During a dress rehearsal for tomorrow's ceremonial departure of the last Governor from Government House, household staff wept. The quiet ceremony, which has been performed by every governor, will seal 142 years of history at Government House and mark a personal watershed for the 89 staff, some of whom have spent half a lifetime serving successive governors. Governor Chris Patten's deputy private secretary, Kim Salkeld, who has worked at Government House for four years, says: 'Many have been working here for many, many years, have seen several governors come and go - but the difference is here the governor is going and no new governor is coming - it is a chief executive and things are naturally going to be different.' Down will come potent symbols of colonialism: Queen Elizabeth II's monograms on the front gates will be removed and as the Union Flag is lowered during the sunset ceremony at Tamar, so too will its counterpart at Government House. Declared a monument two years ago, tomorrow Government House will embark on another phase in its history. As Mr Salkeld points out, the building has always adapted to dramatic changes. Despite its landmark status as the home of Hong Kong's governors - housing 25 out of 28 - the foundation and fate of Government House remained uncertain until the 1960s. It was only in 1855, 14 years after the colony was founded, that a seat of government and symbol of colonial power was completed in the form of a modest neo-classical mansion. But the Surveyor General Charles St George Cleverly's two-story colonnaded house, ringed with verandas and cooled by punkahs, was not to every governor's liking. Successive governors complained of the oppressive heat and humidity, insect infestations and increasing noise rising from the growing city below. Construction of Mountain Lodge on the Peak - to provide a respite from stifling summers - did not dampen the enthusiasm of several governors to desert the house altogether. It was not until the arrival of Sir Robert Black in 1958, who put to rest proposals to abandon the site, that renovations began in earnest. Today Government House is an eclectic mix of East and West, a legacy of the major renovations by the Japanese during the Occupation, who performed a major facelift of the facade, and built the distinctive tower and ornate tiled roof. The tower linked two parts of the house - Cleverly's modest mansion and the ballroom - which when constructed in 1892, effectively doubled the size of the building. By the imperial standards of the time, Mr Salkeld says, the original house was 'really very small'. 'It is the only Government House we know about that when the cost estimate was sent to London no objection was raised because it was so cheap,' he says. By the 1890s, when the early signs of economic vibrancy that made Hong Kong famous emerged, 'the merchant community was beginning to complain the Governor did not really have anywhere to entertain them properly,' he says. Even then the ballroom could not be used in summer because of the heat. The advent of electricity in 1908 brought ceiling fans - hung from huge beams that now support chandeliers - but air-conditioners were not installed until 1979. A painting in the drawing room depicts a colonnaded villa set among lush gardens overlooking the sea: 100 years later the scene is unrecognisable, hemmed in as Government House is by towering skyscrapers, buffeted by their whirring air-conditioning units and rattled by pile drivers. Inside, however, it is cool, calm and usually quiet - when media crews are not treading the bauhinia-flowered carpets and wooden floors that Mr Patten commissioned in 1993 as part of a $2.5 million face-lift. In the drawing room a BBC crew - who are finishing a documentary spanning the last five years as well as blanket news coverage - discuss the finer details of the historic occasion with Mr Patten. A journalist and photographer, attended by the Governor's affable information co-ordinator Kerry McGlynn, await Lavender Patten, who is accompanied by the not so friendly Whisky, one of the Pattens' infamous dogs. Several photographers pace the lawn and prowl inside under the watchful eyes of Edward Llewellyn, the Governor's personal adviser. The only sanctuary is the ballroom, restored to its former gilded glory in 1993. The bird-egg blue ceiling, classical columns and opulent ormolu create a grand yet airy sensation. It is here that Prince Charles will today conduct the investiture of those awarded the Queen's honours beneath the massive royal coat of arms. As soon as the ceremony is over, the coat of arms, which dates from the 1870s, will be taken down and transported to the British Trade Commission - transformed overnight into the British Embassy - where its fate will be decided. Unlike the china, cutlery, glassware and other items adorned with the royal insignia, which will remain in Government House, the coat of arms belongs to the British Government. When the British legation in Beijing closed in 1948 and a new embassy opened there was no room for the coat of arms. 'It ended up in a little shed in the backyard. In 1964 it was sent down to Hong Kong which was fortunate because the embassy was burnt down during the Cultural Revolution riots and it might well have been lost had it not come down here,' Mr Salkeld says. The Pattens' paintings and family portraits have been removed, but the place is hardly bare: the furniture created as part of the renovations of public areas - such as the Ming-modelled chairs and hand-woven bauhinia rugs - will remain. So too will historical artifacts and furniture, including the two tables on which the Japanese signed the surrender in 1945, items that will form the core of a museum, one of the suggested uses for a part of Government House. 'We understand the chief executive is going to use the place for the ceremonial part of being the head of government in Hong Kong. There isn't anywhere else in Hong Kong that offers the same sort of venue for doing that - investitures, meeting VIP guests, that kind of thing,' Mr Salkeld says. Turning Government House into a home for Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa has been ruled out because of its colonial memories and bad fung shui. Although the location was well chosen - above the city, backed by mountains and facing the harbour - buildings soon sprouted, blocking its harbour view and ruining its fung shui. According to Professor Desmond Hui Cheuk-kuen of Hong Kong University's Department of Architecture, Government House has suffered a series of misfortunes. It took more than a decade to create the original seat of government - and before completion the contractor went bankrupt. During the erection of the flagstaff, it came crashing down, killing one worker and severely injuring two others. Things have not improved in modern times. To fung shui master Choi Park-lai - brought in after Sir Edward Youde's death and with the consent of Sir David Wilson - the house was shaped like a cat, with the tower representing the head and the ballroom its front legs. Mr Choi said towering buildings overawed the cat; the solution was a mouse, in the form of a pergola, placed in the garden on the spot where the fung shui lines of force from the Hongkong Bank and Bank of China buildings and Government House crossed. Professor Hui said the fung shui master was also horrified by the square swimming pool - shaped too much like a tomb - which he recommended making round at once. If that was not enough to deter Mr Tung, a coincidence or macabre warning finally made up his mind, he added. When the Tungs left Government House after an inspection visit, the first thing they saw outside the gatehouse was a hearse. Government House's supposedly bad fung shui has not affected Mr Patten. In fact, says Mr Salkeld, who echoes the feelings of many staffers: 'It has been a wonderfully interesting and enjoyable time working here - an unrepeatable time in Hong Kong's history - but that has been the case for 150 years.'