Hong Kong Then and Now

With a dual timeline story sketched out, it was important to understand what Hong Kong looked like in 1912/1913, the time period for the historical timeline of The Admiral’s Wife. I was fortunate to stumble on Gwulo – a site dedicated to old photos of Hong Kong – and also to discover several books, additional photos, and old maps to add to my appreciation.

Three years of living in Hong Kong allowed me to appreciate the present-day feeling of the city – the buzz, the traffic, the unique blend of Chinese and Western influences, the incredible density of apartments and office towers, and we had accumulated maps as well as guidebooks while living there. I also have hundreds of photos that remind me of wet markets, flower shops, street scenes, harbour scenes, and the craggy hills that surround the city.

But what did Hong Kong – and the city that in 1912 was called Victoria – actually look like? How could I build that world for my readers? What streets existed then? Where did the water end and the shore begin? Were there houses on the Peak? Were the streetcars in operation? So many questions. Let me share some photos.

Top left shows a streetcar in 1904 Hong Kong. I also found a tram schedule for that time period. Rickshaws were a significant mode of transportation. Four- to six-story buildings dominated the waterfront. And if you look closely, you can see a few buildings on the top of the hills. In the bottom right, a woman sits with a child in the Botanical Garden.

These photos show Des Voeux Road, men working, Chinese dress styles (likely wealthy Chinese), Happy Valley Race Track (notice that everyone there is Caucasian). Des Voeux Road in present-day Hong Kong is not at the water’s edge.

Maps are particularly fascinating. Here’s one of 1905 and another showing present-day streets.

Victoria City 1905
Present day Hong Kong

What you may be able to notice is the extensive amount of reclamation that has occurred at the waterfront. Des Voeux Road, for example, is now several streets away from the water. And of course, the wide highways that permit cars to cross Hong Kong at high speed. The Peak Tram, built in 1888, is in both maps and is essentially the same now as then.

1912 was perhaps a simpler time. But even then, war was brewing in Europe and the British Navy, even in outposts like Hong Kong, was beginning to prepare.

The Admiral’s Wife by M.K. Tod ~~ available soon

When Patricia Findlay investigates her Chinese heritage, the scandal she uncovers threatens to destroy her family.

In 2016, Patricia Findlay leaves a high-powered career to move to Hong Kong, where she hopes to rekindle the bonds of family and embrace the city of her ancestors. Instead, she is overwhelmed by feelings of displacement and depression. To make matters worse, her father, CEO of the family bank, insists that Patricia’s duty is to produce an heir, even though she has suffered three miscarriages.

In 1912, when Isabel Taylor moves to Hong Kong with her husband, Henry, and their young daughter, she struggles to find her place in such a different world and to meet the demands of being the admiral’s wife. At a reception hosted by the governor of Hong Kong, she meets Li Tao-Kai, an influential member of the Chinese community and a man she met a decade earlier when he was a student at Cambridge.

As the story unfolds, both Patricia and Isabel consider what’s most important to them and how much they are prepared to risk for love and family.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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