A century of Service
The Hongkong & Whampoa Dock Company Limited (HWD) began life in the mid 19th Century outside Guangzhou. It was formally founded in 1863. By the 1880s, HWD had rapidly expanded in Hong Kong 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 the Guangdong 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. A set of valuable glass plate negatives, various photos and publications related to HWD were donated to the Hong Kong Maritime Museum and today makes up one of the museum’s most significant collections. Through this collection we are able to capture and share the collective stories of former dockworkers at the yard.
From Whampoa to Hong Kong
From sometime in the early 18th century western ships were forbidden to pass beyond the island of Whampoa (Huangpu). The permitted foreign anchorage was on the south side of Whampoa Island where matsheds were built to store goods during the trading season. Chinese ships engaged in the Nanyang trade could still proceed to Canton.
Whampoa in China (1835) by Lithograph by Edward Duncan. From a painting by William John Huggins.Hong Kong Maritime Museum
Whampoa, from Dane's Island (1843)Hong Kong Maritime Museum
The first dockyard for foreign ships in the China seas was established at Whampoa. The mud docks were developed from some local docks by the Peninsula and Oriental Company (P&O) to dock their ships in Whampoa. In 1845, John Coupe, a Scottish shipwright was sent by the P&O to build proper drydocks and look after ships docked in China. He converted the mud docks into a graving dock which was named the Couper Dock at Whampoa. In this painting, the ‘Mud Docks’ on Whampoa Island are immediately to the right of the ‘chopboat’, home to Couper who with his wife are seen here on deck. Much of the dock area was destroyed during the Opium War. It was recorded that John Couper was abducted in 1856 and never seen again. The docks were then took over by his son.
The dry dock at Aberdeen, Hong Kong (1873)Hong Kong Maritime Museum
In 1863, Hongkong & Whampoa Dock Company Limited was founded and took over the Couper and Lockson Docks at Whampoa from John Couper's son. It was the first company in Hong Kong to be registered. Later the company purchased John Lamonts Aberdeen dockyards in 1865. The Aberdeen Lamont dock was the first stone clad graving dock built in Hong Kong. This was followed by the Hope Dock, built in 1867, sized to accommodate the British Navy vessels of the time.
Annual report of the Hongkong & Whampoa Dockyard Company (1973) by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
The original lease of the property in Aberdeen to John Lamont.
HWD acquired the property in 1865. These title deeds were exchanged with the then Government for new leases on completion of the Aberdeen reclamation.
Kowloon No. 1 Dock, at Hung Hom, under construction (from HUD Pictures from the Past) by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
The Union Dock Company at Hung Hom, Kowloon, with its two docks was almalgamated by the HWD in 1870. It was known as the famous Kowloon Docks which had operated for over a century until its closure in 1980. This old picture shows the construction work of the Kowloon No. 1 Dock at Hung Hom, in about 1885.
Comspolitan Dock, Tai Kok Tsui, Hong Kong, 1890-1900Hong Kong Maritime Museum
Glass plate negative showing the Whampoa staff
Group photo of management team and foremen in the front lawn of headquarter of HWD by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
From War to War
During the First World War (1914-1918), the company was employed by the British Government to built standard type of cargo ship and tugs. This picture shows the S. S. "War Bomber" awaiting launching.
In the infamous Bingwu Typhoon of 1906 the French torpedo boat destroyer La Fronde, attempting to go to the assistance of Chinese sailors in trouble, was run down and cut in two by a steamer out of control. Five crewmen were drowned whose memorial, once in Kowloon, now stands in the Hong Kong Cemetery in Happy Valley. The wreck was repaired in the HWD and later served in one of the earliest naval engagements of the First World War.
S. S. Planorbis (1922) by On loan from Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
After the First World War, the business of the Company considerably increased until the destructive impact of the Second World War (1941-1945).
"Planorbis", one of the Shell tankers built in 1920s for the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company.
Building of Steamship Tai Ping (1926) by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
This Glass plate negative shows the building of the steamship Taiping in around 1925.
