Queen's Birthday Parade | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Queen's Birthday Parade

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Queen's Birthday Parade
Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Friday, May 26, 1893


The online records of the UK National Archives contain a series of three photos entitled, "Hong Kong. Queen's Birthday Review 1893" (1). Although her actual birthday was the 24th May, Hong Kong marked Queen Victoria's birthday with a Public Holiday and military ceremony on 26th May 1893. The local newspapers (2, 3) covered the event, from where the following info is sourced.

Here's the first pic.

Queen's Birthday Parade
Queen's Birthday Parade, by uk national archives

Crowds are awaiting the start of the ceremony on the still under construction Praya, hence the piles of stones and other building material. The venue obviously wasn't ready to host a major ceremony, but had been chosen as the original venue, Happy Valley, was deemed "too damp...for purpose" following heavy rain.

A flag is flying near the middle of the photo, beneath which a number of uniforms are drawn up, facing inland, with a crowd in a half-circle around them. Two, or possibly three, figures are standing in-line, infront of the others, suggesting their seniority.The two nearest to us are in light and dark uniforms respectively and both seem to be wearing ornamental headgear. Colonel G.R. Macdonell commanded the parade that day, whilst The Governor, William Robinson, took the salute. I don't know anything about ceremonial uniforms, but most of the photos of Robinson and other Governors of that era show them in dark ceremonial uniform, so I'm assuming The Gov's the one in the dark attire with Colonel Macdonell beside him in the light uniform.   

The exact location was said to be "in-front of City Hall", where Statue Square is today. The exact location can be determined as the photo shows that the positions of the new roads that would crisscross the Praya had already been laid out. Wardley Street can be seen running from the right to the left of the photo where it joins a circle shape, which must be the roundabout upon which Queen Victoria's Statue would later stand at the junction with Chater Road as seen in this 1902 pic.

Statue Square 1902
Statue Square 1902, by Biketripper


The second pic in the series must have been taken a good few minutes later as the crowd has been cleared out of the way, the soldiers have marched on and lined-up in two rows, and there's a black junk in the harbour that wasn't there earlier.

Queen's Birthday Parade
Queen's Birthday Parade, by uk national archives

I can't find the man in the dark uniform anywhere. He's gone from under the flagpole where everyone seems far too relaxed for anyone very senior to be in the immediate vicinity. Perhaps he was reviewing troops lined-up out of sight of the camera.

As the venue was new it was the subject of comment. The Hong Kong Daily Press found the site, "not very desirable, the limited area available somewhat cramping the men, detracting from the (illegible) imposing appearance of the parade, while the glare from the bare red earth was intense", but conceded that the troops had, "a very attractive background of blue sea and blue sky relieved by hundreds of fluttering flags on the men of war in the harbour".

The garrison was represented by troops from the Shropshire Light Infantry, Hong Kong Regiment, Royal Artillery, Asiatic Artillery (later to become the Hong Kong Singapore Artillery I think), Battery of Artillery Volunteers, Royal Engineers and the Chinese Submarine Miners. The name of the latter unit is difficult to read from the online copies of the old newspapers but, as Google confirms the existence of various similarly named units, I think I've quoted it accurately. I can't see any artillery in the photo so they must have been out of sight of the camera.

The third photo is the most dramatic, capturing the gun smoke of the salute hanging in the air, and The Gov is back where he belongs under the flag pole.

Queen's Birthday Parade
Queen's Birthday Parade, by uk national archives

The Asiatic Artillery and the Volunteer Artillery fired the first 14 and last 7 rounds respectively of a 21 gun salute, interspersed by a feu de joie from the infantry. I had to look up the meaning of feu de joie. It's a rifle salute fired by soldiers on ceremonial occasions, each one firing in succession along the ranks to make a continuous sound. Initially I thought the photo must have been taken during the feu de joie, but now I'm not so sure. Since the artillery can't be seen, I'm confident that it was the infantry who were doing the firing. However, with so many soldiers involved, the feu de joie must have taken quite some time - several seconds at least. However, judging by the way the flags are flying, there was a strong breeze, so how come the gun smoke appears as an uninterupted screen along the entire line of soldiers? Shouldn't the smoke be thinner, having been disbursed by the wind, at the end of the line where the firing started, and get gradually thicker towards where the firing was more recent? So perhaps the infantry didn't only fire a feu de joie that day. Maybe they also fired a volley simultaneously, i.e. together at the same time, which logically should produce a smoke screen of uniform size and consistency as seen in the photo. Other possible explanations gratefully received.


(1). UK National Archives image ref.'s CO 1069/446 (19), (20) & (21).

(2). China Mail, 27-5-1893.

(3). Hong Kong Daily Press, 27-5-1893.

Strangely, the exact same three photos as above also appear later in the same National Archives album, but wrongly entitled "New Territories", UK National Archives image ref.'s CO 1069/446 (42), (43) & (44) refer.






That's a good set of photos, with very early views of the new reclamation. Thanks for the extra notes about the scene too. Sorry to say I don't have any good input about the gun smoke.

Regards, David