Alfred Herbert Rennie – biography, the Hongkong Milling Company and his suicide

HF: Alfred Herbert Rennie, came to Hong Kong from Canada as the sales representative of the American Company, Portland Flouring Mills. He started the Hongkong Milling Company in what was then called Junk Bay. However, despite backing from several prominent local businessmen his company quickly became mired in multiple problems and Rennie committed suicide while travelling by boat to his Mill.

The Hongkong Milling Company seen in the distance. Courtesy: PRO

This article was written by Anthony Sweeting, and first  published in the Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography, edited by May Holdsworth and Christoher Munn. The publisher, HK University Press, has kindly granted permission for it to be posted here.

Please note we have posted several articles about Rennie, the Hongkong Milling Company and what became of its site after Rennie’s death, all linked below. All the images accompanying this articles come from our articles and none from Mr Sweeting’s.

“The troubled career of Alfred Hebert Rennie is remembered in a former coastal village at JUnk Bay (now Tseung Kwan O) in Kowloon, where he opened a flour mill in early 1907. Scion of a well known Ontario family, Rennie was educated at Hamilton Grammar School and Upper Canada College, Toronto. He became confidenrial secretary to the Premier of Manitoba and was able to secure a substantial loan for the province from Britain.

He left Canada for Hong Kong in 1890 and there acted very successfully as sales representative for the American company, Portland Flouring Mills. He became a member of the Hong Kong Club as well as partner of Sir Paul Chater and Hormusjee Naorojee Mody, whom he persuaded to invest in his project to build a flour mill at Junk Bay. He served, too, as Mody’s intermediary in negotiations with Governor Lugard about his financial contributions towards the cost of the University of Hong Kong. Rennie’s one major publication was entitled, inaccurately, Twenty Years in Hong Kong.

Hongkong Milling Company Mill circa 1906

The Honkong Milling Company he established was extensive and expensive, containing the best equipment currently available. However, he overestimated the market and failed to deal with weevils contained in an early consignment of wheat. He concealed these problems and issued misleading reports about the mill’s profits in its first year of operation. Presumably depressed by the actual situation, he threw himself overboard from his boat, with a dispatch box tied to his neck, on the way to Junk Bay. The Chinese name for Rennie’s Mill, originally Diao JIng Ling, meaning ‘Hanging Neck Ridge’, was later changed to the more auspicious Tiao Jing Ling or ‘Ridge of Regulated Scenery’ (Tiu Keng Leng in Cantonese).

Refugees in Tiu Keng Leng. Some of them were obviously war veterans, injured and blinded in war.”  Courtesy: http://annatam.com/history-stories-tiu-keng-leng-part-3

After 1949 Rennie’s Mill became an enclave of more than 6,000 former Koumintang soldiers and civilians who had fled China and found refuge in Hong Kong. Until this settlement was cleared for public housing in the mid-1990s its pro-Kuomintang residents marked every National Day by flying hundreds of Republican flags on the tenth of October.”(1)

Rennie’s Mill Refugee Camp early 1950s Courtesy: PRO

Source:

  1. 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.

This article was first posted on 12th July 2018.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. The Hongkong Milling Company (Rennie’s Mill)
  2. Alfred Herbert Rennie
  3. Alfred Herbert Rennie – additional information
  4. Alfred Herbert Rennie – Rennie’s Mill
  5. The Hongkong Milling Company – the flour mill site after closing – Kuomintang refugees
  6. Rennie’s Mill : The Origin and Evolution of a Special Enclave in Hong Kong

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