Friday, November 25, 2011 | By: Rudi Butt

Early Settlers, Not Opium Smugglers

Updated (partial) on December 17, 2011

I will try to feature as many early settlers to Hong Kong as I can find them, chiefly people who were existing in Hong Kong between 1841 and 1850. My interest centers on small business owners and professionals, excluding those engaged in the opium trade. Government and military personnel, missionaries and clergymen, and medical practitioner are also excluded in this post, as they are featured in other posts in this blog.

The Bowras
Charles Woollett Bowra,
photo courtesy of Stephen Kent
Bowra & Co., Ships’ Chandlers and Sail-makers opened its door at 13 Queen’s Road on August 31, 1843 as one of the first godowns and chandlers known to have established in Hong Kong. Owner Charles Woollett Bowra (b.1818 – d. July 11, 1856, Spencer House, Cobham, Surrey, England) was an ex-army officer who came from a family with religious and some military backgrounds [1]. Charles probably came to Hong Kong at the time of the First Opium War and was later joined by brother William Addenbrooke and sister Rosa Millicent. It was unclear to me which army unit he was with, and when and why he resigned his commission. Clearly he was too young to retire. Charles was a well respected business owner and had formed an informal society of tradesmen, among them were Thomas Ash Lane, Ninian Crawford (the two founders of Lane Crawford which today remains a high-end department store), Charles Markwick, James Smith and George Duddell. Lane and Bowra were their acknowledged leaders. In 1851, Charles took charge of collecting subscriptions from among his colleagues to stage a grand display of English fireworks to take place at the Parade Ground, the first ever to be witnessed in Hong Kong. It cost 20,000 pounds sterling and had to be ordered from Britain nine months in advance. This was the highlight of the Queen’s coronation anniversary celebration. 
[1] His grandfather, the Rev. William Bowra (b.1747 - d. June 2, 1816, Clavering), was Vicar of Clavering, Essex (January 1, 1801 – October 15, 1816 ). His uncle - the fourth son of William - Frederick (b. - d. 1823, Albany Barracks, Isle of Wight) was a Lieutenant in the 64th Regiment of Foot while his father Robert worked as a junior clerk at the Adjutant General's Office of Horse-Guards.
Charles was never married but when he returned to the UK in 1854, moste probably due to ill health, he brought home a daughter named Alice Augusta. Incidentally, there was a record of a Miss. Bowra, identified as the daughter of the owner of a chandler, who attended a ball held on board HMS Agincourt in 1845 [2]. Charles was 27 of age in 1845, he could not possibly had then a daughter old enough to be invited to a ball. Unless, it was mistaken that this Miss. Bowra was not the daughter, but the kid sister of the chandler owner - Rosa - who turned 20 of age in 1845. And then, the daughter who went home with Charles was much much younger.
[2] The ball was organized by the officers of the Agincourt, and was probably the first such social event held in Hong Kong. Agincourt was a third rate ship of the line and flagship of the Commander-in-chief of East Indies and China Station, Tomas John Cochrane.
Associated with the family business were Charles' friend turned brother-in-law, Alfred Humphreys (b.unknown - d. December 1, 1856) and elder brother William Addenbroke Bowra (b.1816 – d. September 4, 1866). Humphreys started a partnership business with a William Henry on September 8, 1843 - Henry Humphreys & Co. - only a week after the inauguration of the Bowra & Co. The company was housed inside Bowra & Co.'s godown at Queen's Road. I have no information if theses two companies were linked together, or if they were related merely as landlord and tenant. In 1846, Humphreys married Charles' sister, Rosa Millicent Bowra (b. September 9, 1825 - d. December 31, 1911) in Macau [3]. It was around this time that Humphreys started yet another venture, named Hemphreys & Co., with ship captain A. H. Fryer, who was a resident of Macau and owner of the Albion Hotel in the Portuguese enclave since September 1843. 1846 had proven to be an eventful year for Humphreys, as Charles and he merged their businesses on August 31 to become Bowra, Humphreys & Co. Charles, Alfred and Fryer became the principal partners of the new firm. Charles' elder brother William Addenbrooke seemed to hold a more junior position in the company. Captain Fryer started his own firm, A.H. Fryer & Co., in 1848. It was unclear to me if he remained a partner in Bowra, Hemphreys & Co. after his own firm was established.
[3] The marriage took place on February 17, 1846 and was performed by Chaplain Josiah Thompson of the Royal Navy. Thompson, promoted to Chaplain on April 12, 1843, served on HMS Minden from April 12, 1843 to June 1844 and on HMS Aligator from August 30, 1846 to December 1848. The Minden and Aligator were respectively the first and second hospital ships ever stationed in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Revenue Stamps with
firm marking of Bowra & Co.
The firm centered its activities at Whampoa, so much so that Humphreys himself lived in a house-boat (known those days as a “chop”) moored at Whampoa. A severe storm broke out on October 20, 1848 and several chops were destroyed at Whampoa including Humphreys'. He and several servants were rescued with great difficulties. There was however no mention of Rosa, his wife. Quite likely she stayed at a different residence on land. Bowra, Humphreys & Co. was listed at first in size in 1848 among the ships’ chandlers and auctioneers. The auctioneer dimension of the company would be proven an important and lucrative addition. The firm was also the first company to have its own water boat selling water to ships at anchor. By 1850 they had become auctioneers for the Royal Naval Department. The brothers-in-law partnership lasted only four years. For some reason, Charles and Humpreys split on December 31, 1850 and went on to running their respective businesses separately. Later on Humphreys, Rosa and their daughter Emily Rosette returned to the UK. After Charles died in 1856, Rosa took care of his daughter Alice Augusta. In his will, Charles left Rosa a large portion of his estate, but independent of Alfred and stipulated further that they were not be used by him at any time. I can't help but think that surely something untoward must have happened with the business partnership between the brothers-in-law in Hong Kong.

