Commemorating the Treaty of Nanking

On June 26th, 1843, the Treaty of Nanking came into effect and Hong Kong was ceded to the British “in perpetuity”. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that “perpetuity” lasted 154 years as Hong Kong’s sovereignty was returned to China in 1997. This blog is not to discuss the rights and wrongs of the deals that were brokered, but just to take the opportunity of commemorating the Treaty of Nanking by sharing some of our early photographs of Hong Kong.

Our Photograph Catalogue suggests these pictures were taken by Lai Afong, who was a Chinese photographer with a studio, the Afong Studio, in Hong Kong. He lived from c.1839-1890 and set up his studio in the 1859. The studio continued in Hong Kong until the 1940s. More information can be found about Lai Afong here.

The provenance of these photos are unknown but we do have a “price list” for some of them.

A list of photographs and the cost of purchase

Many of the photos show the devastation caused by a typhoon in Hong Kong in September 1874, suggesting the pictures date from around this time.

Destruction of the wharf showing the Spanish steamer “Albay” and ship “Leonor”submerged

The steamer “Alaska” ashore after the typhoon

Devastation of dock yard workshop

Within the collection there are other pictures of the dock and also of  a badly damaged church and park. But not all the pictures are of devastation:

“The Club” Hong Kong

A View of Happy Valley

These photographs are all loose but have captions written in pencil on their reverse sides. It would be interesting to discover how they came to be part of the RAS Collections and whether the captions were added by the donor or by a previous RAS Librarian.

The archival collections also hold some material relating to Hong Kong and the Society’s interaction with the country. We have correspondence regarding contributions made by the Hong Kong Government to the RAS from the 1920s to 1940s. On a more celebratory note we have the invitation to the RAS from the University of Hong Kong on the occasion of its Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 1961.

The invitation to the Royal Asiatic Society for the Jubilee Celebrations of the University of Hong Kong, 18th – 21st September, 1961.

A pamphlet with Abstracts for the Golden Jubilee Congress. This presents an archival dilemma – to remove rusty staples or to leave the pamphlet intact.

This letter reveals that the RAS was represented by Kenneth Myer Arthur Barnett (1911-1987) who was Commissioner for Census and Statistics in Hong Kong and a RAS member.