Thursday, 21 January 2016

Job WITCHELL - From Bristol Bobby to Hong Kong Copper (and beyond)


In May 1882 Mr. Hogge, the Recruiting Officer of the Hong Kong and Straits Settlement Police visited Bristol.  The Hong Kong Police had been established some 38 years earlier when an Inspector and 2 Sergeants from London’s Metropolitan Police volunteered for duty in the new Colony.  Every few years recruiting campaigns were held in the UK in order to build up a core of experienced officers and these came from the Metropolitan Police; Scottish Constabularies; the Royal Irish Constabulary; as well as from the smaller Borough Forces throughout England.  This was the first time that the south-west of England had been targetted and it proved a rich picking ground.

The Crown Agents had instructed Mr. Hogge to contact various Chief Constables prior to visiting but apparently he failed to do this and the press reported that he had privately solicited officers with tempting offers and that as a result their Force was to be decimated. However, because Mr. Hogge had not gone through official channels for this recruiting campaign he also managed to pick up three men who were no longer serving with the Force.  One of these had resigned a couple of weeks prior to the recruiting campaign, another had resigned a whole year before whilst the remaining one had been dismissed  just days prior to Mr. Hogge’s visit. 

The Deputy Captain Superintendent of the Hong Kong Police was on leave in the UK at this time and had the final say as to which recruits were acceptable.  He required them to have at least 12 months service and be of good physique.  They were to receive a bounty of £20 for volunteering. The pay was better in Hong Kong at 30 - 35 shillings a week and after 10 years service they would be eligible for a pension.

Job WITCHELL was one of the 13 men selected in Bristol for service in the British Colony. They resigned their posts on 14th. June 1882.   Job had been born in the coal-mining village of Westerleigh, Gloucestershire in 1858/59 and at the age of 13 was “down the mines” with his father.  But this was not the life that he wanted so at the age of 21 he joined the Bristol Constabulary and on the 1881 census is shown as being posted to Bridewell Police Station on A Division.  During his 28 months service he wore the collar numbers of 131A and 28A.  Police records show him as being 6ft and 0¼ ins in height with the previous occupation of “collier”.

The 1882 Hong Kong Police intake was one of the very few to accept married officers.  Job was single but thought it prudent to find a wife before leaving his homeland.  The lady he chose was Maud Mary POWELL (later known as Mary Maud) and they married by Licence at the Bristol Register Office on 5th. July.  For some unknown reason Job chose to enter his name as Samuel Job WITCHELL and his occupation as “carpenter”.  Admittedly in early July he was “between jobs” but it seems strange that he chose this occupation over “police officer”.

A few days later The Bristol Bobbies travelled to Liverpool where they met up with other recruits from Plymouth and Liverpool.  They were to make journey to Hong Kong on the ss Pembrokeshire and this was to be the ships maiden voyage.  As it transpired this was not to be a pleasant experience for our travellers because they encountered very 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 was described as being disgusting.  So it was with some relief that they set foot on shore in Hong Kong. 

The Press reported :

 "Upon arrival at the Central Station their comrades feted the new comers right royally, and the sounds of jollification and harmony could be heard emanating from the police quarters."

Two days later they were sworn in at The Magistracy for a period of 5 years duty.

Police Stations were situated throughout the island but conditions were less than desirable.  The Colonial Surgeon reported that :

"none of the Stations can be commended in a sanitary point of view and they are nearly all overcrowded."

Sickness amongst Police was mainly fevers and diarrhoea and this table shows that with an average strength of 103 European officers in 1882 the rate of sickness was 89.32%:

What a place for our Bristol Bobbies to have volunteered to come to.  But despite the conditions Job and Mary Maud went on to found a dynasty in the British Colony.

By 1886 Job had made Acting Sergeant and by 1889 was undertaking additional duties as Assistant Engine Driver with the Fire Brigade. The early appliances used by the Brigade came from Merryweather in the UK and were now over 20 years old.  Apart from 4 steam engines they had a floating fire engine, 9 manual engines, and various “Fire boxes”.

Hong Kong’s world famous Peak rises behind the city of Victoria and is often shrouded in mist.  The city was built on the lower slopes but the streets had a steep incline which made fire fighting extremely difficult.   Water was obtained from Fire Plugs linked to the City’s Water System but the pressure was so low that what should have been a strong jet of water turned into a very sad trickle by the time it came out of the hoses.  The solution was to pump water from the harbour and to do this the engines would be stationed at various points up the hill and the water pumped from one to the other to the next.

