John MacNeile Price, Surveyor General of Hong Kong, the Tai Tam reservoirs

James Chan: While walking around the Tai Tam reservoirs on 11th January 2018 I came across a sign on the Tai Tam Waterworks Heritage Trail, see below, which began:

“Before the 1860s, Hong Kong relied on primitive sources such as wells and streams for its water supply. Although the Pok Fu Lam Reservoir, the first rainwater facility, was enlarged in 1871, its water supply soon proved inadequate. Hong Kong Governor Sir Arthur Kennedy gave the task of finding additional water to his Surveyor-General for public works J.M.Price. In 1873, J.M.Price proposed the bold and imaginative Tai Tam Scheme, by far the grandest water scheme of the day.”

Tai Tam Group Of Reservoirs. Twenty-One structures (Together With The Bowen Road Aqueduct) Make Up The 88th Declared Monument. Valve House And Dam Of The Tai Tam Intermediate Reservoir (1904-1907). Courtesy: Nick Kitto

I, and I presume most people, had never heard of Price before. There’s not much out there about him and a quick search does not bring forth an image of the man, so I am forced to fall back on a wikipedia article to get us going on the subject.

John MacNeile Price, FGS, FRGS was the Surveyor General of Hong Kong.

Price was the first qualified and competent Surveyor in Hong Kong’s history from 1873 to 1889. He was conversant with electrical engineering developments both in Europe and America. He met with Layton and Wickham from the Hongkong Electric Company to develop electricity in the colony. As a result, the government offered $19,000 for fifty arc lamps and pumping water up to the houses on the Peak.

Price was also responsible for the redrew [sic reviving of?]the proposal of the Hong Kong Observatory  which [when  Major HS Palmer’s initial proposal was rejected on the ground of cost in 1881. Price proposed the revised proposal to the Secretary of State for the Colonies  in London in 1882. His plan was approved…and construction started in 1883.[2] As the Surveyor General, Price was also appointed member of the Executive Council and Legislative Council on 11 December 1876. He was also Honorary Chairman of the Sanitary Board, [member of the board 1883-1889],when it was first established in 1883.

He sued the Robert Fraser-Smith, founder of the Hongkong Telegraph in November 1883 who accused him of jobbery [sic?] and corruption but lost the case.” (1)


  1. John MacNeile Price biography wikipedia


  1. The Tai Tam Waterworks Heritage Trail

This article was first posted on 13th January 2018.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Tai Tam Upper Reservoir – Historic Building Appraisal
  2. Tai Tam Water Works – 1885 HK Government Report
  3. The Tai Tam Reservoirs – recent photographs

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