立場新聞 Stand News

昔日的上水虎蹤 The Sheung Shui Tiger

2018/3/6 — 16:26

編按:今早兩名行山人士報警求助,指於馬鞍山吊手岩遇到懷疑老虎。雖然未知香港是否仍有野生老虎,但早在 1915 年上水確實出現老虎,並有兩名警員在追捕時遇襲最終不治。博客 Billy 於本文詳細講述該故事,以及香港其他疑似虎蹤;這亦是 Billy 探索香港隱秘生態系列的第三篇。

Short Introduction: This is the third in a series of articles in which I explore the cryptozoology of Hong Kong. This animal falls into category 3 of George M. Eberhart’s classification of cryptids, ‘Survivals of recently extinct species’. We had planned for this to be the last in our series but we’ve decided to publish now because of a newly reported tiger sighting near a walking trail in Ma On Shan Country Park today. To mark the occasion we are revisiting one of Hong Kong’s most infamous tiger encounters, one that has passed into the city’s lore.

*  *  *


We need monsters. They fulfill a primal purpose deep within our psyche, to personify fears and give a face to evil. But confronted with real monsters, would we know how to deal with them?

An slate grey sky hangs low as we pass beneath the Wong Nai Chung Gap Flyover, whose name recalls the malarial swamp which pre-colonials once called ‘yellow mud stream’; the British renamed it Happy Valley. We pass through iron gates into the Hong Kong Cemetery. We have come to visit the victim of a creature thought by many to be imaginary. To others, it was the stuff of nightmares.


From a distance, the tombstones look waist high, but now in their midst, we are dwarfed by their oppressive marble and granite. The Hong Kong Cemetery, which opened in 1845, is the oldest in the territory and has been the final resting place for ‘all European Protestants and Nonconformists’. The incongruity of the stultifying soup of Hong Kong humidity and the necropolis’s severe Victorian air makes for a morbid meeting of East and West. The occupants are an eclectic lot — miniature child graves sprinkle the cemetery, sailors and soldiers cut down in their prime are memorialised by broken stone columns, Russian refugees commemorated by Eastern Orthodox crosses, Freemasons with their squares and compasses and, of course, hundreds of Chinese lay buried beneath tombstones, bearing faded photographs of unsmiling faces. 

Halfway up a hill in section 2 on the far East side of the cemetery we find a score of policemen’s graves. Treading carefully around the plots, we count the stones until we get to the 6th in the 2nd row — the grave of Police Constable Ernest Goucher, a Celtic Cross ‘erected by his comrades as a mark of esteem’. While on duty, investigating the death of a villager in Sheung Shui, P.C. Goucher had been attacked and ‘mauled by a tiger’. He had died of his wounds several days later on the March 12, 1915.

The Chinese Propensity for Exaggeration

In the early 1900s, many zoologists believed that tigers did not exist within the territory of Hong Kong. So when residents of Sheung Shui reported the killing of ‘a Chinese child’ by a tiger, their claim was ‘not seriously entertain[ed]’ and put down to ‘the Chinese propensity for exaggeration’, according to the South China Morning Post. Past reports of pugmarks found in paddy fields and even tiger attacks had been dealt with similarly. Perhaps to humour the village head, two officers were sent to investigate.

Ernest Goucher was the son of a gamekeeper to the Duke of Portland. He joined the police on March 24th, 1913, and had completed nearly two years of service. At 21, he was deemed, by his superiors, to be ‘an officer of much promise’. The lush subtropical rainforest of Hong Kong and its New Territory to the north could not have been more alien to this young man, who had been transplanted halfway across the world from his native hamlet of Belph, just north of Mansfield, a market town in Nottinghamshire. Many of his compatriots back home would have been fighting in the trenches of World War I at this point. Originally stationed in Central, Goucher had only recently moved to Sheung Shui after an ‘intimate friend’, P.C. Ralph Miller, ‘accidentally shot himself [in] August whilst in the chargeroom at the Central station’. The incident so upset Goucher that he requested the transfer.

On Tuesday March 9, 1915,  Goucher and his colleague, P.C. Holland, received orders to investigate reports of a tiger attack near the walled village of Lung Yeuk Tau. Armed with a shotgun and ‘an automatic pistol containing eight shots’, the constables set off on what they believed would be a wild goose chase.

A Coolie Carelessly Throws a Stone

A cool, humid spring day greeted Goucher and Holland as they arrived in Lung Yeuk Tau. The constables wasted no time in tracking the phantom cat - Goucher ‘found spoor measuring eight inches in diameter’. The Telegraph, which gave Goucher’s name as ‘Croucher’, reported that villagers guided the constables to a small thicket when ‘a coolie standing close by carelessly threw a stone into the bush [and] a monster tiger, likened to the size of a pony, sprang from the bush’. Accounts vary as to what happened next.



