Friday, December 09, 2005

The Street Names of Jardine Matheson

I was reminded in an article by local historian Dan Waters about the many streets named after the 'Princely Hong' of Jardine Matheson. As I have reminded the readers of these pages many times, Jardines occupies a pre-eminent position in the history of Hong Kong because it was that firm, when it dominated the opium trade, that it managed to persuade the British Parliament to go to war with China, and taking Hong Kong as its prize of the Opium War.

That importance is evident from a stroll around the environs of Wanchai or Causeway Bay. In Causeway Bay alone, one finds Yee Wo Street (the former Chinese name of Jardines was Ewo, most popularized by the well-known Ewo Beer in the prewar years), Jardine's Crescent and Jardine's Bazaar. All of these are reminders of how when the Colony first started, Jardines puchased plots of land in the area then known as East Point as their Hong Kong headquarters. Quoting an early traveler to Hong Kong, "indeed the buildings already erected by Messrs. Jardine and Matheson are so extensive, as to form almost a town of themselves." They moved over to Central two decades later, but owned much of the land until the early 20th century.

We have not yet mentioned the many streets also named after Jardine taipans. As recounted by Waters, these include Bulkeley Street market, Perceval Street, Irving Street, Anton Street, Landale Street, Matheson Street, Paterson Street, Johnstone Street and Keswick Street. To think that when the Colony first started, the heads of Jardines complained that not enough streets were named after the prominent merchants of the town!

There is of course Jardine's Lookout. Allow me to quote Waters directly:
It was from this 433 metre high vantage point that observers galloped down by 'pony express' to head office, in the days before modern communications, with the news that a Jardine ship was a pproaching. In early Hong Kong the company is said to have had a fleet of 12 ships which were faster than those of rival firms.
Enjoy your weekend!

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