William Henry ROLLITT [1883-1929] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

William Henry ROLLITT [1883-1929]

William Henry
Birthplace (town, state): 
Holbeck, West Riding Yorkshire
Birthplace (country): 
Cause of death: 
1 (a) Portal thrombosis (b) Ascites (c) Asthenia

A member of the Royal Army Pay Corps, British Army

He was stationed in Hong Kong sometime during the period 1916-1921 with his family and he may have been involved in the racing industry. Please see discussion here by his greatgranddaughter

Photos that show this person




5 Dawson Court, Holbeck, Holbeck, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom 21st April 1883. Birth registered 1st June 1883 by Faith Eliza Rollitt (née Pickles) of 5 Dawson Court, Holbeck


1888 Kelly’s Directory of Leeds, Yorkshire, England

Father William Rollitt, cloth dresser had commercial address at 24 Upper Townsend Street in Leeds, which by extension would be where William Henry Rollit would be living as a 5 year old (matches with 1891 UK census address)


1891 British Census

William Rollit, Head, age 36, Occupation Cloth Drawer, born Yorkshire, Sheffield

Faith E Rollit, Wife, age 33, Occupation Nil, born Yorkshire, Leeds

Annie Rollit, Daughter, age 11, Scholar, born Yorkshire, Leeds

Arthur Rollit, Son, age 9, Scholar, born Yorkshire, Leeds

William H Rollit, Son, age 7, Scholar, born Yorkshire, Leeds

Address: 24 Upper Townsend Street, Leeds, Leeds, West Leeds, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom (3 rooms in house)


1901 British Census

William Rollitt, Soldier, Single, aged 18 years, Private 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment, born Yorkshire, Bradford

Address: Verne Citadel, Verne Common Road, District Verne Citadel, Portland, Dorset, England, United Kingdom


Marriage 23rd June 1906

William Henry Rollitt, Bachelor, aged 22, Occupation: Sergeant A.P.C.; Residence: 16 Barrington Road; Father’s name: William Henry Rollitt; Father’s occupation: Cloth Drawer

Edith Minks (22nd May 1884-22nd October 1922), Spinster, aged 22, No profession; Residence: 16 Barrington Road, Father’s name: Alfred Minks (deceased); Father’s occupation: Carpenter

Witnesses: Daisy Minks, William Charles Minks, William Edward Charles Loftas

Marriage at: St Botolph’s Church, Colchester, Essex, England, United Kingdom 23rd June 1906 according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Established Church after Banns. Married by J. Henry Dale.


Shooting competition July 1909

“Army Pay Department. – The annual rifle meeting of the Army Pay Department and Army Pay Corps, Northern Command, took place simultaneously at Strensall Camp, York, and Hopwas Range, Lichfield, on the 16th inst., the conditions being seven shots at 200 and 500yds. at service targets. At York the following officers were present: - Lieut.-Col. L. Dorling, D.S.O. ; Capts. Toller, Thursby-Pelham, Hill, and Fowke. Despite a strong wind very good shooting was made, considering those competing had not fired a rifle for a year. In addition to the various money prizes, the field officers of the department in the command presented a handsome silver tobacco box for the highest individual score, which was won by Sergt. Bradshaw, A.P.C., with a score of 49. The order of merit of the best 17 competitors is as follows: -


Sergt. W.H. Rollitt                                       200 yds (22); 500 yds (13); Total = 35”

(NB he was ranked 13 out of 17)

Source: The Army and Navy Gazette, page 14, 31st July 1909


1911 United Kingdom Census

William Henry Rollitt, Head, age 27, Married, Occupation Sergeant Army Pay Corps, Soldier, born Yorkshire, Leeds

Edith Rollitt, Wife, age 26, Married, Married 4 years, total 2 children born and still alive with none died, no occupation, born Essex, Colchester

William Gordon Rollitt, Son, age 3, born Essex, Colchester

Arthur Leonard Rollitt, Son, under one month, born Essex, Colchester

Rhoda Mary Butler, Nurse (Servant), age 60, Widow, Occupation “Sick Nurse”, born Essex, Colchester

Address: 97 Lisle Road, Colchester, Essex, England, United Kingdom


UK World War 1 Service Medal and Award Rolls 1914-1920

Awarded British War Medal and Victory Medal

Rank: Warrant Officer Class 2

Regiment or Corps: Royal Army Pays Corps

Regiment Number: 1089

Date: 18th December 1919

Source: The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; War Office and Air Ministry: Service Medal and Award Rolls, First World War. WO329; Ref: 2125

