William Keswick

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William Keswick

William Keswick (15 April 1834 – 9 March 1912) was a British Conservative politician and businessman, patriarch of the Keswick family, an influential shipping family in Hong Kong associated with Jardine Matheson Holdings.

Keswick was born in 1834 in Dumfriesshire in the Scottish Lowlands. His grandmother, Jean Jardine Johnstone was an older sister of Dr. William Jardine, co-founder of Jardine Matheson.[1] His father Thomas Keswick, from Dumfriesshire had married Jardine's niece and daughter of Jean, Margaret Johnstone, and entered the Jardine business. The company operated as merchant traders and had a major influence in the First and Second Opium Wars although the company stopped this trading in 1870 to pursue a broad range of trades including shipping, railways, textiles and property development.

William arrived in China and Hong Kong in 1855, the first of six generations of the Keswick family to be associated with Jardines. He established a Jardine Matheson office in Yokohama, Japan in 1859. He returned to Hong Kong to become a partner of the firm in 1862. He became managing partner or Tai-pan of the firm in 1874 until his departure in 1886. He left Hong Kong in 1886 to take control of Matheson & Co. in London responsible only to the firm's senior partner Sir Robert Jardine (1825–1905). He remained the firm's managing director until his death in 1912. Keswick also served as a director in the Hudson Bay Company.

He spent three spells on the Legislative and Executive Councils of Hong Kong between 1868 and 1887. Whilst in the colony, William also served as Consul-general for the Kingdom of Hawaii, for which he was made a Knight Commander of the Hawaiian Order of Kalakao (named in honour of Kalākaua, the country's last king). He also acted as consul for the Kingdom of Denmark in Hong Kong.[2]

In 1888, Keswick and the chemist Herbert W. C. Tweddle bought the Negritos oil fields on the hacienda La Brea y Pariñas in Peru. Keswick and Tweddle then formed the London and Pacific Petroleum Company to profit from the property.[3]

He was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Epsom at a by-election in 1899, and held the seat until his resignation on 8 March 1912 by the procedural device of accepting the post of Steward of the Manor of Northstead.

William died at his home, Eastwood Park, Great Bookham, Surrey, on 9 March 1912.[4] William had lived in the house since 1882 and on his death, it passed to his son Henry.[5]

His grandson, William Johnston Keswick "Tony" (1903–1990) was Jardine's Tai-pan between 1934 and 1941.[6]


  1. ^ "Keswick". Webster's Online Dictionary. Retrieved June 11, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Epsom Division: The Conservative Candidate". Surrey Mirror (British Newspaper Archive). 13 January 1899. Retrieved 11 July 2014. (subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ Clayton, Lawrence A. (1999). Peru and the United States: The Condor and the Eagle. University of Georgia Press. p. 91.  (Note that on p. 91 and p. 362, the 1991 edition of Clayton's book has the typographical error "Tweedle"; this error is the typesetter's — not Clayton's.)
  4. ^ "Obituary". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (British Newspaper Archive). 11 March 1912. Retrieved 6 July 2014. (subscription required (help)). 
  5. ^ "A History of Bookham". Retrieved 11 July 2014. 
  6. ^ "W.H. Auden, Family Ghosts - Sir William Johnston Keswick". Stanford University. Retrieved June 11, 2011. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Thomas Townsend Bucknill
Member of Parliament for Epsom
Succeeded by
Henry Keswick