More Impressions, Working for HE the Governor, and Tiffin is also called Lunch | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

More Impressions, Working for HE the Governor, and Tiffin is also called Lunch

Date(s) of events described: 
Sat, 1 Jan 1927 to Sun, 1 Jan 1928

There were furniture shops with blackwood stands, marbletopped, low blackwood tables, chairs and stools, intricately carved in bird patterns, flower patterns, dragon patterns; camphorwood boxes carved with Chinese scenes, emitting a delicious aroma when opened. Camphorwood was in great demand for storing things against moths.

Mah Jong sets had their own shops, this being the national game. Sets were in great variety, the traditional style being tiles of bamboo and ivory.

Hong Kong Street
Hong Kong Street Scene

Rattan shops sold basketwork (rattan) chairs and tables, for use outside in the summer. One of these shops called itself "Do be chairful"!

Mamma often said how lucky we were to live in Hong Kong, but we did not need reminding! It was a happy life on this beautiful island, with friends of many races, and kind servants to care for us.

Returning from holidays up North, as our ship sailed into Hong Kong waters, past all the pretty islands, and the hills of Hong Kong and Kowloon began to appear, Audrey and I would agree that there was nowhere as beautiful as Hong Kong!

Two of my friends at this time were George Tarrant (Jerry), who walked with me in the hills; and Ian Grant of Butterfield and Swire, the shipping firm. I loved to hear from Ian about Ichang and other Yangtze River ports where he had served, and about England and Scotland. He gave me H.V. Morton's "In search of England" and "In search of Scotland".

George  Tarrant  (Jerry)
George Tarrant (Jerry)

One day in 1927 Mr. Hazlerigg told me that the Governor, Sir Cecil Clementi, needed a stenographer at Government.House and that I had been recommended for the post. I went to be interviewed by H.E. and was accepted. And so I began my career as the Governor's secretary in theyear of my seventeenth birthday. It was a great honour for me, so young, to be chosen!

Sir Cecil Clementi
Sir Cecil Clementi

Government House was a fine building of two storeys in large grounds with trees, shrubs and flower beds. It had wide verandahs on both sides upstairs and downstairs, furnished with potted palms, and there was the familiar grand view over the City and the Harbour towards Kowloon and its hills. A large banyan tree grew opposite the entrance, which faced the Peak. As you entered you turned left along the verandah, and at the end was the office of the Custodian of Government House, Mr. John Deakin, which I was to share with him. At the other end was the Aide-de-Camp's Office, and near it the Private Secretary's Office. The A.D..C. was always a Lieutenant in the Army, and the Private Secretary amember of the Hong Kong Colonial Service.

Government House
Government House

Sir Cecil Clementi was a tall handsome, distinguished man, his hair going gray; his wife, Lady Clementi (Penelope), also tall and fair with a delicate kind of beauty. Dione and Cecily aged about twelve and eleven, and Cresswell about eight, were fair like their mother and resembled both parents.

Mr. Deakin lived with his wife and children in the Lodge beside the main gate. He was a great character, rather handsome with gray hair, and spoke with a strong accent from somewhere in England. He never stopped talking and I do not know how I ever got through my work! He managed the domestic affairs of Government House and supervised the servants. The Governors' wives were certainly fortunate in having him.

The Governors, Aides-de-Camp and Private Secretaries changed but Mr. Deakin and I were permanent. I was at Government House for nearly seven years, until my marriage.

From my window I looked out on the trees of the garden, especially some tall palms. One summer's day when a typhoon struck Hong Kong, I watched as one of my trees was uprooted by the "tai fung" (great wind).

I loved working at Government House; it was like being one of a large family. Every morning I went to H.E.'s,office. I always called Sir Cecil "Your Excellency" and he and Lady Clementi always called me "Miss Steel", which made me feel very grown up. H.E. would dictate official letters and minutes; and also his personal letters, his favourite and most constant correspondent being his father-in-law, Admiral C.J. Eyres, D.S.O., of Bath. Those were the years of the Chinese warlords, and I had to take down in my notebook, and type, endless lengthy letters to Admiral Eyres about all the latest complicated machinations and wars between Chang Tso-lin, Wu Pei-fu, Feng Yu-hsiang (the Christian General), Yen Hsi-shan, Chang Hsueh-liang (the Young Marshal) and Chiang Kai-shek. I hope the Admiral was as fascinated by the warlords as Sir Cecil was. I certainly improved my knowledge of Chinese affairs, and it was a good test for Pitman's shorthand.

As well as typing official documents, minutes and letters, and personal letters, I kept the Government House visitors' book, which one of the boys brought to me from the main gate every morning. I typed copies of the previous day's names and addresses for H.E., his wife and the A.D.C. And I typed the table plans for lunch and dinner parties, and wrote the place cards and invitations. This was the first time I can remember the word "lunch" being used. We always called it "tiffin".

About this time Audrey and I began to go to tea dances in the Hong Kong Hotel Roof Garden. Our partners were Andrew Kinross, Frank Angus and Maurice Weill. We loved dancing, and it was not long before we were proficient at foxtrots, one steps and waltzes.


I found this page when doing some family history research and was thrilled to read this as John Deakin is my Great Grandfather.

That's great. I looked through my grandmother's pictures and there is one labelled 'Divine Deakin'. I guess this must be one of your relatives too. I can send you a digital copy if you like. Let me know where.

All the best



sjhenry, thanks for writing in.

I've made a page for your g-grandfather at

It's under your account so you can edit it if there's anything you can add. He was in Hong Kong for many years, so any information about his time here will be good to know, and especially any memories of his time in Stanley Camp.

Regards, David

PS Fergus, if you can upload a copy of the photo here too, it'll be good to see the Divine Mr Deakin.

Hello Fergus,

A photo would be amazing. My email address is

Thanks heaps,


I can't figure out how to upload pictures so emailed to you.

All the best



Sorry Fergus, I forgot to give the instructions for how to upload a photo. Here they are:

Regards, David

Unfortunately we dont know a whole lot about his time in Hong Kong.

My Grandfather, also named John Deakin (who was the second born of John and Sarah Deakin) and his family moved to New Zealand and because communication was a lot harder in those days they had minimal contact with his family. It wasnt until this century that we all met up again but unfortunately living in opposite parts of the world makes it harder to share details which is why I am now researching him.

Any information i find out I will pass on.




125_DivineDeakin.jpg, by fergusmacdermot


Fergus, thanks for uploading the photo. I slotted it into the comment above (here's the how-to).

Sonia, I found we also have a Daphne Mary Deakin mentioned on Gwulo, so I've made a page for her too at

I've assumed she was also part of your family, but please let me know if I'm wrong.

Regards, David