Poor conditions at Central magistracy

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 23:56

Clipping from The Hongkong Telegraph, March 9, 1898, page 2, as referenced in Adam's book, The Great Fire of Hong Kong:

One does not need to be fastidious in finding fault with the wretched place in which the Police Magistrate of Hong Kong exercises his functions. We feel pretty confident in saying that there is not a more wretchedly lighted, ill-designed, and badly ventilated police court in all the British colonies. The room is abominably dirty, the ceilings are festooned with cobwebs and a fitting legend to place over the door of the place would be that which Dante described as adorning the portals of the nether regions. The dock is frequently crowded with prisoners, some in very advanced stages of disease and filthiness, and just about two feet away is the one solitary table that has to do duty for council, press, and police officers. It frequently happens that there is no room in the dock for all the day's prisoners and then the "overflow congregation" is jammed in between the dock rails and the backs of the chairs of the solicitors and reporters. The close proximity of, say, 20 or 30 people taken from a fantan "school" is not a comforting thing and several men of law have gone to much inconvenience rather than endure the continguity. Then also there is the dense throng of Chinese that fill the rear part of the room. They are generally idlers of the coolie class who come to kill time, and many of them bring allowed an unpleasant evidence of pulmonary troubles. In hot weather when an interesting case (from a Chinese point of view) is in progress the atmosphere of the place gives a suggestion of the "Middle Passage" in a slaver and the constant talking and expectorating is really sickening. In winter things are not much better and the drafts that sweep through it have given many a cold. Indeed one of the worthy occupants of the bench one day lately was quite voiceless and at other times he has had to dispense justice with his hat on owing to the draft. It is a common thing to see the gas alight during the forenoon in winter and generally the present Police Court seems as badly adapted for its purposes as it can possibly be. The position is a good one, and surely a little consideration on the part of the P. W. D. might very well be given to the matter of remedying the present unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Date picture taken
9 Mar 1898