Stonecutters Island or Ngong Shuen Chau is a former island in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Following land reclamation, it is now attached to the Kowloon Peninsula.
The island once boasted at least three mating pairs of sulphur-crested cockatoos as well as many snakes; banded kraits, brown cobras and bamboo snakes were all common denizens as late as the 1980s. Black kites often hovered overhead, looking for prey and carrion amongst the many tamarind, ficus benjamina and banyan trees.
The island was ceded by the Qing dynasty to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland along with Kowloon in 1860 through the Convention of Peking. It was initially used for quarrying by the British, hence the English name for the island.
A Royal Navy Radio Interception and Direction-finding Station was established on the island in 1935. From 1935 to 1939 the base was the main radio interception unit for the Far East Combined Bureau, which was four miles away across the harbour in the naval dockyard.
After World War Two the island became host to British Army units including 415 Maritime Unit RCT and the Ammunition Sub-Depot RAOC. Explosive storage became more important following the 1967 riots and the Hong Kong Mines Division elected to have all commercial explosives stored on Stonecutters prior to being issued to the various blasting sites around the colony. British Royal Army Ordnance Corps soldiers oversaw all commercial explosive issues post-1968 until the colony was transferred to China in 1997. Before then, it was the training and HQ depot of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps.
The island was policed by Indian Sikhs; because traditionally they neither smoke nor drink alcohol and were loyal. The Army Department Police (ADP), as they were known, saw continuous service on the island during the British era. They enjoyed field hockey, and they were often seen playing bare-footed on the field. During the early 1980s the ADP boasted two Indian national hockey players. It was common to see their blue pagris (turbans) drying in the sun outside their barracks.
The Royal Navy continued to provide a ferry service (known as T-Boats) connecting islanders with HMS Tamar on Hong Kong and the Star Ferry terminal in Kowloon. Additional boats were provided by 415 Maritime Unit RCT and crewed by Local Employed Personnel (LEPs).
During the 60s, 70s and 80s, the island became used as a 'Rest and Recuperation' resort, having several chalet style bungalows built around the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes shop, restaurant and swimming pool complex on the South Shore. There was also a commercial interest on the island; Jardine Matheson along with DuPont erected an explosives factory to cater for the ever-growing need for commercial blasting explosives. The factory manufactured several tonnes of water gel and other commercial explosives per week. Limited stocks of Chinese, British and other commercial explosives were stored in the island's Victorian explosive storage tunnels.
During the 70s and 80s, the island was also the forward operating base (FOB) of a Royal Navy Hovercraft unit deployed to assist the Hong Kong government with anti-illegal immigration operations. The Royal Navy unit (Naval Party 1009) was under the control of Cmdr Chris Stafford and two SRN6 Mk6 Hovercraft were continually operated until 1985 when the unit was finally disbanded.
Some buildings or military facilities within the Ngong Shuen Chau Barracks are now graded historic buildings.
Stonecutters Island was captured by the Japanese Imperial Army on 11 December 1941, following heavy shelling. Merchant ships in the island's docks were scuttled, and demolitions were carried out at Kowloon Naval Yard and on the island. During World War II, radio installations on the island were used by the Japanese for military purposes and for extending the range of transmission of the NHK Overseas Broadcasting Bureau.
The Japanese (during the WW2 occupation) used the unique isolation of the island to house a snake farm. The snakes were milked of their venom to provide antidotes for their soldiers bitten on active duty in the Pacific theatre.
Following the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China on 1 July 1997, the naval base is now operated by the People's Liberation Army Navy.
The island was connected to the Kowloon peninsula by the West Kowloon Reclamation in the 1990s to provide land for the construction of the road and railway network to the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok, and for the Container Terminal 8 of Kwai Tsing Container Terminals.
Stonecutters Island is the site of a large sewage treatment facility known as Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment Works. Since the facility was built in 2001, it has reduced the amount of E. coli in the nearby water by 99 percent, while other pollutants have been reduced by 70-80 percent, allowing coral to return to Victoria Harbour and make Hong Kong's beaches safe for swimming again.
Stonecutters Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge linking the Kowloon peninsula with Tsing Yi Island to form part of Route 8, opened on 20 December 2009.