British consul at Fuchow, Shanghai and Pekin, China, consul-general and minister plenipotentiary in Japan, president of the Royal Geographical Society, diplomat, author.
He was the son of Dr Thomas Alcock who practised at Ealing near London, and himself followed the medical profession.
In 1836 he became a surgeon in the marine brigade which took part in the Carlist war, and gaining distinction by his services was made deputy inspector-general of hospitals.
In 1844 he was appointed consul at Fuchow in China, where, after a short official stay at Amoy, he performed the functions, as he himself expressed it" of everything from a lord chancellor to a sheriff's officer."
Fuchow was one of the ports opened to trade by the treaty of 1842, and Mr Alcock, as he was then, had to maintain an entirely new position with the Chinese authorities. In so doing he was eminently successful, and earned for himself promotion to the consulate at Shanghai, where he went in 1846. He there made it an especial part of his duties to superintend the establishment and laying out of the British settlement, which developed into an important feature of British commercial life in China.
In 1858 he was appointed consul-general in the newly opened empire of Japan, and the following year was promoted to be minister plenipotentiary. Residence in Japan was then surrounded with many dangers, and the people were intensely hostile to foreigners. In 1860 Mr Alcock's native interpreter was murdered at the gate of the legation, and in the following year the legation was stormed by a body of Ronins, whose attack was repulsed by Mr Alcock and his staff. Shortly after this event he returned to England on leave.
In 1860 he was made CB; in 1862 he was made KCB and in 1863 Hon DCL Oxon.
In 1864 he returned to Japan, and after a year's further residence he was transferred to Pekin, where he represented the British government until 1871 when he retired.
Though no longer in official life his leisure was fully occupied. He was for some years president of the Royal Geographical Society, and he served on many commissions. He was the author of several works, and was one of the first to awaken in England an interest in Japanese art; his best known book is The Capital of the Tycoon, which appeared in 1863.
On 17 May 1841 he married 1ly Henrietta Mary Bacon, daughter of Henrietta Sophia Crocker and Charles Bacon, architect of London. She died in 1853 in Shanghai.
On 8 July 1862 he married 2ly Lucy Lowder nee Windsor, widow of Rev John Lowder and daughter of Alicia and William James Windsor and they had no children.
He died in 1897 in London. His widow died on 13 March 1899.
Sir Rutherford Alcock (1809-1897), 1911 Online Encyclopedia © 2004. In memoriam, Sir Rutherford Alcock KCB DCL Sturges lecture for 1897
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