1920s Unknown couple - do you recognise them?

Submitted by David on Sat, 09/16/2023 - 13:00
c.1927 Unknown couple at the Peak Hotel

This is a photo I'm hoping to use in my new book. I've worked out where and when it was taken, but I've not been able to identify the couple. If anyone can help, please let us know in the comments below.

Where: The windows in the background have a distinctive shape that I've seen before.

Window comparison

The right hand side is cropped from this photo, taken around 1900.

c.1900 Peak Hotel

So the couple are up at the Peak Hotel.

When: This is a Real Photo Postcard (RPPC). Sometimes the pre-printed back of an RPPC can help us date when the paper was manufactured, but there aren't any clues I recognise here.

Back of postcard EA005

RPPC's were most common in the 1910s-1950s though, so that at least gives us a broad range of possible dates.


We know the Peak Hotel closed in 1936, which trims down the range.


Next compare how the hotel building looked in 1900, and when the main photo was taken. 

c.1900 Peak Hotel


c.1927 Unknown couple at the Peak Hotel

The couple are standing on the roof of a building that is in front of the main, older building, and that didn't exist when the 1900 photo was taken.

The newer building was known as the Annexe. I've highlighted it in this photo from 1927.

Peak Hotel Annexe

Photos show the Annexe was built in two parts, at different times. The two-storey section to the right was built first, and the three-storey section on the left followed later. The roof of the two-storey section was known as the Terrace, and is where the couple are standing.

The Public Works Department's report for 1911 mentions "Additions to the Peak Hotel" among the "Works Commenced", and the report for 1912 notes that "Further additions were made to the Peak Hotel Annexe on R.B.L. 77, Chamberlain Road". So I think the Annexe and Terrace were completed in 1912.


Taking a different approach, let's look more closely at the smartly dressed couple.

Unknown couple

The lady's hat is the cloche style that was popular in the 1920s. The style evolved over the years, and the closest match I could find comes from 1927, so that's the date I'll guess for this photo. 

c. 1927

Who: Back to the original question. There is a note in pencil on the back of the card.

Names on back of card

I'm not sure if the fourth character is a letter 'v' or a shortened form of 'and'? The word that begins with an S may be 'Signor'...

re J. & Signor Pellig????
Hong Kong

I tried searching for signor in the local newspapers from the late 1920s at MMIS, but most of the results were for Signor Mussolini. No luck in the Carl Smith index either.

Hopefully one of our readers will recognise the couple, and solve the mystery. (You can check the comments to this page on the Gwulo website to see if they have been identified yet, and to add more information.)

Further reading:

Gwulo photo ID: EA005


Commencing from the mid-1920s, round-the-world tours included Hong Kong as a destination. One may be looking at tourists stopping off at the Peak Hotel rather than local residents.

Handwritten surnames are a nightmare to decipher, David. I'm going to offer you "Pelliege" which is a family name that exists, but I've only found it in a Californian insurance table of legacies from "the Holocaust Era". The name seems to run off the edge of the postcard. We can at least verify "Pellie--".

I agree that the character after "J" is an abbreviation of the ampersand. I think "J" may be known to the recipient of the postcard and not married to the gentleman. I would try to find out the names of the Italian consuls of the era, if I were you. The current consulate general may not be able to help you but the National Archive seems to have a historical record of diplomatic posts to Hong Kong. Arduous scrolling though!

Let me know if you find anything. I'll come back to you if I have any further thoughts.

Thanks for the feedback. I think the name is likely longer than 'Pellige', as if I zoom in to the handwritten names (https://gwulo.com/media/46661/zoom) it looks as though the writer ran out of room, and tried to squeeze several more letters in at the edge of the card.

I'll stick with 'Pellig---' as the start of the name, as though the 'g' is written in an odd way it matches the other letter g's in 'Hong' and 'Kong'. However a list of common Italian surnames starting with 'Pellig' (https://surnam.es/italy/pellig) only has three matches, none of which look like the name on the card:

  1. pelligra (925)
  2. pelligrini (5)
  3. pelligrino (1) 

Italian Consuls are a good idea. Luckily the annual Blue Book has a list of consuls, and the Blue Books are easily accessed at HKGRO. I checked the Blue Books for the years 1920-30:

  • 1920 : U. C. Galluzzi, Vice-Consul in charge of Consulate
  • 1921-2: Cavaliere L. Petrucci, Consul
  • 1923-7: Stefano Carrara, Consul-General
  • 1928-9: A. Biastrocchi, Consul-General
  •  1930- : Emilio Manfredi, Consul-General

So no matches there.

I also tried searching for Pell in the 1927 and 1928 issues of The Directory and chronicle for China, etc., but still didn't find any names similar to the one written above.

So I think Moddsey has the likely explanation - a tourist couple visiting Hong Kong, who had their photo taken at the Peak Hotel. I could imagine professional photographers would have worked that area, offering to take photos of visitors for a fee.

If we stick we 'Pellig' as the last name, searching passenger records there are only two registered on a passenger manifest coming into HK from 1900 to 1920 from anywhere. The search of records notes no 'Pellig' but 2 variant results of 'Pelling'. Both travelling together from London stopping off in HK en-route to the Philippines in 1926. 'Francis (aged 28) and Conception Pelling (aged 25)'. He was a Merchant and both traveled 1st class - address give is Bristol, England. Could the J be an F? Conception is an Italian name derivation - so 'Signora' would be a term of respect for a married woman in Italian. Maybe he wrote the postcard and playfully used the play on her Italian sounding name to call her 'Signora Pelling', misspelling it as 'Signor'

passenger record
passenger record , by Colin.turnbull1

As someone with the initials J F, I wouldn't be happy with my "F" if it was written without a horizontal bar. It would be interesting to know if this photo/postcard was just a souvenir and not sent, in which case the message is a memo to self. I'm struck that the writer is reckless with the large margin and wide spacing between words. If he knew there was going to be a long name coming up at the end, it would have made sense to squash the earlier words up a bit. I'm wondering if he at first wrote "Signor P" (as the "P" is quite heavily written) and then added the rest of the surname when he found it out later. Pelligro is an aristocratic Italian family name, as well as Pelligra, but I'm still hedging my bets that there may be a "e" before a squashed "g", although I agree with David that the loops match the "g" in "Hong Kong" - moreover "Pelliege" is a rare name. Good idea to check the Peak Hotel visitors listed in the China Mail if that is not too vast a task. 

Colin, thanks for checking the passenger records. We've got two examples of the writer's style of 'ng' in their 'Hong Kong'. The surname looks different, so I don't think we've got a match for Pelling.

I'd originally hoped the couple were long-term residents of Hong Kong that someone would recognise. As tourists that isn't likely. The next option is as wingcli2015 suggests, to check through the newspapers. But without a firm idea of the date that will be a long, slow process.

The couple will have to stay anonymous for now, and I'll have to choose a different photo for that part of the book!