William Addenbrooke was the first child of Robert Bowra. His name started appearing in Hong Kong from 1846, although he might have arrived earlier. William brought his young wife Emily to Hong Kong, who unfortunately died on July 10, 1850 at the age of 28. William A., as in the case of Charles, was a well respected member of the community. He was appointed a juror in 1855. The appointment was clearly regarded as a symbol of status at those times in the colony. Upon returning to the UK, William settled in Durrington Lodge, Surbiton with his only son, Frederick William.

Key employees of the Bowras seemed to be choice candidates for juror appointments. Milton Adams Harsant (b. 1823 - d. June 1, 1856) and brother Frederick May Harsant, William Cunningham, William Harding and George Harper were jurors in 1850s and 1860s. F.M. Harsant were appointed for no less than ten years.

The most notable Chinese employee was comprador Wei Kwong 韋光 (b.1825 Heungshan, present Zhongshan , also birthplace of Sun Yet-sen - d.1879 Hong Kong) who joined the firm in 1843 after attending school in Singapore. Wei became a Supreme Court interpreter in 1855 and  two years later went on to work for the Mercantile Bank of India, London and China as its comprador until he died. He left behind an estate valued at HK$170,000 – a substantial sum considering the whole of Tung Wah Hospital was built on a government grant of HK$115,000 in 1869. Wei had three sons. Wei Yuk 韋玉 alias Wei Bo-shan 韋寶珊 (b.1849 Hong Kong – d.1922) attended Leicester Stoneygate School in England and Dollar Institution in Scotland. He succeed his father as Mercantile Bank's comprador in 1879. He was appointed the Senior Chinese Unofficial Member of the Legislative Council in 1914, and was invested CMG in 1908 and knighthood in 1919. Wei Yuk was one of the first four Hong Kong Chinese to have become a Freemason. Both the other two sons were lawyers. The Oxford-educated Wei On 韋安 was Johnson Stokes & Master's first local solicitor. He joined the Hong Kong law firm in 1879. Wei Pui 韋培 was qualified to practice as a barrister in Hong Kong on October 22, 1888. I do not know with which firm.

I am writing down the names of some other Bowra employees that I have found and hope that one day there will be story about them I can tell. They are W. Stevenitt, J.C. Buchanan, F. Thompson, H. Rutherford and George Augustus Frederick Norris who was with another firm MacEwen & Co. in 1859 as an auctioneer. There was also the name of J.H. Bowra which appeared alongside those of Charles and William A. a couple of times in the Jardine Matheson Archive. I too hope that some day soon I will be able to find out who J.H. Was.

Humphreys sold his business interests in Hong Kong some time between 1851 and 1856 before returning to the UK where he died on December 1, 1856. I have no information what did happen to Bowra & Co. after William Addenbrooke left Hong Kong.

Two of Bowra's clients/partners stood out from the rest.

The Queen, Bowra's steamer chartered by Commodore Perry
Commodore Mathew Calbraith Perry, U.S.N., chartered a small steamer (130 tons) from Bowra, the Queen, in 1853 for $500 a month. The Queen was put under the command of Lieutenant George Henry Preble (promoted to Rear Admiral on September 30, 1876) as a part of the coalition sea forces organized by James Stirling, who headed the Royal Navy's East Indies and China Station, against the Chinese pirates and Taiping rebels. The primary purpose of the Queen was to protect American citizens in China. Armed with four four-pounder guns and one twelve-pound howitzer, the Queen must be a good looking ship, since Preble had this to say about her, “It is a little singular to have under our republican flag a vessel so styled.” The Queen was later, probably in 1855, sold to a Chinese company but put under the command of a Captain Endicott and a crew led by Europeans. She no longer served the United States Navy. In 1857, the Queen was captured by Chinese soldiers, the captain (not sure if this was Endicott) and several European were killed and the vessel burned.

