Thursday, October 23, 2014   




Pedder Street was where it all happened

Eric Cavaliero

Thursday, August 13, 1998

Pedder Street

was where it

all happened

In the 1860s, Pedder Street was actually a square where people met and

sat in the shade. Eric Cavaliero traces how the times changed

P

EDDER Street, as far as most people are concerned, is little more than

a place you pass through in order to pick up a taxi, enter the Central

MTR station or, if you're wealthy, make some expensive purchases at

classy shops.

But there was a time in the 1860s when it was a fashionable and shady

meeting place for, among others, courting couples.

Extending inland from Pedder's Wharf, it was really more a square than

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a street and was famous _ some might say notorious _ for its clock

tower.

In his book, Hong Kong: A Rare Photo Record of the 1860s, Arthur

Hacker wrote: "On the stroke of midnight on 31 December, 1862, the

chimes of Hong Kong's new town clock rang out for the first time,

heralding the arrival of the new year. The clock tower stood 80 feet

tall at the foot of Pedder Street. It was designed by a Mr Rawlings.

"A committee had been set up to collect subscriptions. Sadly there

was not as much public support as had been expected. Historian E J

Eitel complained that: `All the decorative features of the original

pretty design had been abandoned. The result was an ugly tower

obstructing the principal thoroughfare.

"At one time, the whole project seemed doomed for lack of funds,

until Douglas Lapraik, the shipping magnate, offered to pay for the

clock. Lapraik had begun his career as a humble watchmaker's

apprentice and had his own clock-making business.

"As a public relations exercise the clock was a disaster. The

photographer John Thomson noted that the clock was `liable to fits of

indisposition, resting from its duties at the most inconvenient

seasons'."

But it was illuminated at night anyway, and acted as a beacon for

boats coming into the wharf, according to another historian, Jan

Morris.

Pedder Street itself, Ms Morris said, was "lined with a double row of

trees, giving it rather a Mediterranean look. Sedan-chair men waited

in the shade for their masters, and on each side were the arcaded

premises of merchant houses, attended by Sikh doormen".

In the 1860s, she added, "nearby Pedder's Wharf, where the newcomer

went ashore, was "crowded from dawn to dusk with launches, ships'

boats and sampans. Immediately the new arrivals found themselves in

the heart of commercial Hong Kong. No longer were its streets

precarious with rutted mud and littered with matsheds. Now they were

proper Victorian thoroughfares, gaslit and paved, such as the British

had laid in commercial cities all over their empire."

The infant colony of Hong Kong had already started its climb to fame

and fortune when First Lieutenant William Pedder of of the armed

steamer HMS Nemesis stepped ashore here in 1841.

On 22 June that year he was appointed Hong Kong's first harbourmaster

and marine magistrate. Morris wrote: "There was a courthouse and a

jail, and a post office, and a harbourmaster's office, whose first

occupant (Pedder) ran a tight enough port _ berths strictly allocated,

top-gallant yards to be struck on entrance, jib and spanker booms

rigged close when ordered. The harbourmaster's original office was a

pretty pillared villa."

In his book Hong Kong Cavalcade, John Luff wrote: "Pedder built his

office on the rocks above a track which has since become Wyndham

Street, and for many years the site was known as Pedder's Hill.

"The harbourmaster's boat was tied up at the end of a wharf which

extended to the deep water. Pedder's Wharf became a definite locality,

and, as the old records show, several firms used it as a mailing

address."

Mail was very much on people's minds 150 years ago, according to

historian Nigel Cameron. "Reclamation of the foreshore went on apace

in the 1840s," he wrote, "and the first post office found itself

further and further from the harbour.

"In 1846, it was moved from Garden Road to a handsome neoclassical

building on the corner of Wyndham Street and Queen's Road. The man in

charge at the time _ a Mr Hyland _ lived on the waterfront and noticed

that much mail was collected by avid citizens directly from the

vessels as they tied up in the harbour. He sent off a dispatch to

London to the effect that the post office ought to have its own

pick-up boat, and this duty was eventually given to the harbourmaster,

Lieutenant Pedder."

By the 1880s, Hong Kong required a new wharf on the site. The Hong

Kong Telegraph reported on 12 February, 1886 that "the first pile of

the new Pedder's Wharf has been driven at a distance of 38 feet (about

10 metres) from the praya wall. Three similar piles have been towed

over from Tsim Sha Tsui and are ready to be put in place". The new

wharf was located where Pedder Street now meets Des Voeux Road.

Luff wrote: "It extended 195 feet out from the praya wall, and was 40

feet broad, having six sets of steps down to the water. When the big

reclamation scheme of the 1890s commenced, the wharf had to go and its

site became an inland point.

"When reclamation was completed in 1900, a new pier was planned to

take the place of Pedder's Wharf, and when completed was renamed Blake

Pier, after Hong Kong's 12th colonial governor, Sir Henry Blake

(1898-1903).

In the last year of Blake's tenure important public works were begun.

A new red brick post office and government offices started to rise at

the foot of Pedder Street. The elegant GPO building, known as "the

Old Lady of Pedder Street", was a silent witness to one of the most

dramatic incidents in Hong Kong's history. It happened on a hot July

day when former Governor Sir Henry May (1912-18) arrived to assume his

new duties.

"May and his wife stepped ashore at Blake Pier and were borne away in

their sedan chairs by eight scarlet-clad bearers," wrote Cameron.

"No sooner had his chair approached the Pedder Street flank of the

new post office than a shot rang out and an assassin's bullet whizzed

past him to lodge in the chair occupied by his wife, Helena."

The gunman, Li Hung Hung, turned out to be a man harbouring a grudge

against May, a former police official. It was subsequently revealed

that May, while serving as superintendent of police, "had once dealt

with an undesirable mainland immigrant in a manner that would

certainly have incited resentment".

As it transpired, Li was the son of that immigrant. Several years

before, May had imprisoned Li's father. Chronicles say that when Li

learned of the arrangements for May's return to Hong Kong, his

thoughts turned to assassination.

All rights reserved.

END


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