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Chapter 1.4
Fade-out of small dockyards and patent slips
Contributor: Ma Koon-yiu

Alexander Macdonald set up A. Macdonald & Co. in West Point (Whitty Street and Queen’s Road West today) in 1864. His patent slip in West Point was opened on 9 August 1869 by Governor MacDonnell. Despite a mishap to the 1,200-ton iron vessel Cataluna, the slip opened for business, with the facility to haul a ship 250 feet in length clean out of the water. Its water depth at spring tides was 28 feet, allowing vessels drawing 13 feet or ships of 1,500 tons to be taken up. The machinery accessories were bought from Scotland personally by Macdonald. The planning had started three years earlier, with an investment of £20,000. Macdonald died in November 1872 in Scotland, and the patent slip was taken by Captain G. U. Sands in 1874. Captain Sands owned two patent slips in Belcher Bay, known as the Sands Slip (where Sands Street stands today), which took most of the small vessels’ building and repair business. He died in 1876. His three patent slips were then sold to the HKWDC at a cost of $150,000 in August 1877, after prolonged legal cases lasting for nearly four years.[9]

After leaving UDC, John Inglis took over the Victoria Foundry in 1870. George Fenwick and Morrison then acquired the business as Fenwick & Morrison Co. in 1880 after Inglis had gone into bankruptcy.[10] Fenwick set up his own business Fenwick & Co. in 1887, but he died in May 1896 in Vancouver, after which W. G. Winterburn continued the business as Fenwick & Co. Construction of the tramway forced Fenwick & Co. to move to Causeway Bay in 1905.[11] When the company went into liquidation in 1912, Lam Woo (林護) took over the premises.[12] At that point the premises were no longer involved in the shipping business, thus bringing an end to the first premises of the shipping industry in the Colony.

William Bolton Spratt was a ship’s carpenter with Thomas Hunt & Co. in 1867.He joined the UDC in 1869. After the amalgamation of the UDC and the HKWDC, he joined Joseph Moses Emanuel to form W.B. Spratt & Co., using Marine Lot No. 25 (Li Chit Street today) as its shipyard. The premises belonged to Li Chit, and the lease was signed for 10 years. In 1870, the company bought land in Kowloon (opposite Stonecutters Island) for $100 and proceeded to build a dockyard. It was designed to have two docks, an inner and an outer dock, respectively of 212 and 234 feet in length, and the two could be combined to form one dock of 463 feet in length with an entrance 85 feet wide. The water depth at spring tides was 23 feet 6 inches, and the docks could take in screw steamers of the City of Tokio class. In November 1871, work started on site. The shipyard opened on 21 October 1875, the Pilgrim being the first ship admitted to the dock, followed by the Ella Beatrice. It was named the Cosmopolitan Dock (where Cosmopolitan Estate stands today) because of its multi-racial clients including the Hongkong Canton & Macao Steamboat Co. and Kwok A-cheong (郭甘章 aka郭亞祥). W. B. Spratt & Co. fell into financial difficulties in 1879, thus demanding an input of capital. It was finally sold to the HKWDC in December 1880 following the death of Kwok A-cheong.

The Chinese had their shipyards in the western district. In 1858, a Chinese consortium consisting of Chun Afie, Pang Awah, Tso Atak and Leong Hang bought Marine Lots No. 90 to 92 (Eastern Street, Sai Woo Lane and Tsz Mi Alley today). The land was devoted to Chinese shipbuilding yards, but as population and business spread westward, the yards faded out.[13]

Two decades of monopoly

The merger with the UDC, the purchase of the Sands Slip, and the Cosmopolitan Dock had made the HKWDC a giant in the local dockyard industry. Other small dockyards in Wan Chai could only survive through making and repairing small vessels or by being turned into foundries. In 1882, the HKWDC started work on building another dock in Hung Hom. The dock was designed and supervised by the famous local engineer William Danby. It was estimated to have cost £133,000, but this included a £25,000 grant from the British Government in return for priority use for the Royal Navy over a period of 20 years. The dock was thus known as the Admiralty Dock. It was 550 feet in length, and was equipped with machinery such as lifting legs of 75 tons and a steam hammer of 10 tons, which allowed her to enjoy a monopoly for the next 20 years.


  • [9]
    Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Company Limited (Hong Kong: Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Company Limited, 1948), p.5.
  • [10]
    The Hong Kong Daily Press, 1 June 1880.
  • [11]
    The China Mail, 16 June 1896.
  • [12]
    Smith, Carl T, “Wanchai: in search of an identity” in David Faure, Hong Kong: a Reader in Social History (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press (China) Ltd. 2003), p.171.
  • [13]
    James Hayes, Carl Smith, Helga Werle et al., ‘Programme Notes for Visits to Older Parts of Hong Kong Island (Urban Areas), and to Kowloon, in 1974’, JHKBRAS, 14 (1974), p. 215.
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