Sir Henry Pottinger

Soldier, diplomat and first Governor of Hong Kong

Sir Henry Pottinger was born on Christmas Day, 1789, into a family of considerable local reputation, after which Pottinger’s Entry off Ann Street is named. Indeed, Henry Pottinger’s forebearer, Thomas Pottinger, had been the first sovereign of Belfast and is named in the town’s 1613 charter of incorporation.

Educated at Belfast Academy, Pottinger travelled to India in 1804, where he served in Sind and in the Mahratta War. Between 1809 and 1811 he explored the territory between Persia and India, publishing an account of his journey as Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde (1816).

The British Government, embroiled in the Opium war with the Chinese, dispatched Pottinger to China in 1842. Following his remit to end the conflict over British promotion of the opium trade and to secure a trading and naval base in the region, Pottinger negotiated the Treaty of Nanking, which ended the war and ceded the island of Hong Kong to the British.

Pottinger was made Governor of Hong Kong in April 1843. In the following years he also served as Governor of the Cape Colony and Madras. Sir Henry Pottinger died in Malta in March 1856. A memorial showing the family emblem of ‘three pelicans in their piety’ was erected by his brother William in St George’s church, Belfast.

Further reading:
A Dictionary of Ulster Biography (1993) by K Newmann; Sir Henry Pottinger, First Governor of Hong Kong (1997) by G Pottinger.

The Government Art Collection