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  • Robert Bickers


This paper explores the life and activities of Hugh Hamilton Lindsay (1802–81), an East India Company official who worked at Canton from 1820. Lindsay's is a key voice in the challenge to the Company's policies in China on the cusp of the abolition of its monopoly, and to British policy on the eve of the first ‘Opium War’ with the empire of the Qing. Lindsay first made his mark on Sino-British relations by leading a covert East India Company foray north along the Chinese coast in 1832 in the ship Lord Amherst, and in widely disseminating his bullish conclusions and policy recommendations in publications and reports that followed. He is known as a bellicose pamphleteer, but a more complex picture emerges if we follow Lindsay and his commercial activities as the British fanned out from Canton into the Chinese ‘treaty ports’ opened after 1842, and across Britain's wider developing empire in Asia. His field of operations developed to include the British colony of Labuan and led him into a heated public conflict with Sir James Brooke in the early 1850s. Lindsay was never happy with the status quo: he lobbied and hectored, and in business he innovated, and pushed hard on the frontiers of British power and influence. Commercial opportunity drove him, but so did a specific vision of the ‘English character’, and notions of pride and national and personal honour.



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The author would like to thank Sir William Young for alerting me to the existence of George Chinnery's portrait of Lindsay, and for allowing me to reproduce it here.



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1 Cheong, W. E., The Hong Merchants of Canton: Chinese Merchants in Sino-Western Trade (Richmond, 1997); Van Dyke, Paul A., The Canton Trade: Life and Enterprise on the China Coast, 1700–1845 (Hong Kong, 2005); Van Dyke, Paul A., Merchants of Canton and Macao: Politics and Strategies in Eighteenth-Century Chinese Trade (Hong Kong, 2011). The Anglophone perspective was established most firmly by the five volumes of Morse, H. B., The Chronicles of the East India Company Trading to China (Oxford, 1926–9). See also China Trade and Empire: Jardine, Matheson & Co. and the Origins of British Rule in Hong Kong, 1827–1843, ed. Alain Le Pichon, Records of Social and Economic History, New Series, 38 (Oxford, 2006).

2 Knowledge: Fan, Fa-ti, British naturalists in Qing China: Science, Empire and Cultural Encounter (Cambridge, MA, 2004); Canton: Farris, Jonathan A., ‘Thirteen Factories of Canton: An Architecture of Sino-Western Collaboration and Confrontation’, Buildings and Landscapes, 14 (2007), 6683 ; Hunter: James Dow papers, private collection, diary (hereafter Dow diary), 20 June 1851. As well as The ‘Fan Kwae’ at Canton before Treaty Days, 1825–1844 (1882), Hunter published Bits of Old China (1885).

3 Wakeman, Frederic Jr, Strangers at the Gate: Social Disorder in South China, 1839–1861 (Berkeley, 1966).

4 Sir Evan Cotton, East Indiamen: The East India Company's Maritime Service, ed. Sir Charles Fawcett (1949), 37, citing Capt. John Innes: average profit per voyage by early 1830s: £6,100; Headrick, Daniel R., The Tools of Empire: Technology and Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (New York, 1981), 135–6.

5 Robert Bickers, The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832–1914 (2011), 182–3.

6 Webster, Anthony, Twilight of the East India Company: The Evolution of Anglo-Asian Commerce and Politics, 1790–1860 (Woodbridge, 2009).

7 He published his own account of the expedition as Report of Proceedings on a Voyage to the Northern Ports of China, in the Ship Lord Amherst (1833). This was a republication of the official report to the Company by Lindsay (1–267), with Karl Gützlaff's journal appended (269–96). The report was itself printed as a parliamentary paper Ship Amherst (House of Commons 410 (1833)).

8 Recent analysis of the debate: Song-Chuan Chen, ‘The British Maritime Public Sphere in Canton, 1827–1839’ (Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge University, 2009), 100–25 (Lindsay at 103–5), and Liu, Lydia H., The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making (Cambridge, MA, 2004), 3169 (on Lindsay at 40–6).

