32-34 Cochrane Street [1878-1901]
On the night of August 14, 1901, three four-storey tenement houses in Cochrane Street came tumbling down, killing 43 of the inmates and severely injuring many more. Known for many years afterwards as the Cochrane Street collapse, the disaster was the worst of its kind in the history of the Colony. It caused such a sensation at the time and had such repercussions that I propose devoting several articles to the subject.
The collapse occurred without the slightest warning, Like a pack of cards the jerry-built tenements came down on the luckless Chinese, burying them beneath of debris. To add to the horrors of the scene, a fire broke out in the wreckage.
Not waiting for any official inquiry, the Hongkong Telegraph opened an attack on careless builders in the Colony. These collapses are becoming of much too frequent occurrence in Hongkong " said the journal " and when one takes a stroll through certain districts of the city, one only wonder is that they do not occur after every shower of rain. Any European builder will tell you that the class of work which is passed in buildings in Hongkong is disgraceful ". The first inquiry into the disaster was little more than a farce. The Court's finding was " that the death of the forty-three persons was due to the collapse of the buildings Nos. 32 and 34 Cochrane Street, a fact only too-well-known by every resident in Hongkong
Some remarkable evidence, however was given at the inquiry. The Inspector of Buildings who examined the ruins on the morning after the collapse, said the cause of the disaster was the faulty condition of the party wall between tenements No. 32 and 34. This wall said the witness was entirely hollow; It had been erected about 1878 when the tenements were only three storey high. About 12 months before the disaster, the roof had been taken off and another storey added. This increased weight and rains soaking through the roof and had probably weakened the already faulty wall and it had had collapsed bringing the two tenements down with it. The third tenement, no. 30 had been badly damaged.
The Acting Assistant Director of Public Works, said that the tenements were built in 1878. In November 1900 permission had been granted to add another storey to the tenements. These additions conformed with the Building Ordinance and Public Health Ordinance. In witness's opinion, the cause of the disaster was to be found in the wretched brick work, not only in the party wall, but throughout the whole building
The existence of a Blacksmith’s shop on the ground floor of No. 32 Cochrane, Street. It was proved in evidence that vibration has a tendency to weaken the walls of .a house.
On the ground floor of No. 34 Cochrane Street, was a cockloft used by the tenant, who was a contractor for Coring beams and plank
At a later date, the owner of Nos 32 and 34 Cochrane Street, and the contractor responsible for the additions were fined £500 and $450 respectively on charges of contravening the Building Ordinance.
Source: Old Hong Kong by Colonial Vol 1