A.S. Watson & Company celebrate 100th anniversary

IDJ has sent the following newspaper article which mentions the early history of the company. Watsons still exists today in Hong Kong, around 181 years since it started out.

HF: I have retyped this to increase legibility and searches.

A S Watson Chemist Detail Advert China Mail 1.8.1878

Detail of an advert in The China Mail 1876


A brief outline of the early history of the Company, which celebrated its hundredth anniversary of the founding of the business this year, was given by Mr D.E. Clark, Chairman, at the fifty-sixth annual meeting of Messrs A.S. Watson and Co Ltd, held at the Jacobean Room of the Hongkong Hotel this morning.

The nett profit for the year amounted to $498,831.26, the sum being $60,000 better than the preceding year.

The Chairman was supported by by Mr J. Scott Harston, the Hon. Sir Shouson Chow and Mr S.T. Williamson, Directors, and Mr Wm Paterson, Secretary and Director, Shareholders present were Messrs A. Vaswani, Hooi Yip-beng, Peter Wong, W.T. Hansen, C.B. Brown, N.V.A. Croucher, J.E. Jupp, L. Guy, F.W. Stapleton, J.A. Turrant, Wong Kin-taoi and K.C. Mark.

The Chairman said:- This year, marking as it does the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the business, it gives me added pleasure to be in a position to present to shareholders so favourable a report – it is in fact our best on record.

However, before referring to the figures shown in the Accounts, I consider it appropriate on this occasion to give you, briefly, an outline of our early history.

In the same year that Hongkong was transferred to the British flag, a Naval Surgeon conceived the idea of establishing a dispensary – it was a matshed affair situated at what was then known as Possession Point and fulfilled the function of furnishing medicinal requirements to the Services under the title of “The Hongkong Dispensary,” a name which is still associated with the Retail Drug portion of our present day business. Dr A.S. Watson, to whom our Company owes its name, did not arrive in the Colony until 1856 and, as may be imagined, the activities of the concern were confined almost entirely to the dispensing of medicines and the sale of druggists’ sundries although it is of interest to note that, even at that early stage, the manufacture and sale of aerated waters was carried on. From that period onwards business gradually expanded until in 1886 it was decided to convert the firm to a Limited Liability Company.

Fluctuations of Fortune

During the many years I have been associated with the Company – first of all in London and subsequently here – I have naturally witnessed many changes effecting the development of the Colony and consequently business life of this community. Like all other concerns our Company has on this account experienced fluctuations of fortune and I can well recollect – about thirty years ago when the Company was undergoing one of its difficult periods – certain anonymous correspondence appeared in the local press written, presumably by a shareholder to the effect that the company was moribund and, consequently, should be wound up. Replying to this, the Chairman at that time – Mr Henry Humphreys – not only convincingly refuted this contention but additionally indicated that our business, far from being moribund as asserted, had on the other hand never been in a stronger financial position. All this, of course, is a matter of more or less ancient history. It is nevertheless a source of pride and satisfaction to the Management to be able to state , without fear on contradiction, that the Company at the present time enjoys a far sounder standing than ever before.

Regarding the future outlook, it is impossible for one to venture more than a guess, particularly in view of existing circumstances. I shall not therefore attempt anything of this nature, but I can rightly state that we enter on our second century of operations full of confidence concerning the years ahead. Referring to the figures now before you it will be noted that nett profit for the year amounts to $428,831.26, this being some $60,000 better than the preceding year which, as you probably recollect, included a profit of $52,500 accruing from the sale of out Kowloon Dispensary building. In arriving at the aforementioned profit, allowance was made covering reservation of $50,000, being assessed amount due as Corporation Tax for 1941/2 and payable at the end of the current year. Additionally, Profit and Loss Account includes donation of $16,600 which was made to the South China Post Bomber Fund.

Outstanding Accounts

As regards the various items detailed in the Balance Sheet, there is, included with our other [resertly? – illegible] the sum of $5,711.26 representing amounts recovered to date on outstandings which had previously been written off against the special allocation in 1938 of $50,000 for Outstanding Accounts in China. It is possible that further amounts of this nature may be collected, in which event they will be credited in like manner.

Also under “Liabilities” it will be observed that deduction of $34,027.25 has been made from the Balance Brought Forward from the previous year of $93,055.84, representing Corporation Tax on the Profits for the preceding period  and paid to Government in December last.

On the Assets side of the Balance Sheet, the principal items calling for comment  are “Stocks in Trade and Sundry Stores” which show an increase of $170,549.07. This, however, cannot be regarded as abnormal, in view of the volume of business now being handled also anticipated difficulties in the near future in obtaining necessary supplies of further stock requirements, owing to shortage of tonnage and other factors consequent on the prevailing situation.

Sundry Debtors and Debit Balances (less reserve  for Bad and Doubtful Debts) amount to $365,120.13, a decrease of almost $40,000 on the figure previously given, and attributable to necessary curtailment of credit facilities owing to the hazards involved, also to remittances covering outstandings being received more properly than hitherto. As regards cash with our Bankers, the amount of $328,258.40 shows an increase of $214,291.13 over the figure given in the previous Balance Sheet.

