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Work and movement in the Hong Kong photographs of Dr Eleanor Whitworth Mitchell


Dr Helena F. S. Lopes is Senior Research Associate in the History of Hong Kong and a Lecturer in Modern Chinese History at the University of Bristol. She holds a DPhil in History from the University of Oxford.

Dr Eleanor Whitworth Mitchell, née Perkins (1882-1974), a London-born and trained medical doctor, arrived in Hong Kong in 1913 and lived there for nine years. Both she and her husband, Dr Isaiah Edward Mitchell (1869-1935), worked for the London Missionary Society (LMS). The photographic collection that survives from the years she lived in the British colony includes a rich array of images of working lives and spaces.

There are several photographs of hospital buildings which later came to form the Alice Memorial & Affiliated Hospitals. These, together with the other LMS buildings, were the spaces which framed her life and work in the British colony. As observed by Moira M. W. Chan-Yeung in A Medical History of Hong Kong, 1842-1941 (Hong Kong: CUHK Press, 2018), the LMS ‘played a major role in popularising Western medicine among the Chinese in Hong Kong’ and its hospitals were central to this. It is likely that Dr E.W. Mitchell followed in the pioneering footsteps of Dr Alice Sibree, who popularised Western maternal health in Hong Kong. The LMS also employed Chinese doctors and nurses and amongst the individual and group portraits in the Mitchell collection there are, for example, two of Chinese midwives with newly born babies (Mi01-009, Mi01-016). Indeed, Eleanor Mitchell’s photographs are evidence of the intense participation of Chinese women in medical care.

Dr Eleanor Whitworth Mitchell with nurses and newly born babies, outside a maternity hospital, Hong Kong. Historical Photographs of China ref: Mi01-016.

The portraits of Eleanor Mitchell and the people around her in her professional life – as a doctor and as a missionary – are mostly well-composed and set up group portraits where everyone sits or stands still for the camera. However, the collection also includes a large number of urban outdoor scenes where her lens – for she is believed to have taken most of the photographs – captured people going about their daily lives. These include rickshaw pullers and sedan chair bearers, construction workers, and street hawkers, amongst others. Given the many photographs taken of porters, it seems that she had a particular interest in them. Perhaps the physical strain caused by heavy portering work caught her attention, and professional eye.

Porters carrying wood, and women with umbrellas, Hong Kong. Historical Photographs of China ref: Mi01-033.

These photographs (most of which were not captioned in the album), offer a glimpse into the lives of the anonymous people whose labour literally created the built environment around them, and those – like the rickshaw men – whose bodily strength forged links between local places by moving people around it. In several of these photographs, those captured in the frame seem oblivious to Mitchell’s camera. They went on walking, carrying, holding, selling, chatting. This banal activity is now frozen in time, the camera allowing us to appreciate apparently spontaneous gestures and street scenes. In Mi01-041, a person covers their forehead – perhaps to see better ahead on a sunny day while a man stands with a walking stick and a woman glances at a nearby shop. In Mi01-042, women and children stand outside a stall while porters toil on with their heavy loads. In Mi01-047 rickshaws compete with motor vehicles for road space while the occasional pedestrian is also present. Elsewhere, umbrella-holding women pass by scantily dressed workers, each rushing about their everyday activities (Mi01-033, Mi01-050). Visions of labour share the frame with some of momentary rest: in Mi01-049 and Mi01-050, sedan chair bearers lie down or sit by the side of the street while others continue to work next to them. These snapshots also suggest other changes in the making, for example, in repairs and additions to the urban landscape and the evolution of clothing styles during the first years of the Republic of China.

Images of diverse childhood experiences can also be found in the collection’s holdings. In Mi01-044, almost imperceptibly, a group of young girls in Western style dresses get a taste of the buzz of a street market. Elsewhere, injured children convalesce in the hospital accompanied by Dr Mitchell and nursing staff (Mi01-007; Mi01-017). We encounter the reality of child labour, with children carrying different materials and products, possibly for construction or for sale (Mi01-052, Mi01-094). There is also evidence of the role youngsters played in childcare in the image of a girl with a baby on her back (Mi01-063), below.

