Asiatic Petroleum Company Ltd – links to Arnhold & Company

HF: The venerable firm of Arnholds, Karberg Company was founded in 1866 and I believe has had a continuous presence in Hong Kong since then, barring when it was liquidated during World War One. The company currently deals in building materials and engineering equipment distribution.

Arnholds seems to have had close connections to the Asiatic Petroleum Co. Ltd about which we have several articles linked below.

The following extracts have been taken from the recently published book Arnholds: China Trader, by Vaudine England, Pub Arnhold & Co, 2017. Both the author and Chairman of Arnholds, Michael J. Green, have kindly granted permission for these to be posted on our website.

“Such industry can be seen in Arnholds’ long list of Agency work which continued to grow year by year – from insurance, shipping and oil transport into aeronautics, armaments, electrical and railway and mining equipment, typewriters and telephones. In some places it ran small offices, such as in Foochow, where it operated a mtach and timber factory; it held on to other agencies such as the Asiatic Petroleum Co Ltd until it established itself as an independent company.”

Caption accompanying the image below: “Arnholds retained an important interest in the distribution of petroleum products through Asiatic Petroleum, which built large storage tanks in Shanghai in the 1930s.”

Asiatic Petroleum Co Image Of Storage Petroleum Tanks Shanghai 1930s, P 88 Vaudine;s Arnholds Book

Image, late 1930s, APC Shanghai Depot, courtesy of the Estate of Audrey Gregg and Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol

“With its head office now in Shanghai, Arnholds maintained a thriving operation through its branches at Hankow,Chinkiang, Chungking, Canton and at 1A Chater Road in Hong Kong; branches were added in Mukden and Newchwang by 1921. Its agencies covered insurance, textile and milling machinery, fireproofing and fire extinguishers, and the Sperry Four Co of San Francisco [see our article below]… Arnholds supplied cigarette-making equpment, and maintained its vital link to Shell through the Asiatic Petroleum Company which had rapidly become one of the leading foreign enterprises in the treaty ports.”

“The foreign  trading community was becoming less comfortable in China. A caravan of Arnholds wool buyers from Tientsin was fatally attacked in February 1924. Staff travelling around the country were repeatedly fired upon – fast motorboats and large convoys hadn’t helped – and now a forestry team had been attacked, with Arnholds’ Jay Dinsmore killed… In February 1927, the Arnholds offices in Changsha were broken into and ransacked. Hankow was described as being in a parlous state, teetering on anarchy. the North China Herald lamented that one could not walk from the Customs House to the British Consulate in daylight there without molestation. Foreigners were camping out at the Asiatic Petroleum Company compound just out of town.”

“It is true, he [eminent historian Jurgen Osterhammel] noted, that the British had held on through the turbulent twenties, the rising nationalism, warlord chaos, Japanese encroachment, and were still the leading power, although America, Japan and Germany were catching up fast. In his list of the big companies forming the core of the British business system in China which had stood their ground, Arnholds were there alongside Jardines, Swires, the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, the Chartered Bank, the Pekin Syndicate, British American Tobacco, ICI, Asiatic Petroleum, Dodwells and Unilever. Each could trace its history to before World War One, back to the time of high imperialism.”


  1.  Arnholds: China Trader, by Vaudine England, Pub Arnhold & Co, 2017.
  2. Arnholds Hong Kong – company website
  3. Historical Photographs of China website

This article was first posted on 19th May 2018.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Arnhold, Karberg & Company – founded in Hong Kong, 1866
  2. The Sperry Flour Company in Hong Kong
  3. Asiatic Petroleum Company, China – requisitioned by Chou En Lai 1951
  4. Asiatic Petroleum Company, China – family connections
  5. Joe MacDonald – Asiatic Petroleum employee, China/HK late 1930s
  6. Walter George Babb, Employee of the Asiatic Petroleum Co, UK, 1911 – information wanted
  7. BAAG records of shipping in HK during 1944-45 – the Fukuan Maru, ex-Shu Kwang operated by Asiatic Petroleum Company
  8. Asiatic Petroleum Company – contemporary photographs of its Shanghai building
  9. Asiatic Petroleum Company – Shanghai building , further information

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