Earthquake occurred on September 1, 1923 noon.






Thursday, September 6th.


By one of the most awful cataclysms of modern times, caused by earthquake and fire, Yokohama, one of the principle ports of the Empire of Japan, with its large foreign business and residential quarters, has been wiped out of existence; Tokyo, the nationfs capital, has been almost demolished: the large naval depot of Yokosuka, at the mouth of Tokyo Bay, has suffered such enormous damage by earthquake and fire that the total financial loss cannot even be suggested; while within a radius of about a hundred miles on either side of Tokyo Bay damage of varying degree is reported. 

              To attempt an estimate of the loss of life is at present impossible, as with the means of communication disorganized, and official stafffs reduced to a minimum in many places, the collating of figures is a tasks that defies the efforts of the official machinery.  In Yokohama alone it is conservatively estimated that the deaths will number not less than 185,000 -- or about one third of the total population -- whereas other observers consider that the mortality will be much nearer 250,000.  In Tokyo

This figure will probably be exceeded, while as to the probable loss of lines of communication disorganized to hand up to the time of leaving Yokohama on Wednesday morning precludes even the hazarding of a figure.



           The shock, which was primarily responsible for the devastation in Yokohama, occurred at almost two minutes before the noon-hour, just prior to the closing of business for the day by the banks, the Government and Consular Departments, the bulk of the foreign and many of the Japanese business establishments.  Without the slightest warning in the form of the usual rumbling like the distant booming of a cannon, the ground seemed to heave a distance of several inches and then to recede like the breaking of a wave on the seashore.  Then came a violent tremor, which carried tables and chairs from one side of the room to the other while simultaneously solid steel safes were thrown flat to the floor, and huge boulders of masonry displaced from the walls were hurried in all directions.  Many occupants of offices were thrown violently a distance of several feet, while others who found it possible clung to the nearest pillar or doorpost to prevent being thrown violently into the street beneath.  In other cases massive buildings, like the Oriental Palace and Grand Hotel, the Yokohama United Club, the Chartered and International Banks collapsed like a huge cardboard box, in some cases the roof falling flat on a three-storied building and crushing it as flat as a pancake, pinning beneath the debris many who were helpless to get away.  The sound caused by the crashing of buildings on every side was deafening; while the air was filled with huge clouds of dust.  When we emerged into the street a terrible spectacle met onefs gaze.  North and south, east and west, as far as one could see, there was not a building that had withstood the terrible shock.  In some cases whole buildings had gone down; in others, just a couple of pillars were standing, being flanked by huge rafters and broken pieces of masonry, which it seemed impossible to remove. Under some of this debris were pinned members of staffs -- foreigners and Japanese -- whose agonizing cries for help, were heard on very hand.  In numerous cases, it is to be feared, exit was impossible: and hundreds -- nay thousands -- must have perished in the same flames which within a few minutes broke out in every quarter of the city.  Those who succeeded in getting through to the Bund were chiefly those who escaped from the buildings in Water Street and Main Street -- the total number probably not exceeding three hundred.  With the bursting of flames on every side -- from the Grand Hotel on the one side, right along to the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank on the other, escape appeared to be absolutely cut off, and very quickly the intense heat which came from the burning ruins made it necessary to take to the water.  Rafts and beams were requisitioned from the ruins and used as temporary floats, foreign men and women taking to the water in the clothes, which they wore at the time.


              The experiences of those in the water will certainly never be forgotten by those who shared them.  Very soon after the outbreak of the fire another terror was added by a typhoon, which sprang up with such starting suddenness that one feared what might eventually be the outcome.  The wind blew from the shore, and the heat was so intense that it was necessary to frequently dive underneath to prevent the burning embers setting onefs hair or garments alight, or from being suffocated by the poisonous fumes. 

              For some three or four hours no boats of any kind, not even a Japanese sampan, came to the aid of those in the water.  It was stated that the small launches found it impossible to weather the gale and contend with the current, which was sweeping in so strongly from the shore.  Meanwhile a few strong swimmers made the attempt to swim out to the nearest craft, but the effort nearly cost several foreigners their lives, while it was stated afterwards that several scores of Japanese perished in similar attempts.  Those who were unable to swim -- wisely selected to hug the shore as much as possible, deciding to move out into deeper water only when the keeping close to the Bund was quite unbearable and absolutely dangerous.


