Samuel Laurence, 1812–1884
Sir Henry Pottinger, first Baronet (1789–1856) First Governor of Hong Kong
Sir Henry Pottinger

" Sir Henry Pottinger Bart"

oil on canvas
36 x 28in. (91.44 x 71.12 cm.)


Fanny Pottinger (niece of Sir Henry Pottinger)  wife of Sir Lionel Eldred Smith-Gordon, 2nd Baronet and mother of Lionel Eldred Pottinger Smith-Gordon and thence by descent


Engraved by  Joseph Brown  BM (British Museum) 1920,1211.1101 and Miss Lowes Dickinson,  BM 1852,1009.655


Sir Henry Pottinger, first baronet (1789–1856), army officer in the East India Company and colonial governor, was born at Mount Pottinger, co. Down, Ireland, on 3 October 1789, the fifth son of Eldred Curwen Pottinger, a descendant of the Pottingers of Berkshire, and his wife, Anne, daughter of Robert Gordon of Florida Manor, co. Down. He was educated at Belfast Academy, which he left when twelve years old, and went to sea. In 1803 he travelled to India to join the marine service there, but friends persuaded Lord Castlereagh in 1804 to substitute a cadetship in the East India Company's army. Meanwhile he studied in Bombay, and acquired a knowledge of Indian languages. He worked well, became an assistant teacher, and on 18 September 1806 was made an ensign, and promoted lieutenant on 16 July 1809.

In 1808 Pottinger was sent on a mission to Sind under Nicholas Hankey Smith, the British political agent at Bushehr. In 1809, when Sir John Malcolm's mission to Persia was postponed, Pottinger and a friend, Captain Charles Christie, offered to explore the area between India and Persia in order to acquire information lacking to the government, which accepted the offer. The travellers, disguised as Indians, and accompanied by a local horse dealer and two servants, left Bombay on 2 January 1810, journeying by sea to Sind, and from there by land to Kalat. They were immediately recognized as Europeans, and even as having belonged to the embassy at Sind, but safely reached Nushki, near the boundary between Afghanistan and Baluchistan; here Christie diverged northwards to Herat, and proceeded thence by Yazd to Esfahan, while Pottinger, keeping in a westerly direction, travelled through Kerman to Shiraz, and joined Christie at Esfahan. Christie was directed to remain there, and was killed in a Russian attack on the Persians in 1812. Pottinger, returning via Baghdad and Basrah, reached Bombay in February 1811. He reported the results of his journey, published as Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde (1816). Pottinger married, in 1820, Susanna Maria (1800–1886), daughter of Captain Richard Cooke of Dublin, whose family was a branch of the Cookes of Cookesborough, co. Westmeath. They had a daughter and three sons; the eldest son died in infancy.

Pottinger was next appointed to the staff of Sir Evan Nepean, governor of Bombay, by whom he was sent as assistant to Mountstuart Elphinstone, the British resident at Poona. On 15 October 1821 he was made captain. He served during the Anglo-Maratha War, and at its close became collector of Ahmednagar. He was promoted major on 1 May 1825, and in the same year was made resident in Cutch. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 17 March 1829, and brevet colonel on 23 January 1834. While resident in Cutch he conducted a mission to Sind in 1831, successfully negotiating a commercial treaty. He conducted further missions in 1833–4 and 1836–7, being appointed political agent there in 1836, negotiating the treaty of 1839 which achieved domination of Sind. Out of sympathy with what he saw as Auckland's excessively coercive approach, Pottinger left India in 1840, ill health being given as the reason for his return. He was created a baronet on 27 April 1840.

