The Hong Kong Electric Company – 1889 to the decommissioning of Ap Lei Chau Power station in 1989

HF: The following information comes from a variety of sources.

IDJ has kindly sent several of the images.

Following a meeting of the Executive Council to discuss land reclamation, Bendyshe Layton a British businessman and member of the Legislative Council, suggested to Sir Catchick Paul Chater that Hong Kong acquire an electricity generator.

Chater, who was to remain a director of the new Hong Kong Electric Company for 37 years, took charge of raising finance for the project. The company was incorporated in 1889. The total capital of $300,000 being divided into 30,000 shares, half of which were offered to the public.

As a result the first power station in Hong Kong was secretly built on, (or near according to the extract below), the site of an old graveyard in Star Street, Wanchai and opened in 1890. The plant was designed by electrical engineer William Wickham who subsequently remained its manager until 1910. Initial installed capacity was 100kw (another source says 50kw.)

The following has been extracted from “Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong…:

Hong Kong Electric Co - from_20th_Century_Impressions_bookAt 6:00 p.m. on December 1, 1890, 50 street lights along Queen’s Road Central, Battery Path and Upper Albert Road were switched on. The lights failed on the second night then again one week later. Thereafter there were no further faults for 26 years.

The power station was built in “colonial architectural style” and after decommissioning in 1922 was later demolished.

Street lighting was later extended west as far as Bonham Strand and Caine Road then later along Queens Road East and Wanchai Road to Mission Hospital Hill (site of the present Ruttonjee Hospital).

In the 1890s, as electricity became popular, the first private houses were connected to the company’s supply to power lights and fans. On the commercial front, a substation was built in 1898 to service the lifts of the new tall buildings mushrooming along the waterfront. By 1905 the company was supplying power for 15 lifts, thousands of lamps as well as for street lighting.

Hong Kong Electric Wanchai Light_Works-1909-highlighted

The “Electric Light Works” highlighted, Wanchai 1909 Courtesy: IDJ

The power grid was extended underground to West Point then later to Victoris Peak and Shau Kei Wan. By 1916, Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau were also connected. One by one large organisations like Dairy Farm, Taikoo Docks, the Peak Tram and the University of Hong Kong which had formerly generated their own supplies, switched to the company’s supply. In 1924 there were 1,369 street lamps lit by gas with only 469 powered by electricity.

HEC’s second power plant, North Point Power Station, started operation in 1919. There was actually a series of power plants built between then and 1966. The site is now home to City Garden residential apartments and Maxim Mall.

The original North Point Power Station (A) was a 3,000KW coal-fired generating station.

Hong Kong Electric -North_Point_Power_Station-1920s

North Point Power Station, 1920s Courtesy: IDJ

Hong Kong Electric North_Point_Power_Station-circ_1930s

North Point Power Station c1930s Courtesy: IDJ

During the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in December 1941, a number of staff at the North Point power plant held the Japanese at bay in an epic defence. Casualties from the battle included the plant’s manager Vincent Sorby, who died in a prison camp of wounds received during the attack.

North Point Power Station under attack during the Jap invasion

“The Battle of Hong Kong- Hong Kong under the camera of the Japanese Army” Exhibition, Hong Kong Museum of History, 2002 Mainichi Newpaper, Japan

IDJ adds, This aerial image of 1948 which incudes the HEC North Point Power Station with its four chimneys shown in the above image, has additional interest as it also shows an large oil tanker unloading at what is presumably “Oil Street” which still exists, and the large oil storage tanks further over about where the Fortress Hill MTR Station is. Also a reservoir can be seen at the top of the slope above North Point. It would appear that squatter huts heavily populated the slopes above North Point/Causeway Bay even in 1948.

 

Hong Kong Electric 1948-HKE_power_station-oil_tanker_unloading-oil_tankfarms-reservior_top_of_hill

North Point 1948 Courtesy: IDJ

Hong Kong Electric -North_Point_Power_Station-Turbine_Generator_Hall-1955

North Point Power Station, Turbine Generator Hall, 1955 Courtesy: IDJ

North Point Power Station (B)  was 30MW also coal-fired and opened in 1958 closing in 1989.

Hong Kong Electric-North_Point_'B'_Power_Station-Electrical_Control_Room-1960s

North Point ‘B’ Power Station, Electrical Control Room, 1960s Courtesy: IDJ

Hong Kong Electric North_Point_'B'_Power_Station-Turbine_Hall-1960s

North Point ‘B’ Power Station, Turbine Hall, 1960s Courtsey: IDJ

North Point Power Station (C) was 60MW and oil-fired opening in 1966 and decommissioned in 1989.

Hong Kong Electric-North_Point_Power_Stations-1970s

North Point Power Stations, 1970s Courtesy: IDJ

The oil-fired Ap Lei Chau Power Station which was the third power station of the Company, was commissioned in 1968 and produced 750MW.  The plant was decommissioned in 1989 though between 1984 and that year its generators had been moved to Lamma Power Station. The remaining HEC building is now surrounded by the South Horizon housing estate.

Hong Kong Electric Ap Lei Chau Power Station 1971

Ap Lei Chau Power Station. 1971

And so to Lamma Power Station located at a 50-hectare site at Po Lo Tsui at Lamma Island, which was gazetted and granted by the Hong Kong Government to the Company in December 1978….

Sources:

  1. Source: Wright, Arnold, : Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and Other Treaty Ports of China: Their History. People, Commerce, Industries, and Resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Publishing Company, Ltd., 1908.
  2. HEC – wikipedia

See:

  1. A Mountain Of Light: The story of the Hongkong Electric Company, Austin Coates, Heinemann, 1977
  2. HEC’s website 

2 Comments

  • Derek Sloan

    What a wonderful site, my Dad worked for HKE his whole life, apprenticed then evetually became senior shift charge engineer. He was capyured at North Point power station by the Japanese and spent the war in a POW at Narumi in Japan. Returned to work post war and reconnected with his sweetheart and got maried. My brother sister and I were born in HK and lived first at Causewayhill then at the power station then at Cavendish Heights. He retired in 1968 and moved to live in Largs in Scotland until his death.

    • Hello Derek

      Very good to hear from you. I wonder if you could tell me your father’s full name? There are several websites dedicated to the Battle for HK, the Japanese occupation and what happened to POWs.

      It would be of great interest to learn a few more details about his working life at Hong Kong Electric.

      If you would prefer to contact me by email you can do so at: indhhk [at] gmail {dot) com

      Hugh Farmer

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