Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Davis, John Francis
DAVIS, Sir JOHN FRANCIS (1795–1890), first baronet, diplomatist in the far East, born 16 July 1795, was eldest son of Samuel Davis, F.R.S., an officer of the East India Company, who earned distinction by his services with the mission sent by Warren Hastings into Tibet in 1783, and by his gallantry in 1799, at the defence of Benares, where he was judge and magistrate, against the attack of the troops of Vizier AIL The father was director of the East India Company from 1810 until his death in July 1819. He married in 1794 Henrietta, daughter of Solomon Boileau of Dublin.
In recognition of his father's services his son John was appointed writer in the factory at Canton in 1813 at the age of eighteen. He early showed marked linguistic and diplomatic abilities, and in consequence was chosen to accompany Lord Amherst on his unfortunate embassy to Pekin in 1816. On the return of the mission Davis again took up his duties at Canton, and in 1832 was promoted to be president of the East India Company's factory at that port. Two years later he was appointed joint commissioner in China with Lord Napier. After many years of trying service he returned to England on furlough, his leave happening to synchronise with the war, and in 1844 he was gazetted British plenipotentiary and chief superintendent of British trade in China, as well as governor and commander-in-chief of the colony of Hong Kong. On 18 July 1845 he was created a baronet. At this time difficulties were constantly arising in our relations with the Chinese at Canton, and a brutal assault on a party of Englishmen when on a visit to the neighbouring town of Fatshan brought matters to a climax. Davis, considering that a determined protest against such conduct should be made, placed matters in the hands of the admiral and general commanding. After taking the Bogue forts these commanders threatened the city of Canton, and at once brought the mandarins to reason. In conformity with Davis's demands the Chinese agreed that the city should be opened to foreigners in two years' time from that date (6 April 1847); that Englishmen should be at liberty to roam at pleasure in the neighbourhood, that a church should be erected, and that a site should be granted for building premises. But, though this action was crowned with success, the British government disapproved of the measures taken, and so keenly did Davis feel the censure that in 1848 he resigned his appointments. On his return to England he took up his residence at Hollywood Tower, near Bristol. He was created K.C.B. on 12 June 1854 and D.C.L. of Oxford University on 21 June 1876. During these years of leisure he kept up his interest in all matters relating to China, and founded a Chinese scholarship at Oxford. His portrait was painted and lithographed by W. Drummoud in his series of Athenæum Portraits, 1836.
Davis died at Hollywood on 13 Nov. 1890, at the age of ninety-six. He was twice married: first, in 1822, to Emily, daughter of Lieutenant-colonel Humfrays, who died in 1866, and, secondly, in 1867, to Lucy Ellen, daughter of the Rev. T. J. Rocke, who survives him. By his first wife he had a son, Sulivan Francis (1827–1862), and by his second wife a son, Francis Boileau, who succeeded to the baronetcy. He was the author of several works on China, of which the most important are: ‘Chinese Novels translated from the Originals,’ 1822; ‘The Fortunate Union,’ translated from the Chinese, 1829; ‘The Chinese: a General Description of China and its Inhabitants,’ London, 1836, 2 vols.; ‘Sketches of China,’ 1841, 2 vols.; ‘The Massacre of Benares,’ 1844; ‘Chinese Miscellanies,’ 1865.
[Vizier Ali Khan on the Massacre of Benares, 1844, by Sir J. F. Davis; Boulger's History of China, 1881; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715-1886; Burke's Peerage, 1895; personal knowledge.]