Christian Friederich Wilhelm PETERSEN [c.1832-1896] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Christian Friederich Wilhelm PETERSEN [c.1832-1896]

Christian Friederich Wilhelm
c.1832-07-07 (Year is approximate)

If you know the nationality of this gentleman, please could you leave a comment below?

He appears as in the history of John Olson. They must have been good friends, as Petersen was appointed as executor of Olson's will.

Historian Carl T Smith wrote about Petersen in his article "The German speaking community in Hong Kong 1846-1918". The first mention of Petersen is in the section "Taverns, Boarding Houses, Cafes and Hotels":

The German Tavern has the longest history. It is first mentioned in 1858, a year before the German Club was organised. It closed in 1910. Its first proprietor Andrew Rudigar was in charge for a very short time. He died in 1858, aged twenty six. He was succeeded by Christian Friederich Wilhelm Petersen, who held the licence for spirits for the tavern intermittently until his death in 1896, aged sixty four.

Smith makes a couple of other mentions of Petersen:

  • The German Tavern ended up a sideline to his main business - a partnership with Peter Henry Schmidt recruiting crews for the many ships sailing from Hong Kong.
  • Smith believes that Petersen's second wife, and later widow, continued in the tavern business. Also that their daughter worked in the same trade, as manager of the Station Hotel in Kowloon until it closed in 1931. In both cases, the establishments catered to a german-speaking clientele.

But another suggestion is that Petersen was Swedish, giving a kick-start to his close friendship with Olson.

So was Petersen German, or just German-speaking? What clues can we see?

Choice of business? In favour of German. Though the start of Smith's article includes his disclaimer about the difficult of establishing a person's nationality from his name. So it's not clear if Petersen ended up in the article due to his (and his Tavern's) name, or because Smith had other records showing Petersen's nationality. And after all if Petersen had opened a tavern catering only to customers speaking Swedish, he wouldn't have been very busy!

Wife? No help either - first was English, and Smith suggests that Petersen's second wifewas Chinese.

Friends? Evens: we've got Olson for the Swedes, but I guess his business partner Schmidt was German.

Name? In favour of German. Wikipedia says that the region of origin for the name Petersen is Denmark, Norway, and northern Germany (old danish colonies).

So, a couple of clues pointing towards German nationality, but nothing very convincing either way. If you know for sure, please leave a comment below.



In the Carl Smith Archive there is a handwritten entry suggesting that Mrs Petersen married three more times after the death of her husband!

I assumed Petersen was a Swede from the name. Also I wondered if he had any connection to Karlshamn in Sweden famous for its production of strong spirits  at that time-  and I believe the home of today's Absolut vodka - which was John Olson's home port.

I suspect it is likely that all none native English speaking Europeans stuck together - especially those from Northern latitudes. Will be very interested to see if anybody has more knowledge of Mr Petersen. He must have been a good friend of my great grandfather John Olson as he was the only executor of the Will. That will is available in the HK Public Record Office.

Somewhere in the Smith archive I also saw a reference to Petersen Ships' Chandlers. Maybe the HK Maritime Museum could help.



Smith mentions May Petersen had two further marriages after Mr Petersen died:

  • to Mr R A Matthaey in 1904.
  • to Mr Uschmann by Nov 1909

And there is also mention of a third marriage of Mrs Uschmann to Mr J. Sanderson Smith, though Carl T Smith thinks the record is wrong. Instead he believes Mr J Sanderson Smith married one of Mrs Uschmann's daughters from her original marriage to Petersen.

At which point I need to go and have a lie down - it all gets very confusing!

