British Consuls in South Formosa

Richard Willett Hurst

The Takao Club

Richard Willett Hurst


 China Consular Service

      Richard Willett Hurst arrived at Anping [安平] in October 1893 to take charge of the Tainan Consulate from acting Consul Ambrose John Sundius. Hurst was officially appointed Consul at Tainan [臺南] on 1 December 1893. Hurst remained the Consul at South Formosa until 30 April 1896, when Consul Joseph Henry Longford of the Japan Consular Service took charge.

      Richard Willett Hurst was the last British Consul from the China Consular Service to serve on Formosa until Consul Edward Thomas Biggs was appointed at Tamsui [淡水] on 16 January 1948.

      Richard Willett Hurst was born on 7 March 1849 at 47 London Road, Manchester, the elder son of Henry Hurst, a Grocer and his wife Mary Willett. Richard Hurst was educated at Chorlton High School until 1865, and then, after a period of Private Study, entered University College, London, graduating with Bachelor’s degree in 1871. Hurst entered the July 1872 Examination and was appointed a Student Interpreter in the China Consular Service. His first posting was to Hankow [漢口] in 1875 as a Student Interpreter. Hurst continued as a Student Interpreter through postings to Shanghai and to Chefoo [芝罘], where he was promoted to Second Assistant on 1 April 1880.

      On 6 October 1877 Richard Willett Hurst, aged 28, married Margaret Orton Watt, aged 25, the eldest daughter of the Reverend David Gilkison Watt, a Congregational Minister, and his wife Jane Powell, at Hongkong Cathedral. On 2 July 1879 their first son, Geoffrey Willett Hurst, was born at the British Consulate at Chefoo.

      Hurst remained at Chefoo until 1882 when he was posted briefly at Tientsin [天津] and then, from 1882 to 1883, to Shanghai, where his second son, Richard Gilkison Hurst, was born.

      There followed postings to Foochow [福州] and Pagoda Island [羅星塔], where Hurst was promoted to First Assistant on 1 November 1888. Hurst was then transferred back to Shanghai, where a possible third son, Leonard Henry Hurst, was born on 22 April 1889. On 16 October 1889, the Hurst family took Home Leave, returning to Wenchow [溫州] as Acting Consul on 5 February 1891. It appears that their children were left in England and that Margaret Hurst returned to China later in 1891. The accommodation at Wenchow was a makeshift affair in a temple on an island about a mile from the city itself, from where all provisions and fresh water had to be obtained. Hurst fell ill there and left for Foochow on 28 April 1892.

      After less than a year at Foochow, which included a brief spell as Acting Consul at Pagoda Island, Richard Hurst was promoted to Vice-Consul and posted back to Shanghai on 15 June 1893, from where he was posted to Taiwan [臺灣].

      Richard Willett Hurst, accompanied by his wife Margaret, arrived at Anping in October 1893 to take charge of the Tainan Consulate from acting Consul Ambrose John Sundius. Hurst was officially appointed Consul at Tainan on 1 December 1893. Consul Hurst chose to live with his wife Margaret in the Consular Residence at Takow [打狗]. The home proved cold and uncomfortable, which could be tolerated at least until the rainy season began and the rain cascaded through the roof. Hurst relates how “it was always necessary in wet weather to put on galoshes and carry umbrellas to pass from one room to another, while stepping stones had to be placed in the passages to keep clear of the pools of water”. After the departure of Liu Ming-ch’uan [劉銘傳] in June 1891, the new Governor, Shao Yu-lien [邵友濂], had allowed the island to fall back into near inertia. As such, Formosa was ill-prepared to meet the looming threat of an assertive Japan, though, at Shao’s request, the Ch'ing court sent across Liu Yung-fu [劉永福], the veteran of the Sino-French War, and his Black Flag Militia [黑旗軍] to defend the south of the island. In 1894, the Japanese and Chinese armies found themselves both racing to quell an insurrection in Korea, which both claimed as their territory. Finding that the Korean rebellion had collapsed, the troops from China and Japan fell upon each other, thus sparking the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. As part of the defence of South Formosa Liu Yung-fu placed his third son, Liu Ch’eng-liang [劉成量], in charge of the Takow Fort on Saracen’s Head, Ch’i-hou [旗後], in February 1895. Prior to the handover of the fort to Liu Ch’eng-liang, an inventory of munitions was carried out on 1 February 1895. During the inventory-taking a powder magazine, containing about one ton of gunpowder, exploded killing over 70 people, including virtually all the soldiers in the fort. Other property was also severely damaged. Across the harbour mouth at the British Consular Residence, where Hurst and his wife were still living, much of the plaster fell from ceilings, and most of the panes of glass were broken.

