Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Another mystery solved


For the past eleven years I have been researching “The Bristol Bobbies” - a group of twelve Bristol constables who volunteered for duty with the Hong Kong Police in 1882.  All were born in the south-west of England but their life stories led me on to many lands.  To Consulate Constables in China; to the murder of a British Diplomat in Japan; to policing the Plague in Hong Kong; through a scandalous corruption case; off to Australasia and the Prairies of Canada; not to mention policing the streets and postal service of London.  Only six of these men ended their days back in the south-west of England the others sought better lives far away.  But the fate of one eluded me.  He disappeared from the HK scene in 1887 and seemingly dropped off the edge of the globe.  Try as I might I could not find him anywhere.  But yesterday, after years of searching, a copy of document ordered from one of those far off lands dropped through my letter box – and another mystery has been solved.

Tomorrow I am off to Wales, hopefully, to find the family photo album of one of The Forty Thieves.  Research is definitely not dull.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Stormy seas - the story of George BOOLE

George Arthur William BOOLE was born in Siddington, Gloucestershire on 30 March 1877 and baptised in West Down, North Devon on 26 August 1878, At the age of 17, whilst working as a labourer for Mr. Mitchell & Co. in Barnstaple, he joined the Militia (4th. Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment) and on 10 June 1895 enlisted with the Royal Marines in Exeter. Training was at the RM Depot at Walmer in Kent before being posted to the Plymouth Division. The majority of George’s service was on ships of the Channel Squadron before volunteering for duty with the Hong Kong Police and leaving England in February 1900. 

By 1904 George was a Lance Sergeant acting as Assistant Foreman and Engine Driver of the Floating Fire Engine. In April 1904 a huge fire broke out at Godown No. 23 of the HK & Kln Wharf & Godown Co. in Tsim Sha Tsui.  The godown in question was storing a quantity of very flammable material and it was not long before the whole building exploded. Fire engines raced to the scene and the men worked all night fighting the flames and damping down. During the height of the blaze Dr. Gibson made his rounds attending to those who needed treatment - he was followed by a coolie carrying bottles of spirits for the men. It was stated that

the restorative effects of these stimulants were noticed to have a good result and the men worked harder than ever after receiving their ‘nobbler’”.

On 18th. September 1906 a severe typhoon hit Hong Kong killing hundreds and causing considerable damage. Guests taking breakfast at the Hong Kong Hotel saw the roof of the new Post Office being carried away on the winds. The press reported:

The gale kept ripping out planks here and there until the structure looked as if it had been ‘stormed at by shot and shell’. These planks went whirling away like scraps of paper some dropping far out to sea, others boomeranging into neighbouring verandahs. Passengers and sightseers on the streets ran great risks. Two policemen passing that way were nearly struck just before the big collapse took place. What was left on the roof lifted and swayed giddily uprooting or disconnecting the supporting timbers and scaffolding. These crumpled down like a house of cards making a horrible noise and the roof followed with a sidewise lurch, slowly, almost gracefully, until it went to pieces with the rest on the street below.”

There were many daring acts of courage. On seeing a man being blown into the harbour Mr. Bevan and an Indian constable went to his rescue. The constable unwrapped his turban, Bevan snatched one end of this and jumped into the water and was able to get a grip on the man. The couple were then pulled ashore by the constable.  

Perhaps the saddest of stories concerned the Donaldson family who were living on a houseboat named the Kongnam. Mr. Donaldson was an assistant with Messrs. Butterfield and Swire and although quiet in nature was well liked by his colleagues. Mrs. Donaldson was a dance teacher. The Kongnam took a real battering from the waves and when the sea washed away the deck-cabins Mr. Donaldson snatched up their baby and attempted to rush to safety but a wave carried them both into the sea.  Mrs. Donaldson with her four year old son and two Chinese ladies huddled together until the boat lurched and they too were washed into the sea.

Police stations at Sham Shui Po and Shatin were demolished; Police launch No. 1 was sunk at Tai Kok Tsui and No. 2 launch went down at Castle Peak. Inspector Kerr and his crew were rescued by a Customs cruiser. The Captain Superintendent of Police in his report after the event commented that he was satisfied that Lance Sergeant 128 Boole had done his best to try to save No. 1 launch. The Water Police saved over a hundred people but in the aftermath they had the unpleasant duty of clearing wreckage and retrieving corpses. Constable Mundy was so overcome from the smell that he had to be taken to hospital. Two days after the storm it was reported that 1,688 bodies had been recovered.