              During the afternoon earth tremors were constantly felt -- some of them of varying strength and durations -- while at one period the tide rose and fell some seven or eight inches within less than half-an-hour -- evidence of a tidal wave somewhere along the coast.

              With a huge pall of smoke resting over the harbour, which at times hid from sight the sun, or made it appear to the view as a red ball of fire -- it was impossible for those in the water to get other than a faint glimmer of the situation a regards the shipping in harbour.  All they knew was that help was an interminable time coming.  One saw from time to time the huge ships at the pier -- the Empress of Australia and the French mail liner Andre Lebon -- outlined against a bank of fire, giving rise to the fear that both ships were probably on fire.  A little later, however, when the typhoon began to subside, the real situation became apparent.  The frequent explosions at the Customs wharves told that fire had broken out at the docks, and later it was known that due to circumstances to be detailed later both these ships were in very grave danger owing to inability to move out into the harbour.

              And so the anxious moments dragged on.  Explosions in rapid succession told that the flames were doing their devastating work among the oil tanks, the oil adding another danger to the already serious peril. Fire-pumps and hose were quickly requisitioned, and towards six ofclock, when sunset approached and the wind the flames and waves abated there was hope that help would soon be available.

              Boats were sent off by the Dutch steamer Tjisalek, the P. & O. Dongola, the Ben steamer Benroach, the Blue Funnel Lycaon, the M.M. Andre Lebon, the C. P. S. Empress of Australia, and as quickly as possible the whole sea-front was scouted and those in danger rescued.  Soon after six o'clock those in the water who were not taken into the boats -- and these of course were the men, the women and children being rescued first -- were able to clamber on to the Bund wall, and make their way to various points where by eight ofclock all had been safely embarked on the steamers already mentioned.

              Those who had spent the afternoon in the water were suffering chiefly, when rescued, from the effects of the walk water on the eyes, many being almost blinded, and from intense thirst, but on comparing notes with others on board the various ships they concluded their sufferings were light as compared with those endured by many who escaped from other quarters.


              As events have proved, the delay of the empress of Australia was exceedingly fortunate.  As usual, a number of local residents were at the pier to see friends away, and many were standing alongside to see the vessel pull out.  The gangway was just being raised, when the shock occurred, snapping the pier at both ends, leaving a large number of people standing on the center.  The pilot of the C. P. S., Captain Kent, was precipitated into the water, together with one or two others, including a child, while a motorcar parked near the end of the customs compound also fell into the water, the chauffeur sitting in the machine.  There was a good deal of screaming and confusion, but finally many were able to scramble round to the other side of the pier and were taken on board the Andre Lebon.


              When the Empress tried to back out into the harbour, it discovered that the propeller had been fouled by the anchor-chain of the Steel Navigator, and she was compelled to remain for a time at least alongside the pier.  This unfortunately caused great anxiety the next day, when the refusal of the acting captain of the Steel Navigator (the captain had been killed on shore) to assist the Empress by towing her out nearly imperiled the ship and the lives of over a thousand people.


              The scenes of destruction witnessed on Bund and in the other parts of the city were duplicated on the Bluff, where, with the exception of two or three houses, the whole of the buildings have been demolished.  In fact, this part of Yokohama is now almost unrecognizable.  Business men who got clear away from their offices made their way to the Bluff, to assure themselves as to the whereabouts of relatives.  The ridge near the Grand Hotel connecting the Settlement with the Bluff had dropped a distance of fifteen feet, and it was with very considerable difficulty and danger that this was crossed.  Up Camp Hill landslides had already occurred, and at the top the Gaiety, and the British, and American Naval Hospitals had collapsed.  Almost, without exception, private houses were down, and in some cases had already burst into flames.  From Gaiety right through to Temple Court everything was down.  The Allied Memorial Arch, unveiled by the Prince of Wales two years ago, had toppled over into the cemetery:  the three churches -- Christ Church, Union church, and the Roman Catholic Church -- had toppled over, and were quickly on fire: while the huge Retz building of several stories high, had toppled over on the houses beneath, carrying destruction and death in its wake.  The same thing had occurred with the well-known Temple Court building, once known as the F.W. Horne residence, which had collapsed and fallen away, showing huge cavities five and six feet wide, and some ten or twelve feet deep.

