Rover incident

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The Rover Incident (羅發號事件) occurred on March 12, 1867 when the American merchant ship Rover, en route from Shantou to Yingkou[1] shipwrecked off the coast of Taiwan. The ship struck a coral reef called Qixingyan (七星岩) near Oluanpi and drifted into the area of Kenting.[2] The American sailors were killed by Taiwanese Aborigines in revenge for earlier killings of Kaolut tribe members by foreigners. Subsequently, the U.S. Military decided to send a military expedition against the tribe members responsible. [3]

American Reaction

Following the wreck of the United States ship and killing of the surviving crew by aborigines, the American Consul to Amoy Charles William LeGendre quickly traveled to Foochow, arriving on 2 April 1867, to persuade the governor generals of Fukien and Chekiang to intervene and put pressure on the Chinese authorities in Taiwan to resolve the issue.[4] The governor general of Fukien gave Le Gendre permission to go to Taiwan himself, and wrote him a letter of introduction to take to the prefect of Taiwan, asking him to cooperate with Le Gendre, but adding that "if the consul takes measures to manage the case himself, please invite him not to do so, for these savages might give him more trouble that he thinks."[5] Le Gendre commissioned the United States steamer Ashuelot, under the command of Captain Febriger, in order to visit the scene of the wreck and to try (unsuccessfully) to get foreign officials in Taiwanfoo (where he arrived on 18 April) to act. After a subsequent failed punitive expedition carried out by Rear Admiral Bell of the United States navy, Le Gendre again returned to Formosa -- this time without any reference to his superiors. While in Taiwan, he asserted United States consular authority, selected a deputy consul in north Taiwan, visited the Keelung mines, and gathered information from United States merchants.[6][7]

The landing of one hundred and eighty-one officer, sailors, and marines provided with four days' rations and water was made on June 13th under the command of Commander G.E. Belknap of the USS Hartford, accompanied by Lieutenant Commander Alexander Slidell MacKenzie, fleet lieutenant as second in command. In the terrible heat, surrounded by aborigines in ambush, the Marines and sailors fought desperately until they could fight no longer. Alexander Slidell MacKenzie was killed in the action on 13 June 1867 after receiving a mortal wound to his chest from enemy fire.[8]

The Marines were under the command of Captain James Forney, who submitted the following report to Commander Belknap, dated on board the flag-ship USS Hartford, at sea, June 17: "I have the honor herewith to submit a brief report of the part taken by the Marines on the 13th inst., on the island of Formosa. On the first landing, by your order, I took charge of twenty Marines, deploying them forward as skirmishers. A dense and almost impenetrable thicket of bush prevented the men from advancing very rapidly. I penetrated with them to a creek about half a mile from the beach without meeting any of the enemy, and was then recalled for further orders. You then instructed me to leave a sergeant and five men on the beach, and to advance with the main body, headed by yourself. In consequence of all further operations coming under your own observation, I have nothing further to report, except that the men behaved gallantly, and deserve credit for the manner in which they marched over such a rough and hilly country, and under such intense, scorching heat...The entire number of Marines on shore was forty-three, thirty-one of whom were from this ship, and twelve from the USS Wyoming."[9]

The Rover incident plays a critical role on USA military history in terms of shaping US Marine Corps' "rules of encounter" in "Small Wars".[10]

Upon return to south China, Le Gendre managed to persuade the governor general in Foochow to send a military force to southern Taiwan. The force, significantly smaller than the 400 to 500 soldiers recommended by Le Gendre, was dispatched on 25 July 1867. Le Gendre then personally requested a gunboat from Admiral Bell, which he was denied, and eventually managed to commission the Volunteer. He embarked for Formosa on 4 September 1867,[11] telling his superiors that "I am going there as a mere spectator. . . . I have no jurisdiction over the Chinese forces."[12]

Le Gendre quickly assumed de facto command of the mission from General Liu in the course of a long and difficult march into deep aboriginal lands in southern Taiwan (some of which required extensive road construction). Then, with the aid of William A. Pickering and James Horn, Le Gendre negotiated an effective treaty guaranteeing the safety of shipwrecked American and European sailors with Tauketok, the chief of 18 aboriginal tribes in the area when the Rover had gone ashore.[13][14]


Following the Rover Indicent in 1867, another shipwreck triggered the Mudan Incident which subsequently was the justification for the Empire of Japan to invade and occupy Taiwan. In addition, the Qing court established the Hengchun lighthouse (now Oluanpi lighthouse) for the protection of the Taiwan Strait and vessels transiting the Bashi Channel.

See Also


  4. Yen 1965, pp. 126-127; Carrington , George Williams, Foreigners in Formosa 1841-1874 (San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, 1978), p. 153; Dictionary of American Biography, p. 146; The Far East (1877): 88.
  5. U.S., National Archives, Record Group 59, "Consular despatches, Amoy," vol. 3 (microfilm no. 100, roll 3), enclosure, "Intendant of Circuit of Foochow to the Prefect of Formosa," translation from the USNA and USDC; as quoted in Yen 1965, p. 127.
  6. Carrington 1978, pp. 154, 159; Dictionary of American biography, p. 146; The Far East (1877): 88.
  11. 14. Yen 1965, pp. 127-148; Carrington 1978, p. 160; The Far East 1877, pp. 88-89.
  12. U.S., National Archives, Record Group 59, "Consular despatches, Amoy," vol. 3 (microfilm no. 100, roll 3), Le Gendre to Bell, 30 July 1867; as quoted in Carrington 1978, p. 160.
  13. Yen 1965, pp. 149-53; Carrington 1978, pp. 133, 157-58, 161-72, 174, 176; Otness, Harold M, One thousand westerners in Taiwan, to 1945: A biographical and bibliographical dictionary ([Taipei]: Institute of Taiwan History, Preparatory Office, Academia Sinica, 1999), p. 97; The Far East (1877): 89-90; Dictionary of American biography, p. 146.