9 Da Yingguo ren shilü shuo. A copy of the original pamphlet is held in The National Archives: FO 1048/32/8, ‘Copy of a printed paper landed by the Lord Amherst at Ningpo. Received at Macao, for translation, July 1832’. The original English text was printed in the Canton Register, 18 July 1832, 68–9. This text is in all but a couple of instances identical with the English original, composed by Charles Marjoribanks, outgoing president of the select committee at Canton, transcribed in British Library, Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections, India Office Records (hereafter BL, APAC), IOR/10/30, Secret Consultations of Select Committee of Supercargoes, fos. 123–31. It was translated by the missionary Robert Morrison, who served as the East India Company's translator. The assessment of Morrison's work comes from Arthur Waley, The Opium War through Chinese Eyes (1958), 228.

10 Graham, Gerald S., The China Station: War and Diplomacy, 1830–1860 (Oxford, 1978), 6971 .

11 Rothschild, Emma, The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century History (Princeton, 2011); Lord Lindsay, Lives of the Lindsays, or A Memoir of the Houses of Crawford and Balcarres, iii (1849).

12 Staffordshire Record Office (hereafter SRO), D(W)1920/5/4/8, Coutts Lindsay and Lindsay to Hugh Hamilton Lindsay, 17 Sept. 1865.

13 The Rev. Joseph Wolf . . . in a series of letters to Sir Thomas Baring, Bart. Containing an Account of his Missionary Labours . . . (1839), 322–3.

14 BL, APAC, IOR, H/398, resolution of 21 Mar. 1821, IOR, G/12/223 (factory diary), 3, 4, 8 Sept., 2 Oct. 1821; East India Register and Directory (1825–32).

15 SRO, D(W)1920, 4/1, Hugh Hamilton Lindsay to mother, (draft), from Amoy, Apr. 1832.

16 Leave: on the General Harris, leaving Canton on 1 Jan., arriving on 11 May 1825: Oriental Herald, 5:18 (June 1825), 755–7; Java: via the Marquess of Camden, leaving Canton on 16 Feb. 1829, Oriental Herald, 22:68 (Aug. 1829), 382–4; enchanted: Hugh Hamilton Lindsay to Harriet [Low?], from Samarang, 25 Apr. 1829, SRO, D(W) 1920/4/1.

17 With William Wallace: Chinese Repository, 5:9 (Jan. 1837), 430.

18 Chinese Repository, 6:1 (May 1837), 44–7; various items of correspondence in SRO, D(W)1920/4/2, notably James Innes to H. H. Lindsay, 20 Dec. 1836.

19 Lights and Shadows of a Macao Life: The Journal of Harriet Low, Travelling Spinster, ed. Nan P. Hodges and Arthur W. Hummel (Woodinville, WA, 2002), i, 204, 589–90 (20 July 1833), 557 (28 May 1833), 639 (12 Oct. 1833).

20 Chinese accounts of the progress of the ship are analysed in Immanuel Hsü, C. Y., ‘The Secret Mission of the Lord Amherst on the China Coast, 1832’, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 17:1/2 (1954), 231–52. Originals of the documentation, located in the Bodleian Library, were printed in Dazhong ji (Arriving at the inner truth), ed. Xu Dishan (Shanghai, 1931).

21 Bickers, Scramble for China, 18–45.

22 BL, APAC, IOR/R/10/30, ‘Secret Consultations of Select Committee of Supercargoes’, committee to H. H. Lindsay, Esq., 12 Jan. 1832, fos. 297–300.

23 Ship Amherst, Parliamentary Papers, 1833 (410); Report of Proceedings on a Voyage to the Northern Ports of China, in the Ship Lord Amherst. This is the official report with Karl Gützlaff's journal appended. BL, APAC, IOR/R/10/70, contains ‘Journal by Hugh Hamilton Lindsay of voyage of the “Lord Amherst”’, a manuscript of the Lindsay text, identical with that published, except that some Chinese characters have been inserted where names, ranks or places are mentioned. Gützlaff's account was published separately (and more fully) in The Journal of Two Voyages along the Coast of China in 1831 & 1832 (New York, 1833) and The Journal of Three Voyages along the Coast of China in 1831, 1832 & 1833 (1834).

