Background on Shanghai and Yachting in the Early 1900s
Shanghai, a leading treaty port
By 1911, Shanghai was the leading treaty port in China which ports had been created to serve as bases from which Western interests in trade, diplomacy could safely flourish. Such ports were a constant source of irritation to China as a form of enforced colonialism until the concessions were returned to China in 1943.
Many residents ran lucrative businesses trading with China. There was also a strong administrative service to govern the city and to work with the Chinese Government. Eveline’s owners reflected this tradition with her 3 registered owners. The first was Charles Sidney Fitzroy Lloyd, an officer in the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs, the second owner Monsieur O. Bersani with the Compagnie Francaise de Tramways et D’Eclairage Electrique and the third owner Capt H.E. Middleton MBE with Shanghai’s powerful Municipal Council.
Sailing at the Shanghai Yacht Club
Such was the growth of Shanghai that it become a city where generations of Westerners (known as Shanghailanders) lived often in great wealth as compared to the dire poverty of many Chinese. They were able to recreate a Western way of life albeit with exotic ingredients.
As part of this, European residents introduced their favourite sports ranging from hunting, tennis through to sailing. Oliver Ready’ s book “Life & Sport in China” (1904) reports:
“Both in Hong Kong and Shanghai, where the European population numbers several thousands, there is a yacht club each containing several up-to-date classes, ranging from half raters to fifteen tonners and regattas under various conditions are of frequent occurrence.”
“Twentieth Century Impressions of Hong Kong, Shanghai and other Treaty Ports of China” (1908) devotes a whole section to yachting:
“Yachting has been a popular pastime in Shanghai since the opening days of the settlement.
In 1869 the Yacht Club was organized under the name of the Shanghai Sailing Club. Until 1873, the boats were of the house-boat yacht type with heavy centre boards and ranging from 30-60 tons; but in the eighties cutter-rigged boats with heavy centre boards were introduced and these averaged about 50 tons each. As the traffic in the Huangpu river became greater, the heavy type of boat was gradually abandoned in favour of a smaller class of boat. Rules were drawn up and and the 2 ½ – rater class was introduced. In 1896, the “Flapper” class was created and five boats were built in Hong Kong to the design of Mr A.J. Watson. The present fleet is divided into 3 classes of racing boats and one cruiser class.
Races were held weekly throughout the season (May to October) and took place on the River Whangpoo (as it was called then) over courses varying from six to twenty miles, though one race has been held this year over 120 miles.
The courses are up river or downriver according to the state of the tide. The usual starting point was opposite the centre of the Bund but not infrequently the start for upriver races took place at Prince’s Pier, Woo Sung.”
In 1905, the Yacht Club obtained from “The Commissioners for executing the office of the Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom” permission to fly the Blue Ensign, although this privilege was confined to British members of the Club. The flag was broken out by Miss Warren, daughter of Sir Pelham Warren KCMG, the Consul General, at a ceremony which took place on the Bund foreshore in April 2007 at which Fitzroy, as Rear Commodore, read the Charter to those present, which event was covered in the North China Herald, the leading English language Shanghai newspaper.
The Club’s Blue Ensign can be seen flying at the peak of Eveline’s yawl mast in her earliest photograph dating back 1913.
Snippets of Yachting and the Social Life in Shanghai
Social Shanghai, an illustrated local gossip and social commentary magazine on the lines of Tatler, congratulated the Club on its “most delightful” 1907 dance at the German Club saying, “Everyone who had the privilege of attending must have felt it was one of the most enjoyable functions they had ever attended.” By 1908 the Club had “blossomed out into quite an important institution” so that “yachting bids fair to become one of the most important popular pastimes in Shanghai”.
Social Shanghai reported in 1911 that the Yacht Club “is going quite strong now and helps to provide many pleasant hours for the members”. Its 1911 ball held on 20th December at Astor House where Mrs Lloyd wore “black with scarlet geraniums” and at this “altogether successful evening” where after speeches including one by Fitzroy as Commodore, “dancing was then merrily continued till well after midnight”
The North China Herald, the leading English language paper in Shanghai carried a report on 8th March 1933 of the Club’s 1933 Annual General Meeting which probably summarises the probably over ebullient nature of the Club:
“The Shanghai Yacht Club, probably the most notorious club locally for providing first class sport without any rigid adherence to formal rules, held its Annual General Meeting on February 27, under the genial presidency of the Commodore, Mr James Neil, one of the world’s veteran yachtsmen. Sundry new rules and amendments to rules, which will have about as much concern for the members as for outside people who are not members of the Club, were passed.”
The Club continued to flourish with media reports on the Club’s activities continuing right up to the start of World War 2 despite newspaper reports during the 1930s of larger yachts being sailed from Shanghai to seeming safety in Manila. Even in 1934, plans were afoot to set up an up country residential club at Minghong despite the looming collapse of China
The Advent of World War 2
During World War 2 many of the Europeans left in Shanghai were interned and the position of Shanghai was such that sports like this would have been difficult to organize. After the end of the war with Japan, and Shanghai’s surrender in 1943, Shanghai never really recovered its momentum fully and there was no news of sailing in any of the papers. By 1951 when control of Shanghai had been taken by the Communists the die was cast that the golden era of Shanghai as an international city was well and truly over and the burgee and details of the Shanghai Yacht Club were gradually removed from directories of yacht clubs worldwide such as Lloyd’s Register.