Sir Thomas watches over the city's fortunes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 November, 2003, 12:00am

August and dignified, Sir Thomas Jackson gazes with a proprietorial eye across Statue Square. He has stood there, except for a three-year break during the Japanese occupation, for almost a century. The statue was commissioned in 1902 on the financier's retirement to England.

'Lucky' Jackson was the chief manager of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank three times between 1876 and 1902. He is credited with turning the bank around on all three occasions.

When the fiery Irishman finally retired, the statue was commissioned by the directors and shareholders to honour a man who had elevated the bank to its unique position as 'Britain's informal financial empire in the east'.

One of his major accomplishments was turning a mere money-making concern into an institution respected for its service and whose staff were 'one great family'.

'He became a symbol of the bank's success,' an admirer wrote. 'Under Jackson's leadership ... there had developed a spirit, a morality and a pride in an institution which he had come to personify.'

Every year at the bank's annual dinner, he would sing The Wearing Of The Green. Once, as he went aboard a ship to welcome his daughter, a British officer roughly pushed a Chinese woman. Jackson, furious, grabbed the man and 'shook him like a puppy'.

When unveiled on February 24, 1906, the statue faced the bank that Sir Thomas had served so well. The bank and the government reserved the square as a public garden.

As the Japanese military government stamped its rule on Hong Kong, it began removing signs of British colonial rule. Sir Thomas' statue was shipped to Japan, along with the bank's two lions, a bronze of Queen Victoria and other metal objects including ornamental gates, presumably to be melted down and cast into weapons or used to make warships.

After the war, the lions were discovered in a dockyard in Kure and shipped back to Hong Kong. They were quietly put back on their guard stations outside the bank on the night of October 18, 1946.

The same year, Sir Thomas returned to Statue Square. For reasons nobody seems to understand, when the statue rose again, Jackson no longer faced the bank. Instead, he was looking east.

The battered bronze of Queen Victoria, which had shared Statue Square with Sir Thomas, was found in a Japanese naval arsenal and returned to Hong Kong in 1952. She was re-erected, appropriately, in Victoria Park when it opened in 1956.

During the 1967 disturbances, it was popular to daub the queen with red paint and cover her with revolutionary notices.

Sir Thomas Jackson escaped such attention.