Some more Governors, and more about Money..

Submitted by Andrew Craig-Bennett on Sat, 05/01/2010 - 21:24
After the excitements of Sir John Bowring's time as Governor, his sucessor, Sir Hercules Robinson, was described by a British paper as having to "cleanse the Augean stables", which was of course one of the Labours of Hercules.

This Hercules added Kowloon to Hong Kong without much trouble, built Pokfulam reservoir (despite the rainfall, Hong Kong never has enough water) and set up Towngas, which supplies gas to the island to this very day.

Robinson was suceeded by Richard Macdonnell, both of them leaving roads named after themselves. MacDonnell had a few more problems, such the Hong Kong Government's unsucessful attempt to make money by making money, i.e. by opening a Mint; this in fact lost money and the Governor had to ask the Bank for a loan. Jardines sold the Mint machinery to Japan and the Japanese exported silver trade Dollars to Hong Kong...

He also legalised gambling; this was a Bad Idea because it interfered with the monopoly of the Hk Jockey Club, so gambling except on the nags or in Macau was banned again.

Robinson was suceeded by Kennedy, who has not only a road, in which I once lived, but an entire town named after him; in his time the Hong Kong Dollar, as distinct from the silver "trade dollar", which was variously minted in Mexico, Britain Japan and the USA, became the official currency. He also moved the Governor's summer residence to the cooler climate of the Peak, where the garden of the former Governor's residence is now a park.

Kennedy was suceeded by the altogether more colourful John Pope-Hennessy,

who as his name suggests was a Catholic Irishman, therefore not popular with the Hong Kong establishment. He compounded this unpopularity by allowing Chinese people to own (that is to say, to lease) land in the colony. Unfortunately his views, whilst always eccentric, were just as likely to be behind the times as ahead of them - he stopped the building of reservoirs because they were "against Chinese tradition" and opposed flush toilets on the same basis.

On the positive side, he granted British citizenship to Chinese nationals if they asked for it and he appointed the first Chinese member of Legco. This was Wu Tingfang,

who went to school in Hong Kong, then to University College London and then qualified as the first Chinese barrister; he eventually became Foreign Minister in Sun Yat-Sen's government of China.

Henessy is best remembered for trying to horsewhip a Judge with his umbrella; the Judge had been showing Lady Hennessy a catalogue of a museum with some naked statues in it and Sir John said it was a dirty book. He did not get a street named after him until much later, when instead of the respectable streets named after his predecessors he got one in Wanchai (not all Wanchai is a red light district) .

It is said that Pope-Hennessy was the third most unpopular Governor after General Rensuke Isogai and General Hisakazu Tanaka, who are in a class of their own (we'll be coming to that...)


Pope-Hennessy was suceeded by Sir George Bowen (Bowen Road is halfway up the Peak, definitely a good address) and Bowen was suceeded by William Des Voeux; since it was in his time that the Praya Reclamation actually went ahead, organised by Sir Catchick Paul Chater (who was an Armenian property developer - he got a road too) the Praya was renamed Des Voeux Road.

Des Voeux, whose name is even more unpronounceable in Cantonese, was suceeded by William Robinson, who was Governor for an awfully long time but who did not get a road named after him, because there already was one (see Hercules, above...) He was, however, much admired by Dr Sun Yat-Sen who went to medical school in Hong Kong during this time and thought very highly of Hong Kong altogether, famously comparing "what the British have done in a few years in this place with how little has been achieved in China in as many centuries".

The population at the end of Sir William Robinson's Governorship was around 198,000; it had grown from 94,000 in 1860 to 124,000 in 1870 to 160,000 in 1880 and would have been more had it not been for an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1894.

These figures are well above the birth rate; they must reflect immigration into Hong Kong and most of that immigration was Chinese, although Hong Kong gained a significant Indian population as well as some people from almost everywhere.

This level of immigration suggests that the little colony was doing something right; Chinese people were choosing to live there rather than in Late Qing China.

Sir William retired just in time to avoid the Righteous Society of Harmonious Fists, aka the Boxer Rebellion, which deserves a chapter on its own for its accidental benefits to Hong Kong.


Submitted by
paul (not verified)
Mon, 05/17/2010 - 12:16

The eighth governor of HK. He was a far from popular figure, because of his name of Pope Hennessy his nickname was ‘his holiness’ and the road was named after him 46 years after he had left, his wife was a half Malay, Eurasian, so the racism, that was common at the time, would have affected him too, personally, had not his wife been the governor’s wife. Other key parts of his reforming nature come from his background of being a military medical officer and lawyer.

 He was incidentally the forth of a run of 5 Irish governors He was put in place with the mission to improve the lot of the Chinese community. He had been a conservative mp for an Irish consistency at Westminster and was now working his way up the Empire colonial governorships. But it is claimed he lacked common sense and was inefficient, one critic wrote he has muddled the finances of every colony he had ever governed. His colonial secretary was so frustrated with him he leaked to the press a list of 39 things that he was yet to act on. Even his father in law hated him.  He was Sir Hugh Low, the father of the Malaysian rubber industry, he was such an eccentric, he had a pet gibbon called Elbis who opened and pretended to read his mail.

Hennessy introduced a Chinese representative to Legco, the first. He was Ng Choy a barrister and magistrate, he was maybe more acceptable to the racist Brits as he was Singapore born and had been educated in the UK.

Hennessy also reformed the prison system, including stamping out public flogging and branding on the neck that tended to force victims to become permanent unemployable criminals. But his leniency led to an upturn of crime. So much so that a public protest was held at the cricket ground.

