John Francis Davis

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Sir John Francis Davis

Tcitp d073 John Francis Davis Bart.jpg
Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China
In office
December 1833 – January 1835
Preceded byLord Napier
Succeeded bySir George Robinson
2nd Governor of Hong Kong
In office
8 May 1844 – 21 March 1848
Lieutenant GovernorMG George D'Aguilar
MG William Staveley
Preceded bySir Henry Pottinger
Succeeded bySir George Bonham
Personal details
Born(1795-07-16)16 July 1795
London, England, Great Britain
Died13 November 1890(1890-11-13) (aged 95)
Henbury, United Kingdom
Spouse(s)1. Emily Humfrays
1822-1866 (her death)
2. Lucy Ellen Locke
1866-1890 (his death)
RelationsSamuel Davis (father)
Children6 daughters, 2 sons
Alma materOxford University

Sir John Francis Davis, 1st Baronet KCB (Chinese: 戴維斯; Sidney Lau: Daai3 Wai4 Si1) (16 July 1795 – 13 November 1890) was a British diplomat and sinologist who served as second Governor of Hong Kong from 1844 to 1848.


Davis was the eldest son of East India Company (EIC) director and amateur artist Samuel Davis while his mother was Henrietta Boileau, member of a refugee French noble family who had come to England in the early eighteenth century from Languedoc in the south of France.[1][2]

Early career[edit]

In 1813, Davis was appointed writer at the East India Company's factory in Canton (now Guangzhou), China, at the time the centre of trade with China. Having demonstrated the depth of his learning in the Chinese language in his translation of The Three Dedicated Rooms ("San-Yu-Low") in 1815,[3] he was chosen to accompany Lord Amherst on his embassy to Peking in 1816.

On the mission's return Davis returned to his duties at the Canton factory, and was promoted to president in 1832. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society the same year.[4]

He was appointed Second Superintendent of British Trade in China alongside Lord Napier in December 1833, superseding William Henry Chicheley Plowden in the latter's absence.[5] After Napier's death in 1834, Davis became Chief Superintendent then resigned his position in January 1835, to be replaced by Sir George Robinson.[6] Davis left Canton aboard the Asia on 12 January.[7]

Governor of Hong Kong[edit]

Having arrived from Bombay on HMS Spiteful on 7 May 1844, he was appointed governor and commander-in-chief of Hong Kong the next day.[8]:47 During his tenure, Davis was much hated by Hong Kong residents and British merchants due to the imposition of various taxes, which increased the burden of all citizens, and his abrasive treatment of his subordinates.[citation needed] Davis organized the first Hong Kong Census in 1844,[9] which recorded that there were 23,988 people living in Hong Kong.

Weekend horse racing began during his tenure, which gradually evolved into a Hong Kong institution.

Davis resigned his commission and left Hong Kong on 21 March 1848, after disagreements with local British merchants escalated.

Personal life[edit]

Davis married Emily, the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Humfrays of the Bengal Engineers in 1822. They had one son, Sulivan Francis (born 13 January 1827, died in Bengal in 1862) and six daughters as follows:[2]

  • Henrietta Anne
  • Emily Nowell, who married the Reverend D. A. Beaufort in 1851, eldest son of Francis Beaufort, inventor of the eponymous wind scale.[10]
  • Julia Sullivan, who married Robert Cann Lippincott in 1854
  • Helen Marian (died 31 January 1859)
  • Florence
  • Eliza (died 20 October 1855)

In 1867, the year after the death of his first wife Emily, Davis married for a second time, to Lucy Ellen, eldest daughter of the Reverend T. J. Locke, vicar of Exmouth, in 1867. A son, Francis Boileau Davis was born in 1871.[11]

He was a created a baronet on 9 July 1845[12] and appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) on 12 June 1854.[13][2] In 1876 Davis became a Doctor of Civil Law of the University of Oxford after a donation of £1,666 in three percent consol bonds to endow a scholarship in his name for the encouragement of the study of Chinese.[14]