1908 saw yet another typhoon hit the colony. George was again in charge of No. 1 launch when during the height of the storm it was hit and keeled over. George fell overboard and was pulled to safety by Seaman 465 LAM Kun hoi - just in time to avoid being crushed. Sergeants Clarke and Devney along with PC Ogg were also injured during the storm.

George left Hong Kong in 1910 for a spell of Home Leave - much of the time being spent in Ilfracombe with friends. 

He returned to Hong Kong on board P & Os Malwa in December 1910 and was posted to the Water Police at Taipo - by now he was an Acting Crown Sergeant. 

Then one morning in July 1911 he began to feel unwell and developed a fever. He knew he had to get himself to hospital but by the time his train reached Kowloon he had lapsed into unconsciousness.   

George died on the way to the hospital.

His funeral took place in the evening of 10th. July 1911 and was attended by 100 comrades and friends - and, as the inscription reads:


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Bertie ELLY - The Saurian Slayer

Albert ELLY (or Bertie as he was known within the family) was born in Bath on 20 February 1875, the son of Isaac ELLY and his wife Elizabeth. As a teenager Bertie became an errand boy which bought in a few pennies for the family coffers, then at the age of 18 he enlisted with the Royal Marines in Cardiff - Private 6669. He stated his occupation to be “Collier” and getting away to sea had to be better than working in the mines. He was described as being 5ft. 6ins in height with brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion.

For a little over a year Bertie was land based at Walmer, Gosport and Plymouth learning all there was to know about being a Royal Marine. It was in January 1895 that he embarked on HMS Hibernia and in May transferred to HMS Hebe for service in the Mediterranean. It was here that something went dreadfully wrong - whether he was wounded or struck by illness is not known but for some reason he was hospitalised in Gibraltar & Malta and remained on the invalid list for most of the year. In August he returned to Plymouth and six months later began an eighteen month posting on HMS Impregnable, the school ship at Devonport.

At the end of 1899 he was one of 40 Royal Marines to volunteer for service with the Hong Kong Police. The volunteers embarked in London on the Glen Line Steamer “Glenfarg” and arrived in Hong Kong at the end of March. The afternoon following their arrival saw the Governor inspecting the whole of the Police Force in the compound at Central Police Station. The new recruits could be seen lined up at the rear of the European contingent - it was reported that they had signed on for a period of 5 years on pay of $75 per month.

At this time the Superintendent of the Gaol was also the Captain Superintendent of Police so perhaps it is not surprising to find Police Constables transferring from one department to the other. Bertie was one of 6 Royal Marines/Constables to transfer to the Gaol as Warders on 7 September 1901.

Central Police Station and Victoria Gaol formed part of the same complex - imposing edifices situated on Hollywood Road and Old Bailey Street. Space was always an issue and the year 1900 saw yet another wing being added to the gaol. The annual report mentions that so many prisoners were confined during 1901 that it was frequently necessary to put 3 prisoners together in small cells which were intended for just one person. The overcrowding meant that it was a particularly unhealthy place during the hot, humid summer months. During 1902 there were 91 staff employed at the gaol and of these 86 had to be admitted to hospital at some point during the year - two had to be invalided because of rheumatism whilst a third left with TB. The following year saw an outbreak of plague within the gaol - 6 Indian officers and 1 European contracted the disease. Indian Assistant Warder Isher Singh died on 21 May - fortunately the others survived.

Bertie’s name disappears from the staff lists about this time so maybe he was the officer who was invalided with TB. His name reappears in 1905 when he can be found working for the Godown and Tally Department of the Taikoo Sugar Refinery in Quarry Bay. By 1908 he had married and it was then that he left for Singapore to work for the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board which in 1913 was retitled the Singapore Harbour Board.

Crocodiles in the location of the docks were a problem but with his military background Bertie was a fair shot and was often reported as having bagged himself another speciman.

By 1916 Bertie had moved to Malaya and was working for the F.M.S. Railways as wharfinger at Port Swettenham. 

 Much of his time was spent collecting funds for the European War Effort to benefit the British Red Cross and St. Johns Ambulance. However, life was not without excitement for at dusk one evening he managed to bag himself another crocodile. This one was reported as being 12 ft in length with a girth of 5ft. 7 ins - a veritable monster.