He was in two minds over the mui tsai system, (the adoption of unwanted Chinese girls as servants) as he wanted to respect Chinese customs but was against the human trafficking that could be described as slavery, he wanted the Chinese to solve the issue themselves and hence the Po Leung Kuk children’s charity was set up, it still exists to protect children their museum is in nearby Causeway Bay.

Previously land areas were segregated, Hennessy as a reformer was against this, Ng Choy, his native appointment speculated wildly which led to Ng’s bankruptcy.  He had to flee HK and joined the Chinese civil service as an advisor on the world outside China.

There was a museum in city hall, it though practiced apartheid, Chinese women were allowed 1 morning a week, Europeans Sunday and set hours each day, Hennessy threatened to withdraw the govt. grant if segregation continued.

Hennessy set up the cadet scheme for the elite of the civil service, a few of the civil service would be groomed for higher positions and they would be fluent in Chinese. Researching Hennessy’s cabinet is like reading an Agatha Christie novel, each of them seems to have had their cause to stab Hennessy in the back, with a pair of scissors in his study.

 Marsh (who is remembered by Marsh road in Wanchai) his colonial secretary asked to be transferred as he could not work with Hennessy.

Hong Kong could have had the telephone earlier , but as he was not technologically inclined he choose to ignore it and having turned a blind eye a chaotic system developed.

Stewart became a police magistrate as it would mean less work with Hennessy, Stewart was totally dedicated to the education system but Hennessy attacked Stewart through his school, so he felt the best thing was to leave the education system.

General Donovan, commanding the armed forces, refused to sit on Legco, he did not want houses built so close to his barracks, for the queen’s birthday they organised rival parties, Hennessy telegrammed the war office and they ordered the general to cease his preparations. There was nearly an international incident as a visiting German navy band had offered to play, in their stead, for Hennessy.

Public works were slow under his rule practically nothing was done, the Tai tam reservoir was delayed, he felt dams were not particularly Chinese, but traditionally the Chinese are expert water engineers. . Central school was delayed as he did not like the style of English teaching, observatory delayed, the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter to be funded by gambling tax. All delayed, as he had to micromanage each project.

He left to become the governor of Mauritius, when he left none of the business community were there to see him off. Many of the Chinese community did though presenting him with gifts and silken banners embroidered with tributes to his humanity to them, amongst the poor and downtrodden of HK his nickname in pidgin English was #1 good friend, he was replaced by Sir Hercules Robinson whose first job was to calm the unsettled waters.

Thomas Hayllar a lawyer was the one who brought down his downfall armed not with a pair of scissors in Hennessy study but with a museum catalogue in the governor’s residence

The Battle of Mountain Lodge,

Thomas Hayllar arrived in 1867 from Bombay, when he finally left HK he was called painstaking and conscientious, respected by the Chinese and Legco, he was able and public spirited, I wonder though how many of these adjectives were applied as it was he brought down the unpopular governor aided by of all things an allegedly pornographic museum catalogue and an umbrella.

Hennessy is the only governor to have resorted to personal violence. He was 17 yrs older than his wife who he married, when she was as a teenager; he suspected that she was having an affair with Judge Hayllar. After all he had a reputation as a ladies man, suspicions rose when the judge cancelled going on the governor’s favourite weekend activity of sailing, Hennessy guessed that this was because his wife was with the judge. So he rushed home, stormed into his wife’s boudoir and found the judge together with his wife…he was showing her a museum catalogue from the museum Borbonica, Italy. Hennessy complained that some of the images were of classical nudes; later it was found that there was only one nude image in the whole catalogue.

But the battle lines were drawn, Hennessy was due to leave HK on a business trip to Peking he arranged for his secretary the German Eital, a former missionary and the first historian of HK, to let on what a cad the judge had been by spreading the story of the incident.

Soon after Hayllar and Hennessy met by accident on the Peak, Hennessy was holding on to his young son with his one hand and an umbrella in his other hand

Hennessy report of what happened next, is that the judge insulted his wife so he struck him with his umbrella.

Hayllar reported Hennessy was violent and committed a felonious assault, he was distraught, he had hit near the judge’s left eye and his chin was left bleeding, Hayllar wrestled the broken umbrella from the governor and hung it as a trophy over his mantelpiece. To Lord Kimberly, Hayllar wrote “. He tried to take out my eye, the sharp end of an umbrella but not much harm was done as he has an insignificant physique and is feeble.”

Kitty wrote to her father sir Hugh Low who came over from Malaya to comfort her, as he loathed Hennessy he stayed in the HK Hotel, now the Landmark in Central, rather than govt. house. He instantly hit it off with Hallyer and persuaded him to drop the case against the governor.

Johnson of Exco, the governor’s closest advisors though, had lots of questions on the incident for the governor.

Hayllar sued Eitel for slander, the Governor did not support Eitel, so Eitel withdrew the story, Eitel was disgusted at being used as an unsupported pawn resigned. Up to this point he had been one of the few western Hennessy supporters and returned to the education system. Hennessy then complained to Whitehall about Eitel, and then sent another letter cancelling the whole subject of the Hayllar incident.

ADAPTED from my Walk the Talk Article which will be commercially available soon

Hope David does not mind this advert, its the only one i'll do, Hennessy as I wrote before is one of my fave personalities

Thank you for a most informative addition! Please do keep these coming!

One thing that we should mention for those unfamiliar with HK history was that the Cricket Ground was not then where it is now, but was in the middle of Victoria (now Central) so a protest gathering there was absolutely in the CBD.