The Hongkong Rope Manufacturing Co., Ltd

Amelia Allsop: The Hong Kong Heritage Project (HKHP) Archive was established with the mission to collect, interpret and make accessible the historic records of the Kadoorie family and their business and charitable endeavours. The HKHP Archive has been accessible to the public since 2009 and holds an extensive collection of historic records and photographs. Amongst this collection are papers relating to rope manufacturing, one of the oldest industries in Hong Kong.

HF: Since this article was first posted Amelia has told me that she has left the HK Heritage Project to embark on a PhD in London.

“Due to its strength, versatility and water resisting properties, Manila hemp has long been favoured for the manufacture of commercial rope. The export of Manila hemp from the Philippines began in 1818. Hong Kong, with its shipping facilities and close proximity to the raw material source, was an ideal place to establish a rope manufacturing factory.

The Hongkong Rope Manufacturing Co., Ltd. (Rope Co.) was established in Hong Kong in 1883 by a group of nine prominent businessmen, starting operations with a modest capital of HK$150,000. Under the management of Messrs. Shewan, Tomes and Co., the company supplied Manila Rope to the Admiralty and all leading shipping companies, its “Phoenix Brand” being world renowned. Before the Second World War, the company employed 200 hands, and used approximately 1,700 bales of hemp per month. In the immediate post-war years however, all hemp was controlled by the United States Commercial Operation, and supply was limited and difficult to obtain. The company also encountered financial difficulties due to heavy damage suffered during the war years.

Robert G. Shewan of Messrs. Shewan, Tomes & Co.

Robert G. Shewan of Messrs. Shewan, Tomes & Co.

In the immediate post-war years the lack of raw materials, ill health of Works Manager E.J. Spradbery and general lack of skilled staff thwarted efforts to resume rope manufacturing. The Memorandum on Manila Hemp written by a Director of The Hongkong Rope Manufacturing Co., Ltd in 1946 outlined the company’s post-war struggles: ‘At present all hemp is controlled by the United States Commercial Operation, about half being manufactured locally and the balance shipped to the U.S.A. It is suggested that, as the U.S.A. is now obtaining rubber from Malaya, a telegram be sent to the Colonial Office requesting that supplies of Manila hemp be made available as a means of restarting one of the Colony’s oldest industries.’ 

The Rope Company’s property at Mau Tau Kok in the 1940s.

The Rope Company’s property at Mau Tau Kok in the 1940s.

In 1947 the company sold their vacant factory at Mau Tau Kok to Shanghai industrialists Y.C. Wang and H.S. Yung, who together with Chairman Lawrence Kadoorie established Nanyang Cotton Mills. Incorporated in 1947, the company started operation in early 1948 with 15,000 spindles and 200 looms, which later expanded to 55,948 spindles and 547 looms. The spinning industry laid the ground-work for all subsequent development and diversification within the textile industry in Hong Kong, such as dyeing, finishing and garment making.”

The collection of records held in the HHKP Archive (1933 – 1965) includes plans of the Mau Tau Kok property, Memorandum and Articles of Association.

For more information about the Hong Kong Heritage Project visit our website at: Hong Kong Heritage Project

This article was first posted in Newsletter 9, 9th November 2013.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. The Hongkong Rope Manufacturing Co., Ltd – further information
  2. Robert Gordon Shewan – CLP, Green Island Cement and HK Rope Manufacturing
  3. Rope Making in Hong Kong – Sai Ying Pun 1970s + Kowloon 1945
  4. Kennedy Town 1889 map, rope and silk works?
  5. Yau Ma Tei – origin of place name from rope making?

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