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from Richard Overell
Travellers in the Far East
Alexander Kinglake, Eothen (Dent, London, 1908/1962, p.120)
Kinglake did not penetrate to the Far East, but he certainly travelled in a little-known and challenging orient that satisfied his taste for the exotic. "The East", a term imprecise enough to accommodate itself to whatever one desires for the purpose, has over the centuries exercised a fascination for westerners that has always made it hard for them to respond to it coolly and neutrally. Whatever the term designates in reality, the idea of it has always represented it to us (or has until quite recently) as remote, mysterious, intriguing, ineluctably other, exciting or appalling but never dull. For, precisely because the tyranny of distance has until the last century or two decreed that Asia should be very little known by almost all westerners, imagination has always been ready to leap to its aid. Kinglake, quoted above, saw this well.
So it is not surprising that the earlier the account of eastern lands, the more likely it is to offer marvels and prodigies. The Greeks who went to India in the wake of Alexander the Great's invasions were much more credulous in recording what they were told than Margaret Mead is now claimed to have been in Samoa; although the accounts of India left by the Greek ambassador Megasthenes are used by scholars as sources of social and political history, we should perhaps treat with caution his claims about the bizarre monsters said to inhabit parts of the land.
In the Middle Ages, Sir John Mandeville did the same, with less excuse. His alleged description of eastern lands shows how richly a few thin shreds of fact can be sauced with prodigies, so that what is said about one land might just as well be said of any other:
P. Hamelius, ed., Mandeville's Travels (Oxford, 1919/1960, p.104)
Mandeville may have been no further east than Calais, where no doubt he could provide a ready ear, and a tankard or two, to any stranger in a hostelry with an outlandish story to tell. A less well known fabricator, who is represented in this exhibition, is "George Psalmanazar" (pseud.; real name unknown), 1679?-1763, a native of France whose colourful and adventurous career included posing as a Japanese, and later as a Formosan; in the latter capacity he wrote a detailed account of Formosa, inventing the language and weaving an elaborate description of the country from a mixture of earlier accounts and his imagination. In his time, the spread of geographical knowledge made it necessary for him to contend with critics who who were in a position to deny what he wrote; he dealt with them, in a later edition, by sticking haughtily to his guns and conceding nothing.
Most of the books exhibited here, however, are written by people who found out about the real East, from India to Japan and the Pacific islands, the hard way. They went, most often, on foot, and they travelled thousands of miles through the most forbidding terrain that Asia had to offer.
In our century, it is difficult to appreciate fully the rigour of the conditions of travel experienced in earlier ages. For most of us, a third-class compartment belonging to Indian Railways is likely to represent the worst we are called upon to endure; but that is sybaritic luxury compared to the suffering of travellers like the Abbé Huc:
Evariste-Regis Huc, Travels in Tartary, Thibet and China, (London, 1852, vol.1 pp.147f.)
The often calm and elegant prose of those to whom we owe our knowledge of Asia in earlier centuries may encourage us to forget that the conditions in which these accounts were composed were beset by difficulties of all sorts; the physical hardship of travel was only the first. What about communication with strangers? By the nineteenth century, many travellers were equipping themselves with a knowledge of the local languages in advance, but in earlier times there was rarely the opportunity. Who could act as interpreters? What we find is generally that the Europeans who arrived first in any place, and stayed long enough to acquire linguistic proficiency, were depended upon by all later comers; this fact could give a political or commercial advantage to (for example) Portuguese in India when the English first arrived, or in Japan when the Spanish arrived. It is necessary to admire the zeal with which so many travellers set about (often pioneering) linguistic studies, attempting scientific and comparative analysis of the languages they encountered, alongside the numerous other branches of knowledge they pursued at the same time. Raffles' History of Java, for example, has carefully reproduced specimens of ancient Devanagari script from Prambanan, compared with modern, and of old Kawi script, compared likewise with modern, in a book that also has detailed descriptions and illustrations of plants, animal life, architecture, costume, terrain and everything else that could be encountered in Java.
