Any advice or tips on researching life in HK in 1895 please? | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Any advice or tips on researching life in HK in 1895 please?

 Sorry, bit of a long introduction.

I am trying to piece together the early life of my grandfather and great aunt who were both born in Hong Kong in 1895 and 1898 respectively.  I wonder if any forum members may have any tips for my search. Research I have done so far:-

 HKPRO could not find any birth certificates when I paid for searches.  However, recently I had news in the form of one of the cards from the Carl Smith Collection which informed me that my grandfather (HTW Wade) was actually the illegitimate child of Rowland Henry Rochfort Wade and a Chinese woman called Qui Fook, and he was baptised at the Canossian Convent Chapel in July 1895.  The illegitimacy angle was always expected after several years of research (Government papers with help of Bernard Hui of HKPRO) although my aunt, now 87, has very little recollection of her grandfather (she thought he was a brother of Thomas Francis Wade - of romanisation of chinese language fame) or that he actually had a separate family, as she only saw him once during her childhood in China before escaping to Europe in 1937.

My great grandfather RHR Wade arrived in Hong Kong in June 1889 (found in the China Daily newspaper online from HKPL) and joined the Chinese Maritime Customs as a 4th Assistant ( Bristol University Project on Chinese Customs Service & records at School of Oriental and African Studies, London) and worked his way up to Commissioner of Customs serving in Shanghai, Tsingtoa, Tientsin and in Hong Kong circa 1924 before retirement in 1927 from Tsingtoa.  I know from research (National Archives Dublin and UK) that RHR went back to Ireland in 1899 and married and returned to China and had 4 children (1 died in infancy).

I have also found (WW1 call up papers for my grandfather - Captain of Chinese Labour Corps in France 1917) that my grandfather was living in Shanghai in 1917.

It is clear that he and his sister were cared for, and obviously at some stage registered as British subjects, although no records exist from any returns from any embassy in HK or China - National Archives UK to support this.

I have written to the Catholic Diocesan Archives of Hong Kong for any information they may hold about my grandfather possibly boarding or being educated by the Canossians or whether there is any information about Qui Fook.  Interestingly RHR was Anglican and my grandfather through to us are Roman Catholics and I am aware that children taken in by the Convent had to be brought up in the Catholic faith. I have also written to a couple of Catholic colleges in HK to see if my grandfather may have been educated there in his early days.  Still awaiting a reply.

It is obvious that my great grandfather kept this line a secret from his own family but also that he must have ensured that the illegitimate children were cared for and given his name. I am also aware that it must have been difficult for Eurasian children at that time.  However, I am desperate to piece together their lives after birth to 1917 and when they moved to Shanghai.

Has anyone had a similar story or suggestions for further investigation?  My brother may be able to fly out if there are any archives that might have such information and require public access.


What does HWT, in HWT Wade stand for ?


Let's start with great grandad.

So, "Rowland Henry Rochfort Wade", arrives in Hong Kong, age 20, to work with the Chinese Maritime Customs, and in Hong Kong has a couple of children with Qui Fook over four years.  The second born in 1898. 

He goes back to Ireland in 1899, two years after his father has died, and marries the recently divorced Charlotte Jones, nee Dennis, who is 38 years old.  Wade is then 30 years old. 

Where does he and his Irish wife go then ?  Away from Hong Kong ?


Thanks for your reply.

HTW = Henry William Thomas (Henrici Illari on the Carl Smith card). 

As far as I can ascertain, they returned to Shanghai.  Some of this is supposition on my part as I can only find RHR on passenger lists arriving/departing China/HK  in years 1919 out, 1925 out, 1926 return, 1927 out, 1932 UK to Bombay and again to Bombay in 1936. 

RHR's  first child Gustavus Fitz Rowland Wade was born in Shanghai 20/6/1901 and died 28/8/1902. His second child Annie Dennis Wade was born in Shanghai 4/3/1903 and third child Rowland Henry Dennis Wade 26/8/1904 was born at Kuling ? registered at Kinkiang consul. His birth certificate says that RHR was with I.M Customs Shanghai.  I don't have the birth certificate of the fourth child Kathleen Rose Dennis Wade to hand but know she was born in China in 1907 (I will dig it out for the place).

