34 The Novelty Iron Works, c1870s Hong Kong company

Our Q+A 20 about George U. Sands asks for information about three HK companies he was involved in. One of these was the Novelty Iron Works.

Can you provide information about the NIW which has several tantalising mentions in dispatches but no solid career record?

Harvard University Library has a collection of Sands’ business records which consist of account books, letter books, diaries, financial material related to his management of:-

  • The Patent Slip and Dock Company
  • The Novelty Iron Works
  • The Hong Kong, Canton and Macao Steamboat Company.

The Novelty Iron Works was definitely a Hong Kong concern (there were at least two companies in the USA with the same somewhat curious name).

And Patricia Lim’s book, Forgotten Souls: A Social History of the Hong Kong Cemetery, HKUP, 2011, mentions a, “JW Croker [who] was another technician who worked his way up to become foreman, and then, in 1876, managing engineer of the Novelty Iron Works, finally moving into [unspecified] Docks as engineer in 1880.”

Another mention is a reference in Richard J Garrett’s book, The Defences of Macau: Forts, Ships and Weapons over 450 years, HKUP, 2010, “in the case of the Macau gun it was made at the Novelty Iron Works in Hong Kong,”

And finally:


1876 http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/stoverland18760224-1.2.5.aspx

This Q+A was first posted on 19th July 2016.




One comment

  • stephen davies

    Directory and Chronicle for China, Japan, Korea, Indochina, Straits Settlements, etc., 1877,

    “H.C. Bailie, manager of the Novelty Iron Works, and engineer to the Hongkong Fire Brigade”
    “W. Cannon, (Novelty Iron Works), engineer, West Point”
    “J.W. Croker, (Novelty Iron Works), engineer, West Point”
    “R. Gomes, (Novelty Iron Works), engineer, West Point”
    “G.J. Gutteres, (Novelty Iron Works), engineer, West Point”
    “A. Parker, (Novelty Iron Works), engineer, West Point”
    “I.A. Remedios, dos, (Novelty Iron Works), engineer, West Point”
    “V. Xavier, (Novelty Iron Works), engineer, West Point”

    On p.457 there is a large advertisement for the company (Patent Slip and Dock Company and Novelty Iron Works, 32 Praya West) stating that it has machine, boiler and blacksmith shops and is an iron and brass founders. It lists the services it does for ships which are given as painting, coppering and large repairs, but indicates it is prepared to “make contracts for the construction of hulls and machinery for vessels of any class”. The proprietor is given as G.U. Sands.

    So at this point there is ONE company with a SINGLE premises at 32 Praya West, West Point.

    In the companies listing, however, the two outfits are still listed separately, with the Novelty Iron Works having only its management and engineers (as listed above) but without any statement of the proprietor, and the Patent Slip and Dock Co. as being owned by G.U. Sands, also managed by H.C. Bailie, but with a different roll call of employees: with D. Blakie, W.C. Edwards and J. de Jesus as assistants (and another three assistants listed for the Patent Slip & Dock Company in Singapore) (there were also at the time three de Jesuses working for HWD).

    Interestingly, three years previously in 1874, The China Directory makes it clear that MacDonald & Co’s Patent Slip and the Patent Slip & Dock Co are not only separate enterprises, but the former is in HK and the latter in Singapore. The former was run by J. MacDonald, Manager with R. Caldwell and J. O’Ryan as assistants. The latter in Singapore had William Claughton (Managing Director), with C. Wishart as supervising shipwright and T. Hosking as Chief Engineer, and W.S. Richardson and W. Forrest as assistant engineers, Thomas Glass as Chief Clerk, and general employees Mauricio, Ignacio and Pereira.

    Meanwhile the Novelty Iron Works at West Point had William Dumphy as Manager, V.F. Xavier as Boilermaker, J.W. Croker, James Allison, John Mitchell, Romes Gomes and Arthur Wagner as engineers, with T. Collaço, F. (or E.) Demê and W. Beaudel as apprentices.

    The Novelty Iron Works is NOT listed at all in the 1873 Directory & Chronicle for China, Japan, Korea, etc. However, in the same volume, although J. MacDonald is listed with J. O’Ryan as “shipwrights, patent slip, West Point next to the gas works” as working for A. MacDonald & Co, he is also listed as J. MacDonald & Co., “shipwrights and blacksmiths, Spring Gardens”, though not as working there, but with B. Stanford and W. Jaulson as foreman.

    We can conclude from that four things. First, the Novelty Iron Works seems to have begun business in late 1873/1874. Second, this West Point ship repair and construction nexus had a high proportion of Macanese/Portuguese (possibly Spanish?) employees. Finally, the Patent Slip & Dock Co moved into HK between 1874 and 1877, taking over MacDonald’s operations in West Point.

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