Report on Great Storm of the 29th and 30th May, 1889

Submitted by Klaus on Fri, 07/08/2022 - 00:20

The full report is available here. The 1889 Rainstorm is also listed as an event on Gwulo.

The following part of the report deals with the destruction by the rain in connection with Albany and Gleanealy Nullahs. Several photos were attached to the report which are not available on HKGRO but in the Flickr account of the National Archives UK. [note: photo 2 is missing].


Damage in the Albany or Military Nullah.

18.         I have already alluded to the very serious damage which occurred on the morning of the 29th May to the service tank and filter beds of the Tytam Water-works, situated at C. on plan. On further investigation the cause was obvious: Excavations on a large scale were carried on during the east year in preparing a site for a house on the summit of the ridge above the service tank (at D. on plan, Rural Building Lot No. 7.). A. large portion of the debris was deposited on a very steep slope immediately below the house. On the morning of the 29th (I am informed at 11.40 A.M.) a great mass of this spoil bank; amounting at the lowest estimate to 10,000 tons, became detached and was precipitated down the ravine: This mass started from an elevation of about 1,400 feet above sea level, and must have travelled with fearful velocity down slopes varying from 1½ to 1, to 3 to 1, until its course was arrested by the obstruction formed by the service tank which had been constructed across the bed of the valley, a passage for storm water being provided by means of a great culvert or tunnel, carried under the bed of the reservoir or service tank. The distance traversed horizontally by the-avalanche before its course was arrested was about 2,200 feet, the fall vertically was about 1,000 feet. It naturally swept everything before it, clearing a passage through pine woods and scrub, from 150 to 200 feet in width and leaving the hill side, previously covered with luxuriant vegetation, as bare as a ploughed field. Huge boulders strewn in the bed of the nullahs, and on the mountain side, were swept down, and it was one of these Measuring 350 cubic feet and weighing about 25 tons which effectually blocked the tunnel mouth.

19.         At about one-third of its downward course, the path of the avalanche crossed the line of the tramway which connects the City with the Peak district. The tramway, including two bridges and other works, as swept clean away for a length of about 100 yards, and the rails and girders were twisted and contorted in a very remarkable manner. The cars could only have completed their last journey a few minutes before the catastrophe occurred. The greater part of the ironwork was subsequently recovered from the debris lodged on the upstream side of the service tank. Photograph No. 1 gives some ideas of the course of the avalanche.

Effects of Storm on side of the Peak, Hong Kong [No. 1]
Effects of Storm on side of the Peak, Hong Kong [No. 1], by Klaus

20. At the service tank itself this vast mass of rocks and earth first filled up the bed of the valley above the tank to the level of some 20 feet above the coping. It would then appear that the rush of water down the nullah burst this temporary obstruction, and caused a great wave to sweep over the service tank and some of the filter beds. To this great and sudden rush of water may be attributed much of the damage sustained by the Bowen and Garden Roads, and the earthen embankment outside the masonry walls, on the down stream side of the tank and filter beds.

21. The yet heavier rainfall during the night and early morning of the 30th, caused a very heavy rush of water across the service tank and over the wall on the north or down stream side which had now to serve as an overfall or weir a purpose for which, it is hardly necessary to observe, it was not designed. This great flood brought down with it enormous quantities of sand and other material.

[photograph No. 2 missing. The photo could have looked similar to the one top right of the drawing.]

May 1889 flood
May 1889 flood, by annelisec


During the 29th and 30th, about 18,000 cubic yards of earth were washed away from the slopes of the service tank and filter beds, and probably an equal quantity from the banks of the nullah below the tank, the bed of which has in consequence been greatly enlarged. The rush of water also carried away the bridge over the nullah on the Kennedy Road. During the night of the 29th and 30th, a formidable slip had occurred in the lower part of the nullah. A mass of earth fell from the cliff at the north west angle of the Head Quarter House, on to the open space east of the Officer's quarters at the Murray Barracks (at E. on plan). This damned the valley, the large open masonry conduit 22 feet wide and 12 feet deep was filled up, and the flood of water carrying mud and sand spread along the Queen's Road right and left, flooding the ground floors of the barrack rooms, and leaving a solid deposit, consisting chiefly of clean quartz sand, on the roads and barrack yards adjoining, to a depth of from two to four feet. From 15,000 to 20,000 cubic yards of debris were here deposited, and a far larger quantity was carried into the Harbour, and formed a formidable bank at the mouth of the nullah. The effects of the flood in the neighbourhood of the Murray Barracks are shewn in photograph No. 3.

Neighbourhood of Murray Barracks after the flood [No. 3]
Neighbourhood of Murray Barracks after the flood [No. 3], by Klaus


Damage in the Glenealy Nullah.

22. The water of this nullah discharges into the Harbour 700 yards west of the mouth of the Albany Nullah. It is a natural ravine down to the point marked B. on plan. From this point the water is carried to the sea through a masonry culvert varying in sectional area from 12 to 26 square feet. This culvert passes down Wyndham and Pedder's Streets, of which it forms the main drain. The gradients are very rapid, the fall from the upper end of the culvert to the Clock Tower being 200 feet, in a horizontal distance of 1,400 feet, average gradient 1 in 7. The first damage which was reported during the storm occurred to this culvert. The volume of water on the morning of the 29th being greater than could be discharged through the culvert, the hydraulic pressure blew up the crown of the arch in several places.

