Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Captain Thomas Guy POCOCK 1845 - 1890

The name of Captain POCOCK will be known to many as one of the officers killed in 1890 when the ship Namoa was attacked by pirates 45 miles from Hong Kong.  A quick search of the internet will bring up several blogs on the incident - not to mention many gruesome pictures of the pirates being executed.  But who was Captain POCOCK?  What was his family background?  Where did he call home? What became of his family after his murder?  The following aims to provide a pen picture of the POCOCK family.

We start back in 1812 when Thomas POCOCK, a cutler and ironmonger from Wincanton, Somerset married Sarah RICKWORD by Licence in Longbridge Deverill, Wiltshire.   Sarah was the daughter of Richard RICKWORD the Lord of the Manor at Pertwood, Wiltshire.  The following year Thomas and Sarah's first son, Richard Rickwood POCOCK was baptised in St. Peters, Pertwood - the tiny parish church which had just been restored by Sarah's father.

Thomas ran his ironmongers business from a shop in the Market Square, Wincanton - a prime location.  On the evening of Saturday 7 January 1815 Thomas was riding back from Castle Cary when he was thrown from his horse a quarter of a mile from home.  His injuries were severe but townsfolk managed to get him home where he remained unconscious throughout the night and the next morning.  He died at noon on 8 January and was buried a couple of days later.  He was just 28 years of age and left Sarah with one child and another on the way.

In the following months the ironmongery was sold and Sarah returned home to Wiltshire.  Her second son was baptised at St. Peters, Pertwood in October 1815 - he was named Thomas Guy POCOCK.

Mr. Thomas Guy POCOCK

Sarah remarried in 1921 but whether the two boys went with their mother or remained with their grandparents is not known.  When Richard RICKWORD died in 1839 he left £1,000 to his grandson, Thomas Guy POCOCK, with the bulk of his estate going to Thomas' elder brother, Richard Rickwood POCOCK.

Later records show that in 1841 Thomas Guy was a farmer in Wiltshire renting land at £300 per annum.  On 18 May 1841 he married Sarah Cottel Cozens ENGLAND, daughter of Robert ENGLAND, in Kingsbury Episcopi, Somerset giving his residence as Grittleton, a parish in Wiltshire.  At the time of the marriage his father-in-law advanced him the sum of £500.  In June 1842 Thomas was elected a member of the Royal Agricultural Society of England again giving his address as Grittleton, Chippenham, Wiltshire.

In 1842 Gawbridge Flour Mills on the outskirts of Kingsbury Episcopi was advertised for rent.  The mill came with a house, orchards, out-houses, gardens and two parcels of land - all in all 14 acres. In the summer of 1843 Thomas and Sarah took occupation but ran into trouble almost straight away.  The outgoing tenants considered the crop of apples in the orchard to be theirs but the POCOCK's disputed this.  Before they knew it a group of 120 men ascended and cleared the orchard in four hours.  This was cider making country and the apples were a valuable crop.  The out-going tenants had the support of the local community in Martock and were not prepared to argue the matter.

By the mid 1840s Thomas and Sarah needed somebody to stand security for them with the bankers.  Sarah's father was approached but refused unless Thomas gave him security for the money which he had advanced on the marriage.  Robert assured the court that the money had been a loan rather than a marriage gratuity.  The court were suspicious that some sort of collusion was taking place between the two of them but this could not be proved.  Thomas then executed a warrant of attorney for the debt which satisfied his father-in-law as he believed Thomas to be solvent at the time.  However, in 1848 Thomas found himself in serious financial difficulty which ended with him filing for bankruptcy.  In 1851, he and his family were shown as being "visitors" at his father-in-law's house and by 1861 was shown as being a Farm Bailiff. 

In the 1870s Thomas secured employment as steward for the Catt family on their Sunte estates in Sussex.

Sarah died in Sussex 1876 - she was buried at West Firle.  Thomas was well respected by the family and in the community.  On retirement Thomas moved back to the West Country where he died in 1911 at the age of 97.  Probate papers show his address to be The Court, Chew Magna.  I wonder whether he might be the elderly gentleman with walking cane in the postcard shown below.

