Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Short Stint of Sir Andrew Caldecott

So, what happened in Hong Kong on October 26th? I'm a little at a loss today, so I shall fall back on discussing one lesser-known Governor whose birthday is today. (Apologies in advance to Cantopop fans, I am not discussing the birthday of heartthrob Aaron Kwok Fu-shing)

Hong Kong was fortunate in 1935 to obtain the services of a well-meaning, liberal-minded Governor named Sir Andrew Caldecott, born October 26th, 1884 in Kent. Caldecott had been a lifelong civil servant in the Malayan Civil Service, having risen up in the ranks since 1907 from working in the Labor Department to becoming the Officer Administering the Straits Settlements and High Commissioner for the Malay States in 1934. He was famous for being able to ease the often tense race relations between the Chinese and Malays, which probably explained a good deal of his upward career mobility. As one can see in Malaysia and Singapore, race considerations still play a fundamental role in government policymaking today.

He apparently made a point of taking up office here in Hong Kong in civilian clothes, the only other one to do so being Sir Christopher Patten in 1992. Unfortunately, because of an insurgency in Ceylon in 1937 that led to his reassignment there, Hong Kong was deprived of his services after less than two years, making his Governorship one of the shortest in history (that's why the only thing named after him is a short road on the way out to Tai Po). But even this short tenure was eventful - during this period, Hong Kong received its first schedule airplane service; the Queen Mary Hospital was inaugurated as an adjunct to the University of Hong Kong; and the Sino-Japanese War broke out in May 1937, causing a flood of over 100,000 refugees into the Colony.

Caldecott at this point was forced to leave to take care of an even greater emergency; his replacement was Sir Geoffrey Northcote. His legacy though, was a policy riddled with inconsistencies as to the treatment of the China-Japan question. Britain's position was neutrality, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that the Japanese certainly would not rule out harm towards British interests. Nevertheless, it was under Caldecott and later Northcote's administrations that Chinese demonstrating against Japanese aggression in China would be rounded up and arrested, in response to the voluble protests of the Japanese Consul. This policy strained relations between Britain and Nationalist China, and probably dented what small hope there was of Chinese relief during the Japanese attack on Hong Kong in December 1941.

Caldecott died in July 1951.


Dave and Stefan said...

Hi Martin, that's right - Caldecott Media Centre has been a broadcasting station for some time and Andrew Rd is named after him. His influence was actually much more strong in Singapore than in Hong Kong...

Anonymous said...

I have been studying up on my family geneology and it seems that my grand mother Mary Peter (a Malaysia Indian) was a nanny to Sri Caldecotte's family. She lived with them in UK in the early 1930-40's and took care of his family before retuning to Malaysia to be with her family.

I would like to know if anyone has any comments?