Another sort of difficulty encountered by travellers was, of course, language apart, the sheer difference of culture. They had to learn how to cope with little-understood customs, knowing that they were likely to appear barbaric in the eyes of their hosts, and they were usually anxious to conform to the ways of their host countries, but handicapped by ignorance of these ways. A famous example of failure to adapt is constituted by the audience of Lord Macartney with the Emperor of China on his mission to China in the 1790s; several of Staunton's collections of papers are in the present exhibition. Macartney refused to perform before the emperor the kowtow (k'ou-t'ou), which technically involves prostrating oneself three times and at each prostration banging one's head quite hard three times on the floor (hence nine times in all).
(Sir George Leonard Staunton, An Authentic Account of an
This refusal has sometimes been seen as a piece of stiff-necked imperialist chauvinism which lost England the opportunity to make a good commercial treaty, but as the accounts show it was not so simple. Members of the mission were aware of the range of options; they judged pragmatically that to accept any form of abasement in pursuit of commercial gain (as the Dutch were supposed to have done) was likely to be self-defeating.
Macartney went as an ambassador, and was at least able to enjoy such privileges as went with official status as a foreign envoy within the highly elaborate ritual system that governed tribute missions to the court of the Son of Heaven in China. Most travellers were not official. Many went for the purposes of trade; of these, comparatively few left detailed accounts of their journeys. Some, particularly those who penetrated the Himalayan regions in pursuit of the Great Game, went in pursuit of politically useful local knowledge, and this often overlapped with a co-existing scientific interest in geographical knowledge for its own sake. Some went to carry the Christian message, and among these there are remarkable contrasts between those who condemned with horror every sort of heathenish superstition they encountered and those who wrote about alien cultures with evident interest and sympathy. Increasingly, and especially in the twentieth century, many westerners went in order to study the wisdom of the east, but there were always those who went for private reasons, driven by their personalities. Kinglake, for example, avowedly went on his travels to study himself, and we should all be grateful that he did, for the sake of superbly crafted narrative he left as a result. Perhaps he counts as an English eccentric; another who certainly does (and who is represented in this exhibition) is Thomas Coryat (1577-1617), who frequented the Mermaid Tavern and matched wits with characters like Ben Jonson; he enjoyed good company, was something of a buffoon, and was anxious for fame at all costs. A two-thousand mile tour of Europe in one pair of shoes led to the publication of the popular Coryats Crudities, hastily gobled up in five months travells; from his more ambitious travels to Mughal India (where he joined the embassy of Sir Thomas Roe) he never returned, dying of dysentery in Surat; but substantial portions of his diary survive in letters he wrote.
All these travellers have strength of personality in common, but there is not very much more that unites them. They belong together here because they travelled to the Far East; but what is the Far East? For the purposes of this exhibition, accounts of travels as far as India or anywhere in Asia further east from Europe qualify. This includes a number of records of journeys bound even further east, to the Pacific islands and to Australia; we have for example John Hunter's descriptions of South-East Asia and Australia from his journey with the First Fleet to Botany Bay. It is interesting that this geographical range, broad as it is, is separated by the whole of Iran from the orient referred to by Edward Said in his Orientalism; those who apply his critique of writing about the east to the whole of Asia often overlook the fact that his book concerns only the Arab Middle East.
Nevertheless, the term "orientalism" has since the publication of Said's book come to be used by many with a new meaning, designating the attitude of superiority which westerners have sometimes displayed towards easterners. The accounts assembled here, however, are so rich and various in their characters that it is doubtful whether any label of critical theory can be stuck upon them. They represent in abundance the humane spirit of the Renaissance, which delighted in the study of all things human for their own sake, and every branch of the humanities is included. Many will be surprised and fascinated to find what a large and diverse collection of early editions is mustered here, with substantial numbers of seventeenth and eighteenth century publications. Most works are in English, but some are in Latin, and there are translations from other languages, so that the early European engagement with Asia is adequately represented. Perhaps there is no genre of writing so intrinsically fascinating as the narrative of travel to far distant places remote in time and culture; this exhibition is a feast.
Travellers in the Far East
Moll’s map has inset views of Goa and Surat, and plans of Madras, Batavia, and Bantam. There are lengthy descriptions near most localities, giving details of trade, as well as general information. For example, Sumatra one of the Greatest Islands in the World, is very populous and has all Necessaries for life. Their Mountains are high, cover’d with Trees, and have Mines of Gold, Silver, Copper, Tin, Iron and Sulphur. They have Sugar, Ginger, Pepper, with which they load many vessels every year. In the desarts they have Elephants, Tygers, Rhinoceroses, Boars, Porcupines, Serpents & Monkies. Their Rivers are pester’d with Crocodiles.
