John Keswick

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Person.png John Keswick  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(spook, businessman)
John Keswick.png
Dumfriesshire, United Kingdom
Died1982 (Age 76)
Dumfriesshire, United Kingdom
Parents • Henry Keswick
• Ida Wynifred Keswick
ChildrenMargaret Keswick
SpouseClare Elwes
Relatives • William Keswick
• Gervase Elwes
• Charles Jencks

Sir John Keswick was a British spook/businessman. Keswick was the taipan of the Jardine Matheson & Co., the leading British trading firm in the Far East, and had established friendship with many Chinese politicians. During World War II Keswick was also a representative of the Special Operations Executive.

Early life and wartime career

Sir Keswick was born in 1906 to the third generation of Keswick family in the Jardine, Matheson & Co..[1] His father, Henry Keswick, son of William Keswick, was a Jardines taipan and a Conservative Member of Parliament. Sir John followed his father and grandfather into Jardines in 1929 at the age of 23. He worked in Shanghai from 1931 until the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe in 1939.[2]

He then went to Chungking, the wartime capital of China and worked for the Minister of Economic Warfare in the wartime government, attached to the British Embassy as a Special Operations Executive (SOE) Oriental Mission's representative.[3] He negotiated with Chiang Kai-shek for SOE to develop training facilities including the Special Training School on his territory in January 1942. But the relationship faltered soon after as the head of Chiang's intelligence service, General Tai Li and others insisted that the STS should be headed by a Chinese. As a result, Sir Keswick and his White Russian deputy Vladimir Petropavlovsky were ordered to leave the country in 1943. He was transferred to Lord Mountbatten as a liaison officer with the Southeast Asia Command.[3][2] During the time in Chungking, he established friendship with Zhou Enlai, who later became the Premier of the People's Republic of China. He married Clare Elwes in 1940.[3]

Post-war career

After the Communist takeover, Jardine's head office was moved to Hong Kong. Despite attempting to work with the Communists and personally negotiated the handover of Jardines assets to the communists, business conditions became worse. He and his wife were put under house arrest.[4] Operations were closed in 1954 with the effective nationalisation of the company's interests and a $20 million loss.

He was the taipan of the Jardines from 1952 to 1956 in Hong Kong and was appointed to the Executive Council.[2] For his contributions, he was invested as a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1950.[3][5] He was also the president of the Sino-British Trade Council from 1961 to 1973 and was at one time president of the China Association and vice-president of the Great Britain-China Centre. In 1973, he was awarded the Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) for his contributions to China trade.[2] As a personal friend of Zhou Enlai, Sir Keswick continued to make annual trips to China.[6] In 1979 when Deng Xiaoping seized the power after the Cultural Revolution, Sir Keswick visited China with the Great Britain-China Centre delegation that led by Malcolm MacDonald, former British High Commissioner in Southeast Asia and also a long-time friend of Zhou Enlai, and included Sir Harold Thompson and Elizabeth Wright. They had a 90-minute surprise interview with Deng and met with many Chinese officials.[6]

Personal life and family

Sir Keswick spoke fluent Chinese. He developed friendship with Zhou Enlai, Premier of the People's Republic of China, and Madame Soong Ching-ling, wife of Sun Yat-sen during his stay in China. He was a Chinese art collector, particularly contemporary paintings.[2]

He married Clare Mary Alice Cynthia Catherine Celia Elwes (1905–1998), youngest daughter of the tenor Gervase Elwes and Lady Winefride, daughter of the 8th Earl of Denbigh. They married in Westminster Cathedral in 1940. Their only child was Margaret Keswick (1941–1995). She was a writer, gardener and designer and married an American architect and writer Charles Jencks in 1978.

Together with his daughter, Sir Keswick founded the Hollywood Trust in 1981 to address problems the disadvantaged young people in Dumfries and Galloway faced, and also the Keswick Foundation in 1979 for the mental health in Hong Kong.[4] Margaret also founded the Maggie's Centres for those suffering from cancer.[7]


Event Participated in

Bilderberg/195611 May 195613 May 1956Denmark
The 4th Bilderberg meeting, with 147 guests, in contrast to the generally smaller meetings of the 1950s. Has two Bilderberg meetings in the years before and after


  1. Najadi, Hussain (2012). The Sea and the Hills: The Life of Hussain Najadi. Xlibris Corporation. p. 196
  2. a b c d e Addis, John (1982). "Obituaries". Asian Affairs. 13 (3): 345.
  3. a b c d
  4. a b Powell, Kenneth (14 July 1995). "OBITUARY:Maggie Jencks". The Independent.
  6. a b Tuck, Dr Christopher; Kennedy, Professor Greg (2014). British Propaganda and Wars of Empire: Influencing Friend and Foe 1900–2010. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.