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The history of building on The Peak in Hong Kong is intertwined with the stories of many of the men who were in power in Hong Kong in the mid to late 1800s, as well as the stories of their wives and children. Thomas Jackson and his family built a summer home there called Creggan.
I have also posted a page of photos. Also Gwulo is an amazing repository of photos and maps and information from those who share an interest about old photos from Hong Kong.
Sharon Oddie Brown. February 9, 2011


The Peak history


The more I looked into the history of The Peak, the more I was surprised by how many significant  Hong Kong-based people of Irish ancestry there were in the mid to late 1800s. Some of this is not surprising since The Peak was originally reserved for European use, but even so, there were a disproportionate number of the movers and shakers who were Irish. Who knew that this ethnic group were such active colonisers?


You can probably find better histories of The Peak and of Hong Kong elsewhere, but what I can offer is a quick flypast of some of the history as it pertains to Thomas Jackson and/or his connections with his Irish heritage or the HSBC, starting with the naming of the mountains. Every one of the men whose names live on in the naming of these mountains had Irish roots.


 Mount Austin

This mountain, known also as Victoria Peak, and later known locally as The Peak, is about 1,811 feet high and is the highest mountain on the Island proper.  


John Gardiner Austin was the Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong from 1868 to 1879, working with Sir Arthur Kennedy, the 7th Governor of Hong Kong (see beneath).


He was born August 7, 1812 in Barbados. I have not yet done much digging on his heritage, but his mother, Mehetabel Piercy - the daughter of Jeffrey Piercy and Mary Spiers - was born in Ireland June 14, 1781. I also suspect that Austin’s middle name - Gardiner - will lead us to more Irish roots. NOTE: Sometime before 1878, Austin built a house on The Peak known as The Austin Arms. It was in a spot just above Victoria Gap, facing Mount Kellett. Sir James Russell, Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Hong Kong (1888-1892) moved into The Austin Arms when Austin left in 1878. For photos relating to the site see: Gwulo.


Henry Pottinger, the 1st Governor of Hong Kong (1843-1844) may have been the man who blazed a trail for the many subsequent Irish-born governors who followed. He was born at Mountpottinger,  County Down, Ireland, in 1789, the fifth son of Eldred aka Edward Curwen Pottinger Esq., of Mount Pottinger, County Down, and his wife Anne Gordon, daughter of  a minor landowner, Robert Gordon, Esq. of Florida House, Co. Down. The Pottingers were a merchant family, based in Belfast for generations. Henry was sent to Hong Kong in 1841, the year of Thomas Jackson’s birth. He acquired Hong Kong for the British as part of the negotiation for the Treaty of Nanking. Interestingly, it was acquired as a result of an act of disobedience on his part.



Sir Henry Pottinger's House in Victoria, 1924 by James Orange and included in The Chater Collection E. Ashworth. SEE: Wiki.


In 1845, Pottinger lived in the house portrayed above, in Victoria, Hong Kong. Although he may have been credited with establishing executive and legislative chambers, he also bears some responsibility for Hong Kong becoming the major port for trading opium in China at that time. A curious sidebar is that it is also quite possible that a brother of his was referred to in the Drennan-McTier letters: Young Pottinger ... got acquainted with the father [Dr. Jackson] who with the lady, excelling only at the churn and cheese press, wished to be connected to a good family. Things appeared going on well with the help of D. Gordon [uncle of Pottinger] when he was claimed as a husband and father by a pretty girl he ensnared by a sham marriage, and never after appeared at Mr. Jackson’s. The lady dropped – the father with his family is gone to Dublin, would sell his place here and if the Doctor is not married, and will take an ugly vulgar girl, I dare say he may have choice.


The 5th Governor of Hong Kong, Hercules George Robert Robinson, 1st Baron Rosmead (1824-1897) was born at Rossmead, Co. Westmeath, Ireland, son of Admiral Hercules Robinson and Frances Elizabeth Wood.  He was a 2nd Lieutenant with the Irish Fusiliers, but in 1846, the post-famine enforced sale of his family’s estates led him to supervise relief works for the victims of the Irish famine. It was the quality of his work here that was the start of his meteoric rise, up through the ranks of various colonial posts. When he was appointed governor of Hong Kong in 1859, he was at age 35 the youngest governor in Hong Kong colonial history. It was during his administration that HSBC was established in Hong Kong. Also, during his term, he ensured the provision of a steady supply of water for the people of Hong Kong, as well as establishing Towngas, the territories gas provider than enabled the lighting of the streets. In December 1859, he had a path cut through the bush up to the top of The Peak that was wide enough for sedan chairs to be carried through. This was the first step in the ongoing support services that would eventually make The Peak a most desirable place to live.


