A Visit to Mr. and Mrs. Peacock
- Friday, 11th September 2015
Shortly after the end of the Second World War, he learnt of the state of affairs around the world from his relative, and decided to give up his position as an engineer in a ceramics plant in England. He travelled to Southeast Asia by himself, and on arriving in Hong Kong, he joined the Observatory. Before long, he started a family and settled down here. From then on, he witnessed decades of weather and history in this small territory, half a globe away from where he grew up. It was only after retirement that he returned to his homeland.
He is Mr. John Peacock, a former Director of the Observatory. He retired in 1984 as the last Director coming from England, after 34 years of service at the Observatory. His family then resettled in the southwestern part of England, and has been living in ethereal calm ever since.
This summer, I was on a short course in Oxford, England. Having liaised through the current Director Mr. CM Shun, I together with another colleague, PW Lau, who was receiving training in meteorology in Exeter, visited Mr. and Mrs. Peacock at their home on a Sunday. We had the pleasure of having the classic English tea prepared by Mrs. Peacock while chatting through a sunny and joyful afternoon.
Mr. and Mrs. Peacock's home is in Somerset, about half-an-hour's drive from Bath, the nearest city. The small village is sparsely populated with plenty of fresh air. Their house is located in a picturesque site, with a panoramic view of grassland all around. The ex-Director has planted a great variety of flowers and trees in his garden. Still a scientist at heart, he has carefully recorded every single plant in detail. Although over 80 years old, he walked fast and could easily pick up steel-made garden tools, clearly demonstrating the benefits of gardening in keeping the body fit.
Figure 1 Grassland beyond Mr. Peacock's back garden.
Figure 2 Group photo in the back garden. From left to right: Diane Peacock, PW Lau, WC Woo, John Peacock.
Mr. Peacock hoisted the No. 10 Hurricane Signal four times as director or acting director, probably the director of the recent generations who hoisted the largest number of the No. 10 Hurricane Signal (Note 1). He said the greatest challenge in those days was primarily the lack of observation data. There were only a few meteorological stations and reporting ships, and even no meteorological satellites in the early days. It was therefore rather difficult to forecast the weather at those times. Based on the level of technology and social developments back then, considerations in hoisting typhoon signals were entirely different from those of the modern days.
He further recalled that there were a lot of manual routines in the past. Take replicating weather charts as an example. In the old days, staff had to employ a technique known as lithography (Note 2), by laying an analysed weather chart on a smooth limestone, pouring acid onto the limestone followed by a solution, and subsequently copying a blank chart over.
Figure 3 A weather chart of 23 November 1983 given to us by Mr. Peacock,
showing clearly the hand-written pressure values.
Mr. Peacock had safeguarded plenty of precious photographs, some of which even had name lists attached. We seized the opportunity and asked him to digitise part of his collection, in order to enrich the heritage list of the Observatory.
Figure 4 A group photo taken in the 1950s, well-preserved by Mr. Peacock.
Although decades had passed, Mr. Peacock still remembered vividly the Observatory's first atomic clock (Note 3). He also recalled an occasion in which numerous fishermen approached Hong Kong from the coast of Guangdong due to a rumour of an impending earthquake and, as a result, the Observatory had to refute it. Mr. and Mrs. Peacock further shared with us a personal sighting of an unidentified flying object. We were so immersed in the stories that we almost forgot to leave.
Before our departure, Mr. Peacock referred to a story of him successfully solving an equation as an engineer, and reminded us that: "We should be proud of our achievements". Indeed, we should all be proud of our work and missions.
WC Woo and Stephen PW Lau
[Note: Mrs. Diane Peacock sadly passed away in July 2015. We express our deepest condolences to Mr. Peacock and his family.]
1. Please refer to Some Collective Memories of the Observatory - Visiting Ex-Director John Peacock.
2. "Lithography" originates from the ancient Greek word "lithos" meaning "stone".
3. Please refer to History of Hong Kong Time Service.