Monday, 22 September 2014

Keeper of the Archive




A collection of facts & musings on the life of


Henry Fletcher HANCE

by Christine M. Thomas

Henry Fletcher HANCE was born on 4 August 1827 in Gloucester Terrace, Old Brompton, London the son of Henry Hance and Jane Agnes Wells Fletcher.  He was baptised at the church of St. Mary Abbot, Kensington on 5 September.

Later in life Henry divulged that he had been a delicate child, troubled by the polluted air of old London Town.   As a result his parents sent him to Plymouth to stay with his maternal grandparents, James Butler Fletcher and Margaret. The men of the Fletcher family had a regimental background with his great grandfather having been a Colonel with the Royal Marines and his grandfather a Major.  Henry remembered his great grandfather as being nearly blind and scarred with wounds received during a long and very active service.

The clean air of Devon did young Henry the world of good - as did rising at daybreak and drinking milk fresh from the cow.  A lasting memory was to be the diamond-latticed panes of his bedroom windows.  Perhaps this is where he first became interested in botany.  Henry’s residence in 1841 at the time of the census is questionable.  The most likely sighting is that of a 15 year old Bookseller’s apprentice at Fore Street in Stoke Damerel, Plymouth.  His mother and two younger sisters can be found living just down the road in George Street.

His father was working in London and living in the very exclusive Brompton Row.  



This was the home of young Henry’s Great Grandmother Elizabeth Barbara Hance a grand house which she shared with four grandchildren – Henry Snr. (father of Henry Fletcher Hance), Charles, Mary and Emelia.   Elizabeth Barbara died in 1842 and her jewellery, silver and damask table cloths were shared amongst her children according to instructions given in her will. 

An alternative sighting for young Henry on the 1841 census is that of a 13 year old schoolboy at the Bradmore House School in Chiswick – only a few miles from his father and Great Grandmother in Brompton Row.   Henry was later reported as being “a polished Latinist and a facile writer of French, while his knowledge of German certainly influenced his tone of scientific thought in after years”. 

Reports differ on how Henry came to arrive in Hong Kong.  An obituary states that he arrived on the ship “Cleopatra”.  Another researcher has him arriving in Hong Kong with his father.  The third possibility is that given by P.D. Coates in that he arrived with Nicholas St. Croix on the Indiaman “John Laird”.  St. Croix is reported to have manned the ship with young men from Devon – the sons of friends and relatives.  The source of this information is said to be “a massive diary” kept by St. Croix.  Tantalising indeed is the fact that the diary itself is reputedly in New Zealand with the owners not wishing to be identified. 

A matter of record is that in September 1844, at the age of 17, Henry joined the Hong Kong Government as a clerk in the Clerk of Council’s Office.  From 1845 to 1851 he was 3rd. Clerk in the Colonial Secretary’s Office with records showing that he took at least 2-3 weeks sick leave every year.   His leisure hours were spent discovering the flora of Hong Kong and this soon became a passion rather than just a past time. 

Towards the end of 1847 Henry was confined to bed for 6 weeks and towards the end of 1849 was admitted to the Seaman’s Hospital for a month.  By 1851 his body was so weakened by fever that Dr. Harland and William Morrison, the Colonial Surgeon, advised that he be granted 18 months sick leave which should be spent in the cooler climate of England.  The Governor commented that he considered Henry to be “a promising gentleman of talents and education” but that he feared Hong Kong’s climate would not agree with him.  Henry’s medical leave was granted and he departed on 12 April 1851 by the barque Chebar under the command of Captain Grayson. 

The route of the voyage was to be via The Cape of Good Hope - a journey which should have taken a little over four months.  Unfortunately, the ship ran aground off the east coast of Sumatra and it was a week before she was freed and towed into port.  Henry was stuck in the heat and humidity for some weeks looking for a suitable means of continuing his journey.

