The Kam Family of Hocan and Jardines
York Lo: The Kam Family of Hocan and Jardines
For the past century, the Kam family has been important players in the import export industry in Hong Kong, starting with Kam Cheung-yan and his brother Kam Cheung-fai who were compradors for the major foreign owned trading houses such as Gerin Drevard and Jardines, and later as proprietors of their own trading firms such as HK Canton Export (also known as Hocan) which has been distributor of famous products such as Michelin tires in HK for decades.
The family of Kam Cheung-yan (甘祥炘, 1895-1967) and Hongkong Canton Export Co (新志利洋行)
Hocan executives welcoming the export department head of German camera maker Voigtländer at the State restaurant at Li Po Chun Chambers in 1962. Left to right: Kam Kwong-shun, Edward Kam, Kam Cheung-yan, representative of Voigtländer, Yu Chi Pui, Tam Shu-fu. (WKYP, 1962-1-13)
Native of Sun Wui (Xinhui) prefecture in Guangdong province, Kam Cheung-yan and his brothers Cheung-sui and Cheung-fai all graduated from the Diocesan Boys School (DBS, then known as Diocesan School and Orphanage) in the 1910s when it was still located on Bonham Road in the HK island side before its relocation to its current site in Mongkok in 1926. Although the brothers received Western education at an early age and worked closely for and with foreigners throughout their careers, they maintained a strong sense of Chinese identity and often wore Chinese outfits. By the 1920s, the young Kam Cheung-yan had become the HK comprador of Gerin Drevard & Co (志利洋行), the leading French trading firm in Southern China which was formed in Shameen in Canton in around 1914 with branches in Tientsin, Shanghai, Yunnanfu (Kunming), Haiphong and Manila. It was one of the most active firms in the export of Chinese products such as cotton, silk, bristles (it registered the “Buffalo Head” trademark in HK in the 1920s) and rice and import of French machineries and the HK branch was managed by Charles Simon Rosselet (1902-1951) who later became a major figure in the theater business. In 1924, Gerin Drevard co-founder H.G. Gerin was killed when a bomb exploded during the reception for French Indochina Governor-General Martial Merlin at the Victoria Hotel in Shameen and the firm collapsed two years later in 1926.
In 1932, Kam and a Frenchman by the name of Carlos Victor Laurent Arnulphy (1902-1980) incorporated Hongkong Canton Export Co Ltd (hereafter refer to as “Hocan”) which adopted the Chinese name of “New Chi Lee” signaling a continuation of Gerin Drevard whose Chinese name was “Chi Lee”. Arnulphy served as a gunner for the HK Volunteer Defense Corps during the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941 and was interned in the Sham Shui Po camp during the Japanese occupation. After the War, Kam and Arnulphy served as joint managing directors of Hocan and Carlos’ son Michel (who also ran J. Mortensen & Co, a manufacturer of water treatment equipment) was also on the board of Hocan.
In 1949, Hocan was operating out of the French Bank Building at 5 Queen’s Road Central and was listed as agent for Michelin tires, Guerlain perfumes, French commodity trading firm of Louis Dreyfus, Materiel Technique of Paris and Gevaert Photo Producten N.V. of Antwerp. The firm had over 35 employees – 3 staff in its export department, 22 in its import department, 1 in its insurance department, 3 in its laboratory, 2 in accounts, 1 cashier and 4 stenographers.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Hocan was also known for its photographic department led by Yue Tse-pui (余子沛) and Tam Shu-fu (譚樹富) which acted as the distributor of the popular German camera brand Voigtländer (富倫達), which traced its history back to 1756. In 1956, Hocan organized a special celebration of the 200th anniversary of Voigtländer at the Kin Kwok Restaurant which was attended by Dr W. Handke, the German consul at the time and famous local HK photographers. Hocan organized an exhibition of the world’s first all-metal daguerreotype camera made in 1840 by Voigtländer at camera shop in HK and Kowloon. (WKYP, 1956-9-28). Unfortunately, Voigtländer under the ownership of Zeiss discontinued its camera production in 1971.
Kam Cheung-yan resided at 4 Peak Road and outside of work served as president of the Diocesan Old Boys Association (DSOBA) in 1951-52. He died in 1967 at the age of 72 and was survived by 4 sons and 2 daughters.
Left: Edward Kam in his later years; right: article about Mr. & Mrs. Yue Tse-pui, head of the camera department at Hocan flying to Germany and Belgium (WKYP, 1964-5-12)
Cheung-yan was succeeded at Hocan by his eldest son Edward Kam Kwong-yee (甘光儀). Edward was born in 1918 and went to La Salle College before receiving his BSc in civil engineering from Lingnan University in Canton and MSc in civil engineering from UC Berkeley in the US. Edward served as chairman of Hocan for many decades and from 1985 until his death, he had donated generously to many causes in his native Jiangmen where there are primary school and kindergarten named after him and a senior center named after his father Cheung-yan. He was also president of the La Salle Old Boys Association.
Cheung-yan’s seventh son Kam Kwong-shun (甘光舜) studied textiles in the UK before returning to HK to join Hocan. In 1960, he married the eldest daughter of Seaker Chan （陳樹渠）the educator, theater owner and property developer and nephew of General Chen Chitang (see article on Union Metal Works and Great South Fishing) at the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Garden Road followed by a banquet at the Canton Restaurant that was attended by over 3000 guests including the Who’s Who in high society and show business (including the Cantonese opera star Yam Kim-fai whom K.S. was one of the pallbearers for in 1989) given the connections of the two families (WKYP, 1960-9-28). Later Kwong-shun operated the stock brokerage K.S. Kam & Co, which was dissolved in 2003 after Kam was reprimanded by the SFC for failing to exercise proper supervision when some of his staff was found to be involved in rat trading.
