British Consuls in South Formosa

Ernest Alfred Griffiths

The Takao Club

Ernest Alfred Griffiths


 Japan Consular Service

      Second Class Assistant Ernest Alfred Griffiths arrived at Tainan on 23 April 1896 as assistant to the first Consul from the Japan Consular Service to serve in South Formosa, Joseph Henry Longford. Griffiths was promoted to First Class Assistant later the same year. Serving much of his time as the Acting Consul of the Tainan Consular District, Ernest Alfred Griffiths remained in South Formosa until 12 November 1903, following the arrival of Consul Alfred Ernest Wileman.

      Ernest Alfred Griffiths was born on 3 March 1863 at 19 Percival Street, Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester, Lancashire, the younger son of Stephen Thomas Griffiths, a Commercial Clerk in the East India and China Trade, and his wife Catherine Deborah Bower. He was educated at Dulwich College from 1876 to 1880, when he passed the Civil Service Examination and became a Clerk in the Exchequer and Audit Department, London. From January 1881 Griffiths studied in the evenings at the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution, London University. On 19 February 1884 he took the Open Competitive Examination for one of the four situations as Student Interpreter in China, or two situations as Student Interpreter in Japan, and came third in the examination. Ernest Alfred Griffiths was appointed a Student Interpreter in the Japan Consular Service on 7 April 1884.

      Ernest Alfred Griffiths was promoted to Second Class Assistant on 1 October 1888, when he served as Acting Vice-Consul at Tokyo [東京] until 1891. One problem that considerably slowed Griffiths’ promotions was his inability to pass the Interpreter’s Examination in Japanese: this slowed his promotion to First Assistant, and stopped his promotion to Vice-Consul or Consul at Tainan in 1898. In February 1896, when he was Second Assistant at Kobé [神戸], Griffiths was ordered to accompany Consul Joseph Henry Longford as the first members of the Japan Consular Service to serve in the new Japanese colony of Formosa.

      Ernest Alfred Griffiths arrived at Anping [安平], the port of Tainan, on 23 April 1896 from Nagasaki [長崎] in the company of Consul Longford, who took charge of the Tainan Consulate from Consul Richard Willett Hurst, of the China Consular Service, on 30 April 1896. Griffiths resided at Anping while Consul Longford resided at Takow [打狗]. E A Griffiths was promoted to First Class Assistant on 8 August 1896 and when Consul Longford departed Formosa in December 1896 to take up a new appointment as Consul at Nagasaki, Ernest Alfred Griffiths took charge of the Tainan Consulate as Acting Consul until the new Consul, William Joseph Kenny, took over on 1 February 1897.

      Consul Kenny made a tour of the Camphor Districts with Allan Weatherhead Bain, the senior partner of Bain & Co, in March 1897, but subsequently became very ill and was forced to leave Formosa in July 1897, handing back charge of the Consulate to First Assistant E A Griffiths.

      In 1897 and 1898 there was considerable unrest in South Formosa and in the camphor districts, while the camphor trade was badly effected in 1897, the camphor price was so good in 1898 that the foreign firms revived the trade despite the risks from robberies and general brigandage.

      In December 1898 Griffiths sent Ernest Mason Satow, the British Minister at Tokyo, a memorandum detailing the main ‘Banditti Incidents for 1898’. These incidents included robberies, murders and kidnappings that reached all across the Tainan Consular District. Amazingly these attacks reached right into Anping itself. The Japanese authorities launched a Military Expedition to exact reprisals. An estimated 4,000 villagers were killed, but no proven brigand was killed. The figures are startling. Griffiths records that in one village of 102 males, the whole male population were killed and just 8 old men spared. In another of 70 adult males, 64 were killed.

      Clearly the military approach to suppressing the brigandage had not worked, so the Japanese authorities tried a less alienating method. In July 1899 Acting Consul Griffiths reported to Tokyo on the new method. At first a free pardon and promises of employment or money were offered. Several of the smaller brigand chiefs with their men accepted this and submitted. However the stronger brigand chiefs waited out the Japanese for better terms. The chief brigand in South Formosa was Lim Siao-niao [林少貓] who made a kind of treaty with the Japanese in May 1899. This agreement made Lim Siao-niao an independent ruler of his own district of Au-piah-na [後壁林], an area just south of modern-day Kaohsiung. Guaranteed by local Japanese officials and Formosan merchants chosen by Lim, including Ho Hing [和興], the most influential native firm in South Formosa and engaged in the sugar trade.

      Ernest Alfred Griffiths remained Acting Consul at Tainan until December 1899, when Consul William Joseph Kenny returned to South Formosa from Honolulu, where he had been officiating Consul and recuperating from his seeming ordeal in Formosa. In 1900 to 1901 Griffiths took Home Leave to visit his widowed father and sister in Edgbaston, Warwickshire. Consul Kenny remained at Tainan until 29 January 1902, when he departed for Ireland on Home Leave, and handed over charge once more to E A Griffiths. Griffiths remained Acting Consul at Tainan until the new Consul, Alfred Ernest Wileman, arrived on 9 November 1903.

      On 12 November 1903 Ernest Alfred Griffiths departed Formosa to take up his new post at Kobé, to where he had been promoted to be the Vice-Consul for the Consular District of Hiogo [兵庫] and Osaka [大阪] on 21 May 1903. Ernest Alfred Griffiths was promoted a year later on 22 December 1904 to be Consul of the Consular District of Shimonoseki [下関], where he remained until his retirement on a pension on 9 December 1912.

      E A Griffiths left Japan from Kobé on 20 July 1912 and, travelling across Canada, arrived back in England on 12 October 1912. It remains unclear as to whether Griffiths intended to pass his retirement in England or Japan. Ernest Alfred Griffiths died, aged 50, on 10 October 1913 at the Tavistock Hotel, Covent Garden, 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.

Ruxton, Ian [Ed.]; The Semi-Official Letters of British Envoy Sir Ernest Satow from Japan and China (1895-1906); Lulu Press Inc., USA, 2007.

U.K. Probate Records; U.K. General Registry Office; Passenger Lists; London University Archives; Dulwich College Register; The London Gazette.

Who's Who in the Far East, (June) 1906-7.