Canton Branch Results

It is satisfactory to note that Departments have contributed substantially towards this favourable balance, in particular our Canton Branch, after adverse results for the last few years, showed a fair profit on the year’s working, a commendable performance, I am sure you will agree, taking into consideration the difficulties and restrictions which the present situation in that area imposed on trading operations.

Before concluding my remarks, I feel it opportune to relate to you a pleasing incident that occurred in recent months, when I received a letter addressed to me personally. On opening the envelope I was surprised to find $2,000 in Bank notes with a covering letter in Chinese which, on translation, indicated that sender had transacted business with “Watson’s” about 40 years ago but, unfortunately, his firm went into bankruptcy owing our company about $1,000; continuing, the writer advised that subsequent to that time he had “made good” and, returning to the Colony on retirement, he had not forgotten this amount owed by him and consequently, in order to repay his debt plus interest, he now enclosed the aforesaid amount. We were unable to get in touch with the sender, as no address was given, but in accordance with his suggestion we acknowledged this remittance in the local Chinese press. I trust you will agree with me that this gentleman’s very worth action deserves special mention.

Staff Quarters Remodelled 

Regarding the recommendations as to allocation of profits, you will observe that it is proposed to transfer $100,000 to Building Improvements. Explaining our action in this matter, I would mention that our Hongkong properties include ten Chinese houses at Electric Road, North Point, near our Warehouse Department and Aerated Water Factory, which are utilised as staff quarters. These tenements are not only old, but generally dilapidated; consequently, it is our plan to remodel them almost entirely, modernising them in accordance with present day requirements. This work, I may add, has already been put in hand and these premises should be ready for occupation in a matter of four to five months time.

Before closing my remarks, I should like again to refer to the Company’s Centenary. To mark the occasion, it was originally intended arranging some form of celebration, but owing to the general world situation it is considered by your Directors and General Managers that anything of this nature would not be in accord with general opinion; consequently the idea has been dropped, and I hope Shareholders will agree with me that this is the correct course to adopt in the circumstances.

I now formally propose that the Report and Statement of Accounts, as presented, be adopted and that the Balance at Credit and Profit and Loss Account as at October 31, 1940, namely $503,050.85 be appropriated as follows:-

To pay a Dividend of 80 cents per Share absorbing…….$120,000.00
To pay a Bonus of 60 cents per Share…………………….    90,000.00
To transfer to General Reserve……………………………..  100,000.00
To place to Reserve for building improvements …………  100,000.00
To Transfer to Chinese Staff Superannuation Account…..   10,000.00
And Carry Forward to Next Account………………………..   83,059.65

Seconder’s Remarks

Mr F.W. Stapleton, in seconding the proposal , said:- For many years now, it has been my pleasure, on a number of occasions, to second the adoption of the Report and Accounts as presented by the Chairman and once again , I have to congratulate the Management on the very excellent Report which has been placed before us, while I feel sure that Shareholders will also wish me to thank the Staff, on their behalf, for the good work they have accomplished during the year.

I have listened with particular interest to our Chairman’s remarks dealing with the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the business, especially as I happen to hold the distinction of being associated with “Watsons” since 1889, when I became a member of the staff and after varied experience managing branches in Amoy, Foochow and Manila, in addition to many years’ service at their Hongkong establishments. I retired from the company in 1925. Incidentally, it may be of interest, on this occasion, to record the fact that I happen to be the only member of the staff, now in the Colony, who had the opportunity of attending the celebrations held to mark the occasion of the Company’s Jubilee in 1891.

Company’s Centenary

As may be imagined, the occasion of the Company’s Centenary recalls to memory many – what might be termed – colourful incidents associated with the operations of the business of those earlier times and, it is in the nature of things, that very many changes have occurred with the years affecting staff personnel and the fortunes of the Company. It is, however, a source of much satisfaction to know that the ‘old firm’ has reached its century full of vigour, with moribund tendencies still a very long way off. Despite the difficulties of present day trading conditions, I feel sure that all Shareholders will concur with our Chairman that we start on our second century with the knowledge that the Company now occupies an exceedingly sound position and, consequently, we can safely regard the future with hope and confidence.

Other business

Mr J. Scott Harston, the Hon. Sir Shou-son Chow, Mr S.T. Williamson and Mr Wm Paterson were re-elected as Directors by a resolution proposed by the Chairman and seconded by Mr N.V.A Croucher.

Mr C. Bernard Brown and Mr S.T. Butlin were unanimously re-elected Auditors for the coming year at the same remuneration as hitherto, on the proposition of Mr J.A. Tarrant seconded by Mr J.E. Jupp.

Source: The Hong Kong Telegraph 3rd April 1941

This article was first posted on 9th February 2022.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. A S Watson & Company Ltd aka The Hong Kong Dispensary – a Timeline 1841 to 1945
  2. Alexander Skirving Watson, pharmacist who lent his name to one of Hong Kong’s oldest companies
  3. China Dispensary: Maker of Pinocine (白蘿仙) and Dermoline (丹杜蓮)

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