Other sources: Army Medal Office (In the Care of the Western Front Association Website); London, England; WWI Medal Index Cards

Source: British Army Medal Index Cards WO372/17/78624


Passenger List for “Khyber” (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company Limited 135564) 1921

William Henry Rollitt, age 39, Military Audit Clerk, 2nd Class

Edith Rolitt, age 37, 2nd Class

William Gordon Rollitt, age 14, 2nd Class

Leonard Arthur Rollitt, age 10, 2nd Class

Embarked in Hong Kong and arrived London, England, United Kingdom 25th May 1921 travelling through Singapore, Port Swettenham, Marseilles, and Plymouth, Devon.


Long Service and Good Conduct Medal 1922

First Name: W.H.

Surname: Rollitt

Rank: Warrant Officer 2nd Class

Service Number: 7657159

Authority: A.O. 145

Authority Date: 1922

Service: British Army

Primary Unit: Royal Army Pay Corps

Archive Reference: WO102/27


Monthly Army List 1926

“Royal Army Pay Corps – Staff-Sergeant-Majors

Rollitt, W.H.                        Perth 01/10/25” (date is that of promotion)

Source: The Monthly Army List, pages 914-9, 1926



General Infirmary Leeds, Leeds, Leeds Central, Leeds North, Leeds, Yorkshire West Riding, England, United Kingdom 29th July 1929

Cause of death: 1(a) Portal Thrombosis (b) Ascites (c) Asthenia No P.M.

Signature, description and residence of informant: A. Kay, Sister, 25 Wordsworth Street, Leeds

Death registered: 30th July 1929



Holbeck Cemetery, Plot 8790, Fairfax Road, Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom 2nd August 1929


Probate 10th July 1931

William Henry Rollitt of 25 Wandsworth-street, Leeds died 29 July 1929 at the Infirmary Leeds Administration (limited), London 10 July to Annie Kay (wife of John Kay) and John Kay leather finisher attorneys of William Gordon Rollitt. Effects £897 10s.  6d.


“William Henry Rollitt, Deceased,

Pursuant to the Trustee Act, 1925.

ALL creditors and other persons having claims against the estate William Henry Rollitt, Warrant Officer, Royal Army Pay Corps, Woolwich, S.E. 18, and of 25, Wordsworth Street, Leeds, Yorkshire, deceased (who died on the 29th day of July, 1929, intestate, and to whose estate letters of administration were granted out of the Principal Probate Registry on the 10th day of July, 1931, to Annie Kay and John Kay, the lawful Attorneys of William Gordon Rollitt), are hereby required to send in particulars, in writing, of their claims to the undersigned, on or before the 16th day of November, 1931, after which date the administrators will proceed to distribute the deceased’s estate, having regard only to valid claims then notified. – Dated the 3rd day of September, 1931.

ANDREW, PURVES, SUTTON and CREERY, 8 and 9, Great James Street, Bedford Row, W.C. 1, Solicitors for the Administrators.”

Source: The London Gazette, page 5797, 4th September 1931 Issue Number 33750

Source: Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, page 1, 5th September 1931

He was a referee in the North Essex Football League.



…DIVISON II. (West Section).

…26. Albion Works v. Witham, at Braintree; Sergt. W.H. Rollitt (Colchester).”

Source: Evening Star, page 3, 10th December 1906



Matches and Referees for December 22.

To be played on the ground of the first-named club. Kick-off 2.15.

…Division II (West).

Castle Hedingham v. Albion Works, Sergt. W.H. Rollitt (Colchester).”

Source: Evening Star, page 4, 22nd December 1906




Division II (West Section).

…26. Albion Works v. Witham, at Br(?) Sergt. W.H. Rollitt

Source: Barking, East Ham & Ilford Advertiser, Upton Park and Dagenham Gazette, page 3, 29th December 1906



…Matches and referees for to-morrow:-

Castle Hedingham v. Halstead R. Sergt. W.H. Rollitt.”

Source: Chelmsford Chronicle, page 3, 22nd March 1907



…Fixtures and referees for to-morrow. Kick-off 3.30:-

Coggeshall v. Witham.  Sergt. W.H. Rollitt.”

Source: Chelmsford Chronicle, page 3, 5th April 1907


“A meeting of referees residing in or near London will be held on Tuesday, 26th inst., at the George Hotel (opposite the Law Courts), at 7 p.m.

Referees who will be able to attend from the areas of Kent, Middlesex, Surrey, Herts, Sussex, etc., are especially welcome.

