Friday, 5 September 2014

Hong Kong Police History

"From British Bobby to Hong Kong Copper"
Vignettes from the History of the Hong Kong Police
Talk and Presentation at
The National Archives (TNA), Kew, London
at 2pm on Thursday 18th. September 2014 
To reserve your place please visit TNA's webpage:
Stories will include: 
The establishment of the Hong Kong Police when Charles MAY, Thomas SMITHERS, and Hugh McGREGOR were recruited from the Metropolitan Police in the East End of London in 1844.
The tale of George BRIARLY dismissed in 1873 without setting one foot on his beat.
Plus stories of a constable recruited from the Edinburgh Police and another from the Royal Irish Constabulary.
They came from far and wide to join the Hong Kong Police.
Interested in the History of the Hong Kong Police?
Interested in the History of Hong Kong?
Interested in researching Hong Kong Police Ancestors?
Then reserve your place
I look forward to seeing you there

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Bristol Bobbies

ss Pembrokeshire

On 5 September 1882 the ss Pembrokeshire arrived in Hong Kong after a 6 ½ week voyage from England.  She carried with her a group of police officers recruited in the UK for the Hong Kong Police.  14 of the policemen were from the Bristol Constabulary, 6 from Liverpool and 4 from Plymouth.  3 of the officers were married and had brought their wives with them.

Originally 25 had been recruited and received the bounty of £15, however, one of the men did not make it onto the ship which left Liverpool in July.  It was thought that the missing constable had probably used his bounty money to buy a passage to the US instead.  It is likely that the man in question was PC 17D Roy Blunt Singer.  Singer was described as being 5ft. 11ins tall and had joined the Bristol Constabulary on 28 September 1881.  He was certainly included in the list of recruitees but no trace of him has yet been found in Hong Kong.  A man with such a distinctive name cannot disappear forever and his death has been found in Three Rivers, Michigan in 1947.  It appears that he found work in the US Rail Yards.

The band of men who did leave Liverpool on the ss Pembrokeshire had a less than pleasant voyage for they encountered strong monsoon winds across the Indian Ocean.  Added to this it was reported that during the voyage one of their number had fallen 25ft. down a hold and had been lucky to escape with his life.  To make matters even worse the food onboard had been disgusting.  It was with some relief that they set foot on shore. 

The Press reported :

Upon arrival at the Central Station their comrades feted the new comers right royally, and the sounds of jollification and harmony – in the quiet police style as becomes men who devote their lives to the preservation of order – could be heard emanating from the police quarters.  There seems to be a considerable amount of esprit de corps amongst our gallant peace and property preservers.

Thereafter their lives took very different paths.  2 were to die and others lost family members to fevers and plague.  A few became entangled in a corruption scandal which rocked the Colony in the 1890s; and a handful had long and very successful careers before returning to the UK. 

Their stories are now being pieced together.

If you think one of your ancestors might have served with the Hong Kong Police then please e-mail me.  (You will need to type this address into the e-mail as it is not a direct link - I am trying to avoid spammers !)

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Thursday, 6 October 2011

William Henry Cobeldick RYAN

William Henry Cobeldick RYAN was born in Devon in 1880.  At the age of 20 he journeyed to the capital and joined the London & India Dock Police.  In 1902 he was recruited by the Hong Kong Police and arrived in the Colony on 19 November.

During the next couple of years he was reported as making excellent progress and his future looked bright but then tragedy struck.  Early one morning whilst walking along Wyndham Street he suddenly found that he was being attacked.  The China Mail later reported that:

An Indian rushed out at him and almost before he was aware of his presence made a slash at him with a sword.  The blow was aimed at the Constable’s head but fortunately did not strike him fairly but instead caught the base of his helmet from the back.  This broke the force of the blow and undoubtedly saved the Constable’s life for even after striking the helmet and knocking it off there was still sufficient force left in the blow to send the blade of the sword into the flesh at the back of the Constable’s neck and fell him to the ground.

He quickly got on his feet again and commenced to blow his whistle which attracted the attention of an Indian Sergeant who was in the vicinity.  The would be assassin had made off along  Lower Albert Road but the Sergeant gave chase and succeeded in capturing him.

Constable Ryan was by this time almost covered in blood which flowed freely from the wound in the back of his neck but he accompanied the Sergeant and his prisoner to Central Police Station.  He was then sent to Government Civil Hospital to have the wound attended to.

Ryan spent months in hospital and then sadly had to be invalided from the service.

He returned to England for a short time but in March 1905 set off on his travels again and emigrated to New Zealand.   A few years later he crossed over to Australia and travelled to the interior prospecting for gold.  It was at the Cotter River, some 200 miles from Sydney, that tragedy struck for a second time.  A friend got into difficulties and Ryan jumped into the river to rescue him.  He succeeded in getting the drowning man out of the river but died himself as he reached the bank.

One of his friends had the sad job of writing to Ryan’s brother in Plymouth:

Both my mate and I are grief stricken with sorrow at his loss and cannot express our admiration of him.  A better mate or a more noble hearted man it would be impossible to imagine, a man who sacrificed his life for his mate.

Who knows what Ryan might have gone on to achieve if that tragic blow had not been struck in Wyndham Street  back in 1904.

