The Last of the Great Victorian and Edwardian Plant Collectors

Francis (Frank) Kingdon Ward (1885 – 1958)

John Whitehead, Himalayan Enchantment: An Anthology – Frank Kingdon-Ward, London, 1990

  On Christmas Day 1907, we see Ward for the first time playing for the Shanghai Rugby Football Club team against the British Navy ship H.M.S. Flora.  From this point forward he regularly played rugby. By the end of January he was selected to play for the ‘Probables’ team in an interport trial match in preparation for the interport fixture against Tientsin. In the match report, he was described as, ‘A really good, hardworking half back. Runs, passes and kicks well, but is rather inclined to be selfish.’   His selfishness did not stop him from being selected to play against Tientsin Rugby Club in Tientsin [Tianjin] in the north of China on 1 February. The conditions were far from ideal. After a 72 hour boat journey, ‘On reaching Tientsin Railway Station a start was made immediately for the football ground, where a short practice ensued… the ground had been cleared of snow and ice and had afterwards been harrowed, presenting an appearance somewhat similar to the mud track of the Shanghai Race-course.’  The following day, Shanghai secured an easy victory with the help of Ward who scored a try ‘after a tricky run’.  Ward continued to play rugby to the end of the season including turning out for the Deluge Company of the Shanghai Fire Department against H.M.S. Flora.


  Six months later he made another appearance at the Shanghai Rowing Club’s autumn regatta. On the participating in only one race with the English team fours at Bow. On the second day of the regatta he rowed in an interport fixture for Shanghai’s fours team under their blue and gold flag against Yokohama’s interport rowers. Shanghai lost but not without straining every sinew. ‘Ward, in the Shanghai boat, collapsed when the crew rested on their oars, and when the boat came alongside the pontoon he had to be lifted out.’  

Ward shortly after his arrival in Shanghai in 1907

Detail showing Ward

Detail showing Ward

Shanghai RFC vs. Tientsin RFC

The second interport fixture between the teams played in Tienstin on 1 February 1908

Shanghai won 21 - 0


A. Fenus (reserve)    P M Lancaster   G A Turner    G H Elsworth   W R Butchart    D Wallace    J A T THomas    H Pearce (guest)

A M Lester (reserve)   D E Donnelly   L R Wheen   P Fowler (captain)    S H MacKean   R H Scott

F K Ward   W Davidson        H G Allen   H H Fowler

Shanghai RFC vs. Tientsin RFC
The third Interport fixture between the teams, played in Shanghai on 25 January 1909
Shanghai won by 35 – 3


L M Beytagh    H H Girardet    C T Elsworth (referee)   W Davidson     H G Allen   P Lamb        D E Donnelly (touch judge)    G H Elsworth    
P M Lancaster     F K Ward     R H Scott     P Fowler     W R Butchart     E I M Barrett    G A Turner    
W Sidebottom         H P Wilkinson  (vice president)         R M Saker            

*My thanks to Mr. Steve Upton for making the connection between the rugby player and the plant hunter. Steve manages the Upton Sino-Foreign Archive (USFA), Concord, New Hampshire, USA, a privately held non-institutional archive. 

  Nor did Ward choose to sit in his room, avoiding the fastidious expatriates, lamenting his misfortune to be shoring up a distasteful way of living. Rather, like most new members of a community would do, he chose to join in with a fair degree of success. A review of the North China Herald offers a snap shot of a person’s life in Shanghai. As noted below, his name regularly appeared, showing that he was very engaged in Shanghai life in ways typical of men of his generation. For every time he is mentioned in print there would have been many more social encounters not reported.

  The first trace of Ward enjoying Shanghai life is a few months after his arrival opening the batting for his school’s cricket team against the Shanghai Cricket Club. He was bowled for 4 while his fellow new assistant master H. M. Gray batting at three was out for a duck.  Ward had more success competing at the Shanghai Rowing Club’s Autumn Regatta in October 1907. Weighing in at 141 pounds (64 kg) he rowed for the English eights team in the mile and a half race, winning by three quarters of a length from the Scottish and German teams. Later in the day, with the same margin he rowed for the Shanghai Rowing Club in their victory in the one mile race against the Deluge Company of the Shanghai Fire Department. Later still, rowing in semi darkness and changing his rowing position from Bow to Stroke he competed in yet another one mile race in the club eights race, this time without success. The second day of the races saw him competing in just one race over a course of a mile and a half, again representing the English in their fours team which ‘romped home some seven lengths to the good in 10m. and 12s.’ 

Plaque on the site of the house where Ward was born

  Typical of middle class families of this time, Frank was sent away to school. In 1894 aged nine he arrived at Colet Court, a preparatory school for St Paul’s in London. A year later his father was appointed Professor of Botany at Cambridge University and so the family moved again. In 1898, suitably ‘prepped’, he moved to St Paul’s school. His first years there were far from promising, receiving reports with grades of ‘poor’ for French, Divinity and English and ‘weak’ for Mathematics but improved by the time he left school seeing him receive a £40 a year Science Exhibition to attend Christ’s College at Cambridge University. While there, his father died, aged just fifty-two, and due to his family’s lack of wealth he could not afford to stay to complete his degree. He therefore left Cambridge at the end of 1906, halfway though his final year, sitting a ‘Tripos’ before he left, gaining a second in Natural Sciences. 


