Members of the Cheng Ho Expedition

Members of the Cheng Ho Expedition

The participants of the Cheng Ho expedition were very limited: only nine participants, plus 10 crew members. The participants were from the United States, The Netherlands, Great Britain, and the crew members were all Chinese. Because manpower was limited, many people played multiple roles. For example, Edward Beck with may have been the photographer, but he also served as the chief navigator for much of the time.


David and Marian FairchildDavid Fairchild – David was in his 70s at the time of the expedition, but was still a highly respected plant expert and collector. He had visited the East Indies much earlier in his life. Several of his previous attempts to return to the area had been unsuccessful but his enthusiasm for collecting in this region had never waned. As leader of the expedition, he was responsible for the trip route and guiding the others in what to collect.

Marian Fairchild – David’s wife and daughter of Alexander Graham Bell, Marian was a working member of the expedition, responsible, along with Ann, for collecting shells.

Ann Archbold
Ann Archbold – daughter of John D. Archbold and primary
financial backer of the expedition, Ann was a long-time friend of the
Fairchilds and plant enthusiast. She, along with Marian, was responsible
for collecting hundreds of shells.


Edward P. Beckwith

Edward P. “Ned” Beckwith – Ned Beckwith was born in 1877 in New York City into the colorful and successful Pierrepont family. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1901 where he studied engineering and chemistry. He worked for General Electric for some time conducting research on the use of tungsten filaments for lamps and received patents for his work. In 1915 he obtained an international pilot’s license and during World War II he instructed prospective pilots for the Navy in navigation at Pensacola.

Previous to the Cheng Ho Expedition, he participated in several other expeditions including the ill-fated Mount McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition in 1932 during which two of the five members died. He also spent several years helping to explore and map the Navajo country as a member of the Rainbow Bridge Monument Valley Expedition. He was a friend of John Archbold and through his friendship became the photographer for the Cheng Ho Expedition. His record of the Expedition in his diary provides us with a memorable view of the work of plant collecting, and of the world at large just before World War II.

One of this close friends described Ned: “With an intellect clear and true, high-minded, sociable and kind, his life was ordered by a wisely considered judgment in all his associations. Whatever he undertook, he did superlatively well. Profoundly deep in thought, without imposing his views on others unsought, he was a delightful and inspiring companion.” Ned died in 1966 of a heart attack while driving in his car alone near his home in Garrison-on-Hudson, New York. He was never married.

Ted Kilkenny

Thomas “Ted” Kilkenny – Thomas “Ted” Kilkenny was a Rhode Islander and a boat builder. He joined the Navy in WWI and served on the battleship Montana. After the war, he spent most of his time designing and building boats. Eventually, he moved to Hong Kong and partnered with the Ah King family of boat builders.For the most part, he built sailing yachts for wealthy clients. He also had extensive sailing experience, including a sail from Hong Kong through the Suez Canal to New York. He was involved with the New York Yacht Club, through which he met John Archbold (son of Ann Archbold). It was through this connection that Ann learned of his talent and experience, which led Ann to hire Kilkenny as the builder and captain of the Cheng Ho.Kilkenny remained friends with David and Marian long after the expedition, and was even married at The Kampong, David and Marian’s home in Miami. Kilkenny’s daughter contributed several scrapbooks he created from the expedition, some of which will soon be available online.

Fenton KilkennyFenton Kilkenny – Fenton was Ted Kilkenny’s nephew, and probably the
youngest member of the expedition. After leaving the Cheng Ho, he served
in the Merchant Marines. He is the only member of the expedition who is
still living (as of late 2009).


Hugo Curran

Hugh M. “Hugo” Curran – Hugo Curran was the son of Hugh Curran,a noted plants man. At the time of the expedition, Hugh (the father) was the head of a plant station for the Forestry Department of the Philippines. Hugo (the son)had attended forestry school and intended to make his living working with plants. The Currans were friends of the Fairchilds and David recruited Hugo, who was then in his early 20s, to help with the actual collecting work. After the expedition, Hugo worked for Dole Pineapple in the Philippines until the Japanese invasion and was then captured by the Japanese. He spent time in an internment camp during the war, and eventually married one of the nurses who cared for him after an illness in the camp. Hugo and the Fairchilds remained friends after the expedition and Hugo, also, was married at the Kampong.


John FantJohn Fant
– often called “Captain”, but not the official captain of the
expedition. He was a British citizen and friend of Ted Kilkenny. He
joined the expedition because he had extensive sailing experience in the
East Indies.


Daan HubrechtDaan Hubrecht – Daan was acitizenof the Netherlands who served as
the Liaison officer to the Dutch during the expedition. He was also
proficient in speaking Malay and other languages.


Cheng ho

The junk Cheng Ho – The Cheng Ho was named after the famous and successful Chinese General Cheng Ho. When she was launched in late 1939, she was considered the most luxurious junk in the world. She was built by Ah King builders in Hong Kong, and designed especially as a plant collecting vessel for this expedition.She was used for several more expeditions after the Fairchild cruise and was being used as temporary officers quarters at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.She survived the bombing and several more years as a cargo vessel.