The Fire Brigade HQ was at No. 5 Police Station in the centre of Town.  Watchmen were stationed on lookout duties and the alarm was raised by the ringing of bells.  3 strokes indicated a fire west of the Harbour Office; 2 strokes a fire between the Harbour Office and Murray Barracks; 1 stroke for a fire east of Murray Barracks

Every year in January those connected with the Fire Brigade would steam off to one of the islands and for their annual outing.  

On the homeward journey songs were sung – including one of their very own:

The Song of the HK Fire Brigade

Where are the boys of the Old Brigade

Who fought with us side by side?

We miss them on our Fire Parades

For some have gone home—some have died.

Who so ready and undismayed?

Who so gallant and true?

Where are the boys of the Old Brigade?

Where are the lads we knew?

Then steadily shoulder to shoulder

Steadily man by man

Fighting the fire with one desire

To do all the good we can

Where are the boys of the Old Brigade?

Friends who have faced Afong 

Some from their happy homes have strayed

Many have left Hong Kong

Over the sea at Duty’s call

Far from our loving gaze

We drink their health, may one and all

Have many joyous days.

Then steadily shoulder to shoulder

Steadily man by man

Fighting the fire with one desire

To do all the good we can

By 1894 Sergeant WITCHELL was acting as Inspector of Markets.  The Colonial Veterinary Surgeon reported:

"this officer has given me great satisfaction, his duties being always carried out in the most able and efficient manner."

On 23rd. April 1896 Job was promoted to 3rd. Class Inspector – the first of our Bristol Bobbies to reach this rank.  Records show that in addition to his Inspector’s salary he received a $30 Good Conduct Allowance; $30 for knowledge of Chinese and $120 as Inspector of Vehicles.

However, the following year a scandal of mega proportions was to hit the Hong Kong Police and several of our Bristol Bobbies were caught up in this.  The Cantonese loved gambling but this was prohibited within the British Colony.  Not that this stopped the mighty Triad gangs.  They set up a web of corruption which extended to Police Officers in order to get them to turn a blind eye to the gambling dens. 

The Head of the Force, Francis Henry May, was a strict disciplinarian and when he heard rumours that police officers were being bribed he started investigations.  To his horror documents were found which implicated not only Chinese police but Europeans as well. 

Inspector Job Witchell was the officer who became scapegoat in the case and he appeared in court on charges of accepting bribes.  He pleaded not guilty but the evidence was overwhelming.  Job had an excellent record up to this time and had received many commendations for his work.  He was also a popular member of the community and this led to the jury recommending leniency – the judge took this into account and sentenced him to just 6 months imprisonment.

A few weeks later Mary Maud gave birth to her last baby but he only lived for three days.  He was buried in Grave 5959 in Section 41 of the Colonial Cemetery on 16th. November 1897.

The following February on release from prison Job confessed his guilt and acknowledged the justice of the sentence passed upon him.  He also expressed regret for remarks which he made at the conclusion of the trial “imputing unworthy motives to the Captain Superintendent of Police”.

Mary Maud died one week later in the Government Civil Hospital and was buried in Section 5 of the Colonial Cemetery.

On his release from prison Job had a long and successful career in private business. He was also a prominent member of the Freemason community.  He remarried on 23rd. October 1909 - his new wife being an Australian widow.

Mary’s grand daughter, Lilian Edith SOUTHERTON (2nd. child of Edith SOUTHERTON nee WITCHELL), died in 1922 at the age of 5 ½  months and was buried with her grandmother in Section 5.

Job  died in the Colony on 13th. August 1925 and was buried with his first wife & grand daughter in the Colonial Cemetery.  

But the family grave was not yet full.  In August 1950 another grand daughter, Nora Evelyn STUTCHBURY (nee WITCHELL), was murdered by terrorists in Pahang, Malaya.  Her body was flown back to Hong Kong and buried with her grandparents & cousin on 23rd. August 1950.

Postscript:  The grave of the little boy who had died in 1897 aged just 3 days remained untouched & unmarked in Section 41 – that is until the mid 1970s.  In 1975 plans were afoot to construct the Aberdeen Tunnel from Happy Valley through the hills to the south side of the island.  This meant exhuming thousands of graves.  Those with headstones were all moved elsewhere within the cemetery whilst remains from graves with no headstones were placed in niches in a brand new ossuary – each with a plaque to mark their existence in this world.  72 graves without headstones were exhumed from Section 41 – 18 of them being of stillborn or very young infants who had died in the 1890s.  Naturally after some 80 years there were no remains from these tiny graves so niches were not provided within the Ossuary.  

If you think that I might be able to assist with your own Hong Kong research then I would be delighted to hear from you:

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