Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Earnshaw Brothers


Curtiss Oriole Airplane - 1919

Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Digital Library

Claude and Reginald Earnshaw were born in Battersea at the turn of the 20th. century. Their father was a broker at the Stock Exchange and by 1911 they were living in Swanley, Kent.

Reginald was interested in the new phenomenon of aviation and in 1918 he applied to join the Royal Air Force. Unfortunately, during the training period it was found that at a certain height blood rushed to his head and for this reason he was judged as being “unsuitable”. Reginald returned to the Training Reserve Battalion.

After the war the brothers wanted to broaden their horizons and they joined the Hong Kong Police. Recruiting had ceased during the war but a large intake of 34 men arrived during 1919 and a further 21 in 1920. However, after a couple of years the brothers decided that there were better opportunities to be had outside of the Force. Reginald became the Manager of the Kai Tack Motor Bus Company and Claude became the Manager of the Palace Hotel.

Even though Reginald had left the Police Force his training stayed with him. In 1924 he was instrumental in the arrest of a gang of armed bandits in the New Territories. His diligence won him a commendation from the Government plus a small reward.

Reginald was still interested in aviation and when the young American aviator, H.W. Abbott, arrived in the Colony he saw it as a perfect opportunity. The Abbott School of Aviation was formed and Reginald found himself working as mechanic on the Curtiss J N 4 planes. In order to drum up business Abbott organised an air display which was to be held at Chinese New Year 1925. Reginald must have been in his element spending all his spare time with the aircraft but it still was not enough. On a short holiday to Manila he actually made a parachute jump. The only trouble was that when he returned to Hong Kong none of his friends actually believed him.

The day before the display Reginald told his brother that he was to be part of the event and that at 4pm he would be jumping with a parachute from the small Curtiss plane from a height of 2,500 ft. He was intending to land on reclamation land in Kowloon. He assured his brother that it was all perfectly safe. Claude pointed out that the flight would be over the harbour and that there was a danger of landing in water instead of on land. Reginald said that he would organise a boat to be standing by – just in case that should happen. Claude advised that perhaps it might be safer not to wear his heavy riding boots as these could cause problems if he should land in the harbour. Reginald declined this advice saying that if he came down on land he could hit rocks and then he would definitely need his boots. It seemed that he had an answer for everything – as adventurous/foolhardy youngsters always seem to do !!

The display started at 2pm with the christening of “Felix” the new Curtiss plane built by Abbott. After the ceremony Mr. W. George Bunter gave a speech outlining the objects of the new school – which, incidentally, happened to be the very early beginnings of Kai Tak Airport. After this Abbott flew his new plane with a string of fire crackers attached to the tail. Henry Young who was described as being a famous Chinese aviator followed with a series of daring stunts including looping the loop, nose diving and tail spinning. The spectators loved it.

4pm came round all too quickly and poor Reginald wondered what he had let himself in for. Why had he been so rash as to say that he would do this? Oh well, he had said that he would jump – so jump he must. He climbed into the passenger seat in front of Abbott with his parachute rolled and ready. The plane took off and circled three times ascending all the time. The correct height was reached and Reginald summoned all his courage and climbed out onto the wing of the plane. He hesitated for about a minute and then jumped. The parachute opened and he began the descent. As he looked down he could see that he was coming down over the harbour instead of the land so he pulled on the guy ropes. But it was all to no avail and he landed in the harbour. With his heavy boots and thick clothing there was no way that he could stay afloat. By the time the little motor boat arrived on the scene there was no sign of Reginald.

Abbott and Henry Young went up again and circled and circled in the hope of spotting the young man but there was no sign of him. The Water Police searched for his body for days. He was found some 10 days later just a few yards from where he had descended. It appeared that cords had become entangled around his right leg and the weight of the parachute had dragged him under the water.

