Lecture - Hong Kong's Lighthouses and the Men Who Manned Them - Dr. Stephen Davies

  • Centre for Visual Arts (CVA), 7A, Kennedy Road Hong Kong Island Hong Kong

Today, thanks to a huge burst of energy in the 1970s, Hong Kong’s waters are amongst the best lit and buoyed in the world. But that was not always so. It wasn’t until May 2002, when Father Louis Ha and the late Dan Waters gave two talks to the HKRAS entitled “Hong Kong Lighthouses and the men who manned them”, subsequently written up in vol. 41 of the Society’s Journal, that the history of this achievement began to be studied. It added to the momentum that resulted in Cape D’Aguilar, Waglan, Green Island and Tang Lung Chau lights being declared monuments by the Antiquities Advisory Board as of 2000. However, the story of Hong Kong’s lights and lighthouses (collectively ‘aids to navigation’) and of the people who built and operated them involved a lot more than, in those early days, may have been immediately apparent. Since Father Ha and Dan Waters did their pioneering work, research sources for Hong Kong’s early days have vastly increased, especially online. Accordingly, and not least in honour of Dan Waters’ memory, in this talk we shall look at the fuller story of how Hong Kong’s waters were gradually made safer for navigation, including the lesser lights on the beacons and buoys, the cannon, foghorns, bells and whistles, and at Hong Kong’s time ball, once a vital help to navigational accuracy. On the way we shall note, with sadness, the aids that once existed but have been absorbed by reclamations, destroyed by war, or demolished through sheer ignorance and stupidity, whilst marking any remains that still exist to remind us of the too easily forgotten past. And we’ll look at some of the quirkier stories - not least the whodunnit of Waglan Island’s chicken eating, swimming python.

The Speaker 

Stephen Davies, (BSc (Econ) Wales, MSc (Econ), PhD (London)) comes from a British naval family that has been connected with Hong Kong for almost a century. He first arrived in the territory in 1947 when his father was Chaplain at HMS Tamar and his uncle, who had spent the war in Stanley internment camp, was with the Education Department. He went to Britannia Royal Naval College in 1963 and thereafter served in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. After leaving the Royal Marines he briefly designed atlases for William Collins & Sons in Glasgow and taught sailing and mountaineering in an Outward Bound School in Northern Scotland before falling off a cliff and having to be screwed back together. At that point he went to university in Wales and London before returning to teach political theory at the University of Hong Kong from 1974 to 1989. Between 1990 and 2004 he and his partner, Elaine Morgan sailed 50,000 miles visiting 27 countries in their 38’ sailing sloop Fiddler’s Green II.

Stephen Davies opened Hong Kong’s young maritime museum in Murray House, Stanley as its first Museum Director in 2005 and spent until his retirement in July 2013 working to find it a new, larger and more central location, getting government and donor funding, building the collection and library, and creating the gallery storylines. He has now returned to the University of Hong Kong where he is an Honorary Fellow of the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Publications: ‘Coasting Past: The last of South China coastal trading junks photographed by William Heering’ was published by the Hong Kong Maritime Museum in February 2013. ‘East sails west: the voyage of the Keying, 1846-1855’ was published by Hong Kong University Press. His book on the history of the Mariners’ Club, 'Strong to Save: Maritime mission in Hong Kong from Whampoa Reach to the Mariners’ Club', is at present in publication with Hong Kong City University Press. He is at present writing the history of H.M.S. Tamar. 

Reception open 6:30 pm, talk starts 7:00 pm

RAS Members $100; Non-Members / Guests $150

Please email membership@royalasiaticsociety.org.hk in advance to reserve your place and pay at the door