The family's suspicion is that possibly the two illigitimate children may have been despatched to Shanghai as wards to someone else at around this time.

RHR was in the Deputy Tax Division of Customs, Shanghai at various periods  during 1910,1912,1914, & 1915, Hou Wei-lan.

RHR is Commissioner of Customs in Shanghai from 1st May 1917 to 14th April 1919.

HTW Wade's address (from Army documents dated 28/6/1920) is 83 Range Road, Shanghai.

Don't know if this helps at all, but thanks for your time.


Hi Colette,

That's an interesting project you've got underway. Thanks for the detailed introduction.

A couple of ideas and some wild guesses:

  • There are a couple of other family histories that share some elements with yours, and would be worth a look: Sean's history of John Olson, and Patricia's research into her ancestors (here and here).
  • Have the other branches (RHR's second family, great-aunt's family) been able to help?
  • What was the source quoted on the Carl Smith card? Does that give any ideas where to look for more?
  • Do you know if your great-aunt was also the daughter of Qui Fook? If RHR and Qui Fook kept a relationship going til 1898, it seems less likely the children were baptised roman catholic to help them get into an orphanage. So why would they be baptised roman catholic at all if RHR was anglican? One possibility is that Qui Fook was the driving force, and was Roman Catholic herself. Certainly if she'd been through the Canossian schools it would mean a chance she spoke English, and help explain the relationship with RHR.
  • Do you know when Qui Fook died? (Was her death one reason RHR left HK?)
  • Have you looked for any Wade graves in Hong Kong from the 1890s? Possibly other children who died young, or Qui Fook herself.
  • Take a look at the notes for this Place. It's not mentioned there, but I think I've read elsewhere it started as a home for orphaned / abandoned Eurasian children. Some of the names of the Canossian organisations mentioned there may be of use.

Please let us know how you get on. I'm especially interested in any tips you find about how to navigate the catholic archives. I haven't been in touch with them at all, but they ave the advantage over the anglican records that they came through the WW2 Japanese occupation in better shape.

Regards, David

Hi David


Many thanks for your response.


Of course I will keep you up to date with any tips on accessing the Catholic Archives, should I get any response from them although, judging replies from this website and other forums, I will be very lucky to get anything useful.  I will also be sure to follow up your suggestions that I haven’t covered already.


As a little more background, I actually started researching this side of my family in 2007, beginning with the recollection of my aunt that we were related to Sir Thomas Francis Wade. After tracing that line and RHR’s actual line I could find absolutely no relationship of my Gt.Grandfather  (hereafter RHR) with this family, nor the link to mine!


To answer your points


  • After establishing  his Chinese Customs Service, and his arrival in HK and so on and then hitting a brick wall about ‘concrete’ confirmation that he was my Grandfather’s father, I set about following RHR’s legitimate family line for information. It took quite some time to find RHR in UK and finally his death certificate 1946 – he died in a nursing home in Sussex and a search for his grave has born no fruit.


I traced his son Rowland to Malaysia (HSBC)  and then to Western Australia where I found he died in 1995. This Rowland had one son whom I traced to Malaysia also and then to UK in 1950 where his trail went ‘cold’ (but I haven’t quite given up yet).  RHR’s  youngest daughter, Kathleen, is buried with her husband and her mother Charlotte, in an Anglican churchyard not 8 miles from where I currently reside! I cannot find any evidence that she had any children.  The middle daughter also married and had a daughter Patricia (UK records) and this daughter was left something in RHR’s will (no mention in the will of the illegitimate children. Again, I lost the trail and with it  my (almost) last chance of individuals with (possibly) some recollections of the parallel family.


My Grand Aunt lived with my Grandfather (and my father and aunt) in Shanghai according to my aunt, although she is not in the Directory & Chronicle for China, Japan, Foreign residents for the years 1920-1925 (RHR & my Grandfather are listed along with their occupations but not addresses).  I do, however, have her marriage certificate which of course only gives details of her father – listed as RHR in Chinese Customs.  She married an Alexander Matheson, had a son Alex, and they emigrated to South Africa in 1935. .  I haven’t had much luck tracing them so far but I do need to be more thorough with the South African connection.                                         


Therefore, I have absolutely no details to prove or disprove that Qui Fook is her mother. 


