c. 1913, but where? | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

c. 1913, but where?

c. 1913, but where?

We've been sent this photo by Sean Olson, who asks for help identifying the location:

I wonder if your expertise or that of your contributors can put a name on the place.

It is of my great aunt Elizabeth Warnes (nee Olson) and is part of a set of her leaving the house, posing outside the front door, neither of which I can find at the moment,and then posing on the pavement for this shot. She died in HK in 1917. All I can tell you is that her brother, my grandfather, John, raised his family in Morrison Hill Road, so perhaps this is nearby. For further info her father, my great grandfather, after he retired from the booze business lived in Caine Road and finally Wanchai Road.

I don't suppose there is enough detail to say where this picture was taken. You can post it if you feel it worthwhile.

I think we can agree that the car is a Ford Model T!

Any ideas?

Also, how about the date? The Model T was produced from 1908, so I've chosen 1913 as the mid-point between 1908 and 1917.

If there are any 'old camera' experts out there, it looks like she is holding a box camera.  Does it help narrow down the date?

This is my last post for the day, and the year... Happy New Year!

Regards, David

Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Wednesday, January 1, 1913


Nice photo. The lot is quite substantial and there is wall surrounding the building front. The presence of the wall suggests that there is another level below the ground floor entrance and that the land may be built on sloping ground.

The building is of European style architecture which is similar to those found in the Mid-Levels.

A couple more ideas:

From the shadow on the path, and the shadow on the face, the sun was low in the sky when the photo was taken.

If it was taken early morning, we can take the sun as shining from ESE, casting a shadow towards WNW. That means the road runs from SSE on left to NNW on right, with the building on the WSW side of it.

If it was taken in the late afternoon, the sun is shining from WSW, casting a shadow towards ENE. The road runs from west on the left to east on the right, with building on the north side of the street.

Another hint is the distance from the road to the front of the house. Many of the mid-levels roads are quite narrow, with building fronts close to the street. In this photo there's a broad pavement between road and wall, then a further gap from wall to house.

I think the style of the building, with impressive columns, may help.  The old hospital building near the junction of Hospital Road and Bonham Road is similar in some respects - not sure if David's accurate description of its' probable orientation would fit though.  I cannot identify other similar buildings, but the old Military Hospital at Borrett Road, or perhaps one of the prestigious schools might have had such a facade?

Mention of the school by Tony Carroll prompts me to say that my great grandfather's home at 33 Caine Road was close to The Italian Convent. Might that be a clue?


The below picture was  recently posted to facebook and shows the view from Hillwood Road in Kowloon looking east c1935:

From Hillwood Road looking East across Austin Avenue
From Hillwood Road looking East across Austin Avenue, by Nick Marsh

In the bottom left of the picture, behind the palm trees two arches of a two storied house can be seen. I believe this is the other end of the right hand building in the unknown 1913 photo. The upper storey arches follow the same style - the corner ones are narrower than the centre arches and also stick out slightly from the rest of the building. Also the ground floor centre verandahs are right angles not arches. The  style of boundary wall and  the wide pavement also match.

While I can not be 100% confident in the location, if I am correct the house in the foreground of the original 1913 photo was located where Austin Tower at 22-26 Austin Avenue is located today

I have a slightly different photo of the lady standing in front of the building in https://gwulo.com/atom/12909 identified by Sean as Elizabeth Warnes. The photo comes from the Warren family albums. Unfortunately my Warren cousin has labelled it "Dorothy Dransfield" who lived in Hong Kong in the 1920s and 1930s, but I think Sean's identification is more likely to be correct. I'm not sure if my photo will help in identifying the location, as it merely shows the gateway of the house, further back, before the lady steps towards the car. Elizabeth Warnes was the mother of Marjorie Cook who is mentioned in Barbara Anslow's diary entry of 8 January 1942, so I will try to follow David's instructions about uploading a photo in reply to a "Comment". According to the Ladies Directories, Charles and Elizabeth Warnes were living at 6 Ashley Road, Kowloon in 1907 and moved to 43 Wong Nei Chong Road in 1908. Mrs C. A. Warnes isn't included in the Ladies Directories after that. Elizabeth's sister, Hannah Warren, was living at 4 Fairview, Nathan Road and Elizabeth's brother, John Olson jnr, at 8 Humphreys Avenue, Kowloon in 1910. I don't know if those addresses give any clues. The date of the photo of the lady thought to be Elizabeth Warnes could be any time up to her death in 1917. An earlier family portrait of 1911 shows her as a much plumper person.

Greetings.  Caine Road at 33 is on an incline and the road is narrow, so I wonder if they would put large mansions there.  The lady casts a long shadow on the sidewalk.  If the photo was taken in the afternoon could the area still get sunlight given there is a hill to the south?  Herostratus' Hillwood Road photo is convincing.  The chance of two separate manions using the same wall design and composition seems slim.  Regards,  Peter  

I'm sure you're right, Peter. I don't think there's any evidence that any of the family, either on the Olson or Warren side, were still living in Caine Road in the 1910s. Both John Olson snr and his wife died at addresses in the Wanchai Road in 1918 and 1915 respectively and the other families seem to have moved to Kowloon or the Wong Nei Chong Road - that is until the development of Broadwood Road in 1916. 

