Feature stories

Colonel Henrique Alberto ‘Bots’ de Barros Botelho OBE, ED, JP, Ordem de Cristo (1906 – 1999)


In this edition we profile former long serving President of Club Lusitano and a great servant of Hong Kong and his community, Colonel Henrique Alberto ‘Bots’ de Barros Botelho (d.o.b. 4th May 1906).

A staunch Roman Catholic whose family moved to Hong Kong from Macau from the time it was settled by the British, he led a varied and busy life where his impact was felt across society through his professional legal work, his military service, and his social and philanthropic activities. A love of sports and culture saw his membership in numerous clubs where he displayed his passion for such sports as cricket, hockey but most of all he was known for his love of horse riding, reflected in his position as a Selection Member for the then, Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club. Club Lusitano was his greatest love and was at the heart of his social life at a time in the 1950s and 1960s when it was at the heart of Hong Kong high society.

One of his most profound childhood memories was at the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, when the club suffered one of the single greatest tragedies in its history, the fire at the Happy Valley Racecourse on February 26th 1918. It was a notable event for the young ‘Bots’ Botelho as he was burned while being saved by his father who was with him at the then Club Lusitano stand (more accurately the Club’s wooden sheds as was common practise at the time), when the fire spread through the racecourse. Curiously enough he was also present on January 1st 1926 when the prestigious Hong Kong Hotel was set alight through an electrical fire, though no injury to ‘Bots’ was reported.

As a youth, ‘Bots’ Botelho was educated at St. Joseph’s College, Kennedy Road and in 1926 joined the law firm of Leo Alameda e Castro Snr. where he began his legal training as an articled law clerk. He became a practicing solicitor in 1933 making partner two years later in 1935 where he continued until the fall of Hong Kong in 1941. He also found the time away from his professional duties to take up the responsibility as Chairperson of the St. Joseph’s College Old Boys’ Association as well as Brigade Director of the Hong Kong St. Johns Ambulance.

In 1925 the future Col. Botelho assisted the Special Reserve Police Force (predecessor to the Hong Kong Auxiliary Police Force) in a communications role during the Hong Kong general strike. He immediately joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force when it was created in April 1927 and by 1941 he had reached the rank of captain having served as an honorary adjutant.

At the time of the Japanese invasion, he was the commander for the No 6 Portuguese Company consisting of 5 officers and 91 men – all Portuguese male volunteers. Initially responsible for machine gun and then anti-air emplacements, the then Capt. Botelho’s command was spread across key defence positions on the island from North Point, Kornhill and the Taikoo Dockyards, to Western, Aberdeen, and Central. When hostilities commenced on 8 December 1941 he made Club Lusitano in Ice House Street his company headquarters, in some part in order to provide protection for the many members and their families taking shelter there.

After the unconditional surrender of Hong Kong to the Japanese, the military service shown by the Hong Kong Portuguese men in the defense of Hong Kong, resulted in their incarceration in the Sham Shui Po prisoner of war camp. This despite Portuguese neutrality, a status afforded to their families as “third nationals”. Col Botelho spent the next 3 years and 8 months as a prisoner of war.

After the war Col. Botelho was demobilized with the rest of the Portuguese Volunteers, but by 1949 he had enrolled in the newly formed Hong Kong Defence Force retaining his wartime military rank of Captain. He was subsequently promoted to Major in 1952 and then Honorary Colonel in 1961. Even after his retirement ‘Bots’ Botelho commanded the Royal Hong Kong Reserves and oversaw its reorganization to the Royal Hong Kong Regiment (Volunteers).

Rather than continue in private practice after his demobilisation, ‘Bots’ Botelho chose to enter government service as a Temporary Assistant Crown Solicitor in February 1947 working under the government’s Attorney General. Thus he resolved to continue in his service of Hong Kong with a passionate focus that was to shape Hong Kong’s legal policy for decades to come. Indeed it was in his multitude of official roles including, Crown Prosecutor, Registrar of the Supreme Court, Registrar of Trade Marks, Official Receiver, Convenor of the Stanley War Crimes Court, Publisher of the Government Gazette and his involvement in shaping legal policy in the government service where he arguably left his greatest legacy. Chief amongst these many achievements was his editing of the revised edition of the The Laws of Hong Kong published in 1966.

Col. De Barros Botelho eventually retired at the age of 83 as one of the oldest serving civil servants in Hong Kong, a notable achievement not likely to be achieved again given the modern day policy on retirement. By his retirement in 1989 ‘Bots’ Botelho had spent over 40 years as a government lawyer in the service of Hong Kong.

The Colonel was an individual of no small personal and professional accomplishments, who took up arms to defend his home and his community. He overcame the horrors of war and chose to continue in service of the people of Hong Kong. He served as President of Club Lusitano for 22 years.

• President of Club Lusitano 1946-1968
• Official Justice of the Peace (JP) (1947)
• Ordem de Cristo ( Portugal , 1949)
• Efficiency Medal (ED) (1949)
• Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (military) (1949)
• Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire(1967 New Year’s HonoursList)
• Order of St. John (1969)
• Commander of the Order of St. John (1980)

follow me on facebook