Kaohsiung (pronounced Kow-shung) will be better known to most readers as the graveyard of thousands of British built ships. Today, this former big shipbreaking industry with its attendant pollution and very real dangers to its workforce, has been completely eradicated and replaced with new, cleaner industries and a modern port with a cargo throughput of around 150 million metric tonnes per annum. The Port of Kaohsiung lies near the south western tip of Taiwan and is its principal port and the thirteenth biggest container port in the world with a throughput of 10.6 million TEU in 2014.
Kaohsiung City is an important industrial centre with the very large Linhai Industrial Park located next to the port, as well as a shipyard, the Talin Oil Refinery and Power Plant, a steel mill, and many other industries. Kaohsiung has a population of 2.78 million people and is known for its ‘rocket shaped’ tall Tuntex (or 85) Sky Tower of 328 metres in height. This 85 storey skyscraper was designed by architect C. Y. Lee and construction started in the Lingya District near the port in 1994 and opened three years later at a cost of five billion Taiwanese dollars. The capital of Taiwan is Taipei at the northern end of the island with a population of 23.0 million people, and the island has large modern textile, electronics, plastics and other industries. The Port of Kaohsiung is located at 22º 33’ N, 120º 18’ E.
The British In Kaohsiung
After the signing of the Convention of Peking in 1860 during the Qing Dynasty, Takao Harbour (Kaohsiung Harbour) was opened to foreign traders in 1863. The increasing commercial shipping trade and the lack of a proper ship navigation channel, led to British engineers being invited in 1883 to build a Chinese style rectangular red brick lighthouse on Cijin Island and opposite Mount Longevity (Mount KIau in Chinese, elevation 1,180 feet) on the other side of the harbour. This mountain is now home to the Shoushan National Nature Park and was also formerly known as Mount Shoushan.
During the Japanese rule of the island, and in line with the expansion of the harbour, the lighthouse was rebuilt in 1916 with a Baroque style base. Today, the lighthouse has been restored and painted white as an historic Class 3 building by the Ministry of the Interior of Taiwan. It is open to the public with the tower providing the very best possible vantage point of the entire Port of Kaohsiung. The light beam has a range of 25.2 nautical miles and is situated at 191 feet above the base.
The British Consulate at Takao was designed by a British architect and built by McPhail and Company in 1865 in the ‘Late Renaissance Baroque’ style with a long ground floor and beautiful arched facades on two sides. The British Consulate was built on a hilltop overlooking the bay with Hsizuhwan Bay on one side and the Port of Kaohsiung on the other. The British Empire was at the height of its power at this time, and was the first western power to be invited into Formosa (Taiwan) to establish a consulate. Robert Swinhoe was appointed as Vice Consul in 1861 but was unable to take up his post until the following year in a temporary building. The building materials for the new consulate were shipped across to Formosa from Amoy on mainland China, and Robert Swinhoe remained as Consul until his retirement in 1873.
The 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki following the First Sino-Japanese War ceded the island of Formosa to the Japanese. The Japanese Government of Taiwan in 1909 claimed the right to all foreign consulates and the British consulate was closed in the following year. The Japanese Viceroy converted the building into an Ocean Observatory in 1931, and it survived World War II unscathed as a white painted building that was converted into a Weather Bureau Observatory in late 1945. Taiwan was handed over to China at this time and the building continued in use in the same capacity for forty years. In 1986, the building became a museum in which to store historic and cultural documents, and it was opened to the public in September 2003. Currently, over 400,000 tourists visit the former British Consulate with much of local history on display and including 312 oil paintings of the surrounding district.
British businessman John Elles commissioned the Custom House official residence on Daku Hill in the Shaochuantou District of Kaohsiung in 1869. This gave the city a much more international profile, and the Customs House officials proposed expanding the harbour in the late 1870s but the Governor of the island cancelled the plans due to a shortage of funds. The harbour was however strengthened from attack by coastal defences consisting of barbettes housing eight Armstrong artillery guns manufactured in Newcastle.
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