Remembering Father - 5 Hong Kong and the Americans
We arrived in Hong Kong to glorious weather. Let me try to describe what it looked like when we got off the ship. We steamed into the city at night-fall, just as the innumerable gas-jets were illuminating the houses on the side-hill streets, and the effect was very beautiful, like fairy-land. It is a little island, built on the side of a great hill,
which runs up to a peak, and at the bottom of that big hill, and on the sides of it, are some of the prettiest buildings to be seen anywhere. Father says in this beautiful little place, there are some five thousand Europeans including the garrison, with twenty Chinamen, or more, to one European.
We were met by Mr. J.J. Keswick, Deputy Controller from Jardines, and he helped us to our hotel, the Hong Kong, or as most people called it, the English Hotel. It is right across the road from the Jardine building where Father will be spending his days.
One of the first things Father wanted me to see were the graves of my other
grandparents - Maximilian Fischer and his wife, Caroline, who lie side by side in large chest tombs. In 1850 my grandfather became agent for the P & O in Canton, taking over from 1855 as commander in Hong Kong. All three of their daughters married China merchants and his son was one too.
Hong Kong Cemetery (mainly European and Protestant) was founded in 1845. It is located beside the Jocky Club's racecourse on the eastern side of Wong Nei Chung Road at Happy Valley along with the Jewish Cemetery, Hindu Cemetery, Parsee Cemetery, St. Michael's Catholic Cemetery and the Muslim Cemetery.
We decided to combine a trip to the Peak with our trip up to the cemetery But perhaps first I should describe the island. The beauty of the place is undeniable, and the weather is just about perfect. However, I must quickly add that I have already noted many negative aspects. This island appears quite delightful, but life here must to the vast majority have its decided disadvantages. Certainly the perfumed breath of flowers, which is so pleasant for us, is a joy altogether unknown to the inhabitants of the densely packed houses below, where the close stifling atmosphere of crowded, airless rooms must be suggestive of anything but fragrance.
Although the level strip of shore at the base of the mountain has been greatly enlarged
by reclamation, and forms the harbour frontage of very nearly four miles, running back inland for about half a mile, and climbing the hillside is a succession of terraces to a height of upwards of 400 feet, and a very large portion of this space is covered with a dense mass of Chinese houses, where the greatest possible number of human beings are packed into the very smallest possible amount of space.
There are no sort of effective drains or sewers - only conduits to carry the overflow
rains into the harbour - and whatever sewerage; finds its way into these, is simply deposited along the whole harbour front, thus poisoning what else might be a pleasant situation.
Then, too, although Hong Kong means island of fragrant streams, it is really by nature
well supplied with such pure sparkling water but the actual supply of the city is miserably inadequate, and it is estimated that in the dry season (just when there is the greatest danger of fires), the whole quantity available cannot exceed six gallons per day per head. Even if this miserably insufficient supply could be equally distributed and stored with the greatest economy, it would barely suffice for drinking and cooking purposes, leaving no margin for the frequent baths which we consider essential.
On the present system, a great number of the inhabitants have to pay water-carriers
at the rate of from 1d. to 10d. per bucket according to the distance and height to which it has to be carried. These men assemble at early dawn round the street fountains, waiting till the water is turned on, when there is a general scramble for precedence, as the supply is often shut off before all can get a turn. Then these poor folk have either to buy water from some well, or else to climb the steep hill and seek their day's supply wherever they can find it in one of the rivulets or water-holes.
In the absence of proper laundries, most streams are used for washing purposes, and the stagnant pools are filled with putrefying soap-suds. Moreover, though there are many shallow surface-wells in various parts of the town, they are in so many cases in such close proximity to the house-drain, that their waters are almost inevitably contaminated.
Father told me that a very curious point in connection with the subject, is the singular
injustice of the Government water-rate, by which a uniform rate of two per cent is levied on the assessed annual rental of all houses in Victoria, whether they have water laid on or not. As there is no extra charge for extra consumption, the man whose house is amply
provided with luxurious baths, and whose garden is not only well watered but perhaps even adorned with fountains, pays no more than does his neighbour whose house has no water-service, and who is consequently compelled to pay a coolie for fetching his supply from wherever he may be able to find or purchase it which is probably from one of the wells of doubtful purity.
However, there is a plan to create a great reservoir in a valley which receives the
natural drainage of the hills on every side, and where it is supposed that an ample supply may be secured, even in view of still further growth of the city.
On our expedition to the peak and cemetery, and most other expeditions, we were carried at least part of the way in comfortable arm-chairs, slung on bamboos, and borne on the shoulders of two men, with two more to relieve guard.
Here all manner of transport service, whether of human beings or goods, is done by man power. Horses, carriages, and carts are virtually non-existent. There may be in all about half-a-dozen horses and ponies to all this great population, and one or two pony-carriages, which alone represent wheeled vehicles, the steepness of the roads making such practically useless.
