Archives Blog

St Peter’s (sort of) on the Nile

by Richard Allen on Dec 11, 2017

It has now been a little over two months since the college Archives received one of its stranger deposits, which, alongside 19th-century diary extracts and letters, included the hot-water bottle supposedly found in Africa with the remains of Bishop James Hannington (1847-1885), after whom the college’s dining hall is named.

It was initially assumed by the depositor (Dr Ken Addison), as well as by this blog’s author, that the diaries and letters had something to do with James Hannington, especially since a first glance revealed that at least one of the undated diary entries had been written in Damascus, through which the ill-fated bishop is known to have passed in late 1884 on his second trip to Uganda.

But like many assumptions, this one turned out to be misplaced. In fact, while the diary extracts and letters were indeed written in the 1880s, their author, it transpired, was not James Hannington, but rather a certain Claude Hope Sutton (1856-1925), whose son, Claude Wingfield Hope Sutton (1898-1972), had been fellow and tutor in Philosophy at St Peter’s between 1930 and his eventual retirement in 1965.

Born in Reading, Claude senior was the son of Martin Hope Sutton (1815-1901), who, along with his own father, John Sutton (1777-1863), ran Suttons Seeds, which continues to supply British gardeners with horticultural products to this day. Besides being Victorian entrepreneurs, the Suttons were also thorough-going evangelicals, and it was this aspect of family life that took Claude Hope Sutton, who read Theology at Exeter College in 1875, not just to Damascus, but also throughout Egypt, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon in late 1888 and early 1889. Leaving European shores behind in November 1888, he travelled first to Luxor, where he took up a winter chaplaincy, before heading on a tour throughout the Near East, visiting various Church Missionary Society outposts as he went.

Suttons Seeds, Reading, 1950s

The diaries he wrote while on his travels, which he routinely sent back to his parents along with the letters that also form part of the collection, contain fascinating accounts of the places he visited, the people that he encountered (both local and other Western tourists/missionaries), and the customs and practices he observed. 

His Egyptian sojourn saw him closely associated with the trade plied on the Nile by the steamers  operated by Thomas Cook’s, who had revolutionised travel in Egypt, reducing what had been a journey of many weeks from Cairo to Luxor to one of only a handful of days (river conditions permitting). Once in Luxor, Claude Sutton was not only supposed to offer religious comfort to the British tourists who travelled down the Nile, but also to the British troops stationed in places like Aswan, who were then nervously looking towards Mahdist Sudan, whose rulers had been fomenting rebellion against British-Egyptian rule since the early 1880s.

Visiting a frontline fort, Sutton found the defences wholly inadequate: 

‘We have there some 500 foot soldiers [of the] Welsh Reg[imen]t and 150 Egyptian troops’, he wrote in his entry for 17 December 1888. 

‘Of course, if the Madhi [should] choose to march on tomorrow he could soon spear them all. They have no guns and no means of defending the place. I asked the officer what they would do if it was reported that Osman Digna [c. 1840-1926] was marching on Assouan with 2,000 dervishes, and they simply said they had not the faintest idea; they could only do their duty.’

Fortunately for the troops, the Battle of Suakin three days later dealt a setback to Osman Digna, who suffered heavy losses.

Claude Sutton describes the British fort at Aswan on 17 Dec 1888

When not on the frontlines, Sutton spent much of this time visiting Egyptian historical sites along with the British tourists who made the journey up the Nile. These included such figures as Arnold Morley MP (1849-1916); the pioneer British Assyriologist and linguist, Prof Archibald Henry Sayce (1845-1933); Robert Crewe-Milnes (1858-1945); Thomas Gibson Bowles (1841-1922), founder of Vanity Fair magazine; and the family of Claude Bowes-Lyon (1824-1904), 13th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, whose granddaughter, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900-2002), would one day become Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

Besides his descriptions of these sites, and of the people he visited them with, the diaries also reveal that Claude Sutton was an amateur photographer of some skill. As well as taking portraits of the passengers who made the journey up the Nile, and those locals whom he could convince to pose for him, Sutton also took the time to photograph the various historical sites he visited. One set of photographs, of a tomb in Thebes, was later published in the March 1890 edition of The Building News, which reported on the means by which the images were taken (dry plates and magnesium ribbon light) and the circumstances by which Sutton, who seems to have been the first westerner to set foot in the tomb, ‘discovered’ it.

Claude Sutton describes the ambush of his caravan on 24 April 1889

Beyond Egypt, Sutton travelled to Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon essentially on his own, often with only a local guide for company. Along the way he visited places such as Jerusalem, Jaffa, Nablus, Damascus and Beirut, and while the journey in between passed largely without difficulties, it was not without its dangers. On 24 April 1889, the caravan that Sutton was travelling with from Jericho to As-Salt was ambushed and shot at by tribesmen, while a month later, having become lost on his way to Rachaiya, the former chaplain appears to have instructed his guide, Ibrahim, to compel two local men at gunpoint to show them the way!

