History of Mapping Hong Kong Part 5 – Mapping Kowloon

Tymon Mellor: With Britain’s acquisition of Kowloon under the Peking Convention in 1860, new maps were required for the territory. The Public Works Department (PWD) did not have any surveyors experienced in map making, their previous experience being limited to the setting out of building lots. It would fall to the military, in the form of the Royal Engineers to step in and prepare the necessary maps.


At a solemn ceremony on the 19th January 1861, in the presence of a large crowd and some 2,000 British troops, a Cantonese Mandarin delivered a paper full of soil to Lord Elgin as a token of the cession of the Kowloon peninsula to the Queen. The royal standard was hoisted amid the cheers of the crowd and the thunders of gun salutes fired by the men-of-war ships in the harbour and by a battery on Stonecutters’ Island[1].

Map From the Kowloon Peninsula Deed of Lease 20 March 1860

The British Government in March 1860 proposed a military occupation of Kowloon while the Governor Sir H Robinson proposed a civilian occupation by renting the land from the Cantonese Viceroy, Lao Tsung Kwong. While discussions continued, with the backing of the HK Government, Kowloon had already been used as a camping ground by civilians since the previous month, February, 1860 as it was considered to be an open and healthy spot.

On the 20tht March, 1860 a lease on the peninsula was granted by Viceroy Lao for an annual fee of five hundred teals of silver. Three days later, notice was given to the inhabitants that no further settlers would be allowed, while existing residents would be protected and outlaws would be driven away. The land was immediately occupied by the military, initially establishing camps[2] while permanent barracks were being erected.

With the signing of the Peking Convention of the 24th October 1860, the lease arrangement was cancelled and the Kowloon peninsula was ceded to the British. Under the terms of the convention, the Governor Sir Hercules Robson set up a commission to address land claims. The “Mixed Commission” was charged with resolving land issues and awarding payments to any Chinese if their land was required for government or military purposes[3].

Thus, the first action was to establish the boundary of the new colony and to prepare a map. Mr Bird of the Royal Engineers marked out the boundary and surveyed the whole of the peninsula in preparation of allocating land to the military and civilian Government. A Board was set up by the Governor Sir Hercules Robinson to allocate the new land, and the military saw an opportunity to establish a major base on the southern peninsula. The Board consisted of C S G Cleverly, the Surveyor general to represent the civil government, Colonel Mann, RE for the army, and Captain Borlase RN for the Admiralty. By March 1861 they could not come to any agreement and guidance was sort from London.

Mr Birds map of 1861 signed by members of the Board[4]

It would take until 1864 for London to resolve the land allocation, with the military authorities achieving their goal of being allocated a significant portion of the land. With the allocation resolved, land sales of 26 marine and 39 inland lots commenced in late July 1864.

A number of maps were published over the next 30 years, depicting the Kowloon peninsula along with the urban development and land ownership. However, the level of detail was limited and the scale was unsuitable for engineering purposes.

By 1890 with all the new developments and the need for public utilities to serve them, the PWD was concerned that a new map was required for the territory, “The want of a complete survey of the Colony is one of our greatest needs”[5]. This would result in a new survey of the Kowloon Peninsula in 1894, plotted at a scale of 1:2500 with enlarged plans for the villages.[6] This survey was subsequently utilised in 1896 for the design of the new water supply and distribution network, then again in 1901 in the form of five sheets for land planning and public use.

Extract from 1901 Map of Kowloon[7]

Acquisition of the New Territories

Following the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory between the British and Chinese authorities of the 9th June 1898, the Colony of Hongkong was extended northwards into what became known as the New Territories. Three issues were key to the negotiations relating to, Kowloon City, the location of the northern boundary of the leased territory, and, the collection of opium duties[8].

The agreement included a map of the extended colony with just a straight line connecting Deep Bay to Mirs Bay. The detail of the exact boundary would be agreed on site by representatives of each party.

Map of the Hong Kong Extension, Appendix 1 of the Agreement (1898)

James Stewart Lockhart, the Colonial Secretary was appointed Special Commissioner for the New Territory and tasked to address the boundary issue. His view was that the boundary should be moved north to the range of hills north of Sham Chun. This would ensure that the major commercial and administrative town of Sham Chun (Shenzhen) would come under British control, and the range of hills provided easy defence[9].

Boundary Survey March 1899

The proposal was rejected by the Chinese representative Wong Ts’un-Shin(王存善), the representative of the Viceroy at Canton. In March 1899 it was agreed that the northern bank of the Sham Chun River would be the boundary between Britain and China and on the 17th March, 1899 a party of British and Chinese representatives undertook to delimit the new boundary. Starting at Starling Inlet, the party spent two days walking the route and agreeing the boundary before signing a memorandum defining the boundary, along with a sketch map provided by Mr Ormsby the Director of Public Works based on the Map of San On District, the only map available at the time.

Sketch Map of the Boarder Based on the Map of the San On District

In 1905 it was considered “desirable to define the Anglo-Chinese Boundary”[10] between Sha Tau Kok and Lin Ma Hang. Twenty stones were established along the frontier at key locations, shown on a survey plan of 1927. It would seem many of the stones were lost during the Pacific War.

Hong Kong, stone boundary marker between mainland China and British-controlled area - AGSL Digital Photo Archive - Asia and Middle East - UWM Libraries Digital Collections

Boundary Stone 8A, north end of Chung Ying Street although the source suggests Lo Wu

Part Plan Showing the Positions of Boundary Stones of the Anglo-Chinese Frontier (1927)

Need for a New Map

The 17th April 1899 was set as the date when the British flag would be formally hoisted and the New Territories would become part of the British colony to be administered by the Colonial Government[11]. With the new frontier established, the next priority was to establish “the land under cultivation should be surveyed as quickly as possible”[12]. The Government had no resources to undertake the work however, and so it was time to implement the first skilled labour import scheme and recruit experienced Indian surveyors.



  1. Europe in China, The History of Hongkong from the Beginning to the Year 1882, E J Eitel, 1895
  2. Allied Camp at Kowloon, National Library of Australia, https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/342101
  3. Europe in China, The History of Hongkong from the Beginning to the Year 1882, E J Eitel, 1895
  4. The National Archive, MFQ 1/1050 https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C8955498
  5. Report on the Operations on the Public Works for the Year 1890
  6. Report of the Director of Public Works For 1894
  7. The National Archive, CO 700/HongKongandChina14, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C3476976
  8. Extracts From Papers Relating to the Extension of the Colony of Hongkong, 6th Jan 1899
  9. The Anglo-Chinese Boundary 1898, Klaus Liphard, 2021, https://gwulo.com/node/55180
  10. Report of the Director of Public Works, For the year 1905
  11. Appendix No IX, Supplement to the Hongkong Government Gazette, 28th April 1900
  12. Report By Mr Stewart Lockhart On The Extension Of The Colony of Hong Kong, 8 Oct 1898

This article was first posted on 2nd June 2024.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Mapping Hong Kong Part 1 – Where Are We?
  2. Mapping of Hong Kong Part 2 – 1841 The Belcher Map
  3. Mapping of Hong Kong Part 3 – 1845 The Collinson Map
  4. Mapping Hong Kong Part 4 – 1866 Map of San On District

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