M/V Tegelberg: The Slow Boat FROM China…

Someone wrote that all great stories begin with the sea.   And if they didn’t, they should have.

Whether in Micronesian balsa-wood rafts crossing the Pacific or Portuguese caravelas crawling across the Atlantic, untold millions re-started their lives with that first step over a gunwale or up a gang plank.  Discarding the known, regardless of its comfort and certainty, they opted for the unknown lying beyond a figurative – and actual – horizon.   By stepping aboard, one could leave behind three – War, Famine, Pestilence – of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, thus postponing – perhaps – the fourth (Death).  Given that simple calculus, it’s not surprising that so many made that choice, which culminated in the great migrations of the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries.

For my parents, having already decamped China for Hong-Kong after the Communist takeover in 1949, the move from that relative calm and prosperity was based on wanting better life opportunities for me, their only child.  I, being barely four years old, I had no vote.  My life, at the point when the decision was made, was simply happy and happily simple.

All that would change with that first step onto the M/V Tegelberg.

Yet, there is at least one thing for which I am grateful amongst all that has followed in the intervening half-century: the trip itself, a 42 day, 10,660 nautical mile crossing of two seas (South China and the Andaman) and two oceans (Indian and South Atlantic) on the way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

My memories of life in Hong-Kong pre-voyage are fragmentary, fading, and suspect.  I can no longer distinguish between real memories, where recall means reliving the experience, and those formed from tales told by others.  Thus, while I have internal “movies” of events – jumping up and down on my parents’ bed; hiding under it to fly a kite; being fussed over by mother’s students; crying hysterically seeing the basket of toys to be left behind; ripping up part of my father’s postcard collection; playing with the silver airplane Grandfather Lee had given me (photo) – I can’t feel whether I am in it or watching myself be in it.

This is why the voyage aboard the M/V Tegelberg matters: it formed the first set of memories about which I am absolutely certain.

I can close my eyes and be playing again on the upper bunk in our cabin or standing on deck pool-side scared of Neptune and his trident during the Equator-crossing ceremony.  It’s why rediscovering my father’s pocket diary from that year (1956) and finding entries for many of days of the 42-day trip has been so satisfying and exciting.   I now have specific dates as anchors for the events that constitute my first irrefutable set of memories.  This combination of dates, photos, memories, facts and objects associated with the M/V Tegelberg give a concreteness to my first life-changing event in a way heretofore impossible.

In that twenty years between the end of WW II (1945) and the commercial Jet Age, when the Boeing 707 and its lesser-known competitors made long-distance flights affordable to the masses, passenger ships crisscrossing the oceans were the norm.   The M/VTegelberg and two sister ships were part of that fleet.  Of a good size – 14, 200 tons or so and almost two football fields long – they were built in 1938 to link the Netherlands with the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Asia.  All three ships served as Allied troopships during WWII, carrying as many as 2681 soldiers each and – amazingly – all three survived the war to become passenger-ships again.

Reconfigured for civilian comfort, the M/VTegelberg would carry 131 passengers in First Class, 84 in Second Class, and 179 in 3rd Class plying the Asia-Americas route until it was broken up  in 1968 in Taiwan for scrap.

The interior shots below show what it looked like then.

Through the wonders of eBay, I found, for sale from someone in Australia,  a set of coffee cups and saucers used on the Tegelberg and her sister ships and purchased them.  Here’s one:

In another posting there will be photos from that sea-voyage…

About Drachenfutter

It's all in my blog....
This entry was posted in Capetown, Durban, Hong Kong, Lourenco Marques, Maputo, Mauritius, Penang, Port Elizabeth, Rio de Janeiro, Royal Transoceanic, Singapore, Tegelberg. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to M/V Tegelberg: The Slow Boat FROM China…

  1. nard says:


    The launch of the Tegelberg was filmed, discoverd this movie last year. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jFR5iJjPtw

    Have fun,
    Nard Tegelberg

  2. Peter Geddes says:

    A great ship, I sailed on it from Singapore to Argentina in 1964. I also remember the Neptune ceremony.

  3. Rubi Imanishi says:

    Thank you very much for the impressive account of your trip to Rio de Janeiro aboard the M/V Tegelberg!

    In 1958, I arrived as a little girl at Rio aboard the Tegelberg. My parents were leaving Japan for a better life in Brazil. I was just 7 and I remember this voyage as one of the very deeply felt moments of my life. Leaving Japan, the fading reception of my favorite fairy tale radio program, the harbour of HK, the African port-calls, the crew, the passengers and the fantastical universe of the great ship, people, food, smells…and the sea.

    I would be very obliged for getting access to the 2nd part of your Tegelberg memories!

    All the very best to you

    Rubi Imanishi

    • Hello, Rubi. Thank you for your comment. As I was born in late 1951, we are the same age! One of my sharpest memories of the trip is losing the “musical chairs’ game at the children’s party to a little Japanese girl. We were the last two left and she got the chair when I was distracted by something…. Memories of the war still being fresh, my parents never let me forget that!

      • tyersall says:

        Well I will have to hope that you will scan your collection soon. Otherwise my only momentos are a little model of one of the sister ships and a Tegelberg dinner menu. But your cup looks more interesting.

    • tyersall says:

      My Tegelberg photos here may also be of interest:

      • Thank you for the photos I have an album in black-and-white of my trip in 1956 with my parents. I just have not had the chance to scan them and upload

    • tyersall says:

      My Tegelberg photos may also be of interest

  4. Rubi Imanishi says:

    Olá Drachenfutter,
    tomo a liberdade de escrever na língua da última flor do Lácio…
    Há exatos 56 anos, meus pais e eu embarcamos no Tegelberg rumo ao Brasil. Uma grande viagem, uma vida.
    Em breve enviarei fotos que meu pai fez durante a travessia.
    Um grande abraço,
    Rubi Imanishi

    • Obrigado, Rubi! Gostaria de ver as fotos.

      • Rubi Imanishi says:

        Olá Drachenfutter,
        o “em breve” virou quase uma eternidade!
        As fotos foram tiradas por meu pai com exceção das duas últimas.
        Hoje estou completando 56 anos no Brasil, foi quando desembarcamos do Tegelberg no Rio de Janeiro que ainda era a capital federal do país.



    • anabela (marques da silva) schulte says:

      Ola Rubi,
      Contente e surpresa ao saber que viajamos no mesmo navio em anos diferentes. Tenho algumas fotos de meus pais e irmaos na “grande viagem”. Gostaria de ver?

  5. Zung says:

    Senti muita saudade do Tegelberg… Sai com a minha família em Hong Kong em 1958 para o Brasil, onde o meu pai já se instalou há um ano. Fiquei triste em saber que Tegelberg virou sucata. Na viagem da 2ª classe, ficamos sabendo que éramos as 3 únicas crianças (eu e meus irmãos) chineses ao bordo.

  6. Kim Donaldson says:

    Hi, have found old menus from 1962 from the Tegelberg. Are these of any value?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s