Petitions, pay and play
Close to the end of the talk I gave on the Hongkong Naval Dockyard Police Force at the Maritime Museum back in February, I blithely declared that 'By the start of the 1920s the Royal Naval Dockyard Police was a properly organized and paid, professional force ...' At that point I knew of little material on the twentieth century, but what I had seemed to be pointing in that direction. Hmmm. I've spent the intervening two months in The National Archives in London and elsewhere, scouring records for this elusive Force in that century, and now the picture looks rather different.
For a number of reasons, i generally keep to a cut-off date of 1941 for my research and writing, but since the Naval Dockyards themselves finally closed in Hong Kong in 1959, with its Police Force all but disbanded by the end of the previous year, I really need to take this story to its conclusion. The majority of TNA's resources are connected with pay and conditions. Trouble was, the Force had never been able to offer sufficient pay to attract enough men of good calibre. Certainly through to the mid 1930s it was difficult to fill all the European posts and men would often stay only long enough to find a better paid job in the colony. It was worse for the men of the Indian contingent, coming directly from northwest India to join, they tended to be more isolated from their compatriots in Hongkong and found it harder to obtain alternative employment here. (Aside from a handful of interpreters, there were no Chinese employed in this Force.)
So the first decades of the century see annual petitions from the men - variously calling for their pay to match that of the Civil Police; for pensions at the end of their service; to receive leave pay whilst they were at home, rather than on their return (otherwise how could they pay their way?) and, in the case of the Indians, for their leave to be increased so they had time to do more than travel home only to turn round to start back almost immediately.
I've been interested to see the changing attitudes in London, too. In the nineteenth century it seems that the Admiralty were always the big baddies. Come the 1910s, and the forceful Director of Dockyards on the case, the enemy is the 'tight-fisted' so-and-sos of the Treasury. Responses were often unsatisfactory and always slow. But the excitement of finding these petitions - TNA has the originals, with the men's own signatures - is that they open the possibility of tracing the lives and careers of a few of these men. I'm looking forward, too, to constructing a (necessarily partial) list of HKNDY Police, which I'll attach to the end of the article I'm currently writing.
As I now start to uncover some individual stories, one aspect that comes through time and again is how important sport was to the Dockyard Policemen. Perhaps partly because it was a low-cost pastime, but also surely expressing the strong bond that had to develop quickly amongst this little group, the Yard had a good reputation on the football, hockey and cricket pitches of the colony. They could put up a fair lawn bowls team and often hosted snooker and billiards competitions. But perhaps rather woryingly, the Dockyard Polcie produced a disproportionately high number of Hongkong's championship boxers.