Davis died on 13 November 1890 at his residence, Hollywood House in the Bristol suburb of Henbury at the age of 95[14] and was interred in the graveyard of Compton Greenfield Church on 18 November.[15] As his surviving son Francis Boileau Davis left no surviving male heirs the Davis baronetcy died with him.[10]



In 1829, Davis, a member of the Royal Asiatic Society,[16] translated the 17th-century Chinese novel Haoqiu Zhuan under the title The Fortunate Union.[17] This was translated into French by Guillard D'Arcy in 1842.[16]

Davis also wrote an account of the events surrounding the attack on his father's house in Benares, India, in Vizier Ali Khan or The Massacre of Benares, A Chapter in British Indian History, published in London in 1871.

Other works include:

  • Translations from the Original Chinese, with Notes, Guangzhou: East Asia Co. Press, 1815, with Robert Morrison.
  • Chinese Novels, Translated from the Originals, &c, London: John Murray, 1822.
  • Hien Wun Shoo: Chinese Moral Maxims, London: John Murray, 1823.
  • A Commercial Vocabulary, Containing Chinese Words and Phrases Peculiar to Canton and Macao and to the Trade of Those Places, Together with the Titles and Addresses of All the Officers of Government, Hong Merchants, &c. &c., Macao: East Asia Co. Press, 1824.
  • "Eugraphia Sinensis, or, The Art of Writing the Chinese Character with Correctness", Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. I, London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1827, pp. 304 ff.
  • "Poeseos Sinensis Commentarii: On the Poetry of the Chinese", Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. II, London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1829.
  • The Chinese: A General Description of the Empire of China and Its Inhabitants, Vols. I & II, London: Charles Knight, 1836.
  • Sketches of China, Partly During an Inland Journey of Four Months between Peking, Nanking, and Canton, Vols. I & II, London: Charles Knight & Co., 1841.
  • China, during the War and since the Peace, London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1852.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Davis, Samuel; Aris, Michael (1982). Views of Medieval Bhutan: the diary and drawings of Samuel Davis, 1783. Serindia. p. 34.
  2. ^ a b c Burke, Bernard (1860). A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire. London: Harrison and Sons. p. 271.
  3. ^ Morrison, Robert; Davis, John Francis (1815). Translations from the Original Chinese, with Notes. Canton: Select Committee, Honourable East Asia Company.
  4. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 26 November 2010.
  5. ^ "Journal of Occurrences". The Chinese Repository. 3: 143. 1834.
  6. ^ "Official Notification". The Canton Register. 8 (4): 13. 1835.
  7. ^ Great Britain. Parliament (1840). Correspondence Relating to China: Presented to Both Houses of Parliament ... 1840. Printed by T.R. Harrison. p. 80.
  8. ^ Norton-Kyshe, James William (1898). History of the Laws and Courts of Hong Kong. 1. London: T Fisher Unwin.
  9. ^ Hong Kong (1847). Hongkong Colonial Ordinances: 1844-1847. China Mail. p. 43.
  10. ^ a b Davis, Samuel; Aris, Michael (1982). Views of Medieval Bhutan: the diary and drawings of Samuel Davis, 1783. Serindia. p. 38.
  11. ^ "The Oldest Baronet in England". Gloucester Citizen. 14 November 1890. p. 3. Retrieved 28 August 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)).
  12. ^ "No. 20488". The London Gazette. 15 July 1845. p. 2105.
  13. ^ "No. 21562". The London Gazette. 16 June 1854. p. 1867.
  14. ^ a b "Death of Sir John Francis Davis". Western Daily Press. 14 November 1890. Retrieved 28 August 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)).
  15. ^ "Untitled". Western Daily Press. 18 November 1890. p. 5. Retrieved 28 August 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)).
  16. ^ a b St. André, p. 43.
  17. ^ Bauer, Wolfgang. "The role of intermediate languages in translations from Chinese into German" (Archive). In: De l'un au multiple: Traductions du chinois vers les langues européennes, Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 1999. pp. 19–32. ISBN 273510768X, 9782735107681.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New title Baronet
(of Hollywood)
Succeeded by
Francis Boileau Davis