Establishing The Navy
AFTER THE British
Crown took possession of Hong Kong in 1841 the Naval Authorities began
to erect buildings along the foreshore of the original West Point
site and on a new site in Central, which was to prove to be the permanent
one. While store depots were established ashore, the Navy also made
use of a succession of ships moored in the harbour, until 1897 when
HMS Tamar arrived. This ship gave her name to the present dockyard
and was scuttled in 1941 prior to the Japanese occupation in WWII.
HMS Tamar moored in Hong Kong Harbour
dockyard continued to expand entailing an increase in personnel and
for the first time, in 1859, it appeared in the Navy list under the
heading of "HM Victualling Yard" as well as under "Dockyard".
January 1861 when Britain acquired the Kowloon peninsular the Navy
gained a site for a coal storage yard and Stonecutters Island as a
quarantine area. The remainder of the century passed with no apparent
change in the yards.
1901 additional land was purchased to the north of the Kowloon yard,
again for coal storage, and the site in Central was slowly expanded
to cater for the rapidly growing Naval presence.
wanted the Navy to move all its facilities to the Kowloon yard, but
the Admiralty resisted and both sites remained Naval property until
October 1959 when the Kowloon yard was handed back to the civil authorities.
Central sited dockyard was surrounded on all sides by Army barracks
which jealously guarded their land and would not allow any further
expansion along the shore line - the only possible way to expand was
seaward reclamation. In 1902 the foundation stone for the extension
was laid and by 1908 39 acres had been created.
new sea walls were 4,580 feet long and included a floating basin and
a graving dock. The basin, designed to have an area of 9 acres and
a depth at the lowest Spring tide of 30 feet, today is a well known
landmark along Hong Kong's crowded foreshore.
graving dock could take three submarines side by side at one time.
The dry dock was eventually filled in October 1959 and all that remains
today is the memorial stone taken from its head. This stone, with
its brass inscription can be seen in a small garden in today's base.
dockyard was under Japanese control from the surrender on 25th December
1941 until Admiral Harcourt and a very strong fleet arrived to repossess
it on 30th August 1945. In September Admiral Harcourt was appointed
Commander in Chief of Military Administration.
The Navy proved to be invaluable to the rehabilitation process, helping
civilian organisations, providing medical aid and maintaining Law
and Order. More important even for morale was the way the service
brought a welcome return to normality to the social scene by organising
children's parties, dances and even cricket matches.
key role in the Navy's own social life, and in that of the Hong Kong
community in general, was played by the China Fleet Club which had
been established in the mid-1930's and really began to come into its
own with the post-war years.
natural culmination to all this was Victory Day on October 9th when
the march past, outside the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank took 15 minutes.
November 28th 1957 it was announced that the Naval dockyard would
be closed down. The reason given being that there was no future requirement
for a full scale dockyard in Hong Kong due to the reorganisation of
Naval forces. However to soften the blow the yard was to be run down
over a two year period.
the dockyard had closed there was still a considerable Naval presence
that had to be contained within the restricted area the Admiralty
would retain. It was with some surprise that in August 1959 the public
learned that the Navy had retained a toe-hold in Central and a sizeable
portion of its old water front. The Colony learnt that the Hong Kong
Government had agreed to pay £7 million for the Royal Navy Dockyard
and Kowloon Naval Yard, to pay $210,000 for a wall around the new
yard and half the cost of walling up the dry dock.
The new HMS Tamar, and fifth in line, gradually emerged between 1959
and 1962 in the form of a compact, modern Naval Base between Harcourt
Road and the water front. The road, de-signed to link Con naught Road
and Gloucester Road was completed in 1961, and built across former
dockyard land. On either side old naval buildings were pulled down
and used to fill in the dry dock. The buildings of the Tamar Section
were left to the last but by 1962 the new office accommodation and
quarters were ready in the western end of the base and transfer was
made across the few hundred yards from the eastern end.
The tower block was completed in 1978 on the site of the old dockyard
workshops, and was opened on the 4th March 1979 by the Prince of Wales.
The seafront to the East of the basin was reclaimed and in 1986 the
new workshops were built.