During his time, a Sanatorium that had been built in 1863, near the top of the mountain, was abandoned. It had initially been built in the hopes that the higher elevation would be a boon to patients, but it didn’t seem to hasten recovery and was a hassle when it came to transporting people and supplies. After it was decommissioned as a hospital, Granville Sharp and his wife Matilda Lincolne, the benefactors who made the future Matilda Hospital possible, lived here. Sharp had been sent out to Hong Kong to open a branch of the Commercial Branch of India. In 1874, he and William Danby (1842-1908) set up a company called Sharp and Danby, which later became known as Leigh and Orange – still a going concern. Danby, amongst other things, did the design for the Clock Tower Fountain in Statue Square, and one of his daughters– Lucy Danby - married Robert Thomas Wright, Manager of HSBC Yokohama.


 The 6th Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell was one of the first to build and live on The Peak. His summer residence built at Mount Austin sometime around 1868, is known as the First Mountain Lodge. Initially, there were three main buildings. The two smaller buildings were like large European style cabins. The Lodge itself was damaged by a typhoon in 1874.


McDonnell was born in Dublin on  September 8, 1814, son of Rev. Richard MacDonnell - the Provost of Trinity College Dublin - and his wife Jane Graves. As with many other Irish men who ended up in Hong Kong in this century, MacDonnell jr. attended Trinity College. During his time as governor of Hong Kong, he developed much of Victoria Peak as the premier residential quarters of Hong Kong, albeit only accessible to rich European merchants. To his credit, he also ordered the construction of a hospital whose focus was to tend to the needs of the local Chinese population. Unfortunately, it does not seem that managing money was his forté, the huge deficit that was run up by his administration meant that he had to go cap in hand to HSBC for a financial aid package.


MacDonnell’s successor, Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy (1809-1883) – the 7th Governor of Hong Kong - was born in Cultra, Co. Down, son of Hugh Kennedy & Grace Dorothea Hughes. He met his predecessor, MacDonnell, when he attended Trinity College, Dublin. He was well regarded in Ireland for his work in the aftermath of the Irish Famine. He had worked with the Poor Law Commission to administer relief to the citizens of Co. Clare. During his time as governor of Hong Kong, the Hongkong dollar was established as the single monetary unit for the territory. Kennedy Road in Hong Kong as well as Kennedy Town were both named after him.

Sir John Pope Hennessy, the 8th Governor of Hong Kong, was born in 1834 in Co. Cork, attended Queens University in Belfast (as did his contemporary, Sir Robert Hart, Inspector General of China’s Maritime Custom Service – a key position of considerable influence), and died in 1891. Born a Catholic, with a liberal political tilt, he was often on the side of the underdog, and hence was also often something of an outsider in spite of having been born into the Anglo-Irish aristocracy.  He was Governor of Hong Kong 1877-1882. His personal motto was summed up in his Three Grand Qualifications to Success:  The first is audacity, the second is audacity, and the third is audacity. In his time, he was judged harshly by his European peers, in some measure because he did not run things in a manner that best served their personal interests, but history may be kinder to his reputation:

During his tenure, Hennessy realised that the Chinese people, who were treated as second-class citizens up to that time, had developed an increasingly important influence on the Hong Kong economy. With that in mind, he lifted the ban that forbade Chinese people from buying lands, constructing buildings, and operate businesses in the Central District. This caused a development boom in the Central District. Also, he allowed Chinese people in Hong Kong to become naturalised subjects of the UK. He appointed the first Chinese member to the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, Wu Tingfang,  who would later become the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China. SOURCE: Wiki

His other accomplishments included the first Grant-in-Aid system in education area. This was very important in terms of setting a direction for the future educational history of Hong Kong. He also introduced laws against flogging and branding.

Sir Arthur Henry Blake, the 12th Governor of Hong Kong, was born in Limerick, Ireland on 8 January 1840. His parents were Jane Lane and Peter Blake, born in Galway and employed as inspector of the Irish Constabulary.  Young Arthur had a humble start, as a draper's assistant at a haberdashery, then joined the Irish Constabulary in 1859, where he worked as an inspector and Resident Magistrate of Duff.

