British Characters

  • Lord Napier
  • William Jardine
  • Sir James Matteson
  • George Chinnery
  • Captain Charles Elliot
  • Karl Gutzlaff

Lord Napier

A former RN Captain he was appointment as an emissary to China to establish formal relations and promote trade. When he arrived he ignored Chinese protocols resulting in extended political maneuvering that end with his humiliation.

William John Napier, 9th Lord Napier (1786 – 11 October 1834) was a Royal Navy officer, politician and diplomat. A peer of Scotland, Lord Napier was an elected Scottish representative in the House of Lords from 1824 to 1832.

In December 1833, upon the ending of British East India Company’s monopoly on trade in the Far East, Lord Napier was appointed by Lord Palmerston, the foreign secretary and a family friend of Napier, the first Chief Superintendent of Trade at Canton (now Guangzhou), in China. He arrived at Macau on 15 July 1834, and left for Canton ten days later, with the mission of expanding British trade into inner China. Lacking the necessary diplomatic and commercial experience, he was not successful in achieving the objective.

Having failed to secure a meeting with the Viceroy of Canton, amid a litany of breaches of protocol, misunderstandings approaching complete communication breakdown and stubbornness on both sides, Napier’s frustration in failing to break an intractable trade deadlock led to his favoring a military solution. He sent the frigates Andromache and Imogene to Whampoa in plain breach of Imperial Viceroy Loo’s edict, with fatalities resulting on both sides in the skirmish of cannon fire as they breached the defenses at the Bocca Tigris. After a prolonged stalemate, Lord Napier was forced, sapped by typhus, to retire to Macau in September 1834, where he died of the fever on 11 October. He was buried in Macau but later exhumed for reburial at his beloved Ettrick in Scotland. Napier was first to suggest establishment of a British presence on Hong Kong, then the site of a few small villages.