Interestingly, my Grandfather’s marriage certificate (Paris 1920) lists RHR as father and Mary Foke as mother (hiding the Chinese blood).  RHR’s name is on the wedding invitations although I understand he wasn’t at the wedding


  • The reference on the Carl Smith card is ‘Baptisms R.C. Cathedral HK’  and the only other reference in it is the Canossian Convent Chapel .  Further searching of the collection  failed to yield any reference to my Grand Aunt or other baptisms.


At the end of 2008 I put down the Wade tree and spent 2 years on my Irish side unearthing 14 Grand Aunts and Uncles and hundreds of cousins and some very interesting anecdotes of involvement in the Civil war and the IRA!  It was only 4 weeks ago that I uncovered the Carl Smith card which has ‘kick started’ this side of the project again, and only just revealed Qui Fook.


I did read Sean's story a couple of weeks ago through a link my brother sent me and it was that article that pointed me to your website.


  • So, thus far, I have only had cursory glances online for graves and will follow up that suggestion.


  •  I am not sure that her death might have been the cause of RHR’s return to Ireland.  Customs employees used to have prolonged periods of leave after time spent in China.  Also, RHR was born in Monktown, Dublin and his father was a prominent Dublin solicitor although in 1899 his father had been dead for 2 years.  I do know from records from SOAS I think it was, that RHR was sponsored by Lady Hart, wife of Sir Hart, Inspector General for China, in his application to join the CMC. This makes me think that his family moved in similar social circles, and his new wife was similarly well ‘heeled’ and it may not have totally been a marriage of love…. He needed respectability to progress his career.


Rather long winded response.  If I find any useful references from the caltholic archives or other I will post for others to see.

Hi Colette,

Lots of similarities to my family - Olson - and their Hong Kong story. Hiding things seems to have been part of the game!

I was lucky in that I had some useful documentation but not one bit came from the Catholic auhtorities in HK. I did get confirmation of my grandfather and grandmother's marriage through having a certifcate signed by them to say the children would be brought up as Catholics. My grandmother was Irish. Father from I know not where but stepfather from Dublin though living here I have never bothered tht chase that end.

David is the specialist in all these things but for my tuppence worth I would say have a look at The Hong Kong Blue Book.The School of Oiental Studies in London can help you there.

it is also unlikely that Qui Fook was buried under that name. My great grandmother Ching Ah Fung was buried as Ellen Olson! Very close to her husband. Have you other names for her? If so I can give you the name of somebody who has a database of most of the graves in the Protestant Cemetery in HK.

My grreat grandfather names her his wife and she was a devout Anglican. He was of  course Lutheren being a Swede. All searches failed to turn up their marriage licence. However, they must have been married as she was such a devout Anglican - I know the name of the priest who baptised her and she was close to another member of the London Missionary Society in 1906 when my great grandfather got married in the Catholic Church!

What a web is woven when plots are made to deceive.

If I can help do get in touch through the email on by website.

Good luck,

Sean Olson


Hi Colette,

Wow, that's a thorough search you've made. The only other thing I could think of is to look through the Jurors Lists for say 1913 (when he was 18) - 1917 (called up) to see if your grandfather's name appears. It sounds as though he was probably already in Shanghai by then, so it's a long shot.

And it sounds as though if anyone has tips on how to find information in Hong Kong's Roman Catholic archives, they would be very welcome to several readers.

Regards, David

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your note.  There are a few similarities between our stories and I have to say, yours was so helpful in understanding how things remain hidden and, inspired me to try harder.

The only other name I have for Qui Fook is Mary Foke as detailed on my grandfather's wedding certificate.  David also suggested that I looked for any infant deaths between 1895 and 1895 which may or may not have Wade as a surname.  Is this enough to enable a search of the cemetery database that you mentioned?  If you think so, I would be awfully grateful if you could put me in touch with your contact.



Hi Colette,

The contact I have withe the database which may be of help is a woman called Christine Thomas.

