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Did You Know?

text and photos
by Ian Medcalf

(from the Hong Kong & Kowloon Town Crier magazine, May 2001)

Stanley has undergone some changes over the last few years. A new market sits waiting to be
occupied on the waterfront. The flower stalls have disappeared. What used to be Ma Hang squatter village is now Stanley Plaza, and the shoreline near the Tin Hau Temple is now gracedby an enormous old colonial building which rose out of nowhere. This is Murray House.

It is in fact one of the two oldest colonial buildings in Hong Kong. It was designed by Major Aldrich and Lieutenant Collinson of the Royal Engineers. Both Murray House and Flagstaff House (the current Museum of Teaware in Hong Kong Park) were built by the Royal Engineers in the 1840s.

The building was originally situated adjacent to the Murray Parade Ground in Central (today's Cheung Kong Centre) and formed part of Victoria Barracks, housing the officers' mess from 1846 right up until 1963.

During the Second World War, the occupying Japanese forces used the building as an interrogation centre. Evidence of the conflict prior to the British surrender can still be found in the shape of bullet and shrapnel marks on the columns of the building.

In 1963 the building was handed over to the Hong Kong Government and became the home of the Ratings and Valuations Department. After several complaints of ghostly activity throughout the 1960s and '70s, the building gained the reputation of hosting a poltergeist. In the late 1970s an exorcism ceremony was performed and was evidently successful since the spirit was said never to have returned.

In the early 1980s, a decision was made to demolish Murray House to make way for the Bank of China Tower which now stands on the site. This was during the period when the old Hong Kong Club nearby was also redeveloped, to the dismay of many who admired Hong Kong's architectural heritage.

After a public outcry against the Government's vandalism and shortsightedness, a decision was made to re-erect Murray House elsewhere and restore it to its former glory. After meticulously
identifying and numbering each of the 400,000 pieces of stone, the building was taken apart in 1982 and put into storage in huts beside Tai Tam Reservoir. It was planned to erect it somewhere near its original site, but then a site in Stanley - Ma Hang village - was opted for to put the building to good use for the local community.

Buildings in Hong Kong usually go up in the blink of an eye. But somehow nearly twenty years were allowed to pass before the building was reconstructed and opened to the public. This took place in the year 2000. A replica roof has replaced the original Chinese tiled roof, and the eight chimneys that adorn it are not the originals, but come from another century-old edifice, the former Mental Hospital in High Street at Sai Ying Pun, which has itself recently been restored.

Today Murray House houses a small exhibition on the ground floor and a couple of restaurants on the second floor, with no doubt future plans for the third floor. Porch columns rescued from a
demolished pawn shop in Shanghai Street visually link the building to the Tin Hau Temple nearby, which still sits unperturbed in its original location, even maintaining its sea view. The site is a delight to stroll around, sit and relax, to do some people watching. The two restaurants are ideally placed, allowing residents and tourists to take a meal overlooking the pleasant surroundings. Let's hope similar rosy futures are in store for other colonial buildings, such as the Central Police Station on Hollywood Road and the old Marine PoliceHeadquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui.



(re-published with kind permission from the magazine




Read >> The Phoenix of Murray House (Civil Service Newsletter, Nov 2001)
>> BACK (Chek Chu Heritage Menu)- Stanley Dragon Boat Races