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European-managed Industries

Shipping-related business like shipyard, shipbuilding were the earliest modern industries of Hong Kong. Before 1841, Hong Kong had no shipyard or berth facilities. The nearest shipyard was run by Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) at Whampoa, Pearl River. After 1841, Captain Sands built a simple berth at East Point, Causeway Bay. It could accommodate ships up to 300 tonnes. In 1857, Mr John Lamont built a dry dock at Aberdeen to repair ships and built small vessels. These early shipyard facilities were overseen by westerners, managed and funded by British Hongs. Later there were Chinese-managed shipyards but the scale and production capacity fell far behind than foreign companies.

In 1863, several British Hongs combined some individual shipyards into Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Company. It become the largest heavy industrial facility in the Far East. The company secretary and chairman were individuals connected to British navigation companies: the Chairman was the chief agent of P&O, Mr. Thomas Sutherland, and the secretary was Mr. Douglas Lapraik of Douglas Steamship Company. Whampoa Docks continued to buy other docks: in 1865 it purchased the Lamont Dock and Hope dock which was under construction in Aberdeen. In 1966, Whompoa Docks was formally registered and established. Meanwhile, two other shipyard companies were registered; Union Dock Company founded in 1865 built two dry docks in Hung Hom and Cosmopolitan Dock Company built a large, well-facilitated dock at Tai Kok Tsui. In 1870, Whampoa Docks and Union Dock Company merged. In 1877, Whampoa Docks purchased Captain Sands’ berth at East Point and moved the facilities to Hung Hom to form the Kowloon Dock. In 1880 Whampoa Docks purchased the facilities of Cosmopolitan Dock Company. By then all shipyard facilities in Hong Kong were managed by Whampoa Docks. In 1882, the expanded Kowloon Dock became the world’s largest shipbuilding facility. Whampoa Docks have adopted advanced machinery in ship-building since early on, with western engineers supervising several thousand Chinese workers. After the World War II Whampoa Docks had built 900 ships including oil tankers, passenger ferries, freighter, battleship and inland vessels. In 1980 Kowloon Dock was shut down and rebuilt. Another large shipyard company was the Taikoo Dockyard founded in 1900. At that time Messrs. Butterfield & Swire Co., a British trading company, purchased land in Quarry Bay and built shipyard facilities at the east of the Taikoo Sugar Refinery. In 1908 Taikoo built the largest dry dock in the Far East and in the same year the first ship entered the waterways of the dry dock. In 1910, Taikoo Dockyard inaugurated the first ship it built. Before World War II, Taikoo Dockyard was well equipped in facility and waterway but during the Japanese Occupation, the dockyard was severely damaged and was not fully restored until 1947. It was closed down in 1978.

The modern industries established by westerners was of large scale and highly mechanized, with westerners as owners, managers and technicians and employed Chinese manual labour. Many of them were monopolies with only one or two companies operating in the entire industry, including western pharmaceuticals, raw ice, refined sugar, hemp rope, food, cotton yarn, cement, flour, beer and soap.

In 1841, Navy Medical Officer Dr. F. H Young opened a Hong Kong Dispensary in Hong Kong. This dispensary was the first western medicine dispensary run by a European pharmacist in the Far East. The dispensary was initially located in Possession Point and provided medicine for the navy and sailors, and was later moved to Queen’s Road. In 1858, after it's ownership was transferred several times, the dispensary fell into the hands of Mr. A.S. Watson, and the company was renamed to A.S. Watson & Co. Ltd. In 1876, Watsons began producing soda drinks and became popular. The Watsons Soft Drinks Factory was located at the Watsons Road in North Point and Mok Cheong Street , Kowloon. In the mid-1950s, Watsons was producing 15 kinds of soda drinks including the Sparkling Orange, Zest and Super Cola. Since 1950 Watsons had begun producing dry ice in its factory at North Point, which was used to freeze such easily decayed foods as meats, fish and vegetables.

Before 1874, the raw ice that westerners used in Hong Kong was imported from the US. The cargo vessel carrying the ice would dock in Ice House Street and the ice would be stored in the ice warehouse in Ice House Street. That's why Ice House Street was given the name. In 1874, two Scottishs purchased two ice-making machines and thus imported raw ice (was) no longer required. In 1879, the Scottishs sold the ice-making facilities to Messrs. Jardine, Matheson & Co., Ltd, which founded the Hong Kong Ice Company and established an ice factory at the harbour front at East Point, Causeway Bay. The raw ice manufactured by machines were transported to urban area and overseas. The Ice Company expanded its business to meat freezing, and supplied the navy and British military with frozen meat. In 1884, the ice company purchased the ice house from the government and rebuilt it as company ice house and offices.

