The street is named after Adolphus Edward Shelley, an early British colonial administrator. The second son of Sir John Shelley, 6th Baronet, he arrived unemployed in Hong Kong from India in June 1844 with vague recommendation letters from Lord Stanley, the then Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, and soon became Auditor General until 1846. Shelley was described in a private letter by Sir John Francis Davis, the second Governor of Hong Kong, to Lord Grey as "dissipated, in debt, negligent, guilty of falsehood, and quite unfit for the high office". In an 1844 letter to James Matheson, Alexander Matheson described Shelley as a "swindler". He is said to have escaped Hong Kong because of poor investments, and in 1847, he was appointed Assistant Auditor-General of Accounts of Mauritius.
Shelley Street runs uphill from Hollywood Road to Robinson Road in Mid-levels. On the way, it intersects Tsun Wing Lane, Staunton Street, Elgin Street, Caine Road, Leung Fai Terrace, Prince's Terrace, Rednaxela Terrace ("Alexander" spelled backwards), Mosque Street and Mosque Junction.
Until the early 20th century, the area was mostly inhabited by Portuguese people working as clerks in the main British companies. The Club Lusitano, a gathering place of the local Portuguese community, was located in Shelley Street below Caine Road until 1866, when it was moved to its present location at Ice House Street (according to other sources, the Club was located at Shelley Street from December 1866 to 1920).
The Central–Mid-levels escalators opened in 1993.
The lower part of the street is part of the Soho entertainment area and houses a number of restaurants, bars and shops.
The upper part of the street is mostly residential.
- Nicholas Jenkins, "W. H. Auden – 'Family Ghosts'". Adolphus Edward Shelley entry
- Hong Kong's First, Peculiar, Sometimes Dubious, Civil Servants: Adolphus Edward Shelley
- Endacott, G. B. (2005) . A biographical sketch-book of early Hong Kong. Hong Kong University Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-962-209-742-1.
- Lim, Patricia (2011). Forgotten Souls: A Social History of the Hong Kong Cemetery. Hong Kong University Press. pp. 140–141. ISBN 978-962-209-990-6.
- Wordie, Jason (2002). Streets: exploring Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong University Press. pp. 56–60. ISBN 978-962-209-563-2.
- Lim, Patricia (2011). Forgotten Souls: A Social History of the Hong Kong Cemetery. Hong Kong University Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-962-209-990-6.
- Citilife: Crooked Street Names" (archive)
- "Downing Street, 9 February 1847.", Edinburgh Gazette, 12 February 1847
- Toews + Warner Architecture: Club Lusitano
- Bard, Solomon (2002). Voices from the past: Hong Kong, 1842–1918. Hong Kong University Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-962-209-574-8.
- Antiquities and Monuments Office: Jamia Mosque
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