Hidden details in historic Hong Kong photos revealed in Old Hong Kong Photos and The Tales They Tell Volume 2

  • Historian David Bellis selected the photos from more than 15,000 on his blog Gwulo: Old Hong Kong
  • The close-ups reveal unexpected details and tell their own stories about life in turn of the century and pre-war Hong Kong
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2018, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2019, 5:05pm

In the first volume of Old Hong Kong Photos and The Tales They Tell, local historian David Bellis highlighted surprising details in a range of historic images that revealed much about the time and place they were taken.

The photos, selected from the more than 15,000 images on his photo blog Gwulo: Old Hong Kong, included close-ups of the devastation caused by a typhoon in 1906 and a “rat bin” in a market during the plague outbreak in the 1930s, among many others.

What’s in a photo: images of old Hong Kong and their telling details

Bellis has now scrutinised more images from his photo blog and outlined some unexpected details in Old Hong Kong Photos and The Tales They Tell Volume 2.

Here are some of the stand-out images and what the historian finds so interesting about them.

On the waterfront

Here we see a number of people from very different groups strolling down the Central waterfront. As many of the males are still sporting the shaved forehead and long, braided hair synonymous with the Qing dynasty, Bellis writes that this photo was taken before China's 1911 revolution.

On the left is a young, grubby child without trousers, but looking right you’ll see a young man obviously from a much wealthier family. How do we know? He’s the only person in the picture wearing shoes.

Des Voeux Road Central

This view down Des Voeux Road Central was taken in the mid-1930s. We know this because the Gloucester Building (built in 1932) has taken the place of the Hong Kong Hotel (which was demolished after a fire in 1926).

It’s lunchtime (the time on the clock tower says it’s 1.25pm) and the crowd consists mostly of men, but one lady carrying a parasol leaves a trail of turned heads in her wake.

Queen’s Road Central

In this shot down Queen’s Road Central in the mid-1920s, we see signs for businesses such as Madame Flint (a women’s fashions outlet) and the Eastern Bazaar silk store. The street is full of rickshaws – but this isn’t what Bellis finds most interesting about this image.

As Bellis writes: “Look left from Madame Flint at the other signs along the street, and see how they soon change from English to Chinese. The European area of Central was very small indeed.”

Queen’s Road East

Seen in 1902 is a row of three-storey buildings near the start of Queen’s Road East in Wan Chai. British soldiers and sailors passing through Hong Kong often stayed nearby and a range of businesses catering to them sprang up in the area.

The image is dominated by two eye-catching banners advertising the services of Japanese tattooists named Hori and Morri. Tattoos had been outlawed in Japan about 30 years earlier, forcing Japanese artists to look for work elsewhere in Asia. By 1907, there were 46 Japanese tattoo artists working in Hong Kong.

Peak Hotel

This image of the famed Peak Hotel from around 1900 has many interesting elements, such as the smoke billowing from the boilers and steam engine that pulled the Peak Tram before it switched to electric power.

Although the tram was in operation, sedan chairs were also still in use. The men who carried them used the mat-shed seen above for shelter as they waited for customers. In 1901, a new stone shelter was built on this spot – it then became the Peak Cafe in 1947 and is now known as the Peak Lookout restaurant.

Old Hong Kong Photos and The Tales They Tell Volume 2 is available in local book stores, and can be ordered online at https://gwulo.com/buy-volume-2