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About the Collection

Totally dependent in the era of sailing ships on the seasonal monsoon winds, ocean trade was transformed by the advent of the steam engine, in particular by the later improvements in the engine’s fuel efficiency that required less coal to be consumed, and from the 1860s onwards the iron-hulled, propeller-driven steamship became the major player in ocean shipping. This development was accompanied by several other factors – trading ports in China were opened up, the Suez Canal was completed in 1869, the transit time between Hong Kong and Britain was reduced from over 110 days to about 30 days and trade between Europe and Asia grew rapidly – all of which contributed to a rise in demand for repair services for ocean steamships.

A port providing berths for cargo liners must be close to the centre of commercial and trade activities. It must also offer deep water, shelter from strong winds and a firm seabed suitable for anchoring. In the mid-19th century, Hong Kong was the only port along the coast of Guangdong that met these criteria, and thanks to its favourable geographical locations, it quickly developed into a shipping hub. Seeing the potential for lucrative profits in the shipping industry, British companies based in Hong Kong started to get involved in maritime transportation and related businesses, which included setting up dockyards to repair ships passing through Hong Kong. The Hongkong and Whampoa Dock Co. Ltd. was founded in 1863, while Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering Co. was set up in 1902. The city’s dockyard businesses were the most sophisticated in China and came to represent one of the most important investments that British merchants in the Far East made in the shipping industry. However, by the mid-20th century competition was increasing in the region so in 1972 the two dockyards merged to form Hongkong United Dockyards Ltd. (HUD) and relocated to new premises on Tsing Yi.

HUD had donated to the Hong Kong Museum of History (HKMH) thousands of valuable historical photographs and glass negatives that faithfully document the development of Whampoa Dock, Taikoo Dockyard and HUD’s own shipbuilding and repair business after the Second World War. In 2011, an exhibition entitled “Dockyards of Hong Kong – Pictorial Exhibition on Hong Kong's Shipbuilding and Repair Industry” was held at HKMH, to recollect the heydays of these gigantic docks once appeared in Hong Kong.

This collection presents the contents and materials of the above exhibition to enhance people’s understanding of the shipbuilding and repair industry – the first modern heavy industry introduced to the city.