What’s in a Name?

The origin of “Repulse Bay” is shrouded in mystery

How Hong Kong’s most famous bay got its name is an enigma. While its monicker in Chinese is straightforward – Tsin Shui Wan, or “Shallow Water Bay” – there is no solid evidence to explain how Repulse Bay was christened in English.

One story says that in 1841, when the bay was home base for pirates attacking merchant ships trading with China, the British Royal Navy had enough and decided to chase them out or “repulse” them. However, there is no official record of this skirmish. Another tale has it that the “HMS Repulse” ship was anchored in the bay at some point in the 1800’s. Again, there is no proof that the famous vessel ever visited the territory. Never the less, the name Repulse Bay first appeared on a British map of Hong Kong in 1845 and was in common usage by the early 20th century. However the bay obtained its odd name, in the 1910’s its shores were developed into a swimming beach of silky soft sand, inspiring the launch of Hong Kong’s first public bus service, from Central to the site. And in 1920, the Repulse Bay Hotel opened, and the rest, as they say, is history. The bay’s calm waters, scenic outlook and one of the longest beaches in Hong Kong continue to offer not only spectacular recreation a few steps away, but ground zero for one of Hong Kong’s most puzzling unsolved mysteries.