Whilst on leave in England Henry met up with a childhood friend – Ann Edith Baylis. Ann had been born in Westminster in 1822 the first daughter of William Baylis and his wife Anne Harriet. Her father had died when Ann was just 6 months old but by this time her mother was already pregnant with a second child and a sister for Ann was born later in the year.   At the time of her father’s death Ann and her mother were living at 70 St. James Street, Piccadilly which was situated next door to the prestigious Carlton Club.  In 1830 her mother married Charles Vandergucht a silk merchant and by 1841 they were living and working from The Quadrant, Piccadilly Circus.  The daughters of her previous marriage were no longer living at home but she did have a six year old child the daughter of her second husband.  A possible sighting for Ann Edith on the 1841 census is as a member of the household of Sir Henry Peyton, 2nd. Baronet of Doddington in Grosvenor Place. 

By 1851 Ann was employed as the Governess at Noseley Hall in Leicestershire – the home of Sir Arthur Grey Hazlerigg 12th. Baronet.  Ann’s duties would have been to instruct the three elder daughters of the family who were listed on the census as being “scholars at home”.  Acquiring skills in music and needlework would have been top of the curriculum.   The death indexes for 1841 indicate that Ann’s sister, Harriet, died towards the end of the year whilst her mother died in Long Ditton, Surrey in 1846 at the age of 48.  Thus by the time Henry returned to England in 1851 Ann was alone with no immediate family.  She must have welcomed the return of her childhood friend.


On New Years Eve 1851 Henry and Ann visited Kew Gardens and it was here – by the lake in front of the Palm House – that Henry proposed.  


They were married at Highweek in Devon on 27 May 1852.  Even though he was on his honeymoon Botany could not entirely be forgotten and it was varieties of Erica Carnea from the heaths near Newton Abbot which particularly caught his attention.

On 1 May Henry had written to the Colonial Office applying for a two month extension to his overseas leave and this had been granted due to the exceptional circumstances of his having been shipwrecked on the voyage back to England.  At the end of June Henry again wrote to the Colonial Office applying for a further extension of one month due to “domestic circumstances”.  Perhaps Ann needed a little more time in which to purchase a dinner service and other items for her household in the Far East – or perhaps it was Henry who needed more time to buy books.

The couple arrived in Hong Kong in February 1853 but the voyage could not have been a particularly pleasant experience for Ann who was in the early stages of pregnancy. It was in May that their first son was born.  Henry returned to his position as 3rd. Clerk in the Colonial Secretariat and by this time was being shown as Dr. H. F. Hance – it was later reported that he had graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy on 24th. November 1849 possibly from the University of Giessen in Germany.

Towards the end of 1853 the post of Clerk to the Auditor General became vacant due to the death of the incumbent and Henry succeeded to the post on 17 December bringing an increase in salary from £243 pa to £300 pa.

On the 1 May 1854, having been recommended by Sir John Bowring, Henry left his position with the Hong Kong Government and was appointed 4th. Assistant to the Superintendent of Trade in Canton.  Sir John Bowring “was always ready to bring forward any man connected with science or literature”. 

At the end of 1854 a second son was born.

In 1856 Henry was appointed Senior Assistant at the British Consulate in Canton but the timing could not have been worse.  The Arrow incident saw the start of the Second Opium War and December brought the burning of the Foreign Factories in Canton.  The Hance family lost most of their possessions including a mahogony cottage piano and achromatic microscope.  Also destroyed was Ann’s embroidery frame along with the family’s sedan chair and the baby’s black lacquer carriage.  By this time Henry had collected some 200 books which were housed in several bookcases – all were lost in the flames.  His compensation claim shows that he valued his books at £187 13sh 10d; his furniture etc. £134 18sh 11 ½ d; clothing & linen etc. £107 7sh. 

After the riots Consulate staff, together with the Consular records which Henry maintained plus the archives of the Superintendent of Trade for China, were moved to Hong Kong.  Odiarne Tremayne Lane Second Secretary at the Consulate was killed during the troubles.  Being a close colleague Henry had been named as Executor in his will and on arrival in Hong Kong put in place the administrative tasks connected with probate. 

