c.1927 Victoria Harbour
Where: I'm curious to know where the photographer stood to take this photo. The buildings in the foreground will help us work that out.
|London lunchtime meetup, 21st Feb. Click for details.|
The building closest to the camera is the one with three domes decorating the front of it.
I don't recognise that building, but the group at the bottom of the hill are more familiar. This terrace of buildings was near the start of Queen's Road East.
They would be similar to the buildings seen in this street-level view.
Left from the terrace is a building with a flat roof.
It was on the corner of Queen's Road East and Arsenal Street, and was a famous Japanese store known as Daibutsu.
Next round from Daibutsu was another short terrace of buildings.
Then we come to the corner of Arsenal Street and the old Praya, where the Methodist Soldiers' and Sailors' Home stood.
Older photos show that before the reclamation project started, it used to stand on the seafront.
The last buildings in this cluster stood next to the Home, and were known as the Blue Buildings.
Now let's use them to work out where that building with the domes was located. Look back at the main photo, and you'll see you can draw a straight line from the domes, through the Methodist Home, to Holt's Wharf over in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Draw that line on a map, and it suggests the building with the domes was somewhere around today's Monmouth Terrace.
If you can give a more accurate location, or even better identify that building, please let us know!
What: Look left from the buildings on Arsenal street, and you'll see a high wall. The land between Central and Wanchai belonged to the British army and navy, and the wall marked its eastern boundary. The area to the left of the wall was known as the Arsenal Yard.
I've highlighted a few items in the Arsenal Yard that caught my eye. First, in red we have two pylons and the lower terminus of the Navy's aerial ropeway, or cable car. It carried material between this terminus on the seafront, and the Navy's magazine and laboratory which were both up the hill near Kennedy Road.
In blue I've marked the railway lines I can see. I don't think they were for steam engines. Instead I guess they were used with small trolleys that were pushed by hand, very much like these trolleys we've seen over at the Kowloon Wharves.
What about the items marked in green? Here's a closer look.
They look like gun barrels. Is that something the Navy would keep a supply of?
Looking right from Arsenal Street we can see the reclamation underway.
Running along the edge of the reclamation there are more railway lines, but these did carry steam trains, pulling side-tipping wagons like the ones below, filled with earth and rocks.
It makes sense for the lines to run near the water's edge, so the wagons could be emptied out into the sea to extend the reclamation. They'd need to keep at that until the reclamation reached the new sea wall, shown under construction in the main photo.
Who: Lots of sailors, as is usually the case for an old photo of Hong Kong's harbour. I've got several questions about their ships, which I hope you can help me with.
Looking at the sailing ships first, I can see plenty of Chinese junks but also a Western yacht.
The local waters also saw a hybrid of eastern and western designs known as a lorcha, that used Chinese-style sails on a Western-style hull. Is that what we see here?
Then let's look at the larger ships in the harbour, starting with the largest. It has a very distinctive shape, with a flat top and no funnels in sight. It was named HMS Argus, and was one of Britain's early aircraft carriers.
The other big ships have light-coloured hulls, and also look to belong to the Royal Navy. Left of the Argus is this ship, with what looks like "C75" on the hull.
Closer to the shore is another line of ships. Starting from the left we see this one, that doesn't have any identification:
Then there's this pair of identical ships, the closer one clearly marked "H31".
Another clearly marked ship, "D58".
And finally, another one without markings.
Those letters and numbers on the side of a ship form its pennant number. If we know a ship's pennant number and the year (late 1920s, based on the reclamation), a quick search on Google will usually identify it. Except...
- C.75: I can find an HMS Leander, but that wasn't commissioned until 1931, so it can't be the ship shown here.
- H.31: HMS H31 was commissioned in 1919 and survived until WW2. That all sounds good, til you read that it was a submarine!
- D58: There was an HMS Cardiff with this pennant number in the 1920s, but the summary I linked to says it spent all of the late 1920s in the Mediterranean.
No matches there - hopefully you can see what I'm doing wrong, and point me in the right direction to identify these ships.
When: Let's see if I can do any better at finding the photo's date.
The Blue Buildings will help, as though we only see two of them in this photo, they were originally four, identical buildings.
The demolition of the two on the left was reported in the newspapers for November 1926, so we know that the main photo can't be older than that. And the sea wall for the Wanchai reclamation was finished in May 1929, so the photo won't be newer than that.
The photo is on the front of a postcard. Turning it over, we can see the writer dates their note to the 2nd June 1928, so that further shrinks the range of possible dates.
The aircraft carrier Argus is our last clue, as its movements were reported in the local newspapers. It sailed from the UK in early 1927, arriving in Hong Kong in March 1927 on its way to Shanghai. It made several more visits to Hong Kong, before setting off on the return journey to the UK in March 1928.
The photo must have been taken between March 1927 and March 1928 to catch the Argus in Hong Kong. I'll pick 1st August 1927 as a date roughly in the middle of the range, and also a date when the papers reported one of Argus's visits.
If you can put a more accurate date on this view, please let us know in the comments below.
Gwulo photo ID: K152