Saiwan Barracks on Hong Kong Island east, 1846
The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence, located at Shau Kei Wan with a total area of 34,200 square meters, is converted from the hundred years' old Lyemun Fort.
Lyemun occupies a strategic position guarding the eastern approach to the Victoria Harbour. As early as 1844, barracks were built by the British at Saiwan to the south of the channel. However, with numerous deaths of soldiers caused by severe epidemics in the area, the barracks were abandoned shortly afterwards. Although there had been many suggestions to build batteries at Lyemun in the next forty years, none was ever realized.
By 1885, in face of possible attacks from France and Russia, the British decided to construct batteries on the headland to the south of the Lyemun Channel. Designed and built by the Royal Engineers, the Redoubt was the core of the Lyemun fortifications. An area of 7,000 square meters was first dug up from the summit of the Lyemun Headland. Eighteen casemates were then constructed to function as barrack rooms, magazines, shell store and coal store. The structures were then concealed by earth. The construction was largely completed by 1887.
There was an open courtyard in the centre of the Redoubt for assembly purposes. The Redoubt was armed with two 6 inch breech loading disappearing guns and was surrounded by a ditch. Meanwhile, a group of batteries were built which ran along the ridge of the Headland from east to west, including the Reverse, Central, West and Pass Batteries. The guns installed at Lyemun could be fired at different ranges to completely cover the approach to the Lyemun Channel. In 1890, the Brennan Torpedo station was installed at the shoreline of the Lyemun Headland, which was believed at that time to be the world's most powerful underwater weapon.
However, the next three decades saw no hostile actions from Britain's enemies, and the Lyemun installations were never put to any real test. By the 1930s, the strategic importance of Lyemun declined considerably as a result of technological advances and the construction of new defence positions in the territory.
On 8 December 1941, the Japanese launched their attacks on Hong Kong. After the fall of the New Territories and Kowloon, the British Forces immediately strengthened the defences at Lyemun to prevent the Japanese from crossing the Lyemun Channel from Devil's Peak. Although the defence forces managed to repulse several raids by the Japanese, they were eventually overwhelmed and the Fort finally fell into enemy hands on 19 December. The Fort no longer bore any defence significance in the post-war period, and became a training ground for the British Forces until 1987 when it was finally vacated.
The Redoubt before restoration
The Redoubt turned into exhibition galleries
In view of its historical significance and unique architectural features, the former Urban Council decided in 1993 to conserve and develop the Lyemun Fort into a museum of coastal defence. With a budget of HK$300 million, the Architectural Services Department (ASD) completed the architectural design and construction works. With such splendid architectural design, the ASD was awarded the Hong Kong Institute of Architects Annual Awards – Silver Medal as well as Green Project Awards – Silver Award (Greening Effect) in 2000. The Museum was open to the public on 25 July 2000 which brought a new page to the history of the Lyemun Fort.
Conservator installing exhibits