              From many of the residences there were miraculous escapes.  Women and children, pinned beneath wreckage, were dug out by husbands who had hurried up from the Settlement, splendid aid being given by the Japanese servants, while the devotion of the amahs to their little charges evoked unstinted praise from those who witnessed their many acts of self-sacrifice and courage.

              In some cases, unfortunately, the efforts to save life was unavailing.  Fires had broken out almost as soon as the buildings collapsed, and when rescuers arrived they found but the charred bodies of members of their families.

              In passing though Moto-machi to ascend the Bluff, it was found that at the various approaches numerous landslides had occurred, while at other points huge rents in the center had divided the road to the extent of several feet.  Those who visited the Bluff on Sunday and Monday described it as almost unrecognizable.  Off the main Bluff the Ferris Seminary, a well-known Girlsf School near the Union Church, had collapsed like cardboard, and the Principal, Miss Kuyper who had returned from Karuizawa on Friday evening to prepare for the autumn session, was crushed under the ruins, which later broke into flames.


              At the General Hospital compound on the Bluff, the residence of Dr. Ishiura, the house physician, and the maternity ward collapsed and the main building later was destroyed by fire.  Thanks to the excellent work of the nursing and general staff, and later to the splendid aid given by a band of volunteers organized from among the foreigners, several critical stretcher cases were removed in safety, among the patients being Miss Spencer, of Aoyama Gakuin, Tokyo; Murray Duff and Bragg.


              Another serious case safely removed on board the Empress of Australia, and later to the Empress of Canada and brought to Kobe was that of Captain Swain, well known in the service of the Nippon Yusen Kaisha for many years.  Pinned beneath the wreckage at the Bluff Hotel, Captain Swain was later found to be suffering from a compound and triple fracture.  He was conveyed to the Bund late in the evening, and thence taken off to the Empress of Australia, where hew as brought to Kobe yesterday morning, expiring several hours later.  The captainfs wife is believed to have been killed when the Bluff Hotel collapsed.

              Still another serious case among Yokohama foreign residents was that of Mr. E. Coutts, of the firm of Dare & Coutts share-brokers, who sustained serious injuries to the spine in the fall of debris.  Mr. Coutts was also removed to the Empress of Australia, where on Tuesday evening, when the empress of Canada left for Kobe, he was reported to be dangerously ill with double pneumonia.

              Another Yokohama resident badly injured by falling debris, injuries which later proved fatal, was Mr. I.G. Morrison, of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank staff.  Mr. R.C. Edwards, sub-manager of the same Bank, had his left hand badly crushed, necessitating the amputation of several fingers.


              When the building of the Yokohama United Club collapsed several foreigners were killed, among them Mr. W.B. Mason, one of the oldest foreign residents; Mr. Louis Watson; Messrs. Nevin, Cullinan and A. Roberston of the Rising Sun Petroleum Co.; and Mr. A.J.S. Lefroy; while Dr. Wheeler and Mr. Tom Abbey were killed while trying to escape in Main Street.

              Mr. A.H. Tai, manager of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, is missing, and it is generally thought he was trapped while on his way to the Club; Mr. Hugh Horne, Commercial Secretary to the British Embassy, and Mr. Haigh, of the Consulate, were killed by the collapse of the Consulate building; Mr. McKinnell, manager of the firm of Lane, Crwaford & Co.; Mr. C. Piquet, manager and four members of the staff of Thos, Cook & Son; Mr. L. Cotte, the manager of the Oriental Palace Hotel; Mr. Dejardin, French Consul and Mr. Mrs. Van de Polden, two of the oldest foreign residents of Japan; Mrs. W. K. Wilson; Mr. Tom Thomas, the well known share broker, or many yearsf residence; and Mr. Maurice Russell, who went back at sixk ofclock to help out some of missing at the Hospital.  These are but a few of the foreigners missing and who are all believed to have perished.