After the storm (Wyndham Street) [No. 7]
After the storm (Wyndham Street) [No. 7], by Klaus


Large quantities of debris were deposited in Queen's Road and Pedder's Street, and the ground floor of several buildings was flooded.

Pedder street, Looking towards Wharf. [No. 6]
Pedder street, Looking towards Wharf. [No. 6], by Klaus

But during the greater down-pour, in the early morning of the 30th, some heavy landslips occurred in the ravine just above the upper end of the culvert.

Glenealy Ravine, Before the storm [No. 5A]
Glenealy Ravine, Before the storm [No. 5A], by Klaus
 Glenealy Ravine, After the storm [No. 5]
Glenealy Ravine, After the storm [No. 5], by Klaus


These dammed up the flood waters in the valley until their accumulated force broke through the temporary barrier, and they swept down towards the sea damaging the culvert more or less throughout its whole length. Huge stones of all sizes up to ¾ of a ton, were transported by the force of the water to the level portion of the culvert in Pedder's Street, where owing to want of fall the heavier masses of the debris were arrested, thus effectually blocking the drain, so that the water had to be discharged along the surface of the streets. Stones of at least ½ ton weight were lifted about 10 feet from the bed of the culvert and deposited on the side path in Pedder's Street. The valley above the bridge on the Caine Road at F. on plan which had been terraced and laid out with great taste by my predecessor as a public garden was completely wrecked, and trees, shrubs, flower beds, flights of granite steps, and entrance gates, were swept clean away. In the road at G. on plan the bursting of the drain formed a huge hole in the centre of the roadway 55 feet in diameter and 19 feet deep. The photographs Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 shew the destruction wrought by the flood along the line of the Glenealy drain.

Pedder's Wharf, Before the storm. [No. 4A]
Pedder's Wharf, Before the storm. [No. 4A], by Klaus
After the storm (Pedder Street) [No. 4]
After the storm (Pedder Street) [No. 4], by Klaus
1889 Pedders Wharf (after storm 2).jpg
1889 Pedders Wharf (after storm 2).jpg, by Paulo


During the night a portion of the Glenealy flood water forced a new channel for itself down Zetland Street into the Queen's Road at H. on plan, where its onward course was blocked by the houses on the north side of the road. A considerable deposit of sand was here formed and the neighbouring premises were flooded.

23. On the 29th when the first damage occurred to the Glenealy drain it was evident that the culvert was completely blocked for a considerable length by the debris of rocks and building material. As the removal of these obstructions must necessarily occupy a considerable time, my first care was to make such temporary provision for the passage of storm waters along the surface of the streets, as to prevent, if possible, any further damage to neighbouring buildings by flooding. This was effected by forming protecting banks of stone on either side of the stream. I was not free from anxiety as to the effect a further heavy rush of water down such steep declivities might have on the foundation of the houses. In Zetland Street the torrent tore up the roadway and ploughed up the bottom to a depth of 5 or 6 feet in a very short space of time. Instructions were given accordingly to watch the line of the Glenealy torrent night and day, and arrangements were made that should serious damage threaten the buildings in one street, to divert the flood in another direction, or to divide it, and thus minimize its destructive action.

24. Owing to the precautions taken no further injury occurred through the flooding of the basements of buildings in this locality, and although some dissatisfaction was expressed at the length of time the debris was allowed to remain in some of the streets, it is obvious that the slight inconvenience arising from this cause was as nothing to the serious consequences that must have resulted had the banks been removed before the culvert was completely cleared. This was effected, and the debris removed from Pedder's Street, and Queen's Road on 26th June.

25. In connexion with the flood in the Glenealy Nullah I should explain that it was found on examination that the quantity of water coming down this ravine was considerably augmented owing to the works in progress in connexion with building operations on Building Lots 1,146 and 1,147 at J. on plan. A catch-water drain had been constructed many years ago along the line marked J. K. on plan, to divert the water from the upper slopes which would naturally find its way down the Glenealy Nullah, into the Albany Nullah. But during the progress of the building operations referred to, and the construction of an aqueduct to take the place of the original open drain which traversed the site sold as building lots, it was found impossible to carry the intercepted water into the Albany Nullah, and it therefore had previous to the storm been diverted into its original discharging channel, i. e. the Glenealy Nullah, and thus necessarily tended materially to increase the flood volume.

26. It is I think apparent even to a casual observer that the development of the City was not foreseen by the Government of the Colony during its earlier years, nor by its technical advisers. Situated as the City mainly is on a strip of low lying land overhung by steep mountain slopes, liable to excessive rainfall, it would appear .obvious that a primary element of safety was to convey the water from the various nullahs through the habitable area by open masonry channels, constructed along the natural course of the torrents. Instead of this however, the water courses have with few exceptions been enclosed in culverts, carried down the main streets, and when thus covered over have been converted into sewers for the discharge of house drainage, a purpose for which they are obviously unfitted, and instead of the natural and straightest course having been adopted, these subterranean torrents have in numerous instances been violently diverted to avoid interference with public or private property, and in some cases instead of following the line of the street the culvert passes by an indirect route under houses and occupied areas. Recent experience has afforded convincing proof that the natural order of things cannot thus be departed from without the risk of serious damage from flood. Unfortunately some of the mistakes of the past are not susceptible of an easy remedy.