Four children on the waterfront, Hong Kong. Historical Photographs of China ref: Mi01-063.

The Mitchell collection provides material for those interested in the social history of early twentieth-century Hong Kong and South China in general (there are also images of Guangzhou and Lushan). In particular, it serves as an illustration of, and invites further research into, the sometimes-intersecting experiences of women, missionary activities, medical practices, travel, work, and everyday urban culture.

NOTE: If you recognise some of the people, streets, or buildings that remain unnamed in these photographs, we would be grateful for information that would allow us to identify them more thoroughly.

Weihaiwei and the 1st Chinese Regiment – 2. Peking and After


In the second of his two posts, Dr Andrew Hillier traces the history of the 1st Chinese Regiment, from its performance in the relief of Tianjin to its disbandment six years later.

Despite its record at Tianjin, to the dismay of both officers and men, the 1st Chinese Regiment was not actively engaged in the relief of Peking by the China Expeditionary Force that took place in August 1900. Instead, it was assigned to civilian tasks, mainly tending to the wounded and clearing the dead from the streets. Whilst this was partly because reinforcements had arrived from India, it was, its commanding officer, Major Barnes believed, mainly because westerners could not accept that any Chinese could be trusted to serve the allied cause.

Rolling bandages for the wounded, Weihaiwei, 1900. Since some of the wounded were from the 1st Chinese Regiment, this was, albeit no doubt unintentionally, a moment of common cause between the two communities. Historical Photographs of China ref: Ca01-056.

This ignominy was all the more bitter given the Regiment’s casualty rate. In total, it lost two officers and twenty-one men, although nine of these, including Captain Hill, died as a result of an accidental explosion, that occurred on 15 September 1900, when they were disposing of gunpowder seized from the Boxers.

The regimental memorial on the road leading to the regimental barracks at Matou, Weihaiwei, commemorating both British officers and Chinese rank and file. Historical Photographs of China ref: BL04-73.

Barnes names all twenty-one of the Chinese casualties in his account of the conflict and the circumstances in which each of them lost their lives, beginning with No. 593, Private Yu yung-hua, who ‘died of wounds received in action at Tientsin railway station, 4th July 1900’, an attention to detail which reflected the good relationships and respect that had built up in the Regiment.[1]    Although there were interpreters on hand, a number of the officers had learnt to speak Chinese, including one NCO, Sergeant Purdon, who became particularly proficient. This goodwill translated into the peace-keeping work that the Regiment carried out along the Peiho river in the aftermath of the Uprising.

However, there continued to be an ambiguous relationship between the rank and file and the local Chinese people. Reluctantly or not, ten Chinese members of the regiment took part in the triumphal procession that marched through the Forbidden City on 28 August 1900. Recorded in photographs distributed across the world, they were complicit in a display designed to inflict maximum humiliation on the Chinese. [2] And, although, according to Barnes,  the Regiment had taken no part in the mass looting of Tianjin, Peking was a different story and  ‘the unavoidable necessity being recognised, organised parties were, for a time, sent out to collect stuff from unoccupied houses, which was sold at auctions under the supervision of a prize committee’.[3] This provided a handsome dividend and many of the Chinese were able to leave the Regiment on the strength of the proceeds shortly afterwards.

Members of the 1st Chinese Regiment attending the Coronation of King Edward VII, Illustrated London News, 16 August 1902, p.10.

However, it continued to attract recruits. By September 1901, numbering over 1300 men, it  had become emblematic of the British presence in Weihai, sending a deputation to Edward VII’s coronation and frequently required to parade on ceremonial occasions attended by the Civil Commissioner, Sir James Stewart Lockhart (1902-1920).

Review of 1st Chinese Regiment on Coronation Day, Weihaiwei, 9 August 1902. This photograph formed part of the Settlement’s annual report to the Colonial Office for 1903 (CO 1069/431. CHINA 11. Weihaiwei). Image © The National Archives, London, England. Historical Photographs of China ref: NA08-092.

