Scenes from Old Hong Kong

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Revelation  -1895


The face of Hong Kong is not its fortune, and anyone merely steaming by would never guess the marvel it grows on closer acquaintance. For a few weeks’ investigation transfigures this precipitous island into on of the most astonishing spots on the earth’s surface. By an inevitable alchemy, the philosopher’s stone of a few correlated facts transforms one’s disappointment into stupefaction. Shanghai is a surprise, but Hong Kong is a revelation.




Dining at Marble Hall


A 1923 excerpt from the diary of Commander C.H. Drage


Dec. 1st – Woke up feeling rather the worse for wear and with a busy day ahead of me. With H.E. to lunch with Sir Paul Chater, a coloured magnate and the multi-millionaire of Hong Kong. He has a lovely house full of wonderful china, and gave us an excellent meal with superlative wine…His collection of china is well-known and, though much of it is said to be fake, the pieces are really beautiful, but the furnishing of the rest of the house is in atrocious taste…Then on to the races, which were much as on other days. After dinner to a jolly little dance in the Carlisle.




The Great Hong Kong Typhoon


An excerpt from My Life in China, by William Elmgreen


During the night of terror in Hong Kong, between the 1st and 2nd September 1937, I was eyewitness to the deadliest and most destructive storm experienced by the Royal Observatory there… the loss of life from the typhoon was terrifying. Of 3,500 junks and sailing craft, 1,250 were sunk and 600 seriously damaged. There was the loss of 11,000 lives, maximum wind velocity 192 mph, 167 nautical mph or 307 km/hr, the highest recorded then…


Of 101 large steam vessels berthed in Hong Kong Harbour and its environs, 28 were stranded on the rocks around the periphery…If only one boat was not suitably tied up and did tear away from its moorings, it would be blown across the harbour at fantastic speed, colliding with ships on the way, breaking the moorings and they, in turn, would be transformed into speeding missiles, wreaking havoc in their paths and completing their destructive work.




The Pecking Order


A letter by Charles Richard Thomas, August 14, 1937


Every European here is waited upon hand and foot. I am myself, I admit. It goes to the heads of the people who in England are nobodies. Dockyard people, petty government officials, and the like, who have created a caste which is nauseous to say the least. Naturally this caste is not recognized by the higher caste of officers and their wives and higher government officials, nor do either caster recognize yet another group of Army family society. The sailor stands aloof – a society of his own.




Utilitarian Transportation


From Egypt, Burma, and British Malaysia by William Eleroy Curtis, 1905


Carriages are useless and sedan chairs borne by two Chinese are kept for transportation purposes by every household that can afford them, while rikshas are used down on the sea level. Street car tracks have been laid and trolley poles have been erected for several miles on the streets around the bay but, for some reason or another which I could not ascertain, they have never been used. Perhaps it is because the city authorities do not wish to deprive the hundreds of riksha men of a living.


Everything seems to be done with a view to securing the greatest good to the greatest number and employing the largest number of people possible. At a place where the macadam pavement was being repaired I noticed a roller that was hauled back and forth by twenty-eight women, most of them old and comparatively feeble, who were paid perhaps a penny a day; but that will buy rice enough to keep them alive.




The Pirate Queen


From the New York Times, June 14, 1923


“All went well on the outward passage,” Mr. Webb said, “but on the trip back a band of pirates numbering about fifty, who were among the deck passengers and under the command of a woman suddenly held up all the Europeans in the first cabin at the point of a revolver and got away with about $50,000 in cash and jewelry.


The two Indian guards on board who were armed with rifles, put up a fight, but they were taken by surprise and were shot and then dumped over the side. The pirates then rushed the gangway firing their revolvers as they went along the deck and very soon had the whole ship under their control..” The whole thing had been planned and carried out by the female pirate captain and under her directions the pirates stripped the Sui An of everything they could lay their hands upon and then took the steamship to one of the islands past Hong Kong and left with their plunder in a big junk which was waiting for them.




‘Protected’ Women


From Heathen Slaves and Christian Rulers by Elizabeth Wheeler Andrew, 1907


When once a man enters the service of Satan he is generally pressed along into it to lengths he did not at first intend to go. SO it proved in the case of many foreigners at Hong Kong. The foreigner extended his “protection” to a native mistress. That “protected woman” extended his name as “protector” over the inmates of her secret brothel; and into that house protected largely from official interference, purchased and kidnapped girls were introduced and reared for the trade in women…It was sufficient for the “protected” woman to say, when the officer of the law rapped at her door, “This is not a brothel, but the private family residence of Mr. So-and-So,” naming some foreigner, -perhaps a high-placed official, – and the officer’s search would proceed no further.


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