Sir Henry May who also lived for some time at Mountain Lodge was a long-time colonial administrator who became the 15th Governor of Hong Kong 1912-1919. He was another of those governors born in Dublin, in his case in1860, where he was subsequently educated at Trinity College. His father, George Augustus Chichester May (1815 – 16 August 1892) was an Irish judge, born in Belfast,  and for a time was also the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. Henry May built The Eyrie, the highest home on the Peak in 1877. It was purchased by E.R. Belilios, who reportedly held a large number of HSBC shares and was elected to its board in 1868. Belilios, who became Chairman of the HSBC Board in 1876 and served a number of terms on the board, including during the years when Thomas Jackson was Manager, was known to travel to Central Hong Kong by camel, up and down the steep Peak Road.


Mount Gough.


This mountain was named after Field Marshall Sir Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough. He was born November 3, 1779 at Woodstown, Limerick, Ireland. He was elevated to the peerage in 1846 as Baron Gough of ChingKangFoo in China and of Maharajpore and the Sutlej in the East Indies. In Dublin, he was a member of the Kildare Street Club, a gentleman’s club that included men from the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy.


There is a house named Tanderagee which is near the peak of Mt. Gough. Little is known – at least by me – about the history of this building. Tanderageeis a small town in Co. Armagh, Ireland near Gilford, where the WRIGHT family and Sir Thomas Jackson’s niece, Mary MENARY settled after making their fortune in the Far East. The house named Tanderagee in Hong Kong was leased to the government by an architect, Alfred Bryer in 1905. SOURCE: Gwulo Annelise Connell has a tagged version of this 1910 photo in Facebook that shows Tanderagee to be visible from Creggan.

Mount Kellett

This mountain is named for another Irishman, Vice Admiral Sir Henry Kellett who was born on November 2, 1806, at his family home, Clonacody, in County Tipperary, Ireland.  It once had a more pointed top than what can be seen today, an important point to note when comparing old photos with contemporary vistas. I learned about this from a posting by a James Fairbairn, who lived in the Peak Pavillions in 1959/1960, and watched as the top of Mount Kellett was being levelled so that a beacon could be installed to guide aircraft to Kaitak airport. SOURCE: Gwulo.

A fascinating tidbit about Kellett:

About the only perk that these explorers received was the privilege of giving an English name to the territories that they charted. The place names of very few locations that Belcher named after himself have survived possibly for homonymous reasons – Belcher is not a pretty name. For example, Belcher Valley is now called Happy Valley. Legend has it that its moniker was changed after an amorous Victorian cartographer proposed marriage to a young lady on an unnamed beach during a picnic. When he was rejected he called the picnic site Repulse Bay. He proposed to her again at Belcher Valley and was accepted. He renamed the site Happy Valley to commemorate the joyful occasion. Like Belcher, other Royal Navy captains frequently named places they explored after themselves, their relations and friends. There is even a case of a hydrographer naming an island on the Yangtze River Rover Island, after his rabid Irish retriever who died there. Royal Navy cartographers such as Captains Cook and Vancouver have fared rather better than Belcher, as has Lieutenant Kellett. In Hong Kong, Mount Kellett and Kellett Island – the home of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club – still carry his name.

The Funicular railway.

Further development of The Peak happened after Alexander Findlay Smith, who had worked for Scotland's Highland Railway, petitioned the Governor, Sir John Pope-Hennessy, in 1881 to operate tram routes. One of them connected the south of Murray Barracks to Victoria Gap on the Peak.


This house holds a special interest for me. It shows up on a 1938 map at number 351, matching the locations from 1912 and 1924. I do not know who may have owned it at this time. It was built by Sir Thomas Jackson long before he was knighted. In a letter dated 1885 January 7th, Thomas Jackson's mother writes: Now I will not advise you not to part with Creggan till the last day you are in Hong Kong. I think Creggan is to be thanked under God for the good health you have all enjoyed in a trying climate nor do not finally give up your situation till after you are at home. You might possibly regret the loss of it. It will be easy to write your signature at any time. Annelise Connell has posted a map on Gwulo showing that Creggan [RBL-8] is near Strawberry Hill, just off Plantation Road. The house was named for the Parish in South Armagh where Sir Thomas grew up as a child.


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