Surveying the Past
This section reveals the part played by amateur geologists in the drawing of early geological maps and the discovery of Hong Kong’s first fossils at the turn of the twentieth century.
Scroll to read the stories ↓
Story 6: 1920 Charles M. Heanley
Born in 1877, Charles Montague Heanley was a physician and came to Hong Kong in 1906 to serve as head of the government’s Vaccine and Bacteriological Department. During his 24 years stay he developed a passion for archaeology and geology. In 1920, Heanley discovered a fossil in the sedimentary rocks on the north side of Tolo Channel. It was an ammonite, a marine animal that lived in the Mesozoic era such as those displayed here from other parts of the world. This discovery meant that the predominant rock formations of Hong Kong did not form in the pre-Cambrian (approx. 541 million years ago) or the early Palaeozoic (approx. 485 million years ago) as it was believed by his predecessors, but were formed later. The ammonite was sent to expert A.W. Grabau for identification who dated it as Lower Cretaceous (approx. 100 million years ago). When more fossils were found in 1923, Heanley’s was eventually named Hongkongites hongkongensis and re-dated as Lower Jurassic (approx. 174 million years ago).
Heanley was known for drawing fine maps showing the details of geological formations in Hong Kong. The map reproduced here along with its explanatory notes was published by Heanley in a 1924 article on the ammonite discovery. It served as a base for a later team of Canadian geologists who were commissioned to produce the first official geological report on Hong Kong. Plotted in 1936, the framed, coloured geological map reproduced below accompanied the report and relies heavily on Heanley’s observations.
Stephen Hui Geological Museum
Ammonites are a marine organism that lived during the Mesozoic era. They are an index fossil used to define and identify geologic periods. Most ammonites are spiral-shaped with stripes of varying thickness as shown above. The most representative discovery in Hong Kong is the ammonite fossil identified as Hongkongites hongkongensis found by Heanley in the north of Tolo Channel in 1920. The ammonite fossils shown here are closely related species found in Britain, Germany and China.
"Preliminary Geological Map of Hong Kong"
The British Library
The first geological map of Hong Kong, produced by Heanley, was included in his article on ammonites published in 1924. This important work was foundational to all later geological maps in Hong Kong. In 1936, the Hong Kong government commissioned a Canadian geology team to produce Hong Kong's first official geological map, which drew significantly from this original map.
©️ The British Library
Story 7: 1924 Walter Schofield
Born in 1888, Walter Schofield was an officer in the Hong Kong Civil Service from 1911 to 1938. He dedicated much of his free time to the study of Hong Kong’s archaeology and geology. His major contribution to the knowledge of local archaeology was the excavation of a site at Shek Pik on Lantau Island in 1937.
Schofield studied and mapped some two square miles of the north western end of Hong Kong Island, including the nearby areas of Mount Davis and the Peak, which enabled him to identify and date the rocks of the area. He was particularly interested in the formation of andalusites, an aluminium bearing mineral formed in metamorphic rocks, of which he distinguished four types in his 1924 article A Note on some Andalusite Bearing Rocks in Hong Kong. In 1923 he prepared a preliminary report on sedimentary rocks and granite batholiths and submitted his conclusions in a subsequent 1930 report which was unfortunately lost during the Japanese occupation.