But such skirmishes aside, Claude Sutton was in general welcomed by the people he encountered, and was a frequent guest of local dignitaries. In fact, if he had difficulties with people in the region, it was often with the other British people he encountered there. He seems to have had a particularly fraught relationship with John Mason Cook (1834-1899), son of Thomas Cook, which even an elaborate parade involving local sheiks could not ameliorate. (‘I had hoped this would have smoothed Mr Cook’s feathers’, Sutton wrote in his diary following the parade, ‘but he did not say anything about it and we still avoid one another.’)

Claude Sutton sketches the house of a local sheik he visited on 4 Feb 1889

Claude Sutton eventually set sail for home on 13 June 1889, and following a brief stint as the chaplain of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland (1809-1898), was appointed in 1895 as vicar of St Edmund’s, Southwold, where he would remain until his death in 1925. He seems never to have travelled overseas again for any extended period of time. Fortunately, his diaries passed down to his son, who eventually handed them off to Frank Emery (1930-1987), Tutor in Geography at St Peter’s (1962-1987), through whom they eventually passed to Ken Addison.

As for Claude junior, he too spent time travelling, including more than a year in 1937/8 visiting Nazi Germany as a Rockefeller Travelling Fellow. That, however, is a story for another day...

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about the Sutton collection, a full catalogue is available here

If you would ever like to deposit materials relating to St Peter's in the college Archives, or would like to know more about the collection, please do not hesitate to contact me at

St Peter’s has long had a reputation in Oxford for being ‘the friendly college’ – an intimate place where people cannot help but get to know one another, and where lifelong relationships are forged. It is also a place where events have a funny habit of reminding you just how interconnected both the St Peter’s world (and the one outside its walls) can be. 

This last weekend, the college hosted its annual series of alumni events, during which members from generations past came back to the college to catch up with old friends and to see how things have changed (or sometimes not).

Among the attendees this year was John Shirley (1967, PPE), who upon returning home wrote to the Master to relate how drinks in the bar one evening had brought a second-year undergraduate studying tribal rituals in Papua New Guinea face to face with David Gordon-Macleod (1967, Geography), who had previously served as a British High Commissioner to that very same country. ‘You could not have engineered a more appropriate match’, wrote John. ‘It was a joy to watch their exchanges, and the transmission and receipt of knowledge. I guess that’s what this connection, at its best, is all about’.

What is true for the college’s academic and social life, is also true for the Archives. Each document they contain shares a close relationship with the other, and unknown connections and coincidences abound, waiting to reveal themselves. 

Just last week, I was in the process of reorganising some old papers, when I came across a reference to a hot water bottle that had once belonged to James Hannington (1847-1885), the Anglican missionary after whom the St Peter’s dining hall is named, and whose stained glass effigy (see above) has stared down at generations of students since 1929. 

Although he had no connection to St Peter’s itself, James Hannington was a figure well-known to people such as the college’s founder, Bishop Francis James Chavasse (1846-1928), and his son, Christopher (1884-1962), with his name being forever associated with a tragic mission to modern-day Uganda during which Hannington, then first Anglican bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, had been killed on the orders of Mwanga II of Buganda (1868-1903).

As for the water bottle, I knew that it did not form part of the current Archives, and thus assumed it had long since been lost (as can often happen, when professional archivists are not on hand!). I therefore made a note and moved on.

But just as John Shirley discovered during the alumni weekend, I was about to find out how the St Peter’s stars can have a funny way of suddenly aligning. Upon returning from a short break, I was greeted by an e-mail from Dr Ken Addison, Supernumerary Fellow and Tutor in Physical Geography. Ken has been a part of St Peter's life since he first matriculated as a student in 1965, and has been teaching at the college for almost 50 years. 

Like David Gordon-Macleod, Ken had been a student of Frank Emery (1930-1987), who was first Lecturer (1957-1962), then Fellow and Tutor in Geography (1962-1987) at St Peter’s. In clearing his rooms in preparation for his well-deserved retirement, Ken had come across some items entrusted to him by Frank just before his death. These included some documents relating to James Hannington and (you can guess what is coming next) his hot water bottle. The very simple question was: Would I be interested in having them? (The even simpler answer: Yes!).

The note attached to Bishop Hannington's hot water bottle

The small collection itself is a fascinating one. Along with the hot water bottle, which is accompanied by a rather macabre note saying that it was found on 10 December 1893 along with Hannington’s bones, there is a copy of Edwin Dawson's biography of the bishop, as well as what appear to be a bundle of diary extracts. I have only just started to examine these in more detail (the extract below begins: ‘Friday afternoon, 24th. Damascus to Jaffa. After fast rode with Ibrahim through the street straight to look out for views to photograph out at [the] East Gate ...’), so it seems best to save the discoveries for another blog post.

