1906-40: Warren Swire’s Hong Kong

In 1904, aged just 21, G. Warren Swire became a director of his father’s firm, John Swire & Sons Ltd. Two years later he was sailing east to visit the company’s operations in China. Fortunately for Hong Kong’s record, he was a keen photographer.

Here’s what he saw on that first visit…

1906-7 Dockyard construction

Not surprisingly, he paid most attention to the construction of the company’s Taikoo Dockyard. When finished it would boast the largest dry dock in Hong Kong, and break the Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Company’s monopoly on large-scale ship-building and repair.

Here’s the great dry dock being built:

Constructing dockyard, Hong Kong

The dry dock was the most dramatic sight, but only occupied a small part of the dockyard. Next to the dry dock they built several slips where ships could be hauled up for repair:

Building a slip at Taikoo Dockyard

While over on the western side of the site, the yards to build new ships were taking shape.

 

His photos show he also kept an eye on the competition. The Royal Navy were building their own dockyard and dry dock around this time. The Butterfield and Swire offices just happened to overlook that construction site, giving him a firsthand view of progress.

He took this photo of the office building, on the seafront at Central:

Butterfield & Swire's building

And these photos from the rooftop, looking down onto the Royal Navy’s new dry dock:

Naval Dockyard under construction
Naval Dockyard under construction

The Royal Navy’s dry dock was flooded for the first time on Saturday, 15th June, 1907, with the Taikoo dry dock taking its first drink exactly one week later. Despite their significance, neither event is recorded in his collection of photos. Most likely he’d already left Hong Kong by then, escaping the hot summer weather and typhoons to head back to England.

 

The full Warren Swire Collection covers the first four decades of the twentieth century, and can be viewed online at:
http://hpc.vcea.net/Collection/Warren_Swire_Images

 

(This post appeared previously on the Visualising China blog.)

 

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