'History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme' - Mark Twain.
A gallimaufry of random China history and research interests
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Hong Kong Quick Posts III - Gaslight in Hong Kong
Before electric lights there were gas lamps – before them not much except candles and a lot of darkness. Cities were dark places before gas – when gas lamps came along suddenly the urban night was lit up – it must have been amazing to live through that transition – from a city of darkness to one of flickering gas lamps and the ability to see all the teeming life, crime and fun of the night-time city. . George Augustus Sala commented in 1859. “As I walk about the streets by night, endless and always suggestive intercommunings take place between me and the trusty, silent, ever watchful gas. Gas to teach me; gas to counsel me; gas to guide my footsteps, not over London flags, but through the crooked ways of unseen life and death”
All this brings me, in an admittedly long and roundabout way to Hong Kong’s Duddell Street gas lamps which I often stroll past and rather like. Gas lighting came to Hong Kong shortly after being introduced in England in the 1860s and lighting up Hong Kong at night must have been similarly spectacular. The Duddell Street lamps at each of the stone steps (built between 1875 and 1889) were manufactured in 1922 Suggs & Co. Hong Kong had many other gas lamps, these being mounted on the balustrades were shorter than the regular street ones. Gas lamps like these were popular as they did not require nightly lighting and extinguishing in the way the previous kerosene lamps did.
After World War 2 gas lamps were steadily replaced by electric lights throughout Hong Kong though these four at Duddell Street have remained and are still maintained by TownGas and come on every night to give a slight flavour of what gas lit Hong Kong must have been like.
As someone who divides their time pretty evenly writing about China now and China back then this seemed like a place to throw all the interesting bits that fall through the cracks somehow and never get used anywhere else.
It's basically the stuff that doesn't get used in my writing about modern China or in the books I do about old China - i.e. probably of little interest to anyone but me and therefore ideally suited to an obscure blog up a dark cul-de-sac of the Internet.