Manganese mining on Lamma Island

Tymon Mellor: In 1952 an application was approved for a Temporary Mining Licence number 18 on the Island of Lamma for the exploitation of Manganese. On the hillside above the village of Mo Tat a number of adits were excavated but no commercial quantities of the mineral were discovered.

This article describes the abandoned mine workings on Lamma. The current condition of the workings is extremely dangerous with unsupported tunnels. The workings should not be entered.

Lamma Mining Area

The Application

In June 1952, a Miss Chan For Mui of 58 Kennedy Road made an application for a mining licence covering an area of 19 acres on Lamma for the mining of Manganese ore. This is the only known instance of a mining application for manganese ore in Hong Kong. Why the applicant suspected the ore was present is not recorded in the achive records[i], but given the extent of the works it is clear that something was found.

Miss Chan was the owner of two zinc oxide factories, the Kwang Wah in Shau Ki Wan and the Kin Shung in Kennedy Town, manufacturing the chemical for the local market. With the drop in market value in December 1951 she wished to find alternative employment for her workers. The mining operation would provide the existing workers with employment.

With the support of her uncle Mr Chan Yat Sum, she had HK$80,000 in capital for the enterprise and had already received quotes from the UK for the supply of mining machinery. She proposed to invest HK$3,000 setting up the site and equipment.

Slide1

Approval of a six month Temporary Mining Licence was approved by the Executive Council on the 11th July, 1952. In December 1952 Miss Chan requested a further 6 month extension to the licence to continue development of the site. In response to the request, the District Commissioner of the New Territories endorsed the proposal provided that the “licensee undertakes to fill in pits no longer used”. There was concern that the excavated soil would wash down the hillside onto the fields below. The Commissioner further noted, “This is very much a one-horse show and the supervisor on the spot informs us that only a handful of people will ever be employed. I very much doubt whether it will develop into anything beyond indiscriminate picking of the surfaces”.

During discussion on the application, the Colonial Secretary, Mr B D Wilson revealed, “I understand that Miss Chan For Mui is not a maiden lady but is in reality Mrs Cox”. The licence was extended at the Executive Council meeting on the 11th February 1953 and again on the 21st August 1953, 14th February 1954 and 12th July 1954. With the expiry of the licence in February 1955 no further renewals were requested and the licence was cancelled.

The Geology

The mine is located in an area of Lantau Granite, close to an intrusion of Quartz Monzonite and a major fault. At the time of the mining application, this information had not been documented, whereas the first book, The Geology of Hong Kong by Professor S G Davis, containing a geological map was published in the 1953. Commercially workable Manganese ore deposits are ordinarily of a secondary origin, that is having being concentrated through the weathering of Manganese minerals sparsely distributed within igneous rocks, such as basalt. Through a process of hydrothermal fluids penetrating the natural rock, the Manganese deposits are formed as the fluids cool. These deposits are normally associated with iron deposits with the Manganese being located within adjacent sedimentary rock. This is not the geological condition in Lamma.

It is not clear how or why Miss Chan thought Manganese may be present on this site, but there may have been earlier excavations associated with the war time tunnels that exposed rocks of interest or possible villagers’ anecdotal stories. But as a woman who worked with chemicals, she would have been aware of the value of the mineral.

The Workings

The exact location of the mine works have not previously been identified. However, the book Hong Kong Minerals by C J Peng includes a map indicating the prospecting for Wolframite was identified near Sok Kwu Wan and abandoned mining activity near Mau Tat is referenced in the 1955 Southern District Offices Report. These are probably reference to the same workings.

Slide3

Lamma Island includes numerous Japanese military tunnels, complicating the identification of mining workings. A detailed review of the 1963 aerial photos of the site indicated a number of possible adits within the allocated mining area. A visit to the area located four entrances and associated tunnel workings.

Unlike the Japanese military tunnels, the mining adits are within rock and follow the geology. They are in poor condition so do not try to enter. The workings seem to relate to an existing quartz intrusion but it is not clear what was being mined.

Slide5

More information on the site visit can be found at Egg Studio.

Post Script

The Lamma mining operation was described as a labour protection scheme, looking for a mineral that you would not expect to find at the location. An alternative theory could be that it was an operation to mine the highly valuable Wolframite (Tungsten) that was being illegally extracted all over Hong Kong at the time. Given that the mining operation lasted for two and half years, it suggests that something of value was located. The original goal may have been Manganese, but possibly, they found enough Wolframite to keep a small workforce commercially engaged until the price dropped in 1955.

[i] Temporary Mining Licence No 018 for an area at Pok Mui Chau NT Hong Kong Public Records Office 156-1-3053

This article was first posted on 28th October 2020.

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  2. Lamma Island Power Station – reasons for choice of location
  3. Lamma Island incense timber theft arrests
  4. Mystery buildings at Lo So Shing beach, Lamma Island
  5. Japanese suicide boats – end of occupation, WW2 – Lamma Island and elsewhere

4 Comments

  • Vincent

    Hi Tymon,

    Your work is really impressive.

    Prof. Davis’s point of view is making sense to me.
    Moreover, underground mining is not commonly applied for manganese ore.

    In fact, in 1950’s, the tungsten prices rocketed which would be the primary target for owner. By claiming the manganese operation, the owner was beneficed to pay less royalty or tax to the Hong Kong government.

    Any idea on mining Tax/ Royalty of Hong Kong in the past?

    Cheers,
    Vincent

  • Vincent, thanks for your comment. As for the revenue from mining I have been researching information on the broader HK mining operations, that would then allow the royalties to be calculated. Under the 1907 Mining Regulations, a royalty of 5% was identified, after the war it seems to be a little more at the discretion of the Government.
    Tymon

  • Vincent

    Hi Tymon,

    You and your team research capability is super!
    As far as i know, nowsaday, the royalty % is various depends on the types of mineral mined out in other country.
    May be this happened in Hong Kong during 1950’s.

    BTW, Usually, the British mining law system is usually stated clearly.
    It is interesting, “after the war it seems to be a little more at the discretion of the Government”? Do you know what is the cause of the discretion?

    Vincent

  • Tymon Mellor

    Vincent, the 1907 regulations provided for a Royalty “at a rate not exceeding 5 per cent”. However, the Government recognised that some mines were more expensive to develop/operate than others. Thus in a 1946 Policy paper (Ref HKPRS 896-1-7) this was revised to a principle of “flexible form of taxation” to reflect the difference in extraction costs.
    Thus:
    “A “flexible form of taxation” is recommended in order that the operating company may be able to
    afford the expense of (b) [labour costs and facilities] above when extraction costs are high and that they shall pay proportionately more when extraction costs are low.”

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