Hugh Martin, back from the dead

In a previous post “Hugh Martin’s grave in Shanghai“, I shared my discovery of the tumb stone of Hugh Martin, in the foreign cemetery of Old Shanghai. This grave stone attracted my attention as my name “Hugues Martin” is very similar. It turned out that the story is more complicated that it seemed at first. Here are a few discoveries that I made, including him surviving Old Shanghai and moving back to the UK.

Photograph from 1938

Like many men of the Empire, Hugh Martin was not actually English, but Scottish. He was born in Edinburgh on 9th April 1888. As it was common with British, he was a sport man, having played for the Scottish rugby team between 1908 and 1909. He must have reached Shanghai in 1910 as he first played rugby in Shanghai team in December of that year. He played many games in Shanghai and other treaty ports, being the team Captain in the 1913-1914 season (Thanks www.treatyportsport.com for those details).

Shanghai vs Tianjin, 1913. Hugh Martin is bottom row middle right with a mustache. (picture www.treatyportsport.com )

Hugh Martin also took part in World War 1, coming to Europe in September 1914 to fight for England. The story of those European men that left Shanghai for the WW1 front in 1914 is told in Robert Bickers Pinguin book, “Getting stuck in for Shanghai”, although Martin is not namely mentioned in it. Martin was slightly injured on the front in 1915 and so quite a lot of action particularly in Belgium. From the European front, he wrote a letter published in the North China Daily news, where he mentioned meeting one of his Old Shanghai mate, “Quite like old time, except that there were no cocktail floating abut. This is the simple life and I could do with a Race Club cocktail any night“. He finished the same letter by saying: “This is just a line to tell you I often think about old Shanghai days and old Shanghai pals.” He was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain in July 1916. He returned to Shanghai after the war, where he joined back Noel, Murray and Co Ltd (瑞和洋行 in Chinese).

He must have lived in the French Concession after coming back to Shanghai, as on 12 Janvier 1921, he was elected among the three foreign members of the Shanghai French Concession Municipality, “foreign Other people elected included R Fano (GM of the International Saving Society which financed a lot of real estate in Old Shanghai), and Michel Speeman (a prominent Dutch business in Shanghai who was later strongly involved helping Jewish refugees in the late 1930s). He was elected for 2 years only. As mentioned in post “Hugh Martin’s grave in Shanghai“, in 1925 he was living in 89 Peking Road, in the international settlement.

His entry in 1927 Who’s who lists him member as various club including the prestigious Shanghai Club, the Country Club, The Race Club, Le Cercle Sportif Français (the French Club). 1928 was probably the year when is social stature increased even more as he became the manager of Noel, Murray and Co Ltd (瑞和洋行 in Chinese). As mentioned in previous post, in 1931 he was a tenant of fashionable Cathay Mansion, opposite de French Club on Route Cardinal Mercier (today Maoming Nan Lu).

The Cathay Mansion, one of the high end place of the time

Hugh Martin was definitely a socialite involved in many causes. For exemple he signed with other people a letter against the return of the International Settlement to the Shanghai Chinese city in June 1930. It must have been a heated question at the time, as on the same year South African judge Richard Feetham was charged to write a report on the same topic, the famous Feetham report. In May 1931, Hugh Martin was reelected managing director of the Shanghai International Greyhounds Ltd, which was liquidated as the Shanghai Municipal Council prohibited dog racing in 1930. In February 1937, he became the president of the British and American United Association, which main purpose was to find employment for British and American people in Shanghai.

The most surprising part of all this research was the last sentence of the profile on treatyportsport.com “He died in England on 6th January 1970 aged 81”. I am not sure how and why a grave was made with his name in the Shanghai SongQingLing memorial… but Hugh Martin seems to have escape Shanghai at the end and gone back home.

Hugh Martin’s grave in Shanghai

Last weekend, I found the remains of my previous life in Old Shanghai. Here is where and how.

Song Qin Ling memorial on Hong Qiao Road is an important remembrance site in Shanghai today, built on the location of the International Cemetery. This spot was by far not the only cemetery in Old Shanghai, but all the others have disappeared or being transformed into parks. Cemeteries in Old Shanghai included today’s Jing An park near Jing An Temple in the former international settlement, today’s Huai Hai Park on Huai Hai lu in the former French Concession, and the former jewish Cemetery now replaced by Ming Tian Guang Chang, the Marriott Hotel on people Square.

Tombs in the memorial

The former international cemetery is now part of the memorial. As explained on signs in the park, the cemetery was severely damaged in during the cultural revolution. So an effort was made to recreate a foreign cemetery at this place. The approximately 600 graves are not the original onces, nor are they in their original location. It is a nice effort to remember life and death of foreigners in Old Shanghai. Names on the grave seems to come from farious nationalities, including British, Russians, Germans, Japanese, Portuguese and English (or American) among others. One of the famous people I noticed was Henry Morris, who owned the North China Daily News and build the Morris Mansion (today part of the Intercontinental Ruijin Hotel).

The most surprising part was to find a tomb with my name on it… nearly. Although my French name is Hugues Martin, most English speakers call me “Hugh Martin”, so I was really stunned and thrilled to discover a tomb with “Hugh Martin” written on it. The discovery was an opportunity to search into the life of Mr Hugh Martin in Old Shanghai.

Hugh Martin spent his entire career with firm Noel, Murray and Co Ltd (瑞和洋行 in Chinese) “Auctioneers, Piece Goods and General Brokers and Commission Agents”. The first trace I found of the company is directory of Asian trading firm from 1904, but it was formed earlier by Mr GW Noel and Mr WC Murray. They seemed to have been former employees of Jardine Matheson but I could not confirm it. Hugh Martin was certainly British like his employer. He is mentioned in the directories from 1925, as a director with EW Noel being managing director. At that time the company was located at 10/16 Ezra Road (a small street behind the Bund), having moved from 78 and 79 Szechuen lu a few years before. Hugh Martin was living at 89 Peking Road, a few blocks away. Although he was mentioned in the Hong List, the Shanghai directories, he was not included in the VIP section, the Shanghai Who’s Who.

From 1927, his name is part of the Shanghai Who’s Who, meaning that he really has a place in Shanghai foreign society. His big promotion probably came with the departure of EW Noel, as from 1928 he is listed as the director of the firm, located at 11 Hankow Road (today Hankou Lu, right behind the Bund). 1931, he is a tenant in the brand new and highly fashionable Cathay Mansion. “An apartment with a bedroom, sitting room and a bathroom could be rented for $400 (Shanghai Dollars) a month. Servants were provided and by ringing a bell, a “boy” would come and take orders for meals.” Salary for Europeans where about $300 dollars at the time, thus he must have been really well off by then. He was surely a member of “The Club”, meaning the Shanghai Club on the Bund (Today Waldorf Astoria Hotel). Living across the Cercle Sportif Français, he was probably also going there for evening cocktails as the French Club (as it was also named) was one of the liveliest venue in the city at that time.

Hugh Martin was still listed as a director in 1941, but does not appear on the lists in 1947. I can only assume that he died in Shanghai during WW2. With his grave included in today’s International Cemetery, he will be in Shanghai forever.