c.1900 View of beached sampans along the Yau Ma Tei shoreline | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

c.1900 View of beached sampans along the Yau Ma Tei shoreline

c.1900 View of beached sampans along the Yau Ma Tei shoreline

Where: Local historian Cheng Po-Hung has a very similar photo in his book "Early Hong Kong Kowloon's Peninsula". He describes it as:

Boats in front of Reclamation Street and boat people gathered along Sixth Street (Jordan Road).

That certainly sounds to be the right part of town, unless anyone disagrees with the ridgeline in the distance:

Houses & ridgeline

But I don't think he's got the names of the roads quite right.

Here's a map of the area in 1887 [1].

1887 Map of Yau Ma Tei

I think we're either looking at:

  • A. The view from Sixth Street (today's Jordan Road), across to Canton Road in front of Battery Street, or
  • B. The view from the end of Battery Street, looking across to Reclamation Street.

Looking at the 'ridgeline' photo again, there is an open area between the two terraces of buildings, with a tree growing there. Does anyone recognise the location? Other clues are that the shophouses in the foreground are only two storeys high, but the buildings behind them look to be three storeys high. Maybe the foreground buildings are older? 

Who: The title under the photo reads -

134. Characteristic groups on the shore at Kowloon. China.

I wondered if the people were posed for this photo, but I don't so. The photo in Cheng Po-Hung's book mentioned above shows the same boats and background, but different people. The photographer must have set up his camera and taken several photos over an extended period, waiting until people got used to him.

So some of the people are keeping an eye on the photographer, but if we take this group of children as an example, most are ignoring him:


The children and the ladies near them belong on the boats, with bare feet and plain, dark-coloured clothes. The men on the right look as though they are from a different "Characteristic group", wearing shoes and smarter clothes. The shorter man's white socks certainly suggest he doesn't spend time doing manual work.


When: The card has "Copyright 1902 by C. H. Graves." stamped on it. I'm guessing that the photo was taken a few years earlier than that, but I'm not 100% sure. The "C. H. Graves" was Carlton Harlow Graves, a photographer and publisher of Stereoview cards like this one.

Does anyone know when C. H. Graves visited Hong Kong?

What: A jumble of boats along the shoreline. These were homes too, so you see all the odds and ends they'd need for daily life:

Odds and ends

As always, comments, corrections, and extra information welcome.

Regards, David


  • Plate 4-2 (1887) Plan of Kowloon, from the Mapping Hong Kong book.

Reference: A218

Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Monday, January 1, 1900


This Chinese website shown here suggests that the viewer is looking at Reclamation Street towards Public Square Street. The building with the arches on the ground floor is believed to be the first generation Yau Ma Tei Police Station.

Thanks Moddsey, a good map and photos on that page.

Here's a view we have of the first generation Yau Ma Tei Police Station:

Yau Ma-ti Police Station

Which doesn't match the building with arches. But the map on Uwants #888 gives a better view of the layout of the Police Station than the 1887 map shown above. The Police Station occupied the whole block, with the T-shaped building set back from the shore, and open space between it and Reclamation Street.

I think the trees in our photo are that open patch of land, with some of the Police Station just visible behind them. I've marked what I think is the Police Station in green - see what you think:

Ridgeline, houses, and Police Station

Regards, David

I think you may be right.