24 Reviews include: ‘Chinese Voyage of the Lord Amherst’, Literary Gazette, 24 Aug. 1831, 530–2, 31 Aug. 1833, 550–2; ‘Documents relating to the Voyage Recently Undertaken by the Ship Amherst, to the North-East Coast of China’, Athenaeum, 302, 10 Aug. 1833, 521–2; ‘Experiment to Open an Intercourse with China’, Monthly Review, 4:1 (Sept. 1833), 30–43; John Crawfurd, ‘Voyage of the Ship Amherst’, Westminster Review (Jan. 1834), 22–47.

25 SRO, D(W)1920/4/2, Hugh Hamilton Lindsay to mother, 15 Nov. 1829.

26 Morse, Chronicles of the East India Company Trading to China, iv, 278–92, Lindsay at 282–3.

27 On which: Bickers, Scramble for China, 45–48; Melancon, Glenn, Britain's Opium Policy and the Opium Crisis: Balancing Drugs, Violence and National Honour, 1833–1840 (Aldershot, 2003), 3540 .

28 H. Hamilton Lindsay, Letter to the Right Honourable Viscount Palmerston on British Relations with China (1836), 4, 13–14, 17.

29 Man-houng, Lin, China Upside Down: Currency, Society, and Ideologies, 1808–1856 (Cambridge, MA, 2006). On the war and its aftermath: Chang, Hsin-pao, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War (Cambridge, MA, 1964); Fay, Peter Ward, The Opium War, 1840–1842: Barbarians in the Celestial Empire in the Early Part of the Nineteenth Century and the War by which They Forced her Gates Ajar (New York, 1975); Graham, The China Station; Haijian, Mao, Tianchao de bengkui: Yapian zhanzheng zai yanjiu (Collapse of the Celestial Empire: A Reanalysis of the Opium War) (Beijing, 1995); Polachek, James M., The Inner Opium War (Cambridge, MA, 1992).

30 A Resident in China, The Rupture with China and its Causes . . . in a Letter to Lord Viscount Palmerston [31 Oct. 1839] (1840), and A Resident in China, Remarks on Occurrences in China since the Opium Seizure in March 1839 to the Latest Date (1840); H. Hamilton Lindsay, Is the War with China a Just One? (1840).

31 Sutton, Jean, The East India Company's Maritime Service, 1746–1834 (Woodbridge, 2010), 268 .

32 An Anglo-Chinese Calendar for the Year 1845 (Hong Kong, 1845); The Hongkong Directory with List of Foreign Residents in China (Hong Kong, 1859).

33 North China Herald (hereafter NCH), 31 July 1852, 212.

34 Lubbock, Basil, The China Clippers [1914], 5th edn (Glasgow, 1922), 118–19. Killick later bought the ship, and founded a shipping firm: David R. MacGregor, The China Bird: The History of Captain Killick and the Firm He Founded Killick Martin & Company (1961).

35 Gerald S. Graham, ‘The Ascendancy of the Sailing Ship 1850–85’, Economic History Review, n.s. 9:1 (1956), 74–88.

36 NCH, passim, 1852; ‘Memorandum by Mr. Lay, Chinese Inspector of Customs, on the Complaints of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Chambers of Commerce’, 11 Jan. 1862, in Further Papers relating to the Rebellion in China, Parliamentary Papers, 1863 (3104), 177–9, and Alex Perceval, chairman of the Hong Kong general chamber of commerce, to Lord John Russell, 26 Aug. 1861, in ibid., 161–3. The companies hit back, denying these charges, Lindsays not least of all, but they protested rather too much: Lay certainly thought that they did: China. Correspondence respecting Statements in Mr. Lay's Memorandum Dated January 11, 1862, Parliamentary Papers, 1864 (3240).

