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The Shield

May 26, 2022 | Tales from China

Early 1900’s postcard – British bobby on the Shanghai bund


THESHIELDA Hong Kong Police detective badge sold last month on eBay for £3,913.75. The King’s crown, gilt metal, blue enamel badge bears the Chinese characters for investigator and GR Royal cypher dating it to between 1910 and 1952. There are no lugs at the back so it was probably carried as a shield in a wallet instead of worn on a cap. The only other example I’ve seen is in the Hong Kong Police Museum. It prompted me to read again Ex-Chief Inspector Kenneth Andrew’s ‘Hong Kong Detective’ published in 1962 by The Adventurers Club. In his book Andrew mentions carrying both warrant card and detective’s badge when on duty.

Kenneth Andrew was born in 1893 and died in 2000 at the age of 106. He joined the Force as a Police Constable in 1911, served in the RAF in 1918 then resumed his career in Hong Kong before retiring in 1938. He went on to write six books about his experiences and re-joined the RAF during World War 2. He was awarded the King’s Police Medal for Gallantry following a shootout with Chinese armed robbers and admitted to hospital 34 times for everything from dysentery to malaria.

The buyer was probably from China where collectors have an insatiable demand for related antiques. Although scarce it isn’t the rarest police badge and when Kenneth Andrew was on the Hong Kong beat there were Britons patrolling more far-flung locations on the China coast.


China Map (2)In the eighteenth century European trade with China was confined to Canton but in 1842 four other so-called Treaty Ports were designated by the Treaty of Nanking after the first Opium War. The defeated Manchu government opened Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo and Shanghai to British trade. The treaty provisions also ceded Hong Kong island in perpetuity to Great Britain. Other Western powers demanded similar rights and by 1941 there were 75 Treaty Ports many inland far from any navigable river. The system effectively ended when the Japanese invaded China and control was formally relinquished in agreements with Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist Government in Chungking in 1943.

In the British ports control was exercised by Municipal Councils who ran police forces with British officers and British, Chinese or Indian lower ranks. Concession areas that maintained British Municipal Police forces were Shanghai, Kulangsu, Tientsin, Chinkiang, Hankow and Weihaiwei along with a British Legation Police Force at Peking. Western businesses, offices and warehouses were concentrated on a ‘bund’ – a long narrow strip of land facing the waterfront of which the Shanghai bund was the most famous. Chinese sovereignty was nominal and foreigners enjoyed extraterritoriality under the control of their own consuls and not subject to Chinese law.


SHANGHAIMUNICIPAL POLICE (4)The Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) was the police force of the Shanghai Municipal Council which governed the Shanghai International Settlement from 1854 to 1943. Apart from the Japanese occupation period all of the Commissioners were British. Winter uniforms were dark blue serge with khaki drill and pith helmets worn in summer. Until the early 1900s European officers wore the custodian or ‘bobby’s’ helmets after which all officers wore peaked caps.

Professor Robert Bickers of Bristol University is the recognised authority on the history of the SMP publishing ‘Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai’ (2003) and maintaining a China Families website with records of 2,800 men who served in the SMP. Published SMP memoirs include: E.W. Peters ‘Shanghai Policeman’ (1937), Maurice Springfield ‘Hunting Opium and Other Scents’ (1966), Ted Quigley ‘A Spirit of Adventure: The Memoirs of Ted Quigley’ (1994) and John Sanbrook ‘In My Father’s Time: A Biography’ (2008).

Shanghai Municipal Police, silver and enamel officer’s cap badge – Omnia Juncta in Uno – All Joined in One (Source: Karl Spencer collection)

None of these publications mention the Shanghai River Police who appear to have been a separate unit, independent of the Shanghai Municipal Council. According to Frederic Wakeman in his ‘Policing Shanghai 1927 – 1937’ they were formed in the early 1900s funded by subscriptions from commercial houses to protect commerce and shipping from attacks by robbers and pirates.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation posted the story of a Shanghai river policeman Joseph Munz who ended up in San Quentin in 1904 that can be viewed here.


