1919-20: Photos from Warren Swire's third visit to Hong Kong

Submitted by David on Sat, 10/29/2016 - 16:00

Warren Swire’s third visit was delayed by the First World War. He had joined a territorial army unit in 1907 (the Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars), and so was mobilized with them in 1914. He served in Egypt until 1916, then returned to the UK to work in control of shipping, a fitting use for his skills [1]. By 1919 he’d returned to the commercial world, and was back in Hong Kong to check on the company’s operations.

Before we look at his photos, what was the company’s place in Hong Kong at that time? The 1920 Juror’s list gives us an idea of its significance: of the 1,546 jurors listed, 132 or roughly 1 in 12 worked for either Taikoo Dockyard & Engineering (TD&E) or the Taikoo Sugar Refinery (TSR).


Taikoo Sugar Refinery

We’ve seen the Dockyard in photos from his earlier visits, but this time he also took photos of the Sugar Refinery. The first photo is titled “H.K. TSR Village”, and shows some of the workers’ housing. 


Taikoo Sugar Refinery Village


You can see the tram tracks running along King’s Road at the left. If you look closely, you’ll see that Quarry Bay only had a single track service at this time. Just where the tram lines disappear from view there’s a junction and road running off to the left. That is Mount Parker Road.

He also took photos of the Sugar Refinery’s recreation club, and the houses for its European staff:


Taikoo Sugar Refinery Recreation Club


Taikoo Sugar Refinery Foreign Houses


A look down the list of Taikoo Sugar Refinery men on the jurors’ list gives an idea of who lived there. It includes 10 assistants, 3 chemists, a chief engineer, 2 clerks, a draughtsman, 5 engineers, 4 foremen, a manager, 3 pansmen, a storekeeper, 7 sugar boilers, 3 timekeepers and a wharfinger.

Most of the titles are self-explanatory, but the “pansman” was a new one to me. It’s a skilled job, specific to the sugar refining industry. The pansman operates the vacuum pans that form the sugar crystals from the sugar liquor.

The list also shows three timekeepers from the Sugar Refinery. The Dockyard had seven! In this photo, titled “TD& E. Co Watchmen & Gatehouse”, I think we get a glimpse of the timekeeper’s domain. The row of gates on the right look like the passages where the workers entered and exited the dockyard, clocking in and out each time.


Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering Company Gatehouse


North Point Store

Another building we see for the first time is their North Point Store:


North Point Store


Inside everything looks very clean and tidy:


Inside the North Point Store


Not so clean and tidy outside though, as it was where they kept the company’s coal:


North Point Store


At least some of that coal would have ended up here at the “TD& E. Co Gas Plant & Power House”:


Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering Company Gas Plant and Power House


We take the supply of electricity for granted now, but in 1920 you’d find major operations like Taikoo, the Tramways, or the Naval Dockyard each ran their own power station.

The Taikoo companies also had to maintain their own water supplies, and built several dams around the area. Most were in the valley behind Quarry Bay but there was also Braemar Reservoir, further west on the hillside above North Point. Here Warren is looking out across Braemar Reservoir towards Kowloon.


View over Braemar Reservoir


Holts Wharf

The southern tip of Kowloon, just out of sight on the left of the previous photo, was a regular destination for Warren. He was heading to Holt’s Wharf


Holts Wharf back


In this view he’s looking south towards the Holt’s Wharf buildings. The steep hill on the right is still there today, with Chatham Road running round its base. On the left, behind the fence, is the Kowloon-Canton Railway, heading towards its terminus at Tsim Sha Tsui.

The railway is clearer to see in this view facing the opposite direction, taken from a rooftop at the Wharf.


Holts Wharf No. 6


He also took a photo that he titled “Holts Wharf Foreign Quarters”:

Foreigners' houses and rickshaws, Holts Wharf, Hong Kong

I don’t recognize this building, but the 1920 Juror’s List gives one possibility. It notes the Wharf Manager was a Mr Charles Butler Riggs, living at Glenthoral on Kimberley Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.


Hong Kong University

Returning to the island, Warren checked how the finished Hong Kong University looked. Swires were one of the donors that helped fund its construction, but when he’d taken photos on his previous visit the Main Building was still being built. On this visit it was all finished. Well, almost - it would be another ten years before a clock was finally installed in that clocktower! 

Hong Kong University


All those students need somewhere to live. This photo shows the three halls of residence, Lugard, Eliot, and May Halls, on the eastern slopes of the campus. Only May and Eliot are still standing today.


University Halls



Finally, it wasn’t all work. His last photo shows a visit to the racecourse in Happy Valley. His visits were timed to catch the winter months, and from the way they’re wrapped up this must have been the coldest day of the year!

Happy Valley Racecourse


(This post first appeared on the Visualising China Blog.)

Further reading

See photos from Warren Swire's other visits to Hong Kong:

The full Warren Swire Collection covers the first four decades of the twentieth century, and can be viewed online at the Historical Photos of China website.



  1. Warren Swire's activities in the First World War were kindly provided by Matthew Edmondson at the Swire Archives. He quotes the original source as Warren Swire’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 


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The building behind and to the left of the Holt's wharf foreign quarters house is the Hong Kong Observatory east side. This would make the picture taken at the junction of Kimberly & Austin Roads and the Foreign Quarters would be located roughly where Companion Court, 15C Austin Avenue is today.