8 Indigo in Hong Kong

Indigo in Hong Kong

 

From the China Mail 1st May 1876.

The Postmaster General has issued the following notification…’The Italian Post Office has complained that, in the mail for the Continent…which left Hongkong on the 20th January, was a sample of Indigo, which became loose and damaged the whole mail…The public are therefore again earnestly begged not to attempt to send dye-stuffs in powder through the Post…’ 
 
James Chan asked where the indigo sent by post from Hong Kong in 1876 might have come from. Hugh Farmer suggested one of three places: Japan, Formosa (Taiwan) or India included in an article in Newsletter 8. However, a chance glance at the index of the following publication, led to  his discovery that indigo plants were indeed grown in Hong Kong. And in several places.

Indigo is a tropical plant cultivated as a source of dark blue dye. James Chan asks: Where did the Indigo used in HK around that time originate?

Hugh Farmer’s research suggests one of three places. He has expanded this information into an article included in Newsletter 8: Indigo Dye and its Production

 Thrower, Stella L. (1984)  Hong Kong Country Parks, Government Printer, Hong Kong

 p88 “In former centuries there were upland villages on the slopes of Tai Mo Shan, now abandoned and lost under encroaching vegetation. In some of these, stone vats have been discovered along the stream banks – presumably these were the containers in which the locally-grown indigo dye was extracted and clothes were dyed. A map compiled in 1903-4 shows the village of Nam Fong To as the highest inhabited place at an altitude of 450 metres, linked by old stone paths to Pat Heung valley to the northwest and, in the opposite direction, to the Shing Mun villages which were sited on the lower slopes of the mountain.”

 p108 “[On] Ma On Shan…flat valley floors, [were] terraced for rice growing, and the steeper hillsides terraced for tea and indigo have now been invaded by grasses and shrubs.”

 p110 “[In the Ma On Shan area] Hakka-speaking people settled the upland valleys and plateaus…because the more fertile and accessible lowlands of the New Territories were taken by the Cantonese settlers. The Hakka people… grew indigo on terraces which they carved on the higher mountain slopes….

The indigo grown by the villagers was used to dye cloth. The plants were pulled up and soaked in water for a week to extract the dye and, in some old villages, the stone vats may still be found along the nearby streams. Lime was added to precipitate the dye which was kept as a paste until needed.”

Locally-grown indigo was made and used until the end of World War 1, when it was replaced by commercial dyes.”

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