Shanghai River Police cap and collar badge (Source: Karl Spencer collection)


Ejner Richard Dyrby, Chief Inspector of the Shanghai River Police in winter uniform (Source:


Sikhpoliceshanghai (2)In 1940 the SMP was a multi-racial force consisting of 470 European, 524 Sikh, 3,629 Chinese & 278 Japanese officers. The Sikhs with their own mounted section, red turbans and beards featured prominently in parades, postcards, photographs, newsreels and movies of the period. They were a reminder of the Raj and represented Shanghai in the same way as the Metropolitan Police or guardsmen at Buckingham Palace represent London today. The SMP started to recruit Sikhs from the Punjab in 1885 being cheaper than European officers and regarded as more trustworthy than the Chinese with whom they were unlikely to form any improper association. Classified by the British as ‘a martial race’ and with their imposing appearance they were deployed mainly on anti-riot and traffic control duties.

Despite the perceived advantages of the Sikh Contingent negative stereotypes of them have persisted. Josef Von Sternberg’s 1941 ‘The Shanghai Gesture’ opens with a Sikh traffic policeman accepting bribes to settle an argument in the street. Along with petty corruption there are also references to Sikh officers running money lending rackets to supplement their low pay. In cartoons by westerners like Friedrich Schiff of the North China Daily News, H.W.G. Hayter in ‘The Rattle’ or Hergés Tin Tin adventure – ‘The Blue Lotus’, Sikh police officers are depicted treating Chinese brutally. With their traffic directions ignored and frustrated by language difficulties Sikhs are shown using their striped batons to beat rickshaw pullers and coolies. They were also remembered with hatred for their role in the May 30th 1925 incident when nine Chinese students were shot and killed in a riot outside Louza police station. The Chinese nickname for them translated as ‘red headed number threes’, a reference to their turbans and perceived position in a racial hierarchy behind the Europeans and Chinese.

Hayter (2)


Shanghai Municipal Police winter uniform



Kulangsu Municipal Police Badge (2)

Kulangsu Police cap badge (Source:


Kulangsu Police junior ranks cap badge and tunic button (Source: Karl Spencer collection)

Amoy island now Xiamen was captured by the British in 1841 during the First Opium War. Too large to garrison effectively a small force was left to hold tiny Kulangsu island until the Treaty of Nanjing when Amoy became one of the first ports opened to British trade.

The city of Amoy fronted a narrow strait seven to eight hundred yards wide that divided it from Kulangsu only two square kilometres in area. In 1903 Kulangsu became an international settlement governed by a Municipal Council consisting of six foreign and one Chinese member. On the Amoy side the British concession was marked by its bund and backed by a row of foreign businesses. Most of the foreign residents commuted daily from their homes in Kulangsu almost entirely residential apart from various Consulates, post offices, Municipal Council offices, telegraph and telephone companies’ agencies. The Council employed a foreign superintendent of police who was also secretary to the Council and a small force of Sikh police. The British Concession on Amoy rented from the Chinese Government  also had a Municipal Council with a British inspector of police and a small force of Chinese constables.


Mr.  C. Berkeley Mitchell was Capt.- Superintendent of the Kulangsu Police after 22 years military service including Egypt, South Africa, Ceylon and Hong Kong.



British Municipal Police Tientsin cap badges (Victorian Crown on right) – Comitas Inter Gentes – Civility between nations (Source: Karl Spencer collection)

Tientsin became a Treaty Port in 1860 after the Second Opium War when it was formally opened to Britain and France. Between 1895 and 1900 they were joined by Japan, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Belgium in establishing foreign concessions each with their own prisons, schools, barracks and hospitals. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 the concessions were besieged for several weeks. Following this Western troops were stationed in the city until the Japanese occupation in 1941.

Reference to the Tientsin Police is made in Paul French’s book: ‘Midnight in Peking; How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China’. In 1934 Richard Dennis, a Detective Sergeant in the Metropolitan Police was appointed Chief Inspector of Police by the British Municipal Council of Tientsin. During his tenure Dennis investigated the murder of Pamela Werner in Peking in January 1937. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor he was arrested by Japanese soldiers and held in solitary confinement in Victoria Road police station. In August the Swiss Consul secured his release and Dennis was repatriated via Shanghai and Portuguese East Africa. After the war he was assigned to the United Nations War Crimes Commission and in later life ran several pubs and hotels in London.


