Friday, September 25, 2009 | By: Rudi Butt

Watchmaker-Turned-Ship-Owner


Updated on December 25, 2011
Douglas Lapraik (b.1818-d.1869) left Scotland at the age of 21 to pursue fortune in the Far East and arrived in Hong Kong in 1843 after spending four years in Macao. He worked for Leonard Just, a fellow Scotsman and a watch and chronometer maker in D'Aguilar Street, as an apprentice, before starting his own watch making and repairing business - the Dougals Lapraik and Company. The company has then grown to becoming a maker of fine clocks and watches and, after the final departure of Lapraik from Hong Kong, was took over by a one-time employee, a George Falconer, who later had the company name changed to George Falconer the Jewelers – a brand still exiting today.

In the early 1850s, Lapraik extended his business scope to include mercantile activities, including dealing in opium and, as a result, built his initial wealth and became a notable merchant, rubbing shoulders with the leaders in the community such as his compatriot, Thomas Sutherland, the Hong Kong Superintendent of P & O SN Co. Lapraik ventured into the docking business in 1857 and were building new docks along with a Captain John Lamont in Aberdeen (Hong Kong). He would later invite Sutherland to partake in this line of business. In 1864, Lapraik's esteem turned to yet another high point when Sutherland asked him to support the establishment of a local bank in Hong Kong. With no hesitation, Lapraik jumped on the bandwagon and duly became a member of the Provisional Committee of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Company Limited.

He founded the Hong Kong, Canton and Macao Steamboat Company in October 1865 and, by the time of his death, he owned a fleet of seven steamships. Almost exactly a year later after the establishment of the steamboat company, the Lapraik-Sutherland team struck once more, here they founded the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock Company, which in turn purchased the dock properties these two own personally. James Whittall, the Taipan of Jardine Matheson at that time and a member of the Legislative Council, was appointed Chairman of the Board, while Lapraik became the Company Secretary. Today, the Hutchison Whampoa Limited (Whampoa was bought by Hutchison International in the mid 1960s) reports a turnover of approximately HKD348 billion, with operations in 54 countries and approximately 220,000 employees.

When the Hong Kong Hotel Company was incorporated on March 3, 1866, Lapraik was amongst the four initial members of the Board of Directors. Additionally, he was one of the 62 Founding Members of the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce (now Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce.)

Lapraik was community minded and served on various committees including one established for the formation of the St. Andrew School, and a fund raising committee in 1860 to erect a clock tower at the junction of Pedder Street and Queen's Road. Due to shortage of subscription, he present at his own cost the town clock. He was generous in giving to churches and other charities and the generosity continued even after his death, for example, the executor of his estate gave $10,000 to relief the famine in North China in 1877.

The fantastic voyage of 'Keying' (耆英), a Chinese Junk Lapraik bought in August 1846 in Canton in secrecy, was an audacious stunt even by his standard. Keying set sail from Hong Kong in December 1846 and finally arriving in London 17 months later, stopping over at Cape of Hope, St. Helena, New York and Boston. Lapraik and his associates hoped to use the vessel as a floating exhibition in London, with a view to attracting trade and tourists to Hong Kong,

Lapraik's country house in Pok Fu Lam, built in 1860 and dubbed the 'Douglas Castle', also features a clock tower. The Mission Etranferes de Paris acquired Douglas Castle in 1894 to operate the Nazareth Press for the monastery. In 1953, it was sold to the University of Hong Kong for use as students' residence, and re-named University Hall. Of neo-gothic style, the building is best known for the elephants at its entrance, and the spiral stairs leading from the crypt to the dining room. The Hong Kong government declared it a historical monument on September 15, 1995.

Lapraik's businesses in Hong Kong was largely succeeded by John Steward Lapraik (b.1841-d. ) who came to Hong Kong in 1858 at the age of seventeen. John was the son of Douglas's oldest brother. A record showed that both Douglas and John Steward were back in England on January 25, 1870. Dauglas was living at 126 Picadilly, Middlesex, and John Steward Glenmore House, Surbiton, Surrey. This, however, contradict with another source that stated Douglas died in 1869.

- END -

5 comments:

Franklin said...

I am very interested in learning more about G. Falconer and the history of the shop. Where would you recommend i start?

Thanks
Franklin Ma
(tazman.dwb@gmail.com)

Rudi Butt said...

Hi Franklin.
I found the following bits and pieces in my notes which you may wish to follow up on:
George B. Falconer was very likely a Scot; both Lapraik and Falconer worked for Leonard Just in Hong Kong as apprentices in the 1840s; Falconer was listed in the 1859 Hong Kong Directory as the head man for Douglas Lapraik Watchmaker, so he probably ran the business for Lapraik; in April 1866, Lapraik closed down his watch making business and transferred to Falconer, and the firm was renamed Falconer and Co.; his prominence in the community must have increased after spending over twenty five years in Hong Kong that in December 1871, Falconer was appointed by governor Richard G. MacDonnell to a commission established to inquiry into the causes of the defective state of the police force; the firm took an advertisement in the “Who’s Who in the Far East” published in 1906, but there was no individual entry under the name Falconer, that leads me to believe that no one from the Falconer family who might have managed the firm was residing in Hong Kong; for quite a long time, the firm maintained a shop in the Princess Building in Central (#9S2, and later #3, Mezz. Floor); the firm was sold to the Lee Hing Group in 1997; Falconer Jeweler shop can be found in the Peninsula Hotel, there seems to be a firm by the same name based in London, additionally, there is a George Falconer (Nautical) Ltd. located inside the Jewellery Building in Central, how they are related, I do not know… the earlier trade name of the firm in Chinese was 霍近拿鐘錶行; he died in London on August 5, 1875
This is the website of The Federation of Hong Kong Watch Trades and Industries; I have no idea if they would be helpful though. http://www.hkwatch.org/index.asp

Hope this helps
Regards
Rudi

PrideOfMatchingham said...

HI, I have an antique pocket watch movement by Douglas Lapraik China No. 884. You dont see very many of these now a days. If there was a way, I could have uploaded it.

Rudi Butt said...

Hi Pride of Matchingham
If you wish, you can email me a photo and a description of the watch.
Best wishes,
Rudi
rudibutt@hotmail.com

Unknown said...

I have a telescope that has a inscription on it that was made for G. Falconer. I am looking for information on it and its worth. Ross London #32369
Thank you

Post a Comment