During 1918 Bertie was elected a Fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute in London.

In 1931 Bertie and Alice Maud made their final voyage home to England. From then on Bertie can be found as a member of the Bath Anglers’ Association. He was always listed with those who managed to catch the biggest fish but I wonder whether any of them ever believed his story about bagging a 12ft. crocodile!

In 1949 the Bath & District Royal Marines Association made a visit to Plymouth and Bertie, as a 74 year old veteran, joined the party. This particular adventurer lived to the ripe old age of 83. He passed away on 31 December 1958 leaving the grand sum of £1622 15s to his widow, Alice Maud. 

Friday, 13 March 2015

PC 119 George BAIRD - a story fit for Indiana Jones

  © Copyright Karl Peet and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

George declared his father to be Raemer Baird a seaman from Tayport in Fife.  In 1869 Raemer had been stroke rower in the “Rocke” which came second in the Champion four-oared race held by the Newport Amateur Rowing Club.  George was born on 2 September 1876 in Dundee with the only distinguishing feature being a mole on the back of his neck.  At 14 years of age he was living in Ferry Port on Craig and working in the local jute mill with his elder brother.

At the age of 19 George enlisted with the Royal Marines in Dundee and became Private 7720.  His first eight months were spent training in Walmer, Kent before being transferred to the Plymouth Division.  In March 1897 George joined HMS Imperieuse at Esquimalt in British Columbia just in time for the ship’s short cruise south to Acapulco.  Later in the year HMS Imperieuse, which was flagship of the North Pacific squadron, left Esquimalt for a longer journey reported later to have been “full of incident and adventure as any naval man can expect to enjoy during piping times of peace”.  The destination?   The Cocos Island.  Much secrecy surrounded the trip but it was eventually revealed that the intention was to search for buried treasure.  One of the guests on board was Mr Harford who, having previously visited the island, claimed he knew the whereabouts of a cache of buried treasure – he certainly had a chart.  On arrival no time was lost in sending parties of men ashore.  The newspapers reported:

Digging for thirty millions is fascinating employment and although it was raining hard the watch responded with alacrity when Lieutenant Lee informed them that all were to go ashore and “dig diamonds”. 

The digging was commenced at a spot indicated on the chart and designated by Harford.  At a depth of five or six feet he said a large flat stone or slab would be discovered out of which he had previously chiselled the distinguishing number that it had originally borne.  The slab was found at the depth stated and there was no lack of energy in compliance when Harford next gave the order to dig ten or twelve feet deeper where the tunnel would be struck leading to the cavern of gold and jewels.

The continuous rain made the work extremely difficult but it was nevertheless continued until a depth of ten feet was reached with no disclosures.  At this point the water had so filled the pit that a large overhanging rock was seen to sway from the under-mining and Lt. Lee retired his men just in time to avert a serious fatality.  The rock completely filled the excavation made and more than neutralized the work accomplished.  Instead of blasting out the rock and continuing operations according to the original plan Admiral Palliser ordered a blast in the hillside itself and this being done without result the Imperieuse turned her prow and steamed homeward despite the pleadings from Harford

A story fit for Indiana Jones !

Most of 1898 was spent in Esquimalt with just a short cruise to Acapulco in May. On 1 April 1899 HMS Imperieuse sailed from Esquimalt for England with final calls at Acapulco, Panama, Guayaquil, Callao, Iquique and Coquimbo arriving in England on 12 August 1899.  George’s next posting was to HMS Vivid and a few weeks later the Admiralty announced that 40 volunteers were required for the Hong Kong Police.  George slapped in his application.

The volunteers embarked on the Glen Line Steamer “Glenfarg” at London on 2 February 1900 and arrived in Hong Kong on 27 March.  The following day at 3.30pm the Governor inspected the whole of the Police Force in the compound at Central Police Station.  The new recruits lined up at the rear of the European contingent and it was reported that they had signed on for a period of 5 years on pay of $75 per month.

These new recruits were needed in order to expand the Hong Kong Police following the leasing of the New Territories to Britain in 1898.   As a temporary measure matsheds had been constructed for use as police stations and by 1900 new stations had been built at Ping Shan, Tai Po and Au Tau.

