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What: The 'Solar Star', one of the Star Ferries.
Who: People heading across the harbour to Kowloon. Today we can take the MTR or a cross-harbour tunnel bus, but in the 1950s a boat was your only option.
Where: On the right of the photo we can just see the end of the Star Ferry Pier:
This generation of Star Ferry Pier was on the north side of Connaught Road (then the seafront), opposite the junction with Ice House Street. Opposite where the Mandarin Hotel and St George's Building are today, and much closer to Central than the current pier!
In the distance beyond the pier are the cranes and buildings of the Navy's dockyard.
When: The ferry gives the first clue. Wikipedia says that the ferry named Solar Star was completed in 1958 . But compare the photo above with Wikipedia's photo of the Solar Star:
They're different boats, built to a different layout. eg the older style's first class had the enclosed areas in the middle, and open sections at each end - the opposite of the modern boat's layout. So the old photo shows an earlier Solar Star, and would have been taken in 1958 or earlier.
But the real giveaway is the brand new seawall running across the centre of the photo. That enclosed a new reclamation, described in the 1955 Hong Kong Annual Report:
The reclamation, begun in 1951, of nine acres of land in a central position on the Victoria waterfront was completed in August. This reclamation will provide a site for a City Hall , as well as a concourse area for a large new passenger ferry pier .
The reclamation looks like it is about finished - we can see cars parked on it, but there are also piles of rubble. I'll date this to 1955, the year the reclamation was completed. And probably around the middle of the year, as the passengers are dressed for summer.
Trivia: There wasn't much of a barrier between you and the sea. I wonder how many people fell in each year?
And can any ferry experts tell us more about this older Solar Star, eg when & where it was built?