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Addis, Sir Charles Stewartlocked

  • Roberta Allbert Dayer

Addis, Sir Charles Stewart (1861–1945), banker and government adviser, was born on 23 November 1861 in Edinburgh, the youngest of twelve children of the Revd Thomas Addis (1813–1899), a Free Church of Scotland minister, and his wife, Robina, daughter of a tea merchant in South Leith. He had five brothers and six sisters. Addis entered the Edinburgh Academy at the age of eleven, where he worked hard and did well. Yet, made deeply unhappy by his stern father's demands to excel, he left school at fifteen to become an apprentice at Peter Dowie & Co., general importers. In 1880 he obtained a clerkship with the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) in London, a move which shaped the rest of his career, for after only three years he was appointed to the bank's eastern staff.

Between 1880 and 1905 Addis held many assignments, including Hong Kong, Peking (Beijing), Shanghai, Calcutta, and Korea, positions that provided the young banker with the knowledge of international finance, as well as the social and diplomatic training, which ultimately led to his advancement to the top ranks of international banking and government counsel. The years in Peking (1886–8) were particularly important, since here, as an attractive young bachelor, Addis became part of the small and intimate diplomatic community, establishing lifelong friendships and gaining confidence and prestige. He continued to study Chinese, and began writing articles for the local English-language newspaper, the Chinese Times. Addis was ambitious and level-headed, determined to advance in the world.

In January 1894, while home on leave, Addis met and fell in love with Eba (Elizabeth) McIsaac, the daughter of the provost of Saltcoats, and within six months they were married. They then returned to Shanghai, where Addis had been appointed sub-manager of the HSBC branch. A son, Thomas, was born in 1895, the first of their thirteen children. Another son, John, was destined half a century later to become the first British ambassador to the People's Republic of China.

While in Shanghai in the late 1890s, Addis observed China's decline as an empire and participated in the establishment of the system of financial controls which transformed the Middle Kingdom into a semi-colonial outpost of Britain and its imperial rivals. Following his return to London in 1905 as junior manager of the London office of the HSBC, and his subsequent appointment in 1911 as senior manager, Addis worked closely with the world's leading bankers and businessmen, as well as Foreign Office and Treasury officials. He was knighted in 1913 for his role in creating the Six Power China Consortium. In 1921 he was created KCMG for helping to create the second China consortium.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Addis's financial expertise attracted the attention of government leaders who were seeking ways to finance the huge, growing debt to America. At the same time, Addis gained national attention through his advocacy of free trade in such leading academic journals as The Economist and the Economic Journal. He was appointed to the Cunliffe currency committee in 1917, and in May 1918 he was elected to the court of the Bank of England where he subsequently became a close friend and adviser of its governor, Montagu Norman. Throughout the 1920s Addis and Norman defended the bank's independence from government control and succeeded in achieving Britain's return to the gold standard in 1925.

In addition to his role as central banker and as a government adviser on China policy, Addis also participated in the post-war settlements in Europe, helping to shape the Dawes plan (1924), and the Young plan (1929), which created the Bank for International Settlements. All of these efforts, which aimed at satisfying the American demand for payment of the war debts and the Europeans' insistence that German reparations provide sufficient funds for such payment, ultimately failed.

Although Addis preached Anglo-American co-operation as the key to world peace, he also defended the HSBC's dominant role in China, and successfully obstructed American post-war ambitions to supplant British influence. In the 1930s, after failing to convince the American Hoover administration to support free trade, Addis gave his support to the British imperial policy of protection and abandonment of the gold standard. His hopes to achieve permanent peace had proved unattainable as Europe moved inexorably towards war.

During the last decade of his life Addis was finally able to devote time to his family and his country estate, Woodside, at Frant, in Sussex. The decision he had made in China to pursue success in business had displaced his interest in music, literature, and nature, but had never eclipsed his dedication to his wife and family: in his daily diary he always noted small items of family news alongside major international issues. His family life was not without tragedy: his youngest son, Dick, serving as a naval officer, was killed in 1944 when his ship was torpedoed, leaving behind a wife and an unborn son.

Throughout his life Addis found refuge in the religious teachings of his early training, maintaining his belief in the ultimate triumph of righteousness, despite wars and personal tragedies. His distinguished career was built on a reputation for personal integrity. Perhaps his most significant insight was that international financial stability is a prerequisite for world peace. Addis died of a stroke at his home on 14 December 1945 and was buried at the village church at Frant, Sussex.


  • R. A. Dayer, Finance and empire: Sir Charles Addis, 1861–1945 (1988)
  • R. A. Dayer, Bankers and diplomats in China, 1917–1925: the Anglo-American relationship (1981)
  • R. G. Hawtrey, Economic Journal, 56 (1946), 507–10
  • F. H. H. King and others, The history of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, 4 vols. (1987–91)
  • D. E. Moggridge, British monetary policy, 1924–1931: the Norman conquest of $4.86 (1972)
  • B. J. C. McKercher, ed., Anglo-American relations in the 1920s: the struggle for supremacy (1991)
  • R. S. Sayers, The Bank of England, 1891–1944, 3 vols. (1976)
  • M. H. Williams, Catalogue of the papers of Sir Charles Addis (1986)
  • private information (2008) [G. H. Pownall]


  • Bank of England, London, corresp. and papers
  • SOAS, corresp., diaries, and papers
  • Bank of England, London, Addis MSS, committee of treasury minutes MSS, ADM 16
  • Bank of England, London, Montagu Norman MSS
  • GL, Morgan Grenfell MSS
  • Harvard U., Baker Library, Thomas W. Lamont MSS
  • Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, London, archives
  • ING Barings, London, Lord Revelstoke MSS
  • TNA: PRO, Cab 23, Cab 58, Cab 27.PREM 1, FO 371, FO 800, T160, T172
  • U. Cam., Marshall Library of Economics, committee on the currency and Bank of England and note issues hearings, 28 Jan 1925
  • Cunliffe committee MSS, committee on the currency and foreign exchanges after the war, T185


  • Vandyk?, photograph, 1922, NPG
  • A. K. Lawrence, mural, 1928, Bank of England
  • Derso, cartoon, 1929, priv. coll.
  • portrait, 1930, NPG
  • group portraits, photographs, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, London, archives
  • photographs, SOAS

Wealth at Death

£114,299 1s. 6d.: probate, 16 March 1946, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Harvard University, Baker Library
Guildhall Library, London
National Portrait Gallery, London
private collection
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
School of Oriental and African Studies, London