It is perhaps fitting that Granville Sharp and his wife Matilda Lincolne, newlywed in India and embarking on married life in a Hong Kong by no means established and stable, should make landfall in the Territory on Christmas Day – a time of giving – in 1858.
Theirs is an incredible story of fortitude in the face of shipwreck and piracy in the South China seas, grit and determination in the disease-wracked colony and quiet generosity.
Following in the footsteps of Matilda
Above all, however, their lives in Hong Kong stand as a towering testament to their compassion for the loss of their fellow beings, as exemplified, among many other examples, by Matilda's work for widows and orphans.
While Granville successfully struck out into commerce on his own as so many in Hong Kong have done before and since, Matilda set about relieving suffering wherever she met it, further etching an indelible affection on her husband's heart as well as that of the Western and Chinese communities she came to know so well.
A gift from the heart
Outliving her by just a few years, Granville set out in his will, in extraordinary detail, his bequest to Hong Kong – a hospital to be constructed "not for the glory of the medical profession... but for the benefit, care and happiness of the patient." The hospital, to be a refuge for all in medical need, was to be called Matilda in loving memory of his departed spouse.
After much debate, the trustees of his estate decided on Mount Kellett with its airy views of the Lamma Channel and invigorating mountain breezes as the site and the first handful of patients were admitted on 27th January, 1907. From the outset, Matilda assumed the character and resilience of its namesake weathering financial crises, typhoons, war and even plague – turning out extraordinary people at extraordinary times.
Celebrating the will to survive
One such stalwart was chairman of The Matilda Hospital Board and Hong Kong Shanghai Bank Sir Vandeleur Grayburn who wisely initiated an endowment fund which maintained both Matilda and the erstwhile War Memorial Nursing Home nearby before succumbing to the rigours of internment in Stanley Prison during the Occupation.
Others came – and continue to – always at the right time, it seems, to nurture the ideals of the institution as well as the body and soul of their patients and fellows. And although the strictures of the bequest have been adapted to changing circumstances over time the spirit of the will remains intact a century after it was penned.