Lan Kwai Fong Today
Plan of Green Bank, a Residence at Hong Kong, the Property of CJ Braine (1850)
©️ The National Archives, UK
In 1850, on behalf of Dent & Co., Braine wrote to the British Colonial Secretary Henry Grey and offered to sell Green Bank to the Hong Kong Government with this plan, which depicts an embryonic form of today’s Lan Kwai Fong.
The garden behind the fence, the building with the pagoda-like roof at the back, and the group of buildings to the right of the painting are all part of Green Bank. George Chinnery was a famous Macao-based British painter. Braine commissioned Chinnery to make this painting with an aim to sell the site to the Hong Kong Government.
A View of Victoria, Hong Kong Island, 1846
Graphite and pen and brown ink on two joined pieces of medium smooth, beige wove paper
Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
A Painting of Green Bank
The Cree Journals: The Voyages of Edward H. Cree, Surgeon R.N. as Related in his Private Journals 1837–1856
By Edward H. Cree and edited by Michael Levien
The University of Hong Kong Libraries Collection
Excerpt of Journey to the Tea District of China and India (1852)
By Robert Fortune
The first chapter of the book describes the plants in various areas of Green Bank. Fortune had once proposed to the Hong Kong Government to plant trees on Hong Kong Island. Trees planted in Green Bank, including Chinese Banyan and India-rubber Tree, later became common throughout Hong Kong. Fortune was commissioned by The British East India Company to smuggle tea plants from China to British India.
Replica of The Flora of Green Bank Hong Kong (1848)
Botanical watercolour (31.8 x 21.7 cm), 1848
© Peter and Renate Nahum
There are 35 botanical paintings that depict the flowers at Green Bank. The source of these paintings remains unknown, but they were presumably commissioned by the Horticultural Society of London as a token of appreciation to Braine. The Bamboo Orchid (No. 12) and Susan Orchid (No. 16) are two native orchids in Hong Kong, which Fortune once recalled seeing on Orchid Walk. The Blood-red Melastoma (No. 20) is also native to Hong Kong, commonly found in the wild.
Charles Joseph Braine, agent of Dent & Co. moved from Canton (now Guangzhou) to Hong Kong in 1841 and lived in Green Bank on Wellington Street*. The block was partially owned by Dent & Co., which included a mansion that was originally the residence of William Caine, the first British judge in colonial Hong Kong.
Braine built a garden in this mansion with some of the plants that were transplanted from Thomas Beale’s garden in Macao. Before the cession of Hong Kong, most British merchants stayed in Macao, and Beale was one of them. He was an opium trader whose reputation was due in part to the garden he created, full of rare animals, and exotic flowers, with a huge aviary housing nearly 600 birds.
After Beale passed, his son, Thomas Chay Beale, joined the firm as a partner. During this time, Robert Fortune, a botanical hunter who had worked in China for many years, assisted Beale in transplanting flowers from Macao to Hong Kong's Green Bank. In fact, for purposes of transportation and observation, plants of ornamental and research value such as orchids, all relied on care within gardens like Green Bank and from horticulturalists like Braine. From time to time, Fortune also entrusted Green Bank with the care of the plants he found.
In 1850, Braine attempted to sell Green Bank on behalf of Dent & Co. to the Hong Kong Government as the Governor's residence and a botanical garden. The proposal was, however, turned down by the government, who deemed the location unsuitable and had tight finances at the time. The garden was finally sold in 1861; by the end of the year, funding was finally approved for the government to build a botanical garden (now Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens).
We can get a glimpse of the verdant scene inside Green Bank through Fortune’s descriptions in his travelogue. The Common Phaius, Ink Orchid, Scarlet Renanthera or Kwai-fah on the Orchid Walk are no longer seen. Traces that remain from the once luxuriant area are the street structures inherited from Green Bank, and the name of the modern-day road that once led through the garden, Lan Kwai Fong (Orchid Osmanthus Lane).
*Adapted from the research of Dr. Alicia Weisberg-Roberts
The Horticulturalist of Lan Kwai Fong
Charles Joseph Braine (1814–1890)
Period of stay in Hong Kong: 1841–1850
Interest in natural history: Botany, ferns and orchids