Dodwell & Company Ltd, 天祥洋行
Dodwell & Company (天祥洋行) was one of the leading British merchant firms, active in China and Japan during the 19th and 20th century. It was a direct rival to Jardine, Matheson & Co.
“It was established in 1858 when W R Adamson and Company (silk dealers) set up in London, with its head office in Shanghai and branches in Hong Kong, Foochow and Hankow. It began to build up an export business in tea and silk, and also a general import business, and began to acquire shipping agencies. The name changed in 1867 to Adamson, Bell and Company.
[All the information in this article comes from source 1 unless otherwise indicated.]
In 1872 George Benjamin Dodwell joined the company in Shanghai, and in 1891, by which time both Adamson and Bell had retired, he formed Dodwell, Carlill and Company to take over Adamson Bell’s agencies. Also in 1891 the head office moved to London. By this stage the firm was exporting tea, porcelain, silk and other Chinese produce from Hong Kong, Shanghai, Yokohama and Kobe, and importing flour and lumber from Tacoma on the Pacific coast.
In 1897 a branch was opened in Colombo, chiefly exporting tea to Russia. In 1899 Dodwell and Company Limited was registered as a private limited company. G. B. Dodwell was its first chairman. From 1899 to the First World War, tea sales declined and general merchandising and the shipping agencies became more important. Japan also became more important to the company, chiefly through the export of coal to Singapore and Shanghai.
This entry was published in 1908: “Messrs. Dodwell & Co., Ltd., were established in Hongkong on January 1, 1899, the firm, until that date, being known as Dodwell, Carlill & Co.
They are general merchants, importers, exporters, and general and shipping agents, and undertake commission business of every description. Their headquarters are in London, and they have branches also at Shanghai, Hankow, and Foochow in China; Yokohama and Kobe, in Japan; Colombo, Ceylon; San Francisco, Tacoma, and Seattle, U.S.A.; and Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The directors are Messrs. George B. Dodwell, chairman, A. J. H. Carlill, T. M. Dermer, F. D’Iffanger, F. Dodwell, H. A. J. Macray, G. H. Medhurst, G. J. Melhuish, G. S. Thomson, and E. S. Whealler. Mr. G. H. Medhurst, who is a member of the committee of the Chamber of Commerce, is the manager, and Mr. E. G. Barrett, sub-manager, of the Hongkong branch.” (2)
From the 1920s onwards, Dodwell’s trade in the Far East generally fluctuated for various reasons, including the Second World War and the Chinese revolution. However, post-war recovery in Japan was rapid, and the company had begun meanwhile to expand in other directions, including rubber and textiles, and also motor vehicles. Dodwell Motors, a subsidiary, was formed in Hong Kong after the war. It amalgamated in 1969 with Inchcape’s Metro cars to form Metro-Dodwell Motors Limited, which took over all British Leyland franchises in Hong Kong.
From the mid 1950s, Dodwell specialised as buying agents for department and chain stores throughout the world, opening their own retail stores in some places, including Kenya and Hong Kong.
In 1972 the whole share capital of Dodwell and Company Limited was acquired by Inchcape and Company Limited. Dodwell had offices successively in Billiter Street and St Mary Axe.
This article was first posted on 2nd February 2017.
- AIM 25 – Dodwell & Company Archives in London and the M25 area
- Wright, Arnold, : Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and Other Treaty Ports of China: Their History. People, Commerce, Industries, and Resources. London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Publishing Company, Ltd., 1908.
- Dodwell & Company – wikipedia
- George Benjamin Dodwell biography, Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography, ed M Holdsworth & C Munn, HKU Press, 2012 This wonderful book collects in one volume more than 500 specially commissioned entries on men and women from Hong Kong history.
- Gwulo.com – Dodwell related information
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