200 Years of Swire: George Warren Swire, 1883-1949

By Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library|1st September 2016|Collections & Research|

George Warren Swire (c) John Swire & Sons, Ltd

A keen amateur photographer, the legacy left by (George) Warren Swire goes beyond his contribution to the development of John Swire & Sons, today one of the most successful companies in the world. G W Swire’s collection of documentary photographs provides a valuable pictorial record of the expansion of trade in China throughout a forty year period.

G W Swire was born in 1883, (d. 1949), to John Samuel Swire (1825-1898) and his second wife, Mary Warren.  Alongside his elder half-brother, John ‘Jack’ (1861-1933), Warren would later play an important role in shaping the future of the business started by his father in 1832.

In 1904, Warren became a partner in John Swire & Sons, then in 1927, became chairman of the firm 1927 succeeding his brother Jack until 1946. This twenty year period was one of the most challenging in the history of the company, as the firm faced civil war and revolution in China, as well as the Great depression but it also proved to be a period of considerable expansion under Warren’s leadership.

Photography by Warren Swire of Hong Kong Harbour, 1923 (c) John Swire & Sons, Ltd

Photography by Warren Swire of Hong Kong Harbour, 1923 (c) John Swire & Sons, Ltd

Despite gaining a reputation for being difficult to please, and for his cutting remarks to staff, Warren was nevertheless a business man with a keen sense of the times. He was involved in the China Association and other Eastern trade and politics groups in Britain, and took a real interest in the political climate in China.  He successfully held the business together through a period of political turmoil, and, recognising that the firm’s only means of survival in such unsettled times was to adapt to the new climate, Warren championed employing locals at a managerial level, an innovative practice at that time.

Photograph of the Taikoo Sugar Refinery by Warren Swire, 1923 (c) John Swire & Sons, Ltd

Photograph of the Taikoo Sugar Refinery by Warren Swire, 1923 (c) John Swire & Sons, Ltd

 

 

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Broadly speaking, our collections reflect the British interaction with Africa, Asia and the Middle East over the last 250 years, and include archives of missionary societies, NGOs and campaign groups, and business organisations, as well as papers of individuals, including diplomats, campaigners, and academics. If you have any questions, or comments, please get in touch! email: docenquiry@soas.ac.uk tel: 020 7898 4180