There are pretty villages and valleys all along the route and we go past Government
House which is on the summit of the peak, where the Governor, the Chief-Justice, and some of the principal foreign residents have cottages, where they can live for change of air in summer, coming down 1800 feet to their daily work. The view in every direction is
Continuing along the coast, we came to Little Hong-Kong, a very pretty richly wooded
valley between rugged hills, with the sea forming an inland lake, and a foreground of pine trees. There is a good deal of fine timber on that side of the island, and we halted at a lovely shady spot to boil our kettle and enjoy a pleasant tea.
Once more facing the hill, we ascended to the Stanley Gap, where the view on either side is very grand; as we came down through the Happy Valley, where the beautiful cemeteries lie side by side along the base of the hill, overlooking the very fine racecourse; on the farther side of which, on another hill, lies the Chinese cemetery. Happy Valley is very still and peaceful its beauty seeming an additional point in favour of a colony whose dead may rest in so fair a spot.
We had looked in the register, and knew where to look for my grandparents graves, and it was not long before we found them.
The first read:
This tomb is erected In memory of a beloved Father
By his surviving son and daughter Edward Fischer and Elias, wife of Alfred Wilkinson, In faith and hope
Here lies the body of Maximilian Fischer For 28 years a resident in China
He died in Macoa On the 17th August 1872 In his 68th Year
And the second, much simpler:
Sacred to the Memory of Caroline, wife of Maximillian Fischer Died in Victoria, 28,06/58 aged 52 years.
We laid our flowers on the tombs and said a few prayers, for the grandparents I had never met, although I could remember my mother talking about them. Father, of course, knew them, and was quite overcome as he saw their graves.
We continued back to our hotel in very somber mood.
From then on, as I wanted to do more exploring and Father needed to go to work, it was agreed that I could sightsee without him, as long as I was with someone reliable.
On December 11th some famous Americans checked into the hotel, and Father soon made their acquaintance. We had both of course heard of Andrew Carnegie, and to think he was staying in our hotel was quite exciting. But they only had a few days here as they were planning on going on to Canton on the 17th.
Mr. Carnegie, who has asked me to call him Andrew, (although I find it very awkward to do so) and his travelling companion, John Vandervort, whom I am to call Vandy, (pictured above) met me at breakfast this morning. After discussing the beauty of Hong Kong they came to the decision that the first thing they should do is the Peak (which I had already done with Father) so each of them, in a sedan chair, borne by four strong coolies, managed to get to the top and enjoy the splendid view, and came down the same way.They were embarrassed at being carried, but were both tired from their trip. I was curious to know more about these men. Andrew said that Vandy was his best friend. Father informed me about Mr. Carnegie. Andrew was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, the son of a handloom weaver. The family had a long radical tradition and his father, William Carnegie, was an active Chartist. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Morrison, had worked with William Cobbett during his campaign for social reform.
The economic depression of 1848 convinced the Carnegie family to emigrate to the
United States where they joined a Scottish colony at Allegheny near Pittsburgh. Andrew began work at the age of 12 in a local cotton factory earning $1.20 a week but continued his education by attending night school. That was where he met Vandy. The next year he found a job as a telegraph messenger for the Pittsburgh Telegraph Offices. Hoping to advance his career, he moved up to a telegraph operator position in 1851. He then took a job at the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1853. He worked as the assistant and telegrapher to Thomas Scott, one of the railroad's top officials.
During the Civil War, Scott was appointed assistant Secretary of War and Carnegie went to Washington to work as his right hand man. Carnegie's work included organizing the military telegraph system. Andrew made regular visits to Britain where he observed the rapid developments in the iron industry. He was especially impressed by the converter invented by Henry Bessemer and realised that steel would soon replace iron for the manufacture of heavy goods.
After the war Mr. Carnegie succeeded Scott as superintendent of the western division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He shrewdly invested in several promising ventures and left the railroad in 1865 to focus on his other business interests.
Since then most of Andrew's time has been dedicated to the steel industry. In 1870 he
erected his first blast furnace where he used the ideas being developed by Bessemer in England. His business, which is known as the Carnegie Steel Company, will revolutionize steel production in the United States he says.
As far as what we learned about Vandy, it was very little, as he is a very reticent
man. He has travelled with Andrew many times. His full name is John W Vandervort and he comes from Pittsburgh. He has a vivid recollection of the moneyless condition in which he and the Carnegie brothers found themselves, as boys and young men.
Andrew told us a story about Vandy in connection with that trip to England. His own
income at that time, he says, was about $1500, while Vandy was a poor student, living almost from hand to mouth. Vandy therefore, regarded Andrew as already a gentleman of fortune.
“Great Caesar, boys!” he would say, thumping the table until the beer spilled, “if
I ever get $1500 a year income, catch me working like a slave, as Andrew does!”
Not long afterward, Vandy had thousands a month, but Andrew told us, “Vandy worked harder than ever.”
On December 19th, Andrew and Vandy took the steamer to Canton, a place I would dearly love to visit as well, as that was where Father and Mother met. The men will be back here again just before Christmas, and I look forward to seeing them again and hearing their stories.