Messrs. Shewan, Tomes & Co

Hugh Farmer: Shewan, Tomes & Co. was one of the leading  trading companies in Hong Kong and China during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Robert Gordon Shewan

Robert Gordon Shewan

When Russell & Co. then one of the largest mercantile firms in the Far East went out of business in 1891, former employees Scotsman, Robert Shewan and Englishman, Charles Alexander Tomes took over the remains of the operation and changed its name to Shewan, Tomes & Co. in 1895.

The firm eventually had offices in Hong Kong,  Canton, Shanghai, Tientsin, Kobe, London and New York with agencies in Amoy, Foochow, Formosa, Hankow, Manila and the Straits Settlements.

Shewan,Tomes & Co.’s head office was in the St. George’s Building at 2 Ice House Steet, Central.

The following comes from Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China, Ed. Arnold Wright, Lloyds Greater Britain Publishing Company, 1908.

I have highlighted in red companies with which Shewan, Tomes & Co had connections and about which we have posted articles. These are linked in blue at the bottom.

“The firm of Messrs. Shewan, Tomes & Co., of Hongkong, Canton, Shanghai, Tientsin, Kobe, London, and New York, with its agencies, in Amoy, Foochow, Formosa, Hankow, Manila, and the Straits Settlements is an example of the widespread character of the business in which a modern house may find itself engaged.

Shewan, Tomes office room 20th Century Impressions

Messrs. Shewan, Tomes & Co., are general managers of the China and Manila Steamship Company, Ltd., the American Asiatic Steamship Company, the Green Island Cement Company, Ltd., the Hongkong Rope Manufacturing Company, Ltd., the China Provident Loan and Mortgage Company, Ltd., the China Light and Power Company, Ltd., the Equitable Life Assurance Society, of the U.S.A., and the Canton Land Company, Ltd.; whilst they are agents for the ” Shire ” Line of Steamers, Ltd., the Yangtsze Insurance Association, Ltd., the Insurance Company of North America, the Batavia Sea and Fire, North British and Mercantile, Reliance Marine, Union Marine, World Marine, Law Union and Crown, Yorkshire Fire and Life, Fireman’s Fund, and Federal Insurance Companies, the Electric Traction Company of Hongkong, Ltd., the Chinese Engineering and Mining Company, Ltd., the Shanghai Pulp and Paper Company, Ltd., and the Tacoma Grain Company.

All these divergent interests are controlled from the head office in Hongkong, an imposing structure known as St. George’s Buildings, with a magnificent frontage overlooking the harbour.

Shewan, Tomes offices 20th Century Impressions

The firm deals with the bulk of the articles exported from Canton, through Hongkong — raw silk, silk piece goods, tea, matting, fire-crackers, palm-leaf fans, cassia, cassia buds, cassia oil, rhubarb, aniseed, gin- seng, rattan, and preserves. This department is managed by Mr. A. A. Cordeiro. Imports for the trade include cottons, woollens, shirtings, and white goods, flannelettes, drills, handkerchiefs, all kinds of builders’ hardware, Belgian window-glass, glass-ware of every description, bar and rod iron, nail rod iron, wire nails, yellow metal, bamboo steel, Swe- dish rolled-steel, hoop iron, paper in pulp and sheets, lubricating oils, flour, hemp, raw sugar, Australian and Japanese coal, wines and spirits of every kind — in short, almost everything that can be deemed necessary to meet ordinary demands.

In addition to the large quantities of goods imported upon commissions, chiefly placed by Chinese houses, the firm carries a heavy stock in readiness to meet all inquiries. The import department is divided into separate branches, working respectively under Messrs. S. Moore, J. Coulthart. and P. Kunge.

The Green Island Cement Company, for which the firm are the general managers, is the subject of another article in this volume, and it will here suffice to mention that the quality of the cement produced at the factory is not to be surpassed. Mr. R. Henderson has general charge of this department, while the interests of the Rope Manufacturing and the China Light and Power Companies are attended to by Mr. L. L. Campbell.

The former has been established for upwards of twenty years, and the factory turns out millions of pounds of rope annually, the market for the output embracing Japan, the Straits Settlements, India, and Australia.

