1927 - "Coolies wearing Chinese raincoats"

Submitted by David on Sun, 12/14/2014 - 11:30
1927 - "Coolies wearing Chinese raincoats"

Who: "Coolies wearing Chinese raincoats" is written in pencil on the back of the photo.

Men on wharf

They're loading the boat / barge on the left of the photo. We can just make out another man working down in the hold:

Man in hold

What: It's not all manual labour, there's also this hi-tech crane on the right of the photo:


Possibly powered by coal & steam, judging from the clouds of smoke billowing out above it.

The rails in the photo are unusual. The crane is only resting one of the pair of rails that we can see, so there's a third rail out of sight to the right. Was this three-rail system a common arrangement? It seems odd because a wagon on the left pair of rails wouldn't be able to pass the crane on the right pair.

Here's a closer look at one of those "Chinese raincoats":


They're made from some sort of broad-leafed grass, with the leaves laid down in parallel and stitched together. I can see a couple of Chinese characters, probably the name of the manufacturer.

I wonder how long they kept waterproof, or if they soon became waterlogged?

In the distance is the bow of a much bigger ship.


If there's enough detail for you to identify which ship it was, please let us know in the comments below.

Where: We're on a wharf, with a small boat alongside and a much larger ship at right-angles to it. I guess we're at the Kowloon wharves [2], near today's Harbour City.

Here's an overhead view of the wharves from the 1930s, showing the wide variety of ships that used them:

Kowloon Wharves 1935

When: The seller dated this photo to 1927, probably from the album that held this photo. As support for that, several other photos we've looked at lately are from the late 1920s, and use the same narrow format [2]. 

Hopefully this photo was taken in the summer of 1927. Those bare feet would be very chilly at this time of year.


Regards, David 

Photo reference: A229

Also on Gwulo.com this week:


  1. The Kowloon Wharves: http://gwulo.com/node/5306
  2. Other late 1920s photos that use this format: http://gwulo.com/node/21184http://gwulo.com/atom/19497


Hi David,

I once know a traditional local farmer who worked bare footed in his fields all his life.  His soles are sort of well protected by very thick skin.  Once the side of one of his big toes was struck by the rotary blades of the machne he used to over turn soil and he didn't even bleed. I estimated the skin of his sole is some what thicker than 1 cm.

I guess that would be unlikely for the loaders shown in the photo to have distintive chilly feeling.

Thanks & Best Regards,


T, that farmer certainly had tough feet. I suppose shoes are only a very recent development in the history of man! Can't think I'd like to be working in a loading / unloading area without some sort of boots though, they must have suffered lots of accidents.

Moddsey, thanks fo the photos. The top one shows a similar three-rail layout, and looks to use different gauges for the inner and outer pair.

I showed the photo to my wife, and she remembered seeing raincoats like these in the 1970s. Her mum sold vegetables in the market, and in rainy weather the delivery men wore a grass raincoat like these - but only to cover the shoulders, not the whole body. She remembers the raincoats worked well, and the rain just ran off.

Regards, David

I remember seeing ricksaw runners and coolies wearing these raincoats in the 1950s. The rail gauge appears to be 3 feet 6 inches which would be of British design.  I believe the rail along the edge is there to guard against the cars or crane going over the edge, like the one on rail bridges.  In 1964 when I left HK, there was a gate (shown in your other photo) next to the current McDonald's and one set of tracks were still there running to the train terminal.  That spot was where I took my last walk before boarding my ship.  During my short visit to HK last year, I retraced my steps there and was awed by how the place has changed after 50 years. 

Thanks David, nice to be back. Street names/patterns are the same and extremely few residential buildings survived from my HK-era.  Elevated freeway has changed the neighbourhood in some way, for example, the sandy median on Cheung Sha Wan off Maple where I played marbles is no longer there. I hugged likely the same banyan tree on Nathan Road but did not climb it for lack of strength and knowledge of local regulations. Your subway-bus systems are modern, clean, efficient and affordable. Bus drivers are courteous/helpful but the speed they turn into narrow streets full of pedestrians on sidewalk scared me.   This 1955 photo is how I will always remember HK.  Best Regards in 2015.