Pottinger accepted Lord Palmerston's offer of the post of envoy and plenipotentiary in China and superintendent of British trade, thus superseding Captain Charles Elliot. The First Opium War had begun in January 1840. After Elliot, the British representative, had seized the forts by Canton (Guangzhou), a preliminary treaty had been drawn up in January 1841, but it was disavowed by both governments. Palmerston directed Pottinger to replace this treaty by one which would open China to British trade, but before he reached China hostilities had recommenced. Major-General Sir Hugh Gough arrived in March 1841 to command the expeditionary force from India. Gough took the four forts defending Canton in May 1841, and while he was preparing to attack the town itself, Pottinger reached Macau (9 August). He deemed it essential to the success of his mission to make a further display of force, and he co-operated with Gough and Admiral Sir William Parker (1781–1866) in the capture of Amoy (Xiamen), Chushan, Chintu (Chengdu), and Ningpo (Ningbo).

A new turn was given to affairs by the arrival in the Macao Roads on August 10, 1841, of Sir Henry Pottinger, armed with full powers as sole Plenipotentiary to the Court of Peking. This officer found on his arrival increasing dissatisfaction at the conduct of the Chinese. Insulting edicts continued to be issued, there was gross ill-treatment of a number of prisoners who were still retained in the hands of the Mandarins, and the authorities, in defiance of the convention, were busily engaged in re-erecting the river defences. Sir Henry Pottinger was not the man to allow a situation to be compromised by lack of energy. He had had long training in Oriental methods in that best of all schools—the Indian Government—and he knew that decisiveness was an indispensable quality in dealing with Easterns. His first step, after he had made himself acquainted with the position, was to give a clear intimation to the Chinese authorities that they must either accede to the British demands or take the consequences. The requirements he made were that the opium destroyed by Lin should be paid for, and that certain ports in addition to Canton should be opened to British trade. To enforce his demands he despatched an expedition to Amoy, the famous trade centre which figures so conspicuously in the earlier chapters of this work. The squadron detailed for this work arrived off the port on August 26th. Immediately after they had dropped anchor a boat came from shore with an inquiry from the leading Mandarin as to the reason for the visit of so many ships, and a request that the commander should specify the commodities he wanted. The childlike curiosity of the functionary was satisfied with a verbal statement to the effect that the fleet had not come to trade; while Sir Henry Pottinger, in a letter addressed to the chief military officer of the province, explained that, differences having arisen between Great Britain and China, it was essential that he should have possession of the town, and requesting its surrender to avoid bloodshed. No direct response was made to the letter, but that the Chinese officials appreciated the character of the crisis that had arisen was shown by the energetic efforts they made to fortify every available position. Finding that the Chinese meant to fight, the British Commander drew his ships up in battle array and proceeded to the attack. The repeated broadsides from the ships made little impression upon the stone wall defences which the Chinese had raised, but a landing force consisting of about twelve hundred troops soon put the defenders to rout. Many of them were killed in their flight, and not a few officers, overwhelmed with the disgrace of defeat, committed suicide. The town was entered by our troops, but was not occupied for more than a few days. At the expiration of that time the occupying force was withdrawn, and after posting a garrison at Kulungsu, a small rocky island forming part of the fortifications of the port, Sir William Parker, the British commander, took his fleet to Chusan, which was re-occupied after a brief struggle. The next point selected for attack was Chinhai, a large and opulent city at the mouth of the Ningpo River. Thither Sir Hugh Gough and Sir William Parker, the joint commanders, proceeded, together with Sir Henry Pottinger, who was ready to take up the diplomatic threads as soon as the opportunity offered. The town occupies a position at the foot of a lofty hill, on the summit of which is the citadel, a highly important defensive position, surrounded by a strong wall supplied with massive gates. On two sides the citadel is inaccessible excepting at one point where a narrow path winds from the sea, which skirts the base of the hill. The town itself is encircled by a wall about 37 feet in thickness. It was a position of immense strength, and defended by good troops would have been well-nigh impregnable. When the British expedition reached the town it found every prominent point occupied by batteries and the surrounding hills covered with military encampments. Profiting by the experience at Amoy, the British commanders decided not to waste any time on a preliminary bombardment. On the morning of the 10th of October two thousand men with twelve field pieces and mortars were landed to attack the citadel and entrenched camp. Sir Hugh Gough without loss of time divided his little force into three columns, and, assuming the command of the centre column, ordered the advance. The two flank columns, owing to the irregularities of the ground, went forward unobserved from the citadel, and the garrison, thinking they only had to deal with the small centre column, went out boldly to meet them. Before the engagement had barely commenced the flank columns opened fire. So unexpected was the attack that the Chinese broke and fled in all directions. In their flight hundreds were shot and bayoneted and hundreds of others were drowned. To save useless slaughter, Sir Hugh Gough sent out a flag with an inscription in Chinese informing the routed troops that their lives would be spared if they yielded, but not more than five hundred availed themselves of the offer. Altogether not fewer than fifteen hundred of the Chinese fell in this one-sided engagement. While this land encounter was proceeding the ships were engaged in bombarding the town defences on the sea side and driving the soldiers out of the town. The effect of the combined operations was to convince the Chinese commander, Yukien, that the day was lost. In his despair he attempted to drown himself, and, foiled in this effort, he fled to the country, where he terminated his existence in another manner. His determination not to survive his discomfiture was in keeping with high Chinese traditions, which regard suicide as a legitimate means of escape from the dishonour of defeat. It is not improbable, however, that a fear of falling into the hands of the British had some influence in bringing about his decision, for he had put himself beyond the pale by his ferocious brutality towards two foreign prisoners who by his orders had been done to death, one by flaying and the other by burning alive.

