Ah Hop | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Ah Hop

Date(s) of events described: 
Sun, 1 Jan 1899

In the third and last of Mary Unsworth's memoirs, she tells us the sad story of Ah Hop, a Chinese nurse she came to know. Unlike Mary's previous tale of Chow Sing, this one doesn't have a happy ending.


"Ah Hop" by Mary Unsworth, copied from handwritten pages, punctuation as original.

When I first became acquainted with Ah Hop she was nursing a great friend of mine who was ill, and whom I saw a great deal of, so consequently I heard and saw much of Ah Hop she being the professional nurse. She was a small woman, with kindly looking face, small bright black eyes, white even teeth. Of course, as her profession demanded, scrupulously clean, dressed in Chinese women's dress, loose silk trousers, long white jacket, black hair rolled in a knot behind with a jade stone comb in, and large jade stone ear rings.

I met Ah Hop in many sick rooms, visiting my friends in their illnesses, and everywhere I heard her praises sung. She was so gentle, so neat, so soothing, so deft handed, and quiet. In course of time I learnt her history, one bit from one person she nursed, another bit from another, and I eventually pieced the various bits together into a whole.

Her father had lived near Canton doing a bit of farming (that is growing rice) and rearing fowls, also a bit of vegetable growing, and by industry making a fairly decent livelihood. When Ah Hop was fourteen years old according to the custom of the country she was sold by her father to a man who kept a stall in the Hong Kong market, to be his second wife.

The marriage proper took place some three years later, and then Ah Hop was transferred to her husband's home in Hong Kong. After a few years had passed, and Ah Hop had had two baby boys, her husband died, leaving her a widow at 24 years of age. Now the custom of the country is that the first wife always take precedence of the others, and tho she may have no children of her own and the others may have children she claims a prior right to the children.

This was so in Ah Hop's experience, her husband's first wife had no children, but she appropriated the two little boys belonging to Ah Hop, as custom gave her, and the husband's mother, who was also of the household, more (word illegible) in the bringing up of the children than the mother herself, so Ah Hop found herself rather in the way, especially as the household had to be reduced now that the funds were low after the husband's death.

So Ah Hop asked leave of her mother-in-law to go out to a situation she had found to be nurse in an English family living in Hong Kong, which was readily granted. So Ah Hop transferred the affection she would have bestowed on her own children had circumstances allowed, to the English children she undertook to nurse. She took them to her heart and watched over them as faithfully as a mother could, night and day never wearying of her duties, only the day a year when she went to visit her own children and saw how they were growing.

Sickness entered the household in which Ah Hop was, and then it was that her special gift for nursing became evident. The doctor attending the family asked her if she wouldn't go in for training in the hospital under his direction. But she didn't want to leave her adopted children just then and so deferred the idea. But later when the children she was nursing were ordered to go to England she consented to accompany them there, the doctor still persuading her to adopt sick nursing as a profession, and giving her letters of introduction to some colleagues of his at the London hospitals.

Ideas if you'd like to help Gwulo...

#3. Type up a page of a Jurors List (30 minutes)

The Jurors Lists are great resources for researching people and companies in Hong Kong. We're transcribing them and posting the results online for everyone to benefit from (you can see them at: http://gwulo.com/node/6706).

If you'd like to type up a page, you can find the instructions at: http://gwulo.com/node/19905

‚ÄčThanks for helping!

After a year in England she gave up her situation as children's nurse, as her charges were getting old enough for school. Then it was that she made use of those recommendations of the HK doctor, and went into the hospital to be trained. After a two year course of training she went back to Hong Kong fully equipped as a professional nurse, and a great acquisition and help she was to the doctors. It proved a very lucrative profession, as she was in great demand, and so she became a woman of means and prosperity.

Meantime her two sons had been found wives, and there were grandchildren to interest her, and for whom she could open her heart. But to her great sorrow one of her grandchildren, a child of four years had some deformity which prevented him from walking. Now Ah Hop with her knowledge of nursing knew that it could be cured or partially so, with proper medical treatment, but she had to stand by and see the child improperly treated, such as being anointed with clay, and wearing of amulets and charms. In vain Ah Hop pleaded with her son and his wife to let her take the child and it properly treated, even offering them a large sum to let her take it. But unfortunately the parents had imbibed many of the prejudices against European doctors that many of the Chinese have. Some of the ignorant and exclusive classes have a tradition that English doctors take a delight torturing children. Ah Hop's daughter-in-law sad to say had some experience of this kind, and on no account would she part with the child, or let it be treated by a doctor, in spite of Ah Hop's assurances to the contrary. So Ah Hop's heart was torn in two, she had to look on silently and see and child growing up a suffering cripple when he could have been cured.

Like most women of her tender feelings this suffering and deformity appealed more to her affections than the healthy and strong, and so this little grandchild because of his helplessness became to her the one absorbing interest and passion of her life. Could she only have adopted him for hers solely she would have been happy. But as I have said, that the parents wouldn't permit. So she had to be content seeing him as often as she could and showering gifts on him.

There came a time when Ah Hop was engaged by the doctors on a very special case, the doctor persuading her to undertake it, as he had such confidence in her. Whilst this was going on at rather a critical time she received news that her precious grandson had been attacked by smallpox, her first impulse was to fly to his side, and she asked the doctor if a substitute could be found to fill her But that the doctor refused to do, he said she was not to leave until the patient was out of danger. In a week he would release but not before. On the fifth day word came to her that her child was dead, beyond anything she could do for him.

This was the one great sorrow of Ah Hop's life, after that she appeared an old woman. She went with her nursing for a few more years, but much quieter and more mechanically, and then retired. She is still living, a quiet kind old woman, and still takes an interest in some of her old patients visiting them trying to soothe where there is any pain or suffering, but no way has been able to fill space left vacant by the little grandchild.


Thank you to David Ackerley for sharing his Great-Aunt's memoirs with us. You can read the rest of her memoirs at: http://gwulo.com/node/23416/view-pages

Also on Gwulo.com this week: