Who owned these 1920s launch photos?

Submitted by David on Sat, 11/21/2015 - 16:40

Can we work out who owned these photos? Here are the clues so far...

What: All the photos are connected with this launch, named Paula:

Launch off Cheung Chau

The seller didn't keep any of the photos' captions, but I think this was taken off Cheung Chau. The house in the background looks like one of the pre-WW2 houses in the south of the island [1].

When: No doubt about the location for the next one, the Repulse Bay Hotel [2] is plain to see in the background.

Repulse Bay

Over at the left edge of the photo they're putting the roof on the hotel's new garage.

Repulse Bay Hotel garage

The garage building was completed in 1921 [3], giving us the date for the set of photos.

Where: The earliest photos in the set show the launch under construction. By this stage all the woodwork is done, but it is still waiting for a paint job and a propeller:

Launch on slip

We've seen that building on the hilltop before:

Hong Kong Corinthian Yacht Club

The HKCYC building in this photo housed the Corinthian Yacht Club [4], which we know was east of A. King's slipway [5]. A. King was a well-known boat-builder in Hong Kong.

Comparing the views of the house on the hill, the photo of Paula on the slip was taken a short distance west from the HKCYC. So was the Paula built at A. King's? Then it's a long shot, but do any records of boats built at A. King's still exist?

Who: This couple appear in several photos:

Couple on boat

Assuming they're the owners, there's a good chance the boat is named after the lady. Looking at the lifebuoy, there's an even better chance they're American:

Flags on lifebuoy

Then how about the pennant with the letter "D"? There's a small one on the lifebuoy, and a larger one on the back of the boat. It could be the flag of the shipping line they worked for? Or their private flag, with letter D for their surname?

Any guesses as to their identity? Or can you spot any other clues that will help?

These photos are part of the new Harbour-themed talk [6]. Im looking forward to giving the talk this Wednesday to members of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and their guests.

Regards, David

Also on Gwulo.com this week:


  1. Cheung Chau's European Reservation: http://gwulo.com/node/12725
  2. The Repulse Bay Hotel: http://gwulo.com/the-repulse-bay-hotel
  3. Completion date for the Repulse Bay Hotel garage: http://gwulo.com/comment/33962#comment-33962
  4. Hong Kong Corinthian Yacht Club: http://gwulo.com/Hong-Kong-Corinthian-Yacht-Club
  5. HKCYC east of Ah King: http://gwulo.com/atom/13832
  6. Talk #3: http://gwulo.com/gwulo-talk-3


the second picture has a different boat - it looks like it has a hotel name on the top but I can't make out the name on top - Hong Kong Hotel?

Hi Phil,

The second photo was probably taken from the Paula, and you're right that the launch in that photo has a sign for the Hong Kong Hotel. It was a sister hotel to the one at Repulse Bay, so I guess it was a popular outing for their guests.

Here's a postcard showing Repulse Bay at about the same time, with several launches in the bay:

1920s Swimming at Repulse Bay

Regards, David

Indeed two different boats. Paula is fascinating in that she has two funnels. The probability is that one or both are a conceit. Only the aft one would have been a boiler uptake IF she was a steam launch - at that date probable but not certain. It is vanishingly unlikely that a vessel of that size would have had two boilers.

However, closer review of both photos suggests a solution. In the upper photo she has a very modern, hard chine speedboat (Chris Craft sort of design) on chocks on the starboard side of the saloon coachroof - so definitely 1920s. However the lower photo of her on the slipway shows her with two, conventional ship's boats. Looking closely at that lower photo she is NOT being built but refitted. You can see from the pattern of the nail/screw head marks that this isn't a new build - there's been some replanking and, at a guess, a complete new bulwark. It looks like recaulking of the seams has just been completed. The bottom has had a paint job and isn't coppered (we can see the run of the planking), but the topsides have yet to have an undercoat. It also looks as though she's been given a new rudder. The three yard workers around the starboard quarter, with one crouched down at the aft end of the deadwood (a notorious place for rot) are not inspecting a new build, I'd guess, but reviewing what needs doing. So my hunch is that, since in the slipway photo there are no funnels at all, during this refurbishment she may have had her old steam engine taken out and an internal combustion engine fitted instead. The two funnels then became largely decorative, possibly the after one carrying an insulated dry exhaust pipe, though there is no obvious cooling water outlet on the starboard side (it as often as not went out on the port side - haven't a clue why).

So a hunch would be that the launch was bought second hand and taken to A King's for a refurbishment. Later one of the old boats was disposed of and the fancy new Chris Craft type speedboat fitted in its stead.

I don't think there is a yard list for A King - I suspect that once established, they would have had such a list (usually yard number, identity of vessel (40' steam launch), name of owner, price), but what happened to it, who knows - tragically, since it is an inestimable loss.

