Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wade, Thomas Francis

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WADE, Sir THOMAS FRANCIS (1818–1895), diplomatist, born in London on 25 Aug. 1818, was the elder son of Major (afterwards Colonel) Thomas Wade (d. 1846) of the 42nd highlanders, by Anne, daughter of William Smythe of Barbavilla, West Meath. From his father he inherited a remarkably tenacious memory and a great love of languages. In 1823, his father having been appointed military secretary at Mauritius, Thomas accompanied him thither, and at once began a regular course of study, including Latin. In 1827 he returned to England with his mother and sisters, and was sent to a private school at Richmond. Two years later he joined his father at the Cape, and there continued his education with a private tutor until 1832. In the summer of that year he was sent home, and at the beginning of the Michaelmas term was placed at Mr. Drury's house at Harrow, where he spent five years. In 1837 he matriculated from Trinity College, Cambridge, but at the end of a year his father, thinking him best fitted for a military career, bought him a commission in the 81st regiment of foot, then stationed at Chester. A year later (1839) he exchanged into his father's old regiment, the 42nd highlanders, and served with that distinguished corps in Ireland, and later in the Ionian Islands. During the year he spent at Corfu he studied Italian and modern Greek. On 16 Nov. 1841 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and on the following day exchanged into the 98th regiment of foot, which was then under orders for active service in China. On 20 Dec. he sailed with his new regiment, and arrived at Hongkong in June 1842.

During the enforced leisure of this somewhat lengthy voyage Wade began the study of Chinese, and, being the only officer who had any acquaintance with that little-known tongue, he was appointed interpreter to the regiment by the colonel, Colin Campbell (afterwards Lord Clyde). Only three months after he had joined the regiment he was appointed adjutant. He took part with his regiment in the attack on Chinkiang Fu and in the operations round Nanking. After the conclusion of peace the regiment returned to Hongkong (1843), where Wade's knowledge of Chinese gained him the post of interpreter to the garrison, and at the close of 1845, after a visit to England on sick leave, he was appointed interpreter in Cantonese to the supreme court of Hongkong. A year later he was nominated to the post of assistant Chinese secretary to Sir John Davis, who was then superintendent of trade. In 1852 he was appointed vice-consul at Shanghai, and while holding that office took part in establishing the foreign maritime customs. For the administration of this new service an international committee was formed, consisting of Wade representing Great Britain, Carr representing the United States, and Arthur Smith representing France. The largest share of the work fell to Wade, who, after having seen the machinery satisfactorily started, resigned his office. In 1855 he was recalled to Hongkong as Chinese secretary, and was almost immediately sent on a mission to Cochin China by Sir John Bowring [q. v.], then governor of his colony.

On the outbreak of the war of 1857 Wade was attached to Lord Elgin's special mission, and to him fell the duty of negotiating with the Chinese authorities the treaty of Tientsin. In 1859 he accompanied (Sir) Frederick William Adolphus Bruce [q. v.] to the Peiho, and in the following year was attached as Chinese secretary to Lord Elgin's second mission, after the defeat of the gunboats at Taku. In all the difficult negotiations which followed he bore a leading part, and he accompanied (Sir) Harry Smith Parkes [q. v.] on his first visit to Tungchow, where on the following day Parkes, Henry (afterwards Lord) Loch, and their escort were taken prisoners. With skill Wade eventually arranged the release of Parkes and the other survivors of the captivity, and in 1861 he formed part of the staff of the first legation in Peking. In the following year he was made a C.B., and was acting chargé d'affaires at Peking from 1864 to 1865, and from 1869 to 1871, when he was appointed plenipotentiary. It was during his second tenure of office as chargé d'affaires that the massacre of foreigners at Tientsin occurred. Though the attack was primarily directed against Frenchmen, a British subject was among the slain, and Wade took a leading part in the protests which led to the punishment of certain of the rioters. In 1872 the marriage of the Emperor T'ungchih led Wade and his colleagues to urge on the emperor's ministers the propriety of their master receiving the foreign representatives in audience, and on 29 June 1873 Wade and the other ministers were for the first time admitted into the imperial presence. In the following year a dispute arose between China and Japan, which threatened to end in war. Indeed, the Japanese envoy was on the point of leaving Peking when Wade on his own responsibility undertook that the Chinese government should accede to the terms put forward by Japan. To this eminent service special reference was made in the queen's speech of 1875.

On 20 Feb. 1875 Augustus Raymond Margary [q. v.], who had been sent across China to Burma to meet Colonel Horace Browne's expedition from Burma, was treacherously murdered on his return journey near Manwyne in Yunnan. Wade instantly demanded at Peking that a full inquiry should be made into the circumstances of the crime, and after long and trying negotiations, in the course of which he more than once threatened to break off diplomatic relations with the Chinese government, he succeeded in obtaining a certain amount of compensation and an assurance of future protection, and in connection with the affair arranged with Li Hung-Chang the Chifu convention, which after a long interval was ratified by the two governments concerned. In 1880 Gordon visited Li Hung-Chang to consult with him on the threatened war with Russia, and in connection with this visit it was stated by Sir Henry Gordon that Wade and some of his colleagues had suggested that Li Hung-Chang should raise the standard of rebellion and take possession of the throne. Certainly, so far as Wade is concerned, this is not the fact, and the rumour was publicly contradicted by him when the statement first appeared. In 1875 he was made a K.C.B., and in 1883 he retired on a pension.

On his return to England Wade took up his residence at Cambridge, and in 1888 was appointed the first professor of Chinese at the university. He was elected a professorial fellow of King's College. On his death he left his large and valuable Chinese library to the university. In 1889 he was made a G.C.M.G. He died at Cambridge on 31 July 1895. In 1868 he married Amelia, daughter of Sir John Frederick William Herschel [q. v.], who survived him. By her he had four sons. Wade's life was one of action rather than of learned leisure, and he had little time for writing. Nevertheless he was author of the following works, which remain standard books for the study of China and the Chinese: 1. ‘Notes on the Chinese Army.’ 2. ‘A Note on the Condition and Government of the Chinese Empire,’ 1849. 3. ‘The Hsin Ching Lu, or Book of Experiments,’ Hongkong, 1859, 2 vols. fol. 4. ‘The Peking Syllabary,’ Hongkong, 1859, fol. 5. ‘Wènchien Tzŭ-erh Chi, a Series of Papers selected as Specimens of Documentary Chinese,’ London, 1867, 8vo. 6. ‘Yü-yen Tzŭ-erh Chi: a progressive Course in Colloquial Chinese,’ London, 1867, 2 vols. 4to; a second edition of the colloquial part in 3 vols. was brought out at Shanghai in 1886, 4to. 7. ‘A Translation of the Lun Yü,’ privately printed in 1881.

[Times, 2 Aug. 1895; private information.]

R. K. D.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.271
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
420 ii 10 f.e. Wade, Sir Thomas F.: for Lord Loch read Henry, afterwards Lord Loch