Published: 10:42, March 22, 2024 | Updated: 10:41, March 22, 2024
PDF View
On a memory trip across Victoria Harbour
By Faye Bradley

Models of walla-walla on display at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Every day, hundreds of vessels are seen sailing across Victoria Harbour. While Hong Kong residents are all too familiar with the green-and-white Star Ferry boats and the sampans, a few other relatively less-known varieties can be spotted on the city’s waters as well. Taken together, these vessels make for a visual library, charting the way traveling by water has changed over the past 200 years.

The Hong Kong Maritime Museum’s ongoing Across Victoria Harbour exhibition aims to shed light on the wide variety of vessels — including both passenger and cargo boats — that have passed through the city’s waters.

READ MORE: Memories of Victoria Harbour

“Victoria Harbour and its vessels are an integral part of our city’s identity and a must-see attraction for tourists,” says Millie Lai, associate curator at the museum. “However, despite the harbor’s prominence, we have somehow become disconnected from its rich history and cultural significance, which are essential components of Hong Kong’s heritage.”

Models of big-tail junks on display at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The exhibition covers the period from 1842 to the present. The exhibits include vintage photos, paintings, historical documents, and ship models. The show comes with interactive features, such as a multimedia game titled Travel by Walla-Walla, and a life-size replica of a motorboat ticket booth, erected as part of the reconstruction of the Blake Pier, around 1965. 

“The exhibition will enhance visitors’ understanding of the role of cross-harbor vessels in the context of economic and other influences in Hong Kong’s development,” says HKMM Chief Executive Richard Kendall.

The dynamic interplay between Hong Kong’s societal transformations and the evolution of its maritime vessels is a key theme of the show. “The structures and modes of operating these vessels have changed over time, responding to Hong Kong’s social and economic growth,” Lai points out. “As explored in the exhibition, these changes reflect Hong Kong’s development in different periods and aspects, making the stories of these vessels ‘the story of Hong Kong’.”

Models of sampans on display at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The exhibition also focuses on the lives and times of the communities associated with the vessels featured in it. For instance, in two video films on show, former crew members have shared their experiences of sailing on tugboats, barges and walla-wallas — a major means of inter-island travel up until the ’60s.

The milestones highlighted in the show include the introduction of steam ferries in 1870, and cross-harbor ferries later in the same decade, necessitated by a surge in the local population. By 1880, the Kowloon Ferry Co was running a cross-harbor service on a regular basis. Lai adds that there are records of Chinese-owned companies using smaller steam-powered vessels, or motorboats, to provide on-demand cross-harbor ferry services at around the same time.

Exhibits from the 20th century include striking images of barefoot stevedores working diligently at the wharf in 1990. Also on display are documents such as a license allowing a new ferry service — namely the Moonraker Motorboat Co Ltd — to operate in Hong Kong’s waters from 1920, and a certificate of competency given to a master sailor issued in 1967.

An interactive game designed after a motorboat ticket booth from 1965. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Hong Kong Maritime Museum Associate Curator Millie Lai. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

A number of public talks are being held during the exhibition period. For instance, there will be one on “Motorboats at Victoria Harbour” on April 6. Representatives from the city’s Marine Department and the Hong Kong Ferry are expected to participate in sharing sessions on March 24 and April 6 respectively. 

Victoria Harbour and its vessels are a part of Hong Kong’s cultural heritage. From going on a romantic dinner cruise on a luxury yacht to hopping on to a late-evening ferry after a full day at work, sailing across Victoria Harbour is a cultural signifier of the Hong Kong experience.  

ALSO READ: Fun rides

“We hope this exhibition rekindles the visitors’ connections with such memories, inspiring them to share and preserve them for the future generations,” Lai says.

If You Go

Across Victoria Harbour

Dates: Through May 15

Venue: Hong Kong Maritime Museum, Central Pier No 8, Central