Tuesday, January 1, 2013 | By: Rudi Butt

Dr. Alexander Anderson, Hong Kong's First Colonial Surgeon

Updated (partial) on January 1, 2013

Notable Doctors From the First 100 Years
A Biography of

Alexander Anderson
The first Colonial Surgeon

Anderson (b. April 16, 1809 (or 1810), Selkirk, Selkirk, Scotland – d. May 28, 1857, Jedburgh, Roxburgh) went to Macau in July 1834 (and thence onto Canton) as an assistant surgeon attached to the mission of William John Napier, 9th Lord Napier 律勞卑 (b.1786-d.1834), the first British Superintendent of Trade in Qing China. He was given charge of starting up a hospital ship in Whampoa in the month next following his arrival chiefly to look after British seamen. The hospital ship project was proposed by Thomas Richardson Colledge 郭雷樞 (b.1796-d.1879), head surgeon of the Napier mission who had been living in China since 1827 as surgeon for the British East India Company. The project was stopped before preparations began in earnest amidst growing hostilities between Napier and the government in Canton, which was tasked by the Qing court to handle all foreign diplomatic affairs. Anderson stayed behind in Macau after Napier died in October the same year having achieved nothing for his commission. As a surgeon to the British mission, he assisted British ships which had no surgeons on board at where they anchored either in Lintin (Nei Lingding Island) 內伶仃島 or Kumsing Moon 金星門 to look after sick seamen. In addition, Anderson had frequently assisted in important operations at Ophthalmic Hospital in Canton 廣州博濟醫院, which was established by Peter Parker*, M.D. on November 4, 1835. Anderson was a founder of the Medical Missionary Society in China 中國博醫會 and was elected to the office of Recording Secretary at the society's inaugural meeting on February 21, 1838. He became a vice-president in 1840. When Parker asked him to assist the Seamen's Friend Association by becoming its Macau agent, Anderson agreed and took the office immediately. The association was founded on January 3, 1839 in Canton by seventeen European and American merchants (mostly opium traders and/or shippers), and Protestant missionaries, with the objective to promote the welfare of seamen.

In 1841, Anderson was listed as a surgeon and apothecary, and a partner in the Macao dispensary (medical clinics were called dispensaries in those days), which was established by Colledge. This could possibly be Anderson's first endeavor in the private sector. I found another record (dated August 1841) that showed he was associated as a principal (possibly a partner) in the Canton dispensary. The Canton dispensary was established by Richard Henry Cox, M.D., and another doctor by the name of Bradford before 1836. Cox's name alone, however, was listed in the the Chinese Repository 1836-37 under Canton dispensary. Towards the end of 1842, the dispensary discontinued its operation in Canton and reopened on the first day of 1843 in Hong Kong under the new name of Hong Kong dispensary. The new dispensary was located in the bazaar owned by William Morgan, a Jardine ship captain who later became the Hong Kong agent for Jardine's ships. The Hong Kong dispensary was by then owned by Anderson and another doctor Peter Young*. Anderson and Young were the only men from the medical profession among the 44 British residents in Hong Kong, Macau and Canton appointed by governor Henry Pottinger on June 30, 1843 to be the city's first Justices of the Peace. The Anderson / Young association went further with the opening of the Seamen's Hospital in August the same year. Anderson sat on the hospital establishment committee (along with James Matheson of the princely opium firm, Jardine Matheson, and John Robert Morrison 馬儒翰, son of missionary Robert Morrison 馬禮遜) and it was he who put the entire hospital together. Young became responsible for the day-to-day running of the hospital and had also provided free consultations during the week for one hour each day (8-9am). Both Anderson and Young were appointed trustees of the hospital. The Seamen's Hospital (1843-1873) was located in Wanchai, where the Ruttonjee Hospital 律敦治醫院 is currently situated - between Wanchai Road and Queen's Road East.

1843 had been a very good year for Anderson, he reached the pinnacle of his professional life on October 1, the date when he was appointed by governor Pottinger the first Colonial Surgeon in Hong Kong, passing Dr Charles Alexander Winchester by. Winchester had been an assistant colonial surgeon. The appointment was however very short-lived since the position was created without prior authorization from the Home government. I should believe that London probably wasn't overly concerned with who took the office of the colonial surgeon, but was quite uncomfortable with the amount of money being spent on the new colony. So an instruction was given by the Home government to make the position redundant in 1844; Anderson was instead appointed Hospital Surgeon to the Colony, a position nothing short of baloney as the government ran no hospital in the Colony. Anderson resigned the following month for health reasons and in 1846 (calculated) returned home to Selkirk where he probably practiced medicine together with his father, Thomas Anderson, M.D.. In 1848, Anderson removed to Jedburgh, Roxburgh where he continued to practice until he died in 1857, at the age of 48 (or 47). He was survived by wife, New York-born Elizabeth (Eliza) Post Gillespie [1] and ten children. Anderson and Gillespie were married in Macau probably around 1844. Their first two sons, Graham and Thomas were born in Macau. Thomas Anderson (b.1845-d.1872) later went and lived in the United States; it was uncleared to me whether he went to the U.S. for the purpose to seek out his mother's family. He died in Iowa on August 12, 1872. Another son, Curtis Homes (b.1853-d.1884) also went to the United States and died in Las Vegas in January 1884. Both of them died at very young age.