Thomas Guy and Sarah POCOCK had five children:  Sarah Rickword 1843; Thomas Guy 1845; Richard Rickwood 1846; Sarah Anne 1849 and Henry England 1854. The first daughter, Sarah Rickword, died in 1846.

Captain Thomas Guy POCOCK

As a young man Thomas Guy decided that his career would be on the high seas.  From 1861 to 1865 he was apprenticed on square rigged sailing ships including the Australian migrant ship Prince of the Seas.  On 29 April 1867 he qualified as Second Mate and on 18 October 1871 was awarded his First Mate's certificate.  During the 1870s he served with the Douglas Steamship company in the Far East and was awarded his Master's certificate in September 1879.  The company provided passenger services calling at ports along the China Coast - Hong Kong, Swatow, Amoy, and Foochow.

On 27 November 1882 Thomas Guy POCOCK married his cousin, Susan ENGLAND in Hong Kong.  Susan was the third daughter of his mother's brother, Henry White ENGLAND, who farmed at Manor Farm, Kingsbury Episcopi.

Thomas and Susan went on to have four children in the colony:  Rachel Traves born c. 1885; Marjorie England born 11 August 1886 at Fairlea, Bonham Rd; Thomas Guy c. 1888; and Phyllis Mary born 23 November 1889 at 5 West Terrace, Caine Road.  Fairlea was a large colonial style building in the mid-levels with fine views over the city of Victoria and down to the harbour.

In November 1884 Captain POCOCK had a very narrow escape whilst crossing a river in Swatow.  He and another captain were in a sampan (a flat bottomed wooden boat) when they were struck by the steamer Swatow which cut the sampan in half.  Captain POCOCK was unable to swim and was in danger of drowning but fortunately the floundering men were spotted by the crews of HM Gunboats Esk and Merlin who quickly set about the rescue.

At 8am on 10 December 1890 Captain POCOCK took the Namoa out of Hong Kong on her normal run up to Amoy.  Aboard were 250 Chinese passengers and 5 Europeans.  Many of the Chinese were returning to their homeland from California - no doubt with large amounts of savings.  The weather was fine and the waters calm - it was going to be a good run.  Eight bells sounded at noon and soon afterwards the steward's gong summoned the passengers to tiffin.  Captain POCOCK left the bridge in charge of the second officer and joined the passengers in the saloon.  One passenger, Carl PETERSON, a lighthouse keeper, was feeling rather under the weather and stayed on deck reclining in a cane chair.

Several Chinese passengers appeared on deck sauntering about in a relaxed manner.  After a few moments they were joined by others until there were forty or fifty - some forward, some near the bridge, others at the main hatchway aft.  At a given signal they threw off their loose coats revealing themselves to be armed with revolvers and cutlasses.  Mr. PETERSON became their first victim - he was shot dead with four or five bullets to the head.

The leader of the gang spoke "pidgin" English and called out saying they wanted everything of value from the passengers.  The captain was ordered up to the deck to make arrangements promising that he would not be harmed.  However, as he climbed the stairs shots rang out and he collapsed - a bullet had pierced his chest.  Even though he was wounded he managed to stagger into his cabin where he was joined a few minutes later by some of the other passengers.  As he lay dying on his bed he was heard to say "My poor wife, my poor wife".  Captain Thomas Guy POCOCK died at 2.20pm - he was 45 years of age.  That evening the pirates transferred their booty to five junks anchored off Mendoza Island and made good their escape.

The Namoa returned to Hong Kong the following morning and was seen coming into harbour flying the signal "In urgent want of medical assistance".   Commodore E.J. CHURCH aboard HMS Victor Emmanuel took command of the situation and sent HMS Linnet off in search of the pirates. Also aboard were Captain STEWART of the Revenue Cruiser Kaipan and two detectives from the Hong Kong Police, Sergeants Alexander McIVER and CHING On.

Over the following weeks, and with the assistance of the local Mandarins, the majority of the culprits were rounded up and brought to justice - Chinese style.  Two large scale executions took place on the beach on the outskirts of Kowloon City on 17 April and 11 May 1891.  The prisoners were brought by gunboat from Canton and staggered ashore with their hands bound behind their backs and their ankles in chains.  Drums beat in the background as the condemned men were made to kneel in a row.  Two trumpeters sounded a fanfare and the monotonous drumming ceased - the butchery was about to begin.  The group of onlookers included half a dozen Europeans who had managed to bag the best vantage points. 

