CPS project 4th update: The neighbourhood

Submitted by David on Sun, 01/19/2014 - 12:00

In this update for the CPS Project [1] we'll look at photos of the streets around the Central Police Station (CPS) site:

View CPS neighbourhood in a larger map

The neighbourhood

The CPS site is marked in dark blue, and the neighborhood around it in light blue. It isn't a big piece of land - you can walk across it in ten minutes or less - but it contained a great variety of people, living in very different circumstances.

Let's pick the 1870s and introduce some of the local residents that the policemen would have seen.

Saints & Sinners

Two of Hong Kong's biggest

churches, the Union Church and the Roman Catholic Cathedral, were nearby. The sound of their church bells would have been part of the police and prisoners' daily routine:

Then how about the red lines? They mark streets that in 1877 had one or more brothels [2].

Rich & Poor

Photos of the seafront and Queen's Road show the grand buildings of leading local businesses, and the organisations that served them. On the corner of Wyndham Street and Queen's Road stood the Hong Kong Club, and across from it were the Court House, the Post Office, and the Hong Kong Hotel.

But moving south / uphill from Queen's Road you'd pass through a densely populated area. Then towards the top of the neighborhood it would change again and you'd find detached houses with gardens, belonging to wealthy individuals. 

You can get an idea of the differences from this 1874 map, where you see the plots of land get bigger as we move south / uphill from Queen's Road:

East & West

Pottinger Street runs from the shore to the CPS, splitting the neighborhood roughly in half. I've read that Pottinger Street was considered an informal boundary between the more European Central District, and the Chinese area to its west. That certainly seems the case in this 1920s photo of Queen's Road Central:

The photographer is looking west along Queen's Road from near the junction with D'Aguilar Street. If you click on the photo and zoom in, you'll see the shop signs change from English to Chinese as you move west along the road.

Old & New

The end of the 1870s saw huge changes in the neighbourhood. A great fire in 1878 destroyed close to a quarter of the shaded area on the map above:

"... it was about 10.5 acres in an area framed by Queen's Road, Pottinger Street, Hollywood Road and Peel Street. Rebuilding began in January 1879. [2]" 

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 21:36
Fire at Hong Kong 1878

Original engraving that shows the fire in Hong Kong, 1878. (No descriptive text included).   

Date picture taken

This engraving shows the fire in full flame. Can you see the building with two towers to the left of the smoke? That's the Roman Catholic Cathedral we noted earlier.

Then what photos are available to show us these streets, people, and buildings?

Photos - the view from above

Luckily for us the view from the Peak has always been a popular subject for photographers, and their photos often capture the CPS and its surroundings.

Here is a sequence of these photos taken over the years, showing the changes in the area. (Click any photo to see its source.)

1865. The photographer wasn't as high as the Peak, but the photo still gives us a good view of the Gaol and nearby buildings:

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 01:05
View of Victoria Gaol from above

Detail of original photo held at the UK National Archive, their ref: CO 1069/917

They record it as "Panorama of Hong Kong Harbour.", dated to the 1860s. In the comments below you'll see it has since been dated to the 1870s.
Date picture taken


The Dent building middle part on the praya has acquired a third story which as far as I can gather happened in the early 1870's. Also to the right of the prison you can see the Club Germania building which was not finished until 1872. The roof looks like its gone through ha couple of rainy seasons.   The full version of this photo, which I will try to post this weekend includes a complete City hall and an almost complete Burnside.  I would date this picture to between 1875 & 1880.

The picture was taken from above Conduit road, roughly where Cliff View Mansions is today. My guess is that its a Lai Afong or a John Thomson picture. 

David - do you know of any buildings completed in the late 1870's that we could narrow down the date further?

I've updtaed the date to 1879 to match the date you've given at http://gwulo.com/atom/25852

> David - do you know of any buildings completed in the late 1870's that we could narrow down the date further?

I'm learning from you, so I can't be of much help I'm afraid.

Based on some work I've done for this week's newsletter, I've made a small tool that shows all buildings completed in a certain range of years. Hopefully it can help on projects like this:


David, that tool is great Really helpful when focusing on a particular period. 

On the date of the photo I am leaning towards 1880 or slightly later. Ive just posted this picture, on of HF's photos. Look at the the buildings around az, ay, ac & ae. Then look at the same area in the panorama here. (above ax & ay) There is a significant difference. From the first photo, Hotel Europa/Civil Hospital Building has gone, half of ac has gone, as has ay and az(maybe) at Lyndhurst & Cochrane. The roofs of the tenement buildings in the area all look pretty new. This was the area destroyed in the great fire of  Christmas 1878. There was a property boom going on at the time so I can imagine new buildings were built pretty quickly but a year seems reasonable to reconstruct the entire area.



c.1894: See: http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll123/id/36017

1932: In the bottom-left corner of this photo you can see that the Prison had expanded outside the current CPS site. A couple of extra Prison Blocks were built to its west across Old Bailey street:

1946. Post-war reports note that the Prison had been damaged during the war, and part of it was demolished afterwards. You can see the demolition by comparing this photo with the previous one - look to the left of the octagonal tower:

Q.15 Do you know of any other good photos from the Peak that show the CPS site? It would be good to add photos for as many years as possible, and certainly for the early decades of the 20th century.

