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40th Anniversary, CUHK
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Victoria Peak - Literary Works

The Peak
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.


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