Her website is: http//

Her email is:

If you give her a name or names to search for she will tell you whether she can help and then charge you a tenner for the info if you want it. You may feel it is worth a punt.

In my case I asked her to look for Olson on her database as I knew that my great grandfather was buried there. She came up with two brothers I had never heard of and also his wife. It was a tenner well spent! David found the brother's graves and took the pictures. Another friend from the HK University Press took the others.

Apart from the School of Oriental Studies for the Hk Blue Book you might try the London Missionary Society. If my memory is correct their records are now held by Manchester University. If they had any contact with with Qui Fook - baptim etc you could find her there.

You might also try the HK Maritime Museum which also has some extensive records. The man to contact there is Dr Stephen Davies the Museum Director who has been very kind to me.

David, who is a fountain of knowledge,  is right about the infant death search. I did that and came up with a baby who died after a few months.

You need a lot of luck and that one break.

I wish you both.

Let me know how it goes.


Yes, the catholic records are tricky.  I've had real help from Fr Louis Ha, but went about it quite formally, and was able to visit the archives office.  In terms of getting information from the churches, I've had some success and some miserable failures.  There's this idea that family secrets have to be protected - even when you are a relative, and you're asking about something 100 years ago.  I think the only way to do it is by sweet talking the lady in the office of your chosen church.  I did find out that they have access to the records for all the churches in HK, so you don't have to trail round them all - if you find an amenable secretary.  However, the digitalized records are by no means complete, and if you get a print out of a certificate, it is a modern version, complete with mistranscriptions of names etc.  Do remember to leave something in the Poor Box ... then the next person might get a favourable reception too!

re. St Michael's and the rc cemetery at Chai Wan, I've found the staff there very helpful indeed.  They do need to know that you're asking about a relative, but they've always gone meticulously through their records for me.  Quite often at St M's its a lady with very little English, so it pays to make it clear which is the family name and which the christian names.  

I don't know how successful anyone would be searching at a distance - by the sound of it not very.

Hi Patricia


Many many thanks for this information and gives me somewhere to start.  My brother is currently in Thailand and is looking out for cheap flights to Hong Kong for a bit later in the year to follow up any leads.  We are both excited about your information and will be following it up.  It may be a few months time but, I will post any results and any other info if we find anything useful regards access .



Hi David

Thanks for your suggestions and what a great response from Patricia.

I read on a couple of sites that in order to be a Juror in Hong Kong you had to be 21 so, that does still leave 2 possible years for me to look at.  I understand that a list was published every other October in the Government Gazette. I am hoping to get time a little later in the week to try and find this online.  I had a quick attempt yesterday but my searches kept drawing a blank.

Once again thank you



For details click here. Apologies for missing the link on the previous message. And you'll see we need all the help we can get putting the lists online, so please join in if you can spare the odd half-hour.

I'm glad to see there are a few new avenues opened up, and fingers crossed some will turn up some helpful information for you.

regards, David

just about to attempt some long distance searching - will let you know the results


Hi Collette,

I'm sure you'll figure this out as you start searching, but the Jury Lists weren't published every other October in the Gazette, but annually - usually in February or March.

regards, Adam

Dear David,
Cold you kindly pass on my response to the posting by Collette22 who discussed  her g/grandfather Rowland Henry Rochfort Wade.
I am researching a history of the Blind in Irish Society and in this connection I am writing a chapter on the Rochfort Wade family who were earlier developers of welfare systems for the blind.

Rowland Henry Rochfort Wade  was the son of Gustavus Rochfort Wade  a Dublin Solicitor and large land owner in  Augrim, Co. Galway, Ireland; and brother  William Henry Rochfort Wade (have further information on this family too tiresome to type right now).
Rowland Henry Rochfort Wade joined the Chinese Imperial Customs (where a relation in a previous generation had been head of that service). He was born on 20 August, 1869; He married on 22 July 1899, Charlotte Jane Jones, da. of Major FitzThomas Dennis (another distinguished family in Ireland related to Dean Johathan Swift) and had issue:
1. Rowland Henry Dennis wade, born 26 Aug 1904. and
2. Annie Dennis Wade
3. Kathleen Rose Dennis.

