Hong Kong Victoria Harbour

“They have still not positively identified the wreck as HMS Tamar, ” said Bill Jeffery, a marine archaeologist. “But it is very important to make sure that it is Tamar because it is such a significant vessel for Hong Kong’s history.

“I understand that as well as the keel and part of the hull, they have found bits and pieces of Royal Navy equipment, which is good evidence to support the belief that it is Tamar.”

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Built in London and launched in 1863, HMS Tamar served as a troopship. At 4, 650 tons, the 320ft vessel had a steam engine to supplement her sails and a top speed of 12 knots.

HMS Tamar was part of the fleet that supported the defeat of the Ashanti kingdom in West Africa in 1874 and subsequently took part in the bombardment of Alexandria in 1882.

In 1897, HMS Tamar was moored in Victoria Harbour as a permanent base ship. It was used to oversee the Royal Navy’s operations throughout the northern Pacific and much of the Far East. The name was later adopted for the entire British naval base in Hong Kong.

From around 1913, the ship was used for accommodation, storage and training.

With the Japanese assault on the colony in December 1941, however, the base commander had little choice but to order the sinking of HMS Tamar.

After the war, the British Government cleared the harbour of vessels sunk during the course of the conflict. It was reported that HMS Tamar had been completely removed and scrapped. All that was thought to remain was an anchor now on display at the Museum of Coastal Defence in Hong Kong – and the mast outside Murray House, formerly the officers’ quarters in Stanley district.

“The reports from the time all said that it had been completely salvaged and scrapped, ” said Mr Jeffery. “And that is what we believed, so this is a very important find.”

He believes that any remains of the ship should be recovered and put on display. “It would capture the imagination of everyone who saw it because it tells an important story from a Hong Kong perspective, ” he said.

“It’s a critical part of the city’s underwater cultural heritage and a tangible part of the ship that gave us Tamar Park, Tamar Street and the other place names near the old naval base.”

HMS Tamar anchored off the Naval Dockyard in 1905

Richard Wesley, the director of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, would also like to see the recovery of whatever might remain of HMS Tamar. But there are hurdles to be overcome. “We are committed to seeing all of Hong Kong’s maritime heritage preserved and we would like to have this piece to preserve it for the Hong Kong community, but there are questions over who it belongs to, ” he said. “Does it belong to the Hong Kong government? Could the UK government claim it?”

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