was where it
In the 1860s, Pedder Street was actually a square where people met and
sat in the shade. Eric Cavaliero traces how the times changed
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
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
a street and was famous _ some might say notorious _ for its clock
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
But it was illuminated at night anyway, and acted as a beacon for
boats coming into the wharf, according to another historian, Jan
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
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,
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
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
"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.
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