1902 Encyclopedia > Hong Kong

Hong Kong

HONG-KONG, properly HIANG-KIANG (the place of "sweet streams"), an important British island-possession, situated off the south-east coast of China, opposite the province of Kwang-tung, on the east side of the estuary of the Chu-Kiang or Canton river, 38 miles east of Macao and 75 south-east of Canton, between 22° 1´ N. lat. and 114° 18´ E. long. It is one of a small cluster named by the Portuguese "Ladrones" or Thieves, on account of the notorious habits of their old inhabitants. Extremely irregular in outline. It has an area of 29 square miles, measuring 10_ miles in extreme length from north-east to south-west, and varying in breadth from 2 to 5 miles. From the mainland it is separated by a narrow channel, which at Hong-Kong roads, between Victoria, the island capital, and Kau-lung Point, is about one mile broad, and which narrows at Ly-ce-moon Pass to little over a quarter of a mile. The southern coast in particular is deeply indented ; and there two bold peninsulas, extending for several miles into the sea, form two capacious natural harbours, namely, Deep Water Bay, with the village of Stanley to the east, and Tytam Bay, which has a safe, well-protected entrance showing a depth of 10 to 16 fathoms. An in-shore island on the west coast, called Aberdeen or Taplichan, affords protection to the Shekpywan or Aberdeen harbour, an inlet provided with a granite graving dock, the caisson gate of which is 60 feet wide, and the Hope dock, opened in 1867, with a length of 425 feet and a depth of 24 feet. Opposite the same part of the coast, but nearly 2 miles distant, rises the largest of the surrounding islands, the Lamma, whose conspicuous peak, Mount Stenhouse, attains a height of 1140 feet, and is a landmark for local navigation. On the northern shore of Hong-Kong there is a patent slip at East or Matheson Point, which is serviceable during the north-east monsoon, when sailing vessels frequently approach Victoria through the Ly-ce-moon Pass. The ordinary course for such vessels I from the westward, on which side they are sheltered by Green Island and Kellett Bank. There is good anchorage throughout the entire channel separating the island from the mainland, except in the Ly-ce-moon Pass, where the water is deep ; the best anchorage is in Hong-Kong roads, in front of Victoria, where, over good holding ground, the depth is 5 to 9 fathoms. The inner anchorage of Victoria Bay, about half a mile off shore and out of the strength of the tide, is 6 to 7 fathoms. Victoria, the seat alike of government and of trade, is the chief centre of population, but in recent years a tract of 4 square miles on the mainland has been covered with public buildings and villa residences. Practically an outlying suburb of Victoria, Kau-lung (Nine Dragons), or as it is commonly called Kowloon, is free from the extreme heat of the capital, being exposed to the south-west monsoon. Numerous villas have also been erected along the beautiful western coast of the island, while Stanley, in the south, has lately been attracting attention by its excellent qualifications as a watering place.

Map of Hong Kong

Map of Hong Kong, and adjacent coast and islands
(Date of map: circa 1881)

