Why Wan Chai is not called Bowrington

Submitted by Andrew Craig-Bennett on Sat, 05/01/2010 - 21:16

I mentioned the business of the Government leasing you bits of seabed, didn't I?

The first chap to think of this was Governor Bowring, who thought it would be a Cunning Plan to add to Hong Kong Island's minute supply of flat land (William Jardine had already bagged Happy Valley for a racecourse back in the days of Governor Davis) by reclaiming the seabed in front of the Praya, He planned a great Scheme, which would have resulted in a new town in what is now Wanchai. The new town would of course have been called Bowrington. It didn't come to pass.

Here is why...

Sir John got involved in another local controversy, this time over an American pirate who rejoiced in the name of Eli Boggs, who was in due course convicted and sentenced to transportation for life (i.e. he was given a one way ticket back to the States courtesy of the HK Government). He was undoubtedly guilty, but alas it was all too evident that he had also been "framed" by a member of Bowring's administration who was rather more guilty - in fact he had been framed by Ma Chow Wong, a fish merchant, and Daniel Caldwell, Assistant Superintendent of Police, who between them were running a protection racket over the numerous pirates of the Pearl River Delta, hence the rather lenient sentence.

We will be returning to the theme of corruption in the Hong Kong Police rather later on...meanwhile, alas Caldwell was not the only member of Bowring's administration who was as bent as a nine bob note.

One such case resulted in Bowring getting involved in a libel case, which caused him to take an unscheduled holiday in Manila (this was a very popular expat pastime in the middle 1980's; you could finish work at 12.30 on Saturday, hop on a Cathay flight and be sinking a cold beer in the fleshpots of UN Avenue, Manila by six thirty*) to avoid being called as a witness.

Whilst he was away in Manila the Legislative Council met to consider the Governor's Praya Reclamation Scheme. This was opposed by two of the lesser Hongs, Dent & Co and Lindsay and Co, because it would have reduced the value of their land holdings.

Here's Dent & Co's office; just out of frame to the left is the waterfront - the Praya. They had a point, I think. If you want to know where this is today, it's the Landmark building in Central, and the waterfront is a good half a mile away :

Their motion in the Legislative Council was carried thanks to the support of Bowring's own officials...

I forgot to mention the Legislative Council (aka "Legco" and the Executive Council (aka "Exco") earlier. Sorry; they are going to be popping up from time to time, as indeed they still do today. They were invented by Pottinger, back in the 1840's, as a means to allow the Governor to consult slightly democratically (this is going to be very important) whilst governing. That is still pretty much what they do.

* You can't do that now; Mayor Alfred Lim cleaned Manila up during the Presidency of Cory Aquino; you would now need to get to Clark Field/Angeles City in order to be properly debauched.