Old Maps of Hong Kong

Old maps are my favourite tool for investigating Hong Kong's history. Sometimes they help answer questions, eg finding which building used to stand at a certain place in Hong Kong.

Other times the maps raise their own questions - I'll find something marked that I didn't know about before, and that gets me interested to learn more.

So where to see these maps?

"Mapping Hong Kong" book

[As of 2017 This book is out of print and no longer available.] The easiest way is to get a copy of "Mapping Hong Kong - A Historical Atlas", by Hal Empson. It has old street maps, topographic maps, as well as some aerial photgraphs. It's a big book and well printed, so there's lots of detail to see. It's printed by the HK Government Printer, so you won't find it on sites like Amazon. Instead you can buy it online through the government bookstore, or visit one of the Survey & Mapping Office's sales outlets (call first, to check if they have it in stock). At the time of writing, the book costs HK$498.

Map libraries

If you'd like to take a look at the Mapping Hong Kong book before you buy, there's a copy in the Map Library, 5/F Central Library. The Map Library also has a good range of large-scale old street maps available to look at, and map-reading tables so you can read in comfort. I struggled on my first visit to find the exact map I wanted (you have to submit a request to the librarian, and they bring it out for you to look at). The trick is to ask for the "Hong Kong Map Catalogue" folders. There are two, one for recent maps, and one for old maps. For each map series that is available you can see the dates and areas covered. From there you can point out the individual sheets you need.

The other good source is the collection belonging to the Survey & Mapping Office (SMO). See "Historic maps at the Survey & Mapping Office (SMO)" for details.

Old maps online

I haven't found any good online access to these old maps.

The Public Records Office search page lets you search for maps, but... most results don't have any images attached, and the ones that do are too small to be of any use. So, expect to need a visit to the PRO building if you find anything interesting.

The Public Library search page (remember, only works in Internet Explorer) does return maps that you can zoom in to and see the detail. But I've struggled to make the search engine return what I'm looking for. (Let me know if you've cracked it).

The simplest way I've found to access the Public Library's map collection is to go in via the government's '18 Districts' website. It shows you a list of selected maps for each of district in Hong Kong. Here's the map page for 'Central and Western' district. On the top right of that page you can click to select any of the other districts.

Modern maps

I often look at the modern online maps too, especially when I'm looking for remaining signs of physical features like fortifications and tunnels. You can often see their shape if you zoom in to the map at the highest magnification.

There are several maps that are based on the government's surveys. The commercial sites (YPMap and Centamap) are fastest and easiest to use. There are also several government sites that display the maps, eg the Statutory Planning Dept.

What am I missing?

What other resources are there (online or offline) to view old maps of Hong Kong? And any other tips on using the tools listed above?

Regards, David

Comments

I'm wondering if there is anything at the University of HK.  I'm really rushed off my feet right now, but when things calm down a bit, I'm going to check out the library.  BTW if you've got the time and inclination, I think they have a community membership as well.

Gweipo, thanks for your message and e-mail. HKU should be a good resource too, but I don't know much about them.

In their online access, I can only find maps mentioned in the 'Hong Kong Tourism Board Collection'. There are some that look interesting, but we can only see a description from the web, the maps themselves haven't been put online.

The Hong Kong Collection you linked to also looks like it could have some good stuff, though there's no specific mention of maps:

Hong Kong Collection
The Hong Kong Collection is a unique collection of books, serials, government publications, newspaper clippings and non-print materials covering almost every aspect of Hong Kong history and life. It comprises the most comprehensive collection of materials relating to Hong Kong in the Territory. The University Libraries is designated as a depository for books and periodicals published or printed in Hong Kong. The Collection is for consultation in the Hung On-To Memorial Library only.

Has anyone got experience of visiting these libraries? What is their map collection like?

If not, it'll be worth a visit. The options they list for the public are:

  • Free access: "Members of the public in Hong Kong who can demonstrate a bona fide research need to use the library's academic resources may be given on-site access privileges to the library for up to 3 days within an academic year. This access does not include borrowing privileges. To apply for access to the Libraries, please send a written request addressed to the Access Services Librarian."
  • Paid subscription (become a 'Friend' of the university):
     - Silver (read onsite only) @ HK$1,500 a year
     - Gold (oniste, and borrow) @ HK$3,000 a year

I think I've also seen a flyer in the Hong Kong Public Library's reference library promoting (free?) access to the HKU library. I can't find it online though. Has anyone used this?

