Two correspondents recently drew my attention to a obscure Shanghai police memoir I had not heard of: Roving and Fighting: Adventures under Four Flags (1918). In this and his later Born to Raise Hell Tex’ O’Reilly, also known as ‘Major’ Edward S. O’Reilly (1880-1946), recounts a mercenary life in Asia and central America at the turn of the nineteenth and twnetieth centuries. In between his military escapades (one of those ‘four flags’ — China’s — employed him for but a few weeks at most) he was a language teacher in Japan, and a policeman in the International settlement at Shanghai.
I have no record of his police service, which in his telling lasted ten months in 1901, but short-serving men leave fewer records, and often do not appear in annually published staff lists. The yarn deals with much of the predictable stuff of salacious exposes and popular fictions of the coast, but also has a ring of truth to some of it. O’Reilly was later a journalist, so knew how to mix the two. Although he delivers as his own experience an account of dealing with the settlement’s Wheelbarrow riots — which actually took place in 1897 — he later names a man who left the police with him to serve as a bodyguard for a local Chinese official, and a man of the same surname did actually leave the Shanghai Municipal Police in 1902. A ‘T.E. Reilly’ sailed out of Shanghai for Nagasaki, as Tex says he did, on 26 February 1902. O’Reilly made his name later in the Mexican revolution and as a journalist, but there seems to be no reason to doubt he was for some short time a Shanghai policeman, despite his reputation as a spinner of tall, tall tales.