Archive for June, 2011

Peeps into China

Today I bring you a short description of Hong Kong as it was in the 1880s.  This is from a personal copy of “Peeps into China” by E.C. Phillips

 The first view of Hong Kong was a chain of mountains rising in the background to lofty peaks and diminishing as they approached the sea into small hills and steep rocks.  The town of Victoria was built along the sea-coast and there were large European club-houses and the Cathedral.  One of the principal ornaments in town was the clock tower which made even high trees look quite small.  The most ancient houses of the colony could be found in a street that led to the clock tower and close by was the hotel where tiffin could be taken.

 Here is an extract from a letter written at the time:

“Steamers were always either coming or going; and here too telegrams were constantly arriving.  Besides English merchants, Chinese, American French, German, Hindoo merchants and others also traded with the little island and shared what wealth she had.  Hong Kong is very English looking compared with other places in China and the people are not only governed by English laws but their crimes are tried by English judges.  It is only because Hong Kong belongs to the English that telegraph wires are to be found here as the Chinese will not have them anywhere else because they think that they would offend the ghosts or spirits of the places through which they would pass.  For the same reason also the Chinese have hardly any railroads.”

I wonder what they would think of Hong Kong in the 21st century.  The traders and merchants of all nationalities are still there.  The Cathedral is still there.  But that clock tower which seemed so tall in the 1800s would now be dwarfed by science fiction like skyscrapers !!

If your family history has revealed links to Hong Kong and to Colonial Ancestors then remember that I am here to help.

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Graves of the family MAY

It was a cold, wet, blustery day when I visited the once vibrant Victorian town where I hoped to find a stone to the memory of Charles MAY and his widow, Harriet.  Charles was a former Metropolitan Police Inspector who left England in 1844 to establish the Hong Kong Police.  He ended his career as Chief Magistrate and Colonial Treasurer.  Charles had been buried at sea off Singapore but is remembered on his father’s tombstone in Kensal Green Cemetery. 

But what of Charles’ family – his widow and his children?  Where could they be found.  Most of the family had lived and died in East Molesey, Surrey but my search at the local cemetery had drawn a blank.   The next logical choice of burial place was Brookwood but requesting searches of those records is a costly affair.  Not having such funds available I had to put my quest to one side and concentrate on other aspects of the MAY family tree. 

I turned to his youngest son to see what he had made of his life.  My search in this respect was short for I found that he had died when he was just a teenager.  Strangely, both he and his maternal grandmother had died a long way from London so it looked as if the whole family had moved to the countryside for a few years.  Then another clue came to light indicating that Mrs. MAY might also be buried in the same place as her youngest son and her mother.  And this was how I came to step off the train on that cold, wet, blustery day.

The town itself was a sorry sight with the once elegant buildings in a dilapidated state.  Shop after shop was boarded up and there was the feeling of decay all around.  The cemetery was on the outskirts of town and I did not feel happy until I reached the large gates and entered into another world of peace and solitude.   It was a large cemetery and it was obvious from the outset that many of the older graves were in areas that were somewhat overgrown and now set aside as “wildlife sanctuaries”.  As always I knew my chances of finding a stone were slim but as ever I let my feet take me where they felt was right.  I wandered and wandered and got wetter and wetter !!

Knowing a little of Mrs. MAY’s character I felt she would have wanted a rather grand headstone so I looked for monuments which could only be described as “over the top”!  After an hour I found myself on one of the side paths when I spotted a huge cross towering over a section.  It looked quite out of place so I trudged through the damp grass to get a look at the name – no it was not the one I was after.  I was getting a little despondent by this time and dropped my head to look at my soaking feet.  As my eyes lowered I caught sight of a tiny cross to my side – it bore the surname of MAY.  My heart nearly jumped out of my chest.  I bent down to examine the whole inscription and to my utter disbelief found that I had chanced upon the grave of Charles’ three grandsons.  I was not even looking for them and had no idea that they too were buried here.  Once again I can only say that the family MAY directed my feet.  They sure want to be found !

With utter excitement I took picture upon picture.  Now where were Mrs. May, her youngest son and her mother?  Surely they must be somewhere near.  They were, but they did take some searching.

The youngest son was the first to be buried in this cemetery and his grave could be found a few yards away.  His maternal grandmother shares the grave with him.  The top of the headstone has now collapsed and lies on top of the grave but the main part still stands proud showing that this was the son of Charles MAY, Chief Magistrate of Hong Kong.

The grave of Mrs. MAY can be found a few rows in front of her grandchildren.  To my surprise hers was not the main name on the stone.  Her daughter in law had died in the 1920s and her eldest son had arranged for her to be interred in the same grave as his mother.  When he died a few years later he was also buried in the same grave.  Three for the price of one !  Well actually four for the price of one because The Honourable Charles MAY is also mentioned on this monument.  Rather annoyingly I was not able to make out all the inscriptions because the graves on either side were rather overgrown.  Will I be going back in a few weeks time on a much drier, much brighter day – with a pair of secateurs – you bet I will.

For more photos please visit my flickr album on the family MAY:   http://www.flickr.com/photos/twigletsadventures/sets/72157626907662334/

If you would like to read about Edmund, a younger brother of Charles, please follow:  http://metropolitanpoliceresearch.blogspot.com/