1960s Rennie's Mill
Where: The photographer is standing on a hillside, looking south across Rennie's Mill (today's Tiu Keng Leng). An earlier view from the 1950s was taken from a slightly different angle, and shows the main housing area was out of sight to the right of our photo. It also shows how the built-up area had expanded by the time this 1960s photo was taken.
In the right foreground is a shallow bay, roughly where Choi Ming Street passes the Metro Town Shopping Mall today. Then there's a ridge with buildings on, and beyond that there is reclamation underway, cutting away the slope and dumping the rock into the sea. That reclamation is the site of the Ocean Shores estate today.
The hills in the distance on the left belong to Junk island, and Tung Lung Chau island beyond it.
When: This is the second of three photos I bought together. The first was the photo I posted recently showing the capsized ship Cronulla off Sai Ying Poon. We've dated that to late 1962 / early 1963, and I'll assume this photo was taken around the same time.
Who: This community was first set up by Nationalist soldiers and their families in the 1950s. They'd escaped to Hong Kong from mainland China after their defeat by the Communist forces. We've met them previously when we looked at their temporary home on Mount Davis, where they lived for several months in 1950. An article on page 3 of The China Mail, 27 June 1950, describes their relocation to Rennie's Mill:
"Mount Davis refugees moved to new site at Junk Bay.
More than 4,000 refugee squatters from Mount Davis were moved in a mass exodus, to their new home at Rennie's Hill ((sic.)), Junk Bay, yesterday. There remain about 3,800 more to be moved, and it is expected this will be completed by today or tomorrow.
Removal of the refugees, who were mostly stranded Nationalist soldiers and their families, was under the supervision of the Government Social Welfare Office and the Tung Wah Group Hospitals, assisted by the district Kai Fong Welfare associations.
The new home of the refugees at Junk Bay will be 1,500 sheds, but of these only 300 have been completed, and until their completion the refugees will have to be put up in temporary tents.
By the early 1960s, the number of residents in Rennie's Mill had grown as additional immigrants to Hong Kong found their way there.
What: There's a large ship in the bay.
The ship Cronulla in the previous photo had capsized as a result of Typhoon Wanda. I wondered if the ship in this photo was also one of the victims of the typhoon, but I didn't find any match in the gallery of "Damages and shipwrecks caused by Typhoon Wanda".
Looking more closely at the ship, there's a second hull lying next to it.
This area was one of the centres for Hong Kong's ship-breaking industry. When a ship reached the end of its life it would be broken up, and the steel recovered and re-used in Hong Kong's building industry. Was the ship in the photo here to be broken up?
It seems likely, though I'm not 100% clear when the first ship-breakers arrived in Junk Bay. Kenneth Lan, writing in his thesis "Rennie's Mill: the origin and evolution of a special enclave in Hong Kong", mentions a company starting work in 1964:
[...] in 1964, the Shui Wing Ship-breaking Company set up an operation adjacent to District 12, providing hundreds of well-paid jobs to the Rennie’s Mill residents who had the “strong physique and nerves to withstand the noise and heat.
That's just a bit too late for our photo though. Does anyone know when the first ship-breakers began work here?
I'd also be interested to hear from anyone who recognises any of the buildings on the slopes. eg there's a distinctive, larger building above most of the other buildings, with a flat area in front of it.
There were several missionary organisations in the area, so it may well have been one of their schools.
The missionaries' arrival in Hong Kong was for similar reasons to the Nationalist troops - the Communist victory meant they were no longer welcome on the mainland. Arriving in Hong Kong, the missionaries' fluency in northern dialects was of little use in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong. But, it was just what was needed to communicate with the new residents of Rennie's Mill!
If you can add any information about this scene, or memories of life in Rennie's Mill, please share them in the comments below.
Gwulo photo ID: EM006