The history of the castle standing on top of the path at 144 Pok Fu Lam Road began on 7th October 1818, when a baby boy was born to George Rankine Lapraik and his wife Susan in London.
On 2nd March 1819 the baby was baptized Douglas at the Scotch Church on London Wall, a short street in the heart of the City of London. Today, the church is gone. Probably, like so many others, it was destroyed during the Second World War, when London was subject to much bombing. “Lapraik” might have originated from the name of a Scottish place, Lickprivick, and mean “the pear farm”. The Lickprivick Castle used to stand in East Kilbride, now known as Greenhills, in Renfrew, Scotland.
In 1839 or so, the young Douglas Lapraik went to Macau, then a small town with a Portuguese settlement at the mouth of the Pearl River, to become an apprentice to the watchmaker, Leonard Just. Also originated from London, Just had been in Canton and then Macau for over 10 years. Just’s firm was named “Just & Son”, although his son, Leonard Junior, was only an apprentice of his.
In 1842, following the defeat in the First Opium War the Qing Dynasty ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain. In the same year, Douglas came to Hong Kong, apparently without cutting off ties with Just. In 1846 Just branched to Hong Kong, as he established shops in D’Aguilar Street and Queen’s Road. Gradually, Just rooted out his business and home in Macau and moved to Hong Kong.
With the rapid expansion of the town in Hong Kong, it did not take long for Douglas to realize that there was money to be made beyond clocks. Like the taipans of the day such as Jardine and Dent, he started to move into estate agency, trading broker and trustee and dealt in many properties, as buyer, seller, mortgagor and agent. There was indeed money in those trades, and he managed to gain fame while gathering much wealth. His bonds were repeatedly accepted by the Government and he became a popular arbitrator. Such was his reputation as a fair and wise man that on one occasion, when a party nominated Smale, the Attorney General, to be the arbitrator and the other Douglas, Smale deferred, saying that Douglas possessed the knowledge of law equaled to that of many lawyers.
One of the businesses Douglas engaged in was shipping, which he might have started in a dramatic way. He was reported to be one of the investors of the famous junk, Keying. The boat was purchased from a merchant in China by a group of British merchants who, in order to avoid being caught in the business, disguised themselves as Chinese. After repairs in Hong Kong, in December 1846 Keying set sail to Britain. It was probably the first Hong Kong boat to embark on the long journey, for the Governor, John Davis, and other dignitaries saw its departure fondly. Three months later, adverse weather and shortage of food and water led to a mutiny on board, and the captain sailed Keying to New York. Arriving New York in July 1847, it soon became a popular exhibition that received thousands of visitors. In February 1848 it finally set sail to England. A month later, it reached its desired destination, London, where, again, it was admired by thousands of visitors, including none other than Queen Victoria. However, Douglas claimed that he received not a cent’s return from his investment.