Some Irishmen in the Shanghai Municipal Police and other parts of the Chinese administration

Paddy Waldron

10 Aug 2013; revised 17 Jan 2015; 22 Dec 2016; 6 Jan 2022

Chinese history

From the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 to 1946:

In March 1865, HSBC opened its doors for business in Hong Kong.

Greater Shanghai had three sections:

  1. the Shanghai International Settlement;
  2. the French Concession; and
  3. the Old City of Shanghai.

The Shanghai International Settlement began originally in 1842 as a purely British settlement but always remained Chinese sovereign territory.

Americans and French and other foreign powers gradually became part of the administration of the settlement.

The Shanghai Municipal Council first met on 11 Jul 1854.

In the late 1930s Japan's involvement became of increasing importance.

The international settlement came to an abrupt end in December 1941 when Japanese troops stormed in immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1943, the settlement was retroceded to Chinese control.

Shanghai Municipal Police were on patrol by Sep 1854.

Recruitment was by London agents, John Pook & Co.

By 1936, there were 4,739 men, of whom 457 were in the Foreign Branch in which the British and Irish served.

Force commanders included Pierre B. Pattison (Captain Superintendent, 12 Feb 1898-30 September 1900), on secondment from Royal Irish Constabulary.

For lots more, including lists of names, see the Shanghai Municipal Police web page by Robert Bickers.

The Hamilton family

The Hamilton brothers were from the townland of Moneymohill, in the parish of Dunmoylan, near Shanagolden, northwest of Newcastlewest.

[The original version of this account formed the basis of a talk at a gathering of the extended Hamilton and O'Riordan families at Moneymohill House near Newcastlewest in 2013.  It has been revised on the basis of a Facebook discussion.]

John Hamilton (25 in 1866, 60 in 1901, agricultural labourer, son of James, 84 in 1901) married Mary Nevill (20, 55 in 1901, 67 in 1911, dau. of Cornelius) on 11 Feb 1866 in Glin PLU (v5 p321) and had:

James (R.I.C. serial no. 55803), Jack, Con and Paddy (R.I.C. serial no. 64104) had careers in policing. All except Con were certainly in the R.I.C. and Jack and Con were in the Shanghai Municipal Police.

Patrick returned to Moneymohill and inherited a farm. Jack and Con transferred to the Shanghai Municipal Police and arrived in Shanghai on 30 Dec 1912.

Con was shot on 25 Oct 1917 and buried in Shanghai, where a tombstone was erected by John.

James was shot on 30 Oct 1920 back in Ireland but survived.

The Hamilton photo album contains about 120 Shanghai photographs, about 37 of Con's funeral.

The Straits Times, 13 November 1917, Page 8: All-round athlete, shot on night of 24 Oct in Yates Road, a Chinese whom he stopped drew a weapon and fired from about 20 feet range. Hamilton returned fire but missed. First taken to the Country Club, then to hospital. One bullet had entered his right chest, the other his right side above the hip. He died the following day.

A neighbour from the next townland, Finnoo (Whiskeyhall) in Kilmoylan parish, was also in the Shanghai Municipal Police, namely Maurice Fitzgibbon (25 Feb 1876-9 Apr 1947). He married Bridget Liston of Ballybrown, Knockaderry, while home on leave, on 26 Sep 1911.

Claremen in China.

Just over a year before the Hamiltons arrived in Shanghai, and just 39 days after the Fitzgibbon/Liston wedding, Hanna Synnott (1888-1967) married Micho Gibson (1878-1953), also home on leave from Shanghai, in Lisdoonvarna on 4 Nov 1911.

Hanna's honeymoon diary describes her first journey from Lisdoonvarna to Shanghai.  The newly weds caught a train from Ennistymon at 1:20pm, and eventually arrived in Shanghai on Christmas day.

Mr O'Toole had traveled home from China with Micho some months previously and he too had married in the meantime and was accompanied now by his wife when they met at Roscrea.

The best man at the Gibson/Synnott wedding, Stephen Joseph Costelloe, was yet another Shanghai policeman home on leave in 1911.

Seven Gibson children, at least five born in Shanghai:

Micho Gibson's first cousin Pat Keating from Fierd (d.1961) may have been in the Shanghai Police, but Mary Cullligan says that Pat wasn't in the Police Force but had something to do with Posts & Telegraphs. After he returned to Ireland, he donated a thousand pounds in 1938 for a marble altar in the Catholic church in Cross village near his birthplace. He bought Plassey House in Limerick in 1933 on his return from China, known as The White House to UL students. He is thought to have gotten into financial difficulties when events in China eroded the value of his pension and investments. Hannah Synnott's diary says that Pat Keating was based in Canton at the time of her arrival in China in 1911. He travelled to Hong Kong to meet her and her husband as they passed through on their honeymoon voyage. He spent many years in Manchuria as a judge in the British Colonial service. In his early twenties, Pat joined the British Civil Service and went to China in 1906. This decision, it appears, was influenced by his friendship with Michael Gibson, who went to Shanghai at the beginning of the 1900s.  During his lengthy stay in China, where he lived for almost twenty-seven years, he enjoyed various challenges and responsibilities. The Shanghai Statistical Department of the Inspectorate General of Customs notes his involvement with Customs and Excise and Foreign Currency Exchange. He also served in the Postal Department in the Central Office in Peking.

Another first cousin (of both Micho Gibson and Pat Keating) was Bernard Keating of Rehy East, who was in the Shanghai Police from 1910 to 1916 before going on to Australia.

Children of Thomas Keane and Mary Anne Cahill of Carrigaholt:

Thomas Bermingham of eviction fame m. Abt 1869 Margaret McGrath and two generations of their descendants worked in Shanghai:

Daniel Ginnane (23, also from Carrigaholt) joined with Tony O'Dwyer in 1912 - b. 24 Sep 1890, served in the Shanghai Municipal Police from 1912 to 1936. Related to Mary Ginnane, retired postmistress Carrigaholt, who has a collection of Shanghai memorabilia.

Two Scanlon families living in Moyarta near Carrigaholt are known as the Shangs and the Westbys to distinguish them.  John Thomas Scanlan (1890-1975) served with the police force in Shanghai from 1912-1915.  According to his daughter, John got sick in Shanghai, with something like cholera or malaria, and after a long time in hospital, came home only three years after he went out.  The outbound journey alone had taken three months. John later married Mary Anne Keating, whose brother Bernard (above) had also been in the SMP.

Michael Duggan (b. 8 Mar 1895) of Kilmihil was also in the SMP.