Tuesday, January 1, 2013 | By: Rudi Butt

Dr. Henry Holgate, The First Medical Chief

Updated (partial) on January 1, 2013

Notable Doctors From the First 100 Years
A Biography of

Henry Holgate
Acting Medical Chief
Qualifications:

Holgate was said to be a surgeon on a merchant ship who went to China in the 1830s. He was one of the first surgeons to work at the British Seaman's Hospital in Whampoa (Huangpu) 黄埔 when it opened in 1836. He was appointed by Charles Elliot, Administrator of Hong Kong, to the position of Acting Colonial Surgeon in August 1841. His first task was to establish a Colonial Surgeon's Department. The appointment was, however, quickly disallowed after Elliot was sacked by Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I do not know why his appointment remained in a government notice given in the March 31, 1842 issue of Friend of China.

A report on the Canton Register, dated October 12, 1841, cited by the New-York American of February 7, 1842, carried Holgate's comments on health conditions in Hong Kong. Might this be Holgate's only official act as the Acting Colonial Surgeon?
"Macao had suffered much from sickness, many of the inhabitants and Chinese having fallen victims to a kind of influenza which was travelling about.

The accounts of sickness at Hong Kong are contradicted. A Mr. Henry Holgate, writing from Hong Kong, under date of the 4th, states that there is no malaria, and that health of the troops has been gradually improving, not any having been ordered on board of the transports. The crews of vessels are very healthy, and in a population of 12,000 Chinese, there have been but 10 deaths in the last four months.”
After his short tenure as a medical official in Hong Kong, Holgate returned to his old job in Whampoa and became the head of the British Seaman's Hospital on November 28, 1842. He moved to Macau in 1849, and went back to Whampoa in 1851. There was a company existing in Macau in 1842 went by the name of Holgate & Co., which was a ships' agent. Has this to do with Holgate, I have no idea. Henry Holgate was listed as a member of the Chinese Medico-Chirurgical Society (founded on May 13, 1845) in 1846.

References:
- The Chinese Repository, 1836-37, 1842, 1849.
- Europe in China: the History of Hong Kong from the beginning to the year 1882, Ernest John Eitel.
- The Friend of China, March 31, 1842.
- Janus, Jardine Matheson Archive [internet].
- New-York American, February 7, 1842.

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