On 7th. February Reginald’s coffin draped with the Union Jack and borne on a gun carriage drawn by a detachment from the Water Police made its way to the Colonial Cemetery. The body was accorded military honours and a firing party from the East Surrey Regiment was present. At the graveside three volleys were fired and a bugler sounded the Last Post. His former colleagues from the Hong Kong Police paid their last token of respect by filling in the grave themselves.

His brother, Claude, was the chief mourner and to him fell the sad duty of informing his parents and sister back home.

Claude was a keen cyclist, oarsman and cricketer. He was also a billiards player and arranged tournaments at the Palace Hotel. He was described as being courteous and a person who always tried to serve others.

Just 6 years after the tragic death of his brother, Claude also passed away and was buried quietly in the Colonial Cemetery.

Reginald was buried in Section 16E whilst Claude was buried in Section 16C. In 1975 large sections of the cemetery were under threat due to the Aberdeen Tunnel Project. Neither of these sections were in danger as they were high on the hill in the centre of the cemetery. However, room was needed everywhere in order to relocate graves with headstones that were having to be moved. Neither Reginald nor Claude had headstones and their graves were, therefore, exhumed and the remains later placed in the Ossuary.

These simple plaques record the names of the two brothers. Fortunately they can both be found in the same block of the Ossuary.


Together in life – together in death.

If you would like a search of my database of Hong Kong Cemetery burials please e-mail me:


(you will need to type this into the address box of your e-mail as it is not a direct link to avoid spammers !)










Wednesday, 6 July 2011

William ABRAHAMS


William was born in 1843 in Alverstoke, Hampshire the son of a carpenter. He lost his mother when he was seven years old but had an elder sister named Emma.

As a teenager William joined the Royal Navy and was posted to HMS Urgent just as the ship was about to embark on a voyage to the Far East. She arrived in Hong Kong on 7 June 1860 and stayed for two weeks before heading north to the Gulf of Pechelee where the Great Wall of China meets the sea. This was the time of the Opium Wars and HMS Urgent was one of the ships deployed in getting troops to the northern ports. In September the ship was back in Hong Kong where she stayed for six weeks before going to Shanghai. William was certainly seeing something of the Orient and took the opportunity of buying some presents for his sister. The ship arrived back in Hong Kong on 16 January 1861 and was berthed at Aberdeen on the south side of the island.

On Sunday 10th. February the seamen were allowed leave to go into the city of Victoria – a walk of several miles over the hills. Whilst coming back to the ship William was attacked by a band of armed Chinese robbers and struck on the head with a sword. Poor William received medical care but died two weeks later on Sunday 24th. February at 9 o’clock in the morning. He was just 17 years of age.

William Abrahams was buried in the cemetery in Happy Valley on Monday 25th. February with all his messmates in attendance. Although no headstone survives to William’s memory it is likely that he was buried in Section 12 as this is the section where other seamen were buried in February 1861. A photo of the section appears at the top of this blog. According to the burial register William was buried in grave number 2326.

A few days after the funeral David Yeomans the Assistant Paymaster wrote a letter to William’s father informing him of the sad news. After the factual information he continued

“He was a smart, civil and good tempered lad and had he not met with such an untimely end would have been a good seaman, and gone on well in the Service, but as it has pleased God to take him to himself so young, so ought you be contented for we must now hope that he is in the land of joy.

His messmates wish me to tell you how sorry they are for him, but no one onboard is more sorry than myself. He was a great favourite of mine on account of his civility and smartness which now induces me to tell you the sad news.

His clothes have been sold, they brought £4 and his pay is £6 more - altogether then ten pounds which will be paid to you by writing to the Admiralty. According to the copy I send you he bought some things for his sisters which will be sent home by the first opportunity. He has wished his sisters to get part of his money so I hope you will do as he wished as it would have pleased him so much.”

