Hong Kong’s maritime street names – colonial bias against Chinese involvement?

MacDonald Shipyard c1870 image snipped

MacDonald Shipyard c1870

Stephen Davies recently wrote an article for the SCMP about maritime street names in Hong Kong. He noted, “considering Hong Kong is one of the world’s great ports, street names with maritime connections are remarkably few – no more than 10 per cent of the total. But that is enough, when loaded into a database and tested for patterns, to add to what we know of Hong Kong’s maritime story, to reflect the biases of colonial officials who chose the names and the resolutely unmaritime – even anti-maritime – cultural proclivities of Hong Kong’s Chinese population.”

Stephen has kindly given permission for information about his article to be posted on our website. Please note the images shown here are not from the SCMP article.

He continues, “I’ve come up with 114 street names, deliberately omitting those related to seashore topography – Headland Road, Deep Water Bay Road, Beach Road and the like….70 per cent of the names are on Hong Kong Island. Of those, the over­whelm­ing majority are on the north side, with almost two-thirds located between Causeway Bay and Kennedy Town…

…the street names show how Hong Kong’s port has moved, as reclamation left the old working water­fronts inland. Names connected with shipyards – such as Sands, Fenwick and Ship streets – indicate there were once shipyards on the waterfronts of Kennedy Town and Wan Chai. Other street names in Kowloon and Quarry Bay – such as Dock and Bailey streets and Shipyard Lane – suggest the noisy, messy, land-hungry maritime businesses shut up shop or moved as ships got bigger, more complex and more expensive…


…When Kowloon began to supplant Hong Kong Island as the focus of deep-water berthing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and as settlement there expanded, new streets were named after the ports with which Hong Kong traded, including Saigon, Malacca, Tientsin and Shanghai…

…Hong Kong maritime street names allude to a resolutely Western, colonial, pre-war world. The people commemorated are exclusively Western and mainly from the first century or so of Hong Kong’s colonial era. The same is true of the shipping interests they represent. Douglas Steamship Co is memorialised by Douglas Lane. Hongkong and Whampoa Dock gave rise to Dock Street, and Gillies Avenue was named for David Gillies, general manager of the dockyard. Royal Interocean Lines, a Dutch company that operated a regular passenger ship service between Java and China, is remembered by Java Road. Subtler but just as biased, the Chinese renderings of the names are almost always reductively phonetic – such as An Ka Kai for Anchor Street, not Mau Kai or Ding Kai – obscuring the streets’ maritime connection for Chinese speakers and readers…”

Source: What street names say about Hong Kong’s maritime past SCMP 22nd September 2016

We have numerous articles about Hong Kong’s maritime history – see our Index under Shipyards and elsewhere


  • Simon

    Did you include al the street names with the word Hoi (sea) in them. I’ve lost count…

    • Stephen Davies

      Sorry, very slow. The answer is no, in part for the same reason as the omission of headlands, beaches and so on. But mostly because the very large number of ‘Hoi Something’ names appear to be 1960s and later, given by government to housing estate/reclamation streets to suggest the historical connection of the places to seaborne activities like fishing, but without them actually once having been sites whence fishing took place. In short, the intent of the original article (which offers an answer to your question) was to track down street names that recorded some early, actual maritime activity on that site.

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