In 1878, Messrs. Jardine Matheson & Co., Ltd established the first sugar refinery in Hong Kong named China Sugar Refinery Company. It was located at East Point of Causeway Bay. At that time Gloucester Road was at the waterfront and Jardine Matheson built a company wharf to facilitate the import of raw materials and export of products. Raw sugar cane was imported from Java, the Philippines and British Straits Settlement of Malacca, and from mainland China. Refined sugar was exported to China and India. The refinery took up several acres of land, i.e from today's Patterson Street, Great George Street to Gloucester Road. Large machinery, pot and pipes of iron or brass were installed to cook and filter the sugar. The highest grade of refined sugar crystals was white and fine, and was processed into cube sugar, rock sugar and caster sugar; the secondary grade was brown sugar, then molasses, which could be sold and used to brew rum. The company has a laboratory where western chemists could test the quality of the sugar products.

In 1883, Hong Kong Rope Manufacturing Company was founded by Messrs. Shewan, Tomes & Co. The factory was established in Kennedy Town taking up a land area of 13,000 square feet. The raw material was hemp produced in Luzon, which provided fibrous, high-tensile raw material perfect for making ropes used in sea-faring. The rope company employed advanced machinery to create ropes of different types and uses. Pre-war products ranged from half-inch thick hemp string to ropes of 12-inch in circumference, capable of sustaining forces from 300 pounds to 50 tonnes. After the World War II, ropes produced ranged from 1/4 inch to 16 inch in circumference, and could be used for trawler nets, flag ropes and hanging ropes for lifeboats, ropes and hanging ropes for raising sails, and ropes for drillers.

In 1886 Sir Patrick Manson founded Dairy Company. The company was the first in Hong Kong to produce fresh milk and butter using hygienic equipment. In its early years the company leased a 330-acre piece of land at Pokfulam, Hong Kong, and built a pasturage on the hillside to raise 80 milk cows. In 1957, the herd increased to 1,600 cows and produced 2,000 gallons of fresh milk every day. Freshly produced milk was transported to the factory in East Point in Causeway Bay to be pasteurized and bottled. Dairy Company also produced recombined milk and ice-cream for the local market. Before the war Dairy Company has its own retailing outlet first at Lower Albert Road then later at the Peak, East Point, and Nathan Road. They also sold imported meat and canned food besides fresh milk and ice-cream. In 1918, Dairy Company was merged with Hong Kong Ice Company to become The Dairy Farm, Ice & Cold Storage Co., Ltd., which was also engaged in ice-making and freezing business. The main ice house was at East Point with another warehouse at Kowloon Wharf, and dealt with imported frozen food.

In 1899 Jardine Matheson & Co. created Hong Kong’s first cotton yarn factory, called “Hong Kong Cotton Spining, Weaving, Dyeing Co.”. The company was engaged in textile production which spinned imported raw cotton into yarn, and sold to local and Mainland knitting and weaving factories producing greige fabric, clothes and socks. The company closed down its business in Hong Kong and moved to Shanghai in 1914. After the World War II, industrialists in Shanghai and other regions in China shifted their weaving factories to Hong Kong, which grew into a major industry in post-war Hong Kong.

In 1890 Messrs. Shewan, Tomes & Co founded the Green Island Cement Co. It began by producing cement in Green Island near Macau, later establishing a more sizeable production facility in Hong Kong in 1899 through building a kiln at Hok Yuen to produce higher quality Green Island cement. The raw materials of cement were lime stone, earth, crushed iron ore, and gypsum. With increasing demand, Green Island cement continued to upgrade its production facilities to produce higher quality Portland Cement and low-heat, sulphur-resistant cement. Green Island cement was also an agent for overseas cement and also conducts an import-export business providing various kinds of cement for the local construction industry.

In 1907, flour manufacturing was one of the larger industries in the early industrial developments of Hong Kong. The British company Messrs. A.H. Rennie & Co founded Hong Kong Milling Co. Originally an sales agent for a US milling company, Mr Rennie established a workshop in Tiu Keng Leng to produce flour of high quality . In 1905, the company was given a 435-acre piece of shoreland at Tiu Keng Leng. In 1907, the factory commenced operations and the milling machinery operated whole day.

Other industries managed by westerners included beer breweries and soap manufactories. Messrs. Barretto & Co. founded the Imperial Brewery Company in 1905 and began producing beer in 1907. The factory was located at Wong Nai Chung Road. New machinery and technology was introduced from the US and the operation was overseen by a works manager who was a westerner. The head of the production department was a graduate of a beer academy in the US, under whom 60 male Chinese workers were employed. As early as the 19th century, the Chinese have been manufacturing soap but the British company F. Blackhead & Co’s Soap Factory produced it with advanced machinery and technology. In 1896, Mr. Smith, a partner of Messrs. F. Blackhead & Co., established a factory that manufactured soap. The company purchased a land lot in Shau Kei Wan for the factory. The boiler in the factory was purchased from Whampoa Docks. The manager was a westerner who hired 60 to 70 Chinese workers under him.