Macao and the British, 1637–1842

Prelude to Hong Kong


Austin Coates

ISBN : 978-962-209-075-0

History Echoes: Classics in Hong Kong Culture and History

July 2009

252 pages, 5.125″ x 7.75″, 11 b&w illustrations

  • HK$195.00

The story of the British acquisition of Hong Kong is intricately related to that of the Portuguese enclave of Macao. The British acquired Hong Kong in 1841, following 200 years of European endeavours to induce China to engage in foreign trade. As a residential base of European trade, Portuguese Macao enabled the West to maintain continuous relations with China from 1557 onwards.

Opening with a vivid description of the first English voyage to China in 1637. Macao and the British traces the ensuing course of Anglo-Chinese relations, during which time Macao skillfully—and without fortifications—escaped domination by the British and Chinese. The account covers the opening of regular trade by the East India Company in 1770, including the ‘country’ trade between India and China and Britain’s first embassies to Peking, and relates the bedeviling effect of the opium trade. The story culminates in the resulting war from which Britain won, as part of its concessions, the obscure island of Hong Kong. Among those who feature in this lucid and lively account are the merchant princes Jardine and Matheson, the missionary Robert Morrison, the artist George Chinnery, and Captain Charles Elliot, Hong Kong’s maligned founder.

Austin Coates (1922–97), a former senior British civil servant in Hong Kong, Malaya, and Sarawak, left government service at age forty to pursue a professional writing career. Widely regarded as the most distinguished English-language author in Hong Kong, Coates remained a long-time Hong Kong resident, later dividing his time between Hong Kong and Portugal, where he died. Macao and the British is a companion to his other two books on Macao, A Macao Narrative and the historical novel City of Broken Promises. Both these books and his other novel, The Road, are also available in the Echoes series from Hong Kong University Press.

“Macao history at its most readable. It . . . should be immediately snapped up by anyone who has been unlucky enough to have missed it up to now.” —South China Morning Post

“This study vividly introduces the general reader to historic Macau, once ‘the outpost of all Europe in China’ and foothold to East India Company officials and private merchants trading in Canton.” —Clive Willis, Emeritus Professor of Portuguese Studies, University of Manchester and author of China and Macau

Macao and the British 1637–1842: Prelude to Hong Kong (1988), published originally in 1964 as Prelude to Hong Kong, was the first work on Macau by Austin Coates (1922–1997). It is the first comprehensive survey ever to be written on the English presence, the Anglo-Chinese-Portuguese relations in Macau, and the Portuguese settlement’s strategic importance for the British China Trade.” —Rogerio Puga, Assistant Professor of History, University of Macau