The Telegraph reported that the tiger ‘caught P.C. Croucher [sic] in his claws, and - though the constable [was] some six foot' in height, and turn[ed] the scale at fifteen stone - tossed him about like a shuttlecock.’ The Post reported that Goucher ‘fired both barrels at the brute’ before falling to the ground. The tiger tore into Goucher, breaking his arm, ripping four gashes down his back, and another in the shoulder, severely lacerating his body down one side. Says The Telegraph, ‘[Holland] went to his assistance and fired two shots,’ but according to the Police Museum, Holland emptied his revolver into the animal’s flanks. 'A small revolver was of course next to useless against such an animal but had the effect of causing it to release its victim and beat a retreat,' the Post reported.

Bleeding profusely, Goucher was taken to a hospital in Kowloon by train. Holland refused hospitalization.

Tiger Hunt

Having revealed himself ‘Stripes’, as the press referred to the tiger, was suddenly the talk of the town. The police were now firm believers of the Sheung Shui tiger. Despite their colleague’s serious condition, there was sport to be had.

Shortly after the attack, Assistant Superintendent of Police Donald Burlingham arrived at Lung Yeuk Tau with the cavalry- several policemen armed with heavy sporting rifles. According to the South China Morning Post ‘The tiger had retreated into the trees. Marksmen shot it, but although wounded the huge cat came hurtling out of its lair and leapt on Indian constable Rutton Singh. His comrades poured bullets into the tiger, but it was too late to save the constable.’ Not much more is said about the dead Indian policeman but Burlingham and his men did stop to pose for a photo with the tiger, strung up on a pole borne by two villagers.


What follows appears to have been a carnival-like atmosphere. Stripes was put on display at City Hall. The feline measured 2.2 metres from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail. It was a metre high and its paws were 15cm across. It weighed 131kg. The Post reported that ‘thousands of Europeans and Chinese visited the City Hall [to] see the Kowloon tiger’. Mee Cheung, a local photography studio, exhibited photos of the big cat in its shop window Plaster molds were made of the cat’s paws and put in a window display at Lane Crawford.with ‘commendable enterprise’. It had been hoped  that ‘similar enterprise would have been shown by the authorities in the direction of levying some small charge of admission to see the tiger [from which] the fund for the injured officer and dependents of the deceased constable, might have benefitted handsomely.’ The Post went on to say that the tiger was skinned and that once a taxidermist had been called in, the skin would have ‘a place of prominence in the museum’.

On that same day a report from the Government Civil Hospital stated that Goucher was ‘still in danger [but] holding his own’. Nevertheless, he died of his wounds on the 12th of March, 1915, and was shortly after buried. His funeral took place at the Hong Kong Cemetery. ‘The body was conveyed from the Government Civil Hospital Mortuary on a gun carriage kindly placed at the disposal of the police by Surgeon General Hoskyn, the coffin being covered with a Union jack. All the police who could be spared attended to pay their last respects to a comrade who had lost his life in the performance of his duty. They followed the cortege down to the cemetery where some of the constables acted as bearers. The wreaths numbered about a hundred and were received from all departments of the police service’.

What became of Stripes?

A short drive from the cemetery where Goucher lies, up steep flights of stairs above a playground on Coombe Road, is the former Wan Chai Gap Police Station, now the Police Museum. We walk through linoleum tiled corridors lit by fluorescent tubes. Lining the walls to one side are framed photographs of past commissioners of police - black and white handlebar mustachioed European faces slowly giving way to colour photographs of today’s post colonial leadership.

Strolling past a recreation of a heroin lab and a room containing Triad ceremonial garb along with an assortment of vicious homespun weapons (sharpened pipes, meat cleavers, crude machetes, and whips fashioned from bicycle chains), we enter a large room that looks like a cross between an armoury and a motorcycle museum. Revolvers, machine guns, batons and wicker shields of all descriptions adorn the walls.

A limp bomb disposal robot sits in a corner. At the far end of this room is a case and there, behind a thin pane of glass, is Stripes, his stuffed head fixed in a menacing snarl, framing his fearful symmetry. His dead glass eyes stare out vacantly, a pale approximation of the fire which once burned within. Before coming here, the taxidermied head had hung, for almost 60 years, above the entrance of the Officers’ Mess in the former Central Police Station.