Hi Jill, I didn't investigate your other addresses so my job was half baked.  Credit and recognition go to Herostratus who remembers the tiniest detail in photos.  Regards,   Peter

There were actually many large mansions in Caine Road pre the 1920s but due to the slope of the hill they were generally built on massive podiums which are very obvious in photos. I had a look at some of the other addresses and they don’t match this picture. Depending on the exact date your relatives live on Caine Road their address at 33 Caine Road was either Today 85 or 91 Caine Road. Their buildings roofs can be seen in this photo just above the building labelled v


Wong Nei Chong Road is a possibility as the buildings do curve around like in the original photo. I have not found enough photos of the area to rule it out but all the pictures I have seen of the area show multi storey buildings here


I cannot rule out Ashley road either due to the lack of photos of the area in the c1900s


Any other photos of the area would definitely help.

Not to worry, Peter. I have difficulty enough holding the various family addresses in my head, especially as I don't know Hong Kong well enough to visualise them all. I agree that Herostratus's memory and eye for detail is impressive.

My belief is that the older Olsons moved out of 33 Caine Road, which they never owned, by 1911 and moved to Wanchai Road. My grandmother, Mrs C.E. Warren, is listed at 52 Caine Road in 1908, (had the numbering changed by then?) but my father was born at 4 Fairview, Kowloon in 1909. I'm afraid that my family salvaged very few photos of the 1910s. I'm awaiting David's advice about the error message I got while trying to upload our alternative photo of the lady with the box camera. As far as I recall, Mrs C.A. Warnes may be the only person listed with an address in the Wong Nei Chong Road in the Ladies Directory for that year. I was struck by that. I think that 6 Ashley Road may have been owned by various companies to house their staff.


Elizabeth Warnes 2.jpg
Elizabeth Warnes 2.jpg, by Unknown

Here is another view of the area, c1950 top right of photo. Unfortunately the house in the foreground of the original picture has gone but the house further down the street is still there and matches. The boundary wall and wide pavement also match. 

Aerial View of Observatory
Aerial View of Observatory, by Herostratus

If Elizabeth Warnes is standing in front of the Observatory in the first picture, then she is near the 1913 Warren family home  of 4 Fairview, Nathan Road and also to Charles Olson's then address of 4 Nathan Road, if I've got my geography right. My family has the negative of the second photo, without my generation ever knowing who the person represented was. Where was Elizabeth going? Why the need for several photos that were later handed round the family? Why is she also intending to take photographs? My guess is that she is being picked up to go to the wedding of her younger sister, Nellie Olson to Evert Melchers, which was about 1913. Perhaps the photos of her were handed round the family when she died four years later. This is all speculation and I'm happy to be corrected.

Hi Jill 

Elizabeth is not standing in front of the observatory in the picture in front of the houses in the upper right of the aerial photo from 1950. (one of them is just an empty lot). In the original photo she is standing in front of 20 & 22 Austin Avenue. in the background is 16 & 18 Austin Avenue 

Thank you for this confirmation, Herostratus. If the lady is indeed Elizabeth Warnes, I need to guess what she was doing in Austin Avenue with a camera, as she didn't live there. Am I right in thinking that the Rosary Church was very near? Elizabeth wasn't a Catholic herself, but her sister-in-law and nephews were. My own father was baptised at the Rosary Church and Elizabeth's brother had been married there. Sheer speculation, but perhaps Elizabeth was on her way to a christening that she wanted to record. There was an Olson baptism in 1913. Alternatively, did the large building in the first photograph have a particular significance or function? 

Greetings, and hello Jill.  Rosary Church is still there - https://gwulo.com/rosary-church#18/22.30239/114.17566/Map_by_ESRI-Marker... , referring to your top photo, the church is to the right of the photo, just beyond the building, on Chatham Road South.

I believe the lady with a camera was visiting a friend or relative either in the building behind her or the building to the right.  The photo to the right - the school -
https://gwulo.com/atom/31097 - shows children at two gates in front of the school.  The lady was standing in front of another gate to the left or northwest.  Her other photo (without the car) shows what appears to be a service lane (amended) so this could be another gate further to the right (southeast) of the school.  The angles of the sun's shadow are not identical relative to the front walls and this part of the road is not straight.  The difference could be due to the length of time of her visit.  Regards,  Peter

Hello Peter. Thank you for the confirmation about the Rosary Church and for the links both to it and the nearby school. Why the negative of this photo was given to our family and why it was among the very few that survived two wars and much displacement will probably remain a mystery. If the photos from the rest of the film could be found, they would no doubt provide valuable clues. To know who took the photo would also help.

1927 Austin Avenue - Aimai Villas
1927 Austin Avenue - Aimai Villas, by Eternal1966