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Aglen, Sir Francis Arthurlocked

  • H. F. Oxbury
  • , revised

Aglen, Sir Francis Arthur (1869–1932), official in the Chinese service, was born at Mulgrave House in Scarborough on 17 October 1869, the son of Archdeacon Anthony Stocker Aglen (1836-1908), later rector of St Ninian's, Alyth, Perthshire, and his wife, Margaret Elizabeth (1836-1930), eldest daughter of Stephen Mackenzie, surgeon. He was educated at Marlborough College, and in 1888, on the advice of Sir Robert Hart, he joined the Chinese maritime customs service of which Hart was the head. That service played an important part in the economy of China, providing the government with its most reliable source of revenue, and underwriting the large foreign loans upon which it was dependent.

Between 1888 and 1900 Aglen served in a number of posts in Peking (Beijing), Amoy (Xiamen), Canton (Guangzhou), and Tientsin (Tianjin); in 1897 he was appointed to the rank of commissioner. Shortly after the Boxer uprising broke out in 1900 he was posted to Shanghai as officiating inspector-general while Hart was a refugee in the British legation under siege in Peking. At St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, on 10 July 1906 Aglen married Isabel Marion Agnes (Senga) (1885-1925), daughter of Professor Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour, regius keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. They had three sons and two daughters; she died at sea in April 1925.

Between 1901 and 1910 Aglen served as commissioner in Nanking (Nanjing) and Hankow (Hankou) and as chief secretary at the inspectorate-general, Peking. After a dispute with the Chinese authorities Hart left China on leave in 1908 and never returned, although he remained titular head of the customs service until his death in 1911. In 1910 Aglen became officiating inspector-general, and on Hart's death was appointed head of the service by the Chinese government.

During Hart's time the responsibilities of the customs had been concerned only with collecting duties and preventing smuggling; Chinese officials were responsible for banking the revenue and for using it to service loans and other financial obligations to foreign governments for which it was security. However, Aglen's appointment as inspector-general coincided with the anti-Manchu revolution of 1911–12, which caused the administrative arrangements of the Chinese to break down. Faced by these unprecedented difficulties, Aglen arranged for the safety and integrity of customs revenue by placing it in foreign banks in his own name. This was intended to be a temporary measure, but it was so successful that the Chinese authorities gave it formal recognition for the whole of Aglen's term as inspector-general (1911–27). In fact, in 1914 he was entrusted with the task of servicing loans guaranteed by customs revenue earmarked for that purpose. He was appointed KBE in 1918.

As political conditions in China became increasingly chaotic during the 1920s Aglen found his responsibilities becoming not only more onerous but also more difficult to carry out without coming into conflict with one or other of the Chinese factions making demands upon him as custodian of revenues of which he was in sole charge. His problems came to a head in 1927 when he was instructed by the Chinese government to collect surtaxes on foreign trade to which the treaty powers had not agreed, although the charges had been approved in principle during the Peking tariff conference of 1925–6. Aglen refused to allow his officers to collect these duties until they had been formally approved. In consequence, despite protests from the diplomatic corps, the Chinese government dismissed him from his office on 31 January 1927. In that year he became GCMG. Aglen also received many honours both from China and from other countries, including Japan, France, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, and Norway. On 2 July 1927 he married Anna Moore (1884-1971), daughter of Murray Pringle Ritchie, a shipping agent, of Santiago, Chile. Aglen died at Meigle Hospital, Meigle, Perthshire, on 26 May 1932. He was survived by his second wife.


  • The Times (27 May 1932)
  • private information (1993)
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • S. F. Wright, Hart and the Chinese customs (1950)
  • Private information (2017) [Cliff Webb]


Wealth at Death

£57,608 11s. 5d.: probate, 16 July 1932, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

State Library of New South Wales, Mitchell Library, Sydney
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]