The British Empire Library

Matilda, Her Life and Legacy

by Joyce Stevens Smith

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by H.Y.W.S. Dickson (Colonial Admin. Service. British Somaliland. Nyasaland/Malawi & Anguilla. 1950-1980)
The author, a qualified nursing sister, was recruited by the ONA in London for the private Matilda & War Memorial Hospital in Hong Kong, where she arrived in 1967. It was not until 1978, during a hospital spring clean, that she found a broken picture frame with a photo of an elegant Victorian lady inscribed 'Matilda L. Sharp. Hong Kong. Xmas 1875'. Joyce was so entranced by this find that she determined to research the life and travels of Matilda, a task she was to complete so clearly and concisely after ten most fruitful years of careful study. Part I of her book is thus devoted to Matilda's life, 1829-1893; whilst Part II deals with the building and setting up, after the death of her husband in 1899 and with funds from his will, of the Matilda Hospital on Mount Kellett 'to the glory of God and for the good of men: in memory of Matilda, the wife of Granville Sharp, resident in this colony 1858-1893'.

Matilda, one of a family of eleven, was brought up at Halesworth in Suffolk in a lively and happy, Victorian Christian household. Well educated and excelling as a linguist and pianist she at first ran a school for young ladies. Then in 1855 she fell in love with Granville, a local banker, who a year later went to India to work for the Commercial Bank. In 1858 Matilda decided to join him and her journey out by P&O liner is beautifully described in extracts from her letters home. They were married in Bombay at the year's end; but then he was posted as manager of the Bank's branch in Hong Kong, and so they moved on to set up home there in 1859. During that year Matilda accompanied Granville on a business trip so see Cochin China; and quotes from her diary record the terrors and ordeals of that voyage, when they were wrecked off Hainan island, had to abandon ship and only got home by local junk nine days later.

They were now able to settle down, whilst Granville went into business on his own as a bills and bullion broker, in which he was to make a fortune. In 1865 Matilda was overjoyed when her sister Lucilla arrived and was later to marry Granville's cousin and settle in Hong Kong. For the rest of her life Matilda played an active role in the spiritual and social life of the colony, especially in local welfare work. Interestingly the author has also recorded progress in the political, economic, health and medical fields of the colony over that period. Matilda was to die in 1893 'full of love for everyone' and was greatly mourned. Later, as already mentioned, her husband was to endow sufficient funds for the building and running costs of the hospital 'in memory of his sainted wife'.

In Part II Joyce Smith has described the other hospitals in Hong Kong at that time, and of how the Matilda Hospital was opened in 1907, with details of its staffing and sub-sequent development over the years. She tells how, after WWI a separate 'War Memorial Nursing Home was built and opened in 1932. She records the horrors of the Japanese assault on Hong Kong in WWII, the surrender of the colony on Xmas Day, 1941, and the awful ordeals of the civilian internees in Stanley Camp thereafter. After VJ Day the Matilda Hospital was taken over by the military and staffed by the RAMC and QARANC, being finally derequisitioned in 1950. The Matilda and War Memorial Nursing Home were then amalgamated, renovated and re-opened as one hospital in 1951. Many improvements were later carried out, and by 1988 the one hospital was treating 20,000 patients a year, of which 6,000 were inpatients. In all a fascinating, well written book, lavishly illustrated with many old photographs.

British Empire Book
Joyce Stevens Smith
Matilda and War Memorial Hospital


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