Rennies Flour Mills [1905-1908] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Rennies Flour Mills [1905-1908]

Current condition: 
Demolished
Date Place completed: 
1905-01-01
Date Place demolished: 
1908-12-31

There's a common misconception that Mr Rennie committed suicide by hanging himself, giving the chinese name of the area. You can see I've been guilty of making the same mistake.

Fortunately, reader Zerocube wrote in to correct me:

Alfred Herbert Rennie did not hang himself. In fact, he jumped off a boat. He had a boat for him to commute between central and his factory. The name has been there before Rennie died.

This website has more on the story, and says:

The Mill started operation in 1905 and closed in April 1908 because of high production cost and poor quality of product. The failure in business had made Mr. Rennie so disappointed that he jumped into the sea and drowned himself at Lei Yue Mun, 3 km from his flour mill on 14 April 1908.

The details of Rennie's death are confirmed in the April 14, 1908 edition of the China Mail. It had an article 'Death of Mr Rennie. Body found in Harbour" which includes the text:

Just as we go to press we learn that the body of Mr. A. H. Rennie, manager and founder or the Junk Bay flour mills, was found floating in Lyeemoon Pass this afternoon.

And:

Later.
We now understand that Mr Rennie accidentally fell overboard from his launch, Canada, whilst going to Junk Bay, and his body was picked up by the launch after a search.

I've used the dates 1905-8 given above, though they may need to be corrected later. A map dated 1939-40 (Plate 2-12, Mapping Hong Kong) still shows a building at this location, labelled "Rennies Flour Mills".

If you can add any more information, please leave a comment below.

Regards, David

Photos that show this place

1907

Comments

Here are a few more details about AH Rennie and his "Hongkong Milling Company". He was born on 17th November 1857 in Ontario, Canada.

He arrived in Hong Kong in 1890 as sales representative for an American company Portland Flouring Mills whose principal stockholder was TB Wilcox. Rennie went into partnership with Paul Chater and H.N. Mody and persuaded them to invest in what became Rennie’s mill. He also invested money he had saved during his time with Portland Flouring Mills.

His mill failed for a number of reasons. There was too large a capital investment and the mill was too big (“a two thousand barrel mill”). There was no demand in China for millfeed, a byproduct which provided much of the profit for the American millers. Rennie tried to use this to feed several hundred pigs most of which died. Buyers in China remained loyal to Wilcox’s brands, therefore sales of the Hong Kong mill were slow.  A cargo of Indian wheat introduced weevils into the mill which proved difficult to get rid of. Finally, Rennie issued false financial statements showing large profits which caused great scepticism amongst those in the business.

He committed suicide on 14th April 1908 on his way by boat to the mill in Junk Bay.  Apparently he did this by throwing himself overboard with a dispatch box tied to his neck. 

1.HKBRAS Journals Vol. 28, 1988  The HK Milling Company's Failure”

2. pp366-367 “Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography”, Ed.M Holdsworth + C.Munn

    HK University Press, 2012

3. http://www.onlinebiographies.info/or/wilcox-tb.htm

Hi Hugh,

Thanks for the extra information. I've just been looking at the newspaper reports from that time, and they add a bit more to the story.

As regards the suicide, there was mention (The Hong Kong Telegraph, 1908-05-01, pg. 13) of the large tin box tied around his neck. But it also notes the tin floated, and that Rennie also floated. In fact a boatman from his ship was able to get to him with a lifebuoy, but Rennie kicked him away.

Later there's mention (China Mail, 1908-4-16, pg. 5) of one of the main business problems. Rennie had been buying wheat in advance, which seemed a wise move as the prices were rising. But then the price collapsed, and it was clear that milled flour could be delivered to Hong Kong at a cheaper rate than the mill had bought wheat for shortly before:

"Heavy losses appeared to be ahead of the Company on the cargoes purchased, those coming forward, and those arranged for, and this fact preyed upon Mr. Rennie's mind that, failing to see a way to avert disaster, he committed suicide."

Regards, David

According to the Wikipedia article 'Shun Lee' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shun_Lee), 'Rennie's Farm' is the name for that area in Kowloon where Shun Lee Estate and a few other public housing estates with names beginning with 'Shun' are (this area is identified as 'Cha Liu Au' on Google Maps). Is this place also named after Albert Rennie and related to Rennie's Mill? Is this piece of information credible?

These mills, properly called the Hong Kong Milling Co, started operations in late 1906.

Source PWD report 1906 (No 22)

The 1905 PWD report gives the location as Junk Bay

1900s Hong Kong Flour Mills
1900s Hong Kong Flour Mills, by Moddsey