      As the mainland Chinese troops awaited a Japanese attack on Formosa, they became restive and various incidents occurred. On 18 February 1895, some of the foreign women were molested, and even Consul Hurst was harassed by Cantonese soldiers when taking his regular walk along the northern shore of the Lagoon, past the Takow Foreign Cemetery, and up towards their camp on Ape’s Hill [猴山]. Fortunately, on 19 February, H.M.S. Mercury, under Captain Fawkes, arrived at Takow, which calmed things down. Thinking that the Chinese officers now had their troops under control, Hurst reluctantly agreed to the H.M.S. Rattler departing the next day for Hongkong before her replacement arrived, and thus leaving H.M.S. Mercury alone at Takow. Immediately there was a further serious incident, this time involving Hunan [湖南] troops, who had molested the foreign wife of a Customs official. Hurst promptly sent the aggrieved Customs official’s wife and his own wife, Margaret, up to Anping, and requested sentries to be assigned to all foreign premises. As the situation became graver Consul Hurst followed his wife up to the Anping Consulate in April 1895.

      With the Japanese forces victorious, the First Sino-Japanese War was ended by the Treaty of Shimonoseki [馬關條約], signed on 17 April 1895. Amongst the many harsh terms imposed on China by the Treaty, Formosa and the Pescadores [澎湖群島] were ceded to Japan. Yet Formosa decided to resist the transfer to Japanese rule, with Liu Yung-fu ultimately becoming the nominal head of the Republic of Taiwan, based at Tainan, in August 1895.

      At dusk on 9 June 1895 the Japanese cruiser I.J.N. Akitsushima [秋津洲] was sighted at anchor about 6 miles north Takow, and the following morning she made a leisurely reconnaissance of Takow, slightly out of range of the Chinese gunners, before steaming on to the south. An attack on South Formosa by the Japanese forces was clearly imminent. Hurst promptly advised all women, including one presumes his own wife Margaret, and children to leave for the mainland aboard the ships in port, and contented himself with mounting a Gatling machine-gun on the upper verandah of the Anping Consulate. The foreign residents that huddled at Anping, with the meagre protection of 58 British Marines, were now caught between 3500 restive Chinese troops on the land and a formidable force of Japanese troops somewhere out there in the Taiwan Strait.

      Throughout the summer the formidable Japanese warships appeared from time to time out in the Taiwan Strait off Takow, and in October 1895 the Japanese forces pounced. The Japanese advised the British Consul of their intention to attack Takow on 14 October, whereupon all the foreign residents at Takow, by now consisting only of the Myers family and the Consular Constable Antonio Alborado, were safely evacuated from the shore by H.M.S. Tweed. The Chinese servants of the British Consulate, however, refused to leave the consular buildings instead choosing to take refuge with their families inside the Consular Residence at Takow. The attack on Takow by the Japanese forces began at 7 a.m. on the following day, and by 4 p.m. the Japanese flag was hoisted over the Ape’s Hill Fort. Although some minor looting of European houses had taken place, the British Consular servants were all discovered to be safe. The Consular Residence was found to be occupied by some 20 Japanese troops, who had helped themselves to several bottles of Consul Hurst’s wine.

      On 20 October 1895, Liu Yung-fu fled from Formosa, and on 21 October Anping and Tainan surrendered to the Japanese who hoisted their flag over the Anping Fort. On 30 November 1895 Consul Hurst was instructed by the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that Consular officers in Formosa were henceforth under H.B.M.’s Minister at Tokyo, Sir Ernest Mason Satow, and no longer under the British Minister at Peking. Consul Richard Willett Hurst remained back at Takow until 30 April 1896, when Consul Joseph Henry Longford of the Japan Consular Service took charge.

      Consul Richard Willett Hurst took immediate Home Leave, returning to China for a series of brief postings and ended his career as Consul at Swatow, retiring due to ill-health at the age of 51 on 12 October 1900.

      In retirement Richard Willett Hurst lived with Margaret at Milton, near Keystoke, Somerset, and wintered in the South of France at Nice, where he died on 10 June 1924 at the Hotel St George. Margaret Orton Hurst née Watt returned to live in South Wales where she died on the Mumbles, Swansea, on 28 March 1927.

    His elder son, Geoffrey Willett Hurst, married Maud Ellen Wood, the daughter of Henry Wood and his wife Matilda Brown, at the St Pancras Registry Office on 9 June 1904. Maud Ellen Hurst died in 1914, aged 32. Geoffrey Willett Hurst died aged 64 in 1944.

    The younger son, Richard Gilkison Hurst, joined the Royal Navy and retired with the rank of Commander after the First World War. He then joined the Cambrian Division of the Coastguard Service, gaining an O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) in the 1945 New Year’s Honours List. Richard Gilkison Hurst, O.B.E., died on 8 May 1964, aged 81, at Swansea in Wales.

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.

Ruxton, Ian; The Semi-Official Letters of British Envoy Sir Ernest Satow from Japan and China (1895-1906); and, Correspondence of Sir Ernest Satow while he was British Minister  in Japan (1895-1900);