Stanley Historical Society (not including Stanley Internment Camp) | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Stanley Historical Society (not including Stanley Internment Camp)

I plan to use this forum to collect information on the history of Stanley. I'll put in items that would be good for display.



Sketch maps 1846 - Chuck-Chu (Stanley) from the northwest and southwest

Public Records Office:

Map MM-0416   


Annelise - I stumbled over Lt Collinson's large scale map of the cantonment on a virtual visit to Kew recently. It is extremely detailed and, as a result of a nice bit of serendipity by my colleague her at HKU, Prof Lawrence Lai, enabled me to identify the one bit (other than the graves in the Stanley Cemetery) of the original cantonment that still exists. This is the boundary stone that marked the southern tip of the cantonment's boundary. It stands at the end of the public path down to St Stephen's Beach, still with its Board of Ordnance "BO" and the broad arrow. The digital image of the map is huge, but is a nice complement to the two drawings of Collinson's above.

Stephen D

That's wonderful. We must take a photo and post it. 

It's a digital file, but whopping. I can reduce it easily enough, so no need to print and photograph - but how to post it? I think that's a step I have not yet developed the skills to manage.


Here's a brief how-to:

Is there a way to link to the file?  Was there any special login required on your virtual visit?

Well, things didn't quite appear as David's otherwise helpful hint suggested. I seem to have posted onto the site both a reduced size image of the whole cantonment plan and a detail of the built-up area, both with comments. Where exactly they have gone to (they are labelled (in some way best known to the site) 'Stanley Cantonment') I haven't a clue - this is where the instructions and what actually transpires tend to differ. I suspect the reason has something to do with which way the thingummy is approached. From David's helpful hints page I logged in. This took me to a page that baldly told me that I'd been a member for a bit over 3 years. I went to the right hand side and clicked on the button that said create (or some such) an image/pic. That took me to a place where I could do that, but it did not seem (or not readily so for those who don't operate on the site daily - the classic 'technical manual problem') there was a way I could link what I did to or embed it in Annelise's Stanley page. No doubt this will be done. The plans are rather lovely.

Links to the UKNA site. By virtual visit I meant only that I was doing an online search of its catalogue in the WO78 fonds and, when I found what I was looking for, requested online and paid for (as one can) an image of what that was (in this case the only three remaining of Bernard Collinson's larger scale plans of the four he completed for his 1844-1845 topographical survey (the one of Central is either missing or has been filed obscurely elsewhere)). The catalogue is mostly transparent, but as with all archival fonds, the descriptions are laconic, tied closely to whatever the thingummy is, and thus not always blindingly obvious in terms of what in HK whatever it is is all about. The map in question has the call number WO78-472 (2).

Stephen D

The upload seems to have worked, you can insert them into comments with the pullout menu on the right hand side of the page like so. Clicking on the picture in the comments will take you to that picture.

Stanley Cantonment detail.jpg
Stanley Cantonment detail.jpg, by UKNA
Stanley cantonment reduced.jpg
Stanley cantonment reduced.jpg, by UKNA

I think I get it. Too many other things to think about.

Thanks for working the trick - they are lovely maps and make a great complement to Collinson's panorama sketches. The comments I made seem to have disappeared, but just to complete: 

The detail image is interesting because it shows that what AMO declares to have been in situ by 1805, the Shui Shing Temple, doesn't seem to have been there in 1844 or at least not in the orientation (and location?) it seems to have today, though only a rubber sheeting exercise would decide that.

The full map shows the boundaries of the military cantonment, the southern marker of which is still visible at the bottom of the path down to St Stephen's Beach (I uploaded an image trying to use the thingummy on the right, but it seems to have disappeared elsewhere - yet again an instruction manual that supposes one knows what one is doing before one opens the manual to find out what that might be).

Stephen D

Lovely. Thanks.

Thanks to Stephen for the directions.

Stanley Cantonment Boundary Stone No. 20
Stanley Cantonment Boundary Stone No. 20, by Moddsey

Is there any map which points out the exact location of this boundary stone? Thanks.

It's the first time that I have seen a map showing a military camp right next to the Stanley village.  I have also often wondered about the large area of flat land where the school now has its sports field, and where I believe the Civilian internees had 'allotments' during the war. Comparing the map with the Google Earth image it is quite clear where things were.  Does anyone know when this early military camp was abandoned? I'll try to add a composite image showing both the map and the Google image.  Andrew

Stanley cantonment.jpg
Stanley cantonment.jpg, by Andrew Suddaby

Hi Andrew,

Regarding your question of when the Cantonment was abandoned, on its "Place" page ( David has quoted a source stating that it was probably "a few years" prior to 1882. 

Hi GW,

Thank you for the link.  I find it very odd that in the early days of the colony, a military cantonment was built so far away from what were the all important harbour facilities - both in Victoria and Aberdeen.  No wonder it was abandoned. Maybe it was erected in such an isolated spot in order to control the Shek O and Stanley pirate bases there. Possibly it might have served as some sort of recuperative camp - away from the 'bad air' so prevalent on the Northern side of the island.  Now known as malaria, it was a big killer in both the military, naval and civilian populations.  In the 1840s there was some thought that this was caused by bad air emanating from crushed rotten granite, so abundant during the building boom in Hong Kong.  (Source - 'The Cree Journals'.)



