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The Strange Story of the Chinese Junk Keying at Blackwall in 1848

Whilst writing the West India Dock Review and listing the Chinese ships, I was reminded of a story which I have intended to write for some time. The Chinese ships that visited in 2017 were not the first Chinese ships to visit this area, perhaps one of the first was the Keying which was an 800 ton Chinese junk that caused a sensation when it was berthed in East India Docks in 1848.

A  P.L.A monthly article written in 1939 give some of the details.

In 1848, steam was still comparatively in its infancy, and sails and masts were no unusual sight on London River, but many an officer of the watch coming up on deck at Gravesend one day in March must have rubbed his eyes suspiciously at the sight of a Chinese junk in the Thames. There she lay at anchor, her 30ft. bows decorated with two painted eyes, her stern, standing as high as a house, ornamented by a monstrous bird and gaudy flower designs. Strange flags and pieces of red rag fluttered on her masts, and her decks were manned by pale-faced Chinese sailors, wondering at the misty greyness of the Kent landscape.

For almost two years the Keying,a typical Chinese coasting junk, already a hundred years old, had been driven across the Seven Seas to England by Captain Kellett and a party of Englishmen with a Chinese crew. Some said she was originally a pirate ship. This may be just romantic fabrication, but at any rate the junk had an adventurous voyage before she arrived in the Thames.

After a short stay at Gravesend she was towed up the river to the East India Docks and moored in the basin. A hoarding was erected round her, and those wanting to satisfy their curiosity had to pay to do so. For some time the junk was the talk of the day.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert went to see her, and the Queen Mother took a big party. Booklets giving particulars of the vessel, her voyage, and the curios on show were sold at 6d.each and numerous medals were struck to commemorate the event.

The ship’s journey before it arrived in England was unusual to say the least, The Keying was a three-masted Chinese junk which was purchased in August 1846 in secrecy by British businessmen in Hong Kong, defying a Chinese law prohibiting the sale of Chinese ships to foreigners. The Keying was manned by 12 British and 30 Chinese sailors and commanded by Captain Charles Alfred Kellett and sailed round the Cape of Good Hope before arriving in New York City.

The Bay and Harbor of New York” by Samuel Waugh (1814–1885), depicting the Junk Keying moored in New York Harbor in 1847 (c. 1853–1855, Museum of the City of New York).

The following newspaper report gives some illustration of the excitement of the Junk’s arrival in New York in 1847

The Chinese Junk.

The junk, the Key-Ying, which arrived at New York on the 8th of July, excited there the greatest curiosity. Her light and graceful build, her sails of matting suspended to her bamboo yards, her smooth and rapid movement-thanks to which, if we may believe the Chinese crew, they have never suffered from bad weather-in short, the singularity of the furniture, which includes some dogs with tongues as black as ink, brought by the captain, all combined to attract a crowd of spectators. The prettiest women of New “York loved to boast of having visited the Chinese junk. Unfortunately the enterprise does not appear to have had the same success in a pecuniary respect. The Chinese sailors, to the number of twenty-six, not having been paid their wages, have arrested the vessel, and Mr. Lord, their advocate, has pleaded for them before the civil court of the district. The crew claim, in the first place, their arrears of wages from the month of September, 1846 : and in the second, to be sent back to Canton at the expense of the captain. According to the sailor’s accounts, they were only engaged for eight months, and were not to go beyond Batavia and Singapore. The Court decided in favour of the crew, maintained the seizure, ordered the sale of the vessel, and condemned the captain to pay each man one or two hundred dollars, according to rank.

Despite these problems,  the Keying stayed several months in New York attracting thousands of visitors each day who paid 25 cents to board the ship. She then visited Boston in November 1847 before arriving in Britain in 1848.

The excitement of the people in New York was matched by the people in London and even Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made the journey to have a look around. The following report was written by someone who was rather excited by it all.

Visit of Her Majesty and the Prince Consort to the Chinese Junk. 

The Queen and Prince Albert, accompanied by the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal, and the Prince of Prussia, went to Blackwall, on Tuesday afternoon, to inspect the Chinese junk Keying, recently brought to this country. The royal party left Buckingham Palace shortly after four o’clock. The Queen and Prince Albert, with the princess of Prussia, the Prince of Wales, and the Princess Royal, rode in one open carriage and four.

The route taken was down Birdcage-walk, over Westminster Bridge to the Borough road, and thence over London Bridge, through Fenchurch-street, Whitechapel, and the Commercial road, to the East India Docks. The royal party arrived at Blackwall at half-past five, and entered the East India Docks by the Orchard House gate, On the royal carriage drawing up at the entrance of the enclosure, her Majesty alighted, and, taking the arm of the Prince of Prussia, was conducted by Lord Alfred Paget on board the junk. The Prince Consort followed leading the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal. As the Queen placed her foot upon the deck, the Royal standard of England was run up to the summit of the mainmast by the Chinese sailors.