Regards, David

Petersen is in the Smith archive, but better still he's in an article Carl
Smith wrote about the German community in HK (and so by extension we can
infer he was German (there are lots of Petersens from the Lubeck area).
The reference is Here's the relevant extract:
"The German Tavern had the longest history. It is first mentioned in 1858,
a year before the German Club was organised. It closed in 1910. Its first
proprietor Andrew Rudigar was in charge for a very short time. He died in
1858, aged twenty six. He was succeeded by Christian Friedrich Wilhelm
Petersen, who held the licence for spirits for the tavern intermittently until his death in 1896, aged sixty four. After his death his widow May was in charge for a brief period. She was his second wife and was Chinese. Three of their children were baptised in the Chinese To Tsai Chinch. His last wife was an English woman, a native of Bristol. She died in 1878, aged twenty eight, from the effect of taking cajiput oil (DP 5 Jan 1878) In 1883, Mr. Peterson was charged by the Inspector of Nuisances for keeping two pigs in his kitchen without a licence. The defendant pleaded that he had only kept them there for a few days and had had them slaughtered as soon as he could arrange it (DP 20 Feb. 1883). There may have been pigs in the kitchen, but soon after the tavern opened there had been preaching in the bar room. We have already noted the reference of the Rev Philip Winnes to the services held there. Petersen for some years was associated with another German, Peter Henry Schmidt, a licensed boarding house keeper who was in the business of recruiting crews for merchant vessels. In 1875 the licensing board heard that Petersen's barman had been discharged for neglecting his duties due to lack of supervision. The board commented that Petersen's more lucrative employment at the German Consulate led him to neglect his business. If he was to continue to hold his spirit licence, he could not leave the management of his business to others (DP 2 Nov. 1875)."
Rikardo AS Mak wrote an article "The German community in 19th century Hong Kong", Asia Europe Journal, Volume 2, Number 2, July, 2004, pp.237-255, which may have something in it.



Hong Kong Maritime Museum

Hi Stephen,

Yes, I also quoted from the same Carl Smith article in my initial post above. It certainly suggests German nationality, but isn't conclusive.

Thanks for the link to Ricardo Mak. I've just sent him an email to ask if he can help.

Regards, David

Patricia Lim in her book, Forgotten Souls, p. 462, writes about the Petersen brothers, Christian (1832-1896) and Peter (1834-1876) She writes that Peter Petersen, brother of Christian Frederick Wilhelm, is described as a native of Sweden on his headstone. She surmises that the brothers were probably from Schleswig Holstein, which had recently been captured by the Germans. A younger Petersen, Johannes, who died in 1896, the same year as Christian and perhaps a relative, is described on his headstone as being from Flensburg, which is right up on the Danish/German border in Schleswig Holstein, so her supposition makes sense. The size of Christian’s headstone and the fact that he was able to leave an estate of $52,000 indicate a shrewd man in a financially lucrative occupation, writes Lim. She says that they were disapproved of by the authorities for the gambling games they organized. This certainly doesn't seem to have done them any lasting harm as they were later accepted on to the list of jurors.

Hi Jill,

Thanks, I'd missed that. It's the best evidence yet that Christian was Swedish.

How about the Schleswig Holstein connection though? Looking at Wikipedia, it says: "Schleswig and Holstein have at different times belonged in part or completely to either Denmark or Germany, or have been virtually independent of both nations.". Wouldn't they have been described as natives of Denmark if they'd come from there?

Regards, David

Yes, this geographical discrepancy had been bothering me and I have been poring over my Times Atlas. Perhaps we should leave Johannes Petersen of Flensburg, out of our reckoning, as we don't know for sure if he was a relative, or even Swedish. If the family decided to state on Peter Petersen's gravestone that he was a native of Sweden, we should take their word for it. It follows that his elder brother would be a native of Sweden too. From Malmo to the Flensborg Fjord, or the northern tip of Germany, is a short hop by comparison with the journey to Hong Kong. Rev. Winnes's testimony cited by Lim that "a poor German named Petersen had opened an inn for German sailors in 1858" is confusing. If this was indeed Christian, possibly from a coast-based seafaring family, he would have been only 26, but might have mixed with German seamen and learnt German - more widely spoken and more useful than Swedish - and even been mistaken for a German. Running the German Tavern could have compounded that mistake. Another Petersen is given on his gravestone as "geboren Norwegen" (born in Norway) but the stone was "Erichtet von seinen Deutschen Freunden" (Erected by his German friends). The Scandinavian and German communities were clearly very close.