37 Though it could pay off, Rathbones, a start-up house that entered the China fray in the aftermath of the 1842 treaty avoided smuggling and opium as policy, and survived: Checkland, S. G., ‘An English Merchant House in China after 1842’, Bulletin of the Business Historical Society, 27:3 (1953), 158–89.

38 Hugh Hamilton Lindsay letter to the Times, 23 July 1847, 6. The election is described in detail in the Standard, 11 May 1841, 1, and the Morning Post, 12 May 1841, 5.

39 Regular advertisements can be found in the Times, for example, between 15 Apr. 1840 and 22 Sept. 1864: office address, 8 East India Chambers, Leadenhall Street.

40 SRO D(W) 1920/5, H. H. Lindsay to Lindsay & Co., 10 Dec. 1856, and ‘Partnership Dissolution Agreement’, 10 Dec. 1856; [illeg.] to R. C. Antrobus, 21 Jan. 1863.

41 Haviland, Edward Kenneth, ‘American Steam Navigation in China, 1845–1878, Part ii’ , American Neptune, 16:4 (1956), 252 ; and idem, ‘American Steam Navigation in China, 1845–1878, Part iv’, American Neptune, 17:2 (1957), 302–4.

42 SRO D(W) 1920/3/3, ‘Cash Memos’, D(W) 1920/3/5, ‘Memorandum of Position’ Shanghai, Apr. 1865.

43 Times, 12 Sept. 1864, 6; E. C. M. Bowra: diary, c. 7 May 1863, School of Oriental and African Studies, Library Special Collections, PPMS 69, box 2; Charles M. Dyce, Personal Reminiscences of Thirty Years’ Residence in the Model Settlement Shanghai, 1870–1900 (1906), 3.

44 Spirit: SRO, D(W) 1920/5, [illeg.] to R. C. Antrobus, 21 Jan. 1863.

45 On this see Rawski, Thomas G., ‘Chinese Dominance of Treaty Port Commerce and its Implications, 1860–1875’, Explorations in Economic History, 7:1–2 (1969), 451–73, and Wang, Jerry S. L., ‘The Profitability of Anglo-Chinese trade, 1861–1913’, Business History, 35:3 (1993), 3965 . See also Hao, Yen-p'ing, The Commercial Revolution in China: The Rise of Sino-Western Mercantile Capitalism (Berkeley, 1986), and his The Comprador in Nineteenth-Century China: Bridge between East and West (Cambridge, MA, 1970). On Jardines: LeFervour, Edward, Western Enterprise in Late Ch'ing China: A Selective Survey of Jardine, Matheson & Company's Operations, 1842–1895 (Cambridge, MA, 1968).

46 Alexander Michie, The Englishman in China during the Victorian Era: As illustrated in the Career of Sir Rutherford Alcock . . . (1900), i, 220–3.

47 Ibid. , i, 238.

48 Cricket: NCH, 6 Apr. 1861, 55; Letters of Sir Thomas Hanbury (1913), 3 Aug. 1865, 124; Bowra: ‘Copy of his Diary Describing his Voyage to China in 1863 . . .’, p. 8, Special Collections, School of Oriental and African Studies Library, PPMS 69, box 2.

49 Dow letters, 16 Nov. 1851, 6 Jan. 1852, describing dinners at ‘Hoggs’: Hogg was the Shanghai partner, and would have been living at the house. On the persistence of social status as ‘a proxy for directorial integrity’ even as company structures and law evolved, see Johnson, Paul, Making the Market: Victorian Origins of Corporate Capitalism (Cambridge, 2010), quotation from 205.

50 China Express and Telegraph, 27 June 1861, 340.

51 Cassel, Pär, Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan (New York, 2011); Hoare, J. E., Japan's Treaty Ports and Foreign settlements: The Uninvited Guests 1858–1899 (Folkestone, 1994).

