|Sir Robert Hotung|
Portrait of Sir Robert Hotung wearing his decorations
|Born||Robert Ho Tung Bosman
22 December 1862
Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong
|Died||26 April 1956
|Alma mater||Queen's College|
|Spouse(s)||Margaret Maclean (Mak) (1865-1944)
Clara Cheung Lin-kok (1875–1938)
|Children||Victoria, Henry, Daisy, Edward, Eva, Irene, Robert, Jean, Grace, Florence, Mary and George|
|Parents||Charles Bosman (father)
|Relatives||Ho Fook (brother)
Ho Gumtong (brother)
Sir Robert Hotung in 1916
|Alternative Chinese name|
Sir Robert Ho Tung Bosman, KBE (22 December 1862 – 26 April 1956), better known as Sir Robert Hotung, was an influential Hong Kong businessman and philanthropist in British Hong Kong. Known as "the grand old man of Hong Kong", Hotung was knighted in 1915 and 1955.
It has often been incorrectly claimed that in 1906 he was the "first Chinese person to be allowed to live on Victoria Peak"; however, the relevant law only applied to tenants. Ho Tung owned his own houses and so needed no such permission.
He was a Eurasian, born to a man of Dutch ancestry named Charles Henri Maurice Bosman (1839–1892) and Madame Sze, a Han Chinese woman of Bao'an (present-day Shenzhen) heritage, on D'Aguilar Street. His father was a merchant who had his own company, Bosman and Co., was part owner of the Hong Kong Hotel which opened in 1868, and a director of the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock Company. By 1869, Charles Bosman was also the Dutch Consul, running an own marine insurance business whose important clients included the British owned trading conglomerate Jardine, Matheson & Co. He later left for England, where he became naturalised in 1888. In Cantonese, Bosman was pronounced Bo-se-man, transliterated into Cantonese became Ho Sze Man. When Robert Ho Tung Bosman travelled, he carried a certificate from the Governor of Hong Kong stating that his father was Dutch.
After graduating from Queen's College in 1878, Hotung went to Canton, where he worked as a clerk for the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs. In 1880, he returned to Hong Kong and joined Jardines as an assistant in the compradore department. His bilingual skills and business acumen eventually propelled him to become Head Compradore, a position he held until his retirement in 1889. Although he was of mixed parentage, Hotung considered himself Chinese, a fact reflected in his sartorial preference. By the age of 35, he was believed to be the richest man in Hong Kong. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of Hong Kong in 1916.
In 1927, his wife Clara expanded "The Falls", one of the four Peak houses owned by Ho Tung, into a sumptuous residence now known as Ho Tung Gardens at 75 Peak Road. Ho Tung himself lived in a nearby house named The Neuk, although he did entertain visiting notables such as US vice-president John Nance Garner and playwright George Bernard Shaw at Ho Tung Gardens.
Hotung financed the revolutions, including the Xinhai Revolution, led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen to establish the Republic of China. As a millionaire with significant influence in the colony, he heavily emphasised to the British in the early Colonial Hong Kong era that no part of the Chinese demographics was purely indigenous. Hotung was a director of many Hong Kong companies, including Hong Kong Land, and served on the boards of influential charitable organisations, including the Tung Wah Hospital. He was founder and first chairman of The Chinese Club, which was created in response to the colonial Hong Kong Club's policy of excluding those who were not British and white from joining. He was knighted in 1915 and 1955. His second wife, Clara, was a devout Buddhist. Through her educational charity, to which Sir Robert gave HK$100,000 on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1931, the Po Kok Day and Evening School and the Tung Lin Kok Yuen in Happy Valley were founded.
Robert Hotung had four sisters and five brothers, some of whom were:
- Ho Fook, a younger brother, succeeded his father as Head Compradore at Jardines in 1889. He had 13 sons, five of whom worked as compradores for various foreign companies. One of Ho Fook's grandsons is Stanley Ho, the casino and shipping magnate.
