William Napier, 9th Lord Napier

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The Lord Napier
William Napier, 9th Lord Napier.png
Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China
In office
31 December 1833 – 11 October 1834
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byJohn Francis Davis
Personal details
Born13 October 1786
Kinsale, Ireland
Died11 October 1834
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Cochrane-Johnstone
ProfessionNaval officer, trade envoy

William John Napier, 9th Lord Napier, Baron Napier (Chinese: 律勞卑) FRSE (13 October 1786 – 11 October 1834) was a British Royal Navy officer and trade envoy in China.

Early life[edit]

Napier was born in Kinsale, Ireland, on 13 October 1786.[1] He was the son of Francis Napier, 8th Lord Napier (1758–1823) and the father of Francis Napier, 10th Lord Napier and 1st Baron Ettrick (1819–1898).

He enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1803 and served during the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) as a midshipman. He later served as lieutenant under Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald.


Lord Napier's house in Macau
Lord Napier Memorial

In 1818 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers were Sir David Brewster, Sir George Steuart Mackenzie, and John Playfair.[2]

A peer of Scotland, Lord Napier was an elected Scottish representative in the House of Lords from 1824 to 1832. In December 1833, upon the ending of British East India Company's monopoly on trade in the Far East, he was appointed by Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston, a family friend of Napier, as the first Chief Superintendent of Trade at Canton (now Guangzhou), in China. The Second and Third Superintendents were John Francis Davis and Sir George Best Robinson, respectively. He arrived at Macau on 15 July 1834 on board the East India Company frigate Andromanche, and reached Canton ten days later, with the mission of expanding British trade into inner China. Lacking the necessary diplomatic and commercial experience, he was not successful in achieving the objective.

Having failed to secure a meeting with Lu Kun, the Governor-general of the Liangguang,[3] , Napier's frustration in failing to break an intractable trade deadlock and secure the rights of British traders led to his favoring a military solution. He sent the frigates Andromache and Imogene to Whampoa on 11 September,[4] defying an edict issued by Lu Kun, with fatalities resulting on both sides in a skirmish of cannon fire as the British warships breached defences at the Bocca Tigris. After a prolonged stalemate, Lord Napier was forced, sapped by typhus, to retire to Macau in September 1834, where he died of the fever on 11 October. Originally buried in Macau, he was later exhumed for reburial at Ettrick in Scotland.

Napier was the first British representative to suggest seizing Hong Kong.[1] In a dispatch to Lord Palmerston on 14 August 1834, he suggested a commercial treaty, backed by an armed force, be done to secure the rights and interests of European merchants in China. He recommended that a small British force "should take possession of the Island of Hongkong, in the eastern entrance of the Canton River, which is admirably adapted for every purpose".[5]


Lord Napier married Elizabeth Cochrane-Johnstone (c. 1795–1883), daughter of Scottish adventurer Andrew Cochrane-Johnstone, in 1816; they had two sons and six daughters[6]. His eldest son, Francis Napier, also entered diplomatic service and was promoted by Palmerston for the rest of his life.


Following his death, the British Government placed a memorial to him before the Macao Customs Office. After being lost for a short time, it was moved to the Hong Kong Cemetery, and then to the Hong Kong Museum of History, where it now rests.


  1. ^ a b Laughton, J. K.. "Napier, William John, ninth Lord Napier of Merchistoun (1786–1834)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004 ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/19773.
  2. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  3. ^ Hanes & Sanello 2004, p. 27.
  4. ^ Lydia He. LIU; Lydia He Liu (30 June 2009). The Clash of Empires: the invention of China in modern world making. Harvard University Press. pp. 47–. ISBN 978-0-674-04029-8.
  5. ^ Eitel 1895, p. 56
  6. ^ "Family of William John NAPIER, 9th Lord NAPIER and Elizabeth COCHRANE-JOHNSTONE".


External links[edit]

Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
Francis Napier, 8th Lord Napier
Lord Napier
Succeeded by
Francis Napier, 10th Lord Napier