Company of 1st British Chinese Regiment. The photograph formed part of the Settlement’s annual report to the Colonial Office for 1903, CO 1069/431. CHINA 11. Image © The National Archives, London, England. Historical Photographs of China ref: NA08-104.

With Chinese photographers also setting up in business in the Settlement, a wealth of images of the regiment and its interaction with the local people were sent home to England and became part of family and military memory. [4]

‘Harvesting’, from an album of fifty-two photographs taken and compiled by Captain C. D. Bruce (West Riding Regiment). According to the caption, the photograph was taken just outside Bruce’s house, Weihaiwei. NAM 1983-05-42-30. Image © National Army Museum.

‘Instruction of Recruits’, 1st Chinese Regiment, Weihaiwei. An example of an image that might have been sent home. Historical Photographs of China ref: Ru01-013.

‘Feats of Strength by Soldiers’, 1st Chinese Regiment, Weihaiwei. Another example of an image that might have been sent home. Historical Photographs of China ref: Ru01-017.

This was encouraged by Lockhart, himself, who took a keen interest in photography. Establishing a good rapport with local officials, he believed that sending photographs home to England would evoke ‘a better understanding and sympathy for China’.[5]

Left to right: Captain Barnes, Sir James Lockhart, and the Governor of Shandong, Tsi Nan Fu. From an album, CO 1069/432, CHINA 12. Shantung and Kiaochou: photographs of a tour in 1903. Image © The National Archives, London, England. Historical Photographs of China ref: NA07-047. See also NA07-050.

It was becoming clear, however, that there was little justification for the naval base at Weihai, let alone for maintaining a regiment there, given the expense involved. Over the next few years, its numbers were run down, some leaving to join the Chinese army, some to join the Shanghai Municipal Police and some to return to their farms. It was finally disbanded by Order in 1906.

Most of the British officers returned to their home regiments, many later serving in the First World War. However, a number had developed a considerable interest in China, its language and culture and some of these stayed on: Colonel R.M. C. Ruxton, who had been seconded from the Essex Regiment in November 1901, went on to serve in China’s administration, Captain Barnes was appointed Commandant of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps and Major Bruce became Chief of the Shanghai Municipal Police. Perhaps, the most well-known of these was Captain G.E. Pereira, who, save for the war-time period, would spend the rest of his life in China, initially as Britain’s Military Attaché and later as an intrepid traveller. We will come to his adventurous life in the next post.

First World War memorial, Weihaiwei. The inscription on the front reads: “TO THE MEMORY OF ALL THOSE WHO FORMERLY RESIDED IN THIS TERRITORY WHETHER STATIONED OR AT SCHOOL OR OTHERWISE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918”. Historical Photographs of China ref: BL04-71.

The members of the 1st Chinese Regiment who gave their lives in the First World War are named on the side of the war memorial in Weihaiwei (see BL04-71 above). Historical Photographs of China ref: Ru-s087.

[1] Arthur Alison Stuart Barnes, On active service with the Chinese Regiment: a record of the operations of the first Chinese Regiment in North China from March to October 1900  (London: Grant Richards, 1902), pp.146-149 ; for details of medals and awards, see A.J. Harfield, British and Indian Armies on the China Coast 1840 – 1985 (London: A & J Partnership, 1990), pp. 255-259.

[2] See James Hevia, English Lessons, pp.204-205. The Chinese are named by Barnes, On Active Service, pp. 146-149.

[3] Barnes, On Active Service, p.139.

[4] For photographs of Brooke, see NAM, 1983-05-42;   for Bruce, see NAM, 1983-05-42;  for Ruxton, see

[5] Lockhart’s photographic collection can now be seen in the National Gallery of Scotland (George Watson’s College); see also Sara Stevenson, ‘The Empire Looks Back, Subverting the Imperial Gaze’, History of Photography, 35 (2011) pp. 142-156 and Shiona Airlie, The Thistle and Bamboo: the life and times of Sir James Stewart Lockhart (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1989).