This letter, plus another written by one of William’s friends, still survive within the family. It is with grateful thanks to one of William’s great nephews that I was able to put this story together for you today.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A Short Walk


Stepping through the back gate of the Hong Kong Cemetery on Stubbs Road one immediately descends into a serene, peaceful world far away from the frenentic hustle and bustle of the thriving city. Apartment buildings tower into the skyline but once inside the cemetery all that can be seen is thick green foliage and the smell of frangipani wafts through the air.

Just inside the gate on the right hand side is a long narrow section. All that can be seen are a few numbered stones nestling in the grass. This area was reserved for burials made at Government expense—more commonly referred to as Pauper Burials.

The narrow path descends quite steeply as it snakes its way down the hillside. A small triangular area on the left contains the graves of expatriates from Shanghai. They had originally been buried in the Bubbling Well Cemetery in Shanghai but due to the closure of this cemetery in the 1950s some families had the remains of their loved ones moved to Hong Kong.

At the bottom of the next set of steps the path splits into two and bends sharply to the left. The upper path leads around a large section shaped like a boomerang. The majority of graves here date from the mid to late 1930s. This area provides wonderful views over Happy Valley and out to the Harbour.

The path leads on to a section containing graves from the late 1920s and early 1930s. Below this are military graves from the late 1920s through to the 1950s – including those of soldiers who died in the second world war. The graves in these sections are shaded by trees.

The lower path leads down to a large area which has no protection - where the sun blazes down with all its intensity throughout the summer months. I can remember starting this section on a sunny spring day. I had just left one of my dogs at the vets for an operation and I was really worried for her. Recording the memorial inscriptions took my mind off the events of the day but as the morning wore on the heat built up and eventually I had to retreat to the shade. Amongst graves from the 1920s can be found many old headstones from the 1850s. Oh what stories they can reveal.

The former Colonial Cemetery contains the graves of people from all walks of life—from destitute right up to high ranking Government officials. The former colony would not have been what it was without the ordinary people—the tavern keepers, the seamen, and the lowly civil servants. Keep reading my blog and you will be taken on walks through many areas of the cemetery and hear some of the stories behind the stones.

If you think you may have an ancestor buried in this far off land please contact me. I am always happy to search my index of Hong Kong Burials:

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Hong Kong Cemetery - Do not despair if your ancestor had no headstone !!


Less than 50% of the persons buried at the Hong Kong Cemetery, Happy Valley, had headstones erected to their memory. Even if they were a prominent and highly respected member of the community it did not mean that they would ever get a headstone. More often than not immediate family members were back in the UK and arranging for a stone was not a viable option in days long ago. Take the case of Mr. G.W. Avenell who died on 12th. February 1927 of Typhoid Fever.

Mr. Avenell had been born in Farnham, England on 9th. March 1880 and as a young man saw service in the South African Wars where he was awarded the DCM. He first arrived in Hong Kong in 1902 with the Sherwood Forresters and then went with his regiment to Singapore. On leaving the military he returned to Hong Kong as Armourer Staff Sergeant to the Police and Hong Kong Volunteers. In 1918 he joined Messrs. Lane Crawford as manager of the Ship Chandlery Department.

He was a member of the Kowloon Cricket Club and also took a keen interest in lawn tennis having at one time been a member of the Wigwam Tennis Club. He was an enthusiastic worker for the YMCA and the Philharmonic Society. Mr. Avenell was also a Freemason being a member of the Zetland Lodge.

He was survived by a widow and child who were At Home in the UK.

Mr. Avenell was accorded a funeral with full military honours – but no headstone was ever erected to his memory.

Those of you who have read my earlier posts on this Blog will know that large exhumation projects were carried out at the Hong Kong Cemetery in 1969 and 1975. As Mr. Avenell had no headstone his grave was first exhumed in 1969 and his remains moved to the Ossuary. In 1975 the Ossuary had to be removed to make way for the approach roads to the Aberdeen Tunnel. A new ossuary was built and eventually all the remains which had been held in the old ossuary were moved into the new. Although Mr. Avenell, like many others, has been moved around the cemetery perhaps it is all for the good because at least now he has a plaque within the cemetery which shows his name.

