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Thomas 'China Tom' ADKINS, b.1836

Tree: Thomas Adkins | William Tomes

Taken from the Evesham and Four Shires Advertiser, Saturday 28 December 1912.

Thomas Adkins in 1865

His obituary

Death of Mr. Thomas Adkins.

It is with very much regret that we record the death of Mr. Thomas Adkins, of Long Hyde, Littleton, near Evesham, which occurred on Saturday last. Mr. Adkins had been in somewhat feeble health for a considerable time, and the death of his wife, which took place in September of last year, proved a severe blow to him. During the last four or five months his condition became more serious, but he was only actually laid up for a few weeks. On Saturday morning he passed away very quietly about eleven o’clock, deeply mourned by all his neighbours, rich and poor alike, and by a wide circle of friends.


Long Hyde, South Littleton
Mr. Adkins belonged to a very old Warwickshire yeoman family. His father was Mr. John Caleb Adkins, of Milcote, who in his day was regarded as one of the best farmers in the district, and who achieved considerable success as a breeder of Shorthorns. Mr. J. C. Adkins married Miss Temperance Tomes, daughter of Mr. John Tomes, of Long Marston, who was one of the partners in the Old Bank Stratford-on-Avon. He had two sons and several daughters. One of his sons, Mr. J. C. Adkins, died at Milcote about two years ago. The other, the subject of this notice, was born in 1836. He was educated, we believe, near Worcester, where one of his schoolfellows was the late Mr. W. H. Ashwin, of Bretforton Manor, and subsequently at King’s College, London, where he studied Chinese with a view to obtaining what was then termed a Student Interpretership, a post leading on to employment in the consular service. On June 14, 1855, he was appointed supernumerary interpreter in China, in which country he was destined to have a varied and interesting career. On his arrival, in September, 1855, he was employed in the Superintendency; in 1857 he was appointed third assistant at Ningpo. On the commencement of the troubles of 1858, which lead to the despatch of the Earl of Elgin’s special mission to China, Mr. Adkins was attached to the Earl of Elgin as his interpreter-secretary, and he served in that capacity from July, 1858, till 1859. When the British squadron under Admiral Hope was directed to proceed to the Peiho at the commencement of these hostilities, Mr. Adkins was present with the fleet and witnessed the attack on the Taku forts on June 25, 1859. At the close of that year he was attached to H.M.S. Achtæon when that vessel was employed in the north of China, and while so employed was given the rank of interpreter. His personal qualities were so much appreciated that on his leaving the vessel the officers presented him with a testimonial. By the commencement of the year 1860 the Chinese Government were embroiled in difficulties at home and abroad. There had been serious revolts from the Imperial authority in the more distant portions of the empire; the serious Taiping rebellion which for a period of ten years devastated the central portions of the kingdom, was in full swing; and the Chinese Government had been so foolish as to adopt an intransigent attitude with regard to the European merchants, who only asked for their fair treatment in the commercial sphere. The British and French Governments found it necessary to make representations with regard to the grievances of their nationals in this regard, and redress being refused to long-standing grievances, a combined British and French expedition was sent to operate against the Chinese Government in the North. The Taku forts were again attacked, and the allied armies advanced to Pekin, which was surrendered after destruction of the Summer Palace by the British troops and the looting of the city by the French in the month of October. The Earl of Elgin was attached to this expedition (as well as to the one of the previous year) as diplomatic plenipotentiary, and Mr. Adkins again accompanied him. He was present throughout the lengthy negotiations which ultimately resulted in the treaty of October 24, and it is not too much to say that his intimate knowledge of the language and the tact and discretion with which he carried out his duties of interpreter on behalf of his principal were of the utmost assistance to the Allies at this period. After the signing of the Treaty it became necessary, in view of the early approach of winter, which is extremely severe in the North of China, to withdraw the Allied forces from the city, but it was at the same time desirable that a representative of the British Government should remain in Pekin, for obvious reasons. Volunteers were asked for for this service, and Mr. Adkins was among the first to offer himself for the duty. In view of his special qualifications for the post he was selected, and he remained in Pekin as the representative of British interests throughout the winter 1860-61. Having regard to the treatment to which Pekin had been subjected by the victorious Allies it must have been obvious to anybody that grave resentment would be felt by the Chinese towards any representative of the allied powers, and those who have some knowledge of Chinese characteristics in those days at any rate will realise what a severe demand such services as that undertaken by Mr. Adkins must have made upon the courage of any man. There is very little doubt that in these days any young officer who played the part would receive very marked recognition for his services. During the winter Mr. Adkins was the only Englishman in Pekin. For diplomatic reasons it was not thought desirable to leave any strong escort with him, and he thought a small escort such as was offered would be more dangerous than none at