Richard Harry Dennis, Chief Inspector of Police, British Municipal Council Tientsin (Source


Victoria Road in British Concession, Tientsin (Source: Historical Photographs of China,



Chinkiang on the banks of the Yangtze river, 156 miles upstream from Shanghai, is probably the least remembered of the Treaty Ports. It was opened in 1860 under the Treaty of Tientsin and retroceded to Chinese control when the Nationalist KMT forces entered and most of the foreigners had fled to Shanghai. By that time Chinkiang was a backwater, its importance as a trading centre overshadowed by Hankow 500 miles further upstream.

Chinkiang Municipal Police cap badge (Source: Karl Spencer collection)

The small foreign community was dominated by the British made up of Consular staff from Shanghai, Imperial Maritime Customs officers, missionaries and the junior employees of Western companies like BAT and Butterfield & Swire (known as ‘sugar and tobacco travellers’). Law and order was maintained by a small force of British officered Sikh policemen said to despise the Chinese and equally feared and disliked by them.

An extract from the Shanghai Mercury in 1887 described Chinkiang as it appeared to a visitor:

‘Few ports in China would seem to be better situated for trade than Chinkiang, a few perhaps have been more disappointing. The first glimpse of the port is eminently reassuring, as the fine bund, at the time of the year bosomed (sic) in trees, the conspicuous houses topped by the British Consulate, and the goodly array of hulks connected by handy bridges with the shore make a picture surpassed in our picturesqueness by none. The hum of traffic and the cry of coolies permeates the air; the familiar aspect of the Sikh policeman appears at the corners of the British Concession: the concession roads are wide and well kept, and, what is unfortunately unusual in China, the enterprise of the foreign residents has succeeded in acquiring a system of good riding roads penetrating the country in all directions as far as from four to six miles from the central point.’

First impressions soon wore off for the foreigners consigned to Chinkiang. Boredom, frustration, disease and fear of the Chinese masses  led to cases of mental breakdown and suicide.

Mob violence and riots could be sparked by minor incidents and foreigners were easy prey for bandits and pirates. Chinkiang’s most notorious incident – the riots of 1889 were blamed on heavy handed policing. The following extract is from ‘The Graphic’ dated May 4th  1890:

‘Early in February last (1889), a terrible riot occurred at Chinkiang, a port on the Yangtse River. For some time past it appears that bad blood has existed between the Sikh Police (who are employed by the Municipal Council of the Foreign Concession, and are nicknamed by the populace ‘Red Heads’, on account of their red turbans) and the inhabitants of the native city. Some of these policemen were accused of ill-treating a man who is variously described as a street-beggar and an interpreter employed at the American Consulate. The man fell down as if dead, but on being examined by a doctor and a police inspector was pronounced to be shamming. However, the mob declared that he had been killed, and at once commenced a furious attack on the Station. The few constables who were within fled for their lives; whereupon the infuriated crowd poured in, and pulled the building to pieces, scarcely leaving one stone upon another. Then, after smashing the windows of the houses of some members of the Municipal Council (the BRITISHCONSULATECHINKIANG (2)occupants all having escaped), the mob turned towards the British Consulate, which is on a bluff overlooking the Settlement. The Consul, Mr Mansfield, his wife, and two young children, had barely time to fly, when the building was in flames, the rioters piling up the inflammable stuff all around it. Everything was destroyed, the building and its contents being reduced to a heap of ashes’.

Former British Consulate in Zhenjiang

The foreign community managed to flee to one of the hulks in the river and escape by steamer to Shanghai. In typical Treaty Port fashion order was restored with the arrival of the Royal Navy and the landing of troops.

The following year the British Consulate was rebuilt and it now forms part of the Zhenjiang museum. Strong double riot gates made of iron were installed so that the whole width of the bund could be barred when closed.

In December 1925 Shanghai policeman Maurice Tinkler made a weekend trip to Chinkiang for a Masonic installation and in his letters described the port as: ‘a glimpse of ‘the good old China’ of the earlier white men, when hospitality was the keynote of everything.’ The ‘uncrowned king’ of the concession was U.J. Kelly, ‘secretary of the Doric Lodge, Chief of Police, Fire Department, Secretary of the British Municipal Council and of all the Clubs’ and even that meant ‘very little work’ claimed Tinkler. Kelly supervised thirty Chinese policemen who made sure that the gates of the British Concession were locked every night.


