Strong to Save- Maritime Mission in Hong Kong from Whampoa Reach to the Mariners' Club

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Tracing its origins back to 1822 in Whampoa, the Mariners’ Club in Hong Kong was established to meet a specific need for an Anglo-Chinese society defined by that most dubious of activities, seafaring. Its creation was anything but straightforward, and in this can be seen the mutable and often tortuous relations between the various religious bodies, the local population, the transient sailors, the emerging captains of industry, and the growing regulatory reach of the colonial government. The club evolved through many embodiments and witnessed the growth of Hong Kong from a collection of mat-sheds on the foreshore, through colony to its current status. Throughout its turbulent past it has been occasionally marginalized but has always served as an important base for the key actors in the main commercial activity in Hong Kong: seafarers.

This is a history of one of the most enduring institutions of Hong Kong, and the first of its kind. Using the Club’s own records as well as a wide range of sources both from within Hong Kong and from the seafaring world at large, this is a comprehensive account of the life of the Missions, the tenancy of the different chaplains, managers, and stewards, the changes in seafaring practices and shipping, and the transformation of Hong Kong itself.
Pub. Date
Jul 1, 2017
672 pages
152 x 229 mm
It is a great pleasure to commend Strong to Save, a history of the first 150 years or so of the workings and deliberations of first the Sailors Home, with the addition in 1884, of the Missions to Seamen. These two organizations joined to form what was to become the Sailors Home and Missions to Seamen (the Mission), the sole operator of the home away from home for the sailors and seamen who come to Hong Kong. Stephen Davies has been able to pull together a myriad of sources to describe in great detail the many characters who brought both organizations into being in Hong Kong.

Much has changed in the way we support the pastoral, spiritual, and physical needs of seafarers whose ships call at the terminals and anchorages of Hong Kong harbour. However, I believe we can learn a lot from the history of any organization, in particular how it has responded to the changing patterns of life in Hong Kong both at sea and ashore. What seems to stand out is that on many occasions the Mission was just a bit behind the curve (I will let the reader uncover these facts for themselves without giving away too much of the story) but in spite of this the Mission has continued to survive and to work amongst seafarers today, providing a pastoral and spiritual home away from home in Tsim Sha Tsui and Kwai Chung.

It is however, refreshing to understand that the chaplains and staff of the organization have one thing in common throughout: that is the need to constantly keep up with the changing face of the shipping industry. Changes from sail to steam, from general cargo to container, from mid-stream to terminal have all affected the way in which the Mission has operated. Whether ship visiting by launch or on land, this history shows the remarkable perseverance of Mission chaplains and staff to accommodate whatever was thrown at them. Problems of location (as the Hong Kong shoreline developed), along with limited finances, war, dealings with the Royal Navy, the proximity of the red light district, and pressure from expected and unexpected competition would have been a heavy burden for many of the chaplains. Alongside these challenges were the constant health issues of malaria and a far from fit water supply that caused many a chaplain to exit Hong Kong earlier than expected.

Part I: Making a Departure
1 From Whampoa to Hong Kong
2 The View from the Harbour Master’s Office
3 A Snug Harbour in West Point

Part II: Church and Mission
4 A Seamen’s Church
5 Uneasy Berth and the Demon Drink
6 Parting Brass Rags
7 Meanwhile Down on the Waterfront
8 Separate Moorings
9 Headwinds and Adverse Currents
10 One Ship, but Still Two Cap Tallies
11 An Interesting Launching on the Wan Chai Waterfront
12 Threatening Times

Part III: War and Recovery
13 Destruction and Occupation
14 Recovery and the Dawning of a New World

Part IV: Adapting to a New World
15 The New World Dawns
16 Cross-Currents
17 Sea Changes
18 Passage Planning Part V: Definitive Moves
19 The Mariners’ Club: Laying the Foundations
20 Who is Captain?
21 The Mariners’ Club: Ironing Out the Wrinkles
22 Many Shepherds, One Flock
23 On Course for the Future Epilogue
Stephen Davies is the author of East Sails West: The Voyage of the Keying, 1846–1855 (2013) and many other articles on Hong Kong’s maritime history. He opened the Hong Kong Maritime Museum and served as its first director 2005–2011. He is currently an honorary research fellow at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences and an honorary professor in the Department of Real Estate and Construction, in the Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong.