Peter Wesley-Smith


general blurb | academic works | kids' stuff | libretti & lyrics | other links

general blurb

Writer and recovering academic, Peter Wesley-Smith was Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Hong Kong when he left on resignation in 1999. He had been Dean of the Faculty of Law, a member of the Hong Kong Law Reform Commission, and Editor-in-Chief of the Hong Kong Law Journal. He is the author of four books and numerous articles on Hong Kong's constitution and legal system and now gives annual lectures on international law at the University of Macau. Combining academic activities, public service, and creative writing, he has written books of verses (such as The Ombley-Gombley), an English adaptation of Danish poet Halfdan Rasmussen's collection of nonsense rhymes Hocus Pocus, lyrics (for songs such as The Day We Found O'Reilly's Chook in Mrs Boon's Backyard and the unfinished I Don't Think I'm Indecisive, Am I?, a humerus ditty about his upper arm), and libretti (most notably for
Black Ribbon, Boojum!, Quito, True, and the children's song-story Pip! - music by his brother Martin Wesley-Smith). He now lives in Kangaroo Valley in rural New South Wales, Australia, where he is gainfully unemployed. Being President of the Kangaroo Valley Community Association used to help him while away his time, but now that he's no longer doing that, he has started writing short plays ...

Boojum! was produced last year in Chicago - brilliantly - by Chicago Opera Vanguard and Caffeine Theatre.


academic works

Unequal Treaty | other academic works | kids' stuff | libretti & lyrics | other links

Unequal Treaty 1898-1997 (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, revised edition 1998)

A post-handover edition of Peter Wesley-Smith's landmark work on the New Territories lease is a joy to read again, despite it being a considerably revised and updated edition of a book first published 17 years ago. It is clear from reading it that it is not a new book. On the other hand it is a considerable advance on earlier versions, if only because history has now supplied it with a dramatically satisfying ending. But it also features compendious scholarship, an eminently even-handed approach to contentious issues and a high standard of lucid prose ...

Tim Hamlett, South China Morning Post, April 25 1998

from Pacific Affairs Vol 72 No 2: UNEQUAL TREATY 1898-1997: China, Great Britain, and Hong Kong's New Territories (Revised Edition). By Peter Wesley-Smith. Hong Kong, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 1998. xvi, 347 pp. (Illus., map.) HK$295.00, cloth. ISBN 0-19-590354-4.

Throughout the media analyses leading up to the return of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997, one rarely, if ever, saw reference to the fact that Hong Kong was, historically and legally, divided into three parts. Analyses were preoccupied with the legislative and judicial mechanisms that were being put in place and with speculations about the transition to Chinese rule. The circumstances of Hong Kong's three-staged acquisition as a British colony were rarely considered. After reading Unequal Treaty, Peter Wesley- Smith's revision of his 1980 book with the same title, one can conclude that the circumstances of acquisition of the third piece of China's San On County were so complex, imprecise, and generally messy that they would defy easy media analysis. Only a legal scholar like Wesley-Smith could make sense of the muddle, putting it into the contexts of international law, British colonial policy and practice, and the competing colonial power relations of the time.

Wesley-Smith, professor of constitutional law at Hong Kong University, writes fluently, perceptively, clearly, and with occasional dry humour about a legal situation that was imprecisely defined from the beginning and potentially volatile to the end. He is writing, of course, about a relationship between two countries, Great Britain and China (later the people's Republic of China), on a topic of special sensitivity to China, the annexation of a portion of its territory without compensation, substantially increasing the presence of a foreign power on its shores. Given the sensitivity of the subject, Wesley-Smith shows the care of a legal scholar in substantiating his arguments with an impressive array of both primary and secondary sources, demonstrating his commitment to achieving as much accuracy as possible in analyzing a situation that was lacking in precision throughout its history. His book remains highly readable because much of this material is relegated to footnotes, so that the main text is clear and uncluttered. A criticism one might make is that he relies entirely on English language sources, with the result that Chinese perspectives are underrepresented and derivative. One might also have wished that he had given more consideration to the distinctive political status granted to, and claimed by, the people resident in the New Territories at the time of the lease, and their descendants.

The book's title conveys its primary focus, the concept of an unequal treaty and its place (or lack of place) in international law. According to Wesley-Smith, the Chinese have consistently maintained that the New Territories were ceded through such an agreement. Ironically, as power relationships changed, the possibility of China's reclaiming Hong Kong became more of a reality, but by that time the People's Republic of China chose to maintain the status quo and, eventually, to negotiate a return to China of the three parts of Hong Kong at the time when the lease of the New Territories expired. Although Hong Kong Island and Kowloon had been ceded _in perpetuity_ through earlier treaties, they were also returned.

