Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Peculiar Hong Kong Portuguese and the Census

Happy Easter to one and all! Today I thought I would share with all of you some amusing highlights from the 1911 Hong Kong census. It begins in uncharacteristically energetic fashion as follows:
The decennial Census of the Colony was taken on the night of Saturday, 20th May. A date in the early summer is not so suitable as one in the winter, so far as this Colony is concerned, but there was no alternative on the present occasion as it was necessary for the local Census to take place on a date approximating as nearly as possible to that fixed for the General Census of the British Empire.

The Enumerators were consdierably hampered by the inclemency of the weather, there being almost continuous rain. In the Kowloon City District operations had to be suspended for a time on account of floods.

The Census was on a very much more ambitious scale than had ever before been attempted in this Colony, and the work of the Enumerators, and more especially of the tabulating staff, was correspondingly increased. Full particulars were obtained for all the inhabitants of the New Territories and the Flating Population.
So, a tough job and away they went. The Census recorded a levelling off of an increasing trend in the Europeans, due to some boom years that had happened between the two previous Censuses (or is it Censii?) in 1901 and 1906. As has always been the case, though, the Portuguese were not included among the Europeans:
The Portuguese number 2,558 as compared with 1,948 in 1901 and 2,307 in 1906. They are not included in some of the Tables with the rest of the European and American community, as, apart from the importance of their numbers, they occupy a somewhat peculiar position as compared with other nationalities. I cannot do better than quote Mr. Brewin's words in his Report on the 1897 Census: "there is sufficient distinction between the Portuguese population and other Europeans to make this division advisable and interesting. The Portuguese of Hongkong form a European community settled in the Tropics, thoroughly acclimatised, and apparently not recruited to any estent from Europe. It will not be for another geenration that any other portion of the European community will be in a similar position."
Mr. Brewin was politiely saying that the Portuguese had gone native, and therefore should be treated more as such.

The roots of Portuguese and their mixed ancestry of course goes back centuries. During the Age of Discovery, when Portugal had a population of less than one million and yet held many key ports on the Africa-Asia trade route, Afonso de Alberquerque realized that these ports could only be held by Portugal if its soldiers and sailors mixed with the local population to create an indigenous ruling elite with a stake in both their city and in Portugal's rule of it. That horrible word, 'miscegenation', or a mixing of the races, was actively encouraged for Portuguese from Zanzibar to Hormuz to Goa and beyond, particularly since so few Portuguese women could be persuaded to go on what were extremely hazardous voyages.

But back to the Census, this time in its tackling of Hong Kong's then large floating population:
The Census of the Floating Population of Victoria Harbour was commenced at 6 a.m. on 21st May, and completed at 6 p.m. on 27th May.

The general arrangements were the same as in 1906. The work was very heavy owing to full articulars having to be obtained for each person, only Sex and Age having been required at the previous Census. The books of schedules were extremely useful, and it would have been impossible to use loose forms.

The Harbour was divided into 9 Sections. Each section had one launch and two pulling boats or sampans.

The latter were used for going among the thick clusters of boats along the sea front, where a launch was unable to work. Each sampan hoisted a Blue Ensign at the masthead, so that she would be recognized by the section launch, and carried two Enumerators. One of the latter asked the necessary questions,a nd his companion recorded the answers in a book of schedule forms. Two Enumerators were incapacitated by sea-sickness, and had to be transferred to shore work.

Thanks to the Census Officer, a Mr. P.P.J. Wodehouse (presumably no relation to the rather funny comic British writer of the same era).

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