  A friend of the family, Professor Giles, the professor of Chinese at Cambridge arranged for Frank to be given a job at the fee paying Shanghai Public School as a junior master. His imminent arrival was announced in the North China Daily News, Shanghai’s leading daily newspaper, ‘Under arrangements made by Mr. C. S. Addis, formerly Chairman of the School Committee, two new assistant masters have been engaged at home, and Messrs H. M. F. Gray, B.A., and F. K. Ward, B.A., the selected candidates left London for Shanghai on 16th March [1907]’.  Ward’s fellow teaching colleague was also a graduate from Cambridge,  an Exhibitioner of Gonville and Caius College.  The same newspaper article also announced the retirement of the school’s Headmaster (since 1889), George Lanning and named his replacement George Michael Billings, who was on probation. Billings, the strikingly tall probationary Headmaster was one of Shanghai’s most formidable sportsmen, representing the treaty port at Association Football, Cricket and Rugby. He was also the first Captain and an early Vice President of the Shanghai Rugby Football Club.

  On Easter Sunday 1958, at a pub in Kensington, London, he lost feeling in his leg and despite trying to, could not stand. He had had a stroke. He was taken to hospital, where, twenty minutes later lost consciousness. He never came out of his coma; sixty hours later, on 8 April 1958, he died aged seventy-two.
  Ward’s legacy was perhaps best summed up by Sir George Taylor, the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew from 1956 to 1971 who wrote that he was, ‘in a class of his own. No one travelled more widely in the area, wrote more perceptively about it, collected more discriminately and marshalled his observations so effectively. His record of publications on the region is unsurpassed, his reputation as one of the most eminent of horticultural collectors secure, and his geographical discoveries and stimulating topographical interpretations of the very highest order.’ 

Charles Lyte, Frank Kingdon-Ward: The Last of the Great Plant Hunters, London, 1989

Shanghai Public School C1908

  The Shanghai Public School was initially founded by Freemasons in 1885 to teach ‘foreign’ children. The school’s management passed to the Shanghai Municipal Council in 1893. In 1907 the school had in the region of 380 pupils of European and Eurasian heritage. There were no native Chinese at the school at this time. Their numbers had fallen at the school on the opening of the Shanghai Public School for Chinese in 1899 and so, in 1904 the ‘native division’ was abandoned.  
  Charles Lyte, Ward’s biographer paints a picture of him being a reluctant member of the ‘European residential sector’ whose ‘inhabitants fastidiously maintained a strict, almost ritualistic western way of life, as though in terrible fear that they might be infected with some incurable oriental virus and ‘go native’, being there to ‘shore up this expatriate way of life by teaching the sons of wealthy businessmen’. A false picture that tells more about the biographer’s ill informed prejudice than it does Ward’s own outlook on life in Shanghai while he was living there. The Shanghai Public School was generally not the place where wealthy businessmen would have chosen to send their child, although it was attended by the sons of some of Shanghai's Baghdadi Jewish families.The first choice for those that could afford to was to send their child back ‘home’ to Britain to be educated. A second choice for those not wanting to be separated from their children or with lesser means was to send them to the more elite Cathedral School which would not allow mixed race children as pupils. It is worth noting that the Cathedral School for Boys was not necessarily available to every British family which could afford to pay the tuition fees. Demand often exceeded supply. A boy would be favoured if he was from a socially and economically prominent family which was part of the community that regularly attended Shanghai's Anglican Cathedral, and if he had a good singing voice that could strengthen the choir.While there were other schools available such as the China Inland Mission Schools around China, the Shanghai Public School was often a choice forced on some due to not being British, their mixed heritage or without the funds to send their child to the Cathedral school.

 It was perhaps then not a surprise to his readers, presumably including Headmaster Billings, that within a few weeks of returning to school life he started to think about how he could pursue a new career. His initial enquiries drew blanks and he melancholically concluded that he would be living a ‘humdrum life with every prospect of becoming a quiet and respectable citizen of Shanghai.’  His melancholia was dispelled when unsolicited; he received a letter asking him to embark on a solo expedition collecting plants for the seed firm Bees, a leading company in its field. Without hesitation, Ward accepted the offer, his task to collect hardy alpine plants from the mountains of Yunnan and the Tibetan marches. He broke the contract with the school and on 31 January 1911 set off alone for Yunnan, his friends and colleagues wondering why he had walked away from a job with a secure future to embark on a trip fraught with danger and uncertainty. The story of his extraordinary trip was recorded in his book The Land of the Blue Poppy.  After the adventure he never looked back. His long career of plant hunting introduced thousands of new plants into the gardens of Britain and beyond. Equally successful were the books he wrote documenting his more than 20 expedition’s, the last one of which was to Ceylon in 1957, collecting orchids.
 

