a bow at 83
N era ended 17 years ago when the death knell was sounded for a Hong
Kong landmark affectionately known as "the Grand Old Lady of Jackson
It was on 9 September 1980 that the decision was made to send the
wrecker's ball crashing into the 83-year-old Hong Kong Club.
After an Executive Council meeting rejected a plea from the
Antiquities Advisory Board, the government announced that the
estimated $500 million cost of saving the club building "could not
justifiably be charged to the public purse".
It was neither the first nor the last Hong Kong Club. The first one
was almost as old as colonial Hong Kong. And the latest one is still
In his book, Europe in China: A History of Hong Kong, Dr E J Eitel,
who has been described as Hong Kong's first historian, wrote: "The
three-storey Hong Kong Club planned in 1845 was opened on 26 May 1846
in a stately building on Queen's Road, opposite the new courthouse, at
a cost of 15,000 (HK$189,600)."
Expanding on this in his book Mouldering Pearl: Hong Kong at the
Crossroads, Felix Patrikeeff wrote: "Under Governor Sir John Davis
(1844-48), the city began to assume a colonial appearance. There were
the first proposals for a cricket ground and a racecourse. The
construction of a cathedral and government offices was initiated.
"Before either building was finished, and a full year before a start
was made on an official residence for the Governor, the Hong Kong Club
had already opened its doors.
"It is, on reflection, an appropriate sequence of priorities. The
Club, as it is known in Hong Kong, has long been described _ one
suspects only in half-jest _ as the seat of real power in the colony.
"Here the Governor and senior civil servants would sit in regular,
informal sessions, usually over breakfast or lunch, with members of
the commercial elite."
In A History of Hong Kong, Frank Welsh wrote: "Stations in life were
evident from membership of the clubs; the elite belonged to the Jockey
Club and the Hong Kong Club, while the Victoria Recreation Club
admitted the others; Germans had their own club, the Germania, and the
Portuguese the Lusitania. The Cricket Club and the Amateur Dramatic
Corps cast their nets wider in search of talent."
Another historian, John Luff, painted a rather idyllic portrait of the
Hong Kong Club in the 1840s in his book, A Hong Kong Cavalcade.
"A pleasant feature of those old days was a gathering held every
summer evening in the entrance hall of the club," he wrote. "The
ladies and the children used to join their husbands and ices were
handed round and eaten as they gazed out on the sea and welcomed the
Needless to say, women could not join the club, an anachronism that is
finally being addressed 150 years later under the Sex Discrimination
Ordinance which came into force last September.
In her book, Hong Kong: Epilogue to an Empire, Jan Morris wrote:
"Rules of membership were strict, women and people of unsuitable
background being banned."
To make matters worse, according to Welsh, "the Hong Kong Club, the
Jockey Club (founded 1844), the Victoria Recreation Club (1872) and
the Amateur Dramatic Corps (1844) had not a single Chinese member
Many years later, Morris wrote, Governor Sir Cecil Clementi (1925-30)
"suggested abolishing the Hong Kong Club, that holy of colonial
holies, and replacing it with a club open to membership of all
Long before that, Morris reported, the club "had become, according to
one contemporary chronicler, `the paradise of the select and temple of
colonial gentility', whose members spent much of their time in its
high-vaulted rooms, playing billiards, reading the newspapers, eating
things like roast beef, game pie or suet pudding, and dressed from
head to foot in white linen (although at some times of year they wore
In his book, The Fall of Hong Kong, Mark Roberti revealed that
solicitor (and subsequent Chief Executive candidate) Lo Tak-shing, a
Eurasian, "was particularly sensitive to the nationality issue. His
father had been educated at Oxford, but could not join the Hong Kong
Club before the war".
In 1877, according to Ms Morris, "a sergeant from the British
Garrison, apparently enraged by the advantages of the official and
merchant classes, single-handedly attacked the club with drawn sword,
hacking away at the lamps and chandeliers and threatening members with
the dread phrase: `You're one of them"'.
Twenty years later, Luff wrote, "the club left its old premises where
the King's Theatre now stands, and the property was bought by Messrs A
S Watson and Company who rented the premises to the New Club, as it
"This was a residential club and the membership was made up almost
entirely of master mariners."
It did not last long. The club moved in 1897 to Jackson Road, where it
occupied the same building for 83 years.
Bringing the story up to date, Patrikeeff wrote: "The club has
undergone two metamorphoses, the most recent being the product of an
Australian architect, who from the reactions of its more conservative
members, has unwittingly wreaked the colonial's revenge on this
"Spurred by sharply rising land prices in the late 1970s, club
members succumbed to an offer too good to refuse for the redevelopment
of the site.
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