More about the Hazlewoods

Early days in Moulmein

Sylvester Hazlewood was born in 1799 into a Norfolk family. In 1819 he paid a £500 bond to trade on his own account as a ‘free mariner’ – a sea captain - with the East India Company. He established himself in Moulmein (now Mawlamyine), a small port on the Gulf of Martaban in south-eastern Burma. Moulmein was to become the chief town and first capital of British Burma from 1826 – when the British began to assume control of Lower Burma – until 1852, when the East India Company annexed the whole kingdom of Pegu, after a protracted war.

Sylvester was trading along the coast to the Malay peninsula and the Prince of Wales Island (now Penang) where his two oldest children were christened, and very probably born. My great-great grandmother was recorded as ‘Mashwinoo’, a Burmese name.  Moulmein had become a possession of the East India Company in 1786 and rapidly grew, attracting people from all countries trading in spice, tin and other commodities, including opium; by the end of the century it had a population of around 10,000.

Rangoon

It’s likely that Sylvester moved between Moulmein and Rangoon for a considerable time before taking up residence full-time in Rangoon. In 1839 he was plying his schooner, the Louisa, to Rangoon, and was one of only twelve Europeans in the town – before the British set up a garrison there. The Europeans were described as a ‘turbulent’ lot, many involved in smuggling gold and silver, and no doubt Sylvester was one of them – a buccaneer type living by his own rules.

 

Sylvester's second child, John William, was born in 1833. John Hazlewood became a seaman (like his father) and a prosperous merchant, establishing himself in Rangoon at Monkey Point, a tapering piece of land at the south-eastern tip of Rangoon and forming the last of the river defences of the Rangoon River. This piece of land became known as the Hazlewood Estate and John became ‘a well-known and respected resident of old Rangoon.’ In 1860, John married Maria Lewis, the daughter of Francis Lewis, a colleague of his father’s in Moulmein. Known as 'the Darling', Maria was 19 when she married and already had two children with John.

Andrew Hazlewood was the eleventh of the children of John William and Maria, born in 1878. Andrew was sent to school in India and then to university in Paris, speaking French fluently as a result. Soon after he came back, he set out in business as a buyer of paddy, and established a music and piano warehouse firm. By 1910 he had a flourishing boat yard at Monkey Point, trading extensively along the Arakan coast, with a large turnover of paddy which he brought to Rangoon and sold to local mills. Andrew was a capable yachtsman and a good musician, playing the piano and composing music.

The family home was a large mansion in Hazlewood Road in Monkey Point, with a large ballroom, and an observatory at the top of the house where the children would watch the ships go by. It seems that Andrew set himself up separately in another house, and in 1910 was listed as living in No 1, Monkey Point Road, later to be one of the Burmese naval quarters.

In 1914, some ten acres of the Hazlewood estate at Monkey Point was purchased by the Government and was in time to become the Burmese naval base. Andrew then moved to Bassein (now Pathein). This would have made sense in business terms as it was the most important delta port outside of Rangoon, originally developing with a large population of Arab and Indian traders. 

The country house in Nyeto, along the river from Bassein

     ‘I used to sit on the jetty in Nyeto, just as I am now. It was a small village near Bassein, where we had a country house. If you looked up river past the village, you could see the rice mill chimneys, with their blue-grey smoke twisting upwards.’

   As I spoke, I remembered how, as a boy, I used to love walking along the river bank in Bassein, spotting the masts of the boats in the distance. And then there was the gleaming gold of the pagoda, encrusted with diamonds and rubies, rising above the roofs of the town, glorious as it caught the last rays of the sun in the evening.

                                                                                   Bobby, Goodbye Burma, page 37

By the later 1930s, Andrew and the family had moved from Bassein to Kokine on the Victoria Lakes, living with his sister Bea’s adult children (see below) in two adjoining houses some seven miles outside Rangoon. This is now called the Inya Lake; the Hazlewood house was situated on the opposite side to Aung San Suu Kyi’s more famous bungalow.  When the Japanese invaded, Andrew was an insurance broker for large companies in Burma and was appointed by the administration to verify major fire claims that were started by the bombing or otherwise. 

Andrew Hazlewood (on the left), in the 1930s

The diary

Andrew’s nephew (Bea’s son) Leo Robertson, known to the family as Pab, was educated at St Joseph’s College, Darjeeling, then Dieppe and London. He joined the Inner Temple in 1925, practiced at the bar in the Rangoon High Court and was also a part-time lecturer in Metaphysics. He published a collection of his poems, Glimmer of Dawn, in 1910, when he was only nineteen. He later became proficient in Mandarin Chinese, translating and lecturing on T’ang poetry and writing a short history of T’ang literature. In 1935 he and Andrew went on a 600 mile journey on pack mule into Western Yunnan, the last 300 miles of which, down the Mekon-Salween Divide, was through very unsettled country, little known to Europeans.

As the Japanese advanced through Lower Burma and, shocked by the events unfolding, Pab started his diary on Sunday, 15 February 1942.

 

‘Singapore has fallen. The news is too dire and dark to be taken in fully.’ 

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