If you would like any help with your Hong Kong Police Ancestor Research then please contact me at

(You will need to type this into your e-mail as it is not a direct link - this is to prevent spammers picking up the address)

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Case of George Briarly

George Briarly was born in Tullamore, Kings County in the mid 1840s. As a young man he joined the Royal Irish Constabulary and served for seven years before resigning on 15 November 1870. George travelled to London and six months later joined the Metropolitan Police as a 4th. Class Constable. He was issued with warrant number 54384 and posted to “T” Hammersmith Division – his collar number was T470. The following spring he was passed over for advancement to 3rd. Class Constable. Towards the end of the year Metropolitan Police Orders called for volunteers to serve in the Hong Kong Police and twenty constables, including George, resigned and set sail for the Far East.

During the recruitment process George asked to see a copy of the Regulations governing the Hong Kong Police but they were not available and he was simply told that they were similar to those that he was serving under with the Met. During the long sea voyage the constables became aware that all European and Indian police in HK were obliged to undergo a monthly examination for what we now refer to as STDs. To make matters worse they heard that the examination was normally conducted with the assistance of a Black Turnkey at the Gaol – or sometimes even convicts – I think we all know how facts can come become distorted!

However, the new recruits were horrified and when they arrived in the Colony they refused to submit to the examination on the grounds that they hadn’t been made aware of this prior to leaving London. They were all told they would be up on charges if they didn’t have the examination and so they gave in. But George had been the ring leader and it was his head that was to roll. He was instantly dismissed and refused the cost of his passage back to the UK. Fortunately the press came to his rescue but that meant that the whole nasty incident received a lot of publicity. A public subscription was raised and this brought in enough money to pay for his passage back to London. As he had been dismissed from the HK Police the Met. refused to take him back but fortunately he managed to find a job as an Inspector with the Water Works.

A few months after Briarley’s dismissal two of his colleagues from the same Met. intake caused another stir by asking to resign. They cited lots of reasons one of which was that they were compelled to learn a language which they saw as being completely useless and which they had absolutely no interest in acquiring. They were dismissed for Gross Misconduct.

George served for many years with the Water Works and earned himself a nice pension. He retired to Bedfordshire where he died in 1913. I wonder if he ever told his grandchildren of his adventures overseas !

Service details of officers who served with the RIC, Metropolitan Police and Hong Kong Police can all be found at The National Archives - although coverage is not necessarily complete for all years.

If you would like some help please contact me (you will need to type this address into your e-mail as it is not a direct link)

Friday, 17 June 2011

Scandal & Disaster for a former Police Officer

William Jordon UNWIN had been born in London in the early 1880s and at the age of 20 he joined the Metropolitan Police. A couple of years later volunteers were needed to serve in the Hong Kong Police and W.J. took up the challenge. Shortly after arriving he found that the European Rank & File were waging battle with the government for higher pay. He put his name to the petition. There are indications that W.J. served with both the Water Police and at the Supreme Court. After a few years life outside of the Police seemed to be a more attractive proposition and he transferred to the Hong Kong Land Office as a Bailiff.

Talking of more attractive propositions poor W.J. took a shine to the wife of Mr. Clarke who worked in the Import and Export Department – or perhaps she took a shine to him. Things went from bad to worse in September 1913 because W.J. fled the Colony with Mrs. Clarke in tow !!!

Quite what happened on his return is unclear but what is known is that he stayed with his brother in Kennington and spun some yarn about suffering from malaria and being sent home on sick leave.

The cold, dark month of January 1914 proved too much for W.J. and one night he travelled to Epsom Common and shot himself. The press reported that he had once served at Epsom as a Constable. The inquest returned a verdict of suicide.

If you want to trace the Metropolitan Police Service record of this officer you will find it at The National Archives.

If you want to trace his career in Hong Kong these records will also be found at The National Archives.

However, I am always here to help !!!

(Images are from my personal archive of old, out of copyright publications)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

When Captain William Caine of HM 26th. Regiment of Infantry was appointed Hong Kong’s Chief Magistrate in 1841 the colony was a dangerous and lawless place. Caine’s police officers were soldiers who were considered unfit for regular army duties. The pay was low, conditions unhealthy and turnover rapid. Caine recruited about 90 Europeans of whom only 47 were still in the force in 1845. The Governor made several requests for experienced police officers to be sent out from Britain but officials in Whitehall decided it would be too expensive to recruit the whole force from England. It was agreed that a Superintendent and two Inspectors would be sufficient and the Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police were consulted and chose three of their officers: Inspector Charles May and Sergeants Thomas Smithers and Hugh McGregor – all from the East End of London. The three officers resigned from the Met. on 7th. October 1844 and set sail on the SS Oriental. They arrived in Hong Kong on 15th. March 1845 and were duly advanced to the ranks of Superintendent and Inspector.

This then was the start of the Hong Kong Constabulary. Through the years it maintained strong links with the Metropolitan Police and forged even better links with other British constabularies. After the riots in the 1960s the Hong Kong Police Force was honoured with the title The Royal Hong Kong Police. After the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 the title reverted to Hong Kong Police.

Many of the historical records of the Hong Kong Police were destroyed during the Japanese occupation. This is regrettable but not disastrous for much information can still be found here in the UK.

If you are looking for details of that elusive Hong Kong Police ancestor then please contact me. I will be happy to advise on what might – or might not – be available.