W. C. Hopkinson

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William Charles Hopkinson (1880–1914) was an Indian police officer and later an immigration inspector in the Canadian Immigration Branch in Vancouver, B.C., who is noted for his role in infiltration and intelligence on the Ghadarite movement in North America in the early 1900s.[1][2][3]

Early life[edit]

Hopkinson was born in Delhi on June 16, 1880. His father, William Hopkinson, was then a sergeant instructor of volunteers at Allahabad. His mother, Agnes Hopkinson, may have been an Indian woman, who used a European name.[4] Raised in India, he spoke Hindi, but did not speak Punjabi well. He turned to others for translation of materials written in the Gurmukhi script.

Intelligence work[edit]

In 1903 or 1904, he became an inspector of police in Calcutta. Hopkinson came to Canada in late 1907 or early 1908, officially on leave, but pursuing investigations for the Criminal Intelligence Department in India.

In February, 1909, he was hired by the Immigration Branch (part of the Department of the Interior), as an immigration inspector and interpreter. He later became chief assistant to the Canadian inspector of immigration.[5] Hopkinson continued to work for the police in India. He reported to the Deputy Minister of the Interior in Ottawa and to J. A. Wallinger, Agent of the Government of India in London. He was also retained by the U.S. immigration service.

By 1910 Hopkinson was actively involved in monitoring the Indian immigration and the nationalistic opinions and outlets in North America, especially Canada, and was the principal agent responsible for comprehensive British intelligence in the Pacific coast.

He openly attended public meetings in British Columbia and down the coast in Washington, Oregon and California, to gather information on Indian nationalists. He used a network of informants to provide additional information. During that time he was subjected to accusations of bribery and to threats by the objects of his intelligence work. Hopkinson was successful in infiltrating the Ghadarite movement after its conception, and in 1914 he was involved in the Komagata Maru incident.[6]

Komagata Maru incident and aftermath[edit]

During the incident he acted as an interpreter for the Immigration Branch when passengers were questioned.

In mid-July, 1914, prior to the departure of the Komagata Maru, a local Ghadarite, Mewa Singh, was arrested while re-entering Canada from Sumas, Wash., attempting to bring weapons into Canada. Hopkinson helped to secure his release with a minor fine.

On Aug. 31, 1914, one of Hopkinson's informants, Harnam Singh, was found murdered in Vancouver. On Sept. 3, 1914, another informant, Arjan Singh was shot dead in Vancouver. On Sept. 5, 1914, another informant, Bela Singh, was arrested and subsequently charged with murder for killing two local Ghaderites, in what he claimed was self-defence.


On Oct. 21, 1914, Hopkinson attended the provincial courthouse on West Georgia Street in Vancouver. He was there to testify at Bela Singh's murder trial, where he was expected to give evidence concerning threats made against Bela Singh, including death threats made by one of the victims. While waiting outside a courtroom, Hopkinson was assassinated by Mewa Singh. For Bhai Mewa Singh the turning came on September 15th, 1915 when he witnessed a man named Bela (who worked as an informant for the Canadian immigration department) enter the Gurdwara on West Second Avenue, and shoot two devout Sikhs: Bhai Bhag Singh and Bhai Battan Singh. Bhai Mewa Singh like many Sikhs was devastated by this event.

Soon after this Bhai Mewa Singh Ji started receiving threats from inspector Hopkinson and his East-Indian agents. He was threatened that if he didn’t give testimony in favour of Bela that he would also be murdered just like Bhai Bhag Singh and Bhai Battan Singh.

However, Bhai Mewa Singh Ji didn’t waver; he testified in court and spoke the truth. He told the court that Bela had shot Bhai Bhag Singh Ji and Bhai Battan Singh Ji from behind without any prior provocation. After giving this testimony Bhai Mewa Singh Ji was threatened once again by a mole named Babu who worked for inspector Hopkinson. This time the threat was even more severe. Bhai Mewa Singh was told that the next time he was seen walking the streets of Vancouver that he would be shot dead.

Hearing this threat infuriated Bhai Mewa Singh. Mewa Singh thought that not only were his country men and he being severely oppressed in Canada they were now being told that they didn’t even have the right to speak the truth. It was then that Bhai Mewa Singh decided to act.

Bhai Mewa Singh held inspector Hopkinson responsible for the murder of the two Sikhs in the Gurdwara because the killer was working as a mole for Mr. Hopkinson. Mr. Hopkinson was to appear in court on October 21, 1914 to testify in favour of the killer Bela. Bhai Mewa Singh Ji went to court that same day and shot and killed Mr. Hopkinson. After shooting Mr. Hopkinson, Bhai Mewa Singh dropped his weapons and surrendered to the authorities. Bhai Mewa Singh Ji was put on trial for the murder of Mr. Hopkinson. The presiding judge found him guilty and Bhai Mewa Singh Ji was sentenced to death by hanging.[7]

Hopkinson was survived by his wife, Nellie, and two daughters, Jean and Constance.



  • Campbell, Peter (1999), East Meets Left: South Asian Militants and the Socialist Party of Canada in British Columbia,1904-1914.Vol 20, Autumn 1999. p 35-66, International Council for Canadian Studies 
  • Jensen, Joan M (1979), The "Hindu Conspiracy": A Reassessment. The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 48, No. 1. (Feb., 1979), pp. 65-83, University of California Press, ISSN 0030-8684 .
  • Johnson, Hugh J M (1979), The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar., University of British Columbia Press, ISBN 0-7748-0340-1 .
  • Popplewell, Richard J (1995), Intelligence and Imperial Defence: British Intelligence and the Defence of the Indian Empire 1904-1924., Routledge, ISBN 0-7146-4580-X .
  • Puri, Harish K (1980), Revolutionary Organization: A Study of the Ghadar Movement. Social Scientist, Vol. 9, No. 2/3. (Sep. - Oct., 1980), pp. 53-66, Social Scientist, ISSN 0970-0293 .

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