Blue Books

Submitted by David on Sun, 07/31/2011 - 23:00

I've seen several mentions of these Blue Books as sources, and finally had a chance to look at them earlier this month. They're another good resource if you're looking for information about people who lived in Hong Kong.

I'll talk about that some more, look at where to find them, and end with some more general information about the books.

Research past residents of Hong Kong

Each year's Blue Book includes two lists of all the civil servants in Hong Kong. This covers everyone whose salary was paid by the government, from the Governor to the newest clerk, and regardless of nationality.

They make a great partner to the Jurors Lists, since civil servants were not included on the Jurors Lists.

To look up a person, start by turning to the section "Civil Establishments of Hongkong for the year ....". Look for the "List of Officers" section. It shows everyone ordered alphabetically by surname, and is the quickest way to check if a person is included. In the 1885 Blue Book, the list has three columns:

  • Names of Officers
  • Office
  • Page in the Book in which his Office is described

The last column links you to their entry in the second list. That second list shows people grouped by government department, and is much more detailed. (In early years, both the brief "List of Officers" and the more detailed list are in the same section of the Blue Book. In later years they split them into two different sections.)

The 1885 the detailed list shows the following departments:

  • Colonial Secretary's Office
  • Colonial Treasury
  • Audit Office
  • Clerk of Councils
  • Public Works Department
  • Botanical and Afforestation Department
  • Post Office
  • Stamp Office
  • Registrar General's Office
  • Harbour Master's Office
  • Observatory Department
  • Supreme Court
  • Vice-Admiralty Court
  • Land Office
  • Attorney General's Department
  • Ecclesiastical Department
  • Educational Department
  • Medical Department
  • Government Civil Hospital
  • Lunatic Asylum
  • Small Pox Hospital
  • Lock Hospital
  • Wantsai Examination Rooms
  • Police Magistrate's Office
  • Police Force
  • Victoria Gaol
  • Fire Brigade

And for each person it gives these columns of information:

  • Office
  • Name
  • Date of Appointment
  • By whom appointed and under what Instrument
  • Annual Salary in Dollars
  • From what fund the salary is paid
  • Amount of Fees during the year 1885, in Dollars
  • Whether the Principal be allowed a House for his personal Residence; or what allowance, if any, for House Rent or Quarters
  • Whether the Office be held by Principal in conjunction with any, and what other Civil, Military, or Naval Office, or Appointment, or Place of Profit, in any Colony, or on the Establishment of the United Kingdom. If the Office be held by a Military or Naval Officer, whether upon Full or Half Military or Naval Pay and Allowances of every kind actually received by him in addition to the Profits of his Office
  • Period during which the Officer has been Absent from the Colony during the Year 1885
  • Whether the Principal enjoys any, and what other Advantage or Profit, not required to be stated in the preceding Columns
  • Date of First Appointment under the Colonial Government

Where can you view the Blue Books?

These are the copies I know of that are available to the public:

  1. Online at the "Hong Kong Government Reports Online" website. As of May 2015 they have copies from years 1871 to 1940 available for viewing online.
  2. National Archive in Kew, UK. This is where I looked at them. They have the copies from 1844 to 1940, grouped under reference CO 133. You're handling the original documents, so you'll need to apply for a reader's ticket first.
  3. Hong Kong Central Library, Microform Reading Area on 5/F. I can't find it mentioned on the website, but I'm sure I've seen the Blue Books mentioned on their leaflet about the Microform collection. Can anyone confirm which years they have available?
  4. The Hong Kong Public Records Office says they have copies of the Blue Books available too. The online catalogue only returns a few years' worth if I search for 'blue book' or 'blue books'. Maybe a different search will return more.
  5. The Royal Commonwealth Society's library in Cambridge lists copies for 1844-1870, and 1873-1939. (At least they appear as results of a search for Hong Kong Blue Books, but I haven't visited that library.) It looks as though members of the public are allowed to access the collection, but you need to apply first.

Do you know of any other copies available to the public? Or even better, any copies that can be viewed online? Please let us know in the comments below.

How did they get the 'Blue' name?

The books' covers are a deep blue colour, and some years' books have blue-coloured pages too.

1885 Blue Book

But whether the colour followed the name, or the name followed the colour, I'm not sure.

What were they for?

They provided the government in Britain with a financial summary of the colonies. Each colony would send one back to London every year. They were accompanied by the Annual Reports, which fleshed out the figures in the Blue Books.

What else can they tell us?