Building of Steamship Tai Ping by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
The products of Electric Steel Castings made by HWD with the signage of HWD and a workman by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
This glass plate negative show the products of Electric Steel Castings made by HWD with the signage of HWD and a workman.
The products of Electric Steel Castings made by HWD and a workman by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
Street map of Kowloon Peninsula by Loan from Mr. Gordian Gaeta (GC65)Hong Kong Maritime Museum
Street Map of Kowloon Peninsula in 1920s. It shows the Whampoa Dockyard on the right.
Photo showing a plaque marked HK & Whampoa Dock Engine and a bell (1923) by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
A builder's model of SS Yuen Sang, which was the second of two ships ordered by the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company in 1920. It was built by the HWD and launched in 1923. The ship survived the Second World War after serving on convoys in the Eastern theatre.
Painting of SS 'Yuen Sang'Hong Kong Maritime Museum
From Destruction to Restoration
After initially bombing the dockyards and occupying Hong Kong in December 1941, the Japanese quickly restored the dockyards to build and repair ships. The Hung Hom Whampoa docks were taken over by the Osaka Shipbuilding Co. and built and repaired commercial vessels used by the military. The USAF bombed Hong Kong and the shipyards, so much so that by mid 1944 many were unable to function. On 16 January 1945, the Kowloon Docks were heavily bombed and totally destroyed. During the War, a total of 140 bombs were recorded being dropped on the HWD premises.
Group photo of Japanese Kempeitai Unit members by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
Group photo of Japanese Kempeitai Unit members
Japanese and local dockyard workers in front of an engine by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
Group photo of both Japanese (in light colour outfits) and local dockyard workers in front of a new engine.
Resruption of Whampoa Dock during the Second World War by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
Destruction during the Second World War
Rebuilding of Whampoa Dock after the Second World War by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
Following the wartime destruction, additional capital was obtained for restoration. The damaged drydocks, machinery and buildings were repaired or rebuilt.
Plan of Hongkong & Whampoa Dockyard Company (Pictures from the Past) (1963) by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
After the Second World War, the company successfully expanded and offered extensive engineering services, ship-repair and new small construction activities.
Kowloon Docks General Office by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
The Kowloon Docks general office, a landmark on the waterfront until modernised in the mid-1960s
The fireboat Alexander Grantham was built by the HWD in 1952 which continued HWD's long record of building fireboats, ferries, and other specialist local vessels including tankers, which serves as a testament to the achievements of Hong Kong shipbuilding in the 1950s.
Display model of a Star Ferry. It was one of the eleven diesel powered 'Star' Ferries built by the HWD between 1956 and 1965.
Ferncraig, Norwegian oil tanker in No. 1 Dock, under repair (1960) by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
Ferncraig, Norwegian oil tanker in No. 1 Dock, under repair, 1960.
From HWD to HUD
HWD and the Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering Company Limited, a member of the Swire Group, merged to create the Hong Kong United Dockyard, HUD, in 1972. Both shipyards were facing tough competition from Japan and Taiwan, causing both to cease newbuilding in late 1960s. The decision was taken to merge the dockyard operations of HWD with Taikoo and move to Tsing Yi Island by 1980 vacating valuable land to build the biggest middle class housing estates in Hong Kong.
Chairman's statement in Annual Report of HWD (1972) by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
Chairman's statement in the 1972 report referring to the merge of the Taikoo Dockyard and HWD.
Hong Kong United Dockyard at Tsing Yi (1985)Hong Kong Maritime Museum
After the release of the Hung Hom site to Hutchison in 1980, the dockyard operations wholly concentrated at Tsing Yi.
Whampoa Garden by Gift of Mr. David JohnstonHong Kong Maritime Museum
This replica in Whampoa Garden rests on the site of the Former Kowloon No. 1 Dock and symbolises the HWD's service for more than a hundred years.
Jack Chou (student trainee, 2020), Katherine Chu (Head of Education)
Martin Cresswell (Consultant)
Tim Ko (advice on photos of Japanese Occupation)
Jasmine Lau (2020 Summer Intern)
Katherine Chu (Head of Education)