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Douglas Steamship Company, Ltd., Hong Kong, 1883-1976






Douglas Lapraik
Douglas Lapraik
Douglas Lapraik (1818-1869) who started his Hong Kong career as a watchmaker's apprentice, in 1860 founded a steamship company which ran the south China coast. By the time of his death in 1869 Douglas Lapraik owned seven steamships.

In 1866, Douglas Lapraik(1) together with Thomas Sutherland, also founded the well-known Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock Company, which is at the present day one of the largest concerns of the kind in the world. They built docks under arrangements with the Admiralty to admit the largest ships in the Navy, thus creating in Hong Kong an effective naval base.


In 1866 Douglas Lapraik retired from his company and his nephew J.S. Lapraik took over as a director. J.S. Lapraik took two partners and continued the company as Douglas Lapraik & Co.

The Douglas Steamship Company was formed 1883 and took over the various steamers and other assets which had been managed but only partly owned by the firm of Douglas Lapraik & Co. J.S. Lapraik died in 1893 and the firm was lead by junior partner Davis.


The cession of Taiwan to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895 which ended the Sino-Japanese War, struck the company a heavy blow.

Osaka Shosen Kaisha (OSK) placed several steamers on the Amoy Tansui Line and the Douglas Steamship Company was forced to cut down freight rates. Also, OSK opened several other lines and began to compete on the China coast with Douglas Steamship Company and the company incurred severe losses.


Fortunately, in 1900 and 1901, satisfactory earnings were made by chartering several ships to the British Government and later to the American Government due to the Boxer uprising in China. The Taiwan trade was a lost cause and the company withdrew from it.

The Company would maintain its position on the China coast, but in the late 1920s the company had run into financial difficulties and in 1932, S.T. Williamson bought a controlling interest in the Douglas Steamship Company.


The outbreak of open warfare between China and Japan in 1937 was nearly the end of shipping around the China coast and the company started trading between Hong Kong and the Treaty Ports. Also the ships were redeployed, as well as was possible.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour the ships were taken over by the Hong Kong Shipping Board for the Ministry Of War Transport (MOWT) service. When Japan seized Hong Kong all the staff were interned on Christmas Day 1941.

At the end of World War II the company tried to regain its old trade but when S.T. Williamson died in 1950, J.R. Mullion became Chairman of the Douglas Steamship Company and the remaining two ships were sold and the company became an investment company.

In the mid 1950s Mullion decided to reinvest in shipping again and the Douglas Steamship Company bought three Empire ships followed in 1959 with a similar ship. In 1966 Mullion & Co. formally took over as managers.

In 1969-1970 the Empire ships were replaced by other tonnage among them two tankers.
The Mullion Group decided to sell of its ships in the mid 1970s and the Douglas Steamship Company was formally wind up in 1976.


Chinese School (c.1900) Port side profile of the Douglas & Co. cargo ship S.S. Haiching steaming in calm waters off a headland with shipping beyond. 12 x 17in. (30.5 x 43cm.) Framed. Provenance: Sotheby's Olympia 18/6/03, lot 55. Built in 1898 by Dunlop & Co., Glasgow, Haiching registered 2,182 gross. In 1929 she was seized by pirates enroute to Swatow, set afire and gutted amidships, she was saved by H.M.S. Shirley who escorted her back to Hong Kong for repairs. She was torpedoed and sunk by U-168 100 miles west of Bombay on 2nd October 1943. £300-500 SS Haiching
Naturally, wealth drove Douglas into improving his accommodation and he thought about building a house of his own. In 1860, the Government had decided to build a reservoir in Pokfulam, a valley in the south side of Hong Kong Island. To be coupled with miles of conduit pipes, the reservoir was thought to be the answer to the water supply problem. He set his eyes on the hill by the entrance to the road to the reservoir under construction. The hill commanded panoramic views, not to mention close proximity to water supply. The road to the land began in Sai Wan, the Western District of today, and led to Aberdeen, where Douglas was planning to set up his docks. In about 1861, he obtained a 75 years lease from the Government for the hill and set about building on its top a small castle. Known as Rural Building Lot 32, the land had a registered site area of 310,227 square feet.

When completed, probably in 1864, it was a compound composed of a single-storey house featuring an octagonal penthouse bedroom that commanded excellent 360∘hill and sea views, with an octagonal side house and a rectangular outhouse. As Douglas was only a single man in his mid-40s whose love and hobby lied in his numerous business ventures, Douglas Castle provided him very comfortable accommodation. However, he did not spend much, if any, time in Douglas Castle.
Douglas Castle



1.  Douglas Lapraik's father, George Rankine Lapraik, 1783-1838, married Susan Black b1790 in St George Hanover Square, London, as were many members of the Douglas family. Where the family link is, i have yet to discover.


See also:

•  Douglas Castle, Hong Kong



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