Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 June, 2008, 12:00am

Scenic, ruggedly attractive Stanley, with its collection of historic sites, beaches and coastal scenery, has been a popular sightseeing destination for decades.

Relatively few visitors venture beyond the famous market and most leave without realising that beyond the covered stalls is a place with a history that stretches back further than Hong Kong's foundations as a British colony. Named after Lord Stanley - Secretary of State for the Colonies when Hong Kong Island was ceded to Great Britain - the area was previously known as Chek Chue (Red Pillar); both names are commonly used today. The original village was located around the site of the parade ground at Stanley Fort. Villagers were resettled where Stanley market stands today.

The Tin Hau (sea goddess) temple dates back to the late 18th century. A skin from a tiger - killed in Stanley in early 1942 by a Sikh policeman and now rather mangy and decayed - hangs on one wall.

Murray House, the elegant and yet somewhat incongruous building on the waterfront near the temple, was originally in Central. It was carefully taken down in the early 1980s and eventually rebuilt in Ma Hang in 1998.

Nearby, the Carmelite monastery was built in 1934. The chapel is open to the public for services. Prominently situated at the top of the hill, Maryknoll House was built the following year for the Maryknoll Mission, then active in southwest China.

Stanley's old police station - Hong Kong's oldest - was built in 1859 and survives on the main street. Established partly as an anti-piracy measure, it was awarded monument status in 1983. Nevertheless, the historic building was leased to private enterprise in 1991 and turned into a restaurant; today it functions as a supermarket. It still retains many original features, such as the heavy iron window bars and dark, cell-like alcoves. One has to wonder if a generic supermarket was the best choice for one of Hong Kong's scarce heritage sites.

The war cemetery above St Stephen's Beach, with its lawns and shady corners, is one of Hong Kong's most interesting places to wander. Some graves date from the earliest years of British rule.

Stanley saw some fierce fighting against the Japanese invaders in 1941 - two men were killed outside the police station - and the cemetery was reopened to bury the fallen. Civilians interned at Stanley Prison who died were also buried there. Their gravestones were roughly hewn road markers and their simplicity is moving.

Hidden in the undergrowth, towards Stanley Fort, are the graves of condemned criminals who were executed at Stanley Prison. They lie unmourned and forgotten by the modern world.