A peek at the colonial Peak

A peek at the colonial Peak

Old family albums and antiques form an exhibition that shows Hong Kong life 120 years ago

scmp_05may14_yp_dealy02_nora9854.jpg

Martin Ough Dealy's exhibition shows what life was like a century ago.
Martin Ough Dealy's exhibition shows what life was like a century ago.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP

scmp_05may14_yp_dealy15_nora9810.jpg

A model of Mountain Lodge
A model of Mountain Lodge
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP

scmp_05may14_yp_dealy07_nora9774.jpg

The silver bowl presented by Sir Robert Hotung
The silver bowl presented by Sir Robert Hotung
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP

scmp_05may14_yp_dealy11_nora9795.jpg

An old family album
An old family album
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP

He was headmaster of Queen's College, living in a grand two-storey stone mansion on The Peak, and was a frequent guest to Mountain Lodge, the summer residence of the then governor of Hong Kong. Even so, he enjoyed bargaining with shopkeepers in fluent Cantonese.

Thomas Kirkman Dealy came from a Victorian middle-class family in Yorkshire, in northern England. Aged 24, he saw an advert looking for a qualified teacher who would be willing to go to Hong Kong and study the Chinese language.

Showing a spirit of adventure, he chose to become a pioneer of colonial Hong Kong and explore a new culture. The year was 1884.

Now 120 years later, his 80-year-old grandson, Martin Ough Dealy, is visiting Hong Kong with a collection of family albums, arts and crafts for the exhibition "Anecdotes From The Peak". It shows snapshots of the family's history on The Peak at the turn of the 20th century.

"I don't know the full history," Ough Dealy said. He inherited a box from his grandmother, containing photo albums, paintings and letters, and tried to piece the story together.

Dealy started work as assistant master at the Central Government School. The school became Queen's College, and later he became headmaster.

"It was time of great change," Ough Dealy said. When his grandfather started work at the school, students wore traditional Chinese clothing and tied their hair in a plait, worn at the back. Students included young boys and men with wives and concubines.

The teacher earned a fortune from investments during the Persian oil boom and bought Craigmin East, a two-storey house on The Peak. His neighbours included businessman and charity donor Sir Robert Hotung, and two Hong Kong Governors, Francis May and Frederick Lugard.

At the time, The Peak was a fashionable residential area for only about 40 families, remote from the city. It was a community with its own hospital, school, church and club.

Neighbours would play tennis, croquet and mahjong together, and visited one another's homes for tea, dinners and balls, but Dealy spent lots of his time exploring, away from The Peak.

"He was a collector of things Chinese," Ough Dealy said. The school teacher enjoyed shopping - for vases, Chinese statues of Buddha and card cases made of ivory - and bargaining with shopkeepers.

Dealy also took a keen interest in Chinese culture and spoke to local residents so often that he became fluent in Cantonese.

"My grandfather came out on a contract to learn Chinese, and he took that very seriously; he became a Sinologist [an expert in Chinese studies]," Ough Dealy said.

Dealy and his family left Hong Kong in 1918, when he retired. Hotung gave the teacher an engraved silver bowl, which is now a valuable family object. Ough Dealy said: "There's an emotional connection to Hong Kong through the bowl."

When Ough Dealy was young, his mother - who was born and lived in Hong Kong until she was 11 - told him of her time living on The Peak, and showed him photos of life here. "I was really fascinated by Hong Kong," he said.

Dealy died in 1924 and his former home on The Peak was destroyed by bombing in the second world war in 1941.

"Anecdotes From The Peak", at Wheelock Gallery, Admiralty, ends next Sunday

Comments

To post comments please
register or