TOPEES, TIFFIN AND THE NOON DAY GUN
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
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
It is a reflective and colourful account of travel, romance,
tragedy and loss and the horrible realities of war in an exciting and
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
Number of pages:
Genre: Non Fiction
Cover: Zeus Publications
Janet E. Stewart-Hall
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2011
Janet Elizabeth Stewart-Hall
was born in Battle, a small English town in the
of Sussex, and after a brief period at
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
Janet has also been the wife
of a Naval Commander, and has travelled extensively to places such as
Singapore and India.
Today she lives on the
and has one daughter, two grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
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
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
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.
young girl, I often thought of Marco Polo, that highly passionate adventurer
from Venice, who discovered
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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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