1856 had been a sad year for Henry as his father had died in London in May.  Henry Hance Snr. was buried in the family grave at Brompton Cemetery.  The section where the grave is located is now a “Conservation Area” – great for butterflies and bees but disastrous for a researcher searching for a grave.  However, Henry the Botanist would be more than content with this situation.


One of the ladies whom Ann may have been friends with at this time was Emma Buckton the widow of British tradesman, Charles Buckton.    Charles had been trading in the Far East for some years but in December 1847 the stock in trade of his Shipchandler’s business in HK was put up for sale due to his insolvency.  A year later he was advertising the sale of ladies’ bonnets, hams and cheeses.   By January 1849 his house in Hollywood Road was advertised as being available to let and in February his first wife left Hong Kong bound for England with their three children and a female servant.  Shortly after arrival the first Mrs. Buckton died at 29 Sloane Street, Chelsea.  Charles married his second wife, Emma, in Liverpool at the beginning of 1853 and brought her & her children by a previous marriage back to Whampoa where he reinstated his ship chandler’s business.   However, the following year the Buckton’s were caught in the midst of fighting and Charles suffered substantial losses.  He died at Whampoa in the summer of 1856 and Emma moved to the safety of Hong Kong.

Henry, as Senior Assistant of the Canton Consulate, was busy collating claims for losses which had been incurred by British subjects during the troubles – including submitting his own.  One of his colleagues – Theophilus Sampson the Consular Constable – submitted a very meagre claim of $17 for brushes and clothes whilst Henry’s claim amounted to $2128  95c.  His beloved books taking up 40% of the claim.

After a few months Henry’s excellent record keeping services were called for elsewhere.  He transferred back to the office of the Superintendent of Trade for China and placed in charge of The Archives leaving Sampson to cope with the Consulate administration. 




 Bundles of correspondence forming part of the
Archive of the Superintendent of Trade

The Hong Kong Directory lists Henry as living at The Albany.  In later years he was consulted on the best location for the proposed botanical garden and he recommended the area just in front of these Government Quarters.

Theo Sampson married the former Mrs. Buckton in Hong Kong in August 1858 and they moved to Canton where the Consulate had been re-established.  The Office of the Superintendent of Trade was wound up and Henry also found himself back in Canton as the Senior Assistant. 

It was September of the same year when the Colonial Surgeon William Aurelius Harland died in Hong Kong.  Henry’s two page handwritten obituary bears testimony to their long and deep friendship “The prospective opening of China by the Treaty of Tientsin caused him the liveliest satisfaction as likely to carrying out of a long cherished project – the scientific exploration of some of the less known portions of the Empire”.  I can imagine the two men spending long hours discussing the exciting prospects of what might be awaiting discovery in China.

In March 1861 Henry was promoted from the ranks of Assistant in the Consular Service to become Vice-Consul at Whampoa a position he held for the next 17 years.  Throughout this period Ann continued to produce children with the final total being eight.  The 1861 census shows the eldest son being educated by his Aunt in Devon and by 1871 he had been joined by the second son.

Although there was little social life in Whampoa the family were happy.  Henry continued to indulge his love of Botany and established a wide circle of contacts in the Far East and Europe.   Ann contented herself with music, needlework, and raising the children.  In her spare time she would assist her husband by labelling specimens destined for Kew Gardens.  Then one day in September 1872 Anne suffered a stroke. She died four hours later in Henry’s arms – she was 49 years of age.  In Henry’s own words:

 Half an hour previous to the attack I was laughing, & kissing and playing with her!  To add to my agony there was no medical man, nor even a lady, at the time at Whampoa; so that, amidst all my sorrow, I was obliged to keep a clear judicial mind as all the treatment and attendance devolved on me.  I am quite prostrated and heartbroken, and though more than two months have elapsed, I feel at times as if my mind would give way,  and as if I could not long survive this blow…………………….. I must say she was the sweetest, gentlest, tenderest and most unselfish woman I ever saw”. 

