The Force's ethnic composition

3 Photos

After his appointment as Chief Magistrate after the founding of Hong Kong, William Caine recruited soldiers discharged from military services to form a police force to maintain law and order. Thirty-two ex-servicemen responded to his call and formed the first police contingent in Hong Kong, but their work was far from satisfactory.

Upon being appointed Captain Superintendent of Police in 1845, Charles May recognised the urgent need to improve the quality of members of the Force. He broadened the recruitment base by recruiting the first batch of Chinese policemen. However, European and Indian policemen still formed the backbone of the Force.

Indian policemen

After his appointment as Captain Superintendent of Police in 1862, William Quin, who had served in the Bombay police force, decided to recruit policemen direct from India. However, he was not impressed with the work of the policemen recruited from Bombay, and began recruiting Punjab Sikhs instead. The performance of the Sikhs policemen proved more satisfactory and the Force continued recruiting them over the years. In deference to their customs and religious beliefs, the Hong Kong Police Force allowed them to retain their turbans and exempted them from wearing police caps. With more Indian policemen recruited into the Force, many high-ranking British police officers were sent to India from time to time to learn their language. This arrangement continued until just before the Second World War.

To further improve the quality of the Force, Mr Quin's successor, Walter Meredith, began in 1872 recruiting active and former policemen from London and Scotland.

Although the Force was a multi-ethnic contingent, the positions each ethnic group assumed were strictly prescribed under colonial rule. The British and other Europeans could be promoted to management grades, while the promotional ceiling for Indians was usually set at the rank of Inspector, but very few had ever reached that rank. As for the Chinese, the highest rank they could ever hope to achieve was only Sergeant.

In the 1920s, the Force classified policemen into three groups according to their ethnicities. Group A consisted of British and other European policemen, Group B policemen were the Indians, while Chinese policemen belonged to Group C. The prefix letter that corresponded to each group appeared on every policeman's numerical badge.

'Lu' policemen

Apart from taking in British, Indians or other Europeans to the Police, the Force started recruiting policemen from Weihaiwei in Shandong Province in 1922. The pioneer batch of Weihaiwei recruits subsequently became members of the Emergency Unit.

As Shandong policemen were bigger and taller than the local Chinese and were very well disciplined, the Force continued recruiting Shandong policemen right up to the 1950s. As Shandong province is also known as "Lu", they were known as Lu policemen. The Police Force designated these Lu policemen as Group D. Therefore, both Groups C and D consisted of ethnic Chinese and to differentiate between them, Group C policemen were re-designated as "Cantonese policemen" in English.

The problem of piracy had always plagued the waters of Hong Kong for some time when, in 1930, the British armed forces in Hong Kong decided to stop escorting the vessels plying the waters around Hong Kong. This mission naturally fell on the shoulders of the Police Force, which formed an Anti-Piracy Guard by recruiting 25 White Russians. The Police Force classified these Russian policemen as Group E.

Squadron J

Apart from Squadrons A, B, C, D and E, each representing different ethnicities or places of origins, there was another short-lived and lesser-known squadron.

Just prior to the British capitulation to the Japanese, Commissioner Pennefather-Evans issued instructions to members of the Force to assist the Japanese invaders in maintaining law and order in the event of a Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. The Force was urged to serve under the Japanese so as to protect local residents from harsh and unfair treatment by the Japanese and their Chinese collaborators. To this end, some members of the Force had no choice but to work for the enemy. Later, the Japanese recruited some local Chinese as policemen.

After the Japanese surrender, the Force was revived and those who had served before the occupation were re-commissioned. Policemen recruited by the Japanese during the occupation were also absorbed into the Force due to the shortage of manpower. However, because they were recruited during the Japanese occupation, the letter "J" preceded their serial numbers. Squadron J survived briefly before it was rendered obsolete together with Squadrons A to E, following the decision to stop categorising the rank and file according to the letters of the alphabet.

Were there any policemen in Hong Kong who belonged to nationalities and ethnic groups other than the five mentioned above? An annual report, submitted in the early 1870s by Captain Superintendent Deane to the Colonial Government, recorded the existence of African and West Indian members in the Police Force. They were likely to be sailors who had landed in Hong Kong and who subsequently joined the Police Force. However, according to Mr Deane's 1873 report, the West Indians were inept policemen and the Police Force stopped recruiting West Indians in 1870. According to the 1874 Blue Book, there were only three West Indian policemen left in the Hong Kong Police Force.

A group picture of some members of the Anti-Piracy Guard taken shortly after its establishment. This contingent solely comprised White Russians as members

It is clearly stated in the Annual Report for 1870 by Captain Superintendent Deane, published in the Government Gazette of 1871, that some of the Force's members came from the West Indies and Africa

A Chinese police constable on a colour tinted postcard

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