Moll’s map has inset views of Goa and Surat, and plans of Madras, Batavia, and Bantam. There are lengthy descriptions near most localities, giving details of trade, as well as general information. For example,
Sumatra one of the Greatest Islands in the World, is very populous and has all Necessaries for life. Their Mountains are high, cover’d with Trees, and have Mines of Gold, Silver, Copper, Tin, Iron and Sulphur. They have Sugar, Ginger, Pepper, with which they load many vessels every year. In the desarts they have Elephants, Tygers, Rhinoceroses, Boars, Porcupines, Serpents & Monkies. Their Rivers are pester’d with Crocodiles.
Albums4. [Album of photographs] Leather bound. [c. 1890s] 5 [Album of photographs] Bound in lacquer boards. [c 1800s]
These two albums contain a mixture of photographs purchased while travelling and photographs taken by the travellers themselves.
The leather-bound volume covers a trip to India, Assam, and Colombo. It includes several photographs of the Taj Mahal.
The lacquer bound volume is a souvenir of a trip to Japan. As well as photographs of Mount Fuji, and other tourist spots, it includes many photographs of geishas. All the photos are hand-coloured.
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier was one of the most renowned travellers of the seventeenth century. He began travelling at the age of fifteen and by the time he was twenty he had seen England and most of Europe. From 1638 to 1668 he made five trips to the east. These were business trips for the most part. He travelled as a dealer in precious stones, and the great profits he realised strongly impressed upon him the advantages of regular commerce between Europe and the East.
He gave directions for the roads to be travelled, and the commercial details the traveller would have to observe, such as customs dues, the local currency, and the systems of weights and measures.
He visited some of the diamond mines, claiming to be the first European to have done so. These were in or near the Kingdom of Golconda the traditional centre for the diamond trade in India. To assist any who would come after him, the silent ritual of bartering for the diamonds is described. (p. 136)
Tavernier also describes the trade in such goods as amber, musk and bezoars; the latter being small "stones" found inside animals which act as an antidote to poison.
Golconda was also the centre of the bezoar trade, most of the stones coming from goats. Cows also provided bezoars but these were not as valuable.
As for the bezoar which breeds in Apes, as some believe, it is so strong, that two grains work as effectually as six of Goats-Bezoar: but it is very scarce, as being only found in those Apes that breed in the island of Macassar. … As the Apes Bezoar is stronger, and scarcer than the Goats, so it is dearer, and more sought after; a piece as big as a nut, being sometimes worth a hunder’d Crowns. The Portugals make great account of this Bezoar, standing always upon their guard for fear of being poison’d.
There is another Stone in great esteem, that is call’d the Porcupine-Stone, which that creature is said to carry in its head … I have bought in my time three of those Stones. One of them cost me 500 Crowns, and I exchang’d it to advantage. I paid four-hunder’d Crowns for the other, which I kept, the other was sold me for 200 Crowns, which I present’d to a friend. (p. 154)
Naturally, stones from Snakes, were highly prized, although Tavernier suspected that they were manufactured by the Brahmins, "a composition of certain drugs", rather than extracted from the heads of snakes.
Whatever it be, it is of excellent vertue to drive any venom out of those that are bit by venomous creatures. If the person bit be not much wounded, the place must be incis’d; and the Stone being appli’d thereto, will not fall off till it has drawn all the poison to it. To cleanse it, you must steep it in Woman’s-milk, or for want of that, in Cow’s milk; after the Stone has lain ten or twelve hours, the milk will turn to the colour of an Apostemated matter. (p. 155)
Jean de Thevenot was a French traveller who, after visiting England and most parts of the Continent, ventured into the east. Unfortunately he died "as he was returning again through Persia into Europe" (p. a2r)
For purposes of this exhibition we are mainly interested in his account of India which he visited during 1666-1667.
