British Consuls in South Formosa

Pelham Laird Warren

The Takao Club

Pelham Laird Warren


 China Consular Service

      Pelham Laird Warren’s first posting in the China Consular Service was to the Island of Formosa [臺灣] as a Third Assistant on 18 November 1869. He remained on the island, including a period from 1 December 1871 until 1 March 1872 when he was left in sole charge of the Consulates at Taiwan-fu [臺灣府] (Tainan) and Takow [打狗], until he was posted to Foochow [福州] in June 1873.

      On his second posting to Formosa, First Assistant Pelham Laird Warren, in the absence of Consul Archer Rotch Hewlett, took over charge of the Consulate from Third Assistant William Holland as Acting Consul on 1 January 1880. After the arrival of the new Consul, George Phillips, on 13 February 1881, Warren took Home Leave one month later until 31 March 1883. Warren was once again Acting Consul and First Assistant, resident at Takow, until 15 February 1884, when he handed over the Consulate to officiating Consul William Gregory and took up his new posting as the Vice-Consul at Pagoda Island [羅星塔].

      Pelham Laird Warren returned to Formosa and on 21 April 1886 took over charge of the Consulate from Acting Consul Michie Forbes Anderson Fraser. At the time Warren was still nominally the Vice-Consul at Pagoda Island, and it was not until 19 July 1886 that he was officially appointed Her Majesty’s Consul at Taiwan. Thereafter, apart from taking Home Leave from 4 June 1888 to 27 July 1889, Consul Warren remained on Formosa until August 1893, when he was posted as Consul at Hankow [漢口], leaving the Consulate in the hands of the Pro-Consul and Acting Consul, Ambrose John Sundius.

      Pelham Laird Warren was born on 22 August 1845 at Stoke Damerel, Devon, the eldest son of Captain Richard Laird Warren of the Royal Navy and his wife, who was also his cousin, Eleanor Charlotte Warren. His father was later promoted to Admiral in the Royal Navy in 1870. Pelham Warren was educated at Victoria College, Jersey, Channel Islands. Warren entered the examination held by the Civil Service Commissioners in January 1867 most probably through the nomination of the Foreign Secretary, Lord Edward Henry Stanley, and was appointed a Student Interpreter in the China Consular Service on 2 February 1867. Warren then travelled out to Peking for two years’ language training under the direction of Thomas Francis Wade, the Chinese Secretary at the British Legation. On 18 November 1869, Pelham Laird Warren received his first posting: it was to Taiwan with the rank of Third Assistant, drawing a salary of ₤300, in the British Consulate under Acting Consul Archer Rotch Hewlett.

      In 1871, Warren was involved in two incidents which showed the difficulties faced by the British Consulate in South Formosa during the time that the Foreign Office was considering its removal. The first, in July 1871, involved the wreck of a British ship off the southern cape of Formosa; the second, in December 1871, concerned the lawless behaviour of some of the crew of a British naval gunship. Hewlett departed from Formosa at the end of November 1871 and Warren, though only a Third Assistant on his first posting was nominally in charge until the arrival of Vice Consul William Gregory on 1 March 1872. Warren remained on Taiwan until he received his next posting in June 1873 to Foochow together with a promotion to Second Assistant.

      Warren remained as Second Assistant at Foochow, also serving as Acting Interpreter from June 1873 to July 1874, until June 1875. He then departed to England for his first home leave, as his father, Admiral Richard Laird Warren, was gravely ill and indeed died on 29 July 1875 with Pelham Warren at his side.

      During his home leave, and despite the death of his father. Pelham Laird Warren, aged 30, married his second cousin Mary Donnithorne Humpage, the 25-year-old daughter of Joseph Humpage, a Surgeon, and his late wife Elizabeth Anne Warren, at St Mary’s Church, Marylebone, Middlesex, on 9 September 1875. In February 1876, Pelham Warren, and his bride Mary Donnithorne, arrive back in China and took up his new posting at Ningpo [寧波], where their first child Mary Eleanor Warren was born on 19 September 1876. On 14 November 1876 Warren was promoted to First Assistant. In May 1877 Warren was sent as First Assistant and Acting Consul to open the new Treaty Port of Wenchow [溫州], it was a picturesque and clean walled city but stood beside a silted river, the Ou-kiang [甌江], and had no traders. The Warrens were very content there, and their son, Richard Laird Warren, was born at Wenchow on 9 August 1878. Pelham Warren remained at Wenchow until 1879 when he was posted back to Taiwan.