A photo taken of James Erskine Murray and some
people from Kutai, a historic region in East Kalimantan
in Indonesia
James Erskine Murray (b.1810 – d. February 17, 1844), second son of the 7th Baron Ellibank, Scotland, was a barrister until he quit his practice in 1843 and afterward bought the brigantine Warlock on which he sailed to Australia and then to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, he met and befriended William Addenbrooke and soon the two decided to go into partnership and to embark on a trading expedition to Borneo. Murray sold the Warlock and together with W.A. Bowra, bought the 90-ton schooner Young Queen and the 200-ton brigantine Anna. Murray set sail to Borneo probably in January 1844 and finally arriving at Tongarron (Tenggarong) the following month, after entering the River Cote. The Sultan, who resided in Tongarron, seemed pleased with the presence of the visitors. The friendly appearance however wore off in a matter of days and on February 16, the expedition parties were treacherously attacked by masked batteries and gunboats. They slipped their cables and make attempt to fight their way out of the river. After twenty six hours (thirty six hours, according to a different source) of continuous fighting, they reached a few miles of the mouth of the river. Here they were met with a numerous fleet of boats blocking their way. It was here at the last and the most desperate attack where Murray was killed. He was struck by a two-pounder on the breast. After their escape, the expedition parties ran into the HMS Samarang and came under her protection. At Samarang's command was Captain Edward Belcher, who in 1841, then a Commander, made the first survey of the Hong Kong harbor. The engagement with the Kutai forces had killed three including Murray but wounded only four (five, according to a different source).

Here is the other side of the story. After entering Tenggarong, Murray went to Kutai and met with the Sultan, Sultan A.M. Salehuddin. Murray asked for land to establish a trading post and exclusive rights to run steamer in the waters of the Mahakam, but in return the Sultan only permitted Murray to trade in the Samarinda region alone. Unsatisfied with the results of the meeting, and after a few days, Murray fired volleys of cannon balls from his vessels towards Sultan's palace, and the Kutai troops duly returned fire. The exchange of fire led to an all out engagement. Eventually, Murray's lost the battle and fled to the sea. Five wounded and three dead (including Murray) on the part of the expedition parties were recorded, no accounts of casualty on the Kutai side was mentioned.

- Anglo-Chinese Calandar 1847, printed at the Office of The Chinese Repository
- Chinese Christian: Elites, Middlemen, and the Church in Hong Kong, by Carl T. Smith, Oxford University Press 1985
- China Directory 1862, Printed by A. Shoetrede & Co., Hong Kong
- The Chinese Repository, various year
- Clavering Online
- Erskine Murray's Fatal Adventure in Borneo, 1843-44, by B.R. Pearn
- Forgotten Souls - A Social History of the Hong Kong Cemetery, by Patricia Lim, Hong Kong University Press
- Friend of China, various dates including August 31, 1843, September 8, 1843 and April 20, 1844
- The Fifth Report of the Commissioners Appointed under an Agreement, concluded on the 10th of July 1805, between the East India Company and the Private Creditors of the late Nabobs of The Carnatic, Ordered by The House of Common, 9th February 1810.
- The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, From July To December, 1823. Volume XCIII
- The Hong Kong Directory, various years
- Indonesia Tourism Blog
- Janus: Jardine Matheson Archive
- Stephen Kent, the great-Grandson of Rosa Millicent Bowra
- Dawn Miles, a descendant of Eliza de Roussiere who was the mother of Charles W. Bowra. Dawn's web page - Charles Viscount de Roussiere – should give you very helpful information about the de Roussiere and Bowra families. Dawn's genealogical research on her family is simply remarkable. Information she shared included those found in Charles W. Bowra's will as well as Eliza Bowra's death certificate.
- The Navy List, 1844-1879
- The Opening of Japan, A Diary of Discovery in the Far East, 1853-1856, by Rear Admiral George Henry Preble, U.S.N., University of Oklahoma Press
- The Pall Mall Gazette, March 16, 1867
- The Royal Navy, a History from the Earliest Times to Present (Volume 6), by William Laird Clowes