  He was also well enough recovered to participate in Shanghai Rowing Club’s spring regatta. Now weighing only 135 pounds, six less that in his prior rowing appearances, he was Cox in the first two races, firstly for a Griffin’s team, which was strange as he was no longer new to Shanghai, and then, again rather oddly, in the British-American Tobacco company team. It appears that there was a shortage of Coxes in Shanghai. He then went on to row in the Club eights, his boat coming in last, and then the senior fours team in the Lesmona Challenge Cup which his boat won.  
  Less than two years after he arrived in Shanghai, Ward was given an opportunity to join an American zoological expedition, travelling up the Yangtze river to Wuhan and then onto Tibet. The invitation was too good to resist. He obtained leave of absence from his school and headed west.  His departure from Shanghai was recorded in the passenger list printed in the North China Herald. He boarded the Passenger steamer Tuckwo on 1 October headed for Hankow [Wuhan] on the first stage of his journey to Tibet. His trip’s progress was reported to readers of the Shanghai Mercury, and were subsequently collated and published in Shanghai in the first of his many published works.  The nearly yearlong trip left Ward with an intense new sense of his vocation which was clearly sign posted in the last few pages of his first book, 


                  At mid-day on 13th September we were alongside the wharf; a year all but seventeen days had passed since I sailed from Shanghai, and it seemed half a                         lifetime. 

                  A tram roared down the Bund with a horrid clanging of bells and screeching of wheels, and suddenly with the sound the terrible loneliness of a big city came                      upon me with full force. 
                   Forgotten were the hardship (sic) of travel in the interior; desperately cold, hungry, tired we might have been; almost broken in spirit too sometimes, our                               hearts aching for a sight of civilization
                  But lonely – never! 


He concluded his book, ‘But the grand solitude of the mountains out beyond the civilization of China is ever calling me to return. Some day perhaps the voice will become too insistent to ignore, and I shall find myself again a willing pilgrim on the road to Tibet’.

A source referenced copy of the text below is available on request

  At the Shanghai Rugby Football Club’s annual general meeting in November 1908, Ward was elected as Honorary Treasurer and Secretary, perhaps the most onerous position within a sports club. Later in the month, Ward resumed playing rugby for his club and was once again selected to play for Shanghai against Tientsin in February 1909 in Shanghai. Once again, Ward was his team’s kicker, but as Shanghai dominated the game winning 35:3 scoring 9 tries, he ‘had practically nothing to do in the first half and was never really tested.’ 
 

As well as playing sport, Ward also joined the Shanghai Fire Brigade which was at this time still a volunteer organisation. Despite having played rugby for the Deluge Company, Ward was actually a member of the Mi-Ho-Loong Company. A report of a fire at two o’clock in the morning on Sinza Road [Xinzha Road] noted that as the fire truck ‘was leaving the Central Station Mr. F. K. Ward, one of the firemen, fell and sustained a bad injury to his left ankle. He was conveyed to the General Hospital where he is still confined to bed.’  


  His injury did not keep him in bed too long. He was well enough to be the director of his school’s presentation of a section of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice at the Union Church Hall in March. The newspaper reported that ‘Considerable credit is due to Mr. F. K. Ward for his preparation of the play and training of the performers.’ 

  Frank Kingdon Ward’s biography was subtitled The Last of the Great Plant Hunters.*  It briefly mentions the time that he spent in Shanghai in the early years of the twentieth century describing his time there as ‘a mercifully short episode which he scarcely ever mentioned in later life.’  His time in Shanghai was indeed short, arriving in April 1907, leaving in January 1911, a period which included an interlude of nearly one year from 1 October 1909 to 13 September 1910 while travelling to Tibet, a trip which was to alter the rest of his life. What is not mentioned in his biography, or elsewhere, is his time spent playing rugby in Shanghai. 
 

  Frank was born in 14 Heaton Road, Withington, Manchester on 6 November 1885, the son of Harry Marshall Ward and Selina Mary Ward, née Kingdon. His second name was therefore from his mother’s maiden name. As his fame grew he gained a hyphen changing to Kingdon-Ward, a mistake or affectation which was perpetuated by his biographer by using the hyphen in the title of Ward’s biography. When Ward was born, his father was a lecturer in Botany at Owen’s College in Manchester (now Manchester University) but soon after the family moved to Surrey. 

Shanghai Rugby

Player for Shanghai Rugby Football Club (1907 – 1909) with two interport caps
Secretary and Treasurer of Shanghai Rugby Football Club (1908 – 1909)

The History of Sport Played in China's Treaty Ports

Extract from the book Arnold Wright (Ed.), Twentieth Century Impressions of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports, London, 1908, p486 listing details of Ward's new school

Previous Persons of the Month


Person of the month 1 - George Michael Billings (with club 1902 to 1927)
Person of the Month 2 - Commandent Louis Guillaume Fabre (with club 1936 to 1941)
Person of the Month 3 - Victor Vause Winser Fretwell (with club 1927 to 1934)

Person of the Month 4 - Eric Byron Cumine (with club 1930 to 1934)

Person of the Month 5 - Francis Kingdon Ward (with the club 1907 to 1909)