On 13 June 1842 Pottinger, with Parker, entered the Yangtze (Yangzi) River with the object of taking Nanking (Nanjing). After many successes by the way, an assault on that city was imminent in July, when Pottinger announced that the Chinese were ready to treat for peace on a satisfactory basis. The Chinese diplomatists had already found that Pottinger could not be trifled with: an intercepted letter from the chief Chinese negotiator to his government stated that ‘to all his representations the barbarian, Pottinger, only knit his brows and said “No”’. There was a protracted discussion of the preliminaries of peace, in which Sir Henry Pottinger took up a very firm attitude. The Emperor found it hard to swallow the bitter pill offered him, but eventually he was reluctantly persuaded by irrefragable arguments to assent to an arrangement on the lines set out by the British Plenipotentiary. The demands which were subsequently incorporated in the Treaty of Nanking, were certainly of a character to cause not a little misgiving and even consternation in the imperial circle. They were the payment of an indemnity of $21,000,000; the opening of the five ports of Canton, Amoy, Foochow, Shanghai, and Ningpo to British trade, with right of appointing consuls to reside in them; the cession of Hongkong; the establishment of regular tariffs of import and export duties; the unconditional release of all British subjects detained as prisoners; and the granting of a free pardon by the Emperor to all those of his own subjects who had incurred penalties by holding intercourse with the British officers. On the 20th of August the delegates paid a formal visit to the Cornwallis, the admiral's flagship, to discuss the terms of peace. They were received with every mark of courtesy, but in order that they might be left in no doubt as to the intentions of the British in the event of the failure of the negotiations they were confronted with an imposing display of force, both naval and military. The interview passed off very satisfactorily, and there was a spirit of equal harmony manifested on the 26th of August when Sir Henry Pottinger returned the commissioners' visit and renewed ashore the negotiations which had opened so auspiciously on board the Cornwallis. Three days later the signatures were appended to the Treaty on the Cornwallis. The three commissioners first signed and then Sir Henry Pottinger inscribed his name. The running up of the flags of Great Britain and China on the mast of the Cornwallis, and the firing of a salute of twenty-one guns, announced to the outer world the completion of this most important diplomatic act. Immediately after the signature of the Treaty the ships began to leave the river, and on the payment of the first instalment of the indemnity, the troops were withdrawn from Chusan. By the end of October the expeditionary force had been broken up, the various units having returned to their several stations with the exception of a body of seventeen hundred troops which was left to garrison Hongkong. Several unfortunate incidents occurring shortly after the signature of the Treaty imperilled for a time the peace which had been concluded. In one case the authorities in Formosa massacred the shipwrecked crews of two vessels manned mainly by British-Indian subjects. Shortly afterwards a Cantonese mob made an attack on the British factory, plundering it and setting it on fire. In both instances the Chinese Government showed a very commendable spirit in punishing the offenders, and the episodes were overlooked. But the arrangements consequential upon the Treaty dragged somewhat, and it was not until June 4, 1843, that the ratifications of the Treaty were exchanged at Hongkong, while six weeks further elapsed before Sir Henry Pottinger found himself in a position to issue a proclamation announcing that he had signed the arrangements for the conduct of trade which were the most important provisions of the Treaty. Simultaneously with the publication of the British proclamation a formal announcement was made by Keying, the Chinese commissioner, who had conducted the elaborate negotiations with Sir Henry Pottinger, that henceforth trade at the five ports named in the Treaty was open to "the men from afar" without distinction, and the hope was expressed that "the weapons of war being for ever laid aside, joy and profit shall be the perpetual lot of all." There was one important omission in the settlement which was thus completed. No reference whatever was made in the Commercial Treaty to the opium trade. Sir Henry Pottinger had striven to obtain from the Chinese Government the legalisation of the traffic, but the Peking authorities had steadily declined to entertain any proposal of the kind, and failing this the British Plenipotentiary deemed it advisable to leave the matter unsettled. It was an unfortunate decision as it supplied an opening for fresh trouble, and trouble was not slow in coming. Almost before the ink was dry on the official proclamations announcing the completion of the Treaty arrangements an acute controversy arose as to whether opium was admissible under the Treaty or not. The mercantile class held that it could be imported under the final clause of the tariff, which provided that all articles not expressly named should be admitted at an ad valorem duty of 5 per cent., but this view was promptly repudiated by Sir Henry Pottinger, who issued an official intimation declaring in emphatic terms that such a construction was untenable as "the traffic in opium was illegal and contraband by the laws and imperial edicts of China." The position taken up by the British authority was severely criticised, and it undoubtedly tended to produce an unpleasant impression not only amongst the British traders, but in Chinese official quarters where there was a failure to comprehend the logic and equity of a policy which admitted the illegality of the opium trade as far as China was concerned, and yet took no measures to prevent the importation of the drug.

Eventually peace was signed on 29 August 1842 on board HMS Cornwallis before Nanking. By this treaty of Nanking, China agreed to pay an indemnity of $21 million, Hong Kong was ceded to England, and the five ‘treaty ports’—Canton, Amoy, Foochow (Fuzhou), Ningpo, and Shanghai—were opened to British traders, and were to receive British consuls. In recognition of his successful conduct of negotiations Pottinger was made GCB (2 December 1842), and on 5 April 1843 was appointed the first British governor of Hong Kong. By far the most important step taken in the second year of the occupation was the issue of a proclamation by Sir H. Pottinger declaring Hongkong a free port. The experience gained at Singapore had no doubt suggested the advisability of this step, but even the most sanguine of those who assisted in the founding of the Colony could not have foreseen the remarkable results which would follow from the adoption of this policy. At the most they probably only hoped to establish an entrepôt which, while it would pay its own way would allow trade to be conducted without interruption. However, it was by no means all plain sailing in the early days of the occupation. Amongst the thousands of Chinese who flocked across the channel from the mainland as soon as the British flag was hoisted was a large proportion of bad characters. They came attracted by the hope of gain or plunder, and they were so protected by secret compact as to defy the ordinary regulations of police for detection or prevention. The respectable shopkeepers who did migrate left the bulk of their property and their families behind, and so, while working in Hongkong, they were almost as much under the control of the Mandarins as if they were in China. These circumstances all militated against the smooth conduct of the administration in the infant days of the settlement, and it did not tend to increase confidence in the stability of the occupation that in March of 1842 a despatch was received from Sir Robert Peel intimating that Her Majesty's Government had not decided upon the tenure upon which land should be held in the island. But perhaps the most unpleasant factor of the situation of all was the unhealthiness of the island. Disease was rife amongst the troops and the mortality reached an alarming figure. The outbreaks were attributable to some extent to inadequate attention to sanitation, a not unnatural result of the bringing together of large bodies of people, the vast majority of them possessing the most rudimentary ideas of hygeia. But the trouble was chiefly due to local causes which at the outset were very imperfectly understood.

After the conclusion of the Treaty of Nanking steps were taken by the Home Government to organise a district Colonial Government at Hongkong by transferring the management of local affairs from the Foreign Office to the Colonial Office. The superintending of trade and the direction of the new Consular service in China were, however, for the present combined with the office of Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony. On this basis an Order in Council was issued (January 4, 1843) establishing in Hongkong the Court of Justice with criminal and Admiralty jurisdiction, which nominally had existed since the time of Lord Napier in Chinese waters under an Order of the Privy Council of December 9, 1833. This court was now endowed with jurisdiction over British subjects residing within the Colony or on the mainland of China or on the high seas within 100 miles of the coast thereof. Three months later (April 5, 1843) the Privy Council issued letters patent under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom creating the settlement on the island of Hongkong into a Crown Colony by charter, and on the same day a Royal Warrant was issued under the Queen's Signet and Sign Manual appointing the Chief Superintendent of Trade, Sir Henry Pottinger, Bart., K.C.B., as Governor and Commander-in-Chief. When the ratifications of the Nanking Treaty were exchanged on June 26, 1843, between Sir Henry Pottinger and the Chinese commissioners, who had come to Hongkong for the purpose, the Charter of Hongkong and the Royal Warrant were read out at Government House before a large assembly of residents, and subsequently published (June 29, 1843) by proclamation in the Gazette. It is noted by Dr. Eitel as an interesting fact that this proclamation fixed the name of the settlement as "the Colony of Hongkong (not Hong Kong as previously used) and the name of the city as Victoria."

Pottinger returned to Britain in the spring of 1844, and was much honoured: he was sworn of the privy council (23 May 1844), was presented with the freedom of many cities, and in June 1845 the House of Commons voted him £1500 a year for life. On 28 September 1846 he succeeded Sir Peregrine Maitland as governor of Cape Colony. He stayed there less than six months, and apparently without reputation or distinction in the view of G. M. Theal, according to whom Pottinger left the colony ‘without the esteem of a single colonist’ (Lehmann, 279). In 1848 he returned once more to India as governor of Madras and attained the rank of lieutenant-general in 1851. He held the post until 1854, when he returned to Britain in broken health. His government of Madras had not been a success. He was resistant to change and had become dilatory in the discharge of public business, failing to recognize the need for essential improvements. He was better fitted to deal with a crisis than with ordinary administration. He died at Malta on 18 March 1856, and was buried at Valletta. His two surviving sons successively succeeded to the baronetcy.

William Broadfoot, rev. James Lunt  DNB

Artist biography

Samuel Laurence, (1812–1884), portrait painter, was born at Guildford, Surrey, and early manifested a great love for art. His parentage and education are unknown. The first portraits he exhibited in London were at the Society of British Artists in Suffolk Street in 1834, and in 1836 he sent three portraits, including that of Mary Somerville (preliminary drawing in Girton College, Cambridge), to the Royal Academy. On 10 August 1836 Laurence married Anastasia Gliddon, cousin and adopted sister of Katharine, Mrs Thornton Leigh Hunt. A portrait of her in later life shows the delicate effect he achieved with the use of black and white chalks (Yale U. CBA). During his early married life he visited Florence and Venice, studying diligently the methods of the old masters, and endeavouring to discover the secrets of their success.

Early in life Laurence became closely associated with the Victorian literati, and he was to draw and paint most of the writers and thinkers of his day many times. He hosted his own literary circle in the 1840s, the Bohemian Phalanstery, based on Fourieresque principles, which involved Thornton Leigh Hunt. He was close friends with the writer George Henry Lewes and James Spedding, the editor of Bacon, whom he painted in 1881–2 (Trinity College, Cambridge). W. M. Thackeray was a close friend and helped Laurence secure many patrons: he wrote in 1853 to Bancroft: ‘I think Lawrence [sic] is the best drawer of heads since Van Dyke’ (Letters and Private Papers, 317). Laurence's oil portrait of the novelist reading a letter became one of the sitter's best-known likenesses and was frequently reproduced (exh. RA, 1864; NPG). His portrait of Tennyson (c.1840; NPG) was also much engraved and the most famous of the poet when young. In 1854 Laurence travelled to America to take a portrait of the poet, Henry Longfellow, for an illustrated edition of poems commissioned by George Routledge, Longfellow's London publisher; he remained in America until 1861. The chalk portrait (Longfellow National Historic Site, Cambridge, Massachusetts) was completed in June 1854 and was well received, Fanny Longfellow noting on 19 June in a letter to her sister Mary Mackintosh that ‘all agree in thinking the best yet taken. It is full of life and with a very lively, agreeable expression’ (Longfellow, vol. 2, 19 June 1854). While visiting the family at their holiday residence in Nahant in September 1857, he drew portraits of Longfellow's wife and various friends.

Laurence ceased to exhibit at Suffolk Street in 1853, but his works continued to appear regularly at the Royal Academy until 1882, when he sent a drawing of George Eliot (1860, exh. RA, 1882; preliminary sketch in Girton College, Cambridge). Among his many chalk drawings are portraits of Charles Dickens (Sketch of Boz, exh. RA, 1838; priv. coll.), F. D. Maurice (c.1846; NPG), Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1861; Girton College, Cambridge), Sir Henry Cole (1865, exh. RA, 1866; NPG), and Robert Browning (1866; exh. RA, 1869; Baylor University, Texas). About 1841–2 he did a series of chalk drawings of the Cambridge Apostles including Archbishop Richard Trench (1841; NPG) and the Revd William Thompson (1841; NPG); oil portraits of Thompson (1869) and Dr William Whewell (1845) are in Trinity College, Cambridge. One of his most successful, yet unfinished, portraits in oil is that of Leigh Hunt (1837; NPG), which was exhibited in the National Portrait Exhibition of 1868 and photographed for the frontispiece of The Correspondence of Leigh Hunt; Edited by his Son (2 vols., 1862). Also in oil are Thomas Carlyle (1838, exh. RA, 1841; priv. coll.), Anthony Trollope (c.1864; NPG), and Elizabeth Gaskell (c.1846).

There is a large collection of Laurence's work, in both oil and chalks, in the National Portrait Gallery, London, including Charles Babbage (exh. RA, 1845), Sir Thomas Bourchier (1846), Sir Charles Wheatstone (1868), and one of his most consistent friends and patrons, Sir Jonathan Pollock (exh. RA, 1842). A chalk drawing of Pollock (1862, exh. RA, 1863) was commissioned by Thackeray at the same time as one of himself (1862; priv. coll.), which were then exchanged, as Lady Anne Thackeray Ritchie wrote ‘out of friendship for one another and the painter too’ (Ormond, 381 and 458). A three-quarter length of Thackeray (1881) was commissioned by the Reform Club, London. Laurence died at his home, 6 Wells Street, Oxford Street, London, from the effects of an operation, on 28 February 1884. His obituary in The Athenaeum described him as the ‘most venerable of our portrait painters who had so to say, outlived his once considerable reputation’ (The Athenaeum, 1884).

R. E. Graves, rev. Ailsa Boyd  DNB