Sunday, November 29, 2015   

Hong Kong Club members succumbed to redevelpment offer

Eric Cavaliero

Thursday, February 13, 1997

`Grand old

lady' took

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

going strong.

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

evening breezes."

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

between them".

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

flannel underneath)".

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

was named.

"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

sacrosanct institution.

"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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