19th Century Wanchai Shipyards – Messrs. George Fenwick & Co Ltd

Stephen Davies has researched the many small shipyards which existed along the Wanchai waterfront from shortly after the colony of Hong Kong came into being up until the early years of the 20th century:

These shipyards had a tough time during this period especially during HK’s first 20 years. Businesses came and went because of fluctuating demand thanks to some severe shipping cycles (especially the worst in the last decade of the 19th century), rugged and ruthless competition,  probably poor management, and of course, the high death rate of those involved.

Some Wanchai shipyards from the second half of the 19th century include Emery & Frazer in 1845, Ross & Perkins, McDougall & Co, the Victoria Foundry, the Inglis Foundry, possibly Ross & Thompson around 1865. And later, the short-lived MacDonald Shipyard, though this may have been the previously mentioned McDougall & Co. HF: If you can provide  information about any of these shipyards please send it in.

The little stretch of Wanchai waterfront, roughly between opposite where St Francis Street joins Queen’s Road East and Ship Street, was therefore a dense area of ever-changing small shipyards. A distinction it shared with West Point, though here there appears to have been a larger number of Chinese shipyards.

In about 1880 George Fenwick bought the premises which had previously been the Inglis Foundry, owned by John Inglis, but which had gone bankrupt.

In 1887 the firm Fenwick and Morrison became George Fenwick & Co. At this point the shipyard was still close to Ship Street in Wanchai.

George Fenwick died in 1896 and the business was carried on by William George Winterburn at 13 Praya East along the Wanchai waterfront. With the coming of the tramways in 1904, the yard was no longer viable and so it moved to 6 Morrison Hill, Causeway Bay.

Fenwick - ships built Nanning 1 + Sainan

An image of the similarly designed Nanning 1 and Sainam. Fenwick built 1900, for the HK, Macau and Canton Steamboat Co.

By 1907 Winterburn’s name had disappeared and the yard was being managed by John Ingram Andrew (a leading Freemason), who retired in 1912 with the winding up of the company.

In the end Fenwick’s couldn’t obtain enough business to survive. The combination of the move from Wanchai to Causeway Bay and the competition from Taikoo Dockyard meant the shipyard faced increasing difficulties. Other dockyards such as WS Bailey, Ulderup and Schluter and Chinese owned yards provided further rivalry.

When the Eastern Praya Reclamation was got underway in 1921, after having been first approved in 1905, part of the new street planning created Fenwick Street. This stretched from the old Praya East, which became Johnston Road, to the new waterfront at Gloucester Road, which ran close to the location of the old shipyard at 13 Praya East.

This article was first posted on 21st January 2015.

See:

  1. George Fenwick on Gwulo
  2. A brief history of the Hong Kong dockyards: Fade-out of small dockyards and patent slips, Marine Department.

One comment

  • Klaus Liphard

    Hong Kong Daily Press 1880-06-01

    The Victoria Foundry at Wanchi has been bought and will be re-started by Messrs. Fenwick and Morrison. The former was for some years employed at the works and is now chief engineer of the Yangtszé; the latter was chief engineer of the Amoy, and was lately in business in Shanghai.

    Hong Kong Daily Press 1904-09-23

    GEO. FENWICK & CO., Ld
    It is said that Messrs. Geo.’ Fenwick and CO., Ld., will hold an extraordinary meeting shortly to sanction the proposal to increase the capital of the company, which money, however, is not expected to be required before six to nine months have elapsed. It be remembered that the company recently acquired a convenient site for their works at North Point, having the prospect of being obliged to vacate their present promises. Their water frontage will shortly be taken away by the new reclamation scheme. The area of their new lot is about 215,000 sq. ft., with a deep water frontage of 400 ft. in length. To reclaim this site, work now proceeding, it is estimated that it will cost the company about $1 a square foot. It is hoped to dispose of the present premises for a good figure. The lease is held on a 999 years’ tenure, and, being a marine lot, carries the right to the projected reclamation pertaining to the frontage. The directors of the company consider that it will be necessary to increase the capital to $450,000, an increase of $300,000.

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