Coming face to face with the remains of this apex predator, one cannot help but feel respectful deference. One can only imagine the blind terror its victims, one of whom lies buried in the valley below, would have felt in the face of such primal ferocity.

It is strange to think that an English police constable from rural Nottinghamshire and a tiger from the wilds of Sheung Shui, should be fated to cross paths in one cataclysmic meeting that would ultimately result in both their deaths. It is poignant to consider that they will spend their eternal rests in such close proximity to one another - one in a glass case high on a hill and the other in the shaded valley below. As for society, it denied the existence of a beast amongst them, confident in the might of His Majesty’s forces - Britain ruled the world, no local legend could harm it or stand in its way and yet, nature recognizes the authority of no man. Perhaps this was what disturbed the most. As a result, the incident has been mythologised and become lore. Both Goucher and the tiger have achieved a degree of immortality.

Other sightings

It is strange, in hindsight, that the police would have treated the reports of a tiger attack with such derision. There are many contemporaneous claims of sightings at the Peak (4 children scared a tiger away by throwing rocks at it), Cape D’Aguilar (where a bullock was killed) and Pokfulam. At the time, a prominent Pokfulam resident, Mr. Robert Ho Tung (as he was then) offered a reward of $100 to anybody who could kill the beast. According to the Post ‘one gentleman, who was stationed near Loufu Pass (Tiger Pass) for many years, says it was a common experience for the Customs men to see tigers coming along through the pass from Indo-China. Many a night they were alarmed by some stealthy movement, which would immediately cease when the man on duty stopped on his patrol’. Since 1915 there have been a handful of other sightings; in 1934 a pig was carried away by a tiger from a farm in Tsuen Wan, part of its body was found later. A few weeks after a Hakka woman was circled by a tiger as she cut grass for fuel. She managed to drive it off with a carrying pole.

During the Japanese Occupation, prisoners at the Stanley Civilian Internment Camp were terrorized by a tiger that stalked their camp by night. This is an extract from the diary of George, Wright-Nooth, a prisoner at the camp:

Last night Langston and Dalziel who were sleeping outside at the back of the bungalow, were woken up at about 5.00 a.m. by snarls and growls. Langston...got up to have a look. He went to the edge of the garden and looked down the slope to the wire fence. There Dalziel saw him leap in the air and fly back into the boiler room shouting 'There's a tiger down there'...

Next morning he's laughed at by other Bungalow C residents.

The Stanley tiger has arrived. None of the bungalows has any doors or windows, and soon laughter changes to fear.

The Stanley tiger was shot in 1942 by Rur Singh, an Indian policeman, in front of the Stanley Police Station. This tiger, however, was suspected to be an escaped circus animal. According to Geoffrey Charles Emerson in his book, Hong Kong Internment, 1942-1945: Life in the Japanese Civilian Camp at Stanley, ‘one of the internees, who had been a butcher with the Dairy Farm Company in Hong Kong before the war, was taken out of the Camp to skin the tiger. After being stuffed, it was put on exhibition in the city and attracted many viewers. The meat was not wasted either, as The Hong Kong News reported on 27 June that ‘thanks to the generosity of a Nipponese officer, some officials of the Hong Kong Race Club were recently given the rare treat of having a feast of tiger meat. The meat, which was as tender and delicious as beef, was from the tiger shot at Stanley.’ The tiger’s pelt, now blackened from age and damp can still be seen in Stanley’s Tin Hau Temple, where it hangs even today.

The last unsubstantiated sighting of a tiger in Hong Kong was in 1965 - a schoolgirl from Diocesan girls’ school claimed to have seen one in Tai Mo Shan. The World Wide Fund for Nature has declared the South China Tiger functionally extinct. It seems that tigers in Hong Kong, once thought to be a figment of overactive imaginations, have returned to being just that.

Fate of the species

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) is considered by scientists to be “functionally extinct”. Fewer than 100 individuals exist in captivity, mostly in China with a few living on a reserve in South Africa. Some show signs of inbreeding and many are considered to be crossbred with other sub-species. None have been seen in the wild for over 25 years. The last authenticated sighting of a tiger in Hong Kong was in 1947 when Anglican Bishop R. O. Hall reported that ‘a large cat, probably a tiger’ had stalked across his garden in Sha Tin. He produced scale drawings ‘of a pugmark, some six inches in diameter’ as evidence. The last alleged sighting in Hong Kong was made in 1965 by a senior at Diocesan Girls’ School in Tai Mo Shan; the sighting was never confirmed. The Hong Kong tiger, once thought to be a figment of overactive imaginations, has returned to being just that.



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