      First Assistant Pelham Laird Warren arrived at Takow on 29 December 1879 to relieve Third Assistant William Holland, who had been left in charge of the Consulate by the absent Consul Archer Rotch Hewlett. Warren formally took over from William Holland as Acting Consul on 1 January 1880. Reflective of the increased mercantile activity at Anping [安平], one of Warren’s first tasks was to chair a meeting for the construction of a Bund [外灘] at Anping at the end of January. Mary Warren had not initially accompanied her husband to Formosa. She had stayed behind with the children at Ningpo, some 350 miles north of the small foreign settlement at Wenchow, where she gave birth to their third child, Ethel Marion Warren, on 18 March 1880. After one month, Mary, the two elder children and her new-born baby proceeded down to Amoy [廈門], where Warren travelled across to meet them, arriving back at Takow where he registered Ethel’s birth on 12 May 1880. A new Consul, George Phillips, appointed on 25 February 1880, had arrived on 13 February 1881 to take charge of the Consulate. On 13 April 1881, Pelham Warren and his family departed from Takow to take home leave. A third daughter, Dorothy Warren was born at Leamington, Warwickshire, on 30 April 1882.

      Pelham Warren left their three eldest children with his widowed mother, and returned to resume his duties at Takow, accompanied by his wife Mary and their new baby Dorothy, on 31 March 1883. At that time the customary practice was that the Consul reside in Tainan and the First Assistant reside at Takow: the Vice-consul was in charge of the Consulate at Tamsui [淡水]. Accordingly, Warren and his family took up residence in the recently-built Consular Residence at Shao-ch’uan-t’ou [哨船頭], and were probably the first family to do so. However, disaster then struck the Warren family. Around June 1883, Mary Warren started to feel unwell, complaining to Dr William Wykeham Myers of general languor, loss of weight, and feeling unrefreshed upon waking with occasional bouts of diarrhoea and fever. Despite the attentive care of her husband and of Dr Myers, the symptoms persisted and took a severe turn for the worse as the new year of 1884 began. By chance a blocked drain, emanating the foulest air, was discovered on the hillside just below the Consular Residence. This was undoubtedly the cause of Mary’s sickness, but its discovery came too late and Mary Donnithorne Warren née Humpage died, aged 33, two days later on 14 January 1884, and was buried in the Takow Foreign Cemetery. The bereaved Warren was left alone with his 15-month-old baby daughter, Dorothy Warren. Warren made arrangements for the care and return of Dorothy to England, and, on 15 February 1884, handed over charge of the Consulate to officiating Consul William Gregory and took up his new posting as the Vice-Consul at Pagoda Island [羅星塔], to which he had been appointed on 11 July 1883 but had delayed due to his wife’s failing health.

      Pelham Warren arrived at Pagoda Island as Vice-Consul at the end of February 1884. Accordingly he was witness to the French bombardment of the Min Forts at the mouth of the Min River, and the Battle of Foochow, also known as the Battle of the Pagoda Anchorage, [馬尾海戰], which was fought off Mawei Harbour [馬尾港], Foochow, and Pagoda Island on 23 August 1884. In the battle, the French Far Eastern squadron, under Admiral Anatole-Amédée-Prosper Courbet, annihilated almost the entire Fuchien Fleet [福建水師], one of the four Chinese naval fleets. This action enabled Courbet to blockade Formosa, unopposed, from October 1884 until April 1885. Warren was absent from his post throughout 1885, and, though present again in 1886, left Pagoda Island in the charge of his second Assistant, Richard Willett Hurst, and departed for Formosa on 19 March 1886 on the urgent orders of Nicholas Roderick O’Conor, the British Chargé d’Affaires at Peking.

      Pelham Laird Warren returned to Formosa on 15 April 1886 and took over charge of the Tainan Consulate from Acting Consul Michie Forbes Anderson Fraser on 21 April 1886. At the time Warren was still nominally the Vice-Consul at Pagoda Island, and it was not until 19 July 1886 that he was officially appointed Her Majesty’s Consul at Taiwan. Upon visiting Takow, Warren would have marvelled to see the beautiful Memorial Chapel, dedicated to the late Mary Donnithorne Warren, that had been erected by public subscription just inside the entrance to the Takow Foreign Cemetery. At Anping a site had finally been approved for the new Consulate, yet despite the need to move from within Tainan after the severe outbreak of typho-malarial fever in 1885, the Anping Consulate does not appear to have been completed until 1889. Accordingly, Consul Warren may have been the first occupant in 27 July 1889, when he returned from Home Leave. Another change that had occurred during Warren’s absence was the impeachment in June 1885 by the Imperial Commissioner Liu Ming-ch’uan [劉銘傳] of the genial Circuit Intendant at Tainan, Liu Ao [劉璈], who had first been appointed in May 1881. Since Liu Ming-ch’uan resided in Taipei in the north of the island and the new Tao-t’ai was appointed by Liu Ming-ch’uan, all the power slipped away from South Formosa. New taxes were imposed, which particularly hurt the south, and corruption ran rampant among the Chinese officials, affecting all levels of society and making Liu Ming-ch’uan so unpopular in South Formosa that he only visited the district once, and found himself imprisoned in his own yamen. Though greatly frustrated by the inaction of the local Chinese authorities and lack of response from Liu Ming-ch’uan, who had become Governor in 1877, Consul Warren remained on Formosa until August 1893, when he was posted as Consul at Hankow [漢口], leaving the Consulate in the hands of the Pro-Consul and Acting Consul, Ambrose John Sundius.