The island is mountainous throughout, the low granite ridges, parted by bleak, tortuous valleys, leaving in some places a narrow stripe of level coast-land, and in others overhanging the sea in lofty precipices. From the sea, and especially from the magnificent harbour which faces the capital, the general aspect of Hong-Kong is one of singular beauty. With something of the rugged grandeur of the western Scottish isles, and a suggestion of Italian softness and grace, it is distinguished by unmistakable traces of a purely tropical character. Inland the prospect is wild, dreary, and monotonous. The hills have a painfully bare appearance from the want of trees. The streams, which are plentiful, are traced through the uplands and glens by a line of straggling brushwood and rank herbage. No where is the eye relieved by the grateful evidences of cultivation or fertility. The mountains, which are mainly composed or granite, serpentine, and syenite, rise in irregular masses to considerable heights, the loftiest point, Victoria Peak, reaching and altitude of 1825 feet. The Peak lies immediately to the south-west of the capital, in the extreme north-west corner of the island, and is used as a station for signaling the approach of vessels. Patches of land, chiefly around the coast, have been laid under rice, sweet potatoes, and yams, but the island is hardly able to raise a home supply of vegetables. The mango, lichen, pear, and orange are indigenous, and to these the English have added several fruits and esculents. One of the chief products is building stone, which is quarried by the Chinese. The animals are few, comprising a land tortoise, the armadillo, a species of boa, several poisonous snakes, and some woodcock. The public works suffer from the ravages of white ants. Water everywhere abounds, and is supplied to the shipping by means of tanks. Hong-Kong acquired the name of an extremely unhealthy place at the time of settlement, but it has been found that the mortality is only high in certain seasons. It is not free from a certain malaria which, according to Montgomery Martin, is thrown off by the decomposed rocks that have been baked by a strong sun during the day. The change from the heat and rain of summer (May to October) to the refreshing temperature of the cool season tends to produce disease of the kidneys, &c. During the years 1871-75 the mean temperature was 73° Fahr. in the shade, and the range from 56° to 84°, taking the mean readings for the months. Occasionally the thermometer registers below 40°, and 26th February 1876, when extreme cold was experienced, water was frozen to the thickness of _ of an inch. The annual rainfall was 99·24 inches in 1871 and 83·43 in 1875. The population, which in 1841was only 5000, had increased to 21,514 in 1848, to 37,058 in 1852, to 123,511 in 1862, and to 139,144 in 1876. According to the census of 1872, there were of Europeans and Americans 5931, of Chinese 115,444, and of natives of India, Goa, Manila, &c., 2623. Victoria was the residence of almost all the Europeans, and of the Chinese 83,487 (14,269 women) resided there, including a boat population of 12,309, while 10,507 resided in Kau-lung and other villages, and 11,400 were scattered along the coast in boats.

Formerly an integral part of China, the island was first ceded to Great Britain in 1841, and the cession was confirmed by the treaty of Nanking in 1842, the charter bearing date 5th April 1843. Kau-lung, temporarily occupied for several years as a military sanatarium, was ceded by a treaty contracted by Lord Elgin in 1861. The colony is under a governor, and an executive council comprising the colonial secretary, the commander of the troops, the attorney-general, and the auditor-general. The legislative council, presided over by the governor, is composed of all these officials (except the commander), with the addition of four unofficial members, nominated by the crown on the recommendation of the governor. The occupation of Hong-Kong was effected at a considerable outlay, but the parliamentary vote on its behalf was reduced from £50,000 in 1845 to £9200 in 1853, and since 1855 the colony has paid its local establishments. In 1868 it extinguished its debt, which had dwindled to £15,625, and it now pays £20,000 a year as military contribution to the imperial exchequer.

The capital, situated at the north-west extremity of the island, is laid out in fine wide streets and terraces. The buildings, mostly of stone and brick, are greatly superior to those of a Chinese city. The merchants’ houses are elegant and spacious, with broad verandahs and tasteful gardens. Including the Chinese town, Victoria extends for 3 miles along the bay, towards which it slopes from the base of the hills. It is lighted with gas, and supplied with water from the Pokovfulun reservoir, which impounds 74 million gallons. The main thoroughfare is protected by a massive seawall, and the appearance of the town has been greatly improved by the construction of public gardens. Beside several handsome Government buildings, Victoria has a large exchange, a cathedral and bishop’s palace, several good hospitals, extensive barracks, and a few higher class schools. A city hall with library and museum was opened in 1876, and the public works completed in that year (the extension of public gardens, construction of many miles of mountain path, and improvement of drainage) involving an outlay of £30,867.The educational provision of the Government in 1876 comprised 54 schools, with an attendance of 3111 pupils, and of these 16 with 1816 pupils were native schools, in which the language is Chinese. At the central school (556 pupils in 1876) there is a Chinese class for Europeans, as there is also in several of the missionary and "grant-in-aid" schools. Hong-Kong publishes, in addition to 5 English newspapers (2 daily), 1 in Chinese every second day and a Portuguese weekly. The streets are guarded by a strong force of Indian sepoys, and the natives are not allowed to go, abroad after 8 o’clock at night without a pass ; but the general character of the town is orderly, as is attested by the police returns, from which it appears that only 68 persons were convicted before the superior courts in 1875. The common mode of street conveyance is by chairs, which are carried by coolies, while the passage across to Kau-lung is usually effected in sampans or pull-away boats. Victoria has a few slight industries, including sugar refining, rum-distilling, and ice-making. In 1877 the introduction of a stream laundry broke the monopoly of the dhoby. There are upwards of 500 Chinese hongs of a superior class belonging to ship compradors and to dealers in fancy good, china ware, articles in gold and silver, opium and other drugs, rice, goods, tea, &c.