Lai A-tsat had been identified as the man leading the attack on passengers in the saloon and his execution took place on 11 May.  He was the first of fifteen to face decapitation that morning and kept up his bravado to the end by making ribald jokes with the executioners.  The next in line, FUNG Sun-yow proved himself less of a man and flinched at the crucial second - a second blow was required before his head was severed.  The executioner was assisted by his son who was allowed to wield the sword for the last three men.  

The prisoners each had a small bamboo block attached to their queues on which was written their name.  After the event onlookers walked along the line reading the names of those executed.  The Europeans, reveling in the scene, then had their photos taken with the corpses.  The bodies and heads would be left on the beach where they fell to be buried the next day by the authorities or  to be taken away by relatives.  Those interested in seeing surviving photographs need only do an internet search for "Namoa pirates execution" to bring up the gruesome images.

Captain POCOCK's obituary records him as being "a splendid type of British seaman, being a kind but strict disciplinarian and a bold but generous officer".  At 9.30 am on 12 December 1890 his funeral cortege left Messrs. Douglas Lapraik's office on The Praya and made its way to the Colonial Cemetery in Happy Valley.  The ceremony was attended by many local dignitaries including the Chief Justice Sir James RUSSELL and the Hon. J.J. KESWICK, taipan of Jardine Matheson.  Captain POCOCK was buried in grave no. 5304 in Section 23 - known as the "Old Residents" section of the cemetery.

On the same day Carl Magnus PETERSON, the lighthouse keeper who had been the first to be killed on that tragic day, was buried in grave no. 5305.

Thomas' widow, Susan, was the executrix of his will which was proved in Hong Kong on 21 January 1891 to the value of $16,300 - a very healthy amount.


By 1901 the family were back in England.  Susan POCOCK along with her three youngest children first stayed with her widowed sister who ran a boarding house in Sydenham Hill, London.  Once the children had secured their own futures Susan returned to Kingsbury Episcopi and took over the management of Manor Farm.  On her death in 1930 her address was given as The Manor House, Kingsbury Episcopi.  In her will she bequeathed all her furniture at The Manor House to her eldest daughter, Rachel, plus the sum of £500.  The residue was to be split equally between all three daughters:  Rachel, Marjorie and Phyllis.  Her UK estate was valued at a little over £9,000 and her Hong Kong estate $30,000.

Rachel Traves POCOCK

On return from Hong Kong in the 1890s Rachel, the eldest child, went to live with her aunt, Sarah Ann HARWARD (nee POCOCK).  Sarah was the younger sister of Rachel's father and had married Edward Netherton HARWARD in 1893.  Edward was the great nephew of Gainsborough and had inherited many of the artist's masterpieces.  After Edward's death Sarah inherited the pictures and subsequently put them up for auction at Christie's.  Ten paintings sold for over 24,000 guineas.  By 1911 the HARWARD's family home was Chew Court at Chew Magna, Somerset.  It will be remembered that this was the address shown for Mr. Thomas Guy POCOCK (Senior) when he died in 1911.  Thomas had named his sister Sarah as executor - his estate was valued at £384 16s 10d.

Rachel spent many years living with her aunt and never married.  She died in Clevedon on the north Somerset coast in 1938.  She was described as being "eldest daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. T.G. POCOCK of Hong Kong and the Manor House, Kingsbury Episcopi, Somerset".  Her estate was valued at £7,033 6s 1d.

Marjorie England POCOCK

Marjorie, the second child, married Algernon H. MASTERMAN in Kensington in 1912.  Algernon served with The Prince of Wales Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment) and the couple went on to have one daughter.  In 1939 Marjorie was living on her own at 9 Court Road, Bournemouth whilst her husband was in London staying with the family of Marjorie's younger sister, Phyllis.  Algernon died in 1958 and Marjorie in 1959.