52 Harcourt, Freda, Flagships of Imperialism: The P & O Company and the Politics of Empire from its Origins to 1867 (Manchester, 2006).

53 Except where noted, I have drawn on this section from Ingleson, John, Expanding the Empire: James Brooke and the Sarawak Lobby, 1839–1868 (Nedlands, 1979), especially 57–64; Irwin, Graham, Nineteenth Century Borneo: A Study in Diplomatic Rivalry (’S-Gravenhage, 1955), principally 134–8. An early notice of the Company's formation appeared in the Morning Chronicle, 25 Feb. 1848, 6, and 2 June 1848, 3, and its prospectus in the Morning Post, 20 Mar. 1848, 1. Each side in the controversy used parliamentary connections to secure publication as House of Commons papers of significant amounts of documentation, also used below.

54 P&O: Steam Navigation Gazette, 3 June 1848, 369; map: frontispiece to Sixth Annual Report (Year Ending 30th June 1854) of the Directors of the Eastern Archipelago Company (1855) (hereafter EAC Report, 1854).

55 The judgement was Admiral Sir Henry Keppel's in an 1849 letter to Wise, quoted in Irwin, Nineteenth Century Borneo, 137. On the structural challenge the EAC presented to Brooke see also Cox, Howard and Metcalfe, Stuart, ‘The Borneo Company Limited: Origins of a Nineteenth-Century Networked Multinational’, Asia Pacific Business Review, 4:4 (1998), 55–8. On Brooke's Borneo, see Irwin, Nineteenth Century Borneo; Ingleson, Expanding the Empire; and Tarling, Nicholas, The Burthen, the Risk, and the Glory: A Biography of Sir James Brooke (Kuala Lumpur, 1982).

56 Boot, H. M., The Commercial Crisis of 1847 (Hull, 1984).

57 Eastern Archipelago Company. Copy of the Charter of Incorporation. . ., Parliamentary Papers, 1847–8 (227).

58 H. H. Lindsay to Sir John Parkington, 12 Mar. 1852, Eastern Archipelago Company. Copies or Extracts of All Correspondence . . ., Parliamentary Papers, 1852 (357), 32.

59 ‘Extract from Mr. Robert Coulson's letter to Thomas Brown, Esq., 20 June 1851’, in Eastern Archipelago Company. Copies or Extracts of All Correspondence . . ., Parliamentary Papers, 1852 (357), 116; ‘Map of Labuan island’, copy of sketch enclosed in despatch from the officer administering the government of Labuan to Earl Grey, 2 July 1850, in Eastern Archipelago Company. Copies or Extracts of All Correspondence . . ., Parliamentary Papers, 1852 (357), facing 95; James Motley and Lewis Llewellyn Dillwyn, Contributions to the Natural History of Labuan, and the Adjacent Coasts of Borneo (1855); Walker, A. R., ‘James Motley (1822–1859): The Life Story of a Collector and Naturalist’, Minerva, 13 (2005), 2037 .

60 Eastern Archipelago Company. Copies or Extracts of All Correspondence . . ., Parliamentary Papers, 1852 (357), 85–6, 98–101.

61 Lindsay to Brooke, 24 July 1850, in EAC Report, 1854, 182. This report contains voluminous documentation covering the history of the company and its controversies.

62 Johnson, Making the Market; Timothy Alborn, Conceiving Companies: Joint-Stock Politics in Victorian England (1998).

63 Northcote's affidavit: 4 Mar. 1854: EAC Report, 1854, 71–4.

64 Times, 28 June 1842, 4, 21 July 1852, 4; EAC Report, 1854, preface, v.

65 Brooke to Hugh Hamilton Lindsay, 7 Oct. 1850, SRO, D(W) 1920/4/2.

66 H. H. Lindsay, The Eastern Archipelago Company and Sir James Brooke (1853).

67 Calculated from data in EAC Report 1854, and detail from the EAC share register published in Sir James Brooke, A Vindication of his Character and Proceedings in Reply to the Statements Printed and Circulated by Joseph Hume, Esq. M.P. Addressed to Henry Drummond, Esq M.P. (1853), 29. Lindsay held 713 out of the 2,000 shares in Aug. 1851. Wise held 728.

