The origins of the P&T Group date back to 1868 with the arrival in Hong Kong of William Salway from England while en route to Australia. Development since 1842 had been frenetic and relatively unplanned, consisting of closely spaced utilitarian tenement buildings. The great fire of 1867, and an increased desire for stability prompted the local merchants to seek grander buildings to reflect their status. Recognizing the need, Salway opened his office in Hong Kong on 1st October 1868.
Three years later, Salway persuaded Wilberforce Wilson, the Surveyor General, to join him in partnership. The new partners designed both the German Club and St Peter's Church in 1872, followed by the Chartered Bank in 1878.
In the same year, another architect from the Surveyor General's office, Godfrey Bird, joined the firm, leaving Salway free to resume his journey to Australia after an interlude of ten years. In 1880, the partnership completed Beaconsfield Arcade, the territory's first multi-storey shopping centre.
Described with affection by its members as a Victorian Wedding Cake, the Hong Kong Club was also completed in 1897.
The first of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank building, designed by Clement Palmer, introduced him to the partnership in 1883. Palmer was only 23 years old when he joined the firm in 1884.
His name would be associated with the company for the next 100 years. Arthur Turner, a structural engineer, about whom little is known, joined the firm in 1884 and both Palmer and Turner were made partners in due course. From 1890 onwards, the practice carried the name "Palmer & Turner". Towards the close of the century, the firm also designed the annex to Government House. By the late 1880s, the Chartered Bank had outgrown its premises and a new building was completed in 1894.
The retirement of Clement Palmer in 1907 marked the end of the neoclassical era for the firm. Partly as a result of the First World War, little was built in Hong Kong for the next ten years. When the war ended, the main focus of economic recovery shifted to Shanghai, bypassing Hong Kong. The firm followed the developers and opened an office there in the mid-1920s. The concept of saturation piling was introduced by the company, allowing buildings to rise above three storeys. The recovering economy and the removal of the 3-storey height limitation quickly resulted in a building boom for the firm in Shanghai. The splendid Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank building was completed in 1923, followed by the Peace Hotel in 1932 and the Bank of China building next to it.
With the establishment of the Shanghai office, the main centre of activity for the company moved to that city and the partnership was responsible for many of the buildings on the Bund.
In Hong Kong, the company completed the new Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank Headquarters Building in 1935.
This was the first fully air-conditioned building in Hong Kong and was then the tallest structure in Southeast Asia. The firm also expanded into India and Malaya and these offices supported the partnership in the late 1930s.