If you would like a search of my Hong Kong Cemetery Burial Index please contact me. More often than not I am also able to provide a synopsis of the persons life in Hong Kong as illustrated above with the case of Mr. Avenell.




Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Sai Wan War Memorial, Hong Kong



The Sai Wan War Memorial, Hong Kong was unveiled by H.E. The Governor Sir Alexander Grantham GCMG on Sunday 20 February 1955. The names of 79 Police Officers are included on the memorial.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission should have details of all those remembered within the Sai Wan Military Cemetery http://www.cwgc.org/

But remember, if your ancestor was buried in the Hong Kong Cemetery (formerly the Colonial Cemetery) then there is a fair chance that I will have details in my Hong Kong database of burials. It does not matter if there is no headstone because much of the information was extracted direct from the burial registers. I also have 7,000 photos so if your ancestor was one of the lucky ones to have a headstone then there is a fair chance that I will be able to provide you with a picture.

For a search of my Hong Kong Cemetery Burial Index please contact:

twiglet.thomas@tiscali.co.uk












Sunday, 5 June 2011

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Remembered in Kensal Green Cemetery

I recently visited Kensal Green Cemetery in search of the burial plot of William Barnicot’s father. William has a lovely old stone in the Hong Kong Cemetery and having researched the whole of William’s life I was keen to find where his father lay. However, that is a whole different story and one that is far too long to relate in a short blog. Having found the site I was looking for I took myself off around this famous West London cemetery fascinated by the wonderful old tombs many of them to individuals with connections to the East – Alexander Nesbitt Shaw of the Bombay Civil Service, Sir William Casement of the Bengal Army etc. etc. Then I remembered that there was an inscription here honouring a man who has been on the periphery of my research for many, many years – Charles MAY.

The Hong Kong Police was established in 1845 by three Metropolitan Police officers from the East End of London – Charles MAY, Thomas SMITHERS and Hugh McGREGOR. Charles spent some 34 years in Hong Kong and is mentioned in all the history books - so being rather “famous” I always felt there would be nothing further to find on him. My attention has always focused on Thomas Smithers and Hugh McGregor and after years of research I feel as if I know the Smithers family inside out. But before I get side tracked let’s return to Charles MAY.

After spending the majority of his life in Hong Kong Charles died on his passage back to England in 1879. He had been accompanied on the voyage by his daughter and no doubt it was she who had to watch as her father was buried at sea just before the ship reached Singapore. The MAY family were highly respected in London for Charles’ father, John MAY, had been appointed to the Metropolitan Police at the time of its establishment way back in 1829 and held the prestigious position of Superintendent “A” Division. He worked alongside the two Commissioners of Police – Sir Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne who had their offices in a private house at No. 4 Whitehall Place.

I knew that the MAY family tomb was somewhere within this West London cemetery and I had a very rough recollection of what it looked like but with thousands of graves, and much of the cemetery overgrown, what was the chance of finding it? I would say virtually nil. However, I have always been of the very firm belief that if somebody wants to be found then they will call me to them – or at least allow me to find the historical documents that tell their life stories. In this instance I needed to be led to some specific spot within the cemetery so I continued to meander first down the central avenue and then up a side path here or a side path there. I had no idea where my feet were leading me. After a while I rested on a handy parapet, relaxing and savouring the awe inspiring architecture of the Victorian tombs around me. Suddenly I was aware that the inscription on the side of a tomb right in my line of vision contained the words “Charles” and “John May”. Would you believe it – there was the very tomb I was hoping to find.

Charles, son of the above John May/ Chief Magistrate of Police, Colonial Treasurer and for 34 years in HM Civil Service in Hong Kong China/ died on his homeward passage 25 April 1879 aged 61 buried at sea.

I can only say that Charles certainly wanted me to find him!!!! If you would like to read some lesser known facts about Charles then you will need to keep an eye on my Society of Genealogists web pages where he will feature in my next posting: