Xiānggǎng, with an X, is the modern, pīnyīn, transcription of 香港 ‘fragrant harbour’ pronounced in Mandarin.

The name first came to Western notice in the so-called ‘First Opium War’, a series of skirmishes fought between Britain and imperial China from September 1839 to August 1842 over British insistence on their ‘right’ to trade opium in defiance of a Chinese ban.

The 1842 Treaty of Nanking ended the war in favour of the British. The Chinese were forced to make concessions; one was the ceding of Hong Kong island and, later, following the Second Opium War of 1856 to 1860, Kowloon Peninsular. On 26 January 1841 Commodore Sir Gordon Bremer raised the Union Jack and claimed Hong Kong as a colony. Construction of a naval base began. In 1898 Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories.

China Station‘, which referred both to the Royal Navy naval base and the admiral in command, was created in 1865. It had as its area of responsibility the coast of China and its navigable rivers, and beyond this to the western part of the Pacific Ocean and the waters around the Dutch East Indies.

In 1866 my fourth great uncle Karl Heinrich August Mainwaring (1837–1906) was stationed in Hong Kong as a naval lieutenant in the China Squadron, on HMS Princess Charlotte.

HMS Princess Charlotte painted 1838 by James Kennett Willson. Image from Wikimedia Commons
Kellett’s Island, looking west across Wanchai towards Central and the Peak, with HMS Princess Charlotte on the right (1869 – 71). Image from BlouinArtinfo

HMS Princess Charlotte was a receiving ship, a harbour-bound hulk used for stores and accommodation in lieu of a permanent shore base at Hong Kong in 1858.

In July 1866 Lieutenant Mainwaring was given charge of HMS Opossum, a 4-gun screw gunboat with a crew of 38. Given the task of destroying Chinese pirates Mainwaring was notably successful. (See ‘X is for destruction of a piratical fleet near Xiānggǎng (Hong Kong)‘)

‘Expedition against the Chinese Pirates’ from The Illustrated London News of 23 October 1865 page 409 with illustration: Fleet of Chinese junks, with HMS Opossum, preparing to attack pirates at How-Chow.

Karl Mainwaring was promoted to commander in 1867. In 1868 he transferred to Jamaica where he served on HMS Aboukir, a receiving ship used for stores and accommodation in lieu of a permanent shore base. (See (J is for Jamaica)

In 1869 Karl Mainwaring’s brother Guy (1847–1909) passed through Hong Kong as a lieutenant on HMS Galatea, a steam-powered wooden frigate, under the command of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria.

HMS Galatea, Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, during the visit of H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh. Tuesday 2nd November 1869.
Photograph by John Thomson, first published in Thomson’s ‘Illustrations of China and Its People‘.
Image from Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol.
A fellow officer on the GalateaLord Charles Beresford, danced the hornpipe. While in Hong Kong, Guy Mainwaring and Charles Beresford were photographed together in costume. (This is the Charles Beresford who as Admiral became notorious for his bitter dispute with Sir John (Jackie) Fisher, First Sea Lord.)
Guy Mainwaring is in the striped shirt.
Photographed by William Floyd of Hong Kong; from the Library of Nineteenth Century Photography

In 1941 China Station was merged with the East Indies Station in December 1941 to form the Eastern Fleet.

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