Hi David,

Must have missed your reference to Rikardo Mak above. You may remember that I asked you if you had come across the name Mak as I have a postcard dated 31-8-1919 from what was obviously a boy's weekend. It is signed by my grandfather John 2, his brother Charles Olson and an L.W.Mak. There are two other signatures which I cannot make out. It was sent to my grandmother Annie Lousia Moore Bourke who was in London at the time and the message written by Charles says:"Having a h... of a good time here. Love from. The picture on the postcard shows "Post Office and Macao Hotel on Praya Grande.

I wonder is my Mak anything to do with your Mak and whether you ever got in touch?

With regard to Peteresen's nationality I can only add that he was the executor of my great grandfather's Will and that somewhere or other I came across him not only being a tavern keeper but also a ship chandler. I cannot remember where. The question of his nationality seems somewhat irrelevent at this remove.


There are 8 Petersens in the Protestant Cemetary. 3 headstones in English, 3 of them with German inscriptions and one in Danish.

The English graves seem to belong to the same Peterson familiy:

Christian Friedrich Wilhelm (Christian Frederick William), 1833-1896, (23/3/1 - number of the grave), and Peter, 1822-1876, where obviously brothers and in the hotel/restaurant buisiness. Peters headstone tells us also the tragedy, that his only son, named after him Peter, born one month before his fathers death, died in Jan. 1897 aged 6 months. He rests there with his father (8/21/1). Peter was born in Sweden; Christian Friedrich Wilhelm sounds German or Danish. Most of the Danish kings were a Christian or a Friedrich. Clearly they spoke German and Danish like many people in that area. So I think Jill is right: these Petersens came "possibly from a coast-based seafaring family" at the Baltic Sea.

The third headstone in English belongs to Ellen Peterson, "beloved wife of William Peterson"; 1840/1850?-1878; 38/05/08. Rev. Smith wrote: "His (i.e. Christian Friedrich Wilhelm) last wife was an English woman, a native of Bristol. She died in 1878, aged twenty eight, from the effect of taking cajiput oil (DP 5 Jan 1878)" has to be: corr: DP 8 Jan 1878! The article is in the Daily Press 1878-01-08, on page 2. Lim reads the headstone as: "aged 38 years".

The three headstones in German are:

Wilhelm Petersen, 32/01/06, from a town in Holstein. When he was born in 1849 Holstein was Danish; people spoke German and Danish. 1868 in the year of his death in Hong Kong Holstein was Prussian, after a short time of a joined Austrian-Prussian government.

Johannes Petersen, 05/01/17, (1865-1897), originates from Flensburg. He was born five days before the Austrian-Prussian government ended and Flensburg became Prussian. From 1871 on Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein, was part of the Deutsches Reich.

The third headstone in German belongs to a Norwegian helmsman named Petersen. No first name is given. He died in Hong Kong 1904. The stone was erected by his German friends. Obviously he worked in the German merchant navy. 02/03/21

One inscription is in Danish for: Herman Petersen; 1871-1912; 16B/01/08

for sure, there lived more Petersens in Hong Kong around the year 1900. The Ladies Directory of 1890 has a: Petersen Mrs. Victoria Hotel Peak.

Greetings from Germany! My Great Grandfather was born on July 7, 1832 in Kiel, Holstein, at that time GERMAN. He died on April 24, 1896, aged 64 years. The name of his second wife was Mary (May?) Towamoy, of chinese family, born in 1864. Regarding the "Station Hotel": It was their daughter Annie and her husband Jack who have been leading the hotel. I would really love to know where I could find more information about my family in Hong Kong. Can anybody help? Thank you and regards, Susann

Thanks Susann, good to have that mystery cleared up at last.

