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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: 2023, week 38

Submitted by David on Sat, 09/23/2023 - 12:12

What's new and updated on the Gwulo website:


Photo (1): Sketches at Hong Kong

Submitted by David on Sat, 09/09/2023 - 12:00
'Sketches at Hong Kong'

One year after the 1881 census, the Illustrated London News (ILN) published this full-page engraving, titled ‘Sketches at Hong Kong’.

The ILN was almost the same age as British Hong Kong, first appearing in 1842. It caused a stir, looking very different from the typical newspaper of the time. Where the newspaper norm was text and lots of it, issue No. 1 of the ILN crammed 32 illustrations into its 16 pages.

This new style was a great success, with the growth of the ILN outpacing even Hong Kong’s. By the end of 1842 circulation had passed 60,000. It reached 200,000 in 1855, and continued to grow.

The illustrations that drove these sales were produced by skilled engravers. They’d receive artists’ sketches, or later photographs, and set to work engraving the images for use on the printing presses. I imagined they’d be engraving metal plates, but in fact they used wooden blocks. Not just any wood though, they used a very dense, hard type of wood known as boxwood. In use, the boxwood blocks were harder wearing than the metal plates of the day, an important point when they’d have to print hundreds of thousands of copies. 

The huge volume of copies printed means that many have survived, making them a good source of images of early Hong Kong. We mustn’t assume they’re all accurate, however. If the original image wasn’t very clear the engravers would need to use their own judgement, and having never been to Hong Kong they could easily make mistakes.

Fortunately there aren’t any glaring mistakes here. The artist not only did a good job of sketching, but also of choosing scenes that would be popular with overseas viewers. I doubt the artist had any plans to start a trend, but as we look at the postcards sold to tourists thirty, forty, and even fifty years later, we’ll see many of these themes repeated.

The engraving has a lot more detail than you can see here. To take a closer look you can use Gwulo's Zoom feature. I've recorded a short video showing how it works: How to zoom in to photos on Gwulo

New on Gwulo: 2023, week 35

Submitted by David on Sat, 09/02/2023 - 20:00

What's new and updated on the Gwulo website:


Sew-sew women and bound feet

Submitted by David on Sun, 08/27/2023 - 16:00

This is the third and last of my recent purchases.

Sew-sew women and bound feet


Who: The main characters are two 'sew-sew' women, who would mend and adjust items of clothing for a small fee. There is also a younger girl - probably a daughter of one of the women - with her back to us, leaning against the little stool on the right. I've just been writing about a similar photo for a section on hawkers in my next book, which is why this one caught my eye.

What: Their baskets carry scraps of material they use in their work, and also the pot that held their lunch.

Baskets and pans

The other photo I mentioned showed similar items, but under the magnifying glass I also noticed a difference.