sovereignty of Hong Kong lasted from 1842 to 1997,
when the territory reverted to Chinese
Despite a stormy beginning, the hundred and fifty six
years of colonial existence proved to be prosperous,
energetic and, overall, surprisingly harmonious.
(click the picture to see larger version)
In 1840, Britain was actively seeking a safe port harbour from which to conduct business with China, at a time when many European countries were scrambling to establish themselves inside China. Britain felt it was lagging behind, but set beside the enormous success of the colonisation of India (which required a huge drain on resources of manpower and naval equipment) lacked the conviction to provide adequate representation in the region. And Lord Palmerston, then Foreign Minister, never believed that Hong Kong had the makings of a successful international trading port.
The scramble to negotiate favourable trade concessions led to an acrimonious relationship between the two countries, commonly called 'The Opium Wars', with Britain attempting to persuade the Chinese by force, and the Chinese seizing men, boats and opium in retaliation. Captain Charles Elliott, who had headed the British thrust, was recalled to Britain where his actions were regarded as 'too conciliatory', but he had laid down the foundations for a settlement, and Sir Henry Pottinger was sent to Hong Kong to oversee the successful completion of the Treaty of Nanjing (or Nanking, as it was then called).
The agreement was signed on board the British ship H.M.S. Cornwallis in August 1842, both sides trying to avoid all-out war. Pottinger represented Britain, and Ch'i-ying (Keying), Yilipu (Elepoo) and Newchiang were signatories as emissaries for Taou Kwang, the Emperor of China.
As it turned out, the event went off very well, a lot of wine and spirits were drunk and Ch'i-ying, the Emperor's large and venerable uncle, ended up singing songs.
In fact, there were many aspects of the situation remaining to be settled, an evolving process which lasted decades. Pottinger stayed on in the new territory as first Governor of the Crown Colony.
It took many years to shape Hong Kong, but this first step gave Hong Kong Island to Britain 'in perpetuity'. The tip of the Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutter's Island were ceded by China on the same terms in 1858 by the Treaty of Tientsin, and ratified in 1860 by the first Convention of Peking. This brought about significant improvements to British access to other major Treaty Ports throughout China.
Finally, in 1898, a lease on new territory beyond Kowloon gave Hong Kong the coastal control it required to secure its position and the space it needed to develop its expansion.