John Pope Hennessy

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Sir John Pope Hennessy
Portrait of John Pope Hennessy.jpg
15th Governor of Mauritius
In office
1 June 1883 – 11 December 1889
Preceded bySir Frederick Napier Broome
Succeeded bySir Charles Cameron Lees
8th Governor of Hong Kong
In office
23 April 1877 – 30 March 1883
Lieutenant GovernorSir Francis Colborne
Edward Donovan
John Sargent
Colonial SecretaryJohn Gardiner Austin
William Henry Marsh
Preceded bySir Arthur Edward Kennedy
Succeeded bySir George Bowen
10th Governor of Barbados and the Windward Islands
In office
Preceded bySanford Freeling, acting
Succeeded byGeorge Cumine Strahan
25th Governor of the Bahamas
In office
Preceded bySir George Cumine Strahan
Succeeded bySir William Robinson
Governor of Sierra Leone
In office
Preceded byJohn Jennings Kendall, acting
Succeeded byRobert Keate
Governor of the Gold Coast
In office
Preceded byHerbert Taylor Ussher
Succeeded byCharles Spencer Salmon, acting
6th Governor of Labuan
In office
Preceded byHugh Low
Succeeded bySir Henry Ernest Gascoyne Bulwer
Personal details
Born(1834-08-08)8 August 1834
County Cork, Ireland, United Kingdom
Died7 October 1891(1891-10-07) (aged 57)
Rostellan Castle, County Cork, Ireland, United Kingdom
Political partyIrish Parliamentary Party
Other political
Conservative (1859–1865)
Spouse(s)Catherine Elizabeth Low
Domestic partnerA. M. Conyngham
Children2 daughters, 3 sons
Alma materQueen's University of Ireland
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese軒尼詩
Simplified Chinese轩尼诗

Sir John Pope Hennessy, KCMG (8 August 1834 – 7 October 1891), was an Irish and British politician and colonial administrator who served as the eighth Governor of Hong Kong and the fifteenth Governor of Mauritius.

Early life[edit]

John Pope Hennessy was born in County Cork, the son of John Hennessy of Ballyhennessy, and educated at Queen's College, Cork. He completed his medical training at Queen's University of Ireland.

Public service[edit]

He started his Public Service career as the Supplemental Clerk at the Privy Council, and eventually became a minor Conservative member of the British Parliament, representing King's County from 1859 to 1865.[1] Whilst an MP he studied law at the Inner Temple, being called to the bar in 1861. In 1890, as MP for North Kilkenny he joined the Irish National Federation. He died the following year.[1]

Early colonial service[edit]

Caricature by Ape in Vanity Fair, 1875

Hennessy eventually joined the Colonial Office and became colonial Governor of Labuan in 1867 where he put the Crown Colony into solvency by introducing convict labour from the Straits Settlements. He went on to become the Governor of Sierra Leone from 1872 to 1873, when he moved to the governorship of the Bahamas.[2] He became Governor-in-Chief of the Windward Islands, from 1873 until 1877, with primary authority over Barbados, and executive oversight over the various British Lt. Governors and Administrators charged with running day-to-day affairs on the various islands.

Although Hennessy was born into the Anglo-Irish landowning gentry, his status as a Roman Catholic made him something of an outsider, particularly in his dealings with Protestant British colonial elites, whether in Barbados, Hong Kong, or Mauritius. Indeed, his earliest contributions as a Member of Parliament in 1860 pertained to the temporal power of the Pope, and unfolding events in Italy.[3] Coming into colonial administration, he was among a cohort of "new thinkers" whose ideas gained ground following the Sepoy Mutiny in India in 1857. Speaking at length in the House of Commons on 26 July 1860 about British civil and military forces in India, Hennessy urged a shift in policies so that "the military administration of India would be conducted with greater skill, with more economy, and, as a natural result of a higher educational standard, with a greater regard for the feelings and interests of the Native population. Indeed, recent events furnished us with the most conclusive evidence that many of the British officers, entrusted with grave authority in India, had, from an ignorance of popular customs and a disregard of national habits and traditions, given great cause of complaint and encouragement to disaffection. As long as we send out officers to India who seem inclined to treat the Natives as slaves, who seem unable or unwilling to appreciate the noble qualities, of that unfortunate people, and who add the grossest military outrages and insults to the civil misgovernment and financial burdens we have imposed upon them, so long will our rule in India be a blot upon civilization".[4]

Governor of Hong Kong[edit]

Hawaiian King Kalakaua visits Hong Kong in 1881. Hennessy is sitting immediately to the left of the King

Immediately after his tenure in Barbados, Hennessy was appointed as Governor of Hong Kong, a position from which he served until 1882.

