1907 Tennis in Hong Kong

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 21:11

We've got the when & what covered, but I'd appreciate any help with the who & where.

When: 1907 - written in ink under the photo is "Tennis Hong Kong 1907".

What: The ladies look as though they are taking a break from their game, and the four dainty teacups on the right are waiting for them. There must be other people around too, as we can see empty chairs, a couple more tennis rackets, and a man's jacket behind the lady on the left.

Who: The lady on the right appears in several photos from this collection, so we'll be seeing more of her. From other photos I'll guess that she's British, but that's about all I know at this point. It's a long shot, but if anyone reognises her or the other ladies, please let us know.

Where: Where would you go to play tennis in 1907?

The Hong Kong Tennis Association wouldn't start for another two years, so no point looking there.

The Ladies Recreation Club (LRC) has already had tennis courts for over twenty years by 1907. The shape of the land in this photo doesn't look right to me for the LRC, but I'm happy to be proved wrong

Maybe a private court? Some of the wealthier families' houses had their own courts, eg Jean Gittins writes about their house on the Peak:

Father [Sir Robert Hotung] bought a cluster of three houses from a retiring businessman: two, separated by tennis courts on two levels, for the family and a large staff of servants, and one for his own use.

There's a building with a chinese-style roof in the background, maybe related to this court. Can anyone recognise the building, or suggest any other likely places to play tennis in those days?

How: Before we let them go back to their tennis game, I have to ask - How can they move around Hong Kong dressed in all these clothes, let alone play sport? Ankle-length skirt, long sleeves, plus hat (veil optional!).

Regards, David

Reference: BA121

Date picture taken


For what it's worth, here's my contribution!

Where?  I think this was taken at Chater's Bungalow.  I have compared the hill in the background to another picture of a similar angle and the whole size shape and even the tiniest little "v nick" on the right hand side half way down match.

Who? Well, in 1908 Dr. Charles Forsyth and his wife were renting it (Sir P was established in Marble Hall by then) so maybe its Mrs. Forsyth and friends?

Hope this helps.  And I'm more than happy to be corrected!



Lawn Tennis
H. W. W. Wilberforce

with a chapter for Ladies
Mrs. Hillyard
LADY CHAMPION 1886, 1889, 1984



Advice from a champion:

"It occurs to me that a few words on the subject of dress may not be out of place here. Nothing is more uncomfortable than a heavy narrow skirt ; and I find that one made of the lightest possible material, not less than 2.75 yards in width, gives the greatest freedom in getting about the court.

I assume that the usual shoes with indiarubber soles will be worn, as it would, of course, be impossible to play in ordinary walking boots. The hat, too, should be one which, while shading your face, will not be inconveniently large."


"In conclusion, there can be no doubt that lawn tennis is a most healthy and invigorating exercise for ladies, and is at present the one game in which a girl can to some extent hold her own with men ; and I am sure, if only more ladies would take it up and play regularly, they would be far more healthy and strong."

Tennis swept into vogue - and swept croquet out.  The Ladies Recreation Club had both at the beginning - including Croquet tournements - and in 1902 a prize offered by Mrs. G. W. F. Playfair - who can be found living just up the hill from the LRC in the 1899 Ladies Directory.


“sent to Hong Kong” -

- A ball croque'd beyond the boundaries is sent to “Hong Kong” or “up the country.” The owner, with an indifferent grace, stands gazing after it ; and the journey, required to bring it back within the arena, is usually performed with an air of the most profound melancholy, not unmingled with chagrin!

Croquet, 1864, Captain Mayne Reid

Annelise, I think the light area in the foreground is likely a patch of gravel, and the dark pattern a shadow from a cane chair as Thomas suggests.

Thanks for the contemporary tennis clothing advice too. Even using light material, wearing 2.5 metres of skirt cloth isn't going to be much fun!

Liz, I don't think it's likely to be Chater's bungalow in Kowloon. This photo shows a high hill close to the building in the background. I can't think of anything like that around the observatory. In the photo you linked to above, the hills are much further away. Pity, it would have been great to nail the where & who in one go!

Thanks for all the feedback, and please let us know if any other ideas pop up.

Regards, David

Hi there,

When I zoom in again, I saw a Chinese style Pavilion at the back.  I wonder........ could that be HoTung's big house at the Peak?  There is certainly a tennis court there wth some pavlions around.  But it would be diffcult to judge from the photo above and Google Earth.

Best Regards,


Any more information welcome about Dr Charles Forsyth, mentioned by Liz Chater as renting Chater’s Bungalow, off Nathan Road, Kowloon. He was appointed as one of the executors of the will of my grandfather, Charles Warren, and guardian to the Warren children in the event of his death. As my father, Reg Warren, was born at 4 Fairview, Nathan Road in 1909, he may even have delivered him.

As to tennis, the earlier house, rented by my grandfather, no. 2 Observatory Villas, and where my uncle Arthur Warren was born in 1906, had two tennis courts. Together with his watch and his camera, Arthur’s tennis racket was one of his bequests to his brothers and sister – the racket went to his sister, Evelyn, I think. Tennis courts figure in family photos of both 13 and 20 Broadwood Road.

A notice in the SCMP of 7 January 1956, reports Dr Forsyth's death and there is a further letter published from H.B.L. Dowbiggin on 10 January 1956, according to Carl Smith. Carl Smith also records that Forsyth had successfully recovered from TB in Canada in 1924. He was President of Kowloon Cricket Club, owned several race ponies in partnership with Dr Jordan and was apparently one of Hong Kong’s oldest residents.

A propos of tennis courts, the new Observatory Villas in Kowloon already had tennis courts in 1905, but you've already noted that there is no hill around the area of the Observatory.


Maybe someone will recognize the hill in the background to the photo. There must have been quite a few private  tennis courts by 1907.