1933 proposed redevelopment of Government Hill | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

1933 proposed redevelopment of Government Hill

Our story begins in 1881 when it was discovered that the Hong Kong Ice Company did not have title to the property the Ice House was on.  It was simply paying $1 per year in exchange for storing and providing ice to the public.
Ice House  Battery Path on the left,  Ice House Lane center going uphill
After some discussion inside Government, it was agreed that the lot would be leased, not to the Hong Kong Ice Company which was using the building,  but to that fine upstanding fellow William Keswick, Legislative Counselor - and the last remaining trustee of the original "Ice Association". He got it for half the price of the minimum auction bid - and a 999 year lease.  A very sweet, sweetheart deal - and all because the building was, and had been, used as an Ice House.
Plan contained as part of lease beginning 1883 for 999 years.
Inland Lot 564 - the Ice House
Ice House and Murray Battery
1904 Map showing Ice House and Murray Battery, and Battery Path
Inland Lot 564 - the Ice House - 999 year lease
Fast forward 50 years.
in 1934, Hong Kong Land - who now owned the lease -  asked for permission to redevelop the property. 
Government refused, and instead tried to force HK Land to sell the property on threat of resumption because they claim it is needed for a "public purpose".
HK Land refused the offer.  After all, they had a 999 year lease on the land and wanted to redevelop it.
HK Land forced the Goverment to court, and the land was resumed, but at a higher price than Government originally offered.
Inland Lot 564 - the Ice House - resumption threat

And why did Government do this ?
To quote from an internal Government Document dated 29 June 1934:
"If the Government scheme is to proceed [redeveloping Government Hill] the company [HK Land] cannot be allowed to rebuild on the present site, and, owing to its location and shape it would not be wise to re-adjust it to the proposed layout.  The only option therefore is to acquire the property."
There was more to this Government "scheme". 
Much more.
At about this time, the HSBC Manager's and sub Manager's House (where the American Consulate is today) were returned to Government by HSBC in partial payment for half of the City Hall site.
The grand plan developed by Government was to sell off much of Government Hill, and move Government House up to Magazine Gap.
  Here is the plan:
Government Hill redevelopment - proposed 1933





1933 proposed (and rejected) plan:

LegCo said no.  Here is the quote:

such development of the Battery Path and Garden Road area would be vandalistic commercialization of what should be one of the most beautiful parts of Hong Kong.


Fast forward another 70 years.  After taking a valuable piece of property with a 999 year lease, and "resuming" it specifically claiming that they did so for a "public purpose" - Government announced in September 2010 that it now plans to sell off the property to the highest bidder.

Tough cheese HK Land.  




C.S.O. No. 1202 / 1915

8th June, 1915

Inland Lot No. 564

1.       Proposed development of ….
2.       Application from the British Film Distribution Company to purchase.

( In CSO No. 410 of 1883 )

Public Works Department

February 1883


With reference to previous correspondence on the subject of the tenure of Inland Lot No. 564 held by the Ice Company who have never paid any premium for the same or any higher Crown Rent than one dollar per and annum, I have the honor to inform you that I have now completed a survey of the ground and find that it contains a/ 250 ft.²

2. I find also at the annual Crown Rent paid by the other Inland Lots in the vicinity is at the average rate of 1¾ cents per square foot of land, and am of the opinion that the same coefficient of value may be equitably applied to Inland Lot No. 564.  This would make the Crown Rent $126.84 per annum

3.       With reference to the lump some premium to be charged I have had some little difficulty in coming to a decision as to the exact figure as the case is peculiar.  I think however at the Government must take into consideration the way in which the present owners came into possession, together with all the circumstances of the case, including the fact that the uses to which the ground has always been put and is still being put have been and still are of great benefit to the public generally, and on these grounds I am disposed to recommend that the lessees should be dealt with in the fairest and most generous spirit compatible with the interests of the Government, and that they should not be charged a higher premium than $12,500 which is one half the minimum sum that the Government would readily get if it sent the lot to the hammer.

4.       I advise therefore a Crown Lease for Inland Lot No. 564 for 999 years be now issued to the Hong Kong Ice Company at an annual Crown rental a $126.84 and for a premium of $12,500 to be paid by the Company. in installments.

 J. M. Price
Surveyor General

[ From HK Land ]

30th.  May, 1934


Re Inland Lot No. 564  (11-23 Ice House St.)