H.G.W. Woodhead – Opinionated and Prolific


Paul French, the author of this guest blog, lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. French’s 2018 book ‘City of Devils’ was his much-anticipated second literary non-fiction book and was a Kirkus Book of the Year. Devils followed ‘Midnight in Peking’, which was a New York Times Best Seller. He recently published a collection of his writing, ‘Destination Shanghai’ – eighteen tales of old Shanghailanders, famous, infamous & previously forgotten. 

I have written about H.G.W. Woodhead a few times, most expansively in my history of foreign correspondents in China between the Opium Wars and 1949, Through the Looking Glass (Hong Kong University Press, 2009). But I’d never seen a photo of him – now I see that the Historical Photographs of China web site has at least two. So I thought it worthwhile offering up my short biography of Woodhead’s adventures in the Chinese treaty port media in the first half of the twentieth century…

George Woodhead with bicycle on Zekawei Road, Shanghai, September 1903. LD01-029.

Henry George Wandesforde (“H. G. W.”) Woodhead arrived in China in 1902. He obtained a position as the editor of the Peking Daily News (which included the old Chinese Public Opinion) whose header stated “Impartial But Patriotic” and always started with the latest imperial edicts. Woodhead was to rule the roost at the Peking and Tientsin Times as well as becoming the most well-known and influential foreigner in Tianjin for several decades.

Henry George Wandesworth Woodhead, journalist and author, c.1902-1907. LD01-032.

The paper invariably reflected his strident opinions on China and the world and from the start promised to “… be essentially British”, a virtue Woodhead staunchly upheld. Much later, in 1936, Time magazine described him as “hard hitting” and “suave”, though J.B. Powell’s China Weekly Review opted for “die-hard”, which was not meant in an overly complimentary way. Woodhead was a long-time friend of former London Times war correspondent Henry Thurburn Montague Bell, who had covered the Boer War and then became a long-standing editor of the North China Herald and the North- China Daily News. He was also a prolific editorialist, was well known as a China Hand in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin and wrote the 1929 book Extraterritoriality In China: The Case Against Abolition, which was really just a collection of his articles expressing his trenchant views on the subject from the paper. This title also pretty much summed up Woodhead’s political attitude to both China and the Chinese which accounted for the uncomplimentary opinions of people like Powell who were anti-extraterritoriality. H. T. Montague Bell was also well connected in London due to his being the brother-in-law of the editor-in-chief of the Times.

In the 1920s Woodhead launched a campaign to try to stop Britain from spending its Boxer Indemnity monies (the reparations forcibly paid by the Chinese government to Britain and other foreign powers after the Siege of the Legations) on promoting education in China as he believed that the schools and colleges of the country were little more than breeding grounds for revolutionaries and anti-foreign, anti-extraterritoriality sentiment. When it was reported that a Chinese mob had stormed the British Concession in Hankou and that the British government had seemingly caved in and handed the territory back to China, Woodhead fumed that “The principle of extraterritoriality is at stake” and urged Britain to remember the Treaty of Tianjin that guaranteed the treaty ports system and to oppose the government. On another occasion, he declared that Britain should have conquered China rather than India in order to ensure the country was well run. He regularly fulminated against America for its “Open Door” trade policy towards China which, he believed, would undermine Britain’s “Most Favoured Nation” status — a status it has to be said which had been forced at gunpoint on the Chinese. Brian Power, a young boy in Tianjin at the time recalled in his memoir Ford of Heaven: “When Woodhead spoke Washington trembled … By the time Woodhead’s outbursts reached England, Whitehall, too, must have trembled”.

This was probably overestimating Woodhead’s influence somewhat but, on the other hand, he was equally tough in criticising many foreign businessmen, accusing them of becoming wealthy off the back of child labour and low wages. He also had a major influence on Tianjin’s civic life. He had urged the formation of the Watch Committee, an ad hoc group that sought to patrol and protect the foreign concessions, and he was a founding member of the Tientsin Club, which provided him with a lavish send-off dinner when he finally left the city.

