to the 1858 HMS Saracen and 1865 HMS Swallow surveys.

     ShaoChuanTou is the area at the base of the upper headland. The lower 'hammerhead' is the eponymous Saracen's Head with a fort drawn in. The enclosed space below the Saracen's Head to the east is the town of Takow, now called Chi-hou.

     The land purchased by Captain Oliver on behalf of Dent & Co lay between the ShaoChuanTou headland (the small hill) and the walls of the Chinese compound beside a small bay. However, the shoreline was much further to the northwest at the time of purchase, as the British traders progressively reclaimed land from the lagoon. 

     As is noted above, Captain Oliver was in the employ of Dent & Co. This company or ‘hong’ seems to have enjoyed a very particular relationship to the British government in two ways. First, Dent & Co served as the conveyor of choice for HBM Consulate, carrying emissaries and mails. Second, Dent & Co was somehow able to purchase large tracts of land at recently opened ports, with their title often holding up better than that of the consular service. Notably Dent reportedly ‘owned all of the land the Shanghai Port was built on, and all lands around it for 100 Li, including all the tenants rents, and all customs tithes due to entry into the port’. 

     Captain Oliver’s land rights were soon transferred to Dent & Co. However, Dent & Co were to pull out of Takow within a few years and transferred their trade and property to Brown & Co of Amoy.

An early photograph of Shao-chuan-tou allegedly taken by William Pickering around 1867

     The photograph above shows Shao-chuan-tou viewed from the signal tower (now the lighthouse) on Saracen's Head, Chi-hou. The square pillared building in the centre is the Custom House. 

     The Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs (ICMC) was set up by William Maxwell, assisted by William Pickering (see below), in 1864 following the official opening of Takow as a Treaty Port in 1864. Sad to relate, Maxwell was to die the very next year, in 1865, showing perhaps the health risks associated with Formosan service.

     To its left of the Custom House is the Brown & Co godown and office, and beyond the Brown & Co building can be seen that of Elles & Co, for whom Pickering worked after leaving the ICMC upon the death of Maxwell. It seems that despite the purchase of such a large tract of land by Dent & Co, the major portion in the foreground remained undeveloped.

     The early promise of the camphor trade seemed illusory. The market in camphor as a medicine in Mainland China was fragmented and more efficiently served by the junk trade, as the junks could enter into the small Formosan rivers that led up to the stands of camphor trees. Moreover, the market for camphor as an embalming agent in India was at best static. However, the demand for camphor existed and several firms strove to match it - notably Elles & Co for whom William Pickering worked.

     Pickering's subsequent journey to the central port of Go-che (Wuchi, now Taichung Harbour)) to collect a large consignment of camphor led to a severe confrontation with the Ching officials. The officials claimed that despite the Tientsin Treaty, a monopoly on the trade of camphor belonged to them, asserting that 'Taiwan is not China'. The camphor was largely lost and a price was placed on Pickering's head which contributed to his departure from the island in 1870.

     Indeed it is said that no firm made money from the camphor trade after the early success of Williams. However when new commercial uses were found for camphor, such as for explosives and for celluloid, a new boom was to occur in the 1890s. Yet, soon after the Japanese took control of Taiwan in 1895, camphor was again to become a monopoly.

William A Pickering

'Protector of Chinese'

     The early days of Takow saw the last of the buccaneering days of the Old China Hands. These were men who were prepared to take big risks in the hope of sudden wealth. Many years before they had been supported by the British East India Company, but as 'John Company' withdrew in distaste of the opium trade, the British traders looked for support from the British Consuls and 'their' gunboats. However the British government, already overstretched by its Indian interests, saw the inherent dangers of a sudden collapse of the Ching Dynasty, and, by 1860, had preferred a policy of mutuality to one of confrontation with China.

     When, in 1868, disputes arose in Taiwan over the activities of missionaries and treaty rights to free trade (camphor), the traders demanded action from the British authorities. The assertion of British gunboat power by Consul Gibson, whilst applauded by the traders was viewed with horror by the British Foreign Office.

     It was clear that the days of sudden profit were drawing to an end, and indeed that Taiwan did not possess any fabulous riches that could easily be plundered. The time was coming for more plodding commercial enterprise, which was rewarded in the 1870s and 1880s with wealth for some.      

