Hankow – a bit of historical context (me thinking out loud).
The biggest news in this letter of February
2, 1868 is that Thomas Jackson has just heard that he has been posted to serve
as an accountant at the HSBC branch at Hankow. When that branch had first opened
in 1865, the accounts had been handled by merchant-agents, in this case Gibb
Livingston & Co. There was no HSBC staff person on the ground in Hankow
for these early years, and the operations of the agency was overseen by the
HSBC branch at Shanghai, a branch whose net earnings at times outstripped the
earnings of the head office in Hong Kong.
Jackson had started as an accountant at
the Shanghai branch in April 1867. One of the men he had worked with was George Edward
Noble, the younger brother of Henry Noble. Jackson had lived with George’s
older brother in the Bank House in Hong Kong when Henry was serving as the
Agra and Masterman’s Bank manager. Henry died in a shipwreck in 1866, mere months
before the Agra Bank declared bankruptcy. Since Henry’s wife had died in 1865
at their home at the Agra Bank House in Hong Kong, his two children were now orphans.
They were sent back to England to be cared for by relations – a not uncommon
practice when such tragedies struck. It was the kind of tragedy that frequently
fueled the fears of Thomas’ mother back on the farm in Armagh.
When Thomas started his Hong Kong banking
career with the Agra and Masterman Bank in January 1865, he had been paid $200
per month. When he made the move to HSBC, his salary was increased by $148. With this latest
promotion, he was now being paid ₤1,000 a year (NOTE: I do not know how $4,176.00 [$200.00 + $148.00] per year compares to ₤1,000 a year - clearly ₤1,000 is more.). A couple of years later, he
commented: I am getting as rich as Croesus, why actually I have about £500 during the past year and have invested the Dibs safely –
Isn’t that something. Just fancy any person named Jackson worth £500 the very
idea is absurd. It is worth noting that he managed
to save this much in spite of the fact that he was known to be abundantly
generous to those he met in China, and also sent a significant part his
salary home to his parents. This was the main reason that they were able to hold
on to the family farm at Urker.
Even though Hankow had a small staff, it
was a critical branch because of its location. It was also the perfect training
ground to support Jackson’s rise through the ranks. There were seven shroffs working with
him in the early days (I don’t yet know the names of these men) and two Portuguese
(one was M.A. de Carvalho, the 2nd - I don't know). HSBC operated on a compradore system, and when
Jackson started at Hankow, the man who worked hand-in-glove with him was a
Cantonese man named Tang Kee Shang (aka Teng Chi-ch’ang), one of the many compradores
who served with the HSBC bank for decades. While arranging for the loans and payments
of their merchant clientele, they also offered advice to the bank on local
market conditions, oversaw financial transactions, and also supervised and often
stood as financial guarantors of the Chinese clerks and shroffs in the Bank’s
employ. Such a role required a delicate balancing act, but those who did it
well became very wealthy and powerful. Unlike many Europeans, Jackson maintained
close social ties with many of these compradores, shroffs, and clerks.
What did Hankow look like to the young
Thomas Jackson? Before he had even left England at age 23, there had been lengthy
historical and opinion pieces about the situation in China that were of a
quality and frequency that is rarely matched today. It bears remembering that
the Opium Wars were contentious, and Parliamentary debates about the morality
of it were reported verbatim in the local press. Given that that Jackson was always
an avid newspaper reader, and was about to depart for his first time ever to
China, I would suspect he read this article in the October 23rd, 1864, The
New York Times either in its original or else as reprinted in British papers.
He would have read about of the devastation of Hankow in the decade that
preceded his arrival:
rebellion in China is virtually at an end. Nankin, its capital, and the
ancient capital of China, has been taken by the Imperialists, the rebel King
has committed suicide, the bravest of the rebel chiefs have been slain or
made prisoners, the remains of the rebel forces are no longer an army, but a
fugitive, panic-stricken mob, without leaders capable of reorganizing them, and
without spirit to renew the conflict.
During the fifteen years of this conflict,
Hankow had been taken and re-taken no fewer than six
times … and when evacuated by the insurgents in 1855 …[was]… to a large
extent laid waste. It was Sir Harry Parkes, who would later become
a friend of Thomas Jackson and whose death in 1885 was mourned by Jackson’s
wife, who oversaw the negotiation in 1861 that resulted in China ceding Hankow
to Britain as a Concession – or in today’s parlance, something akin to
a Free Trade Zone occupied by a foreign power:
asked for was about seventy - five acres in extent, adjoining the native
city, and having a river frontage of about half a mile. It was especially
stipulated that foreigners should not be confined to "factory sites"
as they were in the early days in Canton. But it was not until the persuasive
influence of the Navy had been employed that a lease of the area required was
granted to the British Government, in perpetuity, conditional on an annual
payment of $13,805. … According to the original agreement the land could be
let only to British subjects, but this was altered in 1864 so that land might
be leased by subjects of any power having Treaty relations with China.
What the author, Arnold Wright, euphemistically
refers to as the persuasive influence of the Navy could
more honestly be described as the British victory at the end of the Second
Opium War. Given the focus and rationale for this conflict, it is not surprising
that opium from India was high on the list of Hankow imports in the mid-1660s.
Merchants in the opium trade did significant business with this fledgling
agency of a bank, and their profits also underwrote many of the local
charitable enterprises. The less contentious exports from Hankow to Britain included
black tea, raw silk and tobacco.
As a protected economic zone, the numbers
of foreigners living in Hankow went from 40 in 1861, to 150 in 1863, and then
soared to 400 a year later (NOTE: I need to find out more about what it was
like when TJ arrived). These numbers did not reflect the fact that the foreign
population always doubled in the summer when the English Tea Tasters came to town.
I have ordered a copy of Hankow: Conflict and
Community in a Chinese City: 1796-1895, by William T. Rowe. I am
curious about how Rowe compares the 19th century Hankow to the cities
of London and Paris at the same time: they, too,
were experiencing the growing pains of nascent preindustrial capitalism. Preindustrial capitalism was the world that the young Thomas
Jackson had grown up in as a child in South Armagh, and then later experienced
as a young man in China. The social changes wrought by industrialization were
As in Ireland, most of the hospitals and
other charitable works in Hankow were faith-based. There were gruel kitchens set
up in 1867 supported by local church, temple, and benevolent hall groups. Like
the soup kitchens that Thomas saw as a child in the aftermath of the 1840s famine
in Ireland, they were largely made possible thanks to local charity, rather
than government intervention. They fed not only the inhabitants of the city
of Hankow, but also numbers of rural refugees who fled the countryside in the
thick of winter. In the year of 1867, the gruel kitchen network dispensed 6,400
bowls of gruel, and even that amount still fell short of the need.
The Wesleyan Society’s Hankow Hospital was
established in 1864 and the London Missionary Society’s Hankow Hospital was established
in 1867. The beginnings of social support systems were being put in place. Several
of the merchants that Jackson did business with were part of the activist
elite who provided the early poor relief, firefighting, and public security.
Given how Thomas participated in charities throughout his banking career, as a
donor, treasurer – or in his words: beggar-in-chief - I suspect he
would have been in the thick of it all.
A fascinating time – and I have so much
more to learn.