Wesley-Smith's first five chapters are devoted to the negotiation of the treaty in its immediate political context, the resistance of the Chinese and the implementation of British administration. He then analyzes various legal problems: the unresolved definition of boundaries, the status of the walled city of Kowloon, and maritime customs and other legal matters. His ninth chapter is devoted to a chronology of the question of rendition and the tenth to the meaning(s) of the convention.

He leaves the reader at the end of chapter 10 with the problem of the legal definition of an unequal treaty, which is continued in his epilogue along with a lucid discussion of China's and Britain's delicate avoidance of the problem of legal precision. He suggests that it was this avoidance which enabled Hong Kong to continue in its ambiguous status until Britain decided in the 1980s that a more legalistic approach was necessary. This resulted, ultimately, in the end of British administration not only of the New Territories, but of all of Hong Kong.

Elizabeth Lominska Johnson, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

available from all good bookshops; also


See also:

An Introduction to the Hong Kong Legal System (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 3rd ed 1998)

Constitutional and Administrative Law in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Longman Asia, 2nd ed 1993)

... a highly readable and comprehensive textbook by one of the leading scholars of the Hong Kong legal system>
Chan Wing Cheong

The Sources of Hong Kong Law (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1994)

Anyone picking up a book on the sources of law may well groan inwardly in anticipation of a dull read. Those works often present intrinsically uninteresting material in a very pedestrian fashion ... Fortunately, Peter Wesley-Smith's book is in an altogether different league. The subject-matter is fascinating, the treatment is lively, and parts of it are profound ... Clearly, this is a book which has impressed me. It is one which should be of great benefit to all students of law and government in Hong Kong, and, indeed, more widely for those who are interested in the fundamentals of legal systems ...
Rodney Brazier


kids' stuff

The Ombley-Gombley (nonsense verses; illustrated by David Fielding; published by Angus & Robertson in Australia in 1969 (reprinted 1970 and 1976) and by Atheneum in New York in 1971)

Hocus Pocus (verses adapted from the original Danish of Halfden Rasmussen; illustrated by Ib Spang Olsen; published in London by Angus & Robertson in 1973)

Foul Fowl and other rhymes just for fun, with illustrations by Carmen Hogue (Sydney: Cherry Books, 1995)

Various verses published in the following anthologies published by Omnibus Books in Adelaide, South Australia:
Putrid Poems (1985)
Petrifying Poems (1986)
Rattling in the Wind (1987)
Vile Verse (1988)
Four and Twenty Lamingtons (1989)
Off the Planet (1989)
The Hunting of the Snark: Second Expedition. An Ecstacy, in Eight Fits and Starts, illustrations by Paul Stanish (Sydney: Cherry Books, 1996)


libretti & lyrics

After the Storm | Black Ribbon | Boojum! | Brother of Mine | Ho Chi Minh in Kong Kong | The Knight's Gambit | Manners for Men | Mister Thwump | Noonday Gun | Pi in the Sky | Pip! | Quito | Seven Widows at the Gates of Sugamo | Songs of Australia | Thank Evans | Thin Green Line | True | Who Killed Cock Robin? | other links

Mister Thwump
story and lyrics; recorded by The Wesley Three, 1966, CBS SBP233344; music by
Martin Wesley-Smith

Pi in the Sky
libretto for children's opera; music by
Martin Wesley-Smith; first performed in Adelaide in 1971

Who Killed Cock Robin?
contribution to libretto of choral piece; music by Martin Wesley-Smith; first performed by the Sydney Chamber Choir, Sydney, 1980

libretto for music theatre piece; music by Martin Wesley-Smith; first performed at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1986 and subsequently in Sydney, Brisbane, San Diego, Pasadena and Newcastle (Australia); issued on CD by Vox Australis, performed by the Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir, 1992

Noonday Gun
libretto for short musical about Noel Coward in Hong Kong; music by
Martin Wesley-Smith; first performed at the Fringe Club, Hong Kong, in 1986