Hankow along with Wuchang and Hanyang was one of the three towns that merged to become the modern day city of Wuhan. Hankow on the left side of the Yangtse river was where foreigners settled when the city opened as a Treaty Port in 1861. The British, Russian French, German and Japanese concessions were much smaller than in Shanghai and limited to an area near the river. In Hankow’s British Concession a British Municipal Council ran a police force, a hospital and a militia – the Hankow British Volunteer Corps. The activities of the council were documented in their annual reports and budgets which if extant should contain information on the policing of Hankow. Photos on the internet show that like the other Treaty Ports the police force employed both Sikhs and Chinese.




Government House (Source:

Weihaiwei on the northeastern coast of China was leased to the United Kingdom from 1898 until 1930. The territory, controlling the seaward approaches to Peking, covered 288 square miles with Port Edward as the capital. The port served as a summer anchorage for the Royal Navy’s China Station, occasional port of call for Royal Navy vessels and a holiday resort for British expatriates. The Weihaiwei Regiment was formed in 1898, saw action during the Boxer Rebellion and on disbandment in 1906 some of the soldiers formed a permanent police force with three British Colour Sergeants as police inspectors. In 1910 the police force comprised three European Inspectors and 55 Chinese constables.

During the seamen’s strike of 1922 in Hong Kong 50 Wehaiwei men were recruited as Hong Kong Police constables. They were known as the D Contingent and their service numbers were pre-fixed with letter ‘D’ to differentiate them from the European ‘A’, Indian ‘B’ and Cantonese ‘C’ Contingents.

Weihaiwei was returned to Chinese rule on October 1st 1930 apart from Liugong Island that was leased for a further ten years. It was occupied by the Royal Navy until the Japanese landed in 1940.

Weihaiweipolice (2)

Inspectors Whittaker, Crudge & Forcey, Weihaiwei Police (?) undated (Source: The Stewart Lockahart Photographic Archive)


Schiff cartoon (Source: Maskee, A Shanghai Sketchbook)

In a 2000 article Robert Bickers asked the question ‘Who were the Shanghai Municipal Police and why were they there?’. There is no official history of the SMP but in ‘Empire Made Me – An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai’ (2004) and his website he gave us the answer.

‘Empire Made me’ is a biography of World War One veteran and Shanghai Municipal Policeman Richard Maurice Tinkler. After demotion for being drunk on duty he resigned and took on a series of dead end jobs that ended in June 1939 when he was bayoneted by Japanese soldiers. A former colleague described Tinkler as ‘a nasty piece of work’ and his racism towards the Chinese is partly explained by the realisation that in Shanghai he was at the bottom of European society. Most SMP recruits of the period were demobbed soldiers, UK police officers or working class manual labourers. Sharing a similar social background many shared the same prejudices.

The only contemporary police account – ‘Shanghai Policeman’ (1937) by E.W. Peters is a ghost written memoir aimed more at re-habilitating Peters’ reputation than to entertain. In 1936 Peters faced a murder charge with another officer for removing a beggar from the streets and throwing him in a creek. Despite strong evidence both foreign sergeants were acquitted by the jury and compulsorily resigned from the force.

The story of the Shanghai river policeman Joseph Munz and incidents provoked by the Sikh detachment remind us that the SMP and other Treaty Ports policemen were there to serve and protect the interests of the western business community and their Municipal Councils. The Chinese masses beyond the concession boundaries were a source of disease and danger best kept at arm’s length.

The Shanghai Municipal Council’s London agents, John Pook & Co. ensured a steady stream of recruits to the SMP and thanks to the power of the internet and genealogical research their stories have survived. In the smaller Treaty Ports there were only a handful of European police officers recruited from locally retired soldiers or seconded from London and Shanghai. They seem to have left no stories, letters or diaries but who knows what forgotten records are still to be discovered in attics around the world.


Friedrich Schiff cartoon (Source: Empire Made Me)


Hong Kong Detective (1962) Kenneth Andrew

Empire Made Me (2004) Robert Bickers

New Frontiers Imperialism’s New Communities in East Asia 1842-1953 (2000) Edited by Robert Bickers Christian Henriot

The Raj on Nanjing Road: Sikh Policemen in Treaty-Port Shanghai, JSTOR November 2012, Isabella Jackson

Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai and other Treaty Ports of China (1908) edited by Arnold Wright




About The Blog

About Blog In March 2020, after 28 years in Hong Kong, I moved to Penang as a base to travel in the region. The Covid 19 pandemic ended that plan and I spent much of the time re-reading books I had collected over the years. The only new book I bought was ...
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