John Rickett

John Rickett (b.1801 – d. May 11, 1878, Croydon, London) was the fifth son of Joseph Rickett (b.1722- d.1819) and Rebecca Lacy (b.1768-d.1812). He came to China from Manila in 1831, most probably settled down in Canton (Guangzhou), and there he worked for the English East India Company and in 1834 was given the command the barque Austin. There was, however, an entry in the Janus: Jardine Matheson Archive that listed him as “John Rickett, owner and commander of the barque Austin”. Rickett moved to Macau in 1837 where he landed a job to survey the harbor. He was made a justice of the peace on June 30, 1843, being one of the first forty four JPs ever to be appointed in Hong Kong (in addition to Hong Kong residents, certain civilian and government/military personnel, etc. residing in major ports in China were appointed). On July 22 the same year, he was appointed British Consular Agent in Macau, after the Chief Superintendent's Office's removal to Hong Kong. In 1846 the new Hong Kong Club (1846- ) offered Rickett the position of Club Secretary and so he moved to Hong Kong. A year later he picked up a new profession of a ship surveyor, which afforded him the opportunity to, from time to time, inspect ships on behalf of the government, the Canton Insurance Office as well as Lloyd's. He joined the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) in 1851 as the Surveyor of Shipping. Rickett was one of the ninety nine Europeans who formed the original Hong Kong Volunteers in 1854.

Ricektt married Grace Eleanor Lathrop (b.1813-d.1887) in Calcutta [1] probably in January or February 1832. The newly wedded left Calcutta on February 26 traveling on the Austin, the barque Rickett commanded, for Penang and Singapore, thence Canton. Grace gave birth to their first child, Ellen, in China in 1833. Altogether they had six children. Four were born in Macau, they were John, Jr. (b.1834-d.1925), Sara Ann (b.1836 – d.1857, Hong Kong), Caroline (b.1839) and Elizabeth (b.1845). Their youngest son Charles was born in Hong Kong in 1851. Sara Ann died in 1857 at the young age of just twenty. Three years later Rickett retired from P&O and returned to England with part of the family [2]. Whilst retired, Rickett kept meteorology as a hobby; he became an ardent meteorologist. He regularly published his recordings of weather in the Croydon Advertiser until ill health prevented his taking a complete register. He was a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society. He resided on the Wellesley Road for some time, but moved to Dingwall Road before his death. He died on May 11, 1878 at the age of seventy six.
[1] Although I was unable to trace the parents of Grace Eleanor, I feel it is fair to say that the Lathrops were residents of Calcutta. There was a record of a Mr. Rickett, and a child and a Mrs. Lathrop who arrived Calcutta on May 24, 1834, traveling on the Austin that left China on March 31. John Rickett, of course, was in command of the Austin. I believe this Mrs. Lathrop to be Grace's mother, who probably came to China to help out her daughter's childbirth.
[2] John Rickett Jr., who had been working for P&O as a clerk since c.1856, probably only returned to England in the early 1860s. He married Anna Cooper (b.1848-d.1934) in 1866 in Croydon. John Jr. was listed as the Yokohama agent of the London and Oriental Steam Transit Insurance Company in 1877. It was also in that year that Anna gave birth to their seventh daughter, Alice. They had eleven children in total.
- The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany, Volume 8, by East India Company
- The Calcutta Christian Observer, Volume 3
- China Trade and Empire - Jardine, Matheson & Co. and the Origins of British Rule in Hong Kong 1827-1843, by Alain Le Pichon
- The Chinese Repository – 1846
- Colonial Calendar for 1851, by Henry Capper
- Croydon in the Past, by Annesley William Streane
- Forgotten Souls - A Social History of the Hong Kong Cemetery, by Patricia Lim, Hong Kong University Press
- Hong Kong Directory with List of Foreign Residents in China 1859
- Janus: Jardine Matheson Archive
- Rootsweb

Nicolia Duus

Nicolia, alias Nicholas, Duus (b. 1807, Hals, Denmark – d. December 5, 1861, Hong Kong) was a mariner and merchant who came to Hong Kong in 1837 after having spent five years in Calcutta, presumably working also as a merchant. Duus ran a trading firm and store, N. Duus & Co., at 18 Queen's Road retailing foods, wines, perfumes and hardware. Friend of China in its October 5, 1843 issue had named N. Duus as one of the three big grocers in Hong Kong: F.H. Tiedeman of an unnumbered godown and store in Queen’s Road, N Duus at 18 Queen’s Road, and Pain & Co. at 2 Magistracy Street. I found an advertisement he placed in Friend of China on September 7, 1843 that said, “For sale French cognac and English brandy in hogsheads. Manila rum and Java arrack in cases. Apply N. Duus, 18 Queen’s Road.” He bought and sold lorchas and even supplied patent toilets. The August 5, 1845 issue of Friend of China described the popular item as “a patent water closet for an upper story”. The firm was the Hong Kong agent for London book publisher - Ingram, Cooke & Co. According to Friend of China, N. Duus started supplying water to ships at their anchorages with the use of a waterboat fitted with tanks and a force pump as early as March 1844. This would put N. Duus the first company to provide this service in Hong Kong, two years ahead of Bowra, Humphreys & Co.

