Thanks to the favourable anchorage conditions of Hong Kong, the city quickly developed into a shipping hub in the mid-19th century, and the related shipbuilding and ship repair industry boomed as well. After decades of social and economic development, those dockyards, which had once sprung up along the coasts of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, are now located at the western part of Victoria Harbour, where they continue to serve the city's shipping industry and economy.
Organised by the Hong Kong Museum of History, the exhibition features 80 valuable historical photographs and glass negatives, some of which were selected from the donation of the Hongkong United Dockyards Limited (HUD), and reviews the development of the dockyards as port facilities and that of the shipbuilding and ship repair industry in Hong Kong. These images span World War II and faithfully document the development of the Hongkong and Whampoa Dock Company, Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering Company, and HUD.
After having been totally dependent in the era of sailing ships on the seasonal monsoon winds, ocean trade was transformed by the advent of the steam engine - in particular by the later improvements in engine fuel efficiency that meant less coal needed to be consumed - and from the 1860s onwards the iron-hulled, propeller-driven steamship became the major player in ocean shipping. This development was accompanied by several other factors such as the opening up of the trading ports in China and the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869. The latter reduced the transit time between Hong Kong and Britain from over 110 days to about 30 days, and trade between Europe and Asia grew rapidly.
All of this contributed to a rise in demand for repair services for ocean-going steamships.
A port providing berths for cargo liners must be close to the centre of commercial and trade activities. It must also offer deep water, shelter from strong winds and a firm seabed suitable for anchoring. In the mid-19th century, Hong Kong was the only port along the coast of Guangdong that met those criteria, and thanks to its favourable geographical location, it quickly developed into a shipping hub.
Seeing the potential for lucrative profits in the shipping industry, British companies based in Hong Kong started to get involved in maritime transportation and related businesses, which included setting up dockyards to repair ships passing through Hong Kong. The Hongkong and Whampoa Dock Company was founded in 1863, while Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering Company was set up in 1902. The city's dockyard businesses were the most sophisticated in the China coast region and came to represent one of the most important investments that British merchants in Asia made in the shipping industry.
However, by the mid-20th century competition was increasing in the region, so in 1972 the two dockyards merged to form HUD and relocated to new premises on Tsing Yi.
In addition, Yiu Lian Dockyards and Euroasia Shipyard opened for business in the early 1980s, also on Tsing Yi's western coast, to provide repair services for ocean-going vessels. The two companies were acquired by China Merchants Group Limited in 1997, and since then Hong Kong's shipbuilding and repair industries have been dominated by two major players.
The shipbuilding and repair industry of Hong Kong was once the city's most important heavy industry, employing a large workforce and supporting trade and transportation as well as marine rescue work. Today the industry continues to serve vessels passing through Hong Kong and helps our shipping sector to maintain its competitive edge.
The Hong Kong Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.
It opens from 10am to 6pm on Mondays to Saturdays and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays). Admission is free for this exhibition.
For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum's website, hk.history.museum, or call 2724 9042.
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