Stanley/Chek Choo was the largest settlement on the island when the British arrived - plans were made to develop the barracks there in 1841. 

The original building seem to have been abandoned in the 1870s, in the caption for the below panorama from 1874, it states that the barrack building had for sometime been untenantable.

11. Ruins of Stanley - Looking North -East & 12. Stanley - Continuation of the Preceding View
11. Ruins of Stanley - Looking North -East & 12. Stanley - Continuation of the Preceding View, by Herostratus


This is amazing. Thank you. 

Yes, thank you Herostratus for the explanation and the very interesting photogaph from 1874.

So, when the British arrived in 1841, Stanley was the largest occupied place on Hong Kong island.  The building or more probably the enlargement of an already existing barracks there would make military sense.  When the strait between the island and the mainland then became the main harbour, the Stanley cantonment clearly became redundant, and I can now withdraw my previous tentative suggestions concerning the origin of the cantonment.  

Hong Kong Gazette, No. 2 - Census, 15 May 1841 provides a list of the population living in villages and hamlets on Hong Kong Island. In the list, Chek-Chu (Stanley) is described as "The Capital, a large town" with a population of 2,000 people. It was the largest settlement listed at the time.

In January 1842, the Canton Press made a survey of the progress in Hong Kong during the preceding twelve months. The Canton Press noted that barracks had been erected at West Point and Cantonment Hill (Victoria Barracks). It goes on to mention - "On the west side of the little southernmost point 'Tai Tam' bay there is a little cove called 'Chek Chu' the resort of large fleets of fishing-boats, and the site of a considerable town with a poulation of 2,000 souls, - having a very good bazaar, an extensive rope-walk, and shops well stocked to supply the wants of Chinese seafaring people. It is at this place the Government have determined on erecting a barrack of two or three hundred men and where one capable holding a hundred is now in an advanced state towards completion. A branch of the 'Tai Tam" road will lead to this town."

For anyone who is interested the full album of the Typhoon is here. They are pretty high resolution - click the individual pictures to zoom in. 

Andrew I am not sure you are wrong about the original reason for building Stanley Cantonment. British forces were using Hong Kong harbour as early as 1839 as a staging area for troops in the China campaign. The North of the island was extremely unhealthy - Malaria was rampant (mainly due to Happy Valley Paddy Fields) and the entire (matshed) city was destroyed in 1841 by a Typhoon so I am sure healthier, safer quarters for troops was top priority for military commanders. In the early years a regiment of troops (700 men) was expected to die in Hong Kong every year and if there were to be 700 soldiers available for defence 1400 would have to be stationed here, as at least half were expected to be sick at any one time .

However I also believe the Cantonment was sited at Stanley for defence reasons. Early barracks in Hong Kong were at West Point, Victoria (today's Admiralty, Sai Wau  (not sure exact location but Lei Yue Mun vicinity), Tai Tam, Stanley, and Tin Wan -  forming a ring of garrisons around the Island. I can find no information on the barracks at Tin Wan Tai Tam or Sai Wau. Westpoint was abandoned in July 1843 because of the terrible sickness there. I think Stanley  was abandoned in the 1860s because of Hong Kong's expansion to the North. The annexing of the Kowloon peninsula opened up huge areas of flat land which were far more suitable for barracks & training than anywhere on the island so the Stanley cantonment became redundant. 

Thank you Herostratus for your additional thoughts on the reasons why Stanley was abandoned.  I believe that you are correct.

Again I mention 'The Cree Journals' as an interesting source of information about how unhealthy the North part of Hong Kong Island was in the mid 1840s, but also because several of Cree's watercolours illustrate just how crowded the Victoria Harbour had become in just a few years - although there might have been a bit of artistic licence in his paintings.

I am puzzled about the name 'Sai Wau' and have had a good look at my old maps.  On one of them the print is not very clear and  'Sai Wan' could easily be mistaken for  'Sai Wau'.  This could have been even more the case with early hand drawn and annotated maps.  The photograph, below, from the Bill Weild sub gallery within the 367 Association gallery has always intrigued me.  David has already identified the just visible circular and roofless structure at bottom left as almost certainly being a gunpowder store. While it is more in the general vicinity of the Lyemun military area and not really at Sai Wan it is pretty close, and a barracks there would have been in the good communications gap now used by the Island Easterrn Corridor.  So, I wonder whether this location might be the site of the 'Sai Wau' barracks - although I do question whether a gunpowder store would have been contemporary with inhabited barrack huts!  

Lyemun Gap and Devil's Peak 1952 b.
Lyemun Gap and Devil's Peak 1952 b., by Bill Weild

I think the name Sai Wau is actually Sai Wan - the British seem to romanize Chinese names with no great consistency in Hong Kong's early years. I have seen Stanley's Chinese name spelt Chek Choo, Chek Chew, Check Chu, Cheag tehu etc...

Sai Wau comes from R Bruce's engraving of the site, dated 29th November 1846. It should be possible to work out the exact location of the barracks from the engraving but I have just never got round to it. 