Mr. C.D. Crisp will explain the scheme already formulated, and speak on the necessity for membership of the R.U.

A cordial invitation is extended to every registered L.F.A. referee.

Mr. J.C. Stark in the chair.

Mr. Crisp would be glad to know the present addresses of the following referees:-

W.H. Rollitt…”

Source: Athletic Chat, page 10, 20th May 1908

The Rollitt family returned to the UK on the S.S. Khyber. The ship sailed from Yokohama to London. It arrived in Hong Kong from Shanghai on 15th April 1921 and departed 16th April 1921 and arrived in London 25th May 1921

Source: Hong Kong Daily Press, page 8, 18th April 1921 for passenger list. Interestingly it just mentioned “Mr Rolllitt and Master Rollitt” and later on “Q.M.S. Rollitt”

Source: The Hong Kong Telegraph, page 12, 18th April 1921 for passenger list. Interestingly it just mentioned “Rolllitt, Master Rollitt” and later on “Q.M.S. Rollitt”

Source: The China Mail, page 7, 18th April 1921 for passenger list. Interestingly it just mentioned “Rolllitt, Master Rollitt” and later on “Q.M.S. Rollitt”

Q.M.S. = Quartermaster sergeant

Thank you to all who have provided information on my great grandfather, William Henry Rollitt to date.  It is wonderful being able to build a profile of his life and I appreciate everyone's time and effort.

Can any one give me advice on how to research my grandfather, William Gordon Rollitt (known as Gordon) who I believe was a member of the St John's Chapel Boy's Choir and for a time was Head Choir Boy.   The family left London on the 22 Jan 1916 on the S.S Malwa, before transferring to the S.S. Novara (possibly in Bombay or Colombo) before arriving in Hong Kong 28 Feb 1916. On arrival Gordon was 8 years old. We also know that they left Hong Kong on the ship named 'The Kyber' on 16 April 1921, returning to England when Gordon was 14 years old.

Does the Church have archive records that are publicly available and would they have photos of the various choirs over the years?  It would be fabulous to find a photo of my grandfather in his choir robes.

Any advice on how to access these records would be gratefully received.

There is a newspaper report of a local Easter wedding in April 1914 of Mr. Gilbert George Holdaway and Miss M.E. Beeley which took place at St. Barnabas' Church, Dover. The bride was the daughter of Mr. George Beeley (late S.Q.M.S., Army Pay Corps, of Colchester). Sergeant W. Bennett, Royal Berkshire Regiement, acted as Best Man. The honeymoon was to be spent at Colchester. 

Basically a whole bunch of army pals attended the wedding and one of the guests was Seargeant W. Rollitt (A.P.C.) and Mrs Rollitt (Canterbury) who gifted the newly wedded couple an afternoon tea cloth. 

The upshot is that Wiliam Henry Rollitt and family were still in the UK in April 1914 so they must have come to HK after that date. 

Source: Dover Express, page 3, 17th April 1914


Aha. Found them.

The Rolllit family (Staff Sergeant, Mrs, and 2 children) travelled 3rd Class on the ship "S.S. Malwa" of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and departed London on 22nd Janaury 1916 for destination Hong Kong, China (= "Port at which passengers have contracted to land"), The ship was on its way to Sydney. 


So the plot thickens. As the 'S.S' Malwa" ran between London and Sydney, not to Hong Kong. So the ship arrived in Sydney on 6th March 1916 and then departed from Sydney after a stay of 10 days, back to Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle, Colombo, Bombay, Aden etc back to London. 

So the Rollitt family must have disembarked in Australia - could be Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne or Sydney (most likley) and then made their way later to Hong Kong. Thinking logically, they could easily have disembarked in Bombay or Colombo too and then got onto another ship to Hong Kong (!).

Other passengers have been labelled as contracted to land in various places eg, Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said, Bombay, Colombo, Fremantle etc. So it's safe to say that the Rollitt family did make it to Sydney and did not disembark on any of the ports visited by the ship on the way to Sydney.

So why did they not take a shipping route to HK direct? Was the Asia theatre of war an explanation?  

The Rollitt family never disembarked at Sydney when the s.s. Malwa arrived there on 6th March 1916 based on the arrival passenger manifest.

And then I found this:


Per P and O Steamer Malwa, From London January 22.- To Yokohama: Mr T. Loft., To Shanghai: Rev. and Mrs Hill, Mrs Cornaby, Miss Wells, Dr Pearson, Miss Clark, Calsster. To Hong Kong: Miss A. Grant, Miss Goldin, Mr Johnson, Capt Hutchison."