The China and Manila Steamship Company, Ltd., which is operated by the firm, has two first-class boats on the Manila run. The shipping department is managed by Mr. George Moffatt, whilst the large loan and storage business of the Provident Loan and Mortgage Company is conducted by Mr. J. A. Young. Enough has been said to show how gigantic are the undertakings of Messrs. Shewan, Tomes & Co.”

CLP – Shewan, Tomes  & Co. was the company that effectively started China Light & Power Co, the supplier of electricity to Kowloon, the New Territories and China.  In 1901, Shewan, Tomes & Co. provided the capital for the incorporation of CLP which remains one of the two electricity suppliers in Hong Kong today. On 25 Jan in that year China Light & Power Company Syndicate (CLP) was incorporated in Hong Kong.

This article was first posted on 20th April 2014.


  1.  Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China
  2.  “Power” by Nigel Cameron, Oxford University Press 1982. This is the history of CLP up to the 1980s.
  3. Shewan, Tomes & Co – wikipedia

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Russell & Company, in China 1824 to 1891
  2. The three Forbes brothers: opium traders, Russell & Company in China and HK, USA railway financiers…
  3. Green Island Cement – stunning photos
  4. Ling Hang Quarry – supplier to the Green Island Cement Company
  5. The Hongkong Rope Manufacturing Company Ltd
  6. The Hongkong Rope Manufacturing Company Ltd – further information
  7. Hong Kong Tramways – 1984 report Electric Traction Compnay of Hong Kong Limited
  8. CLP’ s Hok Un Power Station – immediately post World War Two
  9. Robert Gordon Shewan – CLP, Green Island Cement and HK Rope Manufacturing


  • Dear Sir,
    I am researching the fact that Sir Robert Hart had started a Chinese civilian Brass Band in Beijing in 1885.
    Intriguingly the first two Bandmasters Hart appointed were Portuguese. Mr De Costa was appointed some time in 1888 and was brought to the attention of Hart by Gustav Detring. Hart quickly moved De Costa from Tianjin to Beijing. There does not seem to a record of a suitable De Costa in the Customs Maritime records so maybe Hart employed De Costa privately?
    In the 1861 Trade Directory there is a N.T. da Costa employed by D. W. Mackenzie & Co. Could this be the same person?
    More relevant to this company Shewan, Tomes and Co also in 1861 Trade Directory there is an entry for E. A. Encarnação working for Russell & Co.
    We know lot more about Encarnação. I know for certain that in 1892 Hart appointed another Bandmaster called E.E.Encarnacao , who was also Portuguese. He was also employed in the Maritime Customs Office, as a postal clerk. The only other thing I know about Encarnacao is that after 1911 when Yuan Shikai seized power he appointed Encarnacao to be in charge of training of his Military Bands. Whether he survived the fall of Yuan Shikai I don’t know.
    So do you know anyone with an interest in Portuguese Brass Band history, who can explain why these Portuguese men were obviously so good on Cornet at this time? Or who can tell me anything about who they were, and where in Portugal they came from. Are they famous in Portuguese Brass Band history?
    I can’t find any history of Portuguese Brass Bands do you know of one?
    I know that Robert Hart liked to employ musicians in the maritime customs service. For instance the Maritime Customs published in 1884 a book called “Chinese Music”. It was written by Van Aalst and until the 1950’s was the “go to book” to understand Chinese music. Van Aalst worked for Hart, but he was a music graduate from the University of Ghent, and studied composition. So it may be that E.E. Encarnacao was also a music graduate but I don’t even know which Universities in Portugal would be the most likely to be training Brass Band musicians in the 19th Century.
    It is also possible that the link was with Macao because Portugal had a settlement in Macao in the Qing Dynasty and Robert Hart helped to arrange a treaty between the Qing and the Portuguese to allow them to continue trading. So maybe they had Portuguese Military Bands stationed in Macao?
    Any ideas or suggestions most welcome!
    Thanks for your help.
    Keith Robinson

  • Harold Kantrud

    I collect Chinese and Macanese firecracker labels and packs, so the primary interest for me in Shewan-Tomes is the fact that, with their Chinese trade name Kee Chong Hong, they were probably the largest firecracker exporter in the world. I don’t think their major competitor, Jardine-Matheson, under their trade name E-Wo Yeung Hong, came close.

    Harold Kantrud

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