We see illustrated a key to the language spoken and written at Malabar, on the south-west coast of India. This was the area around Cochin, where the first settlements of Europeans were established, by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. The main trade was in dyes and spices. Thevenot comments that the Indians from the Malabar coast "are the chief Pirats of the Indian Sea, and there are many robbers also in the countrey though the magistrates do all they can to root them out." (part III, p. 90)
He describes their method of writing and their books,
All the Malabars write as we do (from the left to the right) upon the leaves of Palmeras-Bravas, and for making their Characters, they use a Stiletto a Foot long at least; the letters which they write to their Friends on these leaves, are made up round, like a roll of Ribbons; they make their Books of several of these leaves, which they file upon a String, and enclose them betwixt two Boards of the same bigness; they have many Ancient Books (and all almost in Verse) which they are great lovers of. I believe the reader will be glad to see their Characters, and I have hereto subjoyned the Alphabet (part III, p. 90)
These palm-leaf books are still common in Asia and we have on display some from Java and Bali.
Kaempfer was the physician to the Dutch Embassy at the Japanese Emperor’s court. He travelled to the East in 1688, and spent 1688 and 1689 visiting India, Ceylon, and the East Indies. In 1690 he left Batavia as physician in the Embassy being sent by the Dutch East India Company to Japan. They sailed via Siam, thus enabling Kaempfer to give a description of that country. He stayed for two years in Japan, leaving in November 1692. He had been assiduous in observing and travelling as much as possible while in Japan, and his book is partly history, and partly an account of his own travels in "the last Eastern country".
Kaempfer describes the post-houses, inns and food establishments a traveller would encounter in Japan. Even "take-aways" were available.
There are innumerable Inns, Cook-shops, Sacki, or Ale-houses, Pastry-cook’s and Confectioner’s shops, all along the road, even in the midst of woods and forests, and at the tops of mountains, where a weary foot-traveller, and the meaner sort of people, find at all times, for a few farthings, something warm to eat, or hot Tea-water, or Sacki, or somewhat else of this kind, wherewithal to refresh themselves. ‘Tis true, these cook-shops are but poor sorry houses, if compar’d to larger Inns, being inhabited only by poor people, who have enough to do to get a livelihood by this trade: and yet even in these, there is always something or other to amuse passengers, and to draw them in; sometimes a garden and orchard behind the house, which is seen from the street looking thro’ the passage, and which by its beautiful flowers, or the agreeable sight of a stream of clear water, falling down from a neighbouring natural or artificial hill, or by some other curious ornaments of this kind, tempts People to come in and to repose themselves in the shadow; at other times a large flower-pot stands in the window, fill’d with flowering branches of trees, (for the flowers of plants, tho’ never so beautiful, are too common to deserve a place in such a pot,) dispos’d in a very curious and singular manner; sometimes a handsom, well-looking house-maid, or a couple of young girls well dress’d, stand under the door, and with great civility invite people to come in, and to buy something. The eatables, such as cakes, or whatever it be, are kept before the fire, in an open room, sticking to skewers of bambous, to the end that passengers, as they go along, may take them, and pursue their journey without stopping. The landladies, cooks and maids, as soon as they see any body coming at a distance blow up the fire, to make it look as if the victuals had just been got ready. Some busy themselves with making tea, others prepare the soop in a cup, others fill cups with Sacki, or other liquors to present them to passengers, all the while talking and chattering, and commending their merchandize with a voice loud enough to be heard by their next neighbours of the same profession (p. 426-127)
The illustration shows acupuncture needles, and a woman who has just undergone the procedure. Perhaps because he was a physician, Kaempfer devotes several pages to this treatment, particularly as a cure for Senki, a certain type of colic, "an endemial distemper of this populous empire" (Appendix 1, p. 29)
Many of the early English voyages went through Asia, usually to re-stock at Batavia. Byron, Wallis and Carteret all sailed though the Philippines and the East Indies. Cook sailed though Torres Strait and on to Batavia on his way home from discovering the Australian east coast.
Byron, who arrived there in November 1765, remarked,
When we came to this place, we had not one man sick in either of the ships; but as I knew it to be more unhealthy than any other part of the East Indies, as the rainy season was at hand, and arrack was to be procured in great plenty, I determined to make my stay here as short as possible. (vol. 1, p. 131)
Byron was there from 28 November to 10 December. After quitting Batavia they stopped at Princes Island in the Strait of Sunda to get wood and water. The Captain wrote,
Having now taken on board as much wood and water as we could stow, we weighed and got without Java Head before night: but by this time a dangerous putrid fever had broken out among us; three of my people had died, and many others now lay in so dangerous a condition that there were little hopes of their recovery: we did not however, bury one at Batavia, which, notwithstanding our stay was so short, was thought to be an extraordinary instance of good fortune; and our sick gradually recovered after we had been a week or two at sea. (vol. 1, p. 134)
Captain Cook was in Batavia from 9 October to 26 December 1770, to enable the Endeavour to be re-fitted. Considerable damage had been done when the ship had run aground on the Great Barrier Reef.