68 Times, 21 Apr. 1852, 7, 21 June 1852, 7; law reports in The Queen on the Prosecution of Sir James Brooke, K.C.B. against the Eastern Archipelago Company; Containing, the Judgements of the Queen's Bench and the Exchequer Chamber, Together with Two Articles from the ‘Times’ Newspaper on the Merits of the Case (1853).

69 Ingleson, Expanding the Empire, 80–4; Irwin, Nineteenth Century Borneo, 149–50; Middleton, Alex, ‘Rajah Brooke and the Victorians’, Historical Journal, 53:2 (2010), 381400 .

70 Ingleson, Expanding the Empire, 64–72.

71 Nautical Standard, 17 Aug. 1850, 524; EAC Report, 1854, 17.

72 Lindsay retained involvement in a rump successor, the China Steamship and Labuan Coal Company, however, Times, 17 Aug. 1867, 4. The Company was active from 1861, at least, registered as a joint stock company on 8 June 1865, and formally struck off in 1883: London Gazette, 23 Jan. 1883, 403. Although it had been voluntarily wound up in 1866/7: see Law Times, 6 Feb. 1869, 667–9. See also Cuthbert Collingwood, Rambles of a Naturalist on the Shores and Waters of the China Sea . . . (1868), 157–60.

73 See documents in SRO, D(W) 1920/5.

74 EAC Report, 1854, 317–18.

75 R. W. Little to parents, 17 May 1865, Little family papers, private collection.

76 SRO D(W) 1920/5/4, Lindsay and Coutts Lindsay to Hugh Hamilton Lindsay, 17 Sept. 1865, Hugh Hamilton Lindsay to Sir Edmund Antrobus, 24 Sept. 1865; Times, 16 Oct. 1873, 6, 2 June 1881, 6.

77 Sixth meeting, Monday, 13 Feb. 1860, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London, 4:2 (1859–60), 58–63; the original report is in the Royal Geographical Society archives, JMS/10/15, 1860, Alexander Michie, ‘Notes of a Cruise in the Gulfs of Pechele and Leo-tung from April to August 1859’; Stafford, Robert A., ‘Scientist of Empire: Sir Roderick Murchison’, in Scientific Exploration and Victorian Imperialism (Cambridge, 2002), 138–9.

78 Commercial Daily List, 28 Feb. 1863, 4.

79 BL, APAC, IOR/G/12/287, Secret Department, Select Committee to Court, 7 Nov. 1831.

80 At the Great Exhibition in 1851 he provided sea slugs, swallows’ nests (including display), silk and china, and was commended his contributions; at the Sydenham Crystal Palace in 1855 ‘a Chinese homestead’; he had earlier sent back Manila birds, one of which was named for him; Reports by the Juries on the Subjects in the Thirty Classes into which the Exhibition Was Divided (1852), 66; Observer, 7 May 1855, 6; Philosophical Magazine, 10:58 (1831), 302–4, report of Zoological Society meeting of 28 June 1831.

81 ‘Brief Account of the English Character’, BL, APAC, IOR/10/30, Secret Consultations of Select Committee of Supercargoes, fo. 125.

82 Lindsay, Is the War with China a Just One?, 36–7, 140; Rupture with China, 26; Remarks On Occurrences in China, 41–2, 103.

83 Bickers, Scramble for China, 187–229; Steven A. Leibo, ‘Not So Calm an Administration: The Anglo-French Occupation of Canton, 1858–61’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch, 28 (1988), 16–33.

84 SRO, D(W)1920/4/1, H. H. Lindsay to mother, draft, ‘Amoy’, Apr. 1832.

* The author would like to thank Sir William Young for alerting me to the existence of George Chinnery's portrait of Lindsay, and for allowing me to reproduce it here.

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