- Ho Kom-tong (1866–1950), a younger maternal half-brother, son of Chinese father and Chinese mother Madame Sze, was a prominent businessman and philanthropist who succeeded Ho Fook as Head Compradore at Jardines. He had 12 wives and reportedly more than 30 children, one of whom was Grace Ho Oi-yu (何爱瑜)(b. 1907 d.1996) a Eurasian and an adopted daughter of Ho Kom-tong and a woman by the name of Cheung King-sin (b. 1866 d. 1960), Grace Ho became the mother of the famous martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. Kom Tong Hall, the former Hong Kong residence of Ho Kom-tong, now houses the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum.
At age 15 Robert Hotung was informally engaged to the daughter of Hector Coll Maclean of Jardines, Margaret Mak (aka Maclean, 麥秀英) (1865-1944). They married when he was 18, and she was 16. Since she was unable to bear children, Hotung adopted Ho Fook's first son, Ho Wing, following Chinese tradition, and then took Chau Yee Man (周綺文) as a concubine in 1891. When he remained childless after three years (Chau Yee Man later gave birth to Mary Hotung 何純姿), Margaret Mak persuaded her maternal cousin Clara Cheung Lin-kok (張靜容 aka 張蓮覺) (1875–1938), to accept his hand as a "co-equal" wife and he remarried in 1895. Clara Ho Tung later gave birth to three sons and seven daughters.
Hotung and his first wife Margaret each became Christians late in life, and were interred at the Hong Kong Cemetery. The rest of his family, including Clara, are buried in the Eurasian cemetery, Chiu Yuen Cemetery (昭遠墳場), located on Mount Davis.
Hotung's eldest son, Edward Hotung (1902–1957), became a prominent banker and philanthropist in Hong Kong. Edward was founder of the Chinese Gold and Silver Exchange in Hong Kong, as well as Treasurer of the Chinese War Chest in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation. His sons are Sir Joseph Hotung KBE and Eric Hotung CBE (born 1926). He also had two daughters – Mary Ketterer, who received the Royal Order of the Golden Ark for her work in conservation, and Tonia.
Eric Hotung is a businessman and Ambassador-at-Large and Economics Advisor for Timor-Leste (East Timor). He was born in Hong Kong and grew up there and in Shanghai. Eric attended Georgetown University in 1947 and graduated in 1951. Afterwards, he worked at the New York Stock Exchange and at General Motors before returning to Hong Kong. He is married to Patricia Anne Shea. They have five sons and three daughters.
Hotung's second son, Robert Ho Shai-lai (1906–1998), was a general under the Kuomintang regime. He renounced his British nationality and became a citizen of the Republic of China. He was also ambassador to Japan for the Republic of China from 1952 to 1956 and a member of the Nationalist China military delegation to the United Nations from 1956 to 1966. Robert's son Robert Ho Hung-ngai (born 1932), a former journalist and publisher in Hong Kong, is the founder of the Tung Lin Kok-yuen Canada Society.
A fourth son, Henry, died of tuberculosis when he was 4.
Victoria Hotung (Lady Lo) was his eldest daughter. She married Sir Man-kam Lo, a prominent Eurasian lawyer and legislator who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II after World War II. Their son, Lo Tak-shing, was a former lawyer and legislator in Hong Kong who once ran against Tung Chee Hwa for Chief Executive.
Three other daughters – Irene Cheng, Jean Gittins and Florence Yeo – wrote memoirs chronicling their war-time experiences in colonial Hong Kong. Jean Gittins migrated to Melbourne Australia after the World War where she worked in the Pathology Department of Melbourne University. She also wrote six books: "I Was at Stanley", " Eastern Windows – Western Skies", "The Diggers from China", "Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire", "A Stranger No More" and "Prizes, Books and Papers (1879/1969)" . Irene Cheng, educator, was one of the first female undergraduate students enrolled to study English at the University of Hong Kong in 1921. She went on to study for a Diploma in Education at King's College in London in 1925. In 1936, she received her PhD from the University of London.
There are many parks, schools, and buildings named after or founded by Robert Hotung in Hong Kong, including Lady Hotung Hall at Hong Kong University, Hotung Secondary School, Tung Lin Kok-yuen Buddhist temple, and King George V School. In Macau, the Sir Robert Ho Tung Library is housed in a mansion once owned by Hotung, who resided there during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong.
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