St John's Cathedral [1849- ] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

St John's Cathedral [1849- ]

Current condition: 
In use
Date Place completed: 

Photos that show this place


St John's new look tower has just been unveiled - in a warm yellowish colour with white trim and green-painted wood- reminiscent of Macau painting schemes. Looks a lot better than it's colder all-white and green look- presumably the rest of the church will be done next.

There's a crest above the main entrance though that I can't work out. Appears to say GR 1847 - the date I can understand - the amo website says that's when the founding stone was laid by the governor Sir John Davis. It doesn't refer to the reigning monarch, who was Victoria. Does it refer to the governor? or something more ecclesiastical?

As I understand, the insignia should be VR (Victoria Regina) 1847.

thanks Moddsey. That's what I was expecting to see but it really does look like a G. Just funny lettering I guess

Agree, the lettering for V is depicted in a strange manner. Source:


Moddsey has recently posted this photo of an old Victorian-era pillar box, and I noticed the very stylised writing. Is this the same type of lettering used at the cathedral?

Queen Victoria Postbox No. 278

VR on St. John's Cathedral

St John's Cathedral











St John's Cathedral




Just seen that someone (presumably War Graves Commission?) has given Ronald Douglas Maxwell a new Volunteer Defence Force headstone. He's buried next to the cross memorial opposite the Court of Final Appeal. The old headstone remains from 1947. They've also tidied up the grave.


A little to the right is St. John's Cathedral, a cruciform structure which may have no particular charm for either the architect or antiquary, but which, nevertheless, serves the purpose, for which it was intended, well enough.

Going to Church in Hongkong has its peculiarities. People who live within earshot of the Cathedral, are summoned by the hideous jangling of a single bad bell, which clang-clang-clangs for half an hour before each service—Why, goodness knows! Every one who goes to the Cathedral has the means of knowing what o'clock it is, and, what more do they want ? Something— yes! I have heard it said that the Cathedral bell reminds us of old times—of the church bells we used to listen to at home. I solemnly declare that to be a wicked story! To say that the rolling peals of harmony to which we have listened in pleasant English meads, ... by rivers' banks, beneath oak trees, ...  to say that this can be represented by a wretched factory bell promoted to an appointment in a Cathedral Tower, is, I repeat, a wicked story!

On arriving at the Cathedral, you will see coolies posted all round it pulling strings, which run through little holes in the walls of the building. These are not so much to play the organ or to keep the congregation awake, as to swing the punkahs. The whole church is—is—what shall I say ?—Punkahed ! And there you may sit on a cool rattan seat, lean against a cool rattan back, put your feet on a cushion, and your elbows on the arms of your seat, while the benighted heathen in the broiling sun outside, fan you into that state of mental and physical repose which appears to be so necessary to the due observance of the ordinances of the Christian religion.

There are two or three things which you must not fail to do while you are at church. ... try to discover whether any of the singers in the Choir make any funny mistakes. If they do, it will lead to " great larks " in talking about them afterwards. ... Above all, you must be sure to " time the parson." The moment he announces the text, take out your watch, and make a note in your prayer book of the exact moment at which he commences. Every one will think that you are writing down the text, which looks well again. When the sermon is finished, you must glance at your watch once more so that you may be able to tell everyone how long the sermon lasted. If that should be a second more than sixteen minutes it will be your duty, in the state or Colony in which you live, to express your disapproval of " the parson," wherever you go. All these things you must do—unless, of course, you have some little respect for the ordinances in which you pretend to join. In that case you will know what to do without my assistance.

China Magazine - 1868

a gothic church of considerable size, but with few pretensions to architecture.  It has a square tower, with pinnacles over the western porch, and possesses a peal of bells.

House documents, otherwise publ. as Executive documents: 13th congress


I haven't updated the unwats post for quite a while, too busy to update this post, and people there are not interested in 19 century's hong kong photograph anyway.


Can I upload these photos you've posted on uWants to Guwlo for you?  All I did was link to the uWants site.  If I have your permission, I'll bring them all over.

Please provide comment/explanation to each photo, if possible ^.^

HF, thanks for sharing your photos, and Annelise, thanks for bringing them into gwulo.

My collection in albumen print is close to 100 (keep growing), and more in electronic copy of course. The problem is that it takes time to scan the albumen prints.....

Augustine Heard & Co. was still under construction, nearly complete. City Hall had not been built yet, I would date this around 1865 - 1867. Earliest photo I have ever seen from this angle.

St. John church and Augustine Heard & Co.

Added opening date from Cathedral website:

The nave of the Cathedral was opened for divine service on 11th March 1849

According to "Imperial to International : A History of St. John's Cathedral Hong Kong" by Stuart Wolfendale, the east chancery was added as an extension to the original building. The foundation stone of the extension was laid on 16th November 1869 by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and work was "completed towards the end of 1872".


Cathedral Restored late 1933


Now that St. John's Cathedral looks spic and span in its new coating of plaster, we might recall that it had become greyed by age through eighty-six years of existence: the weathering of the outer surface of the edifice had, in fact, so damaged portions of the brickwork as to make the restoration work imperative.


In a formal Notice published on September 16, 1852, it is stated. "The Consecration of St. John's Cathedral is fixed to take place on Sunday morning next. The Trustees of the Church meet the Bishop at the West Door at 11 o'clock: and 'the ceremony commences immediately - afterwards. The Garrison are expected to attend the Morning Service on this occasion


In due course on the morning of Sunday, September 19, 1852, St. John's Cathedral was consecrated by.the first Bishop of Victoria (Bishop George Smith), the building having been opened for divine service above three years ago by licence from the Bishop of London, but, through delays of a technical nature, never before having been formally consecrated as the chronicle puts it


Source: Old Hong Kong by Colonial Vol 1

The grave of Pte. Maxwell of the HKVDC, (died 24 Dec 1941), does indeed have a headstone of Portland stone supplied by the Commonwealth & War Graves Commission, (CWGC). It is the policy of the latter organisation to provide such a headstone to the graves of all those former combatants of the British military who are entitled to one.

The story goes that a few years ago a senior official of the CWGC decreed that Maxwell's grave would be given such a headstone, but the next-of-kin of the latter (his octogenarian sister) decreed that although the CWGC could give him a new headstone, the original had to remain. That is why his grave has two headstones!

Incidentally, there used to be a Portland stone headstone in Sai Wan Military Cemetery, which stated that as Maxwell is buried in the grounds of St. John's Cathedral his body was not in Sai Wan Cemetery. That "grave" was therefore empty. As it is not CWGC policy to have a headstone on an empty grave, that headstone was removed.

For an interesting account of Maxwell's funeral service in Dec 1941, please refer to the book "Jesuits Under Fire."

In the late 1960s or early 1970s, there was a lady, probably of South Asian descent, who could always be seen near the cathedral, as if she actually lived there. Who is she?

Stuart Wolfendale's book covers the cathedral's history: Imperial to International: A History of St John's Cathedral Hong Kong