1901 Foochow | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

1901 Foochow

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1901 Foochow

Later identified as taken in Foochow in 1901, see the comments below. (This page was originally titled "Olsons at Happy Valley Picture 1".)

This is a joined together scan from a double page pic from a book published by the HK Jockey Club. The picture was found by Jill Fell who also made the identification. The next picture will be more detailed. Arrows indicate people identified as John Olson and Ching Ah Fung. Not so sure about Ching Ah Fung.

Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Tuesday, January 1, 1901


John Olson was identified in this photograph by my husband, who, rather taken with the attractive young Eurasian woman in the back row, speculated that it might be Ching Ah Fung. It was a frivolous observation that I relayed to Sean during our 2004-5 email correspondence and was never intended for publication. It would be interesting to identify some of the other figures in this gathering, both men and women, some of whom must have been well known in the community and probably appear in other photographs. That would also help to pin down the exact date of the photograph and perhaps identify the occasion.


I've been trying to find out more about this mysterious photo. It appears in the HKJC's millennium publication "The Race Goes On" by Peter Moss, but neither Peter Moss nor the Jockey Club are able to provide a definite date or location. The CEO of FormAsia Books believes it is more likely to have been taken at a treaty port than Hong Kong. Strangely, the following website gives the right hand half of the photo as commemorating the 1884 election of Phineas Ryrie as the first Jockey Club chairman http://racingmemories.hk/hottopics/the-honorable-phineas-ryrie-jp-1829-1892/ Yet the focus of the photo seems to be on the trio standing at the centre front in the left hand half of the picture. The smiling jockey is surely holding some sort of award. The women's costumes moreover seem more Edwardian than Victorian. One would expect to see Sir Paul Chater in a group photo commemorating the election of the first Jockey Club chairman, if this is what it is. As to the possible presence of John Olson, great-grandfather of Sean Olson and myself, would a tavern/hotel keeper have fulfilled the exacting entrance requirements of the Jockey Club? Olson was jury listed as the proprietor of the National Tavern in 1884.

I’m grateful to Mr Cheung, the new HKJC archivist, for searching for other photos of Phineas Ryrie in order to make a positive identification of him in this one. None came to light. But meanwhile he located a group photo taken at the Foochow racecourse showing a man, who, although more portly, with his hat, cigar and watch chain, rather resembles the man who we thought might be John Olson snr. in this photo. He is named as Thomas Gittins. This raises the question as to whether the “Race Goes On” photo might also have been taken at Foochow. The number of matshed steps is the same and the posts are similar. The Thomas Gittins photo is in the collection of the Hong Kong Museum of History. I'm indebted to their Assistant Curator, Mr Wong, for showing it to me. It can be viewed on their site: http://mhmcms.lcsd.gov.hk/aspnet/aspx/entree.aspx No. P.1976.66 Key word ‘horse racing’; chronology 1890s; date 1880-1890. But date on back is 12 December 1899.

This is a tentative suggestion that the 'Race Goes On' photo wasn't actually taken in Hong Kong and I'd be grateful for any proof to the contrary or ideas about date. I’m constantly amazed by the forensic eye for detail possessed by Gwulo contributors and of course by David.


The gentleman under reference can be seen at http://www.vcea.net/Digital_Library/Images_en.php?ID=21445 at the Foochow races. Dated 1900.

The blinds behind in this photo at http://www.vcea.net/VDB/Files/?Table=Image&ID=Image.ID.22693.No.0&Op=O is similar to the photo posted above. Dated 1904.


Hi Jill,

Good detective work on this one!

One suggestion. You wrote:

Strangely, the following website gives the right hand half of the photo as commemorating the 1884 election of Phineas Ryrie as the first Jockey Club chairman http://racingmemories.hk/hottopics/the-honorable-phineas-ryrie-jp-1829-1...

They caption the photo "The Honorable Phineas Ryrie JP 賴里 太平紳士, the first chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club in 1884."

You can read that as "This is a photo of Phineas Ryrie, taken in 1884", or "This is a photo of Phineas Ryrie, who became the first chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club in 1884." I guess the second meaning, as that's the date they show further down the page for him becoming chairman. Whatever the meaning, it doesn't sound 100% sure the photo actually shows Ryrie!

A good side-project for Gwulo would be to have a timeline of photos showing clothing, so we can see how fashions changed and use them to date other photos. If anyone wants to start, just add photos and tag them "fashion".

Regards, David

Thanks for locating these photos so speedily, Moddsey. Is it known for sure that the white-bearded gentleman in this photo is Thomas Gittins? If it's only a year later than the Museum of History photo, I would have said that he's lost a lot of weight. I wish I could match up some of the faces here with The Race Goes On photo, but I can't at the moment. I must say the Foochow crowd look a lot jollier and the women especially more cheerful. The Museum of History has another Foochow photo at P.1976.65, but no Gittins. The curator remarked that two of the men are supposed to be the same as in P.1976.66, but look completely different. Do you think the background of The Race Goes On photo might be Foochow? - or are all matsheds much the same?


Yes, I was disconcerted to find that the legend to the Phineas Ryrie photo seems to have been changed since I first looked at it. I'm sure the original one mentioned that the photo was taken at his election. I've been bombarding the Jockey Club with queries since September, so perhaps they amended the legend. It's true that they aren't sure that it's Ryrie, but the fellow all in black sitting on the step looks quite similar to a caricature of him that they sent me. He died in 1892 though and I thought the fashions seem a bit later than that. If you look at the women's hats in the Foochow photo P.1976.75 at the Museum of History, they look Victorian and quite different to those in the Bristol photo of Foochow Races found by Moddsey.

I agree that it would be great if one could use fashion as a dating tool. I did consult an academic who specialises in costume about a photo. She placed it within a definite decade, but I wasn't sure if she was right! I think it's a tricky science.




What a lovely photo! Well found! This looks much more like the gentleman in The Race Goes On photo. In 1894 Gittins would have been 50. The girls must be his daughters, Alice Bertha and Ida Coralie, who married John Ryrie Greaves. (I don't know what relation John Ryrie Greaves was to Phineas Ryrie).

I've wondered if the Race Goes On photo was a wedding reception photo with best man, bride and groom in the foreground. Everyone is so formally dressed. The young woman in the foreground is holding a posy. In the 1900 Foochow photo the young woman just in front of Gittins is also holding a bouquet. Could a wedding be the reason for these photos having being taken? Was it OK to get married in your riding gear, like a soldier in his uniform?


The indefatigable Mr Cheung at the HKJC has tracked the original of the "The Race Goes On" photo to the China Trade Museum. The description on the back is "Foochow, 1901". Mr Cheung points out that the number of steps and the number of poles is the same as in the photo "At the Foochow Races", which includes Thomas Gittins. As John Gittins (known as Foochow Gittins) and his brother Thomas ran a tea company in Foochow it figures that this photo would have ended up in the China Trade Museum.

[David, I'm not sure how to follow your suggestion of adding the tag "fashion" at such a late stage in the thread, now that we know the date.]



Jill John Ryrie Greaves who married Coralie Gittins, the daughter of Thomas Gittins, was a nephew of Phineas Ryrie. Phineas's elder sister Margaret (1823-1891) was the mother of John Ryrie Greaves. Peter Hall

Thank you for explaining the exact relationship of John Ryrie Greaves to Phineas Ryrie, Peter. Good to have that settled.