Sir Matthew Nathan

Sir Matthew Nathan (1862-1939)

Have you ever walked along Nathan Road in Kowloon? Did you marvel at its long stretch of colourful neon lights? If so, you have Sir Matthew to thank. That’s because when he became the thirteenth Hong Kong governor in 1906, Kowloon was still a swampy backwater, dark and dangerous at nights, and a criminals’ refuge.

3But Hong Kong’s population was growing fast and food to feed all the people couldn’t be shipped in quick enough. So why not build a road from Tsim Sha Tsui to the New Territories?

That would enable Hong Kongers to grow their own food and transport it into the city. Sir Matthew - an ex-military officer, a trained engineer with experience of building roads in other British colonies - proposed the construction of Nathan Road. Dubbed “Nathan’s Folly”, many people were totally against his idea. Too expensive, said some. Too long, said others.
Sir Matthew ignored them. He went ahead and ordered its construction anyway.

Setting up Kowloon and Canton railway was another very unpopular plan of his. Although the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce promoted the project, the Chinese government protested by calling Sir Matthew all kinds of nasty names. But the governor raised the money himself and organised the building of the railway anyway.

Sadly, in 1906, Sir Matthew fell of a horse, bumped his head rather badly, and left Hong Kong for medical treatment. Later, he furthered his brilliant career with government posts in modern-day South Africa, Sri Lanka, Great Britain and Australia. Here is a list of his titles: CMG, KCMG, GCMG. You can check what they mean on Google.

During his long career in public service, Sir Matthew travelled widely. But he is quoted as saying that his days in Hong Kong were the happiest of his life.

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