His older brother, Edward Hyde Robert Wybrants Wade A.M.I.C.E.,  was appointed assistant-surveyor, and later assistant general manager and accountant of the Government Railway Ceylon (1906). born 14th Feb. 1867;

There was a picture of EHRW Wade to be posted here; I also have photos of hos brother William Henry Rochfort Wade and his daughter Molly Rochfort Wade.

He was born at Monkstown, near Dublin,

Here is an extract from my chapter on the Commencement of the National Council for the blind of Ireland, taken from Vol. 1 of The History of the Blind in Irish Society:

But who was Barbara Knox, and why did she wish to be involved in blind welfare in Ireland. Barbara was a member of the Knox family of Bonnettstown Hall (Castle) Kilkenny, the former home of Richard Shee, who had built the Elizabethan, Shee Almshouse in Rose Inn Street, Kilkenny in 1582. Barbara’s father, Major Lindesey Knox, Royal Irish Regiment (1865-1933) came from an old Kilkenny family and on his side she was related to Lord Desert, the Blunden family of Castle Blunden and to many other old families of Kilkenny. Her mother Ethel (Ethel Mary Dennis (1870-1966) was an artist of some repute and a first cousin of the Kilkenny portrait and landscape painter Kathleen Marescaux (1868-1944). Ethel was the daughter of Major General James Benjamin Dennis, Royal Artillery (1817-1912), of the old family of Dennis of Fortgranite, Co. Wicklow and, through him, could claim descent from the Swift family and a relationaship to Dean Jonathan Swift.2 One other family relationship was to prove an even more important link with the blind of Ireland. Barbara’s mother’s first cousin, Charlotte Jane Dennis (1861-1960) had married, secondly, Rowland Henry Rochfort Wade (of the Chinese Customs Service), brother of William Rochfort Wade M.A., a Dublin solicitor who had founded the Hibernian Blind Association at 66 Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin in 1912.3 It subsequently (April 1918) moved to new offices in the Bewley’s building at 10 Westmoreland Street, Dublin. While this continued to operate as a Home Teaching Society and Library for the Blind, it became the Irish Branch of the National Institute for the Blind in 1914 and continued up to the death of William Rochfort Wade in 1920 (a fuller account of William Rochfort Wade and the Rochfort Wade family is given under: The Rochfort Wade Hostel for Blind Women, in HBIS). William’s daughter, Mary Mayne (Molly) Rochfort Wade became the close friend of Barbara Knox. They lived a frugal existence together all their lives, devoting themselves to the welfare of the blind of Ireland.

The Rochfort Wade family claim descent from the Duke of Clarence and are listed in the Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal. They are related to the Earls of Drogheda and Belvidere  — I possess the family tree. If Collettee22 wished to contact me, please pass on my contact details.

With kind regards,
Frank Callery.

Hello Collette. I hope this reply is not too late. If your brother does manage to get to St Michael's Cemetery in Happy Valley, it's as well to go armed with birth and marriage certificates or anything that links you to the person or people you are looking for. I have also found the archivist at the Canossian Convent very helpful, but it's best to be able to visit in person. She may be able to put you in touch with her male counterpart too.

Jill Fell

Hi Jill

Many thanks for your response which is not too late at all.  My brother will be heading for Hong Kong at the end of July and is currently amassing all the information he needs to help our further research.  Birth certificates and marriage certificates are unfortunately not available at the GRO but we may be able to rustle up something acceptable.  If we have any further questions perhaps I could ask before the end of July?

Kind regards



Hello Colette - happy to help if I can. Give me a few days' grace when you post as I don't check the site on a daily basis. I was fortunate in knowing the number of my grandfather's plot and in having a photo of the original grave. I only needed the birth and marriage certificates when it came to renovating it and renewing the lease. There is a new person in charge of St Michael's since I was last there who seems to speak less English than her predecessor, but she may not take such a long siesta!


Hi Colette


Can I suggest you check your email for an update.



Hi, Jill.

Do you have contact information for the Canossian Convent? What's the name of the archivist there?

Many thanks,


I have the name but have not yet contacted her.  Please contact me by email.  I'd like to establish a relationship with her first and learn the procedures so to better advise visitors to Gwulo before we post her name on Gwulo.

Please email me through David.