Photos - individual buildings

Some of the larger buildings were considered important enough to deserve their own photo. Here are views of the three buildings I marked on the maps above.

Union Church on Staunton Street:

Union Church - Staunton Street

The Roman Catholic Cathedral on Wellington Street:

And the Hong Kong Club at the junction of Queen's Road and Wyndham Street:

Q16. Have you seen any photographs showing brothels in this area? They weren't famous like the buildings shown above, but they're an important part of the local history. I've seen photos of the 20th-century brothels in Shek Tong Tsui and Wanchai, but nothing from around here. 

Photos - street scenes

The photos from the Peak give a broad view of the area, and the close-ups of buildings show what they were like, but where are the people? Street scenes will help show us the people who lived and worked around the CPS.

We get plenty of choice for Queen's Road. It was the main business thoroughfare, and well photographed over the years. Here's a view from c.1890, looking west from the junction with D'Aguilar Street:

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 01:06
Queen's Road Central

Photo from the HK Public Library collection. Their caption:


An early view of Queen's Road. The precise location is established by the ''Star Seamans Coffee House'' signboard pointing to D'Aguilar Street, on the left. The view is towards west. Hong Kong Dispensary is in the building with covered archways, on the left. The street is busy with pedestrians and rickshaws.

Date picture taken

A few of the streets leading up from Queen's Road were also popular with photographers, ie Wyndham Street for its flowers:

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 01:06
Flowers on Wyndham Street

Photo from the HK Public Library collection.

Date picture taken


The flower sellers on Wyndham Street were relocated to On Lan Street with the demolition of the Yee Sang Fat Building in 1930. However, the move was unpopular and bad for business. As a consequence, a new area on D' Aguilar Street south of of Wellington Street was made available. HK Telegraph 5 April 1930 refers. 

There is a sign reading Marion Davies and (hardly readable) "The Cardboard Lover". This is a silent movie from 1928. Just wonder in which theatre this was shown as the nearby Coronet Theatre closed in 1925.

And Pottinger Street for its steps:

Wellington Street was another popular choice, I guess to show a "bustling Chinese street" scene for tourists. Here's a view from the 1880s, with the Roman Catholic Cathedral visible in the distance:

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 01:05
View along Wellington Street

Copied from the Hong Kong Public Library website. Their caption:

"Wellington Street, Central District, Hong Kong Island, c.1880-85.

View looking west. The foreground is near the junction with D'Aguilar Street. The twin domes of the Roman Catholic Church, at the junction with Pottinger Street, are visible on the left. (See also P64.141 for comparison)."

Date picture taken

But for many of the other streets in the area, I've only seen one or two pre-WW2 photographs, eg

The view of Old Bailey Street in 1862 we saw in the last update:

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 00:27
1862 View up Old Bailey Street

This photo is included a document held at the UK National Archive, their reference CO 129/88. It was originally included with a letter from Mr Murrow of the Hongkong Daily Press, sending a complaint to the government back in London. The captions to the photo read:

No.1. Approaches to the "Daily Press" Office, Hongkong.

OLD BAILEY STREET. - Looking up the hill (South). The arrow points to Chancery lane. The wall to the left is the Gaol wall - say the South West corner.

In his letter dated 12th December 1862, Murrow writes:

To prove that convicts can work upon the Old Bailey Street, I call Your Grace's attention to View No. 1 ((ie this photo)). The police man there seen, was a guard over convicts employed carrying the boulders into the Gaol. The gaol has been more than doubled in size, since which expansion the stock of stones intended for convicts to break has been placed on one side of the Old Bailey, choking up the gutter and forcing the water during heavy rains across the street. The Photographs were taken a few weeks ago, since when there has been some little improvement.

Thanks to Christopher Munn for letting me know about these photos. At over 150 years old, they must be some of the earliest photos of Hong Kong still in existence, and a great early view of the area around Victoria Prison.

Regards, David

CPS project photo ref: C016-P0017

Date picture taken
1 Nov 1862
Shows place(s)


Half way up the slope on the left is the western octagon tower of the original gaol, shown in both the 1846 and 1914 plans of the gaol/police complex. (It was retained in the wall after the barrack block was built in 1862-64.) I recall it was demolished in the 1915-20 period. By the 1860s the tower was used as a quarter for a married Sgt. There is still a variation in the masonry where a wall was built to replace it.