ROYAL NAVAL CANTEEN
The First China
Fleet Club The Royal Naval Canteen
UNTIL THE CHINA Fleet Club
was opened in 1934 the Royal Naval Canteen looked after the
recreational needs of the Men of the Fleet in Hong Kong. That predecessor
of today’s Club, even before the First World War, was situated close
by the old "Blue Buildings" on the corner of Arsenal Street
and Hennessy Road.
But by 1920 the future of
the Canteen was in question. The Commander-in-Chief, China Station,
reported that the Hong Kong Government was considering a reclamation
scheme to widen and straighten Queen’s Road, which would mean the
demolition of the Canteen.
Perhaps this was timely.
The old Canteen was in such a bad state of repair generally, no modern
sanitation even, that plans were afoot to spend something in the region
of $10,000 on redecoration and repair.
The premises had been purchased
at an original cost of $40,000 and their value in 1920 was between
$120,000 and $150,000.
There were delays over the
next three or four years while the possibility of a Union Jack Club
for both the Army and Navy was considered. But in 1924 the decision
was made to abandon this idea and to concentrate on a Club for naval
personnel, leaving the Army to go its own way.
A possible site had been
selected for a new Canteen on reclaimed land on Arsenal Street and
Queen’s Road. It was estimated then that $1,400,000 would be needed
for this project and that could be met as follows:
From the old Canteen $500,000
Compensation from the HK
Government for the old site $400,000
and the balance of $500,000
made good by an Admiralty grant.
Further delays were caused
when the Admiralty objected to the site - it was too near the Naval
Arsenal! During the next few years the Naval Dockyard expanded considerably
and a good deal of land changed hands between the Admiralty and the
Hong Kong Government, the net result being that the Naval Arsenal
was transferred to Stonecutters Island.
NOTICE was formally
received from the Government that the Royal Naval Canteen would have
to be evacuated, the Government offered compensation for the old site
and made an offer of a site on Gloucester Road where a new Canteen
could be built.
One might have said the
Club was home and dry at last - not quite! Money, or the lack of it,
raised its ugly head. The compensation the Hong Kong Government offered
was nowhere near sufficient to meet the cost of a new building, which
at that time was in the region of $735,000. All that could be raised
From the old Canteen $166,000
From the Weihaiwei Canteen $
Government compensation $154,000
A balance of $385,000 had
to be found!
Admiralty turned down a
request for an interest-free loan of £20,000 but after considerable
discussion with the Treasury a "gift" of £5,000 was eventually
approved in July 1931.
After many meetings and
discussions to find ways and means to raise the necessary capital
for the new Canteen, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank came to the rescue.
The late Sir Vandeleur M.Grayburn, then Chief Manager of the Bank,
agreed to an overdraft to cover the cost of erecting and furnishing
a new building to take the place of the old Canteen. "Blue Buildings",
a name given when the old building became the Canteen, because of
the colour of the exterior, is still commonly used by members of the
With this assurance from
the Bank, plans went ahead for the new building. Messrs. Leigh &
Orange were appointed Architects and Mr A.S. Mackichan started preparing
plans for consideration by the naval authorities. Plans were submitted
for a six-storey building, plus basement. Provisions were made for
Bars, Billiards Rooms, Reading Rooms, Dining Rooms, Cubicles, Dormitories,
Offices, Staff Quarters, Kitchen, Laundry, Boiler House, a Mineral
Water Factory and a Theatre.
The plans were provisionally
passed and tenders called for. But great consternation was caused
when the receipt of the tenders showed the costs far exceeded the
original estimates. A signal received from the Commander-in-Chief
read "The Trustees of the Club are placed in a most difficult
position, from which they must extricate themselves". The Commander-in-Chief
was unable to sanction such a large outlay over and above the original
After more conferences were
held by the Naval authorities, Architects and Contractors, a revised
plan was produced. This reduced the size of the building by one storey
and other savings were made by the use of cement "other than
Green Island Cement" and also by the use of less expensive materials
for internal construction, and smaller lifts.
