Fire fighting before the Fire Brigade

Submitted by patricia on Tue, 05/31/2022 - 03:39

Just before this site goes to read-only for a few days, I thought I'd alert readers to an article I've written for SCMP Post Mag which is due out this coming Sunday, 5th June, on the scramble to protect Hong Kong from fires during its first three decades. In 1845 Canton experienced a truly devastaing fire at a theatre which claimed over 1600 lives (still one of the most deadly building fires in world history) - HK didn't have anything like that during these years, but some ripped through huge areas of the fledgling town at record speed - and building controls were so non-existent that access to the main water source - the Harbour - was often impossible. The Chinese Guilds - including the Pawnbrokers' Guild and the Silk Mercers' Guild were some of the first to have the new-fangled steam engines, probably imported from the USA. It was an 'all hands to the pumps time' - with men from the merchant houses, banks, army, guilds, police and shipping lines turning out to fight the biggest. But it was usually the Jack Tars - the sailors, both from the Royal Navy and from the various merchant fleets who won most praise for their resourcefulness and initiative. Get your copy of the PostMag this Sunday to read more!  Patricia O'Sullivan