     Although Taiwan was but a small frontier of China in this early period, there were, apart from William Pickering and Father Sainz, many exceptional men who tarried at Takao. Notable amongst these men were three British men - Robert Swinhoe, Patrick Manson and James Maxwell.

Robert Swinhoe

1836 - 1877

     Robert Swinhoe (1836 - 1877) is considered to be one of the most successful exploring naturalists that have ever lived. His prolific studies of Taiwan's wildlife established his position not only as the instigator of the scientific study of the island's birds but also as a major contributor to the theory of evolution proposed by Darwin and Wallace.

     Swinhoe, chosen perhaps for his linguistic abilities, first came to Taiwan as early as 1856 and visited Takow by sea in 1858. He subsequently returned to Takow as the British government's representative in 1861. However after arriving in Takow he strove first to establish consulates in Tainan and Tamsui before returning to Takow in 1864, whereupon he set up the consulate aboard Dent & Co's receiving ship 'Ternate'. 

     After purchasing (leasing) land as a consular site in November 1864, which was subsequently used for the Foreign Cemetery, Swinhoe was to set up a residence at Chi-hou, on the south side of the lagoon, in 1865. In 1866, though remaining titular  Consul for Taiwan until 1873, Swinhoe was posted to Amoy and was only to return briefly to Taiwan in December 1868 following the camphor and missionary disturbances of that year.

For more on this remarkable naturalist see Robert Swinhoe.

     Patrick Manson, aged only 21, came to Takao as a 'community doctor' in June 1866, when there were just 16 European merchants in residence. The young Scottish doctor's job was to inspect all the ships entering and leaving the port, examine and treat the crews and care for the health of the community. In later life he was often to reminisce fondly about the 'days of beef and beer' in Takao.

     In 1872, he moved to Amoy, where he made many researches and discoveries in tropical medicine. Subsequently moving on to help found the Hong Kong Medical College, Manson taught (Dr) Sun Yat-sen who was the best student in the first graduating class.

     Whilst in Amoy, Manson was much distressed by the death of his younger brother, David, from sunstroke in 1878. His colleagues rallied around and a fund was set up which led to the opening of the David Manson Memorial Hospital on the slopes of Saracen's Head at Chi-hou in 1879.

     Upon his return to Britain, Manson helped to set up the London School of Tropical Medicine. Manson’s greatest achievement was to elucidate with Ronald Ross that the malarial parasite in the blood is spread from one person to another by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito. (While Ross was in India investigating, Manson encouraged and guided Ross from London). 

     This work enabled a cure for malaria to be found, and it may be said that the work had its origins in Takow. Indisputably Manson is regarded as the father of Tropical Medicine, and his copious diaries, held at Manson House in London, should be an excellent primary source on this period.

Patrick Manson

1844 - 1922

James Maxwell

1836 - 1921

     Dr James Maxwell (Senior) (Ma I-seng ), a 30 year-old missionary doctor sent out by the Presbyterian Church of England, came to Takow in 1865. 

     During his three years in Takow he founded the Chi-hou Presbyterian Church which still exists on Chi-chin Island, Kaohsiung. Chi-hou is the original location of Takow and lies to the southeast of Saracen's Head, to the south of Shao-chuan-tou, on today's Chi-chin Island. 

     Maxwell worked together with Dr Patrick Manson for three years in setting up a Public Hospital at Chi-hou which not only treated the foreign residents but also the native residents. The hospital was later named the David Manson Memorial Hospital, in honour of Patrick Manson's younger brother David who died suddenly in Amoy. 

     Maxwell moved to Tainan in 1868, but was met with much local hostility as it was believed that missionary doctors were cutting up dead bodies to make opium. This contributed to the severe disturbances against foreigners that took place in 1868. However, Dr Maxwell was to survive and establish Tainan's Sin Lau (Sinlau) Christian Hospital which still stands today.

For more on the foreign settlement at Shao-chuan-tou, and particularly the effects of the opening of the Japanese markets, read on to the 'bitter-sweet' times of the 'Heyday : 1870 - 1895'.

Early Days : 1855 - 1870

Heyday : 1870 - 1895

Latter Days : 1895 on

Present-day with Map