If you scroll back up the page there are some links to other documents with mentions about your family. Also check this page of general resources for researching people who lived in Hong Kong:

I'll be interested to hear what else you discover,

Regards, David

Susann, Patricia Lim has researched your great-grandfather, Christian and his brother, Peter for her book, Forgotten Souls: A Social History of the Hong Kong Cemetery, published by the Hong Kong University Press They are both buried in the Hong Kong Protestant Cemetery. Lim gives their grave numbers as 23/3/1 and 8/21/1. You will be able to find their inscriptions through her database of grave inscriptions on the Gwulo website. I believe you can order her book direct from HKUP or obtain it through Amazon. Lim cites two articles by Carl Smith as the sources of her information 1) 'The German Congregation in Hong Kong until 1914', in Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol 15, 1975 and 2) 'The German-Speaking Community in Hong Kong, 1846-1918', Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 34, 1994. You can either find these online through the link given in an earlier post above. Otherwise, if they are still available you may be able to order these numbers through the HKRAS by mailing  You would then need to send a banker’s draft for HK dollars, but I dare say you would find the articles give interesting background to the lives of your great-grandfather and his brother in Hong Kong, which sound quite exciting. Good luck!


David, Thanks for your reply, I will check all the links and documents. I will keep you informed! Regards, Susann

Jill, thank you so much for all the information! I will order Patricia Lim's book and will look after the Journals you have been mentioning. You are definitely right, that all sounds very exiting and I will keep you informed about what I will find out. I definitely know nothing about my great-grandfather, only what family rumours have been telling (sorry if I do not always find the right words but English unfortunately is not my mother tongue). My grandmother always denied her chinese heritage although it was more than obvious and she spoke Chinese fluently. Guess it had not been easy to be "in between" two different cultures, especially from a social point of view. Thanks and regards, Susann

Hi Susann,

I think your great grandfather was the executor of my great grandfather John Olson's last will and testament. I am also inclined to think that he was the person who probably gave my grandfather his start in the pub/tavern/hotel business in HK in the early 1860s. This is how his my great grandfather's Will began. 

This is the last will and testament of me John Olson of Victoria in the Colony of Hong Kong hotel keeper and I hereby revoke every other will and testamentary disposition by me at any time heretofore made.

I appoint my friend Wilhelm Petersen of Victoria aforesaid Hotel Keeper (hereinafter called my “Trustee”) to be executor and trustee of this my will.

I have come across your great grandfather's name many times in my researches. You may like to go to  This will give you a picture of the sort of life he would have lead which I am sure was not unlike that of my great grandfather who also married a Chinese woman. 

I am interested to that you mention a denial of Chinese ancestry. This seems to be a common thing in the children of such marriages. This certainly happened in my family many of whom could easily pass as Chinese. Despite this they hid the link or at least woud not talk about it. Some seem to have been unaware of it.

If I can be of any more help please let me know. At the end of the web site I have mentioned, which is about my great grandfather's life in Sweden and Hong Kong, there are several links which may be of use to you. I found the Carl Smith Archive very useful and this website has also yielded a great deal of information.


Sean, Thanks for your reply! The last few hours I spent reading the website you made for your great-grandfather. What an amount of work. And a loving memory as well. I am absolutely overwhelmed by all the information, I certainly will have to read it twice (at least). Thank you for offering your help, I will certainly need it. Susann

Thanks for your kind words Susann. I hope it was a help and I am sorry not to have a German translation! 

Just wanted to say that if you reply to me at the as mentioned in my website I can get in touch with you directly if you wish me to try and answer  queries you may have.


Susann, more info about Mary Towamay Petersen Uschmann

Annelisec, thank you! 

Christian Fredrick William Peterson_Gwulo.jpg
Christian Fredrick William Peterson_Gwulo.jpg, by Susann