In June I started researching the academic journeys of University of Glasgow students born in Hong Kong in the late 19th and early 20th century. I began to wonder about their families, their lives there, and what had led their parents to move so far away from home. I also wondered what traces the Scots of the period had left in the modern day Hong Kong I was living in until last year.
The fathers of the eight students I have researched so far were engaged in a number of occupations- they were merchants, mariners, engineers…and one was a ‘gentleman’- if this can be said to be a form of work!
The British traveller Isabella Bird described the Hong Kong of the late 1800’s as a ‘colony filled with comforts and entertainments’. The students born in Hong Kong to expatriate families assuredly led privileged lives, but the records also reveal that their position in the Hong Kong of the Victorian age was established by hard work and ingenuity.
The father of Catherine McTavish Cousland (MA 1928) was Alexander Cousland. In the early 1900’s he progressed from being an assistant in a firm, to taking on a managerial role at Ross & Co before eventually becoming the director of the Lane Crawford department store .He gave a speech at its reopening on 17th August 1926.
William Casson Parlane matriculated at the university at the age of 18 in 1904 to study medicine. His father, William Parlane Snr (b. 1845) was a ship’s engineer who had come to Hong Kong on a Jardine-Matheson ship. Parlane, a Member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, was eventually recruited by Jardine Matheson & Co as a manager for the Hong Kong Ice Company. They specialized in the production and storage of ice, essential in the tropical, humid climes of Hong Kong. The business was situated in the centre of Hong Kong between Duddell St and Ice House Lane. Over one hundred years later, ‘Ice House Street’ is still there and commemorates the company’s original location:
Alexander Cousland, William Parlane Snr and Hugh F Carmichael, consulting engineer and father of Flight Sub Lieutenant Ian Neil Carmichael (matriculated 1911) all served as jurors in Hong Kong in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.This tells us that they were respected members of the community, and the ‘juror’s list’ also reveals where they lived.We can chart their various moves around the territory, and see that some of them were lucky enough to reside in one of the most affluent Hong Kong suburbs- the Peak.
The children of expatriate families who came from Hong Kong to be educated in Glasgow largely settled in the UK, building families and careers of their own. I like to think, however that their time in Hong Kong remained with them and that they thought often of that other ‘dear green place’ in the Far East.
By Sharon Boyle, MSc Information Management & Preservation