The History of Quarrying in Hong Kong 1840-1940, 2012 article

HF: This Report of the project “The history of quarrying in Hong Kong 1840 – 1940” is supported by the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust. It was written by SW Poon and KY Ma and published in 2012.

The report is divided into the following sub headings. I have extracted the first paragraph of each section, omitting references, to give you an idea of what each contains:

Pre-1841

The history of quarrying in Hong Kong can be traced to as early as 1810, when the stonemasons of East Kowloon were persuaded by a member of the Tang family of Kam Tin to cut stones for the construction of a fort in Kowloon at low wages, in order to guard against pirates who were then particularly troublesome in local waters.

Early Quarrying Days

According to the census published in May 1841, 7 there were 1,655 masons in Hong Kong, accounting for about 22% of the population of 7,450 people. 3 The same statistics showed that there were six quarry villages.

The Friends of China wrote on 24 March 1842 that there were one mason shop and 380 mason workers.

The Collinson’s Survey of 1843-45 also showed that the coast was marked with quarries all the way from Quarry Bay through Quarry Point to Ah Kung Nam, with a few houses for the quarry workers. There can be no doubt that quarrying was the dominant economic activity of the whole north-east coast of Hong Kong.

System of Leasing Quarries through Tendering or Public Auction

The operation of quarries has been based on a system of leasing from the government through tendering or public auction. It is believed that the first public auction or tendering for lease of quarry farm was in 1844 when the whole of Hong Kong Quarry was leased under one contract. When the British took over Kowloon in 1862, the auction or tendering for stone quarry was held separately for Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

Lease Conditions and Related Laws

The contract signed in 1850 indicated that public auction had been held at the Chief Magistrate Office for the license, and two conditions were laid down in the contract. The Surveyor General was delegated the power to prohibit quarrying in areas where public inconvenience, safety or otherwise occurred. Secondly, the farmer of the stone quarry should keep in good order and repair that line of road in the immediate vicinity of the quarry on which stone may be carried, dragged, or otherwise transported, failing which the Surveyor General would hire men and make the necessary repairs, the cost of which to be borne by the farmer.

The Quarrying Industry

The Blue Book of the Hong Kong Government reported on the status of the quarrying industry in 1848-1860, as follows:- “The revenue for stone quarry licence was around $3,000 from 1846 to 1850. In 1846, the average daily income of workers in Hong Kong was 7 pence, stone cutter’s average income was 1 shilling and 41/2 pence which was the highest paid during this period. The number of stone masons in Shou-ke-wan and A-Keong-nam was 75 out of 96 people in the village; in Tai Shek hang, the number of stone cutters was 5 out of 9 people in the village; in Tsut Sze Mui the number of stone cutters was 12 out of 15 people in the village; and in Soo Koan Poon, the number of stone cutters was 2 out of 24 people in the village. Tsut Sze Mui joined the list of quarries in 1847 making a total of seven quarries on the island. In the same year, there were 70 tons of granite stone exported to India . There was export of granite stone to San Franciso and South China in 1851 and 1852. In 1853, it was reported that there was 31.4 tons of granite stone exported to New South Wales and 324 tons to USA. In 1854 and 1855, granite stone was exported to New South Wales and USA, but also to South 11 China Coast and Siam in as much as 500 tons. The export of granite stone continued in 1856. The number of quarries in Shou-ke-wan and Shek Tong Tsui was increased to 11 and 8 respectively in 1859.”

Changes of Construction Technology

The development of the quarrying industry over the years has seen advancements in the use of machinery, the use of dynamite for blasting rocks, and the use of new construction materials. Machinery Edward Aldrich, Royal Engineer in Hong Kong, wrote about the erection of the Ordinance Building (now Murray Building) in 1846 :- “… Chinese are very ignorant of the value of machinery, and are very averse to its use. …… There has been no difficulty in inducing the Chinese to handle a truck and devil’s carriage for the transport of large stones and timber. When first applied, a Chinaman fell from the shaft, and the wheel passing over his body, crushed him to death. ….. Superstitious and deterred them from touching it again for several months. …… 462 large granite columns were carried by manual labour, 36 men carried 38.5 cwt. for half a mile in position.“

The Practice of Quarrying

People working in the quarry were local Chinese who had set up their own way of management and rules. Their houses were their homes and the quarry was their society. Besides masons, the other profession found was blacksmiths who had to take the routine repair of the sharp cutter, hammer and spade. As all dressing must be done in the quarry, the stone polisher was the skilled artisan living in the quarry. A small independent society was thus formed in the early days.

The Guilds

The Stone Cutter Guilds in Canton (Guangzhou) in the middle of the nineteenth century was a much disciplined organization and the influx of masons from the mainland also brought in this culture. Though there was no detailed record of mason guilds during this period, but from what England and Rear noted in 1857, the Hong Kong government had made the following instruction:- “Whereas, according to law in England, every tradesmen is at liberty to perform his work at whatever rate of remuneration it seems good to himself to accept, and all combinations for the control of such liberty are illegal: this is therefore to give notice that any persons found to be interfering as above with the freedom of trade will be prosecuted by Government.”

Conclusion

The practice of quarrying in Hong Kong can be roughly classified into three periods for the first hundred years. It has been led by government 20 policy all the way through but with diminishing influence. It was greatly affected by the special large projects committed by the government, when machinery and technology were brought in during the second period. It maintained its labour intensive characteristic before the Second World War, which laid a firm foundation for the post war development. The improvement of technology such as the invention of rubber, electricity, dynamite, the use of concrete and reinforced concrete construction, and the use of tar for road works made the stone products change from massive products to aggregates. Local made granite was one of the earliest products that Hong Kong exported to other parts of the world.

The image shown on the Home Page does not come from the report and is of Anderson Road quarry.

SourceThe History of Quarrying in Hong Kong 1840-1940, Poon, SW & Ma, KY, Hong Kong: Lord Wilson Heritage Trust. 2012

See: The Lord Wilson Heritage Trust: Background and Objectives The Lord Wilson Heritage Trust was established in December 1992, following the enactment of the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust Ordinance (Cap 425), to provide an opportunity for the community to express its appreciation of the contribution made to Hong Kong by Lord Wilson during his term as Governor of Hong Kong, and to join hands to promote the preservation and conservation of Hong Kong’s heritage.

The Trust aims to preserve and conserve the human heritage of Hong Kong by any or all of the following means:

  • the identification, restoration and refurbishment of relics, antiquities and monuments and of other historical, archaeological and palaeontological objects, sites or structures in Hong Kong;
  • the provision of facilities at antiquities and monuments and at historical and archaeological sites or structures in order to assist public access to and appreciation of such sites or structures;
  • the aural, visual and written recording of sites of historic interest, traditional ceremonies and other aspects of the human heritage of Hong Kong;
  • the publication of books, papers and periodicals, and the production of tapes, discs and other articles relating to the objects of the Trust;
  • the holding of exhibitions and conferences relating to the objects of the Trust;
  • educational activities which will increase public awareness of and interest in the human heritage of Hong Kong; and
  • any other activities which will promote the objects of the Trust.

This website has many articles about individual quarries and quarrying in general in Hong Kong. These are all listed in our Index.

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