Ma On Shan Iron Mine 1906-1976 – biggest mine in HK – further information

HF: This article is the result of several people’s research into Ma On Shan Iron Mine.

If you can provide further information about this or any other mine, quarry or dredging activity please email me at:
indhhk at gmail dot com

Information provided by Hugh Farmer, IDJ, Tymon Mellor and Elizabeth Ride

Ma On Shan Mine operated for 70 years from 1906 to 1976. A  lengthy history then. And of great significance in HK’s Industrial History as it was surely its largest mine.

Various companies have been involved.

In 1906 The Hong Kong Mining Company obtained an exploration license and mining license and started small-scale open pit mining. (6)

In 1931 The New Territories Iron Mining Co. Ltd received an exploration lease and mining lease lasting for 50 years. They were later transferred to Mutual Mining and Trade Co, [date not stated]. (6)

And at a later date by South China Iron Smelters Ltd ( Registered 27th April 1940).

There appears to have been Japanese involvement during the occupation of HK in WW2.

ER: A British Army Aid Group report, WIS #28 dated 25.4.43, reported that “the mine has been re-opened.  Steamlighter ‘Cheong Ming’ left for Mine 15 Apr. to carry ore back to Hongkong. Capacity of lighter about 150 tons -length 110ft., breadth 22 ft., draught 18ft”. To which has been added in handwriting ” Confirmation being sought”. HF: I’m not sure what this means. “To carry ore back to Hongkong”? Should that be “from” HK. Or that the ore was brought from the mine to a place within HK?

All operations up to 1949 appeared to have involved small-scale opencast mining.

After 1949 operations increased in scale when the Mutual Trust Company became involved.

Ma On Shan mine photo

This photograph from 1949  is  looking SE across Tolo Harbour with the KCR railway line clearly shown in a cutting below where Chinese University is today and what I presume is a train in the bottom right hand corner. In the distance is the  Hunchbacks (Ngau Ngak Shan) mountain with the peak of Ma On Shan appearing behind and just to the right.

The white scar coming down from the valley to the SW of the Hunchbacks and Ma On Shan is almost certainly connected to Ma On Sha mine. A ropeway was constructed as part of the operation, but is the scar or a road(s) or both? And what are the buildings which can be seen at sea level just to the left of where the scar comes down to the sea. The processing plant mentioned above?

HF: I can’t remember the source of the above photograph, can anyone tell me?

During the 1950’s boom, more than 2,000 miners worked at the mine.

By 1953 the iron in the middle and upper levels was starting to deplete. Mutual Mining and Trade Co. co-operated with Nittetsu Mining Co. Ltd from Japan to start underground excavation.(6) At this point the volume and quality of production was greatly increased and improved with the introduction of more modern Japanese mining techniques including an ore-dressing plant, upgraded transport and mining facilities generally.

Mining had moved entirely underground by 1959.

1960 saw  the peak mining period (6) – average annual production exceeded 200,000 tons and sometimes reached 400,000 tons. The iron was exported to Japan to be refined. (6)

Major development work occurred in the 1960s, after all the reserves in the upper levels had been exhausted.

ma on shan mine map

Ma On Shan mine
lies about 1/2 km SE of
Ma On Shan Tsuen village

Mine worker’s transport. This comment was left by Ephraim Kam on 19th April 2020 attached to our article Shatin Army Camp – link to Shatin Airfield

“I discovered this article quite by chance yesterday, but the pictures and discussion brought back many memories. I am a local Chinese kid grew up in Shatin during the 50’s. I commuted between Shatin and Tai Po Market every school day on the KCR from 1959 to 1963. Therefore the Arcullis House and Ho Tung Lau were both familiar sights. One additional note to this discussion, there was a small ferry, sitting about 8 to 10 passengers running regularly between Ho Tung Lau and the pier of the Ma On Shan Iron Mine. The latter is Yiu On Estate today. Since there was no drivable road leading to Ma On Shan in those days, this ferry was a vital transportation to the workers and villagers, at least for those who could afford the fare.”

By 1963, 5,458 metres of main tunnels and shafts and 3,000 metres of sub-levels, including 5 main ore passes, had been constructed. A 2.2 kilometre long haulage drive was built at the 110 metre level, with a new portal near the processing plant only 200 metres from the coast.