During his tenure, Hennessy realised that the Chinese people, who were treated as second-class citizens up to that time, had developed an increasingly important influence on the Hong Kong economy. With that in mind, he lifted the ban that forbade Chinese people from buying lands, constructing buildings, and operate businesses in the Central District. This caused a development boom in the Central District. Also, he allowed Chinese immigrants in Hong Kong to naturalise as British subjects. He appointed the first Chinese member (Ng Choy, who would later become the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China) to the Legislative Council.

Also, during his rule, he established the first Grant-in-Aid system, a milestone in the educational history of Hong Kong.

Soon after arriving in Hong Kong, in April 1877, Hennessy set out to implement the "separate system" in Victoria Gaol, meaning separate cells for prisoners, during the night if not also during the day. This plan hinged upon sending long-term prisoners to Labuan, for convict labour.[5]

Governor of Mauritius[edit]

After his tenure as Governor of Hong Kong was over, Hennessy went on to become the 15th Governor of Mauritius from 1 June 1883 to 11 December 1889. Upon his arrival on 1 June 1883 on the island, Hennessy undertook to mauricianise the local administration by reducing the powers of the English officials, appointing Mauritians to positions of responsibility and proposing a new constitution based on the principle "Mauritius for Mauritians". It was therefore natural that he moved closer to the Mauritian lawyer William Newton, leader of the reform movement who demanded a more direct involvement of settlers in the administration of their affairs. It was under Hennessy that Mauritius knew its first shudder of democracy. This was his last post in the Colonial Service.

Personal life[edit]

Hennessy's family

Hennessy had two illegitimate daughters with his mistress, Miss A. M. Conyngham, before, on 4 February 1868, marrying Catherine "Kitty" Elizabeth Low (1850–1923), daughter of his predecessor (acting) Governor of Labuan. They had three sons, including Richard Pope-Hennessy.[6] Richard had two sons, John Wyndham Pope-Hennessy (1913–1994) and James Pope-Hennessy, author of a biography, Verandah, in 1964.

His personal motto was "Three Grand Qualifications to Success", which he described as "The first is audacity, the second is audacity, and the third is audacity".

Hennessy died of heart failure on 7 October 1891 at his residence, Rostellan Castle, near Cork, Ireland.


Sir John Pope Hennessy Governor of Mauritius, medal by Oscar Roty


As he was not popular among the European community of Hong Kong, there were no contemporary memorials there. However, on 14 June 1929, a main road located on the new reclamation was called Hennessy Road, and there is now also a crowded commercial and shopping area at Wan Chai and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island named after him. In Port Louis, capital of Mauritius, there is both a major street, Pope Hennessy Street, and a statue by M. Loumeau erected in 1908.[6]. Hennessy Road, a street in civil lines, Nagpur, Maharashtra state, India is also named after him.


  1. ^ a b "Leigh Rayment's House of Commons pages: K". Archived from the original on 14 September 2018. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  2. ^ "Hansard 1803–2005".
  3. ^
  4. ^ House of Commons debate, 26 July 1860, Hansards, Vol. 160, cc. 231-59, 235
  5. ^ Hong Kong Government Gazette, 23 February 1878
  6. ^ a b Stearn, Roger T. (2007). "Hennessy, Sir John Pope (1834–1891)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22537. Accessed 2 August 2018.


  • "Sir John Pope Hennessy dead" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  • Pope-Hennessy, James (1964). Verandah: Some Episodes in the Crown Colonies: 1867–1889. London: George Allen and Unwin.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Patrick O'Brien, Bt
Loftus Henry Bland
Member of Parliament for King's County
1859 – 1865
With: Sir Patrick O'Brien, Bt
Succeeded by
Sir Patrick O'Brien, Bt
John Gilbert King
Preceded by
Edward Marum
Member of Parliament for North Kilkenny
Succeeded by
Patrick McDermott
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Hugh Low
Governor of Labuan
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Ernest Gascoyne Bulwer
Preceded by
Herbert Taylor Ussher
Governor of the Gold Coast
Succeeded by
Charles Spencer Salmon, acting
Preceded by
John Jennings Kendall, acting
Governor of Sierra Leone
Succeeded by
Robert Keate
Preceded by
George Cumine Strahan
Governor of the Bahamas
Succeeded by
Sir William Robinson
Preceded by
Sanford Freeling, acting
Governor of Barbados and the Windward Islands
Succeeded by
George Cumine Strahan
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy
Governor of Hong Kong
Succeeded by
Sir William Henry Marsh, acting
Preceded by
Sir Frederick Napier Broome
Governor of Mauritius
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Cameron Lees