They lost seven men to the "putrid fever" while in Batavia and several more shortly after they set sail for the Cape. Among these was Sydney Parkinson, the artist on the voyage. It was Parkinson who painted the botanical illustrations known as Banks’s Floriligeum.
Batavia was built by the Dutch near a Javanese town, Jaccatra. It was consciously planned on the Dutch model, the streets being laid out alongside canals, but, lying stagnant under the vertical sun, these served mainly to reinforce Batavia’s reputation as "the grave of Europeans". Captain Cook described the city,
Batavia, the capital of the Dutch dominions in India, and generally supposed to have no equal among all the possessions of the Europeans in Asia, is situated on the north side of the island of Java, in a low fenny plain. …
The Dutch seem to have pitched upon this spot for the convenience of water-carriage, and in that it is indeed a second Holland, … There are very few streets that have not a canal of considerable breadth running through them, or rather stagnating in them, and continued for several miles in almost every direction beyond the town, which is also intersected by five or six rivers, some of which are navigable thirty or forty miles up the country. …
The streets are spacious and handsome, and the banks of the canals are planted with rows of trees, that make a very pleasing appearance; but the trees concur with the canals to make the situation unwholesome. The stagnant canals in the dry season exhale an intolerable stench, and the trees impede the course of the air, by which in some degree the putrid effluvia would be dissipated. In the wet season the inconvenience is equal, for these reservoirs of corrupted water overflow their banks in the lower part of the town, especially in the neighbourhood of the hotel, and fill the lower stories of the houses, where they leave behind them an inconceivable quantity of slime and filth: yet these canals are sometimes cleaned; with the cleaning them is so managed as to become as great a nuisance as the foulness of the water; for the black mud that is taken from the bottom is suffered to lie upon the banks, that is, in the middle of the street, till it has acquired a sufficient degree of hardness to be made the lading of a boat, and carried away. As this mud consists chiefly of human ordure, which is regularly thrown into the canals every morning, there not being a necessary-house in the whole town, it poisons the air while it is drying to a considerable extent. (vol. 3, p. 724-725)
The fortifications are described in some detail with the comment that if they "are not formidable in themselves, they become so by their situation". (p. 728). The fruits of the area are described; presumably from information provided by Sir Joseph Banks. Among them we find the Durian,
A fruit that in shape resembles a small melon, but the skin is covered with sharp conical spines, whence its name; for dure, in the Malay language, signifies prickle. When it is ripe, it divides longitudinally into seven or eight compartments, each of which contains six or seven nuts, not quite so large as chestnuts, which are covered with a substance that in colour and consistence very much resembles thick cream: this is the part that is eaten, and the natives are fond of it to excess. To Europeans it is generally disagreeable at first; for in taste, it somewhat resembles a mixture of cream, sugar and onions; and in the smell, the onions predominate. (p. 738)
The inhabitants of Batavia, their mode of business, and their system of administration are described, as are the customs and beliefs of the natives, usually referred to as "Indians".
