aka S.T. Williamson & Co. / Inch Steamship Co. – Hong Kong
Douglas Lapraik was, without doubt, a true Hong Kong shipping magnate and “Taipan” being the owner of one of the largest shipping concerns in Asia by the early 1900s.
Born in London in 1818, he was nevertheless of Scottish origins, commencing his working life in London with the trading house of Wm. Mathieson & Company. The young and widely ambitious Lapraik arrived in the Portuguese colony of Macao in 1839 and became apprentice to the Scottish watch and clockmaking firm of Leonard Just & Son. In 1842, his employer sent Douglas Lapraik to Hong Kong to open a new branch of the company in the newly founded, and fledgling colony, following the cession of Hong Kong to the British Crown. Not long after arriving in the colony, Lapraik established himself with his own business as a watchmaker by 1846, while also conducting similar duties for Just & Son.
The large number of ships using the colony offered opportunities to repair and manufacture ship’s chronometers which were used for navigation. Due to his trade in chronometers and watchmaking and given the need in the colony for shipping companies to register a local address, Lapraik soon found himself nominated as a shipping agent. Over the ensuing years Lapraik became established as a wealthy citizen of Hong Kong during the 1850s and 1860s, earning the exalted title of a “Taipan” and, as such, taking part in the founding of many of the colony’s business ventures and expanding his own business interests in many sectors of Hong Kong’s burgeoning economy.
In 1863, after acquiring a small shipyard off Queen’s Road, and building two more at Aberdeen and Whampoa, Lapraik cofounded the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock Company together with Jardine Matheson & Company and Thomas Sutherland, the officially appointed Hong Kong agent of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. The dockyard would go on to become the largest shipyard in Asia at its peak. In 1864, Douglas Lapraik went on to be appointed as a member of the transitional founders committee of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation which would be founded in 1865. Douglas Lapraik retired and returned to England in 1866 after creating a trust in benefit of his longtime Chinese mistress. He died in London in March of 1869 without any legitimate heir.
Lapraik’s watch business was acquired by a former employee, George Falconer, and still trades in that name as a principal supplier of British Admiralty Charts, nautical publications, and literature, as well as nautical instruments. Although the company was acquired by others in 1997, it still retains the name George Falconer & Co. and acts as an official British Admiralty Chart Agent in Hong Kong.
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