1930s View over Wanchai and the harbour towards Kowloon
When: In previous views like this we've looked at the ships in the harbour or the buildings in the foreground to pin down the photo's date. As this is a very sharp photo I'm going to look across the harbour to the Hung Hom peninsula for clues instead.
For most of the 20th century the peninsula was an industrial area, home to a cement works, a power station, and a large dockyard. The cement works and power station are mostly out of sight on the far side of the hill, but the Kowloon Docks are facing us and are clear to see.
This curious tower at the end of the docks, a stubby "T" shape, is our first clue to the photo's date.
The short arms are a sign that it was still under construction. When it is finished it will look like this:
It was the dockyard's hammerhead crane, capable of lifting loads up to 100 tons in weight. Kowloon Docks had bought it second-hand from a shipyard on the Humber in northeast England that had closed down. The crane was dismantled, then shipped here to Hung Hom where it was rebuilt.
The newspaper report of Kowloon Docks' annual meeting in March 1937 noted that the foundations for the crane were complete, and it was hoped that the crane would be finished by the end of the year. At next year's meeting in March 1938, they confirmed that the crane was complete and had passed its tests. The main photo must have been taken some time between those two dates.
The dockyard also has a second clue for us. Can you spot what's wrong with this picture?
That looks like a strange angle for a ship to be in the water. It reminded me of post-typhoon scenes, which led me to this photo of the same ship:
On September 1 & 2, 1937, a terrible typhoon hit Hong Kong. One of the victims was the SS Talamba, driven on to the rocks below Devil's Peak. It stayed there for almost three months, until it was successfully re-floated on 21 Nov 1937, and taken to be moored at a buoy off the Kowloon Docks.
That narrows the range down to between November 1937 and March 1938. As the crane still needs more work before it is finished I'll pick a date near that start of that range, December 1937. Corrections welcomed. [UPDATE: Several readers have applied their detective skills and narrowed down the time the photo was taken to late morning on the 27th November 1937 - see the comments below for details.]
Panoramas like these often turn up in sailors' photo albums from the 1930s. In this case, the eBay seller said this photo came "From albums compiled by British naval officer during 1937 to 1939".
As we'll see, the photographer likely chose this scene with visiting sailors in mind.
What: This part of the harbour is marked "Man of War Anchorage" on early-20th-century maps, an area reserved for Naval ships. There would be ships anchored there that the sailor would recognise.
Furthest from the camera is a large ship with a distinctive flat deck and tower. They identify the ship as HMS Eagle, one of Britain's first aircraft carriers.
Moving closer to the photographer we have this ship.
It isn't one of the Royal Navy's ships though, as it is flying the Stars and Stripes.
The ship doesn't have any markings I can see, so let's put it on hold and come back to it in a moment. [UPDATE: The American ship has been identified as the USS Bridge - see the comments below for details.]
The closest of the three ships is clearly marked H22. It was HMS Diamond, a British destroyer.
Looking across to the right, we see two submarines.
Here's a closer look at their conning towers.
The submarine in the background is O7. We've seen British O-class submarines in other Hong Kong photos, and know that they were frequent visitors in the 1930s.
The submarine in the foreground is a different shape and colour though. Does anyone recognise which type of submarine it is? I wonder if it might be American, and that the American ship in harbour was some kind of submarine tender ship? Hopefully some of our nautical readers will let us know more about the ship and the submarine in the comments below. [UPDATE: The submarine in the foreground has been identified as a British mine-laying submarine, one of HMSMs Grampus or Rorqual - see the comments below for details.]
Where: Just to the right of the centre is this junction.
It's a good landmark to orient ourselves - we're looking along Landale Street, then across the Y-shaped junction of Johnston and Hennessy Roads. The Chinese Methodist Church was built on the triangular plot of land at that junction. We can see its tower with the Chinese-style roof tiles at the right of the crop, and in this street-level view.
To the left of the junction are three buildings that sailors would recognise.
(A) is the China Fleet Club, and (B) is Sailors' Home and Missions to Seamen. We're more used to seeing them from the harbour, like this (the advert for San Miguel beer is on the roof of the China Fleet Club).
(C) was the Sailors' and Soldiers' Home, run by the Methodist church.
Older sailors might also remember a couple of landmarks that had recently disappeared.
(D) is the last remaining quarter of the Blue Buildings. Before the Wanchai reclamation in the 1920s, the Blue Buildings stood on the waterfront, and housed the Navy's canteen.
(E) is where a cable car terminus used to stand. The cable car ferried explosives between the shore and the Navy's magazine and laboratories that were up on the hillside near Kennedy Road. Here's how the terminus looked around 10 years earlier.
So, lots of memories for a sailor looking back at this photo in their album. If you can add any more information about the scene, please go ahead and post them in the comments below.
Gwulo photo ID: A574
The Gwulo website has pages for many of the places shown above, where you can find more information and photos:
- Hung Hom
- 1937 Typhoon (and typhoons from other years)
- Cable-car to the Navy's magazine.
You'll also find lots more old Hong Kong photos and stories of their who, what, when, and where in the Gwulo series of books.