British Consuls in South Formosa

Ambrose John Sundius

The Takao Club

Ambrose John Sundius


 China Consular Service

      Ambrose John Sundius served as a Second Class Assistant at the Tainan Consulate from March 1893 until 2 May 1894 when he departed for England on Home Leave. A J Sundius was Pro-Consul from 17 May 1893 until his departure. Sundius also was Acting Consul at Tainan following the departure of Consul Pelham Laird Warren in August 1893 until 29 November 1893 when he handed over charge of the Consulate to First Class Assistant William Holland.

      Ambrose John Sundius was born on 2 December 1864 at Mentone, France, the only son of the Reverend Julius Henry Sundius, Curate of Grantham in Lincolnshire, and Emily Mary Young. His father died in 1866, aged 35, at Grantham, and his widowed mother, Emily Mary Sundius, aged 29, married again to William Julius Jeaffreson, a Tutor and M.A. from Lincoln College, Oxford University, the eldest son of Samuel John Jeaffreson, a Physician, and Sophia Kenny on 5 August 1869 at St Stephen’s Church, Kensington, London. Ambrose John Sundius was brought up by his mother and stepfather in Folkestone, Kent. Sundius had a private tutor and entered London University in 1885. He took the Open Competitive Examinations for the China, Japan, and Siam Consular Services in 1886, and was appointed a Student Interpreter in China on 16 February 1886.

      After his two years’ of Mandarin Chinese classes at the British Legation at Peking, Ambrose John Sundius was posted as a Student Interpreter to Chinkiang [鎮江] from 9 February 1888 to 3 July 1889, then to Foochow [福州] on 12 July 1889, where he served as Acting Consul from 10 April to 9 May 1891. Later in 1891, still a Student Interpreter, A J Sundius was posted to Pagoda Island [羅星塔] until 1893, serving as Acting Vice-Consul for much of the time. Ambrose John Sundius had been promoted to Second Class Assistant in 1892 and in 1893 he was posted to the Tainan Consular District in South Formosa.

      Ambrose John Sundius arrived at the Taiwan Consulate in March 1893 where he served as an Assistant to Consul Pelham Laird Warren. 1893 saw the export of camphor from Tainan increase by half over the previous year, both in terms of quantity and of value, despite interference to the trade in the interior of Formosa. At the beginning of 1893 the Yünlin [雲林] district was opened for working camphor, but when Bain & Co, the premier British firm in South Formosa, sought to bring camphor down from this district in January 1893 the Chinese authorities forbade the camphor to leave the district. This was contrary to the camphor regulations then in force, but Consul Warren could obtain no satisfactory explanation from the Tao-t’ai [道臺] in Tainan for this interference with Bain & Co’s business and who claimed that foreign business was limited to Chip-Chip [集集] and that the Yünlin district was closed to them. Exasperated, Consul Warren decided to send Assistant Sundius to investigate in March 1893.

      Assistant A J Sundius travelled up to Yünlin by ‘chair’ (palanquin), arriving there on 29 March 1893. The following day he met with the Camphor Weiyüan [委員], the Chinese officer in charge of camphor affairs in the district who immediately abandoned his earlier claim to the Tao-t’ai in Tainan that foreign firms were not allowed to conduct business in the Yünlin district. Instead, the Camphor Weiyüan proposed that Bain & Co join up with a Taipei firm called Ting Kee [定記] and conduct their business through them. Mr Harry Walter Arthur of Bain & Co was already up at Yünlin and, upon hearing the Camphor Weiyüan’s proposal from Assistant Sundius, rejected making any deal with Ting Kee. Upon further investigation Sundius concluded that there was a financial relationship between the Camphor Weiyüan and Ting Kee, and that there was a plot afoot to monopolize the camphor trade, a previous attempt being declared illegal in 1891. A despatch from higher Chinese authorities in Taipei then arrived, ordering the Camphor Weiyüan to drop all his previous objections and to allow Bain & Co to conduct business freely in the Yünlin district. Assistant A J Sundius returned with Harry Arthur from Yünlin, arriving at Tainan on 14 April 1893.

      As the camphor market in Hongkong boomed in 1894, so did the camphor business in Formosa, with exports doubling in quantity and value. The Chinese authorities continually sought ways to benefit from this lucrative trade and there were frequent clashes with the foreign firms. In January 1894 a consignment of camphor belonging to Mr David Moncrieff Wright was confiscated by the Camphor Weiyüan at Yünlin. Moncrieff Wright duly complained to Acting Consul Holland. Consul Richard Willett Hurst, who had by then arrived and taken charge, sent Second Assistant Ambrose John Sundius to investigate. He was accompanied by Mr Robert John Hastings, Wright’s de facto partner, and Harry Arthur of Bain & Co. The small party left Tainan on 25 February 1894 and reached Yünlin on 5 March. The matter of Mr Wright’s seized camphor was quickly resolved by the Camphor Weiyüan, and, despite some camphor having been pilfered, the full amount was restored to Wright’s branch office in Yünlin with great ceremony: each basket was covered with a red cloth and the consignment was proceeded by trumpeters, the camphor was then weighed and the explosion of fire-crackers concluded the ceremony. According to the Camphor Weiyüan, the whole matter had been ‘a misunderstanding’. Sundius returned to Tainan on 19 March, and his report, submitted on 24 March 1894, on the affair also includes much information on the local aborigines.

