The Aerial Ropeway (1891-1932) and Sanitarium (1893-1932) of the Taikoo Sugar Refinery

Jennifer Field Lang:

Taikoo Sugar - Ropeway.Sanitorium Jennifer Field Lang article image aAerial Ropeway circa 1911 at the gap on Mount Parker looking down the valley towards the Taikoo Sugar Refinery and Aldrich Bay (Source: Historic Photographs of China, G. Warren Swire Collection, University of Bristol, Image # 20390). 

In 1891, a 2.3-kilometer long aerial ropeway was constructed from a location near the Taikoo Sugar Refinery (approximately located at today’s intersection of King’s Road and Yau Man Street)[1] in Quarry Bay up the Taikoo Valley to Quarry Gap (also known as Sanitarium Gap).  Quarry Gap, the high pass between Mount Parker and Mount Butler at approximately 1000 feet above sea level, was the site of the Taikoo Sanitarium.  The Taikoo Sanitarium contained blocks of flat apartments for Taikoo Sugar Refinery and Taikoo Dockyards upper management and family to use during the hotter months of the year in order to escape Hong Kong’s heat and disease.

The English firm Bullivant constructed the aerial ropeway at a cost of 5,000.00 British Pounds.[2]  The aerial ropeway was composed of steel lattice towers with a single overhead cable along which a two-wheeled track ran with two open suspended ‘traveling carriages’ (a double seat with passenger seating for six, back-to-back) operating on a counterweight system and powered by a steam engine winding winch located at the lower terminal.[3]  The suspended carriages moved along the rope at a maximum speed of 8 miles per hour.  Although constructed after the 1888 Peak Tram[4] (the funicular railway that runs on wheels scaling Victoria Peak), the Taikoo ropeway was Hong Kong’s first aerial ropeway, and an early example of a private aerial ropeway.[5]  Providing a type of commuter transportation between the refinery and the Sanitarium at Mount Parker during the seasonal months during which the Sanitarium was open, the aerial ropeway operated from 6:00 am to midnight.[6]  The aerial ropeway is indicated by a dotted line on an 1896 tourist guide map of Hong Kong.[7]

The Sanitarium, built in 1893, originally consisted of two blocks of three-story residential apartments located on Mount Parker and were accessed via the aerial ropeway or by hiking up the valley to Mount Parker, and provided cool and sanitary housing for Taikoo Sugar Refinery senior management and families during the hot months of the year.  In the later part of the 19th century, Hong Kong experienced many outbreaks of the plague and other epidemics such as cholera and typhus; during the summer of 1894 an outbreak of bubonic plague swept across Hong Kong and Southern China killing thousands. The construction of the Sanitarium housing blocks on Mount Parker for senior management and their families (many of whom were European) was a direct response to these epidemics. Taikoo Sugar - Ropeway.Sanitorium Jennifer Field Lang article image b

View of the Taikoo Sanitarium circa 1890s before the construction of the addition linking the two end blocks together in 1911 (Source: Hong Kong History Museum, Image # P1967.8).

Taikoo Sugar - View of the Taikoo Sanitarium circa 1911

View of the Taikoo Sanitarium circa 1911 at the gap of Mount Park showing the addition in the middle section linking the original two end buildings together (Source: Historic Photographs of China, G. Warren Swire Collection, University of Bristol, Image # 19727).

as well as to sanitary, drainage and fetid air conditions in Hong Kong.  Not until 1895 did French and Japanese researchers identify the cause of bubonic plague as a bacillus transmitted by rat-fleas.[8]  Those Hong Kong residents who were able sought relief in the clean air of the mountains where the temperature was several degrees cooler than the air below, and an area of the Peak in Hong Kong was developed as a type of hill station.

The Sanitarium buildings originally consisted of two, end-adjacent, three-story rectangular shaped flat roofed residential buildings constructed of red brick with granite detail at the arched segmental windows and cornices.  The two buildings were located on stone foundations with supporting sloping brick buttresses (on the Quarry Bay elevation), with a terrace area separating the two structures. The original two Sanitarium building footprints and name “Tai Koo Sanitarium” are indicated on an 1896 tourist guide map of Hong Kong.  Additionally, this tourist guide recommends specific programs for visiting Hong Kong, and details of this area in Programme No. 7 is described as:

“Proceed by ricksha to Bay View (the name of a building that stood where the Tin Hau MTR is located today), as the road is too long and uninteresting up to this point, thence walk to Quarry Bay, where, after having passed the entrance to the Sugar Refinery, about one hundred yards further on, just before crossing a bridge, you will see on your right hand, the pathway up the hill (today’s Mount Parker Road).  Something under one hour should bring you to the top, which is only a gap about 1,000 above sea level.  Here are the Sanitarium buildings of the Taikoo Sugar Refinery, Messers. Butterfield & Swire…”  [9]

In order to accommodate additional Taikoo Dockyard staff, in 1911 a four-story addition, designed in the same style and materials as the original two blocks was constructed on the terrace between the original two blocks, making one large symmetrical rectangular building with a higher center section.  The interiors of the building(s) were divided into large, high-ceilinged apartments.  Although by 1892 the Taikoo Village below featured electrification, the Sanitarium buildings were never electrified; oil lamps provided internal lighting.[10]  By 1932, both the Sanitarium building and the aerial ropeway were demolished presumably because the plague was no longer a concern in Hong Kong.

This article was first posted on 11th December 2014.

[1] See “Taikoo’s Mountain Retreat,” Swire News, January 1998, pages 30-32.
[2] See F.A. Talbot, “Aerial Mountain Railways.”  Railway Wonders of the World.  London: Cassell, 1914.|
[3] See “A Marvelous Machine,” Swire News, Issue 3 (September 27, 2000): 22.
[4] The Peak Tram was developed by Scotsman Alexander Findlay Smith who had previously worked for Scotland’s Highland Railway, and who opened the Peak Hotel in 1873.  Smith was interested in developing more business (and easier access) to the hotel.  See Past and Present, the Quarterly Newsletter for the Hong Kong Heritage Project, No. 3, 2014.
[5] See F.A. Talbot, “Aerial Mountain Railways.” Railway Wonders of the World.  London: Cassell, 1914.
[6]See “Taikoo’s Mountain Retreat,” Swire News, Issue 1 (January 1998): 30-32.
[7] See Hal Empson, Mapping Hong Kong: A Historical Atlas.  Hong Kong: Government Information Services, 1992, Plate 7.1, page 234, “The Tourist Guide to Hong Kong with Short Trips to the Mainland of China.”
[8]See “Taikoo’s Mountain Retreat,” Swire News, Issue 1 (January 1998): 30-32.
[9] See Hal Empson, Mapping Hong Kong: A Historical Atlas.  Hong Kong: Government Information Services, 1992, Plate 7.1, page 234 and 235 “The Tourist Guide to Hong Kong with Short Trips to the Mainland of China.”
[10] See “Taikoo’s Mountain Retreat,” Swire News, Issue 1 (January 1998): 30-32.

See: http://battleforhongkong.blogspot.hk/2014/11/battle-for-hong-kong-walk-through.html Philip Cracknell’s account of the Japanese landing on HK Island on the night of 18/19th December 1941 including seizing “Sanatorium Gap” and some details about the Sanatorium itself and the cable system.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Tai Koo Sugar Refinery – The Aerial Ropeway – further image
  2. The Taikoo Sugar Refinery
  3. Dr Ferdinand Korn, Tai Koo Sugar and a case of the ‘British disease’?
  4. Tai Koo Sugar Refinery during WW2 (HK Sugar Refinery)

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