Charles James BRYANT [1834-1907] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Charles James BRYANT [1834-1907]

Charles James
c.1834-01-01 (Month, Day are approximate)
c.1907-12-03 (Day is approximate)

I came across this name by chance whilst looking at old British newspaper archives. The newspapers reported his death in 1908 and at the time he was living in penury, wearing old rags and living in a hovel in Tai Kok Tsui a village in what was then lierally  The New Territories. He had lived at least in recent years as  a recluse cut off from normal society. At the time of his death he was 73 years old. 

However it turned out that he had been a soldier of the Queen. He had served in the Coldstrean Guards in the Crimean War and was awarded the Crimean Medal with a bar for the Battle of Inkerman and a bar for Battle of Balaclava. He was accordingly given a full military burial. 

The other surprising thing is that he turned out to be much less impecunious than he appeared. He owned a property in the Western District of Hong Kong. He supossedly had a bank deposit for GBP1,000 and he had HKD 200 on his person equivalent to GBP40. A lot of money in those days.

He was discharged from the Army with good conduct in the rank of Sgt after 5 years service. He then joined the Metropolitan Police. He was discharged from the Met with good conduct and made his way to China where he joined the Shanghai Municipal Police. Later he joind the China Maritime Customs. 

At the time of his death in 1908 he was thought to have a sister in England and a son but whose whereabouts was unknown. The newspapers reported that he was buried at the Colonial Cemetery and the Middlsex Regt provided a firing party for the salute. I looked for him on and found a possible date of birth being 19th Aug 1838 but not much more.  I went down to the Colonial Cemetery and looked for his grave but to no avail. I went to the office but they said they had no such burial registered. He was an old soldier who had served in some of the toughest battles in the Crimea with the Guards who were in the thick of fighting. He had been a policeman first in London and then in Shanghai always serving with good conduct and not a blemish to his name.  What made him shut himself off from the world rather than enjoy a comfortable retirement which he could well afford. Had I been able to find his grave I wanted to pay my respects to an old soldier who had lived in Hong Kong and who had fought in a long ago war.

Philip Cracknell




A Notice reference any claims on his estate ( for Probate) appears in the HK Government Gazette of 14th February 1908 Page 182, in which he is described as ' late of 29 Suidter (?) Street,Tai Kok Tsui.'

Hi Philip,

That's an interesting story, thanks for posting it.

I tried searching for Bryant in the local newspapers via MMIS, but didn't get any relevant matches. I was hoping for an obituary to tell us more about him.

A search in HKPRO turned up the Notice mentioned by 1314 above, and also a second match in Table VIII (a) of "Report of the Registrar of the Supreme Court for the year 1907".

That table is titled "Return of Estates of Intestates for the second half-year ending 31st December, 1907." and has the entry:

Name of Intestates C. J. Bryant
Amount received on account of Estates $235.44
Deductions for Disbusements $11.77
Balance on closing Accounts $223.67
Disposal of Balance Paid into the Treasury

The estate looks smaller than the UK papers reported, and it also looks as though he'd died earlier than 1908, certainly not later than 1907.

Tai Kok Tsui was south of the old boundary, so part of Kowloon rather than the New Territories. It was relatively built up, as the Cosmopolitan Docks were nearby. Here's a photo from that area in 1906:

1906 Ships & buildings showing typhoon damage

The list of China Maritime Customs staff has him joining in 1869 as Third Class Tidewaiter, then resigning in 1879 as Assistant Examiner at Canton. He'd certainly been in and around China for many years by the time he died.

Hopefully more will turn up over time.

Regards, David

The only Bryant that I have so far found in the Crimean/Coldstream Guards is  a Private John Bryant 5050 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards who suffered slight wounds at Sebastopol 3 September 1855 

His death was 3rd December 1907, or more accurately, he was found dead on that date. 

Source: Daily Telegraph and Courier (London), page 9, 4th January 1908

His death was reported in the Hong Kong Telegraph, page 6, 3rd December 1907 and the updated obituary was reported in the Hong Kong Telegraph 4th December 1907

Charles James Bryant The Hong Kong Telegraph page 4 4th December 1907.png
Charles James Bryant The Hong Kong Telegraph page 4 4th December 1907.png, by eurasian_david


C.J. Bryant travelled from Southampton to Shanghai via the overland route from 4th March 1866

Source: 'Departure of Passengers', Homeward Mail from India, China and the East, page 22, 16th March 1866 


He is listed here in the Shanghai Municipal Police database (1866-1868) by Professor Robert Bickers of Bristol University:

Shanghai Municipal Policemen record

The birth year of 1834 tallies with his age of death as reported later in Hong Kong 


A repeat of what David found years ago re: his role at the Chinese Maritimes Customs:


The Chronicle & Directory for China, Japan & The Philipines etc for the year 1877

He was Assistant Examiner as part of the Outdoor Staff of the Statistical Department of the Custom House but seemingly in Shanghai:


The Chronicle & Directory for China, Japan & The Philipines etc for the year 1879

He was Assistant Examiner at the Chinese Martime Customs in Canton in 1879:


His son was searching for him in 1894:


BRYANT. - News wanted of Charles James Bryant who held a position in the police, English quarters of Shanghai, China, in 1873. Last heard from at Slough, near London, in 1883. His son, Charles W. Bryant, care of Editor, Reynold's Newspaper, inquires. American and China papers, please copy." 

Source: Reynold's Newspaper, page 4, Sunday 21st January 1894 - newspaper published in London


It's all rather odd. It seems he last had contact with his family in Slough in 1883. Then the subsequent years are a mystery till his death in circa December 1907 in Hong Kong. So he had shuttled back and forth between the UK and the Far East between 1866 and 1883. His marbles were certainly intact for him to open a bank account and obtain property in Hong Kong at some point presumably post 1883. Will have to see as more information emerges.