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12 July 2009
SCMP

Hong Kong's topography has changed so dramatically over the past century that many contemporary place names refer to hills, promontories and bays that no longer exist. One such vanished natural feature was located roughly where modern-day Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Happy Valley meet. The road around the bottom - Morrison Hill Road - provides some clue in the name; but what exactly became of the hill itself and who did it commemorate?

The hill was named after the first Protestant missionary to China, Dr Robert Morrison; in 1843 a branch of the Morrison Education Society opened a school on what became known as Morrison Hill. His son, J.R. Morrison, one of the very few Europeans of his era literate in the Chinese language, served as the first Hong Kong government interpreter. He died in Hong Kong in 1843 of fever - then a common cause of death - and is buried in the Old Protestant Cemetery in Macau.

Surviving early photographs show Morrison Hill as a prominent, rocky natural feature sandwiched between the racecourse and the harbour. In the mid-19th century some substantial houses were built on the summit - more to take advantage of summer breezes and the view than for any convenience - but the rest of the hillside remained wild.

Morrison Hill offered other attractions with the passage of time.

Hong Kong's most renowned European brothel operated during the interwar years just across from Morrison Hill, at the far end of Queen's Road East, run by a stately lady of shadowy origins named Ethel Morrison - it was rumoured that she took her professional surname from the hill across the way. In Hong Kong at that time, every manner of service - including sex in the better establishments - was provided on a chit system and paid for at the end of the month. Ethel's was no different.

Morrison Hill's fate was sealed when the Praya East reclamation scheme started in 1921. This massive project reclaimed the Hong Kong Island foreshore eastwards from the naval dockyard (near where the government administrative complex is under construction in Admiralty) to the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter. Landfill had to come from somewhere, and Morrison Hill was progressively quarried away throughout the 1920s. Nothing remains - other than the name and a slight elevation in the eastern corner of Wan Chai - to suggest that this once-significant landmark ever existed.
 

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EOS 40D
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Looks like there still are quite a few present-day buildings named after the hill.
 

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There are still:
Morrison Hill Road
Morrison Hill Road Playground
Morrison Hill Swimming Pool
HKIVE (Morrison Hill)

Some topographic legacies are still there, but do need some imaginations tough.
  • Wan Chai Road off Morrison Hill Road and Queen's Road East are on a slope and flattens off towards the west.
  • Buildings between Heard St and Tin Lok Ln on the north side of Wan Chai Road between have stepped basements on Hennessy Rd front.
  • Wan Chai Park and Ruttonjee Hospital are on a hill.
  • Probably the most noticeable is the basketball just next to C.C. Wu Building which has a giant retaining wall on the southern end.

But before Morrison Hill was flattened, Causeway Bay was actually segregated from Wan Chai and further west, aka the Victoria City, because of the hill there. The removal Morrison Hill opened up connection and opportunities for Causeway Bay.
 

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Island Hopper
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It's amazing to see how craggy Hong Kong's topography used to be. Looking at old photos and oil paintings it is sometimes impossible to recognise places if you don't read the captions.
 
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