The royal party then proceeded to the poop; from this elevated part of the vessel they were visible to the thousands of spectators on the shipping and dock walls, and their appearance was greeted with tumultuous cheering. To reach this point was a matter of no small difficulty; and we question whether many of our fair readers who may hereafter visit this ship will have boldness to attempt it ; but the Queen mounted the steps leading thereto with the activity of a school girl, and her beaming countenance, when she looked round, evidenced a degree of delight and satisfaction not inconsistent with the character alluded to.

 After the spring heeled Queen Victoria had visited, thousands made their way to Blackwall to look at the Chinese Junk and many commemorative medals and collectables were produced for the general public. Leaflets were produced to attract visitors; the following gives more details of the visits.

The Royal Chinese Junk “KEYING” manned by a Chinese Crew. Visitors received by a Mandarin of rank and Chinese Artist of celebrity. Grand Saloon, gorgeously furnished in the most approved style of the Celestial Empire. Collection of Chinese Curiosities.

The “Keying” is now open for Exhibition, from Ten to six, in the East India Docks, adjoining the Railway and Steam-boat Pier, Blackwall.—Admission, One Shilling.

In time the interest waned and eventually the Keying was sold and towed from London to the river Mersey by a steam tug arriving in 1853. It was moored at the Rock Ferry slipway near Liverpool for public exhibition before being dismantled on the shore near the Tranmere Ferry opposite Liverpool.


West India Dock Visitors Review 2017

It is that time of the year when people begin to review the past 12 months, carrying on the tradition from previous years, we are listing the ships that have visited West India Docks in the last year.

With all the development surrounding West India Dock and Canary Wharf, there was some concern that the number visiting the dock would be severely curtailed but although numbers were down again this year, we still had an interesting mix of ships and boats.

TS Royalist

Some old Tall Ships favourites returned Stavros S Niarchos, STS Lord Nelson and TS Royalist and we had the impressive Tall Ships Cisne Branco and Bap Union.

Cisne Branco

We seemed to get a lot fewer Super Yachts this year, perhaps the building works are putting off some of the more prestigious owners.  

Sea Falcon

There were visits from a large number of Navy Ships including the Netherlands, Norway, France, Portugal, Estonia, Belgium and perhaps more surprising China and India.

Chinese Navy Ships Huanggang and Yangzhou

There were also more visitors from the Royal Navy including HMS Sutherland, HMS Richmond,  HMS Exploit, HMS Explorer, HMS Smiter and HMS St Albans.

There was a degree of nostalgia when I joined the thousands of people in Island Gardens and at vantage points at the bottom of the Island to watch the spectacular Parade of Sail which was the final element of the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta in Greenwich & Woolwich and Tall Ships Festival.

The Massey Shaw, The Portwey and the Lord Amory which are permanently moored in the dock provide year round interest.

Super Yacht Justa Delia

Super Yachts

Super Yacht Sea Falcon II

Super Yacht ‘Gene Machine’

Super Yacht Justa Delia

Super Yacht Kismet

Peruvian Navy BAP Unión Tall Ship

Tall Ships

Brazilian Navy Tall Ship Cisne Branco

Peruvian Navy BAP Unión Tall Ship

Stavros S Niarchos Tall Ship

TS Royalist

The Lord Nelson

HMS Richmond

Navy Ships

Royal Navy

HMS Sutherland

HMS Richmond

HMS Exploit,

HMS Explorer

HMS Smiter 

HMS St Albans

Portuguese Navy

Portuguese Navy ship NRP Francisco de Almeida

Norwegian Navy

Norwegian Navy ship HNoMS Otto Sverdrup

Norwegian Navy ship Hinnøy (M343)

French Navy

French Navy Ship Flamant

French Navy Ship Lapérouse 

Chinese Navy

Chinese Navy Ship Huanggang

Chinese Navy Ship Yangzhou

Belgian Navy

Godetia (A960)

Bellis (M916)

Indian Navy Ship Tarkash

Indian Navy

Indian Navy Ship Tarkash

Estonian Navy

Estonian Navy Ship EML Wambola

Dutch Navy

Dutch Navy Ship Schiedam

May we wish all our readers a Happy New Year and we look forward to the new visitors to the dock in the New Year.

Superyacht Sea Falcon II in West India Dock

After a number of warships in dock in recent weeks, we welcome a superyacht to West India Dock with arrival of the Sea Falcon II.

Sea Falcon II is a 150.92ft /46m motor yacht which was built in 1993 by Puglia, the yacht was previously named Elle and her interior designed is by Kerry Alabastro and her exterior design by Gerhard Gilgenast.