Songs of Australia
libretto for large choral work; music by
Martin Wesley-Smith; first performed in Sydney in 1988

libretto for musical work for children; music by
Martin Wesley-Smith; commissioned and first performed by Miles Anderson and Erica Sharp, 1992; new version for narrator and orchestra first performed, in March 1999, by Monica Trapaga and the Sydney Youth Orchestra; most recent known performance: Tasmanian Youth Orchestra, conducted by Russell Gilmour, Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, 2pm May 18 2003

libretto for music theatre piece about schizophrenia and East Timor; music by Martin Wesley-Smith; commissioned and first produced by the Sydney Metropolitan Opera Company, 1994; subsequent performances, by The Song Company, of various versions in Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Portugal and Sydney; radiophonic version first broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and issued on CD by Tall Poppies Records in May 1997 [TP111]

Manners for Men
libretto for musical piece for schoolchildren; music by Martin Wesley-Smith; commissioned and first produced by MLC School, Sydney, 1999

Thin Green Line
lyric for conservation piece about the Orphan School Creek Gully, Glebe, Sydney; music by
Martin Wesley-Smith; performed by The Song Company, Sydney, 1998

Brother of Mine
lyric for song - as might have been sung by Paul Robeson - about the plight of Australian aborigines; music by
Martin Wesley-Smith; performed by Clive Birch (baritone) and Liam Ridgeway (didgeridoo), Sydney, 1998

After the Storm, and a version of Feelings as General Wiranto meant to sing it
performed by The Song Company at an East Timor Benefit Concert at 8pm, Fri October 8, in the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Sydney

The Knight's Gambit (from Boojum!)
song cycle for five singers & orchestra; music by
Martin Wesley-Smith; performed in the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House by the Australian Opera & Ballet Orchestra conducted by Simone Young, September 2001

Thank Evans (Australian Foreign Policy and East Timor, 1975-99)
libretto for choral piece for choir & piano; music by
Martin Wesley-Smith; commissioned by The Australian Boys Choral Institute; first performed by The Australian Boys Choir and The Vocal Consort (Noel Ancell, conductor), Melbourne, November 2001

Black Ribbon (read the libretto here)
libretto for choral piece for six singers, choir & orchestra; music by Martin Wesley-Smith; commissioned by The Canberra Choral Society and first performed by them in September, 2001, with The Song Company as soloists; performance conducted by Roland Peelman

True (read the libretto here)
libretto for choral piece for soprano, choir, flute & piano; music by Martin Wesley-Smith; commissioned by The Canberra Gay and Lesbian Qwire and first performed by them on October 26, 2002

A Luta Continua (read the libretto here)
libretto for piece for baritone, soprano, girls choir & orchestra; music by Martin Wesley-Smith; text commissioned by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra; premiered on April 2 2005 in the Federation Concert Hall, Hobart; performers: Andrew Collis, baritone, the Ogilvie High School Concert Choir, and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Mills; for more information, click here

libretto for piece for six singers and a bucket; music by
Martin Wesley-Smith; text commissioned by The Song Company; premiered on June 11 2005 in Kangaroo Valley Hall; performers Roland Peelman and The Song Company; read the libretto here

Seven Widows at the Gates of Sugamo
libretto for piece for seven female harpists and choir; music by
Martin Wesley-Smith; premiered on January 27 2008 in Kangaroo Valley Hall; performers SHE and The Choir That Dare Not Speak Its Name; peruse the program of the concert and read the text of the piece here

Ho Chi Minh in Kong Kong - His Persecution and the Triumph of the Glorious Rule of Law
a play, commissioned by the
Hong Kong Fringe Club and premiered there on May 15 2008 starring Lee Chun Chow; music and audio-visual sequences by Martin Wesley-Smith; directed by Peter Jordan

email received, Sun May 1 2011, from someone who loved The Ombley-Gombley growing up:

Just thought I would drop you a line to tell you I still have my Ombley - Gombley I was given as a birthday present from Mum when I was about 7, growing up in Wagga. It is the Angus and Robertson Reprinted 1970 edition, the dust jacket is no longer, and I occasionally take it down from the shelf to reminisce and see how much I can still recite. I loved it as a kid and just today after teasing my 15 yr old son about being a "skinny winny", I had to take it down again just to show what would happen if he decided to take a bath instead of a shower. Some of the poems I put to song in my head and still sing them to my younger kids. Overall, I would have to say that was a great book, it provides me with fantastic memories and it really captured my imagination as a youngen! Is David Fielding still going strong? As a partnership you two produced an ugstabuggle of a book!


general blurb | academic works | kids' stuff | libretti & lyrics
Quito home page | Quito credits | Quito description | Martin Wesley-Smith | Rob Wesley-Smith
complete libretti: Black Ribbon | True | Boojum!, Act 1 | Boojum!, Act 2 | doublethink

boojum! title

free hit counter
hit counter

page updated May 2 2011