Sir Thomas Sutherland – first chairman of Hong Kong & Whampoa Dockyard

James Chan: In 1863 Thomas Sutherland became the first chairman of the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock. He was 29.

Sir Thomas Sutherland image undatedThe following has been extracted from the Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography. Both the author Robert Nield and HK University Press have given permission for extracts to be used in this article.

Robert Nield: “Thomas Sutherland was the founder of one of the world’s largest banks [HSBC] and saviour of one of its major shipping companies. Like many of Britain’s  imperial entrepreneurs, Sutherland came from a humble Scottish background. Born in 1834 in Aberdeen, he was raised by his grandparents; his father died when Thomas was young. His  first job, at the age of 18, was as a clerk in the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) in London.

Two years later he had proved himself sufficiently to be sent to fill a vacancy in P&O’s Bombay office, thence almost immediately to Hong Kong. A few years later he became superintendent, responsible for the company’s entire business in China and Japan. His obvious success, coupled with his founding, at the age of 29, of the Hongkong and Whampoa Dock Company, earned him considerable respect in the colony.”

As mentioned above Sutherland went on to establish HSBC (initially called the Hongkong and Shanghae Banking Corporation) in 1865 and became its first vice-chairman. He was appointed member of the Legislative Council from 1865 to 1866.

P&O relocated him to Shanghai in 1866 and he returned to London in 1867.

In 1872 he was appointed Managing Director of P&O. And Chairman in 1881.

He was knighted in 1891 and was Member of Parliament for Greenock, Scotland, from 1881 to 1909. He retired from P&O in 1914. And died on the 1st January 1922.

This article was first posted on 24th December 2014.

Source: Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography, ed M Holdsworth and C Munn, HKUP, 2012. This wonderful book collects in one volume more than 500 specially commissioned entries on men and women from Hong Kong history.

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