Ning Po

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Ning Po at the Isthmus, Santa Catalina Island
The Chinese Pirate Ship Ning Po at the Isthmus, Catalina Island, Calif.
Ning Po sinking at the Isthmus, Santa Catalina Island

Ning Po (1753-c. 1938) [Ningpo], 138-foot three-masted Chinese pole-junk built in 1753. Washed ashore near Santa Monica in 1912, the junk,recently a smuggling ship, was bought by the Meteor Co. and brought over to Catalina Island to be used as a Chinese restaurant in Lovers Cove. Her last anchorage was at Ballast Point at the Isthmus. She was beached, and over the years she rotted and sank in the sands of the harbor. In 1938 she was finally burned. At the time of her abandonment Ning Po was one of the oldest vessels afloat. Ning Po had a long and tumultuous career:

  • 1806 seized for smuggling and piracy;
  • 1814 captured and set on fire at Nanking;
  • 1823 seized for smuggling silk and opium;
  • 1834 confiscated by the British under Lord Napier for smuggling and for carrying slave girls to Canton;
  • 1841 captured by the Chinese government and used for seven years as a prison ship for pirates and smugglers. During this time, the Chinese government found some of the prisoners too expensive to feed, and reportedly ordered 158 of them beheaded;
  • 1861 seized by rebels in Taiping and converted into a transport because of her size and speed. Retaken by "Chinese" Gordon, in command of the English Imperial forces against the Taiping rebel. Gordon changed her name to Ning Po meaning "calm waves" or "peaceful waves" and after the city of the same name;
  • 1861 wrecked in a typhoon;
  • pre-1884 the vessel preyed on tourists in Hong Kong. Passengers were taken of board for a few days' cruise. The unsuspecting passengers would then be robbed and set ashore. The British vessel H.M.S. Calliope captured the Ning Po imprisoned the 60 crewmembers, and sold the vessel in Hong Kong;
  • 1911 captured by rebels in the battle of Hankow and sold to Americans for $50,000; 1912 wrecked in a typhoon on June 12. Wrecked again in a typhoon September 26 off Kyushi, with the loss of the sails and use of the rudder. Crew mutinied and refused to work. Four men rowed the vessel 320 miles back to port. Once in port, the crew were taken in arms. On December 22 of the same year, a new crew sailed the repaired Ningpo 7,000 miles in 55 days to San Pedro;
  • 1913 towed to Venice Beach for display. In April, the junk was towed down to San Diego, and in October she was towed back to San Pedro. In November, the Ning Po wrecked off Dead Man's Island. While being dry-docked and repaired in Long Beach, a small silver plate was found behind one of the "eyes" of the ship. The plate had inscriptions on it that were translated: "The eye of the dragon is bright and colorful." Put on display at Long Beach; * 1915 towed to San Diego and put on display;
  • c. 1917 towed to Catalina Harbor for display;
  • 1938 burned (possibly for a movie) in Catalina Harbor.

Ning Po

In the News~

December 8, 1913 [LAT]: “Long Beach. The Meteor Boat Company of Los Angeles this morning purchased the Chinese junk Ning Po, now on the Craig dock undergoing repairs. The junk will be taken to Avalon, where it will be used next season for exhibition purposes.”

March 3, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “Charlie Lockard went across Sunday to be gone about a week. He has gone to the purpose of boosting the interests of the Meteor Boat Company. It is intended to bring the Chinese junk Ning Po over about June 1st for an added attraction during the season.”

June 30, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “The Ning Po is expected to arrive in Avalon waters Tuesday morning. It will probably be located near Lovers’ Cove.”

July 21, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “The Ning Po has been anchored in Lover’s Cove.”

August 4, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “Several boat loads of visitors were carried from Avalon via the Ning Po to Pebble Beach…”

August 25, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “There seems to be an element of unfairness in the demands of some residents, who, a year ago, calmored so loudly for amusements and attractions to draw fast crowds to the island… The announcement was made Monday, that because the Board of Supervisors had tried to handicap the owners of the Ning Po, the Chinese junk, or Oriental Cafe, would be removed to San Pedro next week… Knowles & Lockhard, proprietors of the Ning Po, claim to have lost considerable money on their amusement project.”

March 28, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “The Chinese junk Ning Po is expected at this port Friday. It is planned to use the craft during the summer season by anchoring it in the bay and using it for the entertainment of glass-bottom boat patrons.”

July 18, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “Saturday evening opened the Chinese junk and famous pirate ship, Ning Po, to many visitors. Mr. Hoyle, who has spent many years in China, is conducting special parties over this historical pirate craft and giving interesting lectures of the habits and life of the Chinese pirates.”

July 25, 1916 [TI/Avalon]:Ning Po now on exhibition. This vessel was built in 1753, when tools and workmanship were very crude; built mostly of camphor and ironwood, the latter being proof against the toredo, the little boring worm of the ocean that is so destructive to modern wooden ships… Arrived at San Pedro, Cal., February 19, 1913, having sailed 7000 miles in 58 days. The Ning Po was bought by Americans last year, and is now owned by the Meteor Boat Company. Ning Po is the most interesting bona fide historical exhibit seen here.”

August 8, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “In the captain’s cabin on board the Chinese pirate junk, Ning Po, now on exhibition in our harbor, are some very fine examples of fuhkein wood furniture, which are over 200 years old. This wood is one of the hardest and heaviest known.”

August 16, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “A new attraction has been added to the Ning Po. The Chinese have many peculiar secrets, one of which has been used to lure a large school of white sea bass, and they are now making their permanent home under her. They can be seen from her decks at almost any time through the day.”

August 29, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “…I noticed a Chinese junk lying at anchor off Pebbly Beach…”

September 5, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “Residents and others who have not yet visited the famous Chinese pirate ship Ning Po, had best do so soon, as she will not remain in these waters much longer.”

August 19, 1977 [LAT]: “…Below the old barracks’ west side, the top of a sunken ship, the Ning Po, breaks the surface of Catalina Harbor. It was once a floating restaurant at Avalon and later a museum at ‘Cat’ Harbor before it sank in the 1930s…”