Henry Pottinger

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Sir Henry Pottinger

Henry Pottinger.jpg
Portrait of Pottinger by Francis Grant, 1845
Governor of Madras
In office
Preceded byThe Marquess of Tweeddale
Succeeded byThe Lord Harris
Governor of the Cape Colony
In office
Preceded bySir Peregrine Maitland
Succeeded bySir Harry Smith
Governor of Hong Kong
In office
26 June 1843 – 8 May 1844
Lieutenant GovernorMG George D'Aguilar
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded bySir John Davis
Administrator of Hong Kong
In office
Preceded byAlexander Johnston (acting)
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Personal details
Born(1789-10-03)3 October 1789
County Down, Ireland
Died18 March 1856(1856-03-18) (aged 66)
Spouse(s)Susanna Maria Cooke
Alma materBelfast Academy
Military service
AllegianceUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
Branch/serviceBombay Army
Years of service1804–1856
RankLieutenant General
Battles/warsThird Anglo-Maratha War
First Opium War

Lieutenant General Sir Henry Pottinger, 1st Baronet, GCB, PC (Chinese: 砵甸乍; 3 October 1789 – 18 March 1856), was an Anglo-Irish soldier and colonial administrator who became the first Governor of Hong Kong.

Early career[edit]

Pottinger's travel map of 1816 Beloochistan on his way to Asia

Henry Pottinger was born in County Down, Ireland, in 1789. He was the fifth son of Eldred Curwen Pottinger, Esq., of Mount Pottinger, County Down, and his wife Anne, who was the daughter of Robert Gordon, Esq., of Florida House in the same county. They had three daughters and eight sons.[1][2][3] Eldred Pottinger was his nephew.[4] Henry studied at the Belfast Academy, today known as Belfast Royal Academy.

In 1804, he went to India to serve in the army and explored the lands between the Indus and Persia, travelling in disguise as a Muslim merchant and studying local languages, under the orders of Sir John Malcolm. In 1806, he joined the British East India Company and in 1809, he was a Lieutenant who fought in one of the Anglo-Mahratta wars. In 1810, he and Charles Christie undertook an expedition from Nushki (Balochistan) to Isfahan (Central Persia) disguised as Muslims. Christie went north to Herat and then west while Pottinger went west across two deserts to Kerman and Isfahan where they rejoined. The expedition was funded by the East India Company to map and research the regions of Balochistan and Persia because of concerns about India being invaded by French forces.[5] It would be 100 years before another European took this route, and Pottinger rose to the rank of Colonel. Pottinger later became Resident Administrator of Sindh in 1820. He later held the same post in Hyderabad.

In 1820, he married Susanna Maria Cooke who in 1831 gave birth to their son, Frederick Pottinger who became notorious for his run-ins with bushrangers as Inspector of Police in New South Wales, Australia. Their second son, Henry, was born on 10 June 1834 and died on 18 October 1909.

He was created a baronet when he returned to England in 1839.

Opium War[edit]

Engraving of Pottinger

Pottinger accepted Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston's offer of the post of envoy and plenipotentiary in China and superintendent of British trade, thus replacing Charles Elliot.[6] In 1841, when Pottinger was sent to China, Palmerston instructed him to "examine with care the natural capacities of Hong Kong, and you will not agree to give up that Island unless you should find that you can exchange it for another in the neighbourhood of Canton, better adapted for the purposes in view; equally defensible; and affording sufficient shelter for Ships of War and Commerce".[7] On 4 November 1841, Palmerston's successor Lord Aberdeen wrote to Pottinger that he had doubts over Hong Kong's acquisition since it would incur administrative expenses, and complicate relations with China and other nations.[7]

Pottinger's house in Victoria, Hong Kong, 1845

After Pottinger joined the British expeditionary force in northern China, he negotiated the terms of the Treaty of Nanking (1842), which ended the First Opium War and ceded Hong Kong Island to the United Kingdom. Pottinger wrote in a letter to Aberdeen that at a feast celebrating the ratification with his Hong Kong counterpart, Keying, Keying insisted they ceremonially exchange miniature portraits of each member of each others' families. Upon receiving a miniature portrait of Pottinger's wife, Pottinger wrote that Keying "placed it on his head—which I am told is the highest token of respect and friendship—filled a glass of wine, held the picture in front of his face, muttered some words in a low voice, drank the wine, again placed the picture on his head and then sat down" to complete the ceremony of long-term amity between the two families and the two peoples.[8]

