Where are the horses in old Hong Kong photos?

Submitted by Klaus on Mon, 04/11/2022 - 10:42

Interesting to see horses are listed in the 1863 ordinance about hiring public vehicles, but I don’t remember having seen any horse (except for racing) or horse driven carriages on old Hong Kong photos. If someone knows more, please leave a comment.

Mr Kennedy had a stable,
There is a mention of people arriving in carrages or on Horseback to a wedding c.1884, where they use the term "ordinary carrages", https://gwulo.com/comment/63067#comment-63067.
I read somewhere, that the Chinese name for Queen's Gardens was something like - the Governor's Horse Riding place (I can't find the reference at the moment),
Sir Cecil and Lady Clementi have riding paths names after them.
Here's a picture of the Parade Ground with Officers on horseback

Thank you for your reply marlowe. Actually, I was thinking more about public transport with horses.

As far as I understand the 1863 "ordinance to provide for the regulation of Public Vehicles and Chairs and their Drivers and Bearers, and to license the Hire of Horses", there should be "drivers" of "Public Vehicles". In 1863, no rickshaws existed in Hong Kong. Therefore I thought of carriages with one horse like it was common means of transport in Britain at that time. 

For material transport we have some photos of bullock carts like this one:

William Fincher
William Fincher, by Admin

Were there any horse carts?

It would be of interest if the wording of the 1863 ordinance (regarding horses) was chosen just out of British tradition without significance to Hong Kong, or were these actually in use.

I don't remember reading any mention of someone hiring a horse or horse-drawn carriage, but if there were licenses, there may be mentions of criminal offences related to those licenses and / or driving? They'd appear in the newspapers reports of court cases, and possibly in the end-of-year lists of types of crimes in the annual reports.

I'd guess photographers working in the 1860s would wait for any horses and carriages to pass before taking a photo of a street scene, as the long exposures would make the horses look very blurred.

The website of Heritage 1881, the former Marine (Water) Police Headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, lists a “Stable Block” within the complex, which I believe is now one of their dining areas.
However, a careful study of Iain Ward’s “Sui Geng, The Hong Kong Marine Police 1841 - 1950,” makes no mention of stables being included when the building was constructed.

In chapter 5, “The Old Lady of Tsim Sha Tsui 1884 - 1991,” Iain goes into great detail regarding that construction and would not omit the provision of stables within the complex if they were built.

I wonder if anybody can confirm whether they actually existed?



"[Wednesday 6th September 1848] Doctors in visiting their patients ride in [sedan] chairs; though Dr. M. usually appears in a low carriage, drawn by a pair of handsome Chusan ponies. His boy rides with him, holding an umbrella over his head, and takes care of the horses in his absence, being obliged continually, with a cloth, to drive off the flies which torment them." 

Source: extract from "Diary of a Hong Kong Doctor", by Benjamin Lincoln Ball, published in Hong Kong: Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth (1996), by Barbara-Sue White, at 48.

An article on the captioned subject by the Hong Kong Daily Press on 6 November 1900.

We have received the advanced sheets of Mr. Rounsevelle Wildman's Consular Report on chances of business for carriage and harness makers in Hong Kong. We cannot do better than quote Mr. Wildman's own words in the subject. He says :-

Within the last six months the manufacturers of carriages, carriage hardware and harness seem to have singled out Hong Kong as a likely market in which to sell their wares. I am at a loss to understand this crusade, as I am flooded not only with letters and printed circulars, but with publications devoted to that line of commerce.......

There is absolutely no market for carriages and harness in Hong Kong or South China. It is only necessary for the exporter to refer to the cheapest kind of handbook to demonstrate how useless their attempt has been. Hong Kong is situated on a rocky island and rises, terrace by terrace, from the water's edge 1,900 feet in the air to the Peak. On the island itself, there is one short drive possible and the colony has the distinction of possessing three bona fide carriages which are seen normally on ceremonial occasions. 

