Eric Cumine wearing Dunbar (BAY Stables) tartan sash, led in by his sister after winning a race in Shanghai on 12 October 1935
Eric Cumine is pictured far right in black shorts playing in an interport rugby trial in December 1933 for the 'Possibles' against the 'Probables'.
Eric's Lunghwa CAC-kles published after the War
His success in business was paralleled with success in other fields. He was an important member of the Hong Kong Jockey Club owning a string of race horses. When the Sha Tin racecourse was opened in 1978, it was Eric’s horse Money No Object that won the first race. His service to the Jockey Club was recognised when he was appointed as a Steward of the Club. His wider service to Hong Kong was rewarded by being appointed a Justice of the Peace and in 1971 being awarded an O.B.E..
In 1981, well into his seventies, Eric published Hong Kong Ways & Byways, with the subtitle, A book of Trivia and Useless Information. In the Preface he stated that ‘The book is intended for people who do not take to long discourses on Hong Kong’. It is clear from reading the book that it was more than that, it was a record of his immense knowledge and love for Hong Kong which echoed his distant memories of a lost Shanghai, where amongst other things he was a member of the rugby playing community.
Eric lived to the venerable age of 97. He spent his last years in Kensington, London, finally succumbing to ill health on 29 June 2002.
Eric was therefore Eurasian, and he too was fiercely proud of his heritage but embraced the Eurasian side too. He spoke English, Mandarin and Cantonese fluently. As a Eurasian schoolboy he attended the Shanghai Public School for Boys, a school founded in 1886 by the Freemasons for ‘foreign children’. By the time Eric enrolled, Eurasian children also attended. The headmaster of the school during Eric’s time there was George Michael Billings, the Shanghai Rugby Club’s first Club Captain and later a Vice President. The school was run along the lines of a British Public School and so sport was an important feature of school life. Fortunately for Eric he excelled at sport. At the school’s annual athletic sports day in 1915 his running skills ensured that he gained third place in the 100 yards for boys aged under 10, trailing behind C. Brown and G. Jenssen, he also earned third place in the 220 yard race for boys behind the same two opponents and a second place in the 440 yard race behind C. Brown but ahead of G. Jenssen.
For biographies of other Shanghai rugby personalities from 1867 to date including those killed at war and rugby internationals see here.
Eric's birth announced in the North China Herald 23 June 1905
Each month a person who is significant to the history of Shanghai Rugby Football Club will be featured
Eric's father, Henry Monsel Cumine
Previous Persons of the month
Eric's winning design for the Tite Prize awarded by R.I.B.A. in 1927 and reproduced in The Builder Magazine
The following year still aged sixteen he helped his school team reach the semi final of the association football tournament the ‘Skottowe Cup’, (Shanghai’s main football tournament for adults rather than school teams). His well timed pass set up one goal and a solo run finished with him powering the ball into the back of the net. A few weeks later, facing the as yet undefeated Shanghai Football Club “B” team, the Public School surprised Shanghai by earning a 2:0 victory and with it the Skottowe Cup. Cumine was once again in the action. On a very windy day, his goal was described thus, ‘About 15 minutes after the start MacMurray miskicked and the ball turned back. Brown tried to clear it, but it was twisting too much. Cumine came in and before he realized it the ball had touched his foot and gone into the net.’
The Shanghai Public School started to play rugby in the 1928-29 season under the tutelage of one of Shanghai’s longest serving rugby players William ‘Billy’ Tingle who was a sports master at the school. Eric’s younger brother Gavin played in that first game. Less than two years later the team became the Shanghai Public School Old Boys team and Eric himself took to the field. The first game I can see him specifically identified is against the I.C.I company (‘Hong’) team in December 1930. The team list noted that ‘any old boys who wish to play may do so.’ Eric did play and the match report noted that ‘Eric Cumine was as good as ever in the three-quarter line…’, suggesting he had been playing for a while. A few years later, Eric participated in another game against I.C.I.. The game was notable because the Hong team included what was noted at the time as being the first native Chinese rugby player, a Mr. T S Hsu, to play rugby ‘here’. It is not clear whether the word ‘here’ means in Shanghai or China, regardless, it is still a notable event in Chinese rugby history.
Racing was still only a hobby. Cumine started his professional life training as an architect in London. In January 1927, beating 63 other candidates, he was awarded the prestigious Tite Prize by the Royal Institute of British Architects for his study of Italian Architecture. He joined his father’s firm Cumine & Co, along with his brother Gavin as an associate. Sometime before 1933 he married his first wife Weeshe Gladis (or Gladys) Williams.
