Mo Tat Village on Lamma in the Seventies | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Mo Tat Village on Lamma in the Seventies

Six young Hongkongers and Gweilo in Mo Tat Village are working on an oral history project. We have hit two interesting roadblocks:


Even in the Government archives in North Point, I could not find any aerial photos of South Lamma. This place seems to have been ignored (in other documentation as well) ever since the earth was still flat and the village was right on the edge, about to fall off. Any helpful ideas?


During the interviews, two of the charming oldsters in the village mentioned a seventies colonial government policy to "depopulate" the New Territories by inviting them to emigrate to Britain. Huh? That would be the first time in the history of colonialism, but then, what do I know. Any thoughts/links/info on this, and the Hongkong government's policy regarding the NT in the Seventies?

PS. They also said that the district officers recruited them to work on ships. Any info/thoughts on that?

Cheers, and many thanks,



Hi Martin,

You asked about District Officers' involvement in recruiting Lamma residents as sailors in the 1970's. I don't know what went on in the '70's, but thought you may be interested in the situation in the mid-1950's. 

Back then Lamma was part of the Southern District. In 1955 the District Officer Southern District (Austin Coates) penned a report entitled, "A Summary Memorandum on the Southern District of the New Territories". Amongst many other issues, he noted the existence of a long standing tradition for NT men to leave home to work as sailors or in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon or abroad. Their earnings remitted home contributed substantially to the financial wellbeing of the villages, in some instances being their principle source of income. Unfortunately, at that time the shipping industry was in recession resulting in many sailors being unemployed.

Following a personal visit to Mo Tat Village (spelt Mau Tat), Coates described the village as "clearly prosperous". 16 villagers worked away from home, 4 abroad and 12 in Hong Kong Island, with remittances forming "a large part of the general income". The "8 remaining able-bodied men are all employed on sampans which go to Beaufort Island for fishing and collecting sea-weed as pig food", although, "the youths would prefer to have jobs in town". Coates noted that the villagers "principle request was for employment, but it is difficult to give Mau Tat priority". The latter comment was probably based on his view of the village being more prosperous than many others within Southern District, and also perhaps because Coates believed that villages should retain enough able-bodied men to be self-suffiicient in food production.

Coates also visited Tung O, a neighbouring village to Mo Tat, describing it as a "seafaring village", and lamented that, "where formerly there was not a full grown able bodied man to be seen", the village was "now full of signed-off seamen and young boys who in the normal way would be going to sea themselves". He was, "asked to give assistance in obtaining jobs as seamen", but explained that, "if the applicant cannot pay the $100 demanded by the Seamen's Union there is nothing I can do". It would be interesting to know more background information surrounding this issue. Although the $100 fee does seem alot of money, could it be that Coates as a senior Government Servant was playing politics by seeking to blame the Union rather than the shipping recession for the lack of shipping jobs? The possibility seems more likely if the Seamen's Union had communist affiliations.  

From the above it is apparent that in 1955 the District Officer was well aware of the tradition for Lamma viillagers to become sailors, and the villagers themselves were not shy of asking him to assist when in need. However, Coates appears to have been either unable or unwilling to assist due to the shipping recession, other villages within Southern District being in greater need of remittance income, Coates' belief that some men should remain in the village to ensure self-sufficiency in food production, or issues surrounding the Seamen's Union. 

Hi Martin,

Which Government department did you visit in North Point? The one for aerial photos is:

Map Publications Centre, Hong Kong
with Map and Aerial Photograph Library
23/F, North Point Government Offices
333 Java Road, North Point, Hong Kong
(MTR – Quarry Bay Station, Exit C)
Tel. No. : 2231 3187
Fax No. : 2116 0774
Opening Hours : Monday to Friday 09:00 a.m. – 05:30 p.m.

Thanks, David! Yes, that's along the lines of the "Southern District Officers' Reports" by John Strickland, right? (Thanks for the Seamen's Union angle!) But those don't indicate any policy to "depopulate" the NT, quite the opposite, right?

