The College was previously a Portuguese commercial school named St. Saviour's College, located on Pottinger Street in 1860. Father Timoleon Raimondi, who was then the bishop of the Colony, convinced Rome to send the Lasallian Brothers to the British Colony. On 7 November 1875 six Lasallian Brothers arrived in Hong Kong: Brothers Hidulphe Marie (Director), Hidulphe de Jesus, and Hebertus from the Boarding school of Marseilles; Brother Adrian Edmund and Aldolphus Marie from the Novitiate of London; and Brother Isfrid from Paris. They renamed the school after Saint Joseph, the patron saint of workers and the Universal Church.
At the time of the takeover the school had just 75 students. That year, hundreds of Portuguese families had taken refuge in Hong Kong as a disastrous typhoon had swept over Macau, and after some weeks the school's enrollment had doubled. To provide an extension, a house (Buxley Lodge) situated at 9 Caine Road was purchased in 1876.
In April, 1880, Brother Cyprian was appointed Director. He had been a teacher in New York and Quebec and had held the directorship of several schools in his native land, Canada as well as teaching in London and Paris. In order to cater for the needs of the fast-growing school, a piece of land in Glenealy below Robinson Road was bought and a two-storey Victorian building became home to the College in 1881.
In January, 1884, Brother Ivarch Louis took over the directorship, to be succeeded in 1889 by Brother Abban. Enrollment had then increased to 409 and two Chinese staff were employed by the college; in the same year a third floor was added to the school building for the accommodation of the boarders. The wings were further added in 1901.
On 13 February 1918, the Robinson Road campus was severely damaged by an earthquake. The Club Germania at 7 Kennedy Road was subsequently purchased on 3 September. Because pupils living on the Kowloon side had to cross by ferry round-trip every day, a branch school was set up on Chatham Road, Kowloon, which, in 1932, became the La Salle College.
During the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong from 1941 to 1945, the College was used as a clinical depot by the Imperial Japanese Army. Some Brothers fled to Vietnam and became guests of the Dominicans and the Jesuits, while others were kept as prisoners of war in the local concentration camps. The campus was kept in shape by a minor staffer called Ah Yiu, who would also smuggle essentials into the camps for the Brothers.
The College soon resumed classes after the war. In 1962, Club Germania was demolished and a modern eight-storey building (New Building) was erected under Principal Brother Brenden Dunne.
The College is located near the central commercial district of Hong Kong.
The college architecture is a combination of typical colonial European (British Imperialist) and modern styles. The Charles Kao Block (Old Building, north block), constructed in 1920, houses most of the classrooms. The Chapel Block (west block) houses the Old Hall, music room, laboratories, lecture room and school chapel. These buildings were built in a Colonial style reflecting European influences. The two blocks are declared monuments of Hong Kong since August 2000.
The modern New Building (south block), which replaced the original Club Germania on the site, houses the higher grades' classrooms. The New Hall, senior laboratories, a library and computer rooms are located here.
Recently, the College successfully acquired the former St. Paul's Co-educational (Kennedy Road) Primary School at 26 Kennedy Road, a Grade 1 Historical Building, from the Education Bureau.
The College is governed by the School Management Committee. It is formed by the supervisor, the principal, two vice-principals, a teachers' representative, a Parent-Teacher Association representative, an Old Boys' Association representative and three Lasallian Brothers.
The faculty includes 67 classroom teachers, a careers mistress, a discipline mistress, a counseling mistress, a sports master, a librarian, one Native English Speaking (NET) teacher, a French teacher. Laboratory technicians, IT technicians and a library assistant are also employed. A part-time social worker is accessible to the students. The current school supervisor is Brother Chan Jeffrey, .
Sports have been played been since the college was established. In 1877, just two years after its establishment, the College held the first local inter-school sports competition with St. Paul's College, and around 1880 it established one of the first modern football teams in China. The first local inter-school athletic meet with Queen's College and Diocesan Boys' School was held in 1899, and in 1903 the first local inter-school football league was formed with the two schools.
The College established a Scout troop in 1913 which was the first within the Catholic Church community in Hong Kong. As other Boy Scouts in Hong Kong were connected with the Protestant Boys' Brigade and British Boy Scouts, the St. Joseph's College troop registered with The Boy Scouts Association of the United Kingdom as its 1st Hong Kong Boy Scout Troop, two years before The Boy Scouts Association established a branch in Hong Kong.
On 1 November 1967, an ambulance cadet division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade was established at the College and was the first ambulance cadet division after the first re-organization in the 1950s.
Since 1974, the College has taken part in the champion title in Male Voice Quartet, Folk music, Solos and Duets, the Dorothy Smith Trophy (Boys Junior: Treble Choir), the Music Society Shield (Mixed Voice Choir), the Dr. Karl Hohner Shield (Melodica Band) and the Moutrie Challenge Trophy (Piano Solos: Final) in the Hong Kong Schools Music Festival. The school has set up different music groups so as to enhance students' interest in music through various performances and joint-school events. The School Orchestra was established in 2000 and has performed in different public events and concerts. In March 2013, the School Orchestra performed with Tonbridge School Orchestra from the UK during its overseas Tour to Hong Kong.
Established in 2007, the Chinese Orchestra aims at giving Josephians an opportunity to perform Chinese music through different performances. The school has also established other music groups such as the Josephians' Chamber Orchestra, Junior Choir, Senior Choir, Melodica Band and Chinese Drum Band.
Each year, the school organises a concert called the "Green and White Concert" in early July. The 10th G&W Concert was organized at City Hall, Hong Kong in 2012 with various special features.
St. Joseph's College developed an Apache web server as early as the 1990s and launched Green & White Online, one of the first secondary school websites in Hong Kong. As of 2016, the college has a Computer Society, founded in 2015.
The school motto LABORE ET VIRTUTE (Latin); "勤勞與美德" (Chinese); Labour and Virtue (English) — is meant to sum up the life of Saint Joseph. He was a workingman, a carpenter by trade and his virtue made him worthy to be the foster-father of Christ.
The badge of the College displays a shield divided into three divisions. The top division shows the Signum Fidei (sign of faith) - a five-pointed, radiant star, which is taken from the insignia of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. It reminds people of the spirit of FAITH of the Institute. The right lower division shows three chevrons symbolizing broken bones, reminding students of the bravery and zeal the Saint promoted. The left lower division shows the book of knowledge on top (with the Alpha and Omega inscribed) and a lamp below; together they symbolize the importance of education, something which St. La Salle emphasised. The shield stands with a compartment with supporters each of French lily, since the Lasallian family originates in Rheims, France. The top features a ribbon with the name of the College, and a crest with a cross (Catholicism) and a crown (used to symbolize Hong Kong as a British Crown Colony before 1997). Below the shield are three shells symbolising baptism. The motto of the College in Latin, Labore et Virtute, is also found at the bottom of the badge.
The combination of green and white has become the official colours of the College over the years. Green represents Ireland's shamrock, while white represents France's fleur-de-lis. The Lasallian Brothers of the College mostly come from Ireland and France.