Ma On Shan Iron Mine The Pocessing Line At, SCMP Article Inside Hong Kongs Abandoned Mines

The processing line at the Ma On Shan iron mine. Undated Picture: SCMP

The photo above comes from the SCMP article :

“Ma An [sic] Shan in the new territories, Hong Kong’s only iron mine, employed about 650 workers in 1963. Mining from this contact metamorphic deposit was started from the surface but had gone underground. The ores were being magnetically upgraded from 32 to 56 percent iron in an 800-ore-ton-per-day wet concentrator. About one-fifth of the production came from handsorted dump recoveries. Technical assistance was provided by the Japanese, and all production was exported to Japan. Output was expected to double after opening a mile-long tunnel in October 1963, extending to the orebody bottom.” (5)

HF: The photograph below is from 1971 and is looking south west up the Shing Mun river  where present day Shatin is located. The mine is at the top of the road winding up to the top left.  This is the first aerial photo I have seen showing, if unclearly, what happened down at sea level.

Is that an artificial jetty pointing towards the top or a natural feature? A pier/jetty can be seen jutting at right angles out.

Two areas are of interest to me. First is the whiteish flattened area to the left of the mine road as it rises which I presume is connected to the mine. Secondly, the area below the jetty running along the seashore. This appears to  linked by road(s) to the mine road/jetty junction. 

Many thanks to IDJ for lightening the original photograph so the roads and related works can be seen better.

Maps showing a) surface buildings at the mine head and b) the whole operation down to sea level, would be very useful.

Ma On Shan Iron Mine photo 1971 lightened for detail IDJ

Information Services Department Courtesy:

During the mid-1970s, a worldwide decline in the demand for steel, the opening up of large iron deposits in Australia, and the termination of a contract to supply Japan, led to mining being suspended in March 1976. The workforce of 400 was laid off.

The mining license/lease expired in March 1981

Ma On Shan mine

As indicated by the photograph above of the headworks in the 1950s the mine was, at least for Hong Kong, a major operation.

Ma On Shan mine is relatively easy to get to. The external remains can be inspected, including at least some of the pillars that supported the ropeway. And it is possible to go underground. Here are some sites which provide further details about the mine and show what remains both above and below ground:

Please note: Concealed mine shafts and man-made scree slopes are potentially dangerous and the area around the mine should be explored with care. Going underground can be even more dangerous. This is a full history of the mine with lovely photos of the construction, unfortunately its all in Chinese and the google translation is poor, however the photos are great, but low quality. mine maps and photos of people exploring the mine people exploring but no written comments a 2009 blog showing people exploring with some mine maps mainly external photos of the mine an interesting film about the mine. A rather poor quality copy. The original can be seen at the Ma On Shan mine permanent exhibit in the NT Heritage Hall at the HK Heritage Museum, Shatin. Doris Chan, Assistant Curator of the museum has written to say that the film was specially produced by the museum to show in the exhibition gallery and that it is not possible for the group to have a copy.

  1. Davis, SG, Mineralogy of the Ma On Shan Mine HK, Economic Geology of HK, University of HK Press, 1964
  2. HK Heritage Museum has a small permanent exhibit about the mine
  3. Peng, CJ, Hong Kong Minerals, The Urban Council HK, 1991 provide considerable geological detail
  4. Sewell, RD et al, Hong Kong Geology:  a 400-million year journey, The Government of HK SAR, 2009
  5. The Mineral Industry of Hong Kong, Commodity Review, Metals, 1963, p1301
  6. Jackie CT Chu and Jacky SL Chan, Hong Kong Mining History, Projecterrae, 2015

This article was first posted on 30th August 2014.


  1. scmp article  Brief interview with Lee Kiu Sui, former miner, 1970 to 1976, plus other information. 5th May 2014
  2. Iron Mines Ma On Shan

Indhhk Related articles:

  1. Ma On Shan Iron Mine , Hong Kong Naturalist, 1931
  2. Ma On Shan Iron Mine, Kuhn Mines Ltd, railway(s)
  3. Ma On Shan iron Mine, recent underground images
  4. Ma On Shan Iron Mine  – SCMP article, nearby miner’s village, three buildings restored
  5. Ma On Shan Mine – Part One, The Open Cut Years
  6. Ma On Shan Mine – Part Two, Going Underground
  7. Kuhn Mines Ltd, railway(s) at Ma On Shan mine – any information needed!
  8. Ma On Shan Iron Mine – biggest mine in HK – recent underground images
  9. Ma On Shan Iron Mine – recent damage caused to explosives storeroom
  10. Ma On Shan Iron Mine 1906-1976, open-pit and underground mining
  11. Ma On Shan Iron Mine – underground film, 2014

One comment

  • Bill chan

    Used to live across on shatin side aka Ho tung Lau. Befriended with the walla walla boat captain. I get free rides going across. And met a wuhan trained engineer Mr. Mui . He became a very good mentor and coach in my life. There was an Esso gas station as Wai yat ( only one ) small store. Those were my miscreant days in hk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *