Back to All Events

Lecture - Strong to Save: from Whampoa Reach to the Mariners' Club - A History of Maritime Mission in the Pearl River Delta 1822 to the Present -Dr. Stephen Davies

  • The Mariners’ Club, 3/F, 11 Middle Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon Hong Kong (map)

Seafarers have always lived on society’s margins. The vast majority of people don’t go to sea, don’t want to and are not much interested in those who do – despite ninety percent of world trade being carried by sea. Until the end of the 18th century seafarers were little cared for by anyone, whether aboard their ships or ashore. But from the last decade of that century, if slowly, a growing missionary spirit in Britain and America brought seafarers into the fold. In 1822 that mission arrived in Whampoa, when the Rev Robert Morrison raised the newly created Bethel (or mission) flag on the American trader David Olyphant’s ship Pacific of Philadelphia.

In this talk Stephen Davies will look at the long and fascinating story of the provision of welfare to seafarers in Whampoa and then Hong Kong. The talk will look at the perils of the early 19th century waterfront from which seafarers were thought to need saving. It will show the many premises in Sai Ying Pun, Central, Wanchai and Tsim Sha Tsui that have served seafarers’ welfare – heritage buildings that never got the chance to be saved. The story will include the many organizations involved in providing welfare, from the first mission of the American Seaman’s Friend Society in Whampoa in 1829 to today’s ecumenical mission, stopping on the way to look at how the otherwise neglected Asian and Chinese seafarers looked after themselves until, in the 1970s, they were finally welcomed into the fold. Throughout we shall watch the colonial Government living down to its reputation as the friend of the powerful rather than the powerless.

Without the labour of the world’s seafaring outcasts, there would be no Hong Kong. The story of the provision of welfare for seafarers in our port is the story of how that port came to be and, accordingly, a very Hong Kong story.

The Speaker

Stephen Davies, a Briton with family connections to Hong Kong that go back to the mid-1920s, served in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines (1963-67), briefly designed atlases and taught sailing and mountaineering before falling off a cliff and having to be screwed back together (1967-68). After university in Wales and London (1968-74) he taught political theory at the University of Hong Kong (1974-89). From 1990-2003 he and his partner sailed 50,000 miles visiting 27 countries in their 38’ sailing sloop; useful background for a maritime historian. He was appointed the first Museum Director of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum in 2005 finally leaving to return to academia in 2013. A published maritime historian, focused onAsian Seas and the interactions between the western and traditional Asian maritime worlds, he works with the Department of Real Estate and Construction, of which he is an Honorary Professor, and is an Honorary Fellow of the University’s Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at HKU and on heritage lighthouses in HK, Macau, Taiwan, China and SE Asia with a team at the City University of Hong Kong. He is also Hon. Editor of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong. His most recent books are Coasting Past: The last of South China coastal trading junks photographed by William Heering (Hong Kong Maritime Museum 2013) and East sails west: the voyage of the Keying, 1846-1855 (Hong Kong University Press 2014). ‘Strong to Save: Maritime mission in Hong Kong from Whampoa Reach to the Mariners’ Club’ was published by City University Press of Hong Kong in July 2017. He is now working on ‘Transport to another world: the life and times of HMS Tamar 1863-2015’. He continues as a yachting journalist, active yachtsman and occasional TV presenter, and works with museums and heritage interests in China, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

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

Admission: RAS Members $150; Non-Members/Guests $200 (incl. canapes & 1 drink each- please alert us if any special diet needs)

Booking: Please email in advance to reserve your place and pay at the door.



Earlier Event: January 6
Local Visit - Jao Tsung-I Academy
Later Event: January 24
Film Screening - The Wright Chronicle