The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States. Until it was repealed in 1943, Chinese sailors were not allowed ashore. Ships that let the sailors leave could be fined $500 per person.
In August of 1923, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, reported that six Chinese, crew members of the Barber line's steamer Muncaster Castle, docked at the foot of Ferris street, made an unsuccessful "dash for liberty."
A few years earlier, when a huge fire swept through Atlantic Basin burning three big steamships, three lighters and a dozen barges loaded with oil as well as a 900-foot pier and World War I supplies for the Allies, 31 Chinese sailors and 40 lascars (south Asian sailors) needed to be rescued. While they were warmed and fed, they were also placed in the back room and basement of the Hamilton Avenue police station and a guard, hired by the Barber Line, as well as the police, stood by the station house door.
Excerpt of article in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 16, 1916
Ship Lascars and 'Chinks' Howl to Police for Food
"And the uniform 'he wore was nothin' much before and rather less than 'arf of that be'ind."
Forty turbaned-Lascars and thirty one almond-eyed Chinese, rescued from the two burning ships at Pier
36 and the lighters about them, huddled half-dressed around the stoves in the back room and basement of the Hamilton avenue police station' in a condition that would have made Gunga Din feel as richly wardrobed as the Kaiser with his 800 uniforms.
Thirty-three of the Hindus were barefooted. One had a frozen ear swelled the size of a small apple and three were frostbitten in fingers from clambering down the ropes from bedecks of the flaming vessels to the ice covered lighters below. Gaudy red blankets topped off by green arid yellow; turbans fastened with crescent pins made the dingy little station house; look like the den of a band-of Himalayan bandits. Only one man out of the seventy knew enough English to be able to say that they were hungry.
At 10:30 o'clock the last Chinese seaman, who bad almost been given up for lost, was brought to the police station and his name scratched of the temporary list of missing, He had been found crouching in the cabin of one of the half-burned lighters, trying vainly to get warm, too terror stricken to put his head out of the door.
Philip Barber, president of the Barber-Line, on learning the condition, of the men, gave orders that a shoe dealer be brought to fit them with shoes and stockings. A nearby caterer, hurriedly prepared coffee and eggs for their breakfast, as they were all famishing.
Frank Stone, a Chinese Inspector from, the Immigration Department, looked the seventy men over for traces of disease and arranged to have; an Immigration Department tug come to Atlantic Basin to take them to Ellis Island. The penalty for allowing a Chinese sailor to escape ashore is a fine of $500, payable by the owners of the ship from-which he came. A guard; hired by the Barber Line, as well as the police, stood by the station house door….
[Note: quote at begining of the article is from Rudyard Kipling's poem Gunga Din.]
Text of the article from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 12, 1923
Six Chinese, members of the crew of the steamer Muncaster Castle, of the Barber line, now docked at the foot of Ferris st., were unsuccessful in a dash for liberty early today. The six were caught on the pier just as they were about to get in a large touring car driven by Joseph Cavagnara, 11 Mott st., Manhattan
Patrolman Thomas Ruft and Sargent Stephen Crowley happened to be patrolling the dock when the touring car pulled up. The suspicions of the policemen were aroused. After waiting a few minutes, they saw six figures come out of the dark and approach the machine. The policemen called to the men to halt. Five of them obeyed the commands, but the sixth leaped into the water. Four shots from Patrolman-Ruff's pistol soon brought him back to shore. He gave his name as Chow Main.
When the policemen attempted to take the six to the station this was a signal for a free-for-all, in which the officers came out the victors. Arraigned in the Fifth Avenue Court, before Magistrate Ellperin, on a charge of vagrancy, the six were held in $500 ball for examination Wednesday.
Cavagnara, the driver, was not arrested. He explained that he had been hired by a Chinese, who, he says, is Harry Gee, 2 Dwyer at., Manhattan, to go to the ship and get six men.