HISTORY – Colourised & Restored Photos of Hong Kong 150 Years Ago

John Thomson‘s photographs of Hong Kong, taken between 1868 and 1872, are to be exhibited at the Maritime Museum from this Saturday. The Scotsman captured scenes and people of the young colony during the Qing Dynasty, less than 30 years after the British took the island. Read more about the collection from Christopher DeWolf at the WSJ, or visit the Maritime Museum before February 26th, tickets are HK$30. Scroll down for more images.

Click for a high-res version

Below are some restored and colourised versions of Thomson’s work shared exclusively with the blog by Chris Whitehouse. He has been working on the images with Jordan Lloyd.

City Hall and Wardley House. Restoration: Jordan Lloyd. Copyright: Wellcome Trust.

Whitehouse says, “One big surprise I got when doing research on the colours was that old Hong Kong was MUCH more colourful than we imagine. The impression we get from all of the books on the market is of ghostly white buildings, marching up the mountain. But that’s not at all as it was.”

The waterfront – Pedder Wharf, Restoration in Progress: Chris Whitehouse. Copyright: Wellcome Trust.

These shots are a work-in-progress but Chris hopes to update more historical photos of the city and will be offering 2D and 3D prints soon. “3D is not just a fad – it’s been around almost as long as photography”, he says.

Central – Pedder Wharf, in 3D. Restoration: Chris Whitehouse. Copyright: Wellcome Trust.

Artist’s studio, in 3D. Restoration: Chris Whitehouse. Copyright: Wellcome Trust.

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Pedder Streets from the Wharf. Restoration: Chris Whitehouse. Copyright: Wellcome Trust.

Below are some more original photos from Thomson. All were achieved at a time when photography entailed hauling around giant wooden cameras, fragile glass plates and dangerous chemicals.

MIT is hosting Thomson’s original 1873 book ‘Illustrations of China and its Peopleon its website here. Below is an extract from the Hong Kong section, which includes a particularly entertainment segment where Thomson notes a case of local resistance to the new colonisers…

“On the 15th January 1857, an attempt was made to poison the entire foreign community by the Chinese bakers, who introduced arsenic into the bread. Had the drug been admixed in smaller quantities, an awful catastrophe might have taken place. But the presence of the poison was so easily detected, that public criers, promptly sent round, were in time to prevent many from taking the bread. These bakers had, no doubt, been bribed by more influential parties…”


Here’s a reminder of what became of that quaint fishing villages…

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Click to enlarge

More history and photography from HK…

Pictorial histories of local landmarks and events…

Blog posts charting Hong Kong’s colourful past…

Click here for a collection of Hong Kong desktop wallpapers. You may also enjoy…


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