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Swire, G. Warren Collection

G. Warren Swire (1883-1949), was a London-based partner in his father's firm, John Swire & Sons Ltd, from 1904 onwards. Each year a director of the firm went 'out East' to visit the company's subsidaries in China, which were run by Butterfield & Swire (Taikoo, 太古公司). Taikoo's biggest subsidiary was the China Navigation Company (太古航業公司). Between 1906 and 1940 Swire made regular visits (including: 1906-7, 1911-12, 1919-20, 1923-24, 1928-29, 1933-34, 1938, 1940). 'G.W.S.' was a keen and proficient photographer, and his photographs seemed to have been taken with the aim of constructing a visual aide memoire of the infrastructure of Taikoo's activities in China. In this collection you will find photographs of company ships, godowns (warehouses), offices, wharves, and the bunds and harbour facilities in which Taikoo operated in coastal and riverine China. Activities in China were tightly managed from London, and it is probably with that pattern of control in mind, that Swire took these photographs. They offer a systematic survey of the infrastructure of the treaty ports, and of the activities of a foreign firm within them, and in that sense offer an unusual survey of China's port cities. See

Please note: Warren Swire used to reference his negatives by writing a reference number in ink on the emulsion side of the negative, so that he could file it in the correct sleeve in his indexed albums. However, this does mean that when a positive image is made from the negative, the inked reference number appears the wrong way round. Most of the 1,967 images in the G. Warren Swire Collection were digitised from celluloid negatives, in thirty-two annotated negative albums (HPC refs: Sw01 through to Sw32). Also two images from glass plate negatives (HPC ref: Sw-n) and five images from a print (HPC ref: Sw-s).

The original negatives are now held in Archives & Special Collections, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (SOAS ref: JSS/12/2/4). These images are copyright John Swire & Sons, Ltd. If you wish to use an image for any purpose other than for research or study purposes, or if you require a higher resolution copy of an image, then permission must be sought from the copyright owner. Please direct any such requests to