      On 2 May 1894 Second Class Assistant Ambrose John Sundius departed South Formosa for England on Home Leave.

      After his return to China in 1895, Ambrose John Sundius served again as Acting Vice-Consul at Pagoda Island, before being briefly posted up to Tientsin [天津] in November 1895 to serve as Pro-Consul until June 1896, when he returned to Pagoda Island until December 1896. On 16 December 1896 A J Sundius took charge of the British Consulate at Hangchow [杭州] as Acting Consul until October 1898. During this period, on 27 September 1897, Sundius was promoted to First Class Assistant.

      From Hangchow Sundius was sent as Acting Vice-Consul to Chemulpo [Incheon], Korea, where he arrived on 5 November 1898 and stayed to 31 July 1899. Upon his return to China, Ambrose John Sundius was posted as Acting Consul at Chefoo [芝罘] until 1 March 1900. On 24 February 1900 Sundius was promoted to the rank of Consul and transferred to Nanking [南京], where he arrived on 11 March 1900.

      Ambrose John Sundius officially opened the British Consulate at Nanking, despite the city having been designated a Treaty Port in 1858. Nanking lay on the right bank of the Yangtze River [揚子江], giving direct access to the sea, some 220 miles away, for ocean-going vessels; the city was also the seat of the Liang-kiang [兩江] Viceroyalty, the second most important provincial post in the Chinese Empire. Sundius opened the Nanking Consulate at a time when the threat to foreigners from the Boxer Rebellion, or the uprising of the Righteous Harmony Society Movement [義和團運動], was becoming extreme, and was only three months before the Siege of the International Legations in Peking began on 20 June 1900. While at Nanking A J Sundius befriended Liu K’un-i [劉坤一], the Liang-kiang Viceroy, and this friendship proved vital in Consul Sundius’ joining with Consul-General Pelham Laird Warren at Shanghai and Acting Consul-General Everard Duncan Home Fraser at Hankow [漢口], on the opposite side of the Yangtze River from Wu-ch’ang [武昌], the seat of the Liang-Hu [兩湖] Viceroyalty, to seek protection for foreigners in the provinces in the lower Yangtze River region of China. On 14 June 1900 Consul-General Pelham Laird Warren was able to telegraph the Foreign Office in London to report that he, together with Consul Sundius and Acting Consul-General Fraser, had reached an understanding with the Viceroys. Pelham Warren received much credit and a knighthood for his initiative; Everard Fraser received a C.M.G. (The Order of Saint Michael and Saint George); but Ambrose Sundius received no official recognition and, as Sir Ernest Satow, the new British Minister at Peking, states, ‘may have deserved more credit than he got in public’.

      Consul Sundius remained at Nanking until September 1906 when he was transferred to be Consul at Wuhu [蕪湖] until August 1908. He then took up his final posting at Amoy [廈門] from 1 September 1908 until June 1909, when the ailing Sundius took Home Leave to England. Upon his return from England in late December 1910 Ambrose Sundius resumed his position as the Amoy Consul but his health was failing rapidly. According to Coates Sundius was ‘practically living on boiled milk and Sanatogen as his digestion could no longer cope with old buffalo and goat masquerading as beef and mutton, with stringy tasteless fowl, nor with sawdust bread and formalin-treated butter. Sundius applied for early retirement on 28 June 1911 on the grounds of his poor health. Despite the support of the Foreign Office, the British Treasury refused to agree to his taking early retirement as he was still capable of discharging his duties. New medical certificates were submitted and Consul Sundius returned to England in 1912, but it was not until 1913 that the Treasury finally allowed him to retire on the grounds of ill-health. Ambrose John Sundius was then able to officially retire on 1 March 1913.

      Presuming either resignation or early retirement, the largely indifferent A J Sundius had returned to England in 1912. On 23 November 1912 Ambrose John Sundius, still only 47, His Britannic Majesty’s Consul to Amoy, China, married Daisy Edith Oatway, a 26-year-old Packer in a Chocolate Factory from Bristol, the youngest daughter of William Oatway, a Marine Surveyor, and Mary Alsop Edwards, at St Martin in the Fields, Westminster, London.

Ambrose John Sundius went to live at 3 Clifton Terrace, Southsea in Hampshire where he died, aged 59, on 23 April 1924. His widow, Daisy Edith Sundius, returned to live in Bristol where she died, aged 75, on 23 October 1961 at her home in Mortimer Road, Clifton, Bristol.

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).

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.

U.K. Probate Records; U.K. General Registry Office; Passenger Lists; The London Gazette.