Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Falling Down Arbuthnot Road

I was reading a police and crime report from 1906, and ventured to see what had happened in Hong Kong. I found the following entry:
On the 27th July, Chung Yiu, aged 38, was killed by a fall down a flight of steps between Caine Road and Arbuthnot Road. The man was calling out his wares in a prohibited district and ran down the steps to avoid being arrested by Indian Police Constable Ahmed Deen, who was charged and committed for trial at the Criminal Sessions, but no indictment was filed.
Tragic of course, but almost understandable how someone could die falling down the narrow steps in the lanes between Arbuthnot and Caine. Hawking was not illegal in most parts of Hongkong then, but the area around the magistracy, of course, was very sensitive and apparently was one of the prohibited areas at that time. The story, however, could have been entirely different from the one we are told in the official report, particularly given the predilection for bribes from all sections of the police force at that time. One can only hope that the death was an honest mistake!

This being the 17th of October, I thought I should have something specifically from this date:
On the 17th October, the steam-launch Evening Star collided with and capsized a rowing boat No. 3502 while sailing in the Harbour between the French Mail buoy and Blake Pier with the result that two persons lost their lives. The master of the launch was arrested, and discharged by the Police Magistrate.
What is notable is that the Evening Star was no ordinary boat - this steam launch was in fact the Star Ferry service, which at that point had been around for almost three decades. At that time it had already been sold by its Parsee founder, Dorabjee Nowrojee, to the Kowloon Wharf and Godown Company, which still owns the firm to this day.

I had heard before somewhere that the Star Ferry had not ever had an accident. It does indeed have an excellent safety record, but the next time someone says that in your hearing, you can set them straight...

One final note. I was digging around earlier trying to find out the origins of the name of Arbuthnot Road. I found one genealogy website for the Arbuthnot family claiming that it had been named after one John "Jack" Bernard Arbuthnot, a military man in the Household Cavalry and the Scots Guards, and whom had served in the Boer War. In his duties he'd had to look after a little girl that was part of the Royal Household, who turned out to be the late Queen Mother! He'd apparently also been an aide-de-camp to "Governor-General Henry Arthur Blake", who was indeed a Governor in Hong Kong (Blake Pier, in the second blotter story, was named after him), which is how the street got its name.

But on closer inspection, the story sounded suspicious. Hong Kong had never had "Governors General" like Canada, nor was I aware that aides to the civilian Governor would have the military title of ADC. Looking further through old archives, I found a tender for sewage construction for "Arbuthnot Road and Morrison Road" in Hong Kong in 1875 - the same year Jack was born. So that story is disproven, but I'm back to square one. Can anyone else help out?


Dave and Stefan said...

I stand corrected, Albert. Thanks for your note! However, I do think that calling our former colonial leaders Governor-General is quite incorrect...:)

Anonymous said...

It was named after George Arbuthnot http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Arbuthnot_%28civil_servant%29