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Adapted from the Introduction to Women, Crime and the Courts. Hong Kong 1841-1941
My interest in this topic was piqued even before I knew that I'd definitely be writing the book that became Policing Hong Kong - an Irish History. For some years I had been unravelling the stories about my relatives and their townsfolk who were in Hong Kong from the mid-1860s until just after its reoccupation by the British in 1945. They were ordinary men and women, from farming stock, not poor by the standards of the time, but without any silver spoons to smooth their way. But I soon became aware how interconnected lives were here - with other westerners and the longer-term residents from Macao, and with the Chinese community all around them, especially as 'my folk' lived not on the privileged upper reaches of the Peak, but in the very midst of the town itself. I tried to find out how all these other people lived, what their life experiences might be, and in what ways their living in a British Crown colony brought contrasts to the lives of their families in China or Macao.
Because the group I was then studying were mainly policemen, and there turned out to be quite a lot of them, I kept stumbling across crimes they investigated that had been committed (or not) by women. Here, at last, was a partial answer to my question about the lives of all women in the colony during its first century. True, we’re learning about them, both Chinese and western, when things go wrong, and sometimes dreadfully so. But even the reports about trivial little misdemeanours or transgressions give a glimpse of what was happening day to day. And these crimes were reported - although they were a tiny fraction of the total, newspapers regarded ‘women criminals’ as good copy, so we hear about them, and often with a little more detail than those of their menfolk. So I make no apology for including the brawl for water, the attempt to purchase a few sweets with dodgy five cent coins or the prosecution for illegally hawking a small tray of cakes. They and their ilk have their place in the wider story. But so too do the sickening kidnappings and frenzied murders ...
The front cover design is a picture of Gilman's Bazaar by Charles Wirgmann from 1854, coloured by Ruth Bannister, used with the generous permission of Wattis Fine Art. The cover design is by Cara Wilson.
N.B. The eagle-eyed and those who've got that far may be wondering where the promised additional information on Miriam Monteith (p. 313, fn 288) is. Its coming, I promise. There's a document I want to double-check at The National Archives. Of course, they have closed since London went into Tier 4. We wait ... and hope and wait.