Wedding picture of Kam Kwong-shun in 1960 (WKYP)
Aside from Edward and K.S., other Kam family members also worked at Hocan, such as Kam Cheung-sing (甘祥星) who oversaw the insurance department while daughter Kam Yuet-ngo (甘月娥, goddaughter of Charles L. Corn, see article) was a member of the export department and Kam Cheung-ying and Kam Kwong-yue (甘光禹) worked in the import department (HK $ Directory, 1970). One of Cheung-yan’s nephews Kenny Kam Kwong-tat (甘光達) also worked at the photographic department of Hocan fixing cameras before becoming a professional jockey and later horse trainer.
Today, Hocan is led by Edward’s son Gary Kam (甘志城) with over 60 staff in HK and the mainland where the firm has branches in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Guangxi, Yunnan, Fujian and Shandong. In recent years, the firm has focused on the distribution and after-sales service of tires. The firm has been the sole distributor of Michelin tires in HK and Macau for the past 70 years and in the mainland it is the sole distributor of Alcoa wheels and Schrader accessories with a focus on industrial and earthmover users.
Sources other than those cited above:
The family of Kam Cheung-fai (甘祥煇, 1900-1954) and Jardines
Left: Kam Cheung-fai taken two hours before his death (KSDN, 1954-8-16); Middle: Kam Kwong-chan; right: Kam Kwong-how (HK Album, 1967)
Like his older brother, Kam Cheung-fai also graduated from DBS (1916) and went on to Hong Kong University on a Chinese presidential scholarship. Upon graduation, he entered the knitting industry and according to a 1938 directory, he was adviser to South China Knitting Factory on Shantung Street in Mongkok. His obituary also listed him as permanent honorary advisor for the HK Knitwear Manufacturers Association.
In the 1930s, Cheung-fai joined Jardine Matheson and his name appeared on the HK Jurors List in 1939 and 1940 as assistant comprador of Jardines. During the Japanese occupation, he moved to Macau and returned after the War to assist Sir Man-Kam Lo in the government’s distribution of food supplies. He also became the Chinese manager for the Import department of Jardines which at the time already distributed many famous brands such as Seagram whisky, Vaseline, Remington Rand typewriters and Ovaltine. Due to his engagement with all these brands, Kam was named honorary adviser to the HK & Kowloon Provisions, Wine & Spirits Merchants Association (see article on Wing Sang Cheong and Asia Provisions) and the Association of HK & Kowloon Department Store Dealers Chinese and Foreign Merchants & Manufacturers.
In 1954, Kam Cheung-fai died in his residence and his funeral was attended by over 1000 people led by Jardine taipan Sir John Keswick who ordered the flags at Jardine premises to be lowered at half mass in his honor. (KSDN, 1954-8-15)
Cheung-fai was survived by three sons and four daughters.
Cheung-fai’s eldest son Kam Kwong-yan (甘光仁) studied at the Royal Technical College in Salford and economics at Cambridge University before returning to HK in 1952 where he became the Chinese manager of a Japanese trading firm. He married a descendant of the Wanglee family (Chinese last name Chan) which operated the Nakornthon Bank (acquired by Standard Chartered) in Thailand and Kin Tye Lung trading firm in HK. In 1956, he and his younger brother Kwong-how incorporated The Wing Hang Garment Factory (永興製衣廠) but was dissolved in 1958. In 1957, he incorporated On Wing & Co Ltd (安榮有限公司) with HK$200,000 in capital with Kiyotada Shirakura but the firm was dissolved in 1970.
Article about Kam Kwong-yan attending the International Jaycee convention in Paris in 1960 combined with an European trip to promote HK products such as garment, toys and torches (WKYP, 1960-11-12)
Cheung-fai’s second son Kam Kwong-chan (甘光親,1933-2008) went to DBS and Municipal Technical College in Bolton, England and succeeded his father as Chinese manager of the import department of Jardines. He married Irene Li (李慧筠), the daughter of Li Chok-chung (李作忠), the younger brother of Bank of East Asia co-founders Li Koon-chun and Li Tse-fong and Kowloon Dairy founder Li Lan-sang in 1954. Irene’s sister married Tsan Pui-chiu, the son of taxi king Tsan Yung (see article). Kwong-chan was a director of the South China Athletic Association and Po Leung Kuk. He established Kams Investment Co Ltd (甘利有限公司) in 1962 but the firm was dissolved in 1991. He retired to Canada where he died in Vancouver.
Cheung-fai’s third son Kam Kwong-how (甘光孝, 1935-) also went to DBS and studied economics at Manchester College of Commerce and Liverpool College of Commerce in the UK. He joined Jardines as assistant Chinese manager in 1956 and married Priscilla Kwok Kam-ping(郭錦屏）, the eldest daughter of Kwok Chan, the comprador of Banque Indosuez in September 1959 (see wedding picture in United Delivery article). He was also a director of the HK branch of Malayan Insurance and served as chairman of Pok Oi Hospital (1963-64), director of Tung Wah, HK Football Association, Cosmo Club and SCAA.
This article was first posted on 13th September 2019.
Related Indhhk articles:
- Hung Cheong Import & Export Ltd – YKK Zippers’ Hong Kong agent
- William Jardine, Co-founder of Jardine, Matheson & Company
- John Bell-Irving, Jardines’ Hong Kong taipan 1886 and business partner of Sir Paul Chater
- From Bicycles to Lamps and Stoves: Union Metal Works (合衆五金廠) and the two illustrious families behind the firm
- Great South Fishing Industries (廣南漁業)
- Wing Sang Cheong (榮生祥) – A Century of Food and Wine Provisions
- Asia Provisions (亞洲辦館) and Asia Cold Storage (亞洲凍房)