The Hong Kong Maritime Museum, in collaboration with the Hongkong & Whampoa Dockyard Company, led a unique community project in order to capture the collective stories and memories of former dockworkers at the yard. This exercise was conducted not only to preserve the unique history and perspectives of the individuals who participated, but to share their collective memory with the community of Hong Kong.
Hongkong & Whampoa Dockyard Company
The Hongkong & Whampoa Dockyard Company (HWD) began life in the early 1840s outside Guangzhou. John Couper, a Scottish shipwright, and his son began building ships, helping to introduce advancements to the field such as the first stone-lined drydock. By the 1880s, HWD had rapidly expanded and controlled dockyards from the Western District to Tai Kok Tsui and from Whampoa to Aberdeen. For the next sixty years and in close competition with the Taikoo Dockyard, HWD played an important part in bringing modern technology into Guandong Region. Ships of all sizes from small wooden yachts to 5,000-ton ships were all constructed at the yard. Many of these vessels can still be seen in Hong Kong including the Star Ferries and the fireboat, Alexander Grantham.
Discovery of Glass Plate Negatives
The consolidation of HWD with the Taikoo Dockyard in 1973 represented the most significant merger among Hong Kong shipyards. These two companies arguably were the most important 20th centure shipbuilders in Hong Kong having witnessed Hong Kong's industrial boom between wars wars and their destruction during the Second World War. Both companies would also be an important part of the city’s regrowth afterwards.
In 1973, in preparation for the company merger, HWD company records were collected, archived, and in some cases tossed. In one of the many boxes slated for the trash were a set of glass plate negatives, some dating to the late 19th century. A company representative immediately recognised their historical value, set them aside to be stored. In 2008, the complete set was donated to the Hong Kong Maritime Museum and today makes up one of the museum’s most significant archival collections.
The project resulted in this online exhibition launched in 2013 representing a small portion of the plates from the collection. Both the negative and the positive image are shown and no attempt has been made to conceal the cracks in the glass or smudges that are common among plates of this era.