Henry was so grief stricken that it took three weeks before he could bring himself to register her death in the Consulate register.   No record exists of where Anne was buried but it is likely it would have been in the Foreigner’s Cemetery on Danes Island.  Most of the headstones have long since disappeared but a few have survived and been restored in recent years.  If anyone should ever visit this little cemetery please look out for an inscription to the memory of Ann Edith Hance - lay a hand on her headstone and tell her she has not been forgotten despite the passage of time.

After their mother’s death the remaining children were sent to England to be educated by their Aunt.  By 1881 the youngest son was attending Grammar School in Warwickshire.

Three years after Ann’s death Henry married Charlotte Page KNEEBONE in St. Johns, Hong Kong.  Consular correspondence reports Charlotte as being “halfe caste”.  As she was born and raised in India it is likely that her ancestry was Anglo Indian rather than Anglo Chinese. 

Due to Henry’s lack of knowledge with the Chinese language promotion was never a realistic proposition however during the late 1870s and throughout the 1880s he acted as Consul in Canton. 

Charlotte bore Henry a daughter and twin sons but as there was no physician based in Whampoa it was left to Henry to compound and prescribe medicines for the family.  In August 1880 his young boys were near the point of death and he had the anxiety of treating them whilst at the same time suffering himself from severe remittent fever.  In 1881 he wrote:

I feel alas that my days of active work are quietly and steadily closing in.  This is my thirty-sixth year in China and I have neither the hand nor head that I possessed ten years ago.  But I shall never cease my love for my favourite science”

By 1882 things were deteriorating further:

I am sick, aging, ill-disposed and too often unequal to any work.  I do not think I can stay here much longer, or be of any use to science

It was during his term as Acting Consul in 1883 that riots broke out in Canton and the English settlement on Shameen was at the mercy of the Chinese mob.  The general feeling, after the event, was that Henry “had exhibited no lack of those qualities which should distinguish a British official” – he had done well.  However, Botany had to take a back seat during these troubled times and in January 1884 he wrote to a friend:

 Amidst the constant worry and anxiety of my daily life, I have been unable, except for a spare half hour or so, to do anything at all botanically; but I hope, rather than expect, in a more or less proximate future, to get a little more time.  I quite gave up library and herbarium at the time of the irruption on Shameen!”

Fevers, congestion of the liver and other complications sapped his strength with every passing year.  In the summer of 1884 he was so ill that he was moved to a Government pavilion on The Peak in Hong Kong and attended by Dr. Manson.  But this move was to coincide with the collapse of the Oriental Bank.  As every sixpence he had in the world was lodged there, his embarrassment left him no alternative but to resume his duties as Acting Consul at Canton”.

A year later his health was still of concern and he was ordered to Macao for three months absolute rest before returning briefly to his duties as Vice-Consul at Whampoa.  In May 1886 he was appointed Acting Consul at Amoy.

Just a few weeks later Henry suffered a serious attack of diarrhoea and died on 22 June 1886 at the age of 58 years.  His death was registered by the Acting Assistant at the Consulate.  Henry was shown as being “H.M. Vice Consul, Whampoa & H.M. Acting Consul, Amoy”.

Henry’s last wishes were that his funeral be “plain and cheap”.   Presumably his wife did not agree with this for his body was taken to Hong Kong for a funeral fit for an Acting Consul.  The Haiphong arrived early on Saturday 26 June and the coffin taken directly to Happy Valley to await the funeral service timed for 5pm.  The service was attended by all senior members of the Hong Kong Government plus British and Foreign Consuls – one of his sons was the Chief Mourner.  The coffin, covered with the ensign, was born from the chapel to the grave on the shoulders of four Consuls, the Colonial Treasurer, Revd. Chalmers, Charles Ford of the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens and Mr. Lammert.  Another friend describing the funeral reported that he was:

“buried on June 26th. 1886 in the beautiful Wong-nei-chung Valley, the wooded slopes of which were the home of many a plant gathered or described by him during his lifetime”.