A diary extract, presumably written by James Hannington

In the meantime, if you would ever like to deposit materials relating to St Peter's in the college Archives, or would like to know more about the collection, please do not hesitate to contact me at

To be continued …

St Peter’s East Asian connections

by Richard Allen on May 2, 2017

As is often the case in life, the stars can have a strange way of suddenly aligning around a particular issue. The Master recently made a trip to visit alumni in various parts of Asia, with stops in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, and, out of the blue, I am contacted by a researcher interested in finding evidence of early links between the University of Oxford and students from East Asia. The reforms of Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), and the general economic growth that has taken place in various Asian countries over the last thirty years, mean that students with links to countries such as China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea are now such a common sight at UK institutions of higher learning that few would give it a second thought. 

But what many current St Peter’s members may not know is that the college has been welcoming students from East Asia almost since its foundation. In fact, in this respect, it proved to be somewhat of a pioneer, and was one of the first Oxford colleges to open its doors to students from China (a very quick survey of other Oxford archivists suggests only Merton, Univ and Pembroke admitted Chinese students at an earlier date). 

So, who were these individuals, and how did they come to make St Peter’s their home?

The very first to arrive was Yan Hoi Poon (b. 1912), who matriculated in Michaelmas 1933, reading Jurisprudence. Letters in his student file show that he came to Oxford via The Victoria League and the recommendations of Frank Albert Smalley, who was affiliated with the Church Missionary Society (CMS).

Poon’s father had been Chairman of the Hongkong Electric Company, and it was no doubt through this important position that he himself came to be known both to the then Governor of Hong Kong, Sir William Peel (1875-1945), and to Hing Shung Mok (1899-1982), a well-connected Hong Kong financier, who had studied at Oxford as a non-collegiate student in the 1920s under Thomas Meikle Kenney of University College, under whose guardianship Poon was also placed. Poon’s time at Oxford seems to have been one typical of many of his contemporaries, and included stints as the cox of the 2nd Torpids (see photo above). Upon graduating in 1936, he returned to Hong Kong, where he survived the war, and set up his own law practice. 

It was via the same Frank Smalley that St Peter’s soon welcomed another Chinese student, this time from the mainland. Lo Chung-Shu (b. 1903) came to Oxford from West China Union University, where he was Dean of Arts, having previously read Philosophy at Yenching University. Arriving at St Peter’s in 1937, he completed a B.Litt thesis on the moral philosophy of the Xunzi, an ancient Chinese collection of philosophical writings attributed to Xun Kuang, a 3rd century philosopher usually associated with the Confucian tradition. 

Lo Chung-Shu in Oxford in 1939 and in China (second from left) in 1943

Besides his academic work, Prof Lo, as he was known, actively promoted cultural cooperation between China and the United Kingdom, even going so far as to convene a meeting with senior members of the University in November 1939 to discuss various initiatives. He returned home shortly thereafter, and played a leading role in encouraging Anglo-Australian support for Chinese universities during the war, inviting the politician and diplomat, Sir Frederic Eggleston (1875-1954), to address his students. (Eggleston eventually visited China, and Lo Chung-Shu, with the celebrated scientist and sinologist, Joseph Needham, in 1943.)

The disruption caused by World War II meant it would be some time before St Peter’s would again welcome students from the region. One of the more remarkable to arrive at the college in the post-war years was Masamichi Hanabusa, who came to Oxford in 1958 from Keio University, located in central Tokyo. Like Prof Lo before him, he also completed a B.Litt thesis, this time on peace enforcement under the United Nations, and was among the first students (if not the first) from Japan to come to Oxford following the war. 

From a family with a background in diplomacy (his father was a professor of diplomatic history), it was while at St Peter’s that he became engaged to the daughter of the Japanese Ambassador to the United Kingdom. A tea ceremony associated with the engagement was held in Masamichi’s ground floor room in the Besse Building, which was attended by Rev Billy Watson, now one of our Emeritus Fellows, who had arrived at college (then still St Peter’s Hall) as chaplain and tutor in Theology in 1957. The two remained in touch for many years, with Masamichi eventually going on to serve as Japanese Ambassador to Italy (1997-1999).

Mitsuo Nakajima of TEPCO with Gerald Aylmer (Master, 1978-1991) (centre) and the Bursar

As for the college’s more recent Japanese connections, the 1980s saw St Peter’s establish a Japanese graduate studentship scheme in conjunction with the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Masamichi Hanabusa was on hand to welcome TEPCO representatives to the college in December 1986 for initial discussions about the scheme, which ran successfully until the early 2000s. This was followed some ten years later by the endowment of the TEPCO Fellowship in Economics, last held by Prof Christine Greenhalgh (1979-2009), our first ever female fellow, whose wonderful oil portrait now hangs in the Hall.

The Master with Colin Liew (2006), Paul Evans (1976), and their partners (Singapore, 2017)

Today, the college welcomes students from all over East Asia (about 10% of the full-time student body has links to the region), in particular as part of its Visiting Students programme, and has an ever expanding network of alumni based in countries like China, Japan and Singapore. If you would like to know more about Oxford alumni events in the region, or want to get in touch with the college as an old member, please do not hesitate to contact the Development Office, who will be happy to help.

Alternatively, if you would like to learn more about this aspect of the college’s history, or about anything else in the St Peter’s archives, or would like to deposit material yourself, please do not hesitate to contact me at