Regards, David

Hi David, I work overseas. In the past, the HKU library allowed students of foreign universities to have readers' privilege (i.e. no borrowing) for a limited period of time (e.g. a month during the summer). After graduation, I have got access on a number of occasions, but they started rejecting my requests since several years ago. I would imagine it is even more difficult for someone living in HK. There is no harm trying though.

Thanks C, as you say, no harm in trying. I've just sent an email to the HKPL's reference library to see if it's true that HKPL cardholders can approach them to get access to the HKU library. I'll let you know what I find.

Regards, David

Here's the reply from the HK Public Library:

Regarding your enquiry on the access to the University of Hong Kong Libraries, the service you mentioned is our referral service for the University of Hong Kong Libraries Temporary Pass. Applicant of the service should be a library card holder of the Hong Kong Public Libraries. The Temporary Pass entitles its holder to visit the University of Hong Kong Libraries on three consecutive days to access its library resources. For details of the service such as the eligibility, application method...etc., please visit the following website:

Referral Service for the University of Hong Kong Libraries Temporary Pass

If I had unlimited cash, unlimited wall-space, and a three year-old daughter who didn't think everything looks better with a sticker on, I'd forget about the online map collections, and buy the real thing. Here are the local companies I know of that stock old maps of Hong Kong:

  • Wattis Fine Art. They do have a website, but you're better off visiting their shop on the 2nd Floor, 20 Hollywood Rd. (On the corner with Old Bailey St, just opposite the old Central Police Station). It looks like their main audience is the serious collector, so prepare for sticker shock on some of the old stuff. It's still good to go and have a drool over the maps (not literally, please!), and they have some good reproduction maps of HK that are under HK$1,000.
  • Picture This. They have an online gallery of their Hong Kong maps, that will give you a good idea of what they sell, and their prices. They have a shop in Prince's Building.
  • Brian Seed Fine Art. A small collection of Hong Kong maps, sold via the internet. Their strong point is a website that lets you view the maps in great detail online. Here's the gallery of Hong Kong maps.

Are there any others that you'd recommend?

Hi there,

If you are looking for slightly older local maps you may get maps dated back into the 198X edition of the maps created by the Lands Office.  I have bought a few pieces of the 1:10,000 maps earlier this year.  Older maps have to be ordered, BTW.  For available sheets please check with the Lands office or their two Maps outlets.

Best Regards,

T

Notes from 80skid:

The government has blessed us with a new online mapping service, where you can quickly search any address or structure. The detailed map seems to be the best, although it's all a little slow. Some tunnels marked, some not; some interesting places given little notes, some not. www.map.gov.hk

Ah ha! You can search by lot number, which also shows the size of the lot AND gives every abbreviation known to man, eg

LHKVL: LITTLE HONG KONG VILLAGE LOT

Unfortunately the search-by-lot feature (listed under 'Advanced Search' on left menu bar) only works for current lots. So if a lot has been subdivided into several smaller new lots, you can search by the new lot numbers, but not by the original lot number. I'm still dreaming of a (free!) government search that will show us details of old lots.

Still, it's a useful new tool to add to our collection.

Thanks to Thomas for introducing this website. It's one of the government sites, and shows very detailed, current maps of Hong Kong:

The main site is strange enough, http://www.hkmapservice.gov.hk   Just select your language and in your go.  You would then be redirected to https://www1.hkmapservice.gov.hk/DDS/checkclientconfig/failure.jsp bullshit saying your system is not compatible, blah blah blah, same old government website Internet Explorer junk, which still requires users to be using IE 5.5 or 6.0.  It also says version higher than these two (together with other browsers) are not tested and some features might be missing.

Some XLM might be required to run to test out your computer.  Just click all through and you should still be able to view.  I went in with latest version of Firefox under Windows XP and 32-bit IE8 under 64-bit Windows 7 and all looked fine.

It will time you out if you fall into inactivity.  Just select the 1:1000 base map and have fun.

Big field trip planned to HK, arriving tomorrow wed 23 March.

The first field will be the SMO Library in North Point to procure a copy of the 'Mapping Hong Kong' publication.

The next big field will be the HK Stadium for the sevens tournament at the weekend...

All excited!