              In the work of collecgting the foreign refugees some splendid work was done by the foreign residents of the port, headed by the Acting Consul General, Mr. R. Boulter, with the Rev. E.M. Strong as Secretary, and a Committee which was formally appointed on Sunday evening on the empress of Australia.  On Saturday afternoon the women and children on the Bluff were directed to the Bluff Gardens and the reclaimed ground below the British Naval Hospital, whence, as soon as the boats were available, they were conveyed to the vessels in the harbour.  In like manner the residents who had spent Saturday night in the Park, many enduring considerable pain from injuries, were collected and takena to the ships.  In the direction of Negishi a number of the foreign residents who were homeless were aided by bands of volunteers, who secured food and milk to supply immediate needs and later saw to the transfer to various vessels.

              By Sunday afternoon most of the foreign residents in the immediate vicinity of the Bluff and the Settlement had found safety on board ship, while throughout Sunday, Monday and Tuesday motor launches, in charge of Mr. J.T. Laffin, Mr. J.E. Laffin, and Captain Loftus, and boats from the Empress of Australia were continually skirting the foreshore searching for refugees.  At intervals boats would be alongside disembarking parties, which included all nationalities -- Japanese and Chinese receiving attention equally with the Westerner.  If there were cases requiring surgical and medical attention, these were dealt with at once, and it is safe to say that the cases passed through the hospitals on the two Empress boats alone numbered not less than four hundred.

              On Tuesday a motor launch with several boats in tow proceeded to Kamakura, and brought in quite a number of families, who had been summering there, together with Japanese and Chinese gathered at various points.


              The embarkation of the large number of foreigners on Saturday and early Sunday morning did not by any means end the anxieties of those in charge of the foreign vessels assisting in the work of rescue.  A new problem -- and a serious one -- was the floating in the harbour of a large quantity of oil, which endangered the safety of the ships.  One of these floating masses was seen moving in the direction of the pier early on. Sunday morning, and it was evident htat the skipper of the Empress of Australia, Captain R.D. Robinson, R.N.R. and his officers certainly sense the danager, and saw the absolute necessity of getting clear from the pier as speedily as possible.  With one propeller out of commission, and the other weighted with the seven-ton anchor of the Steel Navigator, it was necessary that the latter vessel should give the empress a tow, but on being appealed to, the acting captain of the Navigator refused, saying he could not see any immediate necessity.  On this being reported to Captain Robinsons, he instructed the pilot again to request the captain of the Steel Navigator to render immediate aid, and in case of non-compliance, himself to take the vessel out.  The other officers and the crew promised their aid to the pilot of the Empress, and after some moments of anxiety, the latter vessel was seen to be slowly moving away from the danager zone.  In about half-an-hour the Empress was free and heading slowly for the breakwater, while the Andre Lebon, which was also in immediate danger, and whose engines were under repair and partly out of action, was likewise out of danger.  Meanwhile, the decks were flooded with water, and some of the lifeboats cleared from the davits. That the lifeboats were not needed was due to the splendid work of Captain Robinson and the whole of his staff and crew.


              With the addition of a thousand passengers on the Empress of Australia, the resources of the ship were taxed to the utmost, but the response on every hand was magnificent.  On Monday morning the situation was eased when the sister ship, the Empress of Canada, arrived.  Within an hour of the arrival, the transfer of passengers for Kobe was commenced.  Captain Hailey and his officers and staff did everything possible to make the additional passengers entirely at home, and both in the meals and in the service the comfort of all seemed to be the chief desire of the Captain and all table boys vying with each other to maintain the reputation of the ship.

              Before reaching Kobe, the passengers signed two testimonials -- expressing the thanks of all to the Captains and officers and crews of the two Empress liners for all that had been done for their comfort while on board.


              As soon as the Canada reached Yokohama on Monday and learned details of the disaster, a meeting was convened of the cabin passengers, who raised over $1,600 gold, to be handed over to the relief of the destitute -- Messrs. R.T. Wright, F.N. Shea, and O.M. Poole being elected a Committee to co-oeprate with the Kobe Committee in the disposal of the funds.

              It was also stated that the Chinese gboysh on the ship had subscribed very liberally to this fund.


