Incredible images of Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak from 19th century – sedan chairs, the Peak tram – in new book
Amazing depictions of the evolution of The Peak include photos, colourised postcards and sketches in local historian Richard J Garrett’s The Peak – An Illustrated History of Hong Kong’s Top District
Along with a ride on the Star Ferry and a visit to the Big Buddha, a journey up Victoria Peak is high on the bucket lists of most visitors to Hong Kong.
And soon after settling in Hong Kong, many new residents quickly receive a potted history of the city’s most exclusive district – how it was first settled by the British seeking a respite from the summer heat, and how its upper-class inhabitants were originally hauled up the steep, winding paths in sedan chairs and rickshaws.
Now, The Peak’s evolution from an isolated summer getaway for the colony’s elite to the top tourist attraction has been charted in The Peak – An Illustrated History of Hong Kong’s Top District by Richard J. Garrett, a historian, civil engineer and long-term resident of the exclusive enclave.
The Peak, like much of Hong Kong, was very much the “barren rock” described by then British foreign secretary Lord Palmerston when the colony was established in 1841. It was left untouched until 1860, when a signal station was built to signal the arrival of the mail and other shipping, and a small military sanatorium followed in 1862.
Several years later, the government converted the failed sanatorium into Mountain Lodge – “for the use of His Excellency the Governor and the officers of the Government” – and governor Richard MacDonnell became a regular visitor from 1867.
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Garrett writes: “Obviously, if The Peak was good enough for the governor, it was good enough for lesser mortals, and following his example businessmen and other officials were soon wanting their own summer house on the hill.”
It was all uphill from there. The opening of The Peak Tram in 1888 led to an influx of affluent residents and the establishment of The Peak as a high-class residential district (which it remains today), and eventually to a constant flood of tourists, due to the commanding views it leads to.
The area’s evolution is bought to life in The Peak – An Illustrated History of Hong Kong’s Top District through the use of an impressive 140 pictures, including early paintings showing The Peak towering over the young colony, photographs of the first Peak mansions such as The Eyrie and La Hacienda, and beautifully colourised postcards showing expensive villas sprouting on the lush hillsides as the colony flourished.
he Peak may now be something of a tourist trap and offer slightly tackier forms of entertainment than the garden parties of yesteryear, but Garrett’s book is an informative, well-researched account of how a barren rock became one of the world’s most exclusive addresses and most coveted selfie spots.
The Peak: An Illustrated History of Hong Kong’s Top District was published last month by Blacksmith Books