Papers of Hugh Gordon Lowder

Scope and Content

The papers comprise Lowder's journals for 1935-40, items intended for his journals 1911-1960s, his trade reports, bundles of photographs, materials relating to William Hancock, James Henry Hart and Charles Welsh Mason of the Chinese Maritime Customs, miscellaneous mansucript and printed materials.

Administrative / Biographical History

Hugh Gordon Lowder was born in Kiukiang, China in 1888. His father, Edward Gordon Lowder, served with the Imperial Maritime Customs, later known as the Chinese Maritime Customs, which Hugh Lowder also joined in 1908. At the start of the First World War Lowder joined his regiment in France after having, with difficulty, persuaded the War Office that he was British despite he, his father, grandfather having been born in China. From France he was sent to China to help recruit and bring back Chinese males to help form the Chinese Labour Corps at the Western Front.

Lowder married in 1918 and returned to China to resume his career. During the next twenty years he kept a detailed journal in which he noted daily occurences in his private and official life and and his comments on issues of the day. He had quite strong views on some subjects e.g "The missionary has been a great menace ... not so great now [1935] as the Chinese has come largely to ignore him." He and his wife, Edna, collected jade and other treasures which he sent home together with his journals, "bound for the family archives with arms on the cover in gilt," at regular intervals. In 1938 Lowder had completed 30 years' service and was eligible to retire but, in the event, did not leave China until January 1940 when he travelled to England with his family. In London Lowder applied for War work but since he was technically on leave from the Chinese Customs Service was not allowed to do so since this would have infringed Chinese neutrality. At some point in the German bombing raids on London and the South East of England the Lowder family possessions, stored in 150 cases at a depository, were almost totally destroyed. The few boxes which did survive were throroughly saturated by chemicals and water and so largely unsalvageable. The specially-designed furniture in rosewood and blackwood was destroyed, as was Lowder's library and papers, together with hundred of yards of silk. At the end of the War he learnt that his possessions left in China had been looted or destroyed. Hugh Gordon Lowder never really recovered from the loss of his archive, library and other possessions. During the remainder of his life he tried to reconstruct part of his journal and the years between 1935 and 1940 were largely completed. Lowder died in Cambridge in 1978 where he had lived for the last fifteeen years of his life.


The papers have been arranged into three series: Lowder's journals, other materials relating to Lowder and miscellaneous materials.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Transferred to the School of Oriental and African Studies in 2002.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished handlist

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Custodial History

Donated to the Needham Research Institute, Cambridge by Mrs Elizabeth Hirsch, daughter of Hugh Lowder, in 1990.

Geographical Names