top of page
  • Andrew Hillier

Crisis Response: Then and Now

The family’s contribution to Covid-19 initiatives is in keeping with its responses to other natural disasters in the past.

From the little village of Enford in Wiltshire, Jeni (a grand-daughter of Harold Hillier) writes of how her ‘team of twelve amateur ‘seamstresses’ are producing an endless supply of ‘scrubs’ for local health centres’.

We have two pattern cutters, 12 (and rising) seamstresses, 2 washing and ironing, and one delivering where they’re needed. Each one of us turns one over in anything from one to three days. May not sound a lot but every seam has to be ‘overlocked’ to prevent fraying, four outside pockets, two internal trouser pockets, perfect interlined V- neck. These scrubs will be commercially washed so need to be robust! Quite a challenge for this amateur curtain maker - clothes require very different skills.

From Acton, Diana (a great-grand-daughter of Harold) describes how she is organising the making and delivery of visors for anaesthetists working with Covid-19 patients.

In five days, we have delivered over 400 visors to local hospitals including Ealing, Northwick Park and The Royal London and will be sending another 180+ to Ealing tomorrow with hundreds more in production.

Visors have been made by local families who order the materials individually online and then make them at the kitchen table; families produce 10-50+ in one sitting… and one local mum made 100 in one evening to meet the urgent need at The Royal London Hospital. The visors are then delivered to the hospital car park (by a local volunteer driver) and collected by one of the ICU team.

Henry Battrick, great, great, great grand-son of Harry Hillier

In South Africa, where they are also in severe lock-down and the army is fully-deployed to maintain control, Lucy (a great-grand-daughter of Harold) is working on global child protection responses to the crisis. And now, Mick (Lucy’s father) is co-ordinating the results of the children’s efforts – working at home, playing and generally keeping spirits up - to produce an on-line scrap-book.

Rainbow Garage, Morpeth, by Eliza Hillier, great, great, great, great grand-daughter of the first Eliza Hillier

This spirited approach is in keeping with the family’s response to natural disasters in China, which were amongst the first to trigger global relief efforts. Between 1876 and 1879, the most lethal drought-famine hit five northern provinces and an estimated 9.5 to 13 million perished of starvation and famine-related diseases prompting the establishment of the Anglo-American Chinese Famine Relief Fund. Still reeling from the death of his wife, Lydie, in child-birth, just fifteen months after they were married, Walter Hillier was granted three months’ leave and used it to bring funds to the China Inland Mission and write a report on the work being done to alleviate the disaster. Setting off in January 1879 on a gruelling journey by boat and cart, he spent some six weeks in the Shanxi region and was profoundly moved by what he found. ‘These truly were’, he wrote, ‘the cities of the dead’.

Ten years later, severe flooding in the Shandong region led to the failure of the crops and widespread starvation. A Mansion House Relief Fund was set up to raise money from the City of London. Chaired by William Venn Drummond, his son-in-law, Harry Hillier (Harold’s father), acting Commissioner of Customs in Shanghai, was appointed its Secretary, charged with co-ordinating the financial response in China and distributing the funds. In gratitude for their contribution, the Chinese authorities presented Drummond and Harry with tablets, Harry’s bearing the inscription, ‘Showing Kindness to the Famine Stricken People’ 澤 被 灾 黎.

In 1892, severe flooding devastated the region around Tientsin (Tianjin) and Guy Hillier drew up a report on the work that was needed to reinforce the river defences. In later life, he was involved in a number of philanthropic projects. Having lost his sight, he was well aware of the exceptionally high rate of blindness in Peking’s population, caused in part by the harsh winds bringing in dust from the Gobi Desert. Having devised, a new system of Chinese Braille with Walter, in 1917 he and a number of colleagues set up the first public school for the blind in Peking. Here, students were both educated, using the new Braille system, and taught craftwork.

Two Students Making Chairs, School for the Blind, 1918-1919, Sidney D. Gamble Collection

To recognise their work for the Chinese people, all three brothers were awarded the prestigious Order of the Chinese Dragon and their efforts may, perhaps, be an inspiration for the family today. So, keep up the good work and STAY SAFE!

30 April 2020

77 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page