Peak - Literary Works
Gillingham, Paul (1983) At the Peak.
Hong Kong, Macmillan Publishers Ltd, pp. 17-28.
| The Peak area was the most beautiful in Hong Kong.
A publicity booklet of 1924 described it as having "the
appearance of public grounds, the roads leading from one
level to another being lined with palms, ferns and flowers"
and compared it to the Highlands of Scotland with European
residences "perched like eagles' eyries" among
"granite peaks and frowning precipices". The
Peak district had been made accessible with the opening
of the Peak Tram in the 1880s and had become such a desirable
residential area that a second Peak Tram was planned to
go up the Glenealy ravine. The Peak had its own hotel,
beside the upper terminus of the Peak Tram, its own hospital,
its own church, its own club and a large military barracks
which could offer it protection.
Residents belonged to a Peak Residents' Association, and
English governesses had to have a special permit to live
on the Peak. No coolie bearing a load could travel on
the Peak Tram which meant, in the days before the opening
of Stubbs Road made it accessible by motor car, that they
had to walk up Old Peak Road lugging coal, ice, luggage,
provisions and building materials on their shoulders.
At various points on the Peak there were "halts"
which were used by load-bearing coolies for shelter and
rest. In 1921 a Reverend Wells spent the day in one of
them to gather evidence on working conditions for a commission
on child labor in Hong Kong. In his report, the Reverend
wrote of one six year old boy who, with his widowed mother,
had started out at five o'clock that morning after a meager
breakfast. He had picked up two twenty-two catty (twenty-nine
pound) loads of coal at Central market, which was then
on the seafront or Praya, and was lugging them up to a
house on the Peak. His technique was to move each load
a certain distance before going back for the other one.
His work would be over at 5.00 p.m. He carried fifty-eight
pounds of coal up the Peak six days a week. His pay for
such Herculean labor? Eight cents a day.
The boy's mother carried nearly three times as much (150
catties) for a daily wage of twenty- seven cents. There
were some men in the same hut and they told Reverend Wells
that their pay was eighteen cents per one hundred catties
(133 pounds) of coal and that they carried two such loads
up the Peak, using the same method as the boy, for a daily
wage of thirty-six cents. It was due to the efforts of
people like these that taipans were able to sit snugly
beside their Peak coal fires waxing eloquent on such themes
as the "white man's burden".
No Chinese, except for domestic staff, were allowed to
live on the Peak before the end of World War II. The only
exception was Hong Kong's first millionaire, Sir Robert
Ho-tung, whose long white beard and the traditional Chinese
gown he habitually wore gave him a mandarin-like appearance.
Only his sparkling blue eyes betrayed his Eurasian origins.