Born to Thomas Anderson (b.1787-d.1855) and Margaret Scott (b.1787-d.1835), Anderson was a third generation physician. His grandfather Thomas Anderson (Sr.) (b.1751-d.1816) was an army surgeon who had mentored the celebrated explorer Mungo Park. Park (b.1771, Selkrikshire, Scotland – d.1806, Yelwa (Yauri), Nigeria), M.R.C.S.Eng (1793), went to Africa for the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa in 1795 to explore the course of the River Niger. He reached the river on July 20, 1796 and continued to travel as far as Segu (Ségou), where no Westerner had ever been. After returning to England, being quite rich and very famous, Park married Anderson's aunt, Alison (Alice, or Allie) on August 2, 1799. He went back to Africa in January 1805 heading an expedition to follow the Niger to its end. Joining the expedition as second in command was Alison's brother (and Anderson's uncle), who was also named Alexander Anderson. The expedition was met with extremely harsh conditions; Alexander (the uncle) died on October 28, 1805 in Sansanding (near Segu) from illness, and Park was believed to have been drown in the river near Yauri in around January 1806.

[1] Eliza Gillespie (b. July 11, 1819 – d. 1911) was born to a fourth generation immigrant family originated in Scotland, which had rooted in New York since the turn of the Eighteenth Century. She was daughter of David Gillespie (b.1789-d.1824) and Mary S. Post (b.ca.1789-d.bef.1825). She and her sister Elizabeth McDougall Gillespie (b.1814-d.1837) went to join their brother, Charles Van Megen Gillespie (b.1810-d. Unknown) in China in 1830s. Charles ran businesses and lived between Hong Kong, Macau and Canton. He owned a godown (storage house), and ran auction and mercantile businesses at No. 46 Queens Road. Elizabeth McDougall died from illness in 1837 and was buried in Macau. Eliza and Anderson left Hong Kong in 1846; Charles and his family by the end of the following year. Instead of returning home in New York, Charles took his family to San Francisco where they arrived on the brigantine Eagle on February 2, 1848. His arrival somehow turned into a remarkable historical event when latter day historians declared that the three servants (two unnamed men and a woman called Marie Seise -- no one seemed to know her Chinese name; she was once married to a Portuguese sailor named Seise) he brought with him from China, the first Chinese immigrants to the United States. Having settled down in San Francisco, Charles became very busy engaging in a variety of activities: as a notary public and searcher of records, and a real estate broker, in addition to running an importing firm for Chinese goods. He had (in essence but not as a right) a monopoly of the business of examination of wills, and above all else launched a company named Fidelity National that would eventually become Fidelity National Financial. FNF ranked 472 in the 2012 Fortune 500 ranking. Eliza's another brother was the famous U.S. Marine Lieutenant (later Captain, and Major) Archibald Hamilton Gillespie who made his name during the Mexican-American War, which I would not go into details here. Archibald was remembered by the naming of destroyer USS Gillespie (DD-609) and the Gillespie Field airport in El Cajon, California.
- Anglo-Chinese Claendar 1847,Canton: Office of the Chinese Repository, 1847.
- Boddy-Evans, Alistair, Biography: Mungo Park, About.com., People / Places [internet].
- Burke, Bernard, A genealogical and heraldic history of the colonial gentry, Vol. 1, London: Harrison & Son.
- Californian, Number 51, 3 May 1848, p.1.
- The Chinese Repository, 1834-35; 1836-37; 1837-38; 1838-39.
- CNN Money [website].
- Ride, Lindsay and Ride, May, An East India Copmany Cemetery: Protestant Burials in Macao, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1996.
- The Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle 1837, Vol. 15 - New Series, London: Thomas Ward & Co.
- Friend of China, January 12; February 23; June 30; July 20; July 27; October 5, Hong Kong, 1843.
- geni.com [internet].
- Interesting Family Trees – Genealogy [internet].
- Janus: Jardien Matheson Archive [internet].
- Johnson, Henry James and Johnson, James (Ed.), The Medico-Chirurgical Review, and Journal of Practical Medicine, Vo. 35, April to September 1841, London: S. Highley, 1841.
-The "New American" Fortune 500, Partnership for a new American Economy,New York City Government. June 2011 [internet].
- NNDB: tracking the entire world, People, Mungo Park [internet].
- rootsweb [internet].
- Shoemaker, Louise E., San Francisco County Biographies: F.A. Rouleau, November 17, 2003. [internet]
- Taylor, Fitch W., The Flagship: or Voyage Around the World, in the United States Frigate Columbia, Vol. 2, New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1840.


Al said...

Thanks for all this work. We can trace our ancestry back through to David Gillespie (father-in-law of Alexander Anderson) + Mungo Park; this is very helpful information on their travels & work. [We still have David's portrait, gilt frame, the lot.]

Al said...

Thank you for all this work. We trace our ancestry back to David Gillespie, Alexander Anderson's father-in-law, (as well as Mungo Park). Are there any other relatives out there ?

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