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TOPEES, TIFFIN AND THE NOON DAY GUN


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This is the inspirational story of a young girl who, at six years of age, sailed to Hong Kong with her mother and brother to join her father who was already there.  

It is a story about life, and a magical childhood during the time when the exotic city of Hong Kong was still a British Colony. It is about learning to fit into another culture; the strange and beautiful life of the Orient.  

It tells of life in a big house with servants, and the visit of the White Russian Circus, first formed in Harbin after the performers escaped from Russia during the Russian Revolution.  

It is a reflective and colourful account of travel, romance, tragedy and loss and the horrible realities of war in an exciting and dangerous era.  

It also covers the writer’s evacuation from Hong Kong and her voyage from Singapore to yet another new life in Australia. 

In Store Price: $AU22.95 
Online Price:   $AU21.95

 

ISBN: 978-1-921731-78-5
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 136
Genre: Non Fiction

 


 

Cover: Zeus Publications

 


Author: Janet E. Stewart-Hall
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2011
Language: English

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AUTHOR PROFILE 

Janet Elizabeth Stewart-Hall was born in Battle, a small English town in the home county of Sussex, and after a brief period at a London Primary School was raised and educated in Hong Kong. From a very young age Janet proved to be quite an artist. She won various prizes and certificates for her artwork, and in later years was the founder of a number of creative groups such as: handcrafts, bonsai, creative writing and chess, three of which are still in existence. Janet has also been a dress designer and owned her own dress-making businesses in both New Zealand and Sydney.

She has also worked as a Real Estate Agent and later enjoyed making her own pottery and selling it at the markets.

Janet has also been the wife of a Naval Commander, and has travelled extensively to places such as Japan, Singapore and India.

Today she lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia and has one daughter, two grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

 PROLOGUE 

T

he following story is an account of my fascinating life in Hong Kong, one of the most exciting periods that I would ever wish to remember and recall. At the time of my arrival in Hong Kong it was a British Crown Colony. Hong Kong is located off the southern coast of Kwangtung Province. It comprises the adjacent islets of Stonecutters Island and the Kowloon Peninsula on the mainland, Lan Tao Island and more than 230 other islands that were leased from China in 1898 for 99 years. By the time we arrived there it had been one of the jewels in Britain’s crown for only 31 years. The colony has an area of 43 km from north to south and approximately 70 km from east to west; its only landward neighbour is China, which lies to the north. The remaining borders are on the South China Sea. The capital, Victoria, is located on the island of Hong Kong. 

As a young girl, I often thought of Marco Polo, that highly passionate adventurer from Venice, who discovered China during the 11th century and how I would have loved to set off on such an adventure myself. During his vacation in Mongolia he became a great friend of Kublai Khan himself who was residing at his summer dwelling ‘Shang-tu’ (the Xanadu of the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge). Unfortunately, not much is known of the time Marco spent in China but we do know that he resided there for 17 years. It is interesting to note that the Roman name for Hong Kong was Hsiang-Kang. I do not know if the name originated with the romantic Venetian himself, but for me Hong Kong will always have a special place in my heart. 

One of the most exciting daily events was the firing of the Noon Day Gun. At precisely twelve noon each day a liveried gunner fires a shot from a cannon to give the official time signal for Hong Kong. This tradition began with the firm of Jardine Matheson and Company – still in existence – the colony’s largest trading company who, at separate times, employed both my father and my husband. The firm played an enormous part in making Hong Kong one of the world’s leading financial centres. The requirement to fire the gun goes back to a sentence imposed on the firm by the British Governor. At that time, Jardine Matheson kept their own company of troops in order to protect their tea-clippers. Each time one of the ships reached Hong Kong Harbour with a taipan – important businessman – on board after a dangerous voyage through pirate-infested waters the cannon was fired to greet it.

This act was against regulations and displeased the British Governor who decided that in future the company must fire the cannon every day at noon as a time signal for the whole colony. In 1982, Jardine Matheson’s 150 years in the colony was celebrated with the firing of the new cannon that had recently replaced the old one. It saddens me to think of the old cannon lying redundant somewhere, but in my memory it never will be.   

The history of Chinese culture has much to offer. Human remains found there date the beginning of human settlement to more than 350,000 years ago, an amazing thought. Peking-Man – Homo erectus pekinensis – was discovered in a cave in 1927, just 30 miles southwest of Peking – today Beijing. The apparent cradle of Chinese civilisation was the Huang Ho River; excavations reveal that the first glimpses of what can be called Chinese culture are to be found in the present area of Honan, Shantung, and Shensi provinces. The excavated artefacts suggest an influence from northern Chinese Stone-Age cultures, most notably the Lungshan. Today, Hong Kong’s culture is Chinese with Western influences. Before the British occupation, Hong Kong Island was inhabited only by a small fishing population and was a haunt of pirates, the latter still exist but these days take cover in many of the quiet islets surrounding the China coast, away from the now highly populated Island.

The peninsula and islands that form Hong Kong are part of a partially submerged section of a mountain range extending south westward from south eastern China. The many mountain peaks are made up mainly of volcanic rock. It has natural harbours and easy access to the sea. Because it is situated at the Tropic of Cancer, Hong Kong has a tropical climate. The summers are humid and wet and the temperature is usually about 28º Celsius. The winters are cool and dry, and the typhoon season occurs mainly between July and October. About 99% of the people in Hong Kong are Chinese, many of them coming from the neighbouring Chinese provinces of Kwangtung and Fukien. The most numerous of the regional groups are the Cantonese, who inhabit both rural and urban areas. The major non-Chinese elements in the population are from Europe and the Commonwealth countries.

The illegal opium trade of Britain in the early 19th century led to its takeover of Hong Kong. In 1839 an anti-opium campaign was started in Canton by the Chinese government, resulting in a blockade of the British factory there and more than 20,000 chests of opium were seized. The British withdrew to Macau and demanded either a commercial agreement or a small island from which they could operate safely. Fighting then broke out in the waters of Hong Kong Island and continued until the first Opium War (1839-42). The agreement of Nanking, ended hostilities and the Chinese relinquished the island of Hong Kong to the British. As Chinese power diminished in the 19th century, Britain acquired more territory. From these ill-fated beginnings, Hong Kong developed into a blooming centre of trade that attracted large numbers of Chinese immigrants, especially after the 1911 revolution. During the Japanese occupation of China, more immigrants arrived and again after the Chinese civil war (1945-49).

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor they attacked Hong Kong at the same time. On Christmas Day, 1941, the island surrendered. On that terrible day most of the British soldiers in Hong Kong were lined up and shot. When the British returned in 1945, economic recovery was due to the improved manufacture of cotton textiles. When the lease on the New Territories expired in 1997, it had been agreed that Hong Kong would now become a special administrative region of China. The year, 1931, saw the beginning of the end of the British Empire as it had been for three centuries. By the 1980s the Commonwealth had replaced what little remained of the Empire.

Looking back on it all I realise how privileged I was to have been a part of such fascinating historical events. And so, my story begins.

 

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