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1868 February 2 Thomas JACKSON (1841-1915) at Shanghai to Mary JACKSON (1844-1921) at Urker near Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Ireland.
Sharon Oddie Brown. June 9, 2015
PS My potted history which precedes my annotated transcription of the letter is only at the rough draft stage, but I wanted to share my sense of the overview so far, and perhaps by doing it this way, I may learn from the feedback of others.


1868 February 2 Thomas Jackson's letter to his sister Mary


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[1]. 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[2] 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:

The Taeping 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[3].  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:

The ground 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.[4]

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[5].


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 often wrenching.


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.




2 Feb 1868


My dear Mary[7],

            Many thanks for your kind letter received per last mail and many apologies for the paucity of my correspondence with you for some time past, which I can assure you has not arisen from any lukewarmness on my part, which I ascertain I trust will be carried new on.

            I have good news to write about, namely that I leave Shanghai

on the 6th Inst. for Hankow[8] the Directors having appointed me agent at that port with a salary of one thousand pounds a year. “hip hip hurra” to commence from the first of this month. Surely the above is going ahead in style. I did not apply for this promotion and was no little surprised at getting it.

            I am very busy making preparations for my departure, buying all sorts of

household necessities.

            The Bank are to furnish my quarters, full details about which you will get in a future epistle.

            I suppose you know that Hankow is the principal port on the Jangtze River some 800 miles north west of Shanghai. I cannot possibly get further away from home as any distance beyond Hankow makes the distance less via India and via Russia. So far see I am pretty well at the end [NOTE: my photo missed capturing the last line]

Hankow is a very jolly place, and is considered more healthy than Shanghai. I trust it may turn out so. I shall have to keep up a grand table etc. etc. which I am afraid will run away with some of the coin, however I shall not let my expenses get beyond £500 a year on any consideration and I've no doubt will be able to have handsomely on that sum.

            China is very much improved latterly

NOTE: There is likely another page in the Gilford collection, and I simply missed photographing it. I will follow up on this possibility as soon as possible.







[1] The Hongkong Bank in Late Imperial China 1864-1902: On an Even Keel. Frank H.H. King. Cambridge University Press. 1987. p246

[2] Shroffs were native Chinese men who were skilled at separating genuine coinage from ones made of base metal.

[3] Twentieth Century Impressions of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports. Arnold Wright ed . Lloyd’s Greater Britain Publishing Co., London. pg 692

[4] Op cit.

[5] Western China: A Journey to the Great Buddhist Centre of Mount Omei. Rev. Virgil Chittenden Hart. Boston, Ticknor. 1888. NOTE: Rev. Virgil Chittenden Hart (1840-1904) was a missionary in China.

[6] After working at the Agra and Masterman’s Bank for two years, Thomas Jackson joined HSBC as a clerk on August 2, 1866. At the time, there were fewer than a dozen men on the staff of HSBC, they were scattered amongst a handful of branches. He was appointed accountant at Shanghai in April 1867.

[7] Mary JACKSON (1844-1921). It is thanks to her daughter, Mary MENARY (1872-1946) and Mary Menary’s great-daughter-in-law – Christine Wright – that we these letters were saved at Gilford Castle, and that we now have access to them.

[8] Hankow. When it opened to foreign trade in 1860, it was the highest port on the Yangtsze River, and the centre of the black tea trade.



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