1900s Des Voeux Road Central | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

1900s Des Voeux Road Central

1904 Des Voeux Rd Central


Where: That three-storey building in the background looks familiar. I remember seeing it in this circa 1906 photo from chapter two of the latest Gwulo book. 

c. 1906 Central and the Peak


Can you see it towards the right edge of the photo? Here's a close-up.

c. 1906 Connaught Rd and DVRC


From left to right we're looking at:

  • New four-storey buildings between Connaught Road and Des Voeux Road Central (DVRC)
  • The three-storey, six-arches-wide building that we're interested in, set back on DVRC
  • A new four-storey building on Connaught Road
  • Central Market on DVRC.

Working back from the market, we can tell that the photographer was looking south along Pottinger Street, across the junction with DVRC. That means our three-storey building was on the corner where the Man Yee Building stands today.


What: At the right of the photo, the land on the western side of Pottinger Street is empty, though we can see a man building a temporary matshed there.

Matshed under construction


In the top-left corner we can see the ironwork of a balcony, showing there's a building just out of sight to our left. Just beyond it I think we can see the ornate top of one of the poles that carried the power cables for the trams.

Balcony and tram pole


Who: The streets are busy with people.

People on DVRC


Rickshaw on DVRC


The people will have to remain anonymous, but the signs on the buildings show some of the local businesses they might have been connected with. The sign in the top-left corner is a bit blurred ...

Noronha sign

... but we can still make out most of the text:

Printers to the Government of Hongkong

Many of the old government documents we refer to show their name.

Noronha & Co.


Looking further away along Pottinger Street we can see a cluster of signs for AKAM TAILOR, the CRITERION HOTEL, and a STATIONERS & PRINTERS whose name I can't read.

Criterion Hotel sign


The signs on the main building are much clearer, showing D.S. DADY BURJOR, CHEUN WOO, and KWONG HEP LOONG & CO. LD.

D.S. Dady Burjor sign


There's also a partially covered sign, possibly for WING KEE & CO.

Wing Kee sign


When: Let's put all these clues together to find out when this photo was taken.

1890s-1950s: We've got a small collection of photos of the three-storey building here on Gwulo. The oldest and youngest are these two:

1890s Victoria Harbour Central
1890s Victoria Harbour Central, by Chris Chan


1950s Des Voeux Road Central
1950s Des Voeux Road Central , by Moddsey


They show it was already standing in the 1890s and wasn't demolished until the 1950s - so it isn't much help in narrowing down the date!

1890s-1920s: The Gwulo book's next view from the harbour was taken in the 1920s. Find Central Market and look to the left - you won't see the three-storey building as the empty land in front of it has been built on.



1903-1920s: The land between DVRC and Connaught Road was created by a major reclamation project in the 1890s and early 1900s. The empty land where the matshed is being built was reclaimed as part of the project's "Section 6 West". That section was completed in 1903.

1903/4-1920s: Trams started running in 1904, but ... as we can't actually see a tram in this picture, we should stick to 1903 as the earliest possible year. That's when construction of the poles and tracks began.

1903-1911: The Chinese men in the photo still have shaved foreheads and their hair in a long braid or 'queue'. That dates the photo to before the 1911 edict which abolished that hairstyle.


Those are the obvious clues. Now let's see if any of those signboards can help. Looking through the Jurors' Lists here on Gwulo for the years 1903-1911, I can see mentions of two of the companies.

  • Criterion Hotel - it is listed in the Jurors Lists for 1903 and 1904, but not in later years. It's tempting to say the photo must have been taken in 1903 / 04, but unfortunately I know that the Criterion continued in business after that. However, a bit of digging through the licensing sessions show that the Criterion moved to new premises on Queen's Road Central in 1906, so we can narrow our search to 1903-1906.
  • D.S. Dady Burjor - The 1903 Jurors List shows the company at 25 Pottinger Street, then in 1904 they've moved to Des Voeux Road. That eliminates 1903, so we should keep looking in the years 1904-1906.

Jurors' Lists are lists of people which happen to show where they worked and lived. But there are also annual lists of companies in the commercially produced Chronicle & Directory. Let's see if they help at all.


Noronha & Co. are listed in the Chronicle & Directory each year, and luckily for us they often moved their office. Here are the addresses given:

  • 1899-1900: Zetland Street
  • 1901-2: 47 & 49 Des Voeux Road
  • 1903-4: 63 & 65 Des Voeux Road
  • 1905 & 1908 (the copies for 1906 & 1907 are not online): 6 Des Voeux Road

63 & 65 Des Voeux Road is the address of the building that is just out of sight to the left of the photo - the building showing their sign.

Combine that with the earlier information, and we have the year that the photo was taken: 1904.

Gwulo photo ID: A549

Further reading: