Family and Empire
July 2021 sees the publication of My Dearest Martha: The Life and Letters of Eliza Hillier by the City University of Hong Kong Press. At once a reflection on the daily components of empire, an entertaining narrative of familial relationships, and the story of one woman's inner feelings and how they changed, the letters and commentary guide the reader through the vagaries of British family life in East and Southeast Asia in the mid-nineteenth century.
For over one hundred years, my family lived and worked in China and Southeast Asia. Walter Medhurst, who began his missionary life in Malacca in 1817, was followed by three further generations. My grandfather, Harold Hillier (one of Medhurst’s grandsons) was four years old, when his father, Harry, was appointed Customs Commissioner at Kowloon, and, in his eighties, he could still remember living on the Peak and going out in the Revenue cruiser. Whilst it was a privileged life, underpinned by imperial superiority and racial difference, Medhurst was an outstanding Sinologue and an ability to speak Chinese and a profound interest in China marked the next two generations - his son, Sir Walter Medhurst, whose career culminated in the Shanghai Consulship, his son-in-law, Charles Hillier, Chief Magistrate of Hong Kong and HBM Consul to Siam until his untimely death in 1856, aged 36, and Charles and Eliza’s three sons - Walter (China Consular Service), Harry (Customs) and Guy ( the blind Peking Agent of the Hongkong Shanghai Bank), who died in office in 1924 (see https://www.hpcbristol.net/collections/hillier ).
From left, Harry, Walter and Guy, undated, but probably late 1880s.
Through their lives and those of their families over the long nineteenth century, I have examined the relationship between family and empire, completing my Ph.D. at Bristol University under Robert Bickers (‘Three Brothers in China’). My first book, Mediating Empire: An English Family in China. 1817-1927, was published in April 2020.
My interests now extend to other aspects of Sino-British relations, I am an Honorary Research Associate at Bristol University and regularly contribute to Historical Photographs of China (HPC), https://www.hpcbristol.net/ and other sites and journals.
This web-site reflects those interests and will, I hope, provide a forum for sharing information about Britain in China.