2nd. Lieut. Thomas Guy POCOCK

Thomas was the only son and during WW1 served as 2nd. Lieutenant with the Kings (Liverpool Regiment).  Thomas died on 3 April 1915 at the age of 26 and is buried in St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen.  A stained glass window to his memory can be found in St. Martin, Kingsbury Episcopi.  Money owing to Thomas from the military was divided between his mother and three sisters:  Mrs. Susan POCOCK receiving £11 18s 2d; Rachel POCOCK £11 18s; Mrs. Marjorie MASTERMAN £11. 18s; and Phyllis POCOCK £11 18s.

Phyllis Mary POCOCK

Phyllis, the youngest child, became a civil servant and lived with her aunt, Mary M. HOARE (nee ENGLAND) in London.  In 1928 she married another civil servant, Colin Livesey WICKS, in Kensington and they went on to have one daughter.  The couple died in the 1950s

Research Notes:  
The name Rickword appears in different forms in different records i.e. Rickword/Rickwood/Rickward.  The name Pocock sometimes appears as Pococke.
The name Peterson is also shown as Petersen - I have used the spelling used on the headstone

If any reader should be a descendant of Captain Thomas Guy POCOCK
I would love to hear from you
email link below

© Christine M. Thomas 2018

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

John Calder SWANSTON, Hong Kong Police Officer


Today’s story relates to a couple of headstones which can be found in Section 27.  Getting to this section means walking under the flyover with traffic roaring overhead and then making a steep climb up to what I refer to as the “lost sections”.  Cemetery staff look after these sections very well during their seasonal projects aimed at keeping vegetation under control so the sections are certainly not “lost” as far as they are concerned.  However, visitors to the cemetery normally only walk around the lower central sections.  These are on the flat and easy to navigate.  How many people actually know that you can take a little path under the flyover?   Or that this leads to another whole different area of tiers?  Back in the 1980s when I first started my project aimed at transcribing and indexing the memorial inscriptions it was the first area I headed for.  To be honest I felt a little silly kneeling down tracing inscriptions with my fingers so I wanted to be away from prying eyes.  After a few months, having completed these hidden sections, I was confident enough to “come out” and start tackling the very public areas.   

So without further ado let’s head off to Scotland where today's story has its roots.

It was in the village of Dunnet on 26th. November 1851 that the wife of the local blacksmith gave birth to a son.  He was named John Calder Swanston and he was baptised at the parish church the day after Christmas.

As a teenager John joined the Edinburgh Police and in 1871 was one of 45 officers recruited for the Hong Kong Police.  The recruiting officer stated that the HK Police was in a disorganised state “largely composed of Malays, runaway sailors and wandering adventurers”. 

The recruits received a bounty of £15 each.  In addition they were provided with the railway fare to the port of embarkation and 2nd. class Steamer passage to Hong Kong. 


The Crown Agents had made enquiries with two companies.  Mr. Holt and his Blue Funnel Line were using the newly opened Suez Canal and were charging £28 per man for the voyage.  P&O on the other hand were still using the old route whereby passengers would disembark at Alexandria and then make their way overland by rail to the Town of Suez before joining another ship to the Far East.  P&O were charging £50 per man.  Needless to say the Crown Agents chose the cheapest option.  The first batch of 20 recruits – including John - left Liverpool on 2nd December 1871.

Inspector Grey who was on leave from Hong Kong had been responsible for the recruitment exercise in the UK.  In a letter to the Crown Agents he reported:

"The men have a very fair appearance but as for the qualifications of most of them I cannot speak highly, they have nearly all been farm labourers and the degree of education attained by most of them is very imperfect, so much so indeed that but few of them could ever hope to rise to any other grade than that of constable unless they improve themselves very much, however, the Procurator Fiscal says that they are as good as can be obtained in any other police force in Scotland. "

The Suez Canal reduced travel time considerably and John arrived in Hong Kong in January 1872 after a seven week voyage.  On arrival the group dressed in their kilts – after all they were proud Scotsmen and wanted to impress.  However, they were advised that this form of attire was practically unknown in the Colony and they might want to reconsider their decision.  They did.  They changed – that is all except one.  

He had no worries about being laughed at and proudly came ashore flourishing his tartan.  How proud would the whole bunch have been if they had known that the 20th. century would see the Hong Kong Police Pipers at the Edinburgh Tattoo.

John proved to be a good officer and gained promotion to Sergeant.  He was also careful with his money and after five years had saved enough to pay the passage for his bride. 