The revised plans, with
their great reduction in overall costs, were eventually approved and
work finally began. The list of contractors sounds a bit like a slice
of Hong Kong’s history:- Messrs. Lam Woo & Company, Dodwell &
Company, Jardine Matheson & Co., Messrs. W. Jack & Co, Hong
Kong Electric and the HK & China Gas Company.
Further appeals were made
to the Admiralty for financial assistance, and an Admiralty Fleet
Order was issued to all units of the Royal Navy asking for contributions.
The response was generous. In addition to the donations from the Fleet,
the Admiralty donated £7,000 from a surplus from the old Naval Savings
Bank. And the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank handed back, as a gift,
the Interest which had been charged on the bank overdraft over approximately
CHINA FLEET CLUB (1934 - 1939)
HMAS Tamar and RN Dockyard
The China Fleet Club was
completed and finished at a total cost of $1,250,000.00.
Senior Sailors Bar China Fleet Club
By the end of the first
year of operation the Club showed a profit of $35,000. However, prices
of Beer, Wines and Spirits were rather high compared to other Clubs
in Hong Kong and the Club was not patronized as well as it could have
been. So in 1935, the number of Boys employed was cut by 25 per cent,
and the cost of meals, wines, beer and spirits reduced by 10 per cent.
The Mens Bar was enlarged, taking in a Reading Room. These moves were
very satisfying, and the Club became very popular throughout the fleet.
From then on the men used
the Club a great deal more and on return from the North, billiard
and snooker competitions were organised. Silver cups were presented
by Messrs. H. Ruttonjee & Son and members of the winning teams
were presented with replicas of the cups. Medals purchased from Club
funds were presented to the runners-up. These competitions were held
annually until 1940.
Dunng the 1930’s the Theatre
was engaged for long periods by the H.K. Amateur Dramatic Club, the
Philharmonic Society and the H.K. Singers. It was also extensively
used for Ship’s Concerts, Military Concerts, dances organised by the
Fleet and also by the Cheerio Club of Hong Kong. Boxing contests were
also held in the winter.
Although prices had been
reduced and the Fleet spent less time in Hong Kong - Singapore being
an established naval base - considerable profits continued to be made.
By 1938 the overdraft at the Bank had been reduced to approximately
$75,000 and all debts in connection with the construction and furnishing
of the Club had been paid. The improved financial situation gave considerable
satisfaction besides dispelling any doubts as to the Club’s ability
to pay its way in the future. Letters of congratulation were received
from the Admiralty and the Commander-in-Chief, China Station.
It is interesting to know
what the China Fleet was like in those days. The Fleet, at that time,
consisted of the 8th Cruiser Squadron, comprising five
or six ships of the "County" or "London" Class
cruisers; the 8th Destroyer Flotilla comprising the old
"D" Class destroyers; the aircraft carrier, H.M.S. Eagle,
H.M.S. Medway, submarine Depot Ship and Submarines; a M.T.B. Flotilla;
a score or so of gunboats and a few sloops. The Shore Establishments
didn’t exist then, and the Ship’s Company of TAMAR was accommodated
in the old ‘Tamar’. The veteran with her white sides and tall yellow
masts lent a lot of atmosphere to the Dockyard, but was doomed to
be scuttled in the harbour during the war - a sad loss.
A small naval air station
was already in operation before the War, at Kai Tak.
Towards the end of the 1930’s
it became obvious that the Club was not large enough to cope with
the needs of such a fleet. The Architects were asked to prepare plans
for the addition of a new wing to the Club and for an additional floor
on top of the existing building. The Hong Kong Government was approached
and it was tentatively agreed that the plot of land adjacent to the
Theatre should be purchased by the Club and a seven storey building
erected there. The Chief Manager of the Hong Kong Bank was approached,
and without hesitation, agreed to guarantee an overdraft of $1,000,000.
The idea was to allocate
the new wing of the building for the use of Chief and Petty Officers,
and others of similar rank. The existing building was to be for the
exclusive use of junior ratings, and the existing kitchen was to be
Then came 1939 and rumours
of war. All plans for the modernisation and extension of the Club
were suspended on 3rd September 1939, when Europe was plunged
into World War II.
- China Fleet Club - The Post War Years