Night soil collection in Hong Kong – honey buckets…information needed

Night Soil Collection undated S.pore www.gov.sg snipped

Singapore – undated. Courtesy: www.gov.sg

IDJ wrote in reponse to the article, Worst (industrial) job in Hong Kong, – naturally Night Soil Collector.

This task went on certainly during my time in HK primarily servicing Western District’s old properties with no drains or sewage pipe-work. I recall it was all dumped into barges at Kennedy Town and taken out to sea for dumping. You could smell the stench from the barges from the inter-island ferries. Most of these properties were swept away by the forced urban renewals of large areas in the 1980s and 90s.

Possibly Yaumati going north still had night soil collections but I don’t particularly recall those.

I don’t remember if urban night soil was used as fertiliser on New Territories farms. I think it was just gathered locally. The practise of spreading it on fields was quite common just over the border much to the chagrin of many Gwaipors when they found out where their local and supermarket lettuce and vegetable purchases had originated.

Honey-bucket – A latrine-receptable for excreta: Military: from 1914…probably earlier, and certainly later, eg in the Far East, especially in Hong Kong where the night-soil is still, 1980, removed from older dwellings by municipally-employed ‘honey-bucket women’. (1)

After the war, the Lai family continued to live in Queen’s Road East. The flat only had a kitchen but no washroom. The residents took a bath took baths or emptied their bowels at a corner of the kitchen behind a curtain. At midnight, someone would come for the night soil collection which was commonly known as ‘emptying the honey bucket’. The honey bucket was shared by different households but each had their own spittoons. (2)

Can you help?

a) Hong Kong has apparently a euphemism for night soil, 倒夜香, which literally means “pour night fragrant”. Can a Chinese reader kindly confirm this?
b) And can someone supply an image(s) of night soil collection/disposal in Hong Kong?
c) The Singapore Government informs us: The last night soil bucket was carried in January 1987. Nearly 6,500 night soil bucket latrines still existed in Singapore in 1975. By the mid-eighties, 90% of homes in the new housing estates were fitted with modern sanitation. The last night soil bucket was cleared in January 1987, and the system was eventually phased out.  

And Hong Kong? Can you expand on what IDJ told us at the beginning of this article?

Sources:

  1. Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, was originally compiled by the noted lexicographer of the English language,Eric Partridge. The first edition was published in 1937. Many further editions have since been published. and seven editions were eventually published by Partridge.
  2. Lai Yiu Kai, retired fabrics quality control recalls for the HK Memory Project
Related Indhhk articles:
  1. “Worst industrial jobs in UK’s history” – Hong Kong’s own list?
  2. Hand-dug Caisson excavation in Hong Kong – worst recent construction job? – banned 1995

 

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