all. During this period he was brought into intimate contact with the famous General Ignatieff; the Russians had a strong Cossack guard and Ignatieff proffered to Mr. Adkins the hospitality of the Russian embassy, where he spent some of his time, though he did not reside there. In the spring of 1861 a permanent British minister was appointed to Pekin, and Mr. Adkins' services were transferred to the regular consulate line. Between 1860 and 1869 he served at Kiukiang, Shanghai, Taiwan, Amoy and other places and was promoted to be British consul at Newchwang, the most northerly and one of the most important of the Treaty ports of China, in 1869. In 1873 he returned to England on leave, and in the following year he married Agnes Margret, daughter of the late Mr. Henry Best Sowdon, of Stratford-on-Avon. He took her back with him to China and he continued to serve at Newchwang until the autumn of 1879, when owing to continued ill health, he was compelled to retire on a pension and return to England. During his service at Newchwang Mr. Adkins made several journeys into Northern Manchuria, which at that time was almost an unknown country, and he wrote for the benefit of the Foreign Office several interesting reports with regard to the immense commercial possibilities of that country.In his day the influence of the British representatives in China was very much greater than that of other foreign powers, and it is perhaps fair to suppose that the members of the consular service hoped that they might be the pioneers in China of a new British empire similar to that which Clive and his fellow Englishmen had carved out in India in the eighteenth century. But, as is now well known, the influence of home politics upon the administration of foreign affairs was such that from the commencement of the eighties it was soon made clear that England did not desire to extend her responsibilities in the Far East, and this policy was carried to its extreme in the time of Lord Salisbury, who was content to see the Russian and German empires annexing important slices of Chinese territory without an attempt at effective remonstrance. In the course of his long service in China Mr. Adkins was brought into close connection with several of the most distinguished Englishmen who served in that country during that period, among others General Gordon, Sir Robert Hart, Sir Rutherford Alcock, Sir Halliday Macartney, and Sir Harry Parkes. Mr. Adkins was fond of talking of the friendship which sprang up between General Gordon and himself during the course of the Taiping rebellion, and his admiration for the great man was unbounded. Among his trophies at Long Hyde were a pair of spears captured from the rebels, which had been presented to him in China1 by General Gordon. His intimacy with Sir Robert Hart was also great, and he evinced no less admiration for the great work which Hart was called upon to perform in China during the latter part of the last century. There can be little doubt that if Mr. Adkins, health had permitted him to continue his services in China he also would have been called to a position of high responsibility in that country, for his early services with Lord Elgin had marked him out as one of the picked men of the service to which he belonged. He had frequent relations with the Chinese statesman, Li Hung Chang. Mr. Adkins was wont to speak of Li as one of the most intelligent Chinamen with whom he had ever had to deal, and on the occasion of Li’s visit to this country in 1896 he made a point of going to London and calling upon him. In his later life Mr. Adkins felt some wish to revisit China and travel thither by the Trans-Siberian railway, but impaired health prevented the realisation of this wish. On retiring from service in China and returning to England, Mr. Adkins naturally desired to take up his residence in the part of the country with which his family was connected, and he purchased from Mrs. Oldham the residence at Littleton known as Long Hyde. Mr. Adkins’s mother was at that time living in Bishopton, near Stratford-on-Avon, and in order that he might be near her in her declining years Mr. Adkins went to Bishopton in the early eighties and remained there till her death, after which he returned to Long Hyde, where he continued to reside until the time of his death. He was on the Commission of the Peace for Warwickshire and Worcestershire, and until the last few years was a frequent attendant on the Bench at Evesham and Stratford-on-Avon. By virtue of being a justice of the peace he was an ex-officio member of the Evesham and Stratford-on-Avon Boards of Guardians. He also acted for a number of years as church warden at Littleton. In politics he was a staunch Conservative, and for many years he was chairman of the Littleton polling district committee of the South Warwickshire Association. Both he and his wife were extremely popular and highly respected throughout a wide district. Both were invariably ready to render assistance to any scheme for the betterment or the advancement of the Littletons2, or the people residing in them, and they were extremely kind to their poorer neighbours. As we heard a Littleton man remark on the day of the funeral “No one ever wanted for a bit of coal in Littleton if Mr and Mrs Adkins knew of it.” The presentation of a large recreation ground at Littleton for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Littletons and Offenham will be too fresh in the public memory to need more than a passing reference here. During his residence in England he did not actively engage in any business apart from that of a public nature but he was a director of the Brades Ironworks, Smethwick, which is to great extent a family concern. As already stated, Mrs. Adkins died in September. 1911; there were no children of the marriage.


