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[Photos] Into the Wilderness of Saigon in 1867

Before “southern Vietnam,” there was Cochinchina; before Saigon, there wasn’t much of anything but vast stretches of tropical jungle and mosquito-infested swamps.

This set of rare black and white images from 1867 was taken by a man named John Thomson. Even though not much is known about the identity or life story of their author, these images are among the few visual testaments of the very early days of the city we now know and love.

In 1859, the French conquered Saigon and the three provinces of Bien Hoa, Gia Dinh and Dinh Tuong. Just a few years later, in 1864, all French territories in the southern region of the country officially became the French colony of Cochinchina. Thomson’s images were taken just three years after that, when, despite a few buildings and ongoing construction projects, Saigon was barely a town, let a lone the bustling metropolis that we know today.

A barely finished section of the pavement facing the Bach Dang Wharf.

Houses along the Tau Hu Canal near Cho Lon.

Early Saigon residents.

The Saigon River as seen from above.

The Bach Dang Wharf under construction.

A suburban area.

A river-side shanty.

The road leading to Lang Cha Ca, now Hoang Van Thu Street.

A Saigon resident takes care of her cabbage patches.

Living right next to or on top of water bodies was common.

A diverse range of local flora.

Resting on the side of a countryside street.

Most of Saigon's waterways were covered in vegetation.

Lang Cha Ca.

Boats docking along the Tau Hu Canal.

A grave of a well-to-do family.

[Photos via The Wellcome Collection/CC BY 4.0]

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