The town of Batavia although, as I have already observed, it is the capital of the Dutch dominions in India, is so far from being peopled with Dutchmen, that not one fifth part, even of the European inhabitants of the town, and its environs, are natives of Holland, or of Dutch extraction: the greater part are Portuguese, and besides Europeans, there are Indians of various nations, and Chinese, besides a great number of negro slaves. (p. 749)
The production of liquors such as arrack is referred to (p. 747-748), but the point is made that these drinks are not consumed by the natives,
As they are Mahometans, wine and strong liquors professedly make no part of their entertainment, neither do they often indulge themselves with them privately, contenting themselves with their betel and opium. (p. 754)
Betel was chewed by both sexes, and Captain Cook tells of one of the practices consequent upon the taking of opium,
These are the people among whom the practice that is called a mock, or running a muck, has prevailed for time immemorial. It is well known, that to run a muck in the original sense of the word, is to get intoxicated on opium, and then rush into the street with a drawn weapon, and kill whoever comes in the way, till the party is himself either killed or taken prisoner; of this several instances happened while we were at Batavia, and one of the officers, whose business it is, among other things, to apprehend such people, told us, that there was scarcely a week in which he or some of his brethren, were not called upon to take one of them into custody. … If the officer takes one of these amocks or mohawks, as they have been called by an easy corruption, alive, his reward is very considerable, but if he kills them, nothing is added to his usual pay; yet such is the fury of their desperation, that three out of four are of necessity destroyed in the attempt to secure them, though the officers are provided with instruments like large tongs, or pincers, to lay hold of them without coming within reach of their weapon. Those who happen to be taken alive are generally wounded, but they are always broken alive upon the wheel, and if the physician who is appointed to examine their wounds, thinks them likely to be mortal, the punishment is inflicted immediately, and the place of execution is generally the spot where the first murder was committed. (p. 754-755)
Hunter was second in charge to Governor Phillip on the voyage of the First Fleet to Botany Bay in 1787-1788. He was an experienced naval man and had been the master of the Intrepid in 1772-1774 on its voyage to the East Indies.
He was commander of the Sirius when it was lost off Norfolk Island in 1790. Phillip decided to send Hunter and the crew of the Sirius back to England to report on the difficulties being experienced by the new colony at Sydney. They sailed in a Dutch transport, the Waaksamheyd, going via Batavia.
They sailed north of New Guinea, then south past Mindanao, the Celebes, and Borneo. The Waaksamheyd had a Dutch master, and while the ship was anchored off an island south of Mindanao taking on board water and supplies, the Dutchman provoked a dispute with the local Raja which resulted in the Europeans firing on the Mindanaons, and the Raja and his entourage fleeing from the vessel.
Because of this contretemps, Hunter warns future travellers to be careful in landing here. Hunter and his men had visited the island and he gives a description,
Hummock Island on which the Raja resides, is exceedingly fertile, and seemed to produce most of the tropical fruit; we found here rice, sugar cane (exceedingly fine and large), pine apple mango, sour oranges, limes, jack, plantain, cocoa-nut, sago, sweet potatoes, tobacco, Indian corn, and a small kind of pea: dogs, goats, fowls (very fine), parrots, and many other more useful articles; but I judge that their principal article of trade with Dutch is bees-wax, of which they appear to have a considerable quantity, and of course much honey.
The articles, which seemed of most value here in exchange for stock were light clothing of white or printed linens, or cottons, such as loose gowns or jackets, coloured handkerchiefs, clasp knives, razors, and bar iron; metal buttons had for some time a good run, which a stranger on board here would soon have perceived, as there was scarcely as coat or jacket to be seen upon deck with a button on it. The natives of these islands are the same sort of people, and speak the same language , as people in Mindanao; they have a great deal of the Malay both in appearance and disposition; they are nearly the same size, make and colour, and have many of their features; they wore in general jackets and trousers, but the lower orders had seldom any thing but a wrapper round the waist; they commonly wore a handkerchief, or other piece of linen round the head, in the manner of a turban. In the sash or wrapper, which all wear round the waist, they had a cress or dagger stuck, the scabbard of which was a case of wood. Many of these natives were troubled with a disease much resembling the leprosy; their skins were covered with a dry scurf, like the scales of a fish, which had a very disagreeable appearance. (p. 256-158)
[This copy kindly lent for the exhibition by Professor Wallace Kirsop.]
Colonel William Kirkpatrick served in the Bengal infantry and was Persian interpreter to Lt.-Col. Stibbert, commander-in-chief in Bengal from 1777 to 1785. He afterwards served as Persian interpreter on Lord Cornwallis’s staff during the Mysore war of 1790-1791. In 1793 there was a dispute between the Nepalese and the Lama of Tibet. The Tibetans called upon the Chinese to help them and a Chinese army crossed Tibet and took up a position facing Kathmandu. The Nepalese sought help from the British and Cornwallis despatched Fitzpatrick to mediate between the warring sides. Fitzpatrick’s negotiations were successful. As his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography states, "his skill in oriental tongues and knowledge of the manners, customs, and laws of India was declared by the Marquis Wellesley to be unequalled by any man he ever met in India."
