Brown Jones, Morrison and Joseph S. Lee – Pre-War Pioneers of the Death Care Industry

York Lo: Brown Jones, Morrison and Joseph S. Lee – Pre-War Pioneers of the Death Care Industry

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Funeral wreaths at flower shops on Morrison Hill Road when it was the center of the death care business in HK in the mid-20th century (left) and the same location today (right)

Brown Jones, Morrison and Joseph S. Lee were three pioneers of the death care industry in Hong Kong before the War and they were all located on Morrison Hill Road in Wanchai which was the center of the death care business in the early to mid-20th century with 6 funeral homes in the area in 1947 thanks to its proximity to the cemeteries in Happy Valley. In addition to operating some of the first funeral homes in HK, the three firms were major contractors for graves and tombstones with Brown Jones and Morrison cornering the market in the Colonial Cemetery and Chinese Christian cemeteries respectively.

Brown Jones & Co

The first record of Brown Jones & Co as undertakers was in the 1870s and its premiseswas listed as 9 Hollywood Road with Thomas Algar as its proprietorwho was assisted by Dino Considine (China Directory, 1874) but by the late 1870s, C. Lucas was listed as his assistant. (Directory & Chronicle for China, 1877 and 1879)

Outside of Brown Jones, Thomas Algar formed the house/land agency and rent/debt collection firm of Barrington & Algar at Queen’s Road West in partnership with T.W. Barrington in 1872. In 1874, Algar acquired Inland Lot 492 from Robert Williams for $2500 and today that piece of land is known as Algar Court near Western Street in Sai Ying Pun.In 1877, Algar’s youngest daughter Sarah Anne married William Tuloch Gair. (London & China Telegraph, 1877-5-7; Carl Smith collection) By 1879, Algar was operating out of Middlesex in the UK.

In 1892, Brown Jones & Co was authorized to collect all fees related to graves, burials and monuments at the Colonial Cemetery (now known as HK Cemetery) in Happy Valley on behalf of the HK government. (HK Government Gazette, 1892-8-13)

By the 1900s, Brown Jones’ office, warehouse and marble yard was located at 41 Morrison Hill Road. (Directory & Chronicle for China …., 1907) In the 1910s, Brown Jones was the only firm listed under Undertakers in the local directory (Directory & Chronicle for China, 1912, 1917)

In the 1930s, Brown Jones cornered the market in terms of tomb construction at the HK Cemetery as evidenced by the records of tombstones in the HK cemetery from sections 1-47 wherethere were at least 52 gravestones with “Brown Jones & Co” in its inscriptions.

By the late 1930s, Brown Jones was managed by William Oliver Nodes (1890-1968), who in 1940 incorporated William Nodes Ltd as the successor firm to Brown Jones. After the Japanese occupied HK in 1942, Nodes was interned by the Japanese in 1942 but was later released.

In the late 1940s, Brown Jones/Nodes’ address was listed as 216 Wanchai Road and Nodes was supported by Margaret Brown as manager while he maintained a head office at35 Crouch End Hill in London. (Business Directory of HK, Canton and Macao, 1949; HK Telephone Directory, 1948). In 1949, Margaret Brown handled the cremation of two water police officers who were killed on duty. The cremation was done at a Japanese crematorium using wood fuel and took painfully long. The complaints went all the way to the Police Commissioner, Colonial Secretary and head of the Urban Council and ultimately resulted in construction of electric crematoriums in HK.

As a firm, William Nodes Ltd in HK was dissolved in 1952 but William Nodes continued to operate a funeral parlor under his own name in London.

Morrison & Co (摩禮信殯儀)

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Ng Chik-pak; Right: the former building at 4-6 Morrison Hill Road – Moses Marble was on the left.

Morrison & Co was the first Chinese operator of funeral homes in HK and cornered the market for tomb construction in Christian cemeteries in HK and Kowloon before the War. A native of Huaiji (懷集) near Zhaoqing in western Guangdong province, Morrison founder Ng Chik-pak (伍植伯, 1892-1975)came to HK after graduating from the local high school in Huaiji and got into the business of tomb construction. He became a Christian and leveraged his connections in the Church to become a preferred contractor at the Chinese Christian Cemetery in Pokfulam. One source stated that Shek Tong Tsui got its name because the granite removed in the nearby hills by the likes of Ng for tomb construction.The grave of Albert Lionel Bridge in the HK Cemetery (erected after his death in 1954) has an inscription “NG CHIK PAK #10921”, which might indicate Ng had completed over 10,000 graves by the 1950s.

