Old Guard Room, Stone Boundary Wall and Crack Monitors (early 20th century)

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  • Historic Information

Labourers’ Quarter

In 1902, Britain won the Boer War, occupying Transvaal in South Africa. After the war, Britain began to reconstruct the local economy by developing its gold mining industry. While mining was profitable, the employment rate was low, which meant that the government’s yield from income tax was reduced. Due to decreases in the miners’ salaries, many South Africans switched over to the farming and agriculture industry. As a result, the mines were about 200,000 workers short. It would have been too expensive to hire white workers, so the British government turned to the ‘low-paid, hard-working’ laborers of China.

When China and Britain were in negotiations regarding Chinese emigrant labor, Transvaal mining industry was already starting its recruitment. In the beginning, they mainly recruited workers from Southern China. Subsequently, Butterfield and Swire –agents for South African Mine Owners Association – asked the Hong Kong government to rent the present site to house the laborers temporarily. Hong Kong established these quarters with a capacity of over one thousand laborers for Transvaal, right here on this site.

In March 1904, Butterfield & Swire first posted notices in Jiaying county near Guangzhou and in four townships in Wuzhou, Guangxi. With the help of Chinese recruitment agents, they first recruited 1,504 laborers. The laborers were assembled in Lai Chi Kok before being shipped to South Africa. The English business later recruited another lot, and the total number of workers deployed added up to 1,741.

In the harsh environment of the mining fields, issues such as the laborers’ poor attitudes and their meager pay engendered a lot of controversy that led the workers to go on strike or even flee. By the second half of 1905, the strikes became very severe; they affected the safety and security of the mines and surrounding areas, and even destabilized Britain’s colonial rule in the area. The British government therefore persuaded Transvaal to cease labor employment from China. The contract for the labor recruitment was signed for 4 years, but was terminated in 1904. This was why the Lai Chi Kok laborers’ quarters were open only for 2 short years.


Why was there a need for the Lai Chi Kok Quarantine Station?

According to legislative documents in 1908 – a few years after the laborers’ quarters closed – the Hong Kong government purchased the site for HKD$3,000 in response to the smallpox outbreak. They invested HKD$8,500 for renovations, and in addition, built guard house and an enclosing wall. It became a quarantine station that could put 1,600 patients in quaantine. It was established due to the overflow from the Kennedy Town Hospital.


Function of the Lai Chi Kok Quarantine Station

The primary function of a quarantine station those days was to detain and isolate patients. If the authorities discovered that a person on a particular boat was infected, the individual, along with all passengers and the crew were brought to the quarantine station for medical examination. The station was located on this site was probably also because Lai Chi Kok was once a pier.


Old Guard Room, Stone Boundary Wall and Crack Monitors

According of Report of the Director of Public Works, 1908, the government arranged to purchase the whole of the buildings from the lessees of the Transvaal Emigration Depot at Lai Chi Kok for a sum of $3,000 with a view to utilizing them for a quarantine station. The buildings, which were originally built as the temporary structure, required a considerable amount of repair and it was also decided to erect a masonry boundary wall to enclose them and to repair the old Customs Station for use as a guard house.

(Reference: Report of the Director of Public Works, 1908)

At present, only a small part of the ancient stone wall can be seen at the main entrance and the back entrance. In fact, the entire site, including the high, middle and low zones, has been surrounded by a whole granite stone wall.

The structure has been conserved quite well. This is because the past management of the site started protecting it rather early. The staff here started using ancient forms of surveillance in 1934 to monitor the guard house. You can see that some crack monitors here have “November 24th, 1934” etched on them, yet some are also from 1962, scatter at the top right and the bottom left of the exterior wall of the old guard room.

This point was once the front gate. There is a signage of “HACare Home”, while the staircase facing the road has retained a signage of “Lai Chi Kok Hospital”. To facilitate communication of the hospital with outside, there was once a George V postbox which then replaced by a modern one later on.