Ngong Ping Tea Plantation Dormitories, Lantau, Hong Kong, August 2018

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1. The History
The story of the Ngong Tea Plantation on Hong Kong’s Lantau island is inextricable linked to the man behind it. Brook Antony Bernacchi was born in London on 22nd January 1922. Son of Antarctic explorer Louis Bernacchi, he was called to the bar in Britain in 1943 and joined the Royal Marines during the Second World War.

44130513445_f5802f3399.jpg Brook_Bernacchi by HughieDW, on Flickr

He arrived in Hong Kong with British liberation forces in 1945 as advisor to Major General FW Festing. Rather than return home when the handover was complete, he stayed and fashioned a life for himself, and, adequately equipped with his background in law, he quickly established himself in this field, joining the Bar and becoming a member of the Queen’s Councel in 1948.

After walking on Lantau and discovering the Ngong Ping plateau, he fell in love with it and became friends with the abbot at the monastery. In 1947, he became the first Westerner to settle on Lantau when he bought 200 acres of land at a former nunnery in Ngong Ping, Lantau Island. Inspired by the tea estates he visited in Burma during the Second World War, he built a tea plantation on 70 acres of it as he considered its mountainous geography and wet, humid climate to be the perfect place to develop a tea plantation. Over 100,000 tea trees were imported from Ceylon and planted on the Ngong Ping mountaintop, comprising 4 different strains. The tea he produced was sold under the name Lotus Brand; the only Hong Kong grown tea available.

43230341530_93a94e1b03_b.jpg Lotus brand tea by HughieDW, on Flickr

The family home, All Knowing Lotus Villa (Bernacchi pictured in the doorway):

44322401434_89fafd7ef7_b.jpg Brook-Bernacchi-image-of-Lantau-house by HughieDW, on Flickr

The plantation was also an opportunity for Bernacchi to engage in philanthropic works, including providing the opportunity of employment for recently released prisoners and drug addicts. Bernacchi also founded the Hong Kong Sea School in Stanley, to train disadvantaged young males for a career in the navy and established numerous other community welfare projects.

Over 40 staff were employed at the plantation at the height of the company’s success in the 1960s. Sadly though, the competition from the mainland, with its much lower labour cost, drove prices down to a level that the Lotus brand could not compete with. The business was scaled down and continued over the new few decades off the back of Bernacchi’s earnings from his work in law.

Bernacchi became Queen’s Counsel in 1960, but the following year he was diagnosed with a large brain tumour. Though the tumour was found to be benign, its removal by surgeons at the Royal Masonic Hospital in London left him without the power of speech and paralysed on his left side. Bizarrely he gained his speech in the reverse order he had learned it and initially could speak only Cantonese. Despite the semi-paralysis, Bernacchi remained vigorous in community life, and in 1965 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for public service. He married Patricia Sheelagh Heath in 1970. He had three step-children, Robert Whitehead, SC (formerly vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association), Dr. Ian Whitehead and Mrs. Sarah Driver (née Whitehead). “He was very engaging and could relate to anyone of any background or race,” Driver says. “He had a lot of Chinese friends and he refused to join any club that refused to welcome Chinese members.” There is a lovely account of Driver’s life at the tea plantation HERE

After being diagnosed with brain cancer in 1994, he headed back to the UK for treatment, but not before handing over the reigns of the business to his employee and friend, Chan Woon Chi, a local cement maker who took on the struggling enterprise and attempted to diversify, incorporating a tea garden and vegetarian restaurant. Sadly, he died two year’s later on 22nd September 1996, aged 74 in London. His ashes were scattered outside his house near the plantation at his request and ownership fell to his wife, Patricia. She died in 2003 and the Lands Department then seized control of the estate in order to construct the 'Wisdom Path'. The ensuing legal dispute initiated by Bernacchi’s stepson saw the government taken to court and eventually having to pay compensation in 2010.

2. The Explore
Nearly forgot to post this last report from my Summer in Hong Kong. This follwos on from my report on the Ngong Ping Tea Plantation café. Across from the Tea Plantation café is a concrete building fastly being reclaimed by nature. This building was most probably the dorms for the workers who worked on the plantation. Although there isn’t an awful lot left the decay makes this small block extremely photogenic and an enjoyable half-hour explore.

3. The Pictures

View from the path:

44917432321_53a2786a59_b.jpg img9359 by HughieDW, on Flickr

31045066408_0767e8b294_b.jpg img9389 by HughieDW, on Flickr

44916438351_e066c3f09d_b.jpg Ngong Ping 13 by HughieDW, on Flickr

44917545891_71f6d1e774_b.jpg img9396 by HughieDW, on Flickr

44868033882_99da7f97ab_b.jpg img9384 by HughieDW, on Flickr

44005652775_d12b00335d_b.jpg img9380 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Nature is taking it back:

29980198437_e0f6ea2d60_b.jpg Ngong Ping 11 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Inside we go:

29980231367_38eb8e4061_b.jpg Ngong Ping 09 by HughieDW, on Flickr

44196930624_351a493808_b.jpg Ngong Ping 07 by HughieDW, on Flickr

44866912822_fb474086e1_b.jpg Ngong Ping 05 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Obligatory rusting fridge:

43105871060_8b5aa4a54f_b.jpg img9385 by HughieDW, on Flickr

44867966082_83f979836e_b.jpg img9386 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And another:

43104639190_10c0c0a99b_b.jpg Ngong Ping 10 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Home-made barbecue set:

44868061872_da59670255_b.jpg img9383 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Old beds:

44198029414_f6955e4d53_b.jpg img9395 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Some very old bunks:

44005318645_87bf349e0d_b.jpg img9397 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Another rotting bed:

31044857288_25a5aba43c_b.jpg img9398 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And yet more beds:

44005609275_765046c288_b.jpg img9381 by HughieDW, on Flickr

31043905608_fa51c88723_b.jpg Ngong Ping 12 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Another abandoned house just further along;

44867635232_e3d4ab4352_b.jpg img9399 by HughieDW, on Flickr