Sunday, April 10, 2005

The American Connection to Minden Row

In Our Tsim Sha Tsui audio-guided walk, we take people to Signal Hill, an oft-ignored area of the district that has a hilly park with nice views of the surrounding area, and that has a lighthouse of sorts that used to signal the onset of oncoming storms and typhoons.

Then we take visitors down a fascinating back alley to Chungking Mansions (we have an alternative route for the faint-hearted).

But the lane that contains these visual delights is called Minden Row, accessed from TST's Middle Road by a small stairway running along left side of the Blue Mariners' Club. The Mariners' Club has been here since 1966, but there actually has been a Home for Sailors of some sort in Hong Kong since 1863, thanks to the generous donations of then opium-trading firm Jardine Matheson. The Mariners' Club was once a very busy place, as even into the 1970s ships would dock for days or even weeks as cargo was loaded or unloaded. But in Hong Kong, a city of relentless efficiency, this time has been compressed to mere hours, and there is less and less a need for this institution. Nevertheless, the presence of large numbers of seamen for four decades may explain this sign, just 10 yards away down Minden Row from the Club:

The once-louche New Oriental Palace Nightclub seems to have gone out of business, mirroring the smaller numbers of seamen visiting Hong Kong. But if we explore the stores behind Minden Row, we'll find the naval theme runs much deeper.

What's in a name? Where did the name Minden come from? Well, history will tell us that in 1759, during the Seven Years' War, a terrific battle was fought between the French on one side, and the British and Prussians on the other, in the Hanoverian town of Minden. It resulted in a stunning victory for the Prussian and British forces. But what does that have to do with Hong Kong?

That battle, one of the high points of Anglo-Germanic amity, led the Royal Navy to name a new ship commemorating the battle, the HMS Minden; this was particularly apropos given that the British and Prussians were once again fighting the French during the Napoleonic period. The ship was commissioned in 1801 and completed at the Bombay dockyards in 1810; it had the distinction of being the first RN ship built outside of Britain. After seeing action in Java, America, and Algiers, it was used in Australia. After it was no longer seaworthy, it came to Hong Kong in 1842, a year after its founding, and served as a hospital ship; this was an important function given the malaria that plagued the early years of the colony. In unsentimental Hong Kong, after serving as a floating hospital for 19 years (sounds like Jumbo anyone?) the HMS Minden was chopped up for firewood in 1861. However, enough goodwill remained for the ship that this new piece of territory in Tsim Sha Tsui, which had been seized from China as part of the reparations for the Second Opium War, was named after the old HMS Minden.

And what is the American connection I refer to in the title? Well! In 1812, an American lawyer named Francis Scott Key was acting as an American negotiator, and was on board the HMS Minden whilst it was actually bombarding an American position, Fort McHenry. The furious assault of the Minden and several other Royal Navy ships lasted all night, but Key was gratified to see the American Stars and Stripes still atop the fort in the morning. He was so moved that he penned an Ode, "The Star Spangled Banner", which later became the American National anthem. It was, ironically, set to the tune of an old English drinking song, "Anacreon in Heaven".

Yet another example of how beneath the streets of Hong Kong lie fascinating tales that cross so many historic narratives with which we are familiar. You can hear many, many more stories of pirates, opium traders, colonial administrators and more in our walk for Tsim Sha Tsui or Central, available at Bookazine, Dymocks, Hong Kong Book Centre, Kelly & Walsh and Swindon's bookstores, as well as the Visitor Centres of the Hong Kong Tourism Board. Our walks without SIM cards (for locals or roamers) cost HK$88 and the walks with 2-hour SIMs from local operator CSL cost HK$150. For more information, visit our website at


Anonymous said...

The sreet name " Minden Row" as I saw from a locally-published book about the origins of street names in Kowloon comes from the earliest landlords in the area who were Germans from Minden. For your information please.

Dave and Stefan said...

Interesting. Do you have the source for that book perchance?

Anonymous said...


My ggg grandfather,Joseph Mitchell,RN was the Master Commanding on the HMS Minden until the 22nd,Sept 1852 and it was stationed at Wan Chai.

Kind Regards


Anonymous said...

just wanna know there ny tom lee brnches near to minden row, ?

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, but you got a few things wrong

a. the battle was near the city of Minden, not Hanover
b. it was not a British-Prussian Alliance but troops from Britain and several German states, including the kingdom of Hanover, formed an alliance. All of these German kingdoms ( and many more ) were later on annexed by Prussia
which grew from East to West.

see also wikipedia Minden, section Trivia
"The HMS Minden was named after the town of Minden and in honor of the Battle of Minden that the British, Hanoverian, Kurhessen, Brunswick and Schaumburg-Lippe troops won over the French On August 1, 1759."