The steamship Great Republic was launched on 8 November 1866. The first passenger liner between San Francisco and Hong Kong could accomodate 1450 passengers. The introduction of steamships accelerated mass emigration from China through Hong Kong. Between 1868 and 1939, over 6.3 million Chinese migrants left China via Hong Kong.
Most Chinese emigrants left home as single men, but they were married and left wives and children behind. The typical Chinese migrant did not leave his home village in order to strike out in a new world. His goal was to make money abroad in the hope of eventually rejoining the family in China where he would grow old, die and be buried among his ancestors. This aspiration to return also involved the repatriation of bones of migrants who had died abroad for reburial in China. Ships like Great Republic carried not only migrants but also migrants' bones.
Read more? Elizabeth Sinn, 'Hong Kong in the Chinese Diaspora 1849-1939' in: Connecting Seas and Connected Ocean Rims. Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans and China Seas Migrations from the 1830s to the 1930s (Leiden 2011)