With reference to a letter dated the 2 October 1933 (No. 1202/15) from the Colonial Secretariat.  As we desire to rebuild we should be glad to receive from you details of the new lay out referred to in the letter in so far as it affects this property, in order that we may be in a position to prepare the necessary plans.

I have the honor to be,


Yours faithfully,

L. S. Greenhill



 Note: I attach a copy of my letter dated 12.7.34 addressed to the Secretary, the Hong Kong Land Investment and Agency Co. Ltd. making a definite offer of $186,000.00 purchase up I.L.564, and a copy of the Company's reply dated 13.7.34.

2.       An additional month was allowed as requested and I now attach a copy of a letter dated 12.9.34 received from Messrs Deacons acting on behalf of the Company.  As negotiations to purchase have failed it is recommended that the Governor-in-Council be asked to order resumption under the Crown Lands Resumption Ordinance.

3.       When this order has been made, the attach draft notice should be published in the Gazette, after scrutiny by the Crown Solicitor.

4.       It is recommended that the services of Mr. Colbourne Little be retained and that his valuation should be submitted as evidence of the value of I.L. 564 at the Arbitration board in due course - a fee will of course have to be paid to Mr. Little for his appearance in court.

5.       It is presumed that funds to cover the cost of resumption will be available from Head 35, “Government House and City Development”,  page 105 of 1934 estimates.


Re allocation of cost.

The expect may be debited to the Fund.  An adjustment out app ???  Of the 1935 estimates will be required by Resolution next year.


[ To HK Land ]

Hong Kong 13th.  July, 1934.


Re Inland Lot No. 564 (Nos.11/23 Ice House St.)

I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 12th inst. (No. 1202/15), which reached me about half an hour after my letter to you of the same date had been dispatched.

The Managing Director and Chairman of my Company having had to proceed to Shanghai today on business or about a fortnight, I'm instructed to request that any further action on your part may be delayed and that you will be kind enough to give instructions for the notice of one month, served in your latter under reply, to be deferred for the time being.

I trust you'll be able to oblige us in this matter.

Thank you in anticipation.

I have the honor to be,


yours faithfully,

L. S.Greenhill


Hon.  The Director of Public Works



A scheme is to proceed the Company cannot be allowed to rebuild on the present site, and, owing to its location and share it would not be wise to readjust it to the proposed layout.  The only option therefore is to acquire the property.

2. Valuations have been made as follows:-

a) This Department (buildings taken at demolition value)                $186,000.

b)            (i) Mr. Little (height of buildings limited to 1½ times width of a street)                                                                           $132,000.

(ii) Alternative valuation (height of buildings limited to twice width of street                                                               $152,000. approx


(i) Hong Kong Land Investment & Agency Co.                            $267,000.

(ii) The company are willing to accept a mean between a) and c)                                                                  $226,500

3.                 Recommend that the company be made a firm offer of $186, 000 and at the same time be informed that unless the offer is accepted within one month proceedings under the Crown lands resumption ordinance will be instituted.  I attach a draft letter for consideration.

4.                 If resumption is approved a special vote will be required.


Submitted.  ? so proceed.

This is, I consider, part of the “City Hall Scheme” could be subject to C. T.’s. concurrence - be paid for under that scheme.


Hon. C. S,

As to para.4 of Hon. D.P.W.’s minute on p.45, Mr. Colbourne Little would, I suppose, be a witness.  Then it will also be for consideration who the Chairman of the Board should be (Ordinance No. 10 of 1900 Sec. 6(1)). I understand that Hon. D.P.W. considers that as the matter is important one uf the Judges should be Chairman.

Judging from enquiries made by Mr. Greenhill, and the attitude which he adopts, I would say that the proceedings are likely to be contentious.

As to Mr. Greenhill's enquiries, he wanted to know whether the Land Company. could nominate as a member of the Board of Arbitration a Mr. Mackenzie, who is an architect in the employment of the Land Company.  I replied that it did not seem quite right that one up their own staff should sit as an arbiter, to which he replied that if the Government could have any representative on the Board, he did not see why the Land Company should not.  The Ordinance does not seem to preclude it (Ordinance No.  10 of 1900, Secs. (2) & (3)).

Mr. Greenhill's intention is evidently to have this Mr. Mackenzie sitting as a member of the Board, and to have the case argued by one of the Company's solicitors (Messrs. Deacons).

I mention these matters so the Government may not be taken by surprise at the last moment.  They are matters which I think Government might wish to consider at this stage.

T.S. Whyte Smith
Land Officer