Governor of Hong Kong[edit]

Pottinger became the second Administrator of Hong Kong (1841–1843) and the first Governor of Hong Kong (1843–1844). When he forwarded the treaty to Aberdeen, Pottinger remarked, "the retention of Hong Kong is the only point in which I have intentionally exceeded my modified instructions, but every single hour I have passed in this superb country has convinced me of the necessity and desirability of our possessing such a settlement as an emporium for our trade and a place from which Her Majesty's subjects in China may be alike protected and controlled."[9]

On 26 April 1843, the Governor's residence (Former French Mission Building) was robbed.[citation needed]

On 26 June 1843, he was appointed to become the Chief Commander of the British troops stationed in Hong Kong.

During his very short tenure, Pottinger established executive and legislative chambers, with one discussing political affairs and one designing legal codes. However, the chambers did not convene often, and this gave Pottinger wide-ranging powers to decide on policy.

Towards the end of his tenure, Pottinger lost the support of the local British merchants and was isolated. He left on 7 May 1844.

During his governorship, Hong Kong became the major port for trading opium in China.


Pottinger became a member of the Privy Council in 1844, and became Governor of Cape Colony in 1847 and also of Madras in the same year. In 1851, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general. He died in retirement in Malta in 1856. He was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Floriana, nowadays known as "Msida Bastion Historic Garden". A marble plaque is still visible.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Our Portrait Gallery—No. XL.". The Dublin University Magazine (Dublin: James McGlashan). 28: 426. 1846.
  2. ^ Walford, Edward (1857). "Right Hon. Sir H. Pottinger, G.C.B.". Hardwicke's Annual Biography for 1857. London: Robert Hadwick. p. 20.
  3. ^ Urban, Sylvanus (1856). "Obituary.—Right Hon. Sir H. Pottinger.". The Gentleman's Magazine (London: John Bowyer Nichols and Sons) 45: 517.
  4. ^ Pottinger, Henry (2 November 1846). "Letter from Sir Henry Pottinger". The Dublin University Magazine (Dublin: James McGlashan) 28: 768.
  5. ^ The Great Game: Britain and Russia in Central Asia. Edited by Martin Ewans. Volume II: Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde, by Henry Pottinger. First published by Longman, London, 1816. This edition by RoutledgeCurzon, Milton Park, England 2004. ISBN 0415316405
  6. ^ Broadfoot, William. "Pottinger, Sir Henry, first baronet (1789–1856)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004 ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22626. Accessed 20 July 2010.
  7. ^ a b Tsang, Steve (2004). A Modern History of Hong Kong. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 17. ISBN 1-84511-419-1.
  8. ^ Koon, Yeewan (2012). "The Face of Diplomacy in 19th-Century China: Qiying's Portrait Gifts". In Johnson, Kendall (ed.). Narratives of Free Trade: The Commercial Cultures of Early US-China Relations. Hong Kong University Press. pp. 131–148.
  9. ^ Pottinger, George (1997). Sir Henry Pottinger: First Governor of Hong Kong. Sutton Publishing. p. 106. ISBN 0-312-16506-4.

Further reading[edit]

  • Endacott, G. B. (2005) [1962]. A Biographical Sketch-book of Early Hong Kong. Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 978-962-209-742-1.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Charles Elliot
Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China
Office abolished
Administrator of Hong Kong
Succeeded by
as Governor of Hong Kong
Preceded by
as Administrator of Hong Kong
Governor of Hong Kong
Succeeded by
Sir John Francis Davis
Preceded by
Sir Peregrine Maitland
Governor of the Cape Colony
Succeeded by
Sir Harry Smith, Bt
Preceded by
The Marquess of Tweeddale
Governor of Madras
Succeeded by
The Lord Harris