British Consuls in South Formosa

Alfred Richard Firth

The Takao Club

Alfred Richard Firth


 Japan Consular Service

      Alfred Richard Firth was Acting Consul at Tainan from 13 May to 5 December 1907, taking charge of the Consular District for 7 months from Consul Alfred Ernest Wileman.

      Alfred Richard Firth was again Acting Consul at Tainan from 24 March to 11 April 1910, taking charge from Acting Consul William Massy Royds. Firth effectively closed the Tainan Consulate.

      Alfred Richard Firth was born in November 1875, the son of Alfred Firth, a Schoolmaster, and Susanna Pett, at Castle Rising, Norfolk. Alfred Richard Firth was educated at Barton School, Isle of Ely, King’s Lynn Grammar School, and London University where he obtained a B.A. in 1895. A R Firth took the Civil Service Open Examination for the China, Japan, and Siam Consular Services in May 1898. After passing the examination Alfred Richard Firth was appointed a Student Interpreter in Japan on 9 July 1898.

      Alfred Richard Firth travelled out from London to Japan in August 1898 and spent two years learning Japanese at the British Legation in Tokyo [東京]. Firth was then promoted to Second Assistant and posted to Yokohama [横浜]. In February 1903 Second Assistant A R Firth was transferred to Manila as Acting Vice-Consul for the Philippine Islands. Throughout 1905 Alfred Richard Firth took Home Leave to Dersingham, Norfolk, where his parents lived. Firth returned Manila and continued as Acting Vice-Consul for the Philippine Islands until 27 April 1907 when he was transferred to South Formosa.

      Alfred Richard Firth arrived at Anping [安平] on 12 May 1907 was Acting Consul at Tainan from 13 May to 5 December 1907. Firth was required as Acting Consul at Tainan as the appointed Consul, Alfred Ernest Wileman, had been ordered to Yokohama as Acting Consul-General. Consul Wileman returned to Anping on 15 December 1907, ten days after Firth had departed, during these ten days the Pro-Consul, Harry Walter Arthur of Bain and Company, was in charge of the Tainan Consulate.

      In June 1908 A R Firth arrived at Osaka [大阪] to take up his duties as acting British Vice-Consul. Firth did not stay long at Osaka, for, in November 1909, he was appointed Acting Consul at Tamsui [淡水] to take over from Consul Arthur Morison Chalmers pending the arrival of the new Consul, John Baptist Rentiers, who was on Home Leave. Meanwhile, in South Formosa William Massy Royds was the Acting Consul, having taken charge of the Tainan Consulate from the departing Consul, Alfred Ernest Wileman, on 1 May 1909. The Foreign Office wished to make Tainan an unsalaried Vice-Consulate under the authority of the Tamsui Consulate; however, Harry Walter Arthur, the Senior Partner of Bain and Company, had resigned as Pro-Consul and on 1 March 1910 informed Acting Consul Royds that he was unable to accept the terms offered to be the unsalaried Vice-Consul at Tainan. As William Massy Royds was also due to depart, the British Ambassador to Japan, Claude Maxwell MacDonald, sent a telegram to Acting Consul Firth at Tamsui on 17 March 1910 appointing him concurrently the Acting Consul at Tainan upon Royds’ departure.

      On 21 March 1910 Acting Consul Alfred Richard Firth arrived at Tainan and took charge of the Tainan Consulate from Acting Consul William Massy Royds on 24 March 1910. On 22 April 1910 Ambassador MacDonald gave permission for A R Firth to transfer the Anping Consular Chest balance to the Tamsui Consulate and that the Tamsui Consular accounts in future should include all receipts and disbursements incurred in connection with Tainan Consulate. Acting Consul Firth advised Ambassador MacDonald that the costs of the necessary staff retention were the monthly wages of a Japanese writer and 2 native caretakers. With these actions the Tainan Consulate was effectively closed, and Alfred Richard Firth ceased to be Acting Consul.

      Alfred Richard Firth returned to Tamsui until about July 1910, when he took Home Leave. In England Alfred Richard Firth stayed with his aging parents, Alfred and Susanna Firth, at their home, ‘The Shrubbery’, Dersingham, Norfolk. Firth left England on 2 March 1912 with destination given as Manila, Philippine Islands. On 20 July 1912 Alfred Richard Firth was promoted to Vice-Consul and ordered to proceed to Kobé [神戸].

      Vice-Consul Alfred Richard Firth died of peritonitis, following an operation for appendicitis, at Kobé, Japan, aged 36, on 12 October 1912 and was buried there the following day.

Sources: General Register of the University of London.

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

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

Who’s who in the Far East, 1906-1907, June Edition.

The Straits Times, 23 June 1908. London and China Telegraph, November 4, 1912.

National Probate Calendar; Ships' Passenger Lists; British General Registry Office; London Gazette.