South Littleton church
The funeral took place at South Littleton Church at noon on Christmas Eve, amid manifestations of regret and respectful sympathy. The service was conducted by the Vicar (the Rev. F. G. E. Ashworth). The opening hymn was “Jesu, lover of soul,” and the second “Peace, perfect peace.” Mrs. Heming was at the organ. The grave, which was beside that of his late wife, was lined with evergreens, moss and chrysanthemums. The mourners were Miss Helen Adkins, Mrs. Wiggin, Mr. Anderson Adkins, Miss E. Adkins, Mr. and Mrs. James, Miss L. Adkins, Capt. Arthur Adkins, Mrs. Harvey Smith, Miss Eva Adkins, Mrs. Christophers (nephews and nieces), Dr. James Watson, Mr. A. W. Watson I.C.S., Mr. Carles* and Mr. H. G. Hiorns. Among others who followed were Mr. J. Ashwin, Mr. J. Smithin, Mr. A. H. Martin, Mr. Geoffrey New, Mr. A. K. Lindsell, Sir Henry Wiggin**, Mr. and Mrs. B. M. Chandler, Mr. C. Heaton (Handsworth, representing Brades Ironworks), Dr. George Heaton (Birmingham), Messrs. R. Smith, T. Bubb, W. Cooke, G. Norledge, G Knight, F. Bubb, and G. W. Howley (clerk, members of the South Littleton Parish Council), Messrs. W. Heming, W. Lloyd, J. H. Moore, H. T. Wakefield, A. Warner, R. Heming, and A. Sollis (members of the North and Middle Littleton Parish Council), Mr. W. T. Careless (representing the Offenham Parish Council and the Offenham Lodge of the National Conservative League), Messrs. M. Stainforth, W. J. Emms, R. H. Careless, F. Wheeler, T. Careless, sen., Supt. Hill, Insp. Hall, P. S. Davis and four constables of the Worcestershire constabulary, and several others. The bearers were Messrs. O. Bickerstaff, F. Bickerstaff, C. Allchurch, E. Smith, G. Fletcher, and C. Emms.

The grave
The coffin which was made by Messrs. Fowler, Son and Chapman, Evesham was of polished oak, with brass furniture, and it bore the inscription: “Thomas Adkins. Died December 21, 1912. Aged 75 years.” There was a large number of beautiful wreaths and other floral tributes from the following among others. The Misses Emily, Helen, and Lucy Adkins, Mr. Anderson Adkins and Mrs. Tilley, Mrs. Harvey Smith and Miss Eva Adkins, Mrs. Christophers (Lapworth), Mr., Mrs. and Miss Celia James, Mrs. Smith (Stratford-on-Avon), Mrs. ~, Miss Randell. Parishioners of North and Middle Littleton, Littleton Post Office, Parishioners of South Littleton, Mr. and Mrs. James Ashwin, Mrs. F. S. Taylor and Mrs Taylor (Cheltenham, Outdoor Servants), Mrs. Hobbins, Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey New, Mr. W. R. Carl~, Mrs. S. H. Stanley Taylor (Chippenham), Mr. and Mrs. B. M. Chandler, Members of the Offenham Lodge of National Conservative League, Mr. and Mrs. J. Morris, Mrs. Carrow (Long Marston), Mr. and Mrs. A. W. Watson, Mr. and Mrs. A. K. Lindsell, Teachers of Littleton School, “Little Connie Pattern,” Nurse ~ [Benson?], Mr. and Mrs. Robert Careless, Mrs. and Miss Roberts (Craycombe), Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Hiorns, the Rev. F. Ashworth, “~, Elizabeth, and Shirley,” Mr. David ~ During the afternoon muffled peals were rung on the bells at South Littleton and Middle Littleton church.


Adkins’ letters show that the spears were actually presented to him in England.

He lived at South Littleton and there are also North Littleton and Middle Littleton.

~ indicates an unreadable word.

Arthur Knox Lindsell, a retired Evesham bank manager, was the sole Executor of Thomas Adkins’ Will and is thought to have written this obituary for the local paper.
The gross estate was proved to be £32,715: 1: 1D.

The grave holds Thomas and his wife, Agnes Margret, and is situated next to that of William Baylies Tomes and others. The Adkins and Tomes families are related by marriage, indeed Thomas's mother was Temperance Tomes; Thomas and William Baylies Tomes were cousins.

These two grave stones are by far the best quality gravestones in the churchyard both being of highly polished stone, one grey, one red. They are also of very well considered design in that they are horizontal with the script along the sides. Horizontal stones don't catch the weather so badly, neither can they fall over!

Mr Carles was at the funeral - he was another long-serving China figure and a great friend of Walter Hillier. I'm sure Walter & Tom will have known each other. Andrew Hillier 17/01/2013.

The Hillier family married into the Swindells family of Bollington in Cheshire. They all appear on another of my family web sites!

The Wiggin family were related by marriage to the Adkins family. Earlier generations of the two families were instrumental in the development of the industrial revolution around the Smethwick and Birmingham area.

Notice that other mourners were from the same area, for instance Mr. C. Heaton of Handsworth, representing Brades Ironworks, which was not far from the Adkins' soap factory.

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