ON THE WATERFRONT: What became of the pirate-spotting cruiser launched in Sunderland?

Our photograph this week shows a model of the armed cruiser and cable ship Fee Cheu, which was launched by William Doxford and Sons at Pallion on April 23, 1887.

Friday, 24th July 2020, 12:00 am
The armed cruiser and cable ship Fee Cheu.

She was a 220-foot steel screw steamer of 1,034 gross tons, built to lay down and repair submarine telegraph cables between Tamsui, Formosa (Taiwan) and Sharp Peak at the mouth of the Min River, China.

Equipped with two six-inch Armstrong breechloaders and four small Armstrong guns in the ‘tween decks, her secondary role was to conduct anti-piracy patrols in the area, where pirates were particularly active.

Propelled by triple-expansion Doxford engines indicating 1,100 horse-power, she was designed to be capable of a speed of 12.5 knots, which was comfortably exceeded on June 18 when she ran trials on the measured mile off Whitley Bay, reaching an average of 12.8 and maximum of 13.45 knots. Her International Code Signal letters were KMPS.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Although her first owner was recorded as being James Whittall of London, this was only for her delivery voyage from the Wear, from where she sailed for London on June 28.

In command of Captain Lugar and presumably loaded with cable, she cleared London customs on July 26, arriving at Hong Kong on September 21. Afterwards, she passed into the ownership of the Imperial Republic of China.

By October 4, 1887, Fee Cheu was at Foochowfoo awaiting favourable weather off the mainland; the Formosan end of the telegraph cable already having been laid. This had been manufactured at the India Rubber Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works of East London.

Later, Fee Cheu was involved in connecting Formosa with the French occupied Pescadore archipelago.

In 1895, with the cessation of Formosa to Japan as a result of the first Sino-Japanese war, Fee Cheu came into possession of the Chinese Fukien government, being transferred to Chinese Maritime Customs in 1906.

Little more is known of her career, but is believed that she was destroyed by the Japanese about 1937 during the second Sino-Japanese war. The ship’s name is inconsistently reported as being Fee Chew, Feichen, Feicheu, Foo Chow and Fu Chow.