話說回來，巴麥尊子爵這個 "barren rock" 傳說，原來真有所本，他甚至真的從字面上稱呼香港為「荒島」。只是子爵原話實在與現行版本有異，斷章取義亦無法了解原話的背景和上文下理。
子爵原話，出自他寫給義律的私人函件。1841年，義律佔領香港島，並與琦善談判。然而，義律非但未能取得香港主權（琦善只同意英方於島上「擇一處地方寄寓泊船」），英廷交付的多項索償任務亦毫無成果。尤甚者，義律同意英軍完全撤出英廷認為極富經濟價值的舟山羣島，令巴麥尊子爵相當不滿。子爵認為義律對清廷太過軟弱，又違反了英廷多項指令，計劃將其免職，故此先行通知義律此一意向。發信日期為 1841 年 4 月 21 日。信件全文，載於下述由曾任李鴻章西洋顧問與大清海關稅務司的馬士 (Hosea Ballou Morse) 所著著作的附錄G (pp. 641-643):
Hosea Ballou Morse, The International Relations of the Chinese Empire, vol. I, Paragon Book Gallery, New York, 1910.信中有關香港幾段如下：
My Dear Sir,現行的 "barren rock" 傳說（譬如曾俊華那個版本），多是抽出信中兩句，將之修改合併成 "A barren rock, with nary a house upon it. It will never be a mart for trade."，令人以為巴麥尊子爵的意思是由於香港過於荒蕪，無可能發展成貿易市集。然而，若詳讀信件內容，你會發現他根本不是這個意思：
… You were ordered to retain Chusan, until the whole of the pecuniary Compensation should be paid; and to require that an Article to that effect should be inserted in the Treaty to be signed with the Chinese P.P. and to be ratified by the Emperor: You have agreed to evacuate the Island immediately, and have submitted to a Refusal on the part of the Chinese to let there be any Treaty whatever signed by the Emperor.
You have obtained the Cession of Hong Kong, a barren island with hardly a House upon it; and even this Cession as it is called, seems to me, from the conditions with which it is clogged, not to be a cession of the Sovereignty of the Island, which could only be made by the signature of the Emperor, but to be a permission to us to make a Settlement there, upon the same footing on which the Portuguese have an establishment at Macao.
Now it seems obvious that Hong Kong will not be the Mart of Trade, any more than Macao is so; that the Trade will still continue at Canton; and unless you shall have obtained in your further Negotiations all the securities which we demanded for our Residents in China, Matters will remain practically just as they have been; our Commercial Transactions will be carried on as heretofore at Canton, where our Merchants will be as hitherto at the Mercy of the Chinese; but they will be able to go and build Houses to retire to, in the desert Island of Hong Kong, instead of passing the non-trading Months at Macao. However, it is possible that I may be mistaken in this Matter; and that Hong Kong may secure to us the same trading advantages which we have hitherto enjoyed at Canton, with the additional benefit of Freedom from molestation of Persons or Property. But still you will have failed in obtaining that which was a Capital point in our view; an additional opening for our Trade to the Northward; and that object would have been attained by the retention of Chusan even during the time allowed for the payment of the Instalments of the Money….
- 巴麥尊子爵的而且確說香港是個「荒島」，只不過詞語原文為 "desert island"，而不是 "barren rock"。從信中所見，荒島之說顯然是相對舟山而言。香港開埠之後，英人即統計人口，發現香港全島只有約 4350 居民；就算加埋水上人與外來小販或打工仔，亦不過 7450 人。經濟方面，除了赤柱算是個大市集，其餘村落，莫不是做打漁採石這類採掘業，或有村落有少量農耕。借用近日南海仲裁案中《聯合國海洋法公約》的用語的話，香港島這塊「岩礁」（rock) 大抵也算是能夠「維持人類居住或其本身的經濟生活」(sustain human habitation or economic life of their own) 的島嶼了。相比之下，舟山羣島當時人口卻有十萬，單是面積小香港一半的主島，亦有三萬居民，糧食不僅自足，還有稻米與米酒出口。嚴格來說，稱香港為荒島當然不正確，但正所謂「大雞唔食細米」，對於見慣大場面的英國人而言，一個只得區區七千幾人的貧瘠小島，實在與荒島無異。何況，稱香港為荒島的，大概也只得他罷，其他人一般都只（如實）稱香港為 "barren rock"。