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A few things about HK… The Noon Day Gun & The Star Ferry

Sarah Richard
Nikhil Gidwani

So you’ve read what was the beautiful, dirty world of Kowloon Walled City.

Now on to part 2, where we continue on our quest to learn a bit more about Asia’s World City.

Did you know that there is a massive gun that is fired daily in HK? And did you know that the original Star Ferry journey used to take 40 minutes? Read the below to find out a bit more!

 

The Tradition of The Noon Day Gun

The story goes back to an alleged incident in the 1860s, where whenever an important Tai-pan (Cantonese for wealthy businessman , a term literally invented for the head of Jardine Matheson) arrived by boat to Hong Kong, an over enthusiastic employee of the Jardine Matheson Company would fire a 21 gun salute over Victoria Harbour from East Point (modern day Causeway Bay in front of the Excelsior Hotel, which is owned and operated by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, a subsidiary of Jardine Matheson), and also the first plot of land in Hong Kong privately auctioned by the Colonial Administration to, of course, Jardine Matheson in 1842.

However, this practice annoyed a British Royal Navy Officer (or the Governor but it is not clear which, though it would seem more likely that it would be the Governor that would get irritated), for the practice was supposed to have been reserved for an Admiral or the Governor himself, not any mere merchant, even if his name was William Jardine and he was engaged in the opium trade – I digress.

The irritated individual then issued a penalty to Jardine Matheson to fire the gun on a daily basis at noon.

Of course, it is equally plausible that the noon day gun was fired for ships in the Harbour to be able to set their watches to the correct times, so that navigation was more accurate.

These days, the practice continues, and was interrupted only by the Japanese Occupation. The gun now used is a three pound Hotchkiss, due to it making less noise than the original six-pounder.

The legend of the Noon Day Gun was immortalized by Noel Coward’s 1931 song “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” with the lyrics “In Hong Kong they strike a gong and fire off the Noonday Gun to reprimand each inmate who’s in late… But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun!To listen to it, please click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXxL2K3_-4c

These days, we mere mortals are also permitted to fire the gun for a HKD $33,000 donation to the Hong Kong Community Chest. Please click here to learn a bit more about donating: https://www.commchest.org/en/how/how_01_01_01_02.aspx?DocumentId=47

For more info about the Noon Day Gun, please see the attached link: http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/see-do/culture-heritage/historical-sites/colonial/noon-day-gun.jsp

Noon Day Gun

Firing the Noon Day Gun at noon… obviously.

 

The Star Ferry

It began service in 1880, when a Parsee cook had a mid-life crisis and wanted to start a ferry service between TST and Pedder Street (err yes, that was the shoreline back then!). The Kowloon Ferry company was born and journeys took 40-60 minutes. Ferries were upgraded in 1890 and then Sir Catchick Paul Chater (of Chater Road fame) bought all the ferries, turned the company public, and renamed it “The Star Ferry Company.” Until 1972 when the Cross Harbour Tunnel opened, it was the only way for passengers to cross Victoria Harbour, hence why there were riots in 1966 when The Star Ferry wanted to double the ferry fares from 10 cents to 20 cents per journey! Now ranks in the top 50 Places of your Lifetime by National Geographic in 1999 and top 10 Most Exciting Ferry Rides by Society of American Travel Writers in 2009. It’s really not that exciting though.

Star Ferry Pier in the early 1900s

Star Ferry Pier in the early 1900s

Star Ferry Pier in the early 1900s

Star Ferry Pier in the early 1900s

1920s

1920s

Kowloon Ferry Pier in the 1930s with KCR

Kowloon Ferry Pier in the 1930s with KCR, now known as MTR East Rail, Terminus in the background.

So there you have it, you now know a bunch of weird stuff about the weird city that you probably didn’t know before! Will it be much use to you? Probably not, but hopefully you’ve had a good read nonetheless!

 

Sarah Richard

Nikhil Gidwani was raised locally and is a proud Hong Konger. After a few years of living and working overseas, he has recently returned to the Asia’s World City. When he’s not working, Nikhil spends much of his time hiking and visiting different parts of Hong Kong in order to find new material for his Instagram page. .

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