              With the arrival of the Empress of Canada more news is available of the earthquake at Yokohama and how it affected the inhabitants.  Most of the passengers were those who had taken refute on the Empress of Australia and the Andre Lebon, which were both at the wharf at the time of the first shock.  The crowd of people waiting for the Australia to draw out and to wave a farewell to their friends on board suddenly saw the great liner shaking violently and simultaneously felt the wharf under their feet heave and sink.  It seemed at first as though it were something that had happened to the Australia which was causing the commotion.  A motor-car by the wharf edge fell right into the water, and so did a large number of people.  In fact, it was at first impossible to get on to the Australia, but the Andre Lebon let a gang-plank down and crowds got on board.

              Here it was at least safer than on shore, but as the fire caught all buildings and spread rapidly, it became very uncomfortable on board the ships, and when on Sunday morning the oil on the surface of the harbour caught fire the situation was extremely perilous.  The Andre Lebon was surrounded by burning barges, and could not get out at all.  By the most strenuous labours she kept the fire at bay and saved herself.  The Steel Freighter, which had done magnificent rescuer work, unfortunately fouled the

Empress of Australiafs propeller, and when it became necessary to move because of the imminent danger of fire, it was an extremely difficult maneuver, especially with the high wind blowing, to get her out with her all but disabled proelling gear, and it hardly seemed possible at times that she would do it.  However, she got outside the breakwater without disaster, having to pass on the way a number of Japanese calling for help, but who could not possibly be helped, and anchored in comparative safety.

              The waterfront was a terrible place from the time the fire began, but it was at least a place of safety.  Those who were able to take to the water were much better off than those who were traped by the flames, but to have to swim out, or dip the head frequently because of the heat, while the sea-bottom underfoot heaved about, was an experience which is happily rare. 

              It was extraordinary even at such a time to notice how initiative is lacking in the majority.  Except the London-maru and the Korea-maru, which took on refugees, the Japanese shipping in the harbour seemed to be too fully occupied with the question of its own safety to do any rescue work, and had it not been for the number foreign ships, especially the big Empress and Messageries boats, the loss of life would have been far greater than it was.  It was a terrible misfortune that neither of these vessels was able to get out.  The Andre Lebon was almost helpless on account of repairs being in progress and the Empress of Australia owing to her propeller being fouled.   We understand that divers from a British warship are now clearing the empressfs propeller.  It is possible that the Andre Lebon may be towed here -- though that is a course involving no little risk at a time of the year when typhoons are possible.

              The problem before the foreign community, overwhelming as it is, and complicated as are its details, is in its essence simple.  Kobe is the only place for the Yokohama and Tokyo people to come to, and they simply have to be brought.  An endeavour is being made to send as many as possible on to Shanghai, especially those who have business connections there.  The manner in which the Kobe community is working for the immediate relief of the Yokohama friends -- known or unknown -- is magnificent.  There is no Napoleon directing operations, but, in spite of momentary eddies of confusion, there is a wonderful cooperation, and an openhanded generosity being shown.  And everybody feels that in such a crisis it is the only thing that they can do.

              The Japanese problem is a much vaster one, of course.  The immediate need is the same, but there are a hundred places for the Japanese to go to.  Most of the Japanese in Tokyo and Yokohama had gone there from other places to seek their fortunes, and go back to their own place -- when they can get there -- in this crisis.  There were very prompt reports of ships being sent to Yokohama with rice and water, but in some other ways the official world, with its chief nerve center paralysed, has been less prompt to tackle the immediate need of the situation -- which is to get the people away from the stricken area.  The quarantine station at Kobe has been devoted to the housing of refugees, but steps for removing them have not been so prompt as might have been expected.  Here again the circumstances are different from thos of the foreign community.  The foreigners in Yokohama, when the port and capital were destroyed all knew exactly where they wanted to go, while the Japanese in many cases do not know whether they want to go any where at all, and certainly do not want to be taken to the wrong place.  And, of course, with the Japanese authorities, the providing of immediate relief is only the beginning of their problem.  They have their whole economic mechanism put out of gear, and everything to begin over again, without exactly knowing where it should begin.


Part of September 13, 1923 article from

The Japan Weekly Chronicle.


Passenger name List -- refugees from Andre Lebon that arrived Kobe on September 12th included:

Brothers and sisters from SJC and St. Maur?

Porthe, Sister.

Martin, Sister

Louise, Sister

St. Patrick, Sister

Theophane, Sister

Joseph, Sister

Eugene, Sister

Agathe, Sister

Virginie, Sister

Gaschy, Mr.