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Hong Kong’s shifting longitude and the American role in tying it down (in English)

23 Feb 2019 14:30 – 17:00
We shall start at a rendezvous point at or close to the South Pacific Hotel in Bowrington/Causeway Bay. We shall then go to the approximate site of Commander Belcher’s Observation Point (still recalled in a street name), where in 1841 the first longitude for HK charts was established. From there we wind westwards to cross what became (and still is) HK’s official longitude – the longitude of the transit instrument (long since disappeared) at the HK Observatory – that served c.1884 until c.1924, when new measurements adjusted the value, and then changed again (a bit) when HK mapping moved to GPS (and what’s known as WGS84) in 1990. We shall then head for the waterfront by following the official longitude to Golden Bauhinia Square. From there we turn west and then south until we are roughly on the site of Wellington Battery (Harcourt Gardens), which served as HK’s longitude marker in the 1860s. We walk westwards a further couple of hundred metres until near the site of the “Palos Pier” – the American part in all this – where HK’s longitude was first more accurately determined using non-astronomical means when, in 1881, Lt Cmdr Francis Mathews Greene USN of the USS Palos accurately measured HK’s longitude using the submarine electric telegraph signal from Madras (Chennai). Whence, to finish off, we shall walk to St John’s Cathedral, which served as the longitude reference in the early 1880s (sharing the honours with the “Palos Pier”). On the way your guide will discuss the problem of longitude for chart makers and navigators.
Free with museum admission.Registration required.
Stephen Davies
Honorary Professor, Department of Real Estate and Construction, Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong
Hon. Editor, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong
Speaker’s bio
Stephen Davies has been in Hong Kong on and off since 1947. He served in the British Royal Navy and Royal Marines, and taught at HKU 1974-1989. From 1990, with his partner Elaine Morgan, he spent 15 years sailing 50,000 miles in an 11.8m yacht, working as a yachting journalist and pilot book writer to keep the ship in shackles. In 2005 he returned to full time work, opening and running the new Hong Kong Maritime Museum in Stanley and setting up its move to its present premises in Central, finally retiring as its CSSC Maritime Heritage Research Fellow in 2013. He then returned to HKU where he teaches heritage conservation and researches Hong Kong’s maritime past with a focus on navigation and charting, ships and seafarers.