All the drayage of the city is either done on the shoulders of coolies or by means of roughly made handcarts. The means of locomotion of the residents is principally the sedan chair, although a number of rickshaws run on the lower levels. There is a possible sale for a number of racing saddles as we boast of a few China ponies that are raced for polo or scratch races.

As to the neighbouring Chinese provinces, they are out of the question as they possess no roads, and probably will not for the next decade.

I trust this brief resume of the situation will tend to turn the attention of our manufacturers of carriages to other fields where the rewards are greater and more quickly realised.



There is a well known photograph of a police parade in 1880's(?) in the Central Compound which depicts six mounted police in the rear; the 1868 police establishment shows provision for " 24 Horse and Station coolies" and various correspondence from that period notes that horses were provided for Officers to visit the outlying Posts at Stanley and Shau Kei Wan.Kowloon always appears to have been (police) horsesless,although I note reference to a stable block in Tsim Sha Tsui.The Fire Brigade element of the Police would presumably have horses.

Very good find. This explains a lot why we don't find photos of horse-driven carriages. I think the listing of stands and fares in Government Notifications is just copying the habits from e.g. London without any real application. 

One more

old premises of the hong kong club
old premises of the hong kong club, by Klaus


Addendum: These are drawings only, possibly the artist thought that horses and gharries must be on the road - and therefore he just added them.  

Horse carriages did exist in old Hong Kong. This is a newspaper advertisement by a horse carriage company 酒樓行公慶堂 in 1906. 

1906-3-17 horse carriage hk
1906-3-17 horse carriage hk, by simtang

After government relocated the brothels from Possession Point 水坑口 to Shek Tong Tsui 石塘嘴 in the western district, this company offered transportation service for the brothel workers between  restaurants at Possession Point and Shek Tong Tsui. The service operated between 6 pm and 2 am. They charged the customers as follows:

1  restaurant table : 80 cents

2  restaurant tables: 1 dollar 20 cents

3 table with less than 5 customers : 50 cents

The company had 7 carriages.

One of the stops was Apricot Flower Restaurant 杏花樓




In response to Tideswell27's query above, there is a building within the former Marine Police complex that is referred to (on site) as a "stable block". Please see https://gwulo.com/media/47438

The information board nearby reads: "When the Marine Police Headquarters was completed towards the end of the nineteenth century, mechanized forms of transportation (except for the Peak Tram which started operation in 1888) were not available. Motor vehicles were not introduced until around 1907. Rickshaws and sedan chairs were the most popular transportation means. For the Police Force, horses were used as a means of land transportation. The Stable Block was built to house the horses and was later transformed into garages when motor vehicles were introduced. The height of the windows at the rear reflects the different needs of the original occupants of the Stable Block, which, being horses, stood much taller than do humans."


I have looked through a bunch of old HK photos and found almost no trace of horses in Hong Kong outside the military garrison. I think due to the unfavourable climate and the cheapness of the competition, Coolies, it was by and large just not economical to use horses for anything other than as a status symbol. 

However there are a few photos which shows that non military horses were in use: 

The Stables at Glenealy on Caine Road:

Glenealy & Caine Road
Glenealy & Caine Road, by Herostratus

Wanchai Steam Bakery:

Wanchai Steam Bakery
Wanchai Steam Bakery, by Herostratus

Central Market in the late 1890s. There are three horse carriages shown on the left of the street in the 1st photo so someone was clearly trying to use horse drawn carriages for commercial purposes 

Queens Road Central looking west at the Central Market
Queens Road Central looking west at the Central Market, by Herostratus

Possibly the same carriages in front of the under Construction Central Market:

Queens Road looking west at the central market under construction
Queens Road looking west at the central market under construction , by Herostratus

I also found it interesting that despite trawling through multiple photos of race meetings at happy valley no horse drawn transportation was in evidence. There were hundreds of sedan Chairs & Rickshaws though. If horses had been in widespread use in Hong Kong during the 19th century I would have expected them to be used getting to and from the race course in Happy Valley.