Source: The Hong Kong Telegraph, page 8, 28th February 1916

The s.s. Malwa never made it to Hong Kong: so for the above named Malwa passengers (and by extension the Rollitt family) to arrive in Hong Kong, they must have disembarked from the Malwa at the pre-Australia leg of the journey and transferred onto another ship. 


And this was the clincher:

"Per Novara, for Hongkong; from London, Capt J.W. Hutchison, Miss F.A. Britton, Mr S.E. Firth, Mr W. Johnson, Mrs Rollit and 2 children, Mr and Mrs Sutcliffe and child, Mr A. Shelton Hooper; from Bombay, Bishop Robinson…”

Source: The China Mail, page 8, 28th February 1916


The s.s. Malwa left Aden on the 10th February 1916 and arrived in Colombo and left Colombo on the 17th February 1916 for Fremantle in Australia (I do not as yet been able to trace the arrival and departure date for Bombay). 

The s.s Novara travelled from Bombay to Yokohama. It arrived in Bombay from Penang on 12th February 1916 and left Bombay on 13th Febraury 1916 and arrived in Colombo 16th February 1916. It then arrived in Penang on 21st Febraury 1916, then arrived in Singapore on 23rd Febraury 1916 and left the same day for Hong Kong, finally arriving there on 4pm 28th February 1916.

Source: Hong Kong Daily Press, page 8, 28th February 1916



Rollit Sergt & Mrs…”

Source: The Hong Kong Telegraph, page 5, 29th February 1916



Staff-Sergt, and Mrs Rollit and 2 children…

Source: Hong Kong Daily Press, page 8, 29th February 1916


So the Rollitt family must have transferred from the s.s. Malwa to the British steamer s.s. Novara either at Bombay or Colombo to continue on their journey to Hong Kong.



Wow I am in total awe of your investigative skills!  I only started researching my family history a year ago and realise I have a lot more to learn regarding possible sources for information.  It must have been quite a journey for the family, particularly the 2 young boys.  Also makes total sense that they wouldn't have gone as far as Australia to then back track back to Hong Kong.

Amazing work David.  I am so grateful.


I have also found reference in an old one page story of his life that William Henry was known as 'Dan' which I thought was worthy of mentioning.

It's a pleasure Samantha to be able to further your research! I have multiple strands of family myself related to Hong Kong and have spent years doing my own family history research so have learnt a few tricks/shortcuts along the way. You've made an effort to post and share your story here so I'm happy to use the skills I've learnt to help or signpost you. 

It's a big jigsaw puzzle and I know the feeling of euphoria when a breakthrough is made because your family is your own personal story of who you are.

Anyway: this website can be used as a starting point. You can throw a query to the community here as you have done and also there is a link on the left hand panel about Where to find Hong Kong's history which you can explore to see if anything further can be dug up - useful ones are the HKGRO website, Hong Kong newspapers and the Carl Smith cards to kickstart your research. The optical character recognition software for the HK newspapers at the MMIS website (click on my source links) are rubbish but is brilliant with the ProQuest South China Morning Post digitised newspapers if you have a library/instituion access to Proquest. Of course if you can visit the PRO in HK, even better. 

Your ggrandfather had a miliatry career - if you are in the UK, you can visit the PRO in Kew and dig up his army records or (much easier and less time hassle) pay a military historian to do it for you, for example at forceswarrecords - a) they have regular 25% discounts (we're looking at about £150 or so) b) archives are restricted now because of COVID.

There are numerous family history related websites - the choice is yours. Familysearch.org is free. Paid subscriptions include ancestry, MyHeritage, Findmypast etc given your family has a UK slant. Newsapapers (British, Antipodean etc) websites can be a useful source for your family - some free, some paid subscriptions. FreeBMD can be used for civil registration records. 

You probably have done this already but contact direct St John's Cathedral to see if they can signpost you to someone who can help. 

Quiz your family to within an inch of their life to wring our every juice of information. Have someone else cast an eye on your data/documents/photos to get another POV. Just learn to know where to ask for help and be creative in negotiating around so called "brick walls".

There is always more than one way to skin a cat - never give up! 

Derek Frank Rollitt was born on the 7th October 1922. His birth certificate states that Derek was born at 7a Block Artillery Place, Woolwich where the family resided and states the occupation of father as: Staff Quarter, Master Sergeant, RAPC.