Iris Gladys Aspinell GABY (née WARNES) [1906-1980] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Iris Gladys Aspinell GABY (née WARNES) [1906-1980]

Iris Gladys Aspinell
Cause of death: 
Other reference: 
Canossian Convent, Repulse Bay Hotel

Iris was the eldest child of Charles and Elizabeth Warnes (née Olson) and grandchild of John Olson snr. Iris, Marjorie and Cyril Warnes were the half-cousins of my father, Reg Warren.

Born in Hong Kong, Iris and her sister Marjorie boarded at the Italian Convent after the death of their mother, Elizabeth Warnes in 1917 and possible death of thier father. The convent records show that Iris was baptised into the Catholic Church aged 20 with the baptismal name, Mary Iris Warnes. After leaving the convent, Iris worked at the Repulse Bay Hotel as a stenographer. She married a Shanghai-based New Zealand Marine Officer, Cyril Gaby, at the Catholic Cathedral in 1934 and brought up her niece, Daphne Cook, together with her own daughter, Sally, in mainland China.

Cyril Gaby wrote in his autobiography that Iris's sister, Marjorie, was visiting them "regularly" when they were posted in Foochow in 1937, when Daphne would have been 3. At the beginning of 1938 he sent Iris and the girls to Hong Kong for some months in advance of his leave. They then left Hong Kong on the S.S. Changte on 12 April 1938 for New Zealand and Australia arriving back on 10 April 1939.  Gaby then had a spell of duty in Hong Kong and they took an apartment in Kowloon until the end of March 1940.  He was transferred to Amoy in April. From there he commanded the Chinese light tender Pingching, inspecting, supplying and maintaining lighthouses and navigational equipment along the China coast.

 Interned at Amoy and then the American Club in Shanghai, the family was included in a swap with Japanese POWs in Australia. They settled in Bexley, NSW, near Sydney, where Iris spent most of the rest of her life. Iris signed the death certificate of my grandmother, Hannah Warren, (separately evacuated to Hong Kong), and who probably had a large hand in her upbringing after the death of her mother. I’m still trying to trace the whereabouts of my grandmother between 1926 and the war and would be grateful to know of any press references to Cyril and Iris Gaby in Hong Kong, either during their posting there in 1939-40 or when Iris and the two children came to visit in early 1938.



Siblings of Iris Gladys Aspinell GABY (née WARNES) [1906-1980]

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I wonder if Jill could give me a contact at the Canossian Convent for my own research between 1932 and 1945. A name, phone number, and email address would be most useful. I have been dealing with a Sr. Therese Chien for a few years without much success.




Sister Theresa is my only contact at the Canossian Convent. I was fortunate that she granted me a meeting on one of my early visits to Hong Kong and managed to obtain some information to give me on my second visit a year or so later. She's very hard working and it's difficult to know how to repay her for the extra work involved in searching for private family information. I began by ringing the convent direct on the number given on their website and managed to arrange a meeting that way. Do you ever go to Hong Kong? If not, in approaches to archivists elsewhere, I've found that an actual letter can be more effective and less easily overlooked than an email, often swiftly buried in an overloaded inbox.

By the way, in case it's of interest, Sister Theresa has written a book on the history of the Canossian Convent in Hong Kong. 

Sorry I can't be more helpful.

Best wishes,



Thank you for your comments, they were most interesting. Yes, Sr. Theresa is very hardworking and I've had several meetings with her since 2011. I must ask her for a copy of her book on the History of the Canossian Convent. She gave me the three volumes on the History of "Our Canossian Missions". My sisters practically grew up as boarders in the convent beginning in the early 1930s, and it is about them that I have been trying to obtain information, plus the fact that in 1938 my mother had the job of recreating the backdrop scenery at the stage in the auditorium. She died a year later.

I don't think the Canossian Convent suffered much damage during the war and because of this I was hoping that records should be fairly intact for that location. However, I believe with the expansion of the colleges after the war records have been moved around, and that appears to be the difficulty.

Isn't Gwulo website fantastic!

Best regards,




It sounds as if you have a much closer relationship with Sister Theresa than I have. I have also probably misremembered the title of her book. I expect it's the one you have. I've only had two meetings with Sister Theresa. On the second occasion, a year or two later than the first, they had dug out everything they had on my family. It wasn't what I was hoping for, but they had done their best. Like you though, I haven't found email a successful way of communicating. Baptisms of boarders are recorded, - likewise marriages from the convent. There should be some record of your sisters, I would have thought, especially if they took part in performances or anniversary events. Perseverance is the only key!

I definitely endorse your view of Gwulo!

Good luck!




Page 7, Hong Kong Daily Press, 1934-10-08:


Warnes - Gaby

A quiet wedding took place on Saturday at the Roman Catholic Cathedral when Miss Iris Aspinall Warnes became the bride of Mr. Cyril Frederick Gaby, of the Chinese Maritime Customs, The Right Rev. Bishop H. Valtorta officiated  at the ceremony. The honeymoon is being spent at Repulse Bay.

Thanks for finding this announcement, David. It should be "Aspinell" with an "e". Even "Warnes" is sometimes misspelt as "Warner". I sometimes wonder if John Olson wasn't playing some sort of game when he picked English sons-in-law with almost identical names and birth dates: my grandfather, Charles Warren for Hannah and Charles Warnes for Elizabeth.