The yacht has high quality leisure and entertainment facilities on board and Air Conditioning, Stabilizers at Anchor, WiFi and Deck Jacuzzi.

The Sea Falcon II’s sleeps up to 10 guests in 5 rooms, including a master suite, 4 double cabins and she can accommodate up to 10 crew on-board.

Winter does not tend to be the season when we have many superyachts in the dock and it is not known at this time how long the Sea Falcon will be in dock.

Portuguese Navy ship NRP Francisco de Almeida and Norwegian Navy ship HNoMS Otto Sverdrup in West India Dock.

Two new arrivals in West India Dock are the Portuguese Navy ship NRP Francisco de Almeida (F334) and Norwegian Navy ship HNoMS Otto Sverdrup (F312).

Both ships are part of the NATO’s standing maritime group 1 (SNMG1) which has been carrying out operations in the North and Baltic Sea.

NRP Francisco de Almeida is a former Karel Doorman frigate that Portugal bought from the Netherlands. The ship was previously the HNLMS Van Galen and was renamed to NRP Francisco de Almeida in 2010.
The 122 meter frigate has a crew of around 180 and includes a Lynx helicopter on board.

The HNoMS Otto Sverdrup is a Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate, the ships are named after famous Norwegian explorers. The Otto Sverdrup was one of five ships ordered from Spanish shipbuilder Navantia and was launched in 2006. The ship is 440 feet (134.11 metres) long and carries a crew of around 120.

The main mission of the frigates is anti-submarine warfare and the ships are equipped to detect, identify and engage hostile submarines.

The ships involved in NATO’s standing maritime group 1 (SNMG1) are regular visitors to West India Dock, although I am not sure these particular ships have visited before.

As usual with these type of naval ships, how long they are in dock is not known at this time.

Photo –  Fraser Gray

Photographer Fraser Gray sent a couple of photographs of the HNoMS Otto Sverdrup heading back to sea.

Photo – Fraser Gray

French Navy Ship Flamant in West India Dock


On a grey miserable day,  we welcome the arrival of French Navy ship Flamant (P676).


FS Flamant is a Flamant class patrol boats of the French Navy used for fishery monitoring, search and rescue, and patrolling France’s coastal waters.


FS Flamant  and sister ships FS Cormoran and FS Pluvier were built and are based in Cherbourg. The three boats were ordered 1993 and entered service in 1997.


Cormoran and Pluvier have visited West India Dock previously in 2013 and 2014, Flamant is 54 m (177 ft 2 in) long and has a beam of 10 m (32 ft 10 in). The ship usually carries a crew of 21 which includes 3 officers and 18 men.

Flamant photo Fraser Gray

Photo – Fraser Gray

The FS Flamant visited West India Dock at this time last year and the visit is likely to be related to Remembrance Sunday which takes place this weekend.

HMS Sutherland (F81) in West India Dock

Over the weekend saw the arrival of the HMS Sutherland (F81) in West India Dock, HMS Sutherland is a Type 23 frigate which was launched in 1996 at the Yarrow yard (BAE) on the Clyde. One unusual aspect of the official launch was the smashing of a bottle of whisky against the hull not champagne which is the usual tradition. The Sutherland’s home port is Devonport in Plymouth.

Since she was launched, HMS Sutherland has undertaken a number of missions, in 2000 she undertook the first circumnavigation of the globe by a Royal Navy ship for 14 years.

More recently she has taken part in Exercise Griffin Strike, a UK-French combined exercise. The Sutherland escorted the Russian warships through the English Channel in 2016 and 2017. Also the Sutherland was the first vessel assigned to escort HMS Queen Elizabeth when she embarked on sea trials in 2017.

The ship is 133 m (436 ft 4 in) long with a beam of 16.1 m (52 ft 10 in) and draught of 7.3 m (23 ft 9 in).
The ship has a general crew complement  of 185 with accommodation for up to 205.

At this moment, the plan for the ship is not known or how long it will stay in dock .

Chinese Navy Ships Huanggang and Yangzhou in West India Dock

After travelling for a few weeks, it is nice to be back and reporting on local events. A major surprise, this morning was the arrival of two Chinese Navy ships in West India Dock.

The frigates Huanggang (577) and Yangzhou (578) are part of the Chinese Fleet which are rare visitors to UK shores and especially London.

Both of the new frigates are part of the East China Sea Fleet and belong to the Type 054A missile frigate family developed and built by China.

The frigates are 135 meters long and 16 meters wide and were built-in the Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding Co., Ltd.

The Type 054 A frigate can be used to attack surface ships and submarines with long-range surveillance and air defense capabilities.

Both the Huanggang and Yangzhou were recently at the Port of Antwerp in Belgium on a friendly visit, therefore it can be assumed that the trip to London is part of a tour of European ports.

It is not known how long the ships are in port or if they will be open to the public for visits.