Annie Sanderson arrived in Hong Kong in October 1876 and the couple were married ten days later.

The following year saw the birth of the couple’s first child, Maria Jane  - and for John his promotion to Inspector. 

But this was Hong Kong and the climate was far from kind to babies and young children.  Maria Jane died before she could reach the age of two. (Grave number 4426 2nd. July 1879).  Another daughter, Margaret Calder Bremner, died at the age of 3yrs 10mths (Grave 4749 17th.  Nov 1884).  A baby, known only by the initials D.M., lived for one hour.  Annie Agnes lived for 10 months (Grave 5235 7th. April 1890)  and finally Archibald died before his sixth birthday (Grave number 5280)  The deaths are all recorded on a headstone in Section 27.  

The inscription also shows where the children died which in turn gives us the police stations that John was posted to:

1879                Shaukeiwan
1884                No 2 Police Station – Praya East, Wanchai
1886                No 7 West Point – Queens Road/Pokfulam Rald
1890                No 2 Police Station
1890                No 6 Victoria Gap
1891                No 2 – Praya East, Wanchai

According to the newspapers John dealt with some pretty gruesome murder cases and some run of the mill gambling cases – not to mention the case of the “Stinking Fish” where he spotted - or should I say his nose alerted him to - a couple of hawkers who were trying to get rid of their rotting fish on unsuspecting members of the public. 

On two occasions the police stations where John was serving became the centre of attention because huge pythons had been seen in the area.  The first was when he was at Shaukeiwan. On that occasion the “beast” was reported as being 12 foot long with a girth of 15 inches.  It had apparently just killed an animal


The second occasion was when he was at Wanchai.  A slighter smaller python had been spotted near the cemetery.  A message was sent to No. 2 Police Station for someone to come up with a gun to shoot the creature.  But before that could happen an enterprising coolie stunned the snake.  It was then taken to the Hong Kong Dispensary where it was pickled and put on display.

In October 1884 Inspector Swanston played an important part in preserving peace.  Riots had broken out when cargo boat coolies had gone on strike. The unrest spread to Eastern District where more coolies were intimidated.  The Inspector assured them of police protection and they returned to work.  But the next day a mob assembled ready to attack.  However, they had not reckoned on the Inspector. He armed his men with bamboo poles and they charged the rioters and drove them off The Praya.   John was given the nickname of “Ironsides” by the locals !

In 1890 John’s health began to fail and by February 1891 he’d developed pleurisy.  In the early hours of Friday 6th. February he slipped into unconsciousness and passed away.

John was a popular member of the community and his funeral was attended by police officers and Freemasons.  He was also buried high up on the hill in Section 27 and his headstone can be found right next to that of his children. 

The newspapers reported that Annie was left with two young children and the Government awarded her a compassionate allowance of $600.   This would have been of some help but she still needed to secure her future.  There was really only one practical answer – she needed to find another husband.  As was often the case she stayed within the close knit community which she knew. 

Her second husband was Police Inspector William Gauld –  a colleague of her husband’s and another of the men from the Scottish intake.  But the climate of Hong Kong was relentless and she and William lost a child in October 1893.  The baby was buried in a neighbouring section to those of her other children but did not have a headstone.  The grave was one of thousands affected by the Aberdeen Tunnel project in the 1970s and was exhumed.

When William’s health began to fail he & Annie retired to Huntly in Aberdeenshire.  A few years later William died and Annie moved back to her home city of Edinburgh where she passed away in 1924 at the respectable age of 74. 

Annie’s surviving son from her first marriage (John George SWANSTON) spent his life in Hong Kong and died there in 1935.  His grave can be found in Section 12 of the cemetery.

Actually there is a lovely little story about “wee Jock Swanston”.  The story goes that when he was just 5 years old he saw his father chasing a man in the street.  As the  fleeing man passed -  “wee Jock” caught hold of his queue and held on for all he was worth until his father came up to make the arrest.  

His father’s colleagues were in such admiration of the child that they arranged a collection and purchased a silver cup on which was engraved “Presented to J. Swanston by members of the Hongkong Police Force in admiration of his bravery and courage in arresting a thief ...."

If any reader should ever come across that silver cup I would love to hear from you.  Of course I would also love to hear from anyone who is descended from John and Elizabeth.