About the Book
This book presents one of the most dramatic events in Hong Kong’s history, now long forgotten, as reported by several people who witnessed it, and the unlikely coincidence of three visiting writers being in the city when it occurred provided the original impetus. Local and foreign newspaper coverage of the fire, its aftermath and the subsequent trial of Edward Fisher, the English shopkeeper accused of starting it, added further and more detailed primary-source information, as did a great many archival government documents. Details of the fire, and the events leading up to and following it, are taken from comprehensive first-hand accounts, with extensive excerpts providing a colourful and substantial picture of the fire itself, and of Hong Kong life in 1878. Contemporary maps, especially one sent to London by Governor John Pope Hennessy marking the boundaries of the fire, were also useful in reconstructing the fire’s progress and in pinpointing the locations of the buildings that it destroyed or bypassed. Shop advertisements placed in local newspapers, jury lists and news articles also helped to locate specific addresses. The Carl Smith collection of index cards kept at the Hong Kong Public Records Office provided, confirmed or augmented much information regarding the now little-known working-class expatriate community of the time. Details of the establishment and troubled early days of the first Hong Kong Fire Brigade – a subject hitherto neglected by local historians – are drawn from government archives, with further material provided again by reports in Hong Kong’s two English-language daily newspapers of the time, The China Mail and The Hong Kong Daily Press and the weekly Hongkong Government Gazette. Other research sources are mentioned in the Acknowledgements or at appropriate points in the text, and all reference books and quoted works are listed in the Bibliography.