Clearly American. The 'D' pendant is interesting. It is being worn in the American fashion as a house flag on the jackstaff in both photos where it can be descried. That would argue, as you say, that EITHER the owners had a surname beginning with D, OR that the launch doubled as the family vessel and a company vessel and that the flag was he company house flag. My bet would be on the former since both 'owners' are wearing yachting caps, the centres of the badge of which appear to repeat the crossed, twin flag motif.

Paula could be the launches original name or that of the lady or a daughter (the last very common). Would there be a list of US residents in the 1920s that anyone knows of?


Stephen D

Thanks Stephen, lots of good information as always.

Here's the photo from the set that I mentioned but didn't post earlier:

Boat under construction

It's clearly a boat under construction, and I'd assumed it was the Paula but may well be wrong. Do the curves tell us whether this could be a launch similar to Paula?

Well spotted that the funnels are missing in the photo on the slip, I hadn't caught that.

And unfortunately I don't know of any lists of US residents. Has anyone else seen one?

Regards, David

PS I hope you can make it along to tomorrow's talk at the yacht club to keep me honest. You'll hear several items from your comments incorporated into the talk!

My sense - no hard evidence bar as below (!) - is that we're looking at something like a history of the boat. The new pic is clearly a boat being built, but I sense that the chap in the picture with his son (? - see below - is the lad Chinese?) and dog is NOT the chap in the picture with the lady and that datewise this is maybe just post-WW1 or possibly pre-WW1 (?). The chap seems to me to be wearing a solar topee, so maybe a Brit rather than an American.

I can't evaluate the curves bar saying that the general form of the aft end of the hull is consistent with the fully planked up vessel, though there is still something about the picture of the boat on the slip that seems to say she's up for repair/maintenance rather than awaiting a topcoat or six before launch.

I can't entirely put my finger on it - it has something to do with the way the chaps are positioned - as if two of them are inspecting work being done by the sitting chap low around the deadwood. The propeller is also off, from what I can make out at this resolution. It's as if the boat has dinged something, possibly damaging deadwood, prop and rudder and whilst that's being fixed, the topsides are being given a good going over.

I also think that if the boat had not yet had her topsides completed, it would be unlikely that both ship's boats would be in position on the deckhouse. 

The killer, as it were, is the very clear slipway carriage beneath the complete boat - exactly what one would expect for a haul-out, and the complete absence of anything like it in the framed up shot, which would again be as expected because building ways are not the same as a patent slip.

The deckhouse saloon conformity is identical with the boat on the slip and the Paula at anchor, so they're clearly the same boat. The number of pillars supporting the quarterdeck canpy are also the same (4), although in the picture of the boat at anchor harder to count because of the side screen awning.

So my hunch is:

pic 1: proud first owner (whoever he was) and son (maybe (if you look closely it might be arguable the lad is Chinese)) (plus dog) at the completion of the framing up of the Paula when she was first built

pic 2: Paula brought in for refurbishment, perhaps when new owner buys her and pays to get her hauled out and fixed up, perhaps following a period of neglect, perhaps following a whoopsie (or typhoon damage)

pic 3: Paula under new ownership at anchor in her new glory with old fashioned ship's boats disposed of and snappy new hard chine runabout in the place of at least one of them

pic 4: the proud new owners.

Something like that - maybe covering something like a 10+ year period say, 1919-1929+. I have wondered whether the first pic may be pre-WW1, but my knowledge of changing men's fashions isn't up to the challenge!


Stephen, thanks for the extra thoughts.

Looking through the photos there are lots of different people over time, so it isn't clear if the couple with the lifebuoys were the owners or their guests. eg here's another shot of the construction with the same boy in the background, but a different couple.

Building the launch

Another possibility is that it belonged to a company, and these are the company staff.

Here are another couple of construction photos:

Building the launch
Building the launch

And a good comparison of the rowing boat and the new motorboat:

Rowing boat and motor boat

Regards, David


I hadn't realized the album was such a cornucopia. The construction photos are marvellous.

I take absolutely your points about the people possibly having no connections other than at some stage being involved with Paula.

I do however wonder whether the lady and gentleman sitting with the boy behind them above may not be the very same lady and gent, a decade or more later, who are photographed on the top of the saloon deckhouse of the revamped Paula. Age does interesting things. I've juxtaposed just the two faces and - perhaps to an unspohisticated eye like mine - there does seem to me a resemblance. The lady has put on weight with the years, as have I, but hers seems to me possibly the same face - I debate with my mirror about mine.

The boatboy in his US Navy lookalike rig is splendid...and you agree Repulse Bay with Stanley Mound in the background?



Thanks Stephen.

I bought them as a bundle to use the first few launch photos in the recent talk. Good to see the others are of interest too.

I hadn't noticed the location of the last photo, but looking at it now you're spot on. For confirmation, the cutting in the hillside visible behind the "G" of the watermark of that photo appears above the "w" of the watermark in this 1920s view of Repulse Bay:

1920s Swimming at Repulse Bay

Regards, David