Although formerly the central points of the great European Chinese trade and still a thriving seat of commerce, Hong-Kong owes its present importance chiefly to its financial prominence as the headquarters of the banking interest, and its magnificent harbour, which makes it both the station of the British fleet and an entrepôt for the custom trade of all nations. In 1877 it was the residence of 14 foreign consuls, and had 10 large banking-housing. It still imports opium more largely than any other port, and among other articles of which it is the center of trade are sugar, flour, salt, china ware, nut-oil, amber, cotton, sandalwood, ivory, betel, live stock, granite, and ship supplies. The principal transactions in tea and silk are controlled by firms residing in Hong-Kong. As it is a free port there are no exact returns of trade, but in 1877 the imports from Great Britain alone amounted to £3,646,068 and the exports thither to £1,895,310. Chief of these exports was tea, the value of which in 1876 was £839,568. In the same year the opium imported amounted to 96,985 piculs, as compared with 69,851 piculs received at all the other treaty ports. Of 3424 chests of Bengal opium imported in February 1876, 1500 passed into the hands of local consumers and 1924 were exported ; at the same date there were 4800 chests in stock as compared with 1374 at Shanghai. There is an enormous passenger traffic: between the years 1871 and 1876 there have passed through the port no fewer than 15,000 Chinese coolies, of whom the majority have gone to the United States. In the year 1876 Queensland drafted hence as many as 8325 emigrants. Large steamers go and come almost daily, the ports in regular communication with Hong-Kong including Bombay, Calcutta, Singapore, Canton, San Fernando, Yokohama, and (since 1875) Sydney. The aggregate shipping that entered the poet in 1878 amounted to 3,900,891 tons. Of this 45·2 percent. Were junk, 43·7 steamers, and 11·1 European and American built sailing vessels. Exclusive of native craft there entered and cleared (1876) 4,359,616 tons, of which 3,150,925 were in British and 1,208,664 in foreign vessels. The revenue in 1878, derived from land rents, fines, licences to sell opium, and spirits, &c., amounted to £197,424, the expenditure to £189,695 ; there is usually a surplus of revenue. At the 31st January 1877 the bank-notes in circulation were stated at $3,536,380, and the specie in reserve at $1,295,000. Hong-Kong has a dollar of its own coining (4s. 2d.), but its mint, which entailed a cost of £9,000 a year, has ceased to operate. Other coins in circulation are the Mexican dollar, Chinese taels and cash, the American trade dollar, and Japanese silver yen. A movement is at present on foot to have the last tow coins placed on an equality with the Mexican dollar. The standard of value is 1000 Mexican dollars to 717 taels by weight. In spite of the great increase in recent years of the direct trade with the various treaty ports, the progress of Hong-Kong has been steady, and there is every probability of its maintaining its peculiar position of influence in the Chinese trade. In 1871it was placed in telegraphic communication with England, and in its recent legislative action it has shown vitality and enterprise. The gambling practices which prevailed here, as they still do in many Chinese towns, have been vigorously suppressed, and the difficulties arising from the development of the coolie emigration have been overcome. The presence of Chinese revenue cruisers in Hong-Kong waters has led (February 1880) to a storm of opposition on the part of resident British merchants, who declare that this amounts to a blockade of the island ; but British officials uphold the action of China as a necessary check upon the opium and salt smuggling.

Besides the Government papers and The Hong-Kong Almanac and Directory, see A Letter from Hong-Kong, descriptive of that Colony, by a Resident, 2nd ed., Lond., 1845 ; Bentham, Flora Hongkongensis, Lond.,1861 ; Beach, Visit of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh to Hong-Kong in 1869, Hong-Kong, 1869 ; J. Legge, "The Colony of Hong-Kong," in The China Review (edited by Dennys), 1872. (A. McD.)

The above article was written by A. Macdonald, London.

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