George Woodhead (on the right), with other fire brigade volunteers, Mih Ho Loong Hook and Ladder Company Number 1, Shanghai, c.1902-1907. LD01-099.

Woodhead remained a vibrant and dedicated editorialist, moving on in the 1930s to be an editorial associate of the Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury and editor (from 1934) of the quarterly journal Oriental Affairs. Power recalled that foreigners in the city were “stunned” when Woodhead announced his departure to Shanghai. Tributes to the great editor, which resembled obituaries, poured into the paper. Power believed that, despite his “Bully Pulpit-style” of editorialising, Woodhead’s lasting impression on Tianjin was his defence of the rights of car drivers. He accused the Chinese of being “primitive” for opposing the rise of the car. It seems that an unresolved incident between Woodhead and a rickshaw puller after a collision was the cause of his repeated diatribes against Chinese car drivers.

Parked cars and rickshaws, Shanghai, c1930. BL04-83.

Woodhead and the Times did provide work for some young reporters who would later become better known. In 1921 a young Owen Lattimore passed through. His parents were living in Tianjin but were about to move back to America. Lattimore met Woodhead who offered him a job at the paper which the young American accepted as he thought it would give him an opportunity to develop his literary interests. However, he was to be disappointed as he was given few opportunities to investigate and write stories of his own, spending most of his time proofreading. He lasted a year before returning to work for his old employers, the traders Arnhold and Company, on a larger salary and at their Tianjin branch before becoming one of America’s foremost China Hands and experts on Mongolia. After Lattimore, a young Israel “Eppie” Epstein, later to become a senior member of the Communist Party of China and remain in Beijing supporting Mao and the revolution, started his journalistic career on the paper in the 1930s when he was barely 15 years old. Epstein had been born in Poland but his family escaped from the Russian Revolution and fled to Tianjin where he attended American-run schools before becoming a cub reporter.

Woodhead appeared all-powerful in Tianjin between the world wars, though he did have some competition. The North China Commerce newspaper was established in 1920 as an English-run weekly but didn’t last long while the American-owned North China Star was also published in Tianjin. This was real competition – the American State Department estimated the paper’s daily circulation in 1921 as 2,500, more than double Woodhead’s Peking and Tientsin Times, but also noted that the Star was far less influential than Woodhead’s paper which to men like Woodhead was what really counted.

Restored – the grave of pioneering travel photographer John Thomson


Jamie Carstairs, who manages the Historical Photographs of China Project, reports on the tribute to the photographer John Thomson FRGS, whose grave has now been restored.

John Thomson (1837-1921) is acclaimed in Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s The Photobook: A History as ‘one of the best [foreign] photographers ever to set foot in China’. Over a ten-year period (1862 to 1872), Thomson photographed in China, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. Thomson had trained in Edinburgh as an optician, and then applied his knowledge of optics and cameras, with chemistry/photographic processes. Mashing science with art, Thomson’s skill set included a grasp of the aesthetics of visualisation, linguistic, and ‘people’ skills. He had an engaging personality, which fostered quick rapport and trust to be established. In many ways, Thomson is the photographer’s photographer. He also wrote in a droll and perceptive way. Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s accolade is all the more of note, considering briefer visits to China by photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa for example.

John Thomson, with two soldiers, in Xiamen (Amoy), 1871. Is this the earliest selfie in China? Thomson looks towards his camera, somewhat anxiously, during the exposure. It seems likely that Thomson would have intended to crop off the left-hand side of this image, when the negative was printed or published. A scan of a glass plate negative, numbered 735 by Thomson, held by the Wellcome Collection.

The restoration and re-installation of John Thomson’s grave was completed by the stonemasons just in time for a commemorative event in Streatham Cemetery, south London, on Saturday 13 July. Betty Yao MBE led the John Thomson grave restoration committee*, as well as setting up the JustGiving crowd funding appeal and also liaising with the local council and stonemasons. The gathering was attended by 25 people – including three of Thomson’s descendants, some of the donors who had kindly contributed to the cost of the work, photo-historians, local historians, photographers, and representatives from the Wellcome Collection and Friends of Streatham Cemetery. Betty Yao introduced the speakers.