View of Sai Wau Looking East
View of Sai Wau Looking East, by Herostratus

Edit:  I had a quick look on HKmaps and the 1845 map shows barracks at Sywan bay. Today is it the location of Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital. Bruce's view looks east over Sai Wan Bay, todays Chai Wan. No barracks are shown at Tai Tam or Tin Wan. (Tai Tam in 1845 was at Stanley Main beach.) Only Stanley, Sai Wan and Central


The exact location of the barracks appears both on the full 1845 Collinson Ordnance map and on the larger scale detail that is a cousin of the large scale detail for Stanley on which that barracks also appears. Saiwan Barracks was pretty much under where the north western end of Eastern Hospital now stands. I've got the map but have never worked out how to post it or anything else for Gwulo readers' delectation.

As I recall both new barracks suffered from outbreaks of malaria (and maybe other afflictions) that were the main causes of their abandonment. One theory advanced was that many or most of the people, who were brought in by the builders to do the building work from the north of the island, were malarious. Add that to the disturbed ground for foundations, drains, etc., that created pools of water where mosquitoes promptly bred, and one has the cause of the subsequent occupants' toll of sickness.

Two other minor points. On Collinson's large scale map of Stanley, it is interesting to note that Tai Tam (spelled Tytam) village - more of a hamlet - was at the south east end of what is now Stanley Main Beach. Tytam Took (Tai Tam Tuk (大潭篤)) he shows as the old village now submerged beneath the dam. One wanders what, if any remains of that old Tai Tam hamlet, which Collinson shows with some 23 buildings of various sizes, lie beneath the present buildings on the site. Its fate was sealed by the barracks because of the 23 structures 17 are shown as matshed or wood, so were evidently treated by the Brits as temporary. The barracks north and north-east boundary chopped off two thirds of the village beach frontage, leaving just the five stone and/or brick buildings back from the middle of the beach outside the boundary.

Collinson entitles the detailed map 'Contoured Survey of the Cantonment of Chuck Chu (Stanley) Hong Kong 1844' and this highlights the puzzle that seems to persist over the Chinese name. All sorts of theories have been advanced as to why it should have been called 'Red Pillar/Post' including that it wasn't but was called Chak Chu, 'Thieves (賊) Pillar/Post' because of the 'pirates'.

The uncertainties seem to suggest that there isn't an unambiguous, historical written Chinese referent for the characters. So I've often wondered whether, in the thickets of unlettered fisherfolk dialects and accent, percolated through interpreters and gweilos, what emerged as Chek Chue (赤柱) may not have begun life in the more prosaic, very down-to-the-sea sort of name we see around the corner at Gau Pei Chau/Dog's Bum Islets (狗髀洲), with the simple descriptor of where the village was situated - on the rocky bridge that joined Wong Ma Kok to the main island, or Shek Kiu (石橋). It wouldn't be the first local HK name that got totally garbled by transmission through Romanization - including probably Hong Kong itself.

Airy speculation.



Thank you both for the clarification. As soon as I saw the engraving showing Bruce’s view of the hospital I recognised the view looking East with the ridge leading down to Little (Siu) Sa Wan visible behind the largest building. My photograph taken in early 1958 and looking to the West clearly shows the flat area of land on which the barracks had been built.

Chai Wan from Cape Collinson Road
Chai Wan from Cape Collinson Road, by Andrew Suddaby

Thank you, Stephen for your interesting insight into the vagaries of place names. Yes, the variety of spellings probably has its origins in both the translation of Chinese characters but also in the interpretation of how a person’s speech is perceived and then recorded as an English spelling. In Britain, too, regional dialects often dictated how names (place but especially family) were recorded and only with the advent of general literacy did things become standardised - although, with the younger generation favouring texting, who knows what will happen to spelling? Ever since 1957 I have been confused as to whether it is Chai Wan, or Sai Wan - or are they just slightly different places?


One of my colleagues thinks it was a transcription error. It didn't last long, except for the name of the hill on which Saiwan Redoubt sits. It may partly have been caused by the Sai Wan on the NW corner of Shaukeiwan (Aldrich Bay), whence today's Saiwan Ho. That Saiwan Hill stuck with it may have been because the Redoubt that was finally built in the 1890s was first planned as The Keep in 1842/43. There really had been a plan for a fairly intensive fortification/militarisation of the NE of HK Island. Along with The Keep and the barracks, there was even a suggestion there should be a dockyard in the bay at A Kung Ngam.


Hi Stephen,

So, should Siu Sai Wan / Little Sai Wan really be named Siu Chai Wan / Little ChaI Wan, or should Chaiwan  be renamed Saiwan?   I believe that somebody once told me that Chai /Sai Wan originally meant Firewood Bay.  All very confusing!

Confusingly Sai Ying Pun/Kennedy Town is also known as Sai Wan - Wikipedia's translation of the name is 'West Ring'. 


There is a great online copy of Collinson's 1845 maps here. I noticed that on maps as late as 1975 Stanley Main beach was still known as Tai Tam.

Thank you. That will be a most interesting resource. Andrew