Health became a real issue for anyone posted to these rural stations.  Near to Au Tau Police Station could be found a swampy island which was home to a Leper colony.  Plague was prevalent on Cheung Chau Island and malaria was rife throughout the New Territories.  The Medical Officer recommended that the paddy fields adjoining the Sha Tau Kok Police Station be resumed and reclaimed as the constant stagnant water on them provided a breeding place for the Anopheles mosquito.  A further recommendation was that Eucalyptus trees be planted on the damp areas at the base of hills as this would help drain the swampy grounds. 

George proved himself to be a conscientious and hard working officer whilst his good nature gained him numerous friends.  Sadly George lasted less than 18 months in Hong Kong.  He died of Typhoid fever at 11.30pm on Sunday 15 September 1901.  He was buried in Section 2 of the Hong Kong Colonial Cemetery – Grave 6450 – during the afternoon of 16 September.  The funeral was well attended and the many floral offerings showed how well George was regarded.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

PC 99 James Edward NEW


1898 saw the New Territories being ceded to Britain for a term of 99 years and with the expansion of the Colony came the expansion of the Police Force.  In 1899 38 Europeans were recruited with a further 49 being recruited in 1900.  Included in these figures were two intakes from the Royal Marines who were to go down in history under the nicknames of “The Twelve Apostles” and “The Forty Thieves”.  As with all intakes there were some who left or were discharged after a short period of time but in the main these two intakes produced men of substance who made Hong Kong their home and who had long and very successful careers.  In the coming months this blog will relate all their stories but let us start with those men whose remains lie within the former Hong Kong Colonial Cemetery in Happy Valley and who are, in the true sense of the words, Hong Kong Souls. 

James Edward NEW

James was born in the East End of London in February 1875, the third son of Samuel Kearly New and his wife Mary Ann (nee Damon).  James never knew his father who died when he was an infant.  His mother remarried and after a few years in her home county of Dorset the family returned to the East End.  As a young man James became a dock labourer and at the age of 19 enlisted with the Chatham Division of the Royal Marines – Private 8076.  Within a few months he had obtained the 2nd. Class School Certificate. Fifteen months later he embarked on the “Theseus” for Africa and took part in the Benin Punitive Expedition.

James  received Good Conduct badges in 1896 and 1900 and was also awarded the West Africa medal with 1897 Benin clasp.   In February 1900 James was one of 40 marines to transfer to the Hong Kong Police. 

The group embarked on the Glen Line Steamer “Glenfarg” at London on 2 February and arrived in Hong Kong on 27 March.  The following day at 3.30pm the Governor inspected the whole of the Police Force in the compound at Central Police Station.  The new recruits lined up at the rear of the European contingent and it was reported that they had signed on for a period of 5 years on pay of $75 per month. 

James was posted to the New Territories as PC 99.   After taking over the New Territories in 1899 temporary matsheds were constructed at Taipo, Au Tau, Sha Tin and Fu Ti Au for use of the police.  By 1901 several  new police stations had been built but some of these were found to be very unhealthy and the local Chinese declared them to have bad “Fung-shui”. 

Summer months in Hong Kong are hot and very humid – think of a steamy sauna and you will not be far from the mark.  On 22 June 1901 James went on duty as normal but by the evening he was feeling decidedly unwell.  He was attended by Dr. HO Nai-hop the Medical Officer stationed in the New Territories but over the next couple of days he became very ill and his temperature rocketted to 107 degrees.  He died at 10pm on 24 June having been in Hong Kong for just 15 months.

Mr. E.R. Hallifax, Assistant Superintendent of Police in charge of the New Territories, arranged for James’ body to be sent to Hong Kong.  Dr. Bell, Assistant Surgeon, pronounced that death was due to sunstroke.  James was reported to have an irreproachable character.  He was the first of “The Forty Thieves” to die in the Colony.

James was unmarried but he did have family in England – his mother and a sister.  The Hong Kong Government sent notification of the death to the authorities in London but instead of despatching the news by telegram a letter was sent by sea-mail – not arriving until early August.  Before the family could be notified officially they received a private letter from one of James’ colleagues in Hong Kong.  Both sister and mother complained bitterly about the lack of information.  As a result it was agreed that  future notifications would be sent by telegram rather than by the “slow boat from China”!

James was buried at 7am on Wednesday 26 June 1901 in Section 2 of the Colonial Cemetery – Grave 6404.

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 !)