Betty Yao MBE beside John Thomson’s restored grave, Streatham Cemetery, Tooting, London, 13 July 2019. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Terry Bennett gave an informative and moving appreciation, in which he described Thomson as a ‘prodigious talent’ and a ‘master of his art’, reaching this conclusion for four reasons: 1. Thomson was a prolific writer. 2. He was adept at marketing his work in numerous publications. 3. A significant number of his glass plate negatives have survived. 4. Photo-historians have now identified a sufficient body of work by other early photographers to enable comparisons to be made.

Terry Bennett describing how he found the site of John Thomson’s grave in Streatham Cemetery. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Terry told how he had tracked down Thomson’s lost grave, starting with his death certificate, which stated that he had died of a heart attack on a tram in Streatham Hill. Thomson’s Will and probate records gave his last address, which was in Streatham. The Streatham Historical Society kindly provided Terry with the addresses of four likely local cemeteries and one of them provided the burial block plot reference. Finding the exact spot was still not easy. Terry was helped by cemetery workers, who also provided a brush and a bucket of water to remove dirt which had accumulated over the fallen gravestone. Found at last – but the neglected state of the modest headstone suggested that the forgotten grave had not been visited for many years – “a sad sight”.

John Thomson’s headstone in August 2018, before restoration. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Michael Pritchard, CEO of Royal Photographic Society, read a message from Rose Teanby. Rose had helpfully shared with Betty her experience of restoring the grave of Robert Howlett. This endeavour was also “fraught with complexity, delicate negotiations and wrapped up in few miles of red tape!” (Howlett being famous for his portrait of I.K. Brunel, posed with the massive launching chains of the ss Great Eastern). Another helpful exemplar was the restoration of Sir Robert Hart’s grave in 2013, led by historians Robert Bickers and Weipin Tsai. A little blue bird tells me that the grave of George Ernest “Morrison of Peking”, in Sidmouth, Devon, is in need of similar TLC, a project for someone …

The restored gravestone for John Thomson, his wife Isabel and their son Arthur. Streatham Cemetery, Tooting, London. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

Caroline Thomas also spoke of her celebrated forebear. Betty Yao noted that, ‘It is fitting that we restore his grave as a renewed memorial to the man and his work’.

The restoration work by Vaughan Memorials was much admired: the rough face of the eroded headstone had been smoothed and the lettering recut and blacked in. Doris Florist made a beautiful bouquet and other flowers were added by attendees. It had taken over a year to, as Terry Bennett said, ‘effect some modest restoration and contribute a sense of respect and dignity to the final resting place of one of the greatest photographers in the nineteenth century’.

Attendees at the John Thomson commemorative event, at Streatham Cemetery, 13 July 2019. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

The ‘stellar efforts’ of Betty Yao are appreciated by ‘fans’ of John Thomson worldwide. The grave restoration committee* was pleased to have achieved our goal in good time for Thomson’s centenary. In 2021, the 100th anniversary of Thomson’s death, it is hoped that Betty Yao’s exhibition of Thomson’s photographs of China and Thailand, will be on show again – perhaps in Edinburgh, the city of his birth?  The very large prints, made from the Wellcome Collection’s excellent scans of Thomson’s negatives, are a joy to behold.

Photograph by John Thomson, c.1870. Captioned: “View 50 miles above Foochow. Sunset on the Min”. John Fry Collection (Fr01-096).

* The John Thomson grave restoration committee: Betty Yao MBE, Terry Bennett, Michael Pritchard, Deborah Ireland, Geoff Harris, Jamie Carstairs.

Visualising China (31 May 2018): Restoring John Thomson’s grave

British Photographic History (13 July 2019): John Thomson’s grave restored

The Scotsman (20 July 2019): The grave of a pioneering Scottish photographer who took some of the earliest pictures of China on record has been rediscovered and restored in London

Brief biography on HPC of John Thomson and links to his images at the Wellcome Collection and to his book Illustrations of China.