In 1845 Duus partnered with American merchant Samuel Burge Rawle to form a new trading firm - Rawle, Duus & Co., but moved to Shanghai a year later where he opened a ship brokerage firm – Duus & Co. Additionally, I found the name of Duus, Rawle & Co., Shanghai listed in Shanghai in 1846's China Repository. On August 4, 1846, Duus was appointed the Danish Consul for Shanghai, the first in China who was actually a Danish citizen. Duus stayed in Shanghai until 1851, whereupon he returned to Hong Kong and after dissolving the partnship with Rawle, he established his own trading firm - Nicholas Duus & Co. He was appointed Consul for Sweden and Norway in October 1855. He died in Hong Kong in 1861 and was buried in the Hong Kong Cemetery in Happy Valley. Duus attended meetings of the Freemasons in Hong Kong; his mother lodge was the Lodge of Cape of Good Hope.

These were key employees of Rawle, Duus & Co., Hong Kong in 1846: William Hay, John Willaume, F.T. Derkheim, I.P. Pereira, J.A. de Jesus. I hope to be able to find out more about them soon. Henrique Hyndman was listed working for N. Duus & Co., in Hong Kong in 1849 [1]. He later worked for M.C. Rozario & Co. as a book-keeper, and was afterward employed by the China Sugar Refining Co. in Hong Kong.
[1] N. Duus & Co. or Nicholas & Co. might have been in existence before Duus returned to Hong Kong from Shanghai in 1851.
Duus married Sophia St. Ives Mary Jarvis in London in 1833. Both their sons John Henry and Edward Hercules [2] were born outside Denmark, but educated in Copenhagen. After Nicholas died, the family went separate ways. Sophia, together with her sister Georgeanna Charlotte, went to Cape Town to stay with their brother, Hercules Crosse Jarvis, who had just months ago stepped down as mayor of Cape Town after having served for twelve years. Sophia died in Cape Town in 1864. John and Henry moved to Japan where they lived until they died.
[2] John Henry (b. August 4, 1834, Calcutta - d. April 7, 1889) was listed working as a clerk in Hong Kong in 1859. He went to Japan in 1861 and was employed by Lindsay & Co. (the Hong Kong based British mercantile firm and opium trader). On August 25, 1867, he was appointed Danish Consul in Hakodate, Hokkaido. He was the first Danish Consul in Japan of Danish nationality. He started to run his own businesses around the same time. He became the French Consular Agent between 1870 and 1872, and Acting Consul for USA in 1879. Edward Hercules Duus (b. July 1, 1836, Macau - d. April 22, 1901, Kobe) was listed as an employee of Lindsay & Co. in Hong Kong. After Nicholas died, Edward was put in charge of closing his father's company which he did on February 28, 1862, and afterward became partner of his late father's Shanghai company - Duus & Co. He went to Japan in 1871 and work with his brother in Hakodate. In 1881 he moved to Tokyo and was employed by Mitsubishi Mail Steam Ship Co. until 1886, thereafter he worked for various mariner enterprises Tokyo. He married Shiratori Kin of Oura, Nagasaki and was elected Secretary and Treasurer of the Nagasaki Club in 1888. Edward and Shiratori moved to Kobe in 1900 where he died a year later.
- The Chinese Repository – 1843, 1846
- Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania, by John W. Jordan
- Patricia Greenway, the Great-Great-Granddaughter of Nicholas Duus
- The Economist, October 27, 1855
- Forgotten Souls - A Social History of the Hong Kong Cemetery, by Patricia Lim, Hong Kong University Press
- Friend of China, September 7, 1843, October 5, 1843, March 5, 1844, August 5, 1845
- Hong Kong Directory with List of Foreign Residents in China 1859, Printed at the American Press, Hong Kong
- Meiji Portraits
- North China Herald, September 27, 1862
- Peace and friendship: Denmark's official relations with China, 1674-2000, by Christopher Bo Bramsen, Hua Lin, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
- The Portuguese in Hong Kong and China, by Jose Pedre Braga
- Simmonds's colonial magazine and foreign miscellany, by Peter Lund Simmonds


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