By the 1940s, Ng had opened two funeral homes under Morrison & Co: 4-8 Morrison Hill Road on the HK side and 559-561 Nathan Road on the Kowloon side, the latter being the first funeral home in Kowloon. A charity sale of coffins hosted by the firm in 1947 highlight the range of clientele served by the firm, ranging from high end coffin made from Phoebe zhennan wood that cost $12000 to regular coffin for the commoners costing $75. (see below ad)

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Article about Morrison & Co’s charity sale of coffins to benefit a disaster relief organized by Wah Kiu Yat Po in 1947 (WKYP, 1947-6-26)

In 1957, the Kowloon funeral home of Morrison closed and in 1958, Morrison’s HK funeral home was relocated to 51H Pokfulam Road while the firm itself still operated out of 4-6 Morrison Hill Road in the 1960s. (HK $ Directory, 1963). Outside of business, Ng Chik-pak served as supervisor of the HK Eng Clansmen Association (伍氏宗親會) and a director of Sze Wui and Kwong Ning Clansmen’s Association (會寧同鄉會) and Chinese Merchants Association (通濟商會).

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Ng Chik-pak with fellow directors of the HK Eng Clansmen Association in 1958 (right to left): Ng Yu-fu (伍于赴), Ng Hon-kit (伍漢傑), Ng Hung-chun (伍雄進), Ng Chik-pak, Ng Ping-kuen (伍炳權). (WKYP, 1958-3-29) 

Ng’s son Moses Wu (伍摩西, 1918-1993), a graduate of the class of 1937 of Munsang College in Kowloon City along with HKU Vice Chancellor Rayson Huang (whose father was the principal of Munsang) and businessman W.W. Mark (see article on Adolfo Mark), followed his father’s footsteps into the tomb construction business and started Moses Marble (摩西雲石公司) which operated out of the family’s property at 6 Morrison Hill Road from as early as the late 1940s (HK Telephone Directory, 1948; Hong Kong $ Directory, 1970). Another son Ng Yat-sai (伍秩西, 1924-1969) was also involved in the family business.

By the early 1970s, Ng Chik-pak had retired but decided to live by himself in a wooden house at the H section of 4029 Mount Davis Road near the Chinese Christian Cemetery where he built his career. In early 1975, Ng Chik-pak was found dead in his kitchen by his 45 years old daughter and the police and coroner determined that he died of old age and foul play or suicide were ruled out. He was buried in the Pokfulam Chinese Christian Cemetery (KSDN, 1975-2-2)

In the 1980s and 1990s, Moses Marble was still listed as one of the approved contractors for work at Chinese Christian cemeteries (Christian Weekly, 1984 and 1990) In 1991, the site at 6 Morrison Hill Road was re-developed into EIB Tower (經信商業大廈) and Moses had immigrated to San Francisco and passed away in 1993.

Joseph S. Lee& Co (李璇殯儀)

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Ad for Joseph S. Lee & Co in the late 1940s (HK Telephone Directory, 1948)

Joseph S. Lee & Co. was founded by Joseph S. Lee (李璇) in the early 20th century but the exact date is not known. By the 1930s, it was already active in tomb construction with at least 3 gravestones in the HK Cemetery in the late 1930s with inscription of the firm’s name. In 1941, Joseph Peter Lee (李應芬, aka Joseph Lee Jr) at 3 Gap Road was listed as manager of the firm while Edward Young Chang of Tung Shing Road was listed as clerk. (HK Jurors List, 1941)

In the late 1940s, Joseph S. Lee was operating its funeral home out of 10 Morrison Hill Road next to Ng Chik-pak’s Morrison & Co and Lee Jr was supported by Mrs. M.J. Lee as secretary and Edward Chang as assistant and a support staff of 6. (Business Directory of HK, Canton and Macao, 1949). In July 1947, Joseph S. Lee& Co was robbed by three armed robbers with guns and knives who took two watches, two rings and cash.

In 1952, Joseph S. Lee& Co closed its doors.

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Article about the robbery at Joseph S. Lee & Co in 1947 (WKYP, 1947-7-8)

Sources (other than those cited above):

This article was first posted on 27th November 2020.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Chow Yau (周有, 1912-1983) – Vertical Integrator of the HK Death Care Industry


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