Foreign Tourism in Hong Kong & Canton in the Late 19th Century

Foreign Tourism in Hong Kong & Canton in the Late 19th Century

Cornelius Gold was born in Connecticut in 1839 and, after being turned away from the Union army, took the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong aboard the Oriental. While in Hong Kong, along with trading, he had the chance to visit many popular tourist destinations and learn more about the local culture. At this time, after the Opium Wars, China and Hong Kong were slowly beginning to open up to foreign trade and travel.

At this time, Hong Kong had not yet developed enough hotels to accommodate the influx of foreign businesspeople and tourists it was experiencing. According to The Treaty Ports of China and Japan, the best establishment was the ‘Hotel d’Europe’ on Hollywood Road (only about 5 minutes walking distance from a main port). However, it was frequently overcrowded, driving people to other hotels in the area such as the Oriental Hotel. Another lodging option, suggested in The Treaty Ports of China and Japan, were boarding houses, although they tended to be more expensive than hotels.

According to the Directory and Chronicle for China, Japan, Corea, published in 1894, the Honam Temple and Monastery was the principle attraction on its side of the river in Canton. The East and all it had to offer, especially in terms of exotic-seeming religious sites, was a big draw for foreign tourists from the West. It is noted in The Treaty Ports of China and Japan that “the temples at Canton are especially celebrated.” The Honam Temple, also known as “The Temple of the Ocean Banner,” consisted of ranges of halls adorned with images of Buddha and other minor deities. Cornelius visited the Honam Temple while in Canton and noted that it was the largest Buddhist monastery and temple in the city.

Another popular site to visit in Canton was an execution ground, which is described in The Treaty Ports of China and Japan as “a spot frequently visited by foreigners with a liking for ‘horrors’ (254).” Cornelius must have himself had an affinity for “horrors,” as he mentions in his journal that he “handled a severed skull lying there.” The Treaty Ports of China and Japan mentions how the site on which the execution ground is situated was occupied on ordinary days by a butcher’s shop.

Besides the places that Cornelius visited, there were many other tourist attractions for foreigners visiting the Hong Kong area during this time. As Western traders and merchants increasingly frequented the area, more foreign establishments began to appear (such as French, Spanish, and US Consulates and a German Club). Many entertainment options were also available for foreign residents and tourists. In The Treaty Ports of China and Japan, Mayers, King, & Dennys write, “Travelling exhibitions of various kinds frequently visit Hongkong, and Professional Singers, Musicians, &c. occasionally give performances on their way up or down the coast. In the way of other amusements, Racing, Cricket and Boating are well supported.” In addition to these entertainment options, visitors who wanted a panoramic view of the island would visit Victoria Peak, an attraction that is still popular today (Mayers, King, & Dennys).

As far as getting to Hong Kong was concerned, there were several prominent steam ship companies which serviced the area. There were four lines of steamers between Britain, US, and Hong Kong (Mayers, King, & Dennys). While in Hong Kong, it was easy and convenient to travel to other destinations within East Asia. Canton and Macao, which are relatively close to Hong Kong, could also be reached by steam ship. Besides those, it was also possible to travel to Yantai, Tianjin, Yingkou, Shanghai, and even Japan (Mayers, King, & Dennys).

Cornelius was one of the first to make the trip to Hong Kong, but many other foreign tourists were soon to follow in his footsteps. Travel to East Asia was especially popular due to its comparatively low price. In his LA Times article “Asiatic Travel” published in 1895, Frank Carpenter notes, “ can make a trip in Asia for less money than it will take you to do the great European capitals.” Today, East Asia continues to be a popular destination for Western tourists. Cornelius Gold was among the first of many travelers to this region, and his detailed journal provides an insightful look into the beginnings of tourism in Hong Kong and Canton.

- Casey Sullivan and Liv Markham

Works Cited

"Books about China: Miss Scidmore's Fresh Views of Its History, Climate, Customs, etc.” New York Times, 30 Jun. 1900: 2. ProQuest. Web.

Boyd, W.H., et al. The Chronicle & Directory: For China, Corea, Japan, the Philippines, Cochin-China, Annam, Tonquin, Siam, Borneo, Straits Settlements, Malay States, & Siam, Netherlands India, Borneo, the Philippines, &c: With Which Are Incorporated "The China Directory" and "The Hongkong Directory and Hong List for the Far East." Hong Kong: Daily Office, 1889. Web.

Carpenter, Frank G. "ASIATIC TRAVEL." Los Angeles Times, 28 Apr. 1895: 28. ProQuest. Web.

Clifford, Nicholas Rowland. A Truthful Impression of the Country: British and American Travel Writing in China, 1880-1949. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Web.

Davis, John Francis, Sir, 1795-1890. Sketches of China: Partly During an Inland Journey of Four Months, Between Peking, Nanking, And Canton; With Notices And Observations Relative to the Present War. London: C. Knight & Co., 1841.

Dennys, Nicholas Belfield, Charles Tenente King, and William Fredrick Mayers. The Treaty Ports of China and Japan: A Complete Guide to the Open Ports of Those Countries, Together with Peking, Yedo, Hong Kong and Macao. N.p.: A. Shortrede, 1867. Web.

Kerr, Douglas, and Julia Kuehn. A Century of Travels in China: Critical Essays on Travel Writing from the 1840s to the 1940s. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007. Web.

World Tour a Wheel. The Washington Post, 19 Jun. 1904: n.pag. Web.



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Foreign Tourism in Hong Kong & Canton in the Late 19th Century