Harbour wreckage very likely Hong Kong’s most famous military ship, HMS Tamar, report finds
A marine archaeologist will be commissioned to confirm identity of scuttled vessel and determine its heritage value
Wreckage found during harbour dredging in Wan Chai in 2014 is very likely the remains of HMS Tamar, Hong Kong’s most famous military ship, which was scuttled by the British navy in 1941 to prevent her from falling into Japanese hands, according to a belated government-commissioned preliminary study.
However, without the ship’s bell, name plate or other unique identifier, the identity of the metal vessel – 40 metres long, 11 metres wide and two metres high – cannot be confirmed pending further investigations, the report said.
Its preliminary assessment, commissioned by the Civil Engineering and Development Department in March 2015, was finally published on Tuesday, 18 months after its completion in September 2015.
Late Thursday, a department spokeswoman told the Post its original intention was to publish the preliminary study at the same time the detailed investigation ended so that the public would have a fuller picture of the findings.
“Since there were media enquiries about the preliminary assessment, we decided to publish it now,” she said.
But the department said it would shortly commission a marine archaeologist to conduct a detailed investigation of the wreckage’s identity and heritage value.
The wreckage was discovered by a government contractor in late 2014 about 6.5 metres under the seabed during dredging works near the old Wan Chai Ferry Pier.
It was moved 100 metres from its original location to allow waterfront reclamation and development to continue for the Central-Wan Chai Bypass.
The report by SDA Marine, an international specialist consultancy, showed 777 artefacts were found as of April 30, 2015, of which 238 were scrap iron ballast known as “kentledge” and the other 539 pieces were “special finds”, including copper alloy stamps, brass doorknobs, locks, and a brass Royal Marines cap badge and brass Royal Marines buttons dating to between the 1840s and 1910.
One of the most significant discoveries was a copper alloy replica of a Royal Navy commodore’s pennant.
The report said the Hong Kong naval base in 1934 was under the command of Commodore Frank Elliot RN, whose headquarters and flagship until the second world war was HMS Tamar. “This object is therefore a highly significant find,” it added.
Another significant find was a nameplate or “tingle” belonging to an Edgar Charles Goodman of the Royal Marines bearing the inscription: “PLY 11217 E Goodman 7.13”.
Goodman’s service record revealed he reached Hong Kong in 1914, serving on a gunboat named HMS Thistle and that he might have spent time on Tamar before leaving the city in January 1915.
The report said some wreck features suggested a clear connection with a Royal Navy ship and supported a “tentative identification” as HMS Tamar, a barque-rigged, three-masted sail and steam powered troopship built in 1863 measuring 98 metres long and 14 metres wide.
“There are the structural remains of the vessel itself: its sheer size, riveted wrought iron construction with large timber elements bolted on, white over red lead paint finish, and possible evidence for artillery or explosives damage, which all fit with Tamar’s design specification, recorded sinking and partial salvage.”
The ship was moored off the Wan Chai waterfront right after Japanese occupation from December 8, 1941. Shortly after, the British decided to scuttle all ships not of use in the battle.
“The wreck of HMS Tamar is located precisely where the object was discovered,” the report said. “This finding ... clearly adds significant further weight to the argument that the object may well be the much reduced remnants of the wreck of HMS Tamar.”
Maritime Museum senior curator Libby Chan Lai-pik said if the wreckage proved to be the remains of HMS Tamar, it had a significant historical value as it reflected pre-war shipbuilding and maritime technology in Hong Kong from that time.
“If the government requires our service, we are happy to provide help such as restoration and conservation advice,” she said.