Regards to all.

J

Speaking of old maps, does anyone know where one can pickup old versions of the Countryside series?  I have a couple from the mid-90s but would like to get the full series of the originals or 2nd editions.

Hi Tony,

       You can get old maps from the government publications in North Point

 

Map Publications Centre (HK) on 23rd Floor , 333 Java Rd

You can also get old airial photo's of Hk which are pretty good, but you'll need to wait a week before collecting.

 

P.S. I think the first Country Side map was about mid-70's.

The government bookstore website is currently selling Mapping Hong Kong (see original post) at about half price, at $265 plus postage.

Many thanks to Adam. I have ordered this book and can confirm the postage is $57 for standard local mail :-)

Adam, thanks for pointing this out.

This is the book I refer to most often, so if you like old maps and old Hong Kong, I recommend it.

Unfortunately the website appears to have been designed by the department of order prevention, so a couple of tips:

  • Start by clicking here
  • Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click 'Continue'
  • You'll need to login before you can buy anything, so click  'New Customer?' over on top-left side of window, fill in your details to make an account. Password must be 8-15 characters long, and contain at least one number and one letter.
  • Then login
  • Now you can buy! Over on 'Pick of the month' is Mapping Hong Kong @ $265. Click the 'Add to cart' link below it.
  • Click 'Checkout'
  • Hopefully from there on it's self-explanatory.

Regards, David

Dear all,

While I was looking for some Ordnance Map of Hong Kong, I found the following highly useful website in which some old Hong Kong maps (as old as 1866) can be viewed online and enlarged:

http://www.nla.gov.au/what-we-collect/maps

An example is here:

Great Britain. War Office. General Staff. Geographical Section.
Hong Kong and the New Territories [cartographic material].
1929 - 1960.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.map-vn4493263

You may have a look if interested.

On the other hand, grateful if anyone could advise where I can find the series of HK map below (Sheet No.1 -21, dated around 1904) except from the Central Public Library:

One sheet of the series is like this:
Buffalo Hill, sheet no. 11: for War Department purposes only [Ordnance Survey]
Scale 8 in = 1 mile

Million thanks !

teddy

 

Great find, seems there's 1936 and 1951 detailed maps of Hong Kong in that collection. There's also quirky ones like this:
http://www.nla.gov.au/apps/cdview/?pi=nla.map-brsc19-s2-v
which includes a detailed map of all the houses on the Peak in 1960 

David

If you think a map from 1980 is already an Old Map of Hong Kong, here is one. It was given free by or hotel (Furama). Regards Klaus

Hong Kong Map (1980)(1).jpg
Hong Kong Map (1980)(1).jpg, by Klaus
Hong Kong Map (1980)(2).jpg
Hong Kong Map (1980)(2).jpg, by Klaus
Hong Kong Map (1980)(3).jpg
Hong Kong Map (1980)(3).jpg, by Klaus

 

Thanks Klaus, many of the buildings on these maps have already been demolished, so the maps are very useful.

Regards, David

Tymon Mellor has just launched an exciting resource for anyone interested in old maps of Hong Kong: http://www.hkmaps.hk/resource.html

Not only does it list a good collection of maps, Tymon has also overlaid them over modern maps so we can compare the old and new maps for a given location.

Going back to tngan's and Craig's posts of earlier years, the Land Registry, Queensway will do a historical search for a particular address, providing lot numbers back to the date of its creation, any carving out and also diagrams - all for a fee. This can be done on line or in person. At the Lands Office at 333 Java Road you can search for maps and aerial photos by date and pull up the images on the spot. The seven day service for copies of aerial photos claims to provide greater clarity than the express service of 2-3 days, but they carry the same fee and I found the result from the express service perfectly adequate.

This is brilliant - you can see the development along one road over time so very easily.

Hal Empson's Mapping Hong Kong is virtually impossible to buy now, except  as an expensive rare book, but online collections which overlay old maps can provide so much information, insight and understanding. This has to be the way to go, and hkmaps deserves our support and gratitude.

Barbara

PS David - the1941 map shows how the hill must have stretched from south of Prince Edward Road north into what is now Mongkok Stadium, and upon which the spectators shown at http://gwulo.com/node/17560 were standing

Thanks to Gordon Andreassand for sending this link: http://www.miniforum.net/showpost.fcgi?MGID=2803637&page=12