Also, thanks for the detailed info re the archives in North Point. Yes, that's where I went, and they were quite helpful. Could find aerial photos for North Lamma/Yung Shue Wan, but nothing for South Lamma/Mo Tat Wan. 

The notes about Austin Coates came from contributor gw, not from me.

I can see a couple of aerial photos of that region:

  • Go to
  • Zoom the map in to show Mo Tat Wan
  • In the search panel on the left, click on "Aerial Photo And Image Product"
  • Choose the year range (I chose 1924-1970) and click Search
  • Each dot on the blue lines is one photo. A couple were taken over the area, one in 1961 and one in 1963

Are they any use? 

Dear Martin,

i worked for the NTA from 1972 to 1979, including Yuen Long and Sai Kung districts. I never heard of such an emigration/immigration policy, and it seems to me pure fantasy.



There are many books written about migration from the New Territories to the United Kingdom, one such book,



"The Chinese in Britain, 1800-Present: Economy, Transnationalism, Identity."


Parts of it can be read online.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s when citizens of Hong Kong were also citizens of the "United Kingdom and Colonies", it was easier to travel to Britain without restrictions. Many of those that did leave the New Territories during this period did so for economic reasons. With the changing of the British Nationality laws in the early 1970s, travel restrictions to the United Kingdom came into force. Never heard or seen of any policy to de-populate the New Territories.


Definitely aerial photos available to buy, here is one example from the HK mapping Service website, dated 13 Feb 1963. South is Top. You can purchase much higher resolution versions.

Lamma 1963 Aerial Mo Tat village
Lamma 1963 Aerial Mo Tat village, by Herostratus

I read somewhere that there was a deliberate policy of encouraging immigration to the UK from various NT villages post World War 2 as the British were worried that these villages would become centres of communist guerilla activity, probably similar to what was happening in Malaya at the time. Cant remember what book I read this in though. 


Many thanks to all the knowledgeable people who wrote, everything is extremely helpful!  And I hang my head in shame for not being able to penetrate the computer jungle paths which lead to excellent aerial photographs.

Talking about jungle - crawling around in the bushes around the village, we discovered three apparently man-made, one metre high tunnel entrances. No flashlights, and possibility of wild-boar-loving pythons, so let's wait for next time. Must ask the oldies about those.



There's a good chance the tunnels date back to the Japanese occupation. We've got some on Lamma shown at:

It'll be great if you can add markers for any more that you find.

I'll be very interested to read any stories you uncover from talking to the older residents about how the tunnels were built and what they were used for. I've read of other tunnels around Hong Kong being excavated by villagers, who received rice from the Japanese as payment.

Another book to read that can provide a useful reference is Elizabeth Sinn's "The Last Half Century of Chinese Overseas".

In the first decade after the Second World War, "high unemployment rates in Hong Kong, free access to England for Commonwealth citizens and emigration traditions contributed to significant immigration from the New Territories to England and later to Northern Europe".

The book goes on to mention that "the unemployment situation in Hong Kong combined with the earning possibilities in England had encouraged the British colonial administration to advise the villagers in the New Territories to leave their villages for Europe and ease the regional unemployment rates". A note is provided to this remark in James L. Watson's "Emigration and the Chinese Lineage".



Hi David and Martin, I'm one of the six-researchers gang on the history of Motat. Thanks David for pointing out the source of the aerial photos. We've brought a set and is now working to trace the making of Motat.

For your interests. There is a report in Chinese that explain the involvement of the British army. Martin found a plaque along the path linking Motat and Tung O (lamp pole no. 32825). This newspaper cutting reported the British army help built the road in 1962 (inspected by James Hayes) . Not exactly align with the plaque. Furhter facts to be confirmed. 


Mention is made here of the stone plaque. Perhaps the same one. There is a photo of it.