British Consuls in South Formosa

Thomas Adkins

The Takao Club

Thomas Adkins


 China Consular Service

      Thomas Adkins was acting Consul for a scant three months at Takow. He succeeded Charles Carroll and was replaced by George Jamieson. Adkins took over from Charles Carroll on 1 December 1867 and departed the island on 16 February 1868.

      Thomas Adkins was born on 13 June 1836 at Milcote, Gloucestershire, the son of John Caleb Adkins and Temperance Tomes. He was educated near Worcester and at King’s College, London. Adkins was appointed a Supernumerary Student Interpreter on 14 June 1855 under the nomination of King’s College, London, and arrived at Hongkong, China, in September 1855 where he set about attending classes to learn Mandarin Chinese. His first posting was to Ningpo [寧波], where he arrived on 6 March 1858, as an Assistant. His Mandarin Chinese must have been good for he was promptly attached to the Earl of Elgin’s Mission to China on 12 July 1868. After remaining on Elgin’s staff as an Interpreter he took an active role in the signing of the Convention of Peking on 24 October 1860, which ratified the Treaty of Tientsin of 1858. The following day Elgin ordered Adkins to occupy the conceded British Embassy at Peking [北京], and he was left there alone throughout the Peking winter. After the arrival of Sir Frederick Bruce, Elgin’s younger brother, Adkins left Peking on 23 March 1861 to take up his new posting as Acting Consul at Chinkiang [鎮江], where he arrived on 18 May 1861 and where he remained until his medical leave was granted. His health was not good and he took extended home leave from 15 February 1865 until September 1867.

      On his return from home leave Adkins was stunned to receive orders to proceed to Formosa. It is from his letters that we learn the location of the British Consulate at Takow as being at Chi-hou. His time on Formosa was uneventful, though he ventured into the interior in the company of his friend Commissioner of Customs Francis William White, an account of the journey was published in The Cycle in 1870. His last journey in Formosa was to travel overland with Dr James Laird Maxwell in February 1868 to Tainan in order to report to the British Minister, Sir Rutherford Alcock, in Peking: no doubt Adkins reported to Alcock that Tainan and Takow were peaceful backwaters where nothing untoward occurred. As Alcock and Adkins had excellent relations, this may well have contributed to Alcock’s fateful decision to send John Gibson to the island a few months later.

      Adkins worked for Alcock as an Interpreter in the Chinese Secretariat, later becoming the Acting Chinese Secretary, from 18 March 1868 until September 1870. By then Sir Rutherford and Lady Alcock had left Peking and the sinologue Thomas Francis Wade had become the British Minister. Adkins passed his next years as Consul at Newchwang [牛莊], remaining there officially, though with several absences, from 29 October 1869 to 14 December 1879, when he retired from the China Consular Service, due to ill-health, at the age of 44.

      In 1873 Thomas Adkins had returned to England, and during his leave he married. On 5 March 1874 Thomas Adkins married Agnes Margret Sowdon, the daughter of Henry Best Sowdon, a Solicitor, and Margaret Sowdon née Crowther, at Charlton Kings, Gloucestershire. Thomas and Agnes Margret Adkins had returned together to Newchwang, China, for a few years before his final departure. Back in England, the Adkins initially lived at Bishopton House, Old Stratford, Stratford on Avon, Warwickshire, before moving to Long Hyde House, South Littleton, Worcestershire. Agnes Margaret Adkins died, aged 62 years, at Long Hyde, South Littleton, on 13 September 1911. Thomas Adkins followed not long after dying at the age of 76 at Long Hyde on 21 December 1912.

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).

Ruxton, Ian [ed]; The Correspondence and Diaries of Sir Ernest Mason Satow; (various titles).

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.

Warwickshire County Record Office; Thomas Adkins, member of the Diplomatic Service in China: correspondence mainly addressed to his father at Milcote 1855-79; (Reference CR 3554).