Bonham, Samuel George (DNB00)

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BONHAM, Sir SAMUEL GEORGE (1803–1863), colonial governor, was the son of Captain George Bonham, of the maritime service of the East India Company, by his second wife, Isabella, only daughter of Robert Woodgate, of Dedham, Essex. Bonham’s father was drowned in 1810. He had one sister, Isabella, who married Ferdinand, count d’Outhement. In 1837, after a period of service with the East India Company, he was appointed governor of Prince of Wales’s Island, Singapore, and Malacca. For ten years he held this post, until in 1847 he was appointed to succeed Sir John Davis as governor of Hongkong and her majesty’s plenipotentiary and superintendent of trade in China, and in the following year was made a companion of the Bath. On arriving at Hongkong Bonham found the admittance of foreigners within the walls of Canton to be the burning question of the day. By the terms of the treaty Englishmen were entitled to enter the city, but with obstinate persistency the Chinese refused to acknowledge the right, and Sir John Davis, after having exhausted his diplomatic skill in trying to induce them to give way, left the dispute to his successor in much the same condition in which he in his turn had received it. In February 1849 Bonham met the viceroy Sü at the Bogue Forts to discuss the point, and declared his determination to insist on his right of entry. On this becoming known within the city the literati became so threatening that the English government directed Bonham to abstain from his intention. At this time the attitude of the Chinese towards foreigners was very hostile, and the assassination of Senhor Amaral, the governor of the Portuguese city of Macao, showed the lengths they were prepared to to rid themselves of any European officials who were inclined to oppose their policy. On the news of the assassination reaching Hongkong Bonham despatched a man-of-war to Macao, and by this act probably saved the Portuguese settlers from a general massacre. Individually, Bonham's relations with the viceroy of Canton-the Chinese official appointed to manage foreign affairs-were of a friendly character; and in reply to a remonstrance on his part on the prevalence of piracy in the neighbourhood of Hongkong, the viceroy testified to his confidence in Bonham as well as to his own weakness, by asking for the assistance of a British ship to suppress the pirates. His request was granted, and a successful expedition was the result. In the course of the same year (1850) Bonham attempted to open direct communication with the central government at Peking, and in furtherance of this objects sent Mr. Medhurst with a despatch to the Peiho, but the effort proved fruitless. In 1851 Bonham was made a knight commander of the Bath us a reward for his services in China, and on his return to England in 1853 a baronetcy was conferred upon him. From this time he ceased to take any part in public affairs. He died on 8 Oct. 1863. Bonham married in 1846 Ellen Emelia, eldest daughter of Thomas Barnard, by whom he had issue one son, George Francis, born in 1847, who succeeded to the baronetcy.

[The Chinese Repository, vols. xvii.-xx.; Burke's Baronetage, 1860; Foreign Office List, 1860.]

R. K. D.