Here are the sections in the 1885 Blue Book. I've added notes in italics:

  • Schedule of Taxes, Duties, Fees, and all other sources of Revenue. [This lists the costs of all the different taxes, licences, duties, etc,.]
  • Revenue and Expenditure of Hongkong. [High-level overview, broken down by type of revenue. eg one line for each type of licence: Spirit Retailers, Pawnbrokers, etc.]
  • Military Expenditure. [Brief list of main quarters and buildings, details of $$$ paid as contribution to military expenses, and brief overview of Hongkong Volunteer Corps.]
  • Crown Property (Buildings). [List of all buildings owned by Government, including date of 'Commencement of Occupation']
  • Public Works. [List of projects, with cost, date started, and whether finished or not]
  • Legislation. [List of ordinances passed, proclamations and notifications made in the year. One line per entry.]
  • Councils and Assemblies. [Lists the members of the Executive Council, Legislative Council, Sanitary Board, Board of Examiners, and Medical Board.]
  • Civil Establishments of Hong Kong. [This is the list of civil servants described above]
  • Return of Officers who have given security for the discharge of their duties. [This surprised me - it lists Officers and how much they've paid as a bond. It looks as though the government could make a claim against this bond if you did something wrong.]
  • Pensions. [A list of previously-employed people now receiving pensions, and the amount of the pension.]
  • Recapitulation of the establishments. [Lists the various establishments (eg Civil Establishment, Judicial Establishment, etc), and the amount spent]
  • Foreign Consuls. [A list showing the person's name, the country they represent, and the date they were appointed.]
  • Population. [Shows population from most recent census (eg the 1885 Blue Book shows figures from the 1881 census), and registrations of births, deaths & marriages for the year.]
  • Ecclesiastical Return. [A list of parishes, giving details of the churches in that parish, their rector and their size of congregation.]
  • Educational. [A list of schools, giving details of their staff and number of pupils]
  • Publications. [Lists the newspapers published. Circulation numbers are given for some.]
  • Exchanges, Moneys, Weights and Measures. [Gives exchange rates for the year, quoted at monthly intervals. Also gives summary of laws related to currency, and gives the total amount of coin & paper currency in circulation.]
  • Imports & Exports. [Gives breakdown of imports by country of origin, showing vessels / tons / crew. Same for exports. Similar broken down by nationality of ships. Then broken down by port (eg Aberdeen, Shaukiwan, etc) within Hongkong.]
  • Agriculture. [Shows amount of produce, typical wholesale prices, and wages for labourers.]
  • Manufactures, Mines and Fisheries. [Lists items manufactured, ships built, mines & quarries, and details of fishing fleet.]
  • Grants of Land. [Not sure what this is]
  • Gaols and Prisoners. [Various breakdowns of the numbers of prisoners held during the year. Also answers to a standard questionnaire about prisoners and the conditions in gaols.]
  • Criminal Statistics. [Tables of offences committed, apprehensions, and convictions]
  • Hospitals. [Table showing patients per ward. Plan of the Hospital layout. Details broken out by Civil Hospital, Lock Hospital, Small Pox Hospital, and Mental Asylum]
  • Charitable and Literary Institutions. [List of charitable institutions.]
  • Religious Institutions. [List. Many entries show which Lot their buildings occupy. Also lists 'Other establishments or societies', eg Temperance Hall, Masonic Hall, some with addresses]
  • Report on the Blue Book. [Brief additional notes to the above sections]

As always, questions, corrections, and extra information are welcome - please leave a comment below.

I'm specially interested to hear from you if you've used the Blue Books in your research. What did you find them useful for?

Regards, David


If ever there was a repository of information which would allow a really accurate picture of HK to be built up it is in the Blue Books.

It's a great shame they are not available on line like the Legislative Council debates.

Any chance that Bernard Hui and his people could launch such a project or the HKUP?


Thanks to Tony and Robin for letting me know that Hong Kong University also has a copy of the Blue Books available.

A search on the internet shows that the Chinese University of Hong Kong also has a copy. (The website also lists several other interesting resources for researching Hong Kong's history).

Both offer the series of Blue Books from 1844 to 1938 on microform / microfiche. Members of the public only have limited access to the university libraries and / or may be required to pay a fee to access them.

Regards, David

PS Sean, I'm not sure if these will be included in the Hong Kong Memory project - fingers crossed.

Hi all, 

I am working on a project involving nationalities, grade, promotion and salary data on civil servants. I found the list of civil servants in the blue book very useful. Is there a blue book equivalent post WW2 on the list of civil servants? If so, where to gain access? 

Many thanks in advance, 


Submitted by on
Wed, 08/26/2015 - 11:21

Hi Caleb,

You may find the following useful, although the information is not exactly the same as that in the Blue Book.  It has been a while since I read them, so perhaps others can comment on their usefulness?

Civil service list.

Staff list.

Civil and miscellaneour list.


CUHK does have its own online version of the Blue Books, covering 1844 to 1938: The scan quality is not as good as the HKU version, though. 

The rest of the website has tonnes of information about Hong Kong, but sadly there is only a Chinese version. Don't be fooled by the language switch button, the content remains Chinese no matter what. 

There is a decent selection at the British Library of Political and Economic Science which is the library the at the London School of Economics. I used these Blur Books extensively when I was doing my dissertation on HK economic growth between 1937 and 1941 to show that HK was already industrialising before the war due to the influx of refugees from China and using import and export data of goods. The late Frank Leeming at the University of Leeds did a similar analysis using the Hong Kong and Macao Business Classified Directory published in 1940.