A Silver Trowel and St Paul’s History
Guest author Geoffrey Charles Emerson unearths the history of a small, silver trowel:
In January 2021, I received an email from Michael Stewart in England. Michael is the son of former St Paul’s Headmaster (1930 – 1958) Evan G. Stewart. Michael was born in Hong Kong in 1931, so 90 this year, and he is now retired in southern England near to his two daughters, Frances and Isobel. Ever since 2008, when Michael visited Hong Kong for Speech Day and for the Stewart Dinner in the school hall, in honour of Michael’s father and his father’s older brother, Michael’s uncle, Rev. A.D. Stewart, Headmaster of St Paul’s before E.G., Michael and I have kept up an active correspondence.
Michael wrote to me because recently he and his daughters have been going through family records and mementos, and they were puzzled by a silver trowel with a Chinese inscription on it, but no English. Longman’s dictionary defines a trowel as “a tool with a flat blade for spreading cement”, and trowels are often used for laying foundation stones. They are usually presented as a souvenir to the person, always a VIP, laying the stone. Michael sent me a photo and asked if I could provide a translation of the Chinese.
A friend of mine, Sylvia Fok Midgett, was happy to assist, and not only did she provide a good translation, but she also found on the Web photos of the stone and the building, which still remains in Shamshuipo! Another friend visited the site today and took photos for me. The translation reads: “To Commemorate Hardship. Medical Centre Ceremony. Mrs Stewart, Keepsake”. The stone was for an Anglican / Sheng Kung Hui (SKH) medical centre at 45 Berwick Street, Shamshuipo, Kowloon. The English name of the centre was St. Thomas Medical Centre, and the date was 15 April 1955.
St. Thomas’ Medical Centre in the 1950s
(found on the internet, original source unknown)
The Foundation Stone (bottom left) and Resource Centre today
(credit: Victor Li)
The Foundation Stone
Without doubt in 1955 a medical centre was needed in Shamshuipo. At that time, the Bishop of Hong Kong was Ronald Hall, who is remembered for his efforts to help the poorer people of Hong Kong. In 1955, Hong Kong was crowded with refugees and still recovering from the war years, so a medical centre was needed in Shamshuipo. With the later growth of hospitals and public clinics, this centre was perhaps less needed and today the building is used as a SKH Religious Education Resource Centre.
One question which came to Michael’s mind was why the wife of the Headmaster of St Paul’s College, then as now situated in Sai Ying Pun far from Shamshuipo , was asked to lay the stone. We will probably never know for sure, but my conjecture is that Bishop Hall was a very busy man and perhaps had another duty that day, so he asked E.G. and his wife to officiate for him. It also is interesting that Michael told me he thought his father had once told him that he had used the trowel to lay the stone, but now we know it was Michael’s mother, Dorothy Sarah Stewart (nee Lander). She, by the way, was the daughter of Bishop Gerald Lander (Bishop 1907-1920), who was Head of St Paul’s College prior to A.D. Stewart.
E.G. Stewart & Dorothy in the 1950s
Michael Stewart & his daughters Frances and Isobel (and the dog Liffey) 2020
History! One never knows when history will appear, and stories such as this make the history of St Paul’s meaningful and fascinating. I am grateful, of course, to all those who helped me uncover this story of a trowel. I hope many more stories will crop up not only from former staff but of course from former students too. St Paul’s has such a long and interesting history. Please, if you can help contribute a story, please do.
A famous historian once contributed the phrase “history by the ounce”. Seemingly minor things can make history really interesting and come to life. (Forget all those treaties and dates!) A small trowel...a fascinating story.
Born in the United States, in upstate New York, Geoffrey Charles Emerson came to Hong Kong in 1964 to teach at St Paul's College, Bonham Road, Hong Kong. After serving as Vice Principal, Guidance Counselor and teacher, he retired from the College and lives in the New Territories, Hong Kong.
In the 1970s, Geoffrey interviewed 23 former internees of Stanley Internment Camp as part of the research for his MPhil thesis. An exapanded version of his thesis was later published by HKUP as the book Hong Kong Internment, 1942-1945, Life in the Japanese Civilian Camp at Stanley.
More recently, Geoffrey penned the above article for the St Paul's College newsletter. Thank you to Michael and Geoffrey for sharing this story with us.
- Evan George Stewart (coincidentally, contributor Tideswell27 has just added a biography of this man, including a photo of his many medals)
- Dorothy Sarah Stewart (nee Lander)
- Arthur Dudley Stewart
- St Paul's College: The initial location at Glenealy, and the current location on Bonham Road
- St. Thomas Medical Centre
- More trowels, and lots more foundation stones