Welcome to Gwulo

Here you'll find over 50,000 pages about old Hong Kong to explore, including over 30,000 photos. The content is added by a friendly community of people who enjoy sharing what we know about Hong Kong's history, and you are very welcome to join us.

Kind regards, David

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New on Gwulo: 2024, week 23

Submitted by David on Sun, 06/09/2024 - 12:00

What's new and updated on the Gwulo website:



Organisations & People

Exploring Kowloon's Anderson Road

Submitted by David on Sun, 05/26/2024 - 12:00

This week's newsletter looks at why the British Army built Anderson Road, how it was used, and what we found when we tried to follow its route in 2024.

If you search for Anderson Road on a modern map you'll find two matches, both short, dead-end roads, and both in the hills above east Kowloon. I've highlighted them in red below.

Remaining sections of Anderson Road

But originally Anderson Road was one, much longer road, as shown by the blue line.

Full extent of Anderson Road


The origins of Anderson Road

The book Eastern Fortress [1] is a good source for this. It explains that after the British leased the New Territories, they were concerned that a foreign enemy could land soldiers in Mirs Bay, then march them south to attack Kowloon and Hong Kong.

In the early 1910s, the man responsible for defending Hong Kong against such an attack was Major General Charles Anderson, the General Officer Commanding, British Troops in South China. He prepared plans for a defensive line, running from Lai Chi Kok to Devil's Peak along the string of peaks that overlook Kowloon. His plans called for new redoubts and blockhouses to be built, as well as new roads to enable troops to quickly move along the line to wherever they were needed. In 1912 he was given the go-ahead to build the defences he'd requested in the eastern section of the line, and 'a road from Devil's Peak to Customs Pass', i.e. Anderson Road.

The earliest map I've seen that shows the new road is a War Office map from 1922 [2], shown below.

New on Gwulo: 2024, week 19

Submitted by David on Sat, 05/11/2024 - 19:00

What's new and updated on the Gwulo website:


  • Thank you to everyone who helped type up the 1891 Jurors List. It is now available to view online. If you can spare 30 minutes to type up another page, please click here for instructions.

  • Readers are looking for any information about:

    • Kam Fung LAU [????-????], who bought 20 Broadwood Road during WW2

    • Tanka People of Hong Kong

    • Does anyone recognise these buildings, and could they have been used as Army quarters in the 1950s?

      Possible Quarters
      Possible Quarters, by thermogram
    • If you lived near Ping Shan in the 1950s, do you recognise Mr Chan and his son?

      mr chan and son didi 1955 Ping Shan
      mr chan and son didi 1955 Ping Shan, by Curly Watson


Gwulo's Farewell - illustrated talk

New on Gwulo: 2024, week 17

Submitted by David on Sat, 04/27/2024 - 19:00

What's new and updated on the Gwulo website:



Organisations & People

How did Hong Kong's Walla Wallas get their name?

Submitted by David on Sun, 04/21/2024 - 14:00

What's a Walla Walla?

Walla Walla was the local name for a small motorboat that was available to hire, a water taxi. A common use for them was to cross the harbour between TST and Central late at night, after the Star Ferry had stopped running, but they ran in daytime too and could take you to other points around the harbour.

1966 Water Taxi (Walla Walla) off Wanchai Waterfront
1966 Water Taxi (Walla Walla) off Wanchai Waterfront , by moddsey


Where does the name come from?

The usual explanation is that 'walla walla' is the sound the boat's engine made as it chugged around the harbour. But according to the late Betty Clemo, the boats were named after the city of Walla Walla in Washington State, USA.

In an RTHK interview recorded in 1970, Betty explained:

Very few people in Hong Kong know this. Years and years ago, about 55 years ago, [an American] friend of my father's called Mr Lee Nagel, came to Hong Kong. [...] He had a great idea to build motor boats to go to Kowloon - there was very little conveyance to Kowloon in those days.  [...] Eventually he built six little motor boats. We went to the christening and launching, but what to call them? My father said why don't you call them your hometown's name? [Nagel] said, 'Well I come from Walla Walla, USA, let's call them Walla Walla. So they were named Walla Walla One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six, and that's what it started off from. And today everyone refers to them as a Walla Walla, even the Chinese do.


Update on the "Gwulo's Farewell" talk

Yesterday evening we passed 50% seats booked, so the theatres are filling up! Here are the links again:

(The venue for 22 May is the smaller of the two and is already 90% full, so best book soon if you're planning to go to that talk.)


When were the first Walla Wallas built?

Betty remembered Lee Nagel arriving 'about 55 years ago', or in about 1915, so he'd have started his motor boat business some time after that.

A search for Walla in the old newspapers finds the first mention in July 1920. The report is of a court case involving non-payment for work done, but we also get a glimpse of Mr Nagel and his Walla Walla No. 1:

Lee Orlando Nagel, salesman employed by J. T. Shaw, Tailor, said that about the beginning of 1919 he bought a motor boat called the Tsun Wan, now Walla Walla No. 1. It was simply a wreck, needing a lot of repairs. He entered into a contract therefore with Leung Shing. The amount of the contract was $700. The boat was purchased in Causeway Bay and was left there for repair.

So it looks as though Walla Walla No. 1 was first in service sometime around 1919-20.

When did Walla Wallas disappear from the harbour?

I'm not exactly sure, though 1972 is an important year in the story of their decline. That's when the Cross Harbour Tunnel opened, and Walla Wallas suddenly faced competition from regular taxis for those late-night journeys across the harbour.

Another competitor for late-night traffic arrived in 1980, when the MTR's new tunnel beneath the harbour opened for business.

When I first arrived in Hong Kong in 1989, the guidebook I'd bought suggested Walla Wallas were still popular:


After the MTR closes at 1 a.m. and the Star Ferry at 11:30, you can still ride across the harbour in a small motorboat called a walla-walla (supposedly named for the hometown-Walla-Wall [sic], Washington, USA-of this craft's original owner. You can also take a taxi or bus through the cross-harbour tunnel, but if you are staying in Tsimshatsui and end up in Central-or vice versa - -the direct cross-harbour water route by Star Ferry, MTR or walla-walla is the fastest and cheapest means of transportation. On Hong Kong Island, walla-wallas are located at Queen's Pier to the East of the Star Ferry concourse (to the right as you face the harbour, in front of City Hall) while in Kowloon, they are located at Kowloon Public Pier, (to the left of the Star Ferry as you face the water, opposite the Ocean Terminal). The cost is HK$4.50 per person or HK$45 for an entire boat if you are impatient.

So after a late night out in Central when I needed to get home to TST from Central, I asked local friends about catching a Walla Walla. No-one knew what I was talking about!

I never did get to ride in a Walla Walla. Instead if we needed to cross the harbour late at night, the choice was either a taxi or a white-knuckle ride in a red minibus.

Do readers know if there was ever a clear end to the Walla Wallas' service, e.g. because of some change in licensing? Or did they just become uneconomic to run, and gradually fade away?

And if you have any memories of the Walla Wallas you can share, please leave a comment below or upload a photo.


Further reading:


  • Adam West, the actor who portrayed Batman in the 1960s, was born in Walla Walla, USA