      Pelham Warren was officially at Hankow from 1 December 1893 until 1 July 1901: he took up the post as the Consul and was promoted to Consul-General at Hankow on 12 October 1899. However, the newly-appointed Consul-General at Shanghai [上海], Byron Brenan, decided to take Home Leave a matter of weeks after his appointment in May 1899, and Warren was summoned from Hankow to take charge as Acting Consul-General at Shanghai where he arrived on 1 July 1899. In June 1900 the threat to the Foreign Legations in Peking from the Boxers became extreme, threatening all foreigners in China. To quote Coates: "In a momentous telegram to the Foreign Office Warren on 14 June expressed his conviction that if assured of British backing the powerful Hankow and Nanking [南京] viceroys would do their utmost to preserve peace in their districts and that an early understanding with them was essential. Salisbury, the Foreign Secretary, immediately telegraphed a message for them. With the assistance of [Everard Duncan Home] Fraser at Hankow and [Ambrose John] Sundius at Nanking, Warren reached an understanding with the viceroys that so long as they preserved the peace there would be no armed foreign intervention in their districts. Throughout most of China this invaluable understanding, with which other viceroys and governors associated themselves, saved foreigners from murder and Chinese from the ravages of foreign troops bent on revenge and loot. Until the Legations were relieved and communication with the British Legation were restored in September the FO treated Warren virtually as a temporary minister."

      Pelham Laird Warren was hailed as the man of the moment and was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (C.M.G.) in the 1901 New Year’s Honours List. Consul-General Brenan had returned to Shanghai in October 1900, but was ordered to keep out of Warren’s way. Feeling humiliated, Brenan retired on 1 July 1901, allowing Warren to be officially appointed the Consul-General at Shanghai. On 26 June 1902 Warren was promoted to Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (K.C.M.G.) in King Edward VII’s Coronation Honours List. Sir Pelham Laird Warren remained at Shanghai until his retirement on 20 January 1911.

      Sir Pelham Laird Warren retired to live at Sidmouth in Devon, where his unmarried eldest daughter, Mary Eleanor Warren, took care of him at his home 'Catton'. At Sidmouth he often visited George Ernest Morrison, an Australian adventurer and The Times Peking correspondent, to reminisce about their China days. Warren had a wealth of tales about Formosa to tell, but told Morrison that the most interesting experience he had in China was to witness the bombardment of the Min Forts, at the mouth of the Min River, by Admiral Courbet in August 1884. After 1920, Sir Pelham moved his home to 'Moorings', also at Sidmouth. Sir Pelham Laird Warren, K.C.M.G., died aged 78 on 21 November 1923 at 'Moorings', Sidmouth, Devonshire.

      Regarding the children of Pelham Laird Warren and Mary Donnithorne Humpage, Mary Eleanor Warren never married and was finally living in Winchester, Hampshire. Mary Eleanor Warren died aged 68 at Woking and District Victoria Hospital in Woking, Surrey, on 6 July 1945.

      His son, Richard Laird Warren, joined the Imperial Maritime Customs in February 1899 as a Fourth Assistant, B. On 1 December 1908 Richard married Edith Stella Bacon, the widow of Reverend John Mackenzie Bacon, and daughter of Thomas Buckner Henry Valintine, Land Agent to the Duke of Richmond, and his wife Bertha Bean, at the Parish Church of Calne, Wiltshire. Richard Warren retired from the Chinese Maritime Customs as a Commissioner of Customs in October 1931. Edith Stella Warren of 4 Holmesdale Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, died aged 83 at Little St Johns Nursing Home, Bexhill-on-Sea, on 17 August 1959. Richard Laird Warren died aged 99 in 1977 in Dorset, England.

      Warren’s second daughter, Ethel Marion Warren born on 18 March 1880, married Hugh Elphinstone Campbell, the son of Robert Campbell, a Barrister, and his wife Mary Lucy Ilbert, at Shanghai on 10 October 1905. Hugh Elphinstone Campbell was a director in his cousin’s firm of Ilbert & Co., Merchants, of 22 Kiangse Road, Shanghai. Hugh Elphinstone Campbell died aged 69 at Bantham House, Bantham, Kingsbridge on 17 January 1943. Ethel Marion Campbell of Sunny Ridge, Thurlestone, Devon, died aged 71 at The South Hams Hospital, Kingsbridge, Devon, on 12 April 1951.

      Warren’s youngest daughter, Dorothy Warren, born 30 April 1882, married Gerald Lucas Hanwell, the son of Joseph Hanwell and Gertrude Chamberlin, in 1909 at Shanghai. Hanwell was a Shanghai Physician and Surgeon. Gerald Lucas Hanwell of Ramsey Boldre near Lymington, Hampshire, died 76 on 19 April 1944. Dorothy Hanwell died on 1 February 1977 at Castle Cary, Somerset, aged 94.

Sources: 1875 photograph of Pelham Laird Warren courtesy the Warren family.

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.

Lo Hui-min [Ed.]; The Correspondence of G. E. Morrison 1912-1920; Cambridge University Press, 1978.