Sir Robert Hotung
Portrait of Sir Robert Hotung wearing his decorations
Robert Ho Tung Bosman
22 December 1862
Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong
|Died||26 April 1956 (aged 93)|
|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|
|Parent(s)||Charles Bosman (father)|
|Relatives||Ho Fook (brother)|
Ho Gumtong (brother)
Stanley Ho (grand-nephew)
Sir Robert Hotung in 1916
|Alternative Chinese name|
|Second alternative Chinese name|
Sir Robert Ho Tung Bosman, KBE JP (22 December 1862 – 26 April 1956), better known as Sir Robert Hotung, was a Hong Kong businessman and philanthropist in British Hong Kong. Known as "the grand old man of Hong Kong", (Chinese: 香港大老) Hotung was knighted in 1915 and 1955.
Hotung was Eurasian. His father, Charles Henry Maurice Bosman (1839–1892), was of Dutch Jewish ancestry, while his mother was Sze Tai (施娣), a Chinese woman of Bao'an (present-day Hong Kong and Shenzhen) heritage. 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 his own marine insurance business with important clients that 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, which transliterated into Cantonese to become 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. He was educated at Queen's College, previously known as the Central School.
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 in 1894. 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.
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 identified himself both as Chinese and a permanent resident of British Hong Kong. He gave generously to Dr. Sun Yat-sen's activities to establish the Republic of China, but saw no contradiction in civic participation in British Hong Kong. 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". Many were "birds of passage" on their way to Southeast Asia, but many, like himself, became permanent residents, a testimony to their "faith in the permanent prosperity of the colony and the safety of domicile under the folds of the British flag. 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) was a younger maternal half-brother of Robert Hotung's. The son of a Chinese father, he 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, who went on to become the mother of martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. Ho Kom-Tong's last mistress was a Eurasian woman by the name of Cheung King-sin (張瓊仙)(b. 1866 d. 1960). 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, 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 (1926–2017). 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 was 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 married Patricia Anne Shea and they had five sons and three daughters. He died in 2017, aged 91.
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. Robert Hung-ngai resides in West Vancouver, Canada, and is a recipient of the Order of British Columbia for his philanthropic work in that province.
A fourth son, Henry, died of tuberculosis when he was four years old.
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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