Saturday, 11 June 2011

Did your Ancestors spend an Interlude in China?

Hong Kong was ceded to Britain on 20th. January 1841 but the first British arrivals were not impressed with the barren island. Tradesmen and government officials settled themselves on the banks of the harbour which was the one redeeming feature of this otherwise inhospitable place. A thriving community was soon evident but the tropical heat and unsanitary conditions took their toll - life expectancy was short and the Colonial Cemetery started to fill.

The government officials of Hong Kong were no different from those of other British colonies and during the next 150 years produced mountains of paperwork relating to their policy decisions and administrative duties - most of which involved copious correspondence with the government back home in Britain. The Colonial Office paperwork now resides in The National Archives at Kew.

Meanwhile, on the mainland, consulates looked after the interests of the British Government in the major cities of China where factories were thriving on trade in silk and tea. Foreign Office correspondence can also be found at The National Archives and is a goldmine of information on the expatriates of the time.

It was not long before China became the focus of missionaries who sought to bring the word of the Lord to the local inhabitants. Over the years many died for their beliefs. Records of various missionary societies can be found in the archives of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

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