British Consuls in South Formosa

Alexander Frater

The Takao Club

Alexander Frater


 China Consular Service

      Alexander Frater was Acting Consul at Taiwan [臺灣] from 18 April 1877, taking charge from Assistant-in-charge George Macdonald Home Playfair, to 30 April 1878, when Consul Archer Hewlett took charge and Alexander Frater left to take up his post as the first Consul of the newly-created Tamsui [淡水] Consular District.

      Alexander Frater was born in 1840 and baptised on 13 August 1840 at St Nicholas, Aberdeen in Scotland, the second son of James Frater, a General Clerk, and Mary Tytler Low. Frater was nominated by Aberdeen University to join the July 1863 Examinations for the China, Japan and Siam Consular Services, at which he was successful and was appointed a Student Interpreter in the China Consular Service on 31 August 1863. Frater began his career studying Chinese at the British Legation in Peking [北京], where he remained until 1869, having risen to the rank of Assistant Interpreter. In 1868 he was promoted to Second Assistant and appointed to Canton [廣州] and Taku [大沽] before proceeding to Tamsui where he served as Acting Interpreter from 1 December 1871 to 5 June 1872, and was also in charge of the Vice-Consulate for a period.

      Frater was then posted back to Taku, where he had been appointed First Assistant on 26 January and was to be appointed Interpreter on 10 June 1873. In the same year he took Home Leave to Scotland and on 15 August 1873 Alexander Frater married Janet (Jessie) Walker Laurie, the daughter of Andrew Laurie, a Surgeon and Druggist, and Christina Bishop, at Edinburgh, Midlothian. Alexander and Jessie Frater returned to China in 1874, and Alexander Frater took up his new posting as Interpreter at the Swatow [汕頭] Consulate, where he was Acting Consul from 5 August 1874 until 31 January 1875.

      Frater’s next posting was as Interpreter at the Tamsui Vice-Consulate, where he served as Acting Vice-Consul from 10 August 1875 until April 1877, when he was posted to the south of the island.

      Alexander Frater was Acting Consul at Taiwan from 18 April 1877. Almost as soon as he had arrived, Acting Consul Frater was putting the case to Hugh Fraser, the British Chargé d’Affaires at Peking, for a new British Consulate to be built at Anping [安平]. His reasoning was that most of the foreign trade, which required shipping fees to be paid to, and ships’ papers to be lodged with, the Consulate, was then being transacted at Anping and no longer at Takow [打狗]. This required a consular official to travel out to Anping from Taiwan-fu [臺灣府] (now Tainan), a journey of four miles each way. Hugh Fraser replied that the idea of a Consulate at Anping met with the approval of Francis Julian Marshall, the Acting Surveyor at the Office of Works in Shanghai [上海], which handled the construction of all consular facilities; however, such matters required the approval of the Foreign Office in London, and Hugh Fraser urged the hiring of a Shipping Office in the meantime. In September 1877 Frater again wrote to Hugh Fraser in Peking to tell him that no suitable office could be found and that the Tao-t’ai [道臺], or Circuit Intendant, had loaned three rooms on a temporary basis. As a compromise, since the leasing of sites for the new Takow Consulate was already under way with a budget approved by the all-powerful Treasury in London, Frater next proposed that a site for a consulate be secured at Anping and a small temporary shipping office constructed thereon. Frater’s fear was that Anping was developing so quickly that since 1870 the tidal mudflats had changed into a nascent foreign settlement and that in the near future there would be no suitable site available; fortunately it appears that the Tao-t’ai subsequently reserved a site for the proposed Anping Consulate, and this was used a dozen years later to construct the building. Frater, who seems to have been a very diligent Acting Consul, also reported on the construction of a telegraph line between Takow and Taiwan-fu that was subsequently extended to Anping. On 30 April 1878 Consul Archer Rotch Hewlett took charge, and was soon reporting on the construction of the new Takow Consulate, and Alexander Frater left to take up his post, to which he had been appointed on 9 November 1877, as the first Consul of the newly-created Tamsui Consular District.

      Consul Frater remained at Tamsui officially until 25 February 1880, when he was appointed Consul at Kiungchow [瓊州], a position he held until 1 November 1888, though it is doubtful that he ever went to Kiungchow. The 1881 England Census, taken on 3 April, shows Alexander Frater, recorded as H.M. Consul Kiungchow, and Jessie Frater on Home Leave, staying at the Great Northern Hotel, Euston Road, Camden Town, London, presumably on their way to or from Scotland. After their return from Home Leave, Frater was posted back to Tamsui as the officiating Consul from January 1883 to November 1885, and both Alexander and Jessie remained at the consulate during the October 1884 bombardment and French landings at Tamsui and the French Blockade of 23 October 1884 to 15 April 1885.

      After an apparent extended Home Leave, following a bout of typhoid at Canton, Frater returned to be the officiating Consul at Swatow on 11 April 1888. Despite an appointments to Ningpo [寧波] as Consul on 1 November 1888, Alexander Frater remained at Swatow, becoming the official Consul there on 20 August 1892, until 22 November 1892, when he left for England with suspected cancer of the tongue. Alexander Frater departed to England from Hongkong [香港] aboard the Peninsular & Orient steam ship Ganges on 24 November 1892, never to return.

      Alexander Frater, in his absence having been appointed on 15 June 1893 Her Majesty's Consul at Hankow [漢口], died when the Hankow Consul at 91 Crown Street, Aberdeen, on 16 November 1893, aged 53.

      His widow Jessie Walker Frater née Laurie survived until she was 88 years old and died in Edinburgh City in 1937. Alexander and Jessie Frater had no children.

Sources: Lo Hui-min and Bryant, Helen; British Diplomatic and Consular Establishments in China: 1793-1949, Volume II Consular Establishments 1843-1949; SMC Publishing Inc., Taipei, Taiwan, 1988.

The National Archives, British Foreign Office Files, series FO 228 (China) and series FO 262 (Japan).

Oakley, David Charles; The Story of the British Consulate at Takow; Privately published, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 2007.

Coates, P. D.; The China Consuls: British Consular Officers, 1843-1943; Oxford University Press, 1988.

Dodd, John; Journal of a Blockaded Resident in North Formosa, 1884 - 1885; Daily Press Office, Hongkong, 1888. (Reprinted by Ch'eng-wen Publishing, Taipei, Taiwan, 1972.)