Thursday, September 29, 2005

Morrison Hill and Hong Kong's Oldest School

For those who want more about the geography of Hong Kong's colonial history, I shall whet your appetite, with a story about Wanchai. But those wanting to hear about girlie bars will be disappointed - today's blog entry is about missionaries, and about how Hong Kong's oldest school was founded in 1818 even though the colony was only founded in 1841.

Many of you know Morrison Hill; despite its name, it is a resolutely flat stretch of road running from Hennessy Road to Happy Valley. At its mouth in Happy Valley stands a garish, ugly gold dragon that was given to Hong Kong in 1997 as a provincial gift to celebrate Hong Kong's return to the motherland (and to bad taste in art, as it were - but as the saying goes, don't look a gift dragon in the mouth!). Today, it is a street full of lamp stores, but little else. Despite being near the prosperity of Causeway Bay and Happy Valley, it looks as dilapidated as ever.

It has always been something of a no man's land. If one reads Vaudine England's The Quest for Noel Croucher (a wealthy millionaire stock trader from humble beginnings), one finds out that the young Noel grew up in Morrison Hill, a neighborhood where all of the poor whites lived; they were as much shunned by 'polite' colonial society then as the Untouchables of India by other castes. The hill part of Morrison Hill had been cut away for land reclamation, and also to make access to traffic near the racecourse better; priorities will be priorities.

But who was Morrison Hill named after? It was in fact named after the pictured Dr. Robert Morrison, (read this link, it's a great paper by historian Carl Smith) who was a famed Western sinologist at the beginning of the 19th century that had mastered the Chinese language and set about the translation of the Bible into Chinese characters. He had set up the Morrison Educational Society School in Macau, and when Hong Kong was formed it moved to Morrison Hill.

Interestingly, he had been a longtime resident of the Far East, and had also been responsible for the setting up of the Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca. The school was meant to bridge the gap between East and West, and was ultimately meant for the enlightenment (and conversion) of China.

Naturally, when Britain finally had obtained a foothold on the Chinese mainland (or rather the island of Hong Kong), it naturally made sense to move the school closer to its main object. So when the Colony of Hong Kong was set up, the school was eventually moved here, and area was named in the late great man's honor (he had passed away just some years before, and his very talented son as well just a year later).

But at first the curators of the school had wanted to move it directly to China to one of the newly opened Treaty Ports. Hong Kong also seemed less attractive because almost none of the first Chinese there had any education, being from the lower classes. But of moving the school to a Treaty Port Hong Kong's first Governor, Sir Henry Pottinger, could not abide. According to Carl Smith the local historian (and former missionary), Pottinger felt that missionaries in China would provoke the hostility of the mandarins and hinder the development of commerce and trade with foreigners. He also said that the Treaty of Nanking applied only to commercial relations between Great Britain and China, and not to religious activities. Sir Henry also said that given Dr. Morrison's other school had already set up in Hong Kong, a city he regarded as never to have any use for schools, he thought moving the Anglo-Chinese College to Hong Kong was a waste of time.

The principal backers of the newly moved school, led by the Rev. James Legge, had to wait until Sir Henry left office. This they did, and when the new land auction in 1844 made some lots in the hills above Central available, Legge snapped them up and agreed to pay about 50 pounds per year out of his own pocket. But the new incoming Governor, Sir John Davis, decided that as the land was to be used for educational purposes it would be free of charge.

Today, the land occupied by the College is incredibly fashionable - the lot on which it stood was bordered by Staunton Street to the south, Hollywood Road to the north, Elgin Street to the east and Aberdeen Street to the west.

This ultimately became the Ying Wa School; while it was dormant for some decades, it can therefore claim, as it does on its website, that it is the oldest school in Hong Kong, predating British colonization by 23 years...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No wonder St. Paul's College on Bonham Road claims itself to be the oldest secondary school "started in Hong Kong", so as to be distinguished from Ying Wa College -- the oldest school in Hong Kong.