British Consuls in South Formosa

William Gregory

The Takao Club

William Gregory


 China Consular Service

      William Gregory was Acting Consul at Taiwan [臺灣] from 1 March 1872 until 26 May 1876. Gregory replaced Acting Consul Archer Rotch Hewlett, and was relieved by Acting Consul Thomas Watters. Gregory later was officiating Acting Consul at Taiwan from 15 February to 22 December 1884. Gregory replaced Acting Consul Pelham Laird Warren, whose wife had died on 14 January 1884; and was replaced by William Donald Spence. William Gregory’s recorded Chinese name was [額勒格里].

      Gregory also served at Tamsui [淡水] from 1865 until August 1871, during which period he rose from Interpreter to Vice-Consul. He effectively replaced 1st Assistant and Acting Vice-Consul George Compigné Parker Braune, who had died on 17 May 1864, although Vice-Consul Robert Swinhoe had briefly resumed charge in 1864 until 25 May 1865. He was replaced by Acting Vice-Consul Edward Colborne Baber, the noted orientalist.

      William Gregory was born on 23 November 1829 at Trowbridge, Wiltshire, the eldest son of William Gregory, a Currier, and his wife Elizabeth Gregory née Harding, a Congregationalist family. Gregory was educated at Smith’s Academy in Shaw, near Melksham. After a period of apprenticeship in the Currier trade, William Gregory received private tuition to matriculate to University College, London, in 1853. The new secular University College being one of the few universities to accept non-conformists. He was recommended by University College to join the China Consular Service in the April-June 1854 intake. Coates records that ‘University College even deputed a committee member to converse with Gregory, their nominee, in order to form some judgement of his bodily qualifications, after which they informed the Foreign Office that Gregory was apparently in sound health and of vigorous constitution’.

      Amongst his fellow recruits were Robert Swinhoe and Robert Hart, and they proceeded together to Hongkong [香港] as Supernumerary Student Interpreters to take Chinese classes. Gregory’s first appointment was to Foochow [福州] in 1855 where he remained until 1860, gaining promotion to 1st Assistant. After 5 years at Swatow [汕頭], Gregory was promoted to Interpreter and transferred to Tamsui, where he was promoted to Vice-Consul. He left Tamsui in August 1871 for a few years at Canton, before returning to Formosa as Acting Consul from 1 March 1872 until 26 May 1876. This period covers the Japanese Expedition to Formosa from May until December 1874, which, though ostensibly to avenge the alleged murders of 54 Okinawan sailors by the Botan aborigines, was probably more a test of Ch’ing control over Taiwan and a precursor of the Japanese occupation of the island in 1895. After his first stint at Tainan [臺南] and Takow [打狗], where the Consul for Taiwan lived to be in close proximity to the Tao-t’ai, or Circuit Intendant at Tainan with the Vice-Consul residing at Tamsui, Gregory was the British Consul at Swatow from 13 August 1877 until 1883 when he took Home Leave. Upon his return from England William Gregory was appointed officiating Acting Consul at Taiwan from 15 February to 22 December 1884. Gregory replaced Acting Consul Pelham Laird Warren, whose wife had died on 14 January 1884, and allowed Warren to take up his new post at Pagoda Island [羅星塔]. Gregory saw out his days as Consul at I-chang [宜昌], going on leave on 1 June 1889 and officially retiring on 1 April 1890 at the age of 60. Gregory achieved a feat that only one other man had done at that time: he retired with his health still intact.

      Described as a tubby, sloppily dressed little man who was well enough liked personally but an exceedingly ineffectual consul, William Gregory was, above all, a kindly and benevolent man. After his return to England, he lived at 43 Hilperton Road, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, next door to his aging mother at No 42. He became friendly with a widowed nurse also living in Hilperton, and on 17 October 1895 William Gregory married Elizabeth Dorcas Bailey, the daughter of Frederick William Sweetman and his wife Ann, at St James Parish Church at Trowbridge. Elizabeth Dorcas Gregory died on 27 March 1906, aged just 60. William Gregory died, aged 86, on 21 January 1916.

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.

Milroy, Andy; William Gregory, Her Britannic Majesty’s Chinese Consul; Privately published, 2006.