This Day in History – July 25th, 1894

Even prior to the Second World War, there has been a long animosity between China and Japan, and on this day in 1894 a British steamship called Kowshing found herself in the crossfire of these two waring empires.

Kowshing 1

The naval conflict occurred off Korean shores; earlier that year the Donghak Peasant Revolution had broken out in Korea, and China and Japan intervened by supporting opposing sides in this revolution.

While China tried to maintain its influence over Korea, Japan was seizing its opportunity to increase its international influence. At the request of different factions within the Korean government, both China and Japan already had troops in Korea. By early July, 1894, approximately 3,000 Chinese troops were stationed near Seoul, but could only effectively receive supplies via the Bay of Asan, which was being blockaded by the Japanese Navy.

Kowshing 3

Captain Galsworthy loses command of his ship.

Both the records of the Chinese and the Japanese ships claim that the other side opened fire first; either way, a skirmish broke out between two Chinese ships, cruiser Jiyuan and gunboat Kwang-Yi, and the three Japanese cruisers: the Akitsushima, the Naniwa, and the Yoshino.

The Chinese ships were on their way to meet up with the troop transport ship Kowshing and Tsao-kiang. The Kowshing was sailing under the British flag and thereby neutral in this conflict, despite the fact that she was carrying 1,200 Chinese troops as reinforcements. 

Japanese cruiser Naniwa intercepted the Kowshing and ordered her to follow them. The English captain, Thomas Ryder Galsworthy, acquiesced after formal protest of British neutrality, however, this inspired a mutiny in which the Chinese troops aboard the Kowshing seized control of the ship. Galsworthy and the British crew jumped overboard and attempted to swim to the Naniwa, but most were killed when the Chinese opened fire on them. Only Galsworthy and two crewmen managed to survive. The Naniwa, under the command of Captain Togo Heihachiro, then opened fire on the Kowshing and sank her, taking with her more the 800 of the Chinese troopsIn total, the Chinese lost approximately 1,100 people, whereas the Japanese lost none.


The owners of the Kowshing, Jardine, Matheson & Company, demanded compensation from the Japanese government, and the incident came close to causing a major diplomatic incident between Japan and Great Britain. The Japanese ships’ lack of an attempt to rescue any Chinese survivors also drew sharp criticism against Japan, however, these calls for Japan to pay an indemnity came to an end when British jurists ruled that the action was in conformity with International Law regarding the treatment of mutineers.

Previously the Kowshing had been heavily used by Jardine, Matheson & Company for the transportation of opium, but on this day in 1894 the ship sank to the bottom of the Bay of Asan.


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