The war years were times of immense hardship for Eric and his family. Stranded in Shanghai when the Japanese invaded the International Settlement in early December 1941, by March 1943 they were imprisoned along with many other allied civilians in an internment camp within Shanghai. Their camp was called Lunghwa Camp. Alongside Eric were his father Henry and mother Winifred, his first wife, Emma Gladys ‘Weeshe’ and son John Paton Cumine. In the same camp were Eric’s school athletics master Billy Tingle and future author of the book Empire of the Sun, J. G. Ballard.
Eric Cumine wearing Dunbar (BAY Stables) tartan sash, led in by his sister after winning a race in Shanghai on 8 November 1939
Eric continued to play rugby regularly for his school’s old boy team. In December 1933, his proficiency at rugby was highlighted when he was chosen for the ‘Possibles’ team in an interport trial match against the ‘Probables’. He was not selected to represent Shanghai but was clearly a very competent player. He played his last game of rugby on New Year’s Day 1934. By this time, another sporting passion had taken hold, one in which he was associated for the rest of his long life.
In the book China Races, commissioned by the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club to mark its centenary in 1984, the author noted that Eric joined the Shanghai Races as a novice jockey in 1932. Being Eurasian, and despite the fact that his family by now owned the Shanghai Mercury newspaper, he experienced the racism that was prevalent at the time. As a novice he was given poor rides and spent most races at the back of the field. This time proved crucial to his eventual success as a jockey. He found it a perfect way to study the technique of the leading jockeys of the day and of the best horses. Reflecting on those times he noted that, ‘Being always at the back of the field was like being in the referee boat in a boat race. I saw everything. I knew who tried, who did not, who tried but got cornered, boxed etc. It was in itself a great experience, and taught me how to “read” races.’ Offered a ride by the famous and successful Moller stables, he took his chance with both hands and became a hugely successful Jockey in Shanghai.
A source referenced copy of the text below is available on request
Eric's first wife Weesha Gladys Williams
HMS Venomous circa 1919
Six years later in 1921 aged sixteen, he participated in the annual school cricket match between his school and the Cathedral School (which, as noted by Cumine, excluded Eurasian pupils ). In that match he became the first boy to score a century for the Shanghai Public School in the fixture. The second highest score in his team was a lowly 20. In addition he took one wicket and three catches in his schools dominating 150 run win. His performance earned him the presentation of a cricket bat by his Headmaster George Billings.
From Shanghai Scottish roots to Hong Kong success
Eric Byron Cumine (1905 to 2002)
Shanghai Public School C1908
Making use of his family experience of publishing, while in Lunghwa he managed to publish a regular camp magazine known as Lunghua CAC-kles. Eric and his family were eventually freed when the war ended in August 1945. Sadly, Eric’s first wife died in 1948. Following the ‘liberation’ of Shanghai by the Communists, in common with many Shanghailanders, Eric moved to Hong Kong. He established his Architect’s practice in Causeway Bay building a very successful business which built many of Hong Kong’s landmark buildings. One particularly famous example of his work still stands in Macau, the Lisboa Hotel. In 1952 he married his second wife Yvonne Ho.
Player for Shanghai Public School and Public School Old Boys rugby teams 1930 – 1934
Eric Cumine was born in Shanghai at 8D, Avenue Road (now Beijing Road West) on 16 June 1905 to parents whose families both had very early connections with Shanghai and Scottish origins. They were married in Hong Kong on 30 July 1904. Eric’s mother Winifrid was the eldest daughter of Alexander Ryrie Greaves (1856 – 1927), a Scottish tea taster who married Josephine Ng, a woman from southern Guangdong Province in China. Eric’s father was Henry Monsel Cumine (1882 – 1951). He too was from a well known Scottish family. Henry’s father, Alexander George Thomas Cumine arrived on the south coast of China in the summer of 1865 following the death of his brother Charles.
Eric’s father an architect by profession was in the mould of a stereotypical Victorian patriarch, ruling with an iron fist. Eric’s niece, Beatrice Greaves, the mother of the famous Australian broadcaster Jane Hutcheon recalled that Henry’s whole family were terrified of the larger than life Henry Cumine. He ‘set the style’ ensuring his direct and wider family had to sing Scottish songs out of respect for his Scottish rather than Eurasian heritage.