Another photo from the 1860s showing the view up nearby Cochrane Street:

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 01:05
c.1868 View up Cochrane Street

Original held at the Wellcome Library, their ref: Wellcome V0036700

V0036700 Credit: Wellcome Library, London 

Cochrane Street, Hong Kong. 

Photograph c. 1868 By: John Thomson 

Collection: Iconographic Collections 

Date picture taken


And this view of Shelley Street, one street over from Old Bailey Street, one up from Cochrane Street:

(I'm surprised to see this photo doesn't look a whole lot different from the previous two, even though it was taken around 80 years later in 1945.)

Q.17 Have you seen any other good photos of the area at street-level?

Before photos - sketches, paintings and engravings

Finally, can we find any illustrations of this area from the earliest years of the colony? That was before photography was widely used, so I'm looking for sketches, paintings and engravings.

Here's an example from 1845, a sketch of the island drawn from the hills at the back of Kowloon:

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 01:05
North shore of HK Island

Sketch drawn by Collinson in 1845. Original held in UK National Archive, their ref: WO 78/115

Copy shown in 'Mapping Hong Kong' book, Plate 2-1b

Date picture taken


Very interested in the left most line which points to Spring Garden.  I assume that is where Spring Garden Lane is today.  On the very early Jurors Lists, some people are listed to be living there.  I wonder what gave it this name back then, how it came into being, and what it was there for. 

Does anyone have information?


Hong Kong 1841-1862 by G. R. Sayer (originally published in 1937)

"It is not clear when Spring Gardens became attached to the locality rather than to a particular house, but Murdoch Bruce's lithograph (and the map above) of 1846 certainly uses it to indicate a locality. The house which bore the name was originally built by the firm Turner & Co. and it was used as a residence by Governors Davis and Bonham. Why it was called is something of a mystery, though it did have a good well of water in its ground and a stream still runs through the area. There may also be connection with an area which lay in front of Admiralty Arch in London which was known as Spring Gardens, a fashionable residential district for a long time which only disappeared with the construction of Admiralty Arch and the adjoining government offices. There was also, however, a 'Spring Gardens' in the business district of Manchester which British merchants in Hong Kong might have been familiar."

Spring Gardens also appears in the book "The Story of Government House by Mattock and Cheshire" which gives further information of the residences of the Governors (Bonham and Bowring) prior to the completion of Government House.

It was drawn by Lieutenant T.B. Collinson of the Royal Engineers. He was in Hong Kong to survey the area and produce a map of the island, and fortunately for us he also included several panoramic sketches. Here is a closer look at the Central area of the shore:

Note that only Government Hill and the Gaol are labelled, reflecting their importance at the time. In later views from the harbour, most of the CPS is hidden by buildings in front of it. But here it stands out, and I hope it can also be seen in other sketches / paintings from that time.

For a closer view, we've previously noted this 1846 sketch by Murdoch Bruce, where the arrow points to the then-new Magistracy building:

Q.18 Do you know of any other old sketches or paintings that show the CPS and its neighborhood? There are several other sketches by Bruce that will be suitable. Do you know of any others?

The great variety in this area must have made policing it a real challenge.

I hope we can find more photos of the area and its inhabitants to bring them to life, so any leads gratefully received!

Regards, David


  1. In this project I'm performing paid research to find photos, sketches, and other images that can illustrate the history of the Central Police Station site. Read more about the project in the Introduction, and see photos we've already found of the Police Station, the Magistracy, and the Prison.
  2. "A report for 1877 issued by the Inspector of Brothels on behalf of the Registrar General's Office lists both the registered and 'sly' houses for Chinese and European patrons in the entire colony. Brothels tended to be confined to certain districts on Hong Kong Island; the areas in which they were most numerous being those covered in this book. The addresses listed include Peel and Graham Streets, Lower Lascar Row, Lyndhurst Terrace, Hollywood Road, Wellington Street, Tai Ping Shan Street, Square Street, Wing On Lane, Elgin Street and Staunton Street amongst many others that are still very familiar." Elizabeth Sinn writing on page 265 of A Sense of Place: Hong Kong West of Pottinger Street.
  3. Quote from Adam Nebbs, who has written a book about the 1878 fire: http://gwulo.com/The-Great-Fire-of-Hong-Kong


Daivd, thank you for this closer look into Central District. You can find a map showing the "Ethnic Distribution of Population in Central District and Premises occupied by Protected Women, 1872" (Rates and Collection Book 1872, HKPRO) in an article written by Rev. Carl T. Smith. His article "Protected Women in 19th-Century Hong Kong" is published in the book: "Women and Chinese Patriarchy", ed. by Jaschok & Miers, HKUPress 1994; pp 221-237. The map is on p228.