could be forgiven for thinking that Statue Square is named for the black, frock-coated figure on a plinth, scowling towards the Legislative-Council Building. As with much in Hong Kong's past there is a different story behind that obvious and plausible assumption. So much has been swept away and altered that Statue Square could well be named after this particular bronze figure. This statue commemorates a rather stern-looking Victorian, Sir Thomas Jackson, for many years the chief manager of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank.
Of more than half a dozen that once stood in the vicinity, he is the only one remaining. Statue Square does not, however, memorialise Jackson.
The long-deceased chief manager is commemorated elsewhere in Central, for Jackson Road was named after him. The square was named for a once well-known statue of Queen Victoria.
When the Chater reclamation was completed in the late 1880s, a large open civic area was planned for the new business centre of the city of Victoria. The new central area sponsored by Sir Catchick Paul Chater and J J Keswick, the founders of Hongkong Land, was Victorian civic planning at its best.
The buildings were built to last - though with the exception of the Supreme Court, (now the Legislative Council Building), none of them have survived the ravages of modern development. Chater and Keswick's plan called for an attractive open space fronting directly onto the harbour. Statue Square was the centrepiece of their vision.
Chater, a fabulously wealthy Armenian, had made his home in Hong Kong since the 1860s, and had very clear ideas of how the colony should progress and the steps needed to bring about the prosperity that he felt certain would follow.
As was the case with many Armenians who settled in British overseas possessions, he was extremely - some would say exaggeratedly - Anglophile.
The names of the buildings he financed around Statue Square accurately reflect this passionate adopted loyalty.
For a time the area was known as Royal Square, though gradually Statue Square came to supersede it. The new area around the square was bordered by the old Prince's Building, Queen's Building (demolished in 1963 to make way for the Mandarin Hotel), King's Building, St George's Building, Alexandra Building (named after the then Princess of Wales, later Queen Alexandra).
A statue of Queen Victoria was ordered, in commemoration of her Golden Jubilee in 1887. It was duly erected under a stone cupola in the middle of Statue Square and in due course other members of the British royal family, cast in bronze, joined her.
Queen Victoria's statue formed a traffic island in the middle of Chater Road and Wardley Street.
Wardley Street was named for Wardley House, which housed the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank from 1864 to 1882. One would look in vain for Wardley Street today. It was absorbed into the open area of Statue Square after the war, and no longer exists.
The Central business district was at one time scattered with statues. Queen Victoria's younger son, the Duke of Connaught, was commemorated in uniform at the harbour end of Pedder Street.
On the Supreme Court side of Queen Victoria's statue, there was a bronze statue of King George V. Also removed by the Japanese during the occupation, it was lost and never replaced after the war.
Just before the outbreak of the Pacific War, another statue, this time of King George VI, was ordered from the United Kingdom. It was not erected before the war broke out, and after the war it was placed instead in the Botanical Gardens, where it remains.
Queen Victoria in her cupola served as a traffic island for many years. Photographs from the 1920s show lines of cars parked in the centre of the square and very few pedestrians - a memory of quieter, much less congested times.
When Statue Square was the' centre of town, Hong Kong wad still something of a backwater - a dramatically beautiful, quiet British colony eclipsed in every way by the cosmopolitan glamour of Shanghai, further up the coast.
The Cenotaph, to the northeast of Statue Square, was unveiled in front of the Hong Kong Club in the early 1920s. It was modelled on the one built in Whitehall to commemorate the dead of World War I. Bereft of flags and surrounded by change on all sides, the Cenotaph is still there today.
On the opposite side of Connaught Road was the sea-wall and the roadstead beyond. The expansive Statue Square allowed pleasant sea breezes - unpolluted in those days by foul exhaust fumes and the stench of untreated sewage - to pass through the Central area.
Queen Victoria's statue was removed from its plinth by the Japanese during the occupation, and was taken to Japan, along with her other bronze companions. It avoided destruction - either by the Japanese or by Allied bombing raids - and was found in a warehouse after the war and returned to Hong Kong.
After being repaired, the statue was placed in Victoria Park, in Causeway Bay, where it still stands today.
After many years of quiet and uncontroversial residence on her plinth at Causeway Bay, Queen Victoria's statue sprang to public attention once again a few years ago.
A so-called "performance artist" intent on making a statement smacked her on the nose with a hammer and poured red paint over her head.
The statue was duly repaired and the paint cleaned off, and the "artist" was rewarded for his originality with a custodial sentence. Queen Victoria's monumental bronze presence in Central is still commemorated today, though not in the way many would perhaps expect it to be.
The Chinese characters for Statue Square still read as "Queen's Statue Square", an unwitting reminder of a prominent element of Hong Kong's past that has long since vanished from the Central business area.
All rights reserved.