 Wong-nei-chung Valley
 
Sir Thomas Wade, KCB writing about Henry said:

He was zealous, conscientious and intelligent.  I do not know that I ever met a man who seemed to me more constant in his endeavour to do his duty.  He had the misfortune not to know Chinese.  While he was in the Colonial service there was no inducement to him to study the language, and his leisure was devoted to his favourite pursuit Botany.  When he transferred to the Foreign Office service, although not old, he was no longer young and he was very hard worked.  The Foreign Office rule, which made knowledge of Chinese indispensable, became justly and naturally more stringent every year and by his unacquaintance with it he missed more than one opportunity of permanent advancement.  He was employed provisionally as a Consul and in my judgment, acquitted himself remarkably well in his acting capacity”.

Sir Joseph Hooker wrote:

With regard to Dr. Hance’s botanical attainments and the value of his labours I can speak in very high terms.  For upwards of forty years he devoted all his spare time to investigating the vegetation of China, displaying rare ability in mastering the technicalities of structural and descriptive Botany at the same time enriching the scientific journals in England with accounts of new plants of great interest in a botanical and economic point of view.  In all that he attempted he aimed at critical accuracy in identification and diagnosis and this he attained in an eminent degree so that there is no possibility of failure in recognising from his descriptions the plants he had under examination.  Had Dr. Hance lived he would doubtless have given in a connected form an account of the vegetable riches of China such as it would have been far beyond the grasp of any other naturalist to have produced, and this too with a classical diction that is extremely rare in the writing of scientific men.  As it is he has left no successor in China.”

Henry’s will stated that he wished his herbarium (which contained over 22,000 different species ) to be offered to the British Musuem as the Head of the Botanical Department had already expressed an interest in acquiring this.  His library of books was also to be sent to England for sale.  Charlotte was to be given the chance of choosing three items of jewellery with the remainder being divided amongst his children as a remembrance of their father.  His silver goblet was left to his sister in England.  Charlotte was also to receive $200 and any arrears of salary due to Henry.  Henry’s original will written in 1879 declared that the remainder of his estate be divided into eight equal portions with four of these going to the children of his first marriage and the remaining portions intended for Charlotte and her children.  A codicil written four years later revoked the portion for one of his sons who was by that time earning a living.  The portions for the daughters of his first marriage were to be revoked if they had married or were engaged at the time of his death.  The portion for the youngest son of the first marriage was also to be revoked if at the time of Henry’s death he too was earning a living.  Somehow or another I can see Charlotte’s hand behind this codicil. 

Henry’s estate was initially estimated at being $4500 and this is the amount for which probate duty was paid in China.  By October 1886 Charlotte had moved to Hong Kong and was living at 8 Seymour Terrace.  It was from this address that she provided a statement showing the “true” value of Henry’s estate was actually $2875  and as a result she applied for repayment of the excess duty which had been paid in China. 

Charlotte remained in Hong Kong and by 1891 was running a school teaching 3 boys and 7 girls.  Three years later Bubonic Plague raged through the Colony.  The area of Taipingshan was seen as being particularly unsanitary so much so that it was decided to raze the whole area to the ground.  The Taipingshan Resumption Ordinance of 1894 authorised the resumption of Crown Lots with compensation being paid to the owners.  Charlotte Page Hance was listed as being the owner of one of these lots.

Later in life Charlotte developed cancer of the face and died in Hong Kong in June 1911.  She was buried with Henry in the Colonial Cemetery, Happy Valley.


The lives of the Henry’s children deserve a research study of their own and this I hope to complete next year.

If you should find this material of use in your research I would be grateful if you could provide a link back to this story.

Should you be descended from Henry Fletcher Hance then please make contact as I would love to hear from you.


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