The account of his mission and of the country itself is notable as the first English description of the Kingdom. The Preface begins,
No Englishman had hitherto passed beyond the range of lofty mountains which separates the secluded valley of Nepaul from the north-eastern parts of Bengal: and the public curiosity respecting that Terra Incognita (as it might then be justly called), was still ungratified. (p. iii)
He adds in a footnote, "The time will probably be recollected by many persons still living, both in England and in India, when Nepaul was spoken of as another El Dorado."
Fitzpatrick describes the peculiarities of the Nepalese religious observances, referring to
the very important consideration presented in the remarkable and indeed (if I am not mistaken) solitary fact, of Nepaul being the only Hindoo country that has never been disturbed, far less subdued, by any Musselman power. (p. 185)
Among the differences described is that of the Newars, one of the Nepalese tribes, eating buffalo.
He describes a visit to one of their temples,
Dedicated to Daiby, or the Goddess, as Maha Mai, or Bhowani, is emphatically styled by way of pre-eminence. Here sacrifices are occasionally offered to her in her character of the universal mother, or, in other words, as Nature; the officiating priests at which, are usually Newars, those people considering Bhowani as the tutelar divinity or patroness of their tribe. These oblations consist principally of buffaloes, on the flesh of which the ministers of the goddess unscrupulously regale, a special revelation of her divine will having some years ago rendered it lawful for the Newars to feed at all times upon this animal. … There are many doctrinal opinions common to them and the stricter or more respectable sects, who occasionally assist at some of their rites; the Rajah and his court immolating, for instance, during our stay at Noakote, a vast number of buffaloes, and other perfect male animals, at the temple of Daiby Ghaut. Indeed, though the Regent of Nepaul cannot possibly be surpassed by any secular Hindoo, either in devoutness or superstition, yet he would not seem to consider … himself in a very rigid light; since his army in the late expedition into Tibet, having been reduced to such cruel straits as obliged them to feed upon the flesh of the Chouri bullock, he ingeniously repelled the imputation of sacrilege, by logically observing, that, as the cattle which they had slaughtered and eaten were not of the kind distinguished by long dew-laps, and as this was a necessary generic mark of the sacred bull of the Shaster, it plainly followed, that they had not transgressed against the law. It was somewhat in the same spirit of regulated zeal, that, upon certain missionaries offering to instruct him in the most useful branches of mineralogy and metallurgy (respecting which this Prince is very curious), provided he would embrace the Christian faith, he coolly replied, that his rank in the state made it inconceivable for him to accede to the proposed terms, but that he was ready to substitute two or three men who should make as good proselytes as himself. The missionary rejecting this expedient, and the Regent not comprehending, or affecting not to comprehend, why three souls should be of less estimation than one, very gravely inferred that the holy father could only be prevented from accepting so fair a proposal by the desire of concealing his ignorance of the arts which he had professed himself qualified to teach. (p. 119-121)
John Crawfurd was a Scotsman, born on the Isle of Islay. After studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, he served as a doctor in the army in the North-west provinces of India from 1803 to 1808. Following this, he went to Penang where he studied the Malay culture and language. From 1811 to 1817 he was involved in the British conquest and occupation of Java. Subsequently he published a History of the Indian Archipelago (3 vols., 1820), and served as an envoy to the courts of Siam and Cochin China. In 1823 he succeeded Sir Stamford Raffles as administrator of Singapore, a post he held for three years, before being appointed Commissioner to Pegu the southern province of Burma. A war was under way with Burma at that time, over their conquest of Assam, the country between Burma and British India, but, after the conclusion of a peace treaty, Crawfurd was sent by Lord Amherst on a mission to the court of Ava.
Ava was the old capital, situated in central Burma on the banks of the Irrawaddy, just south of Mandalay. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1839.
Crawfurd and his party were among the first Europeans to penetrate Burma, and the account of the Embassy contains much information as to the customs of the people. The frontispiece shows a "white elephant". This was the animal belonged to the King. Albino elephants were revered both in Burma and Siam as incarnations of Buddha. Crawfurd had seen white elephants in Siam and was interested to see one in Ava, soon after his arrival there.
Our attention was chiefly attracted by the celebrated white elephant, which was immediately in front of the palace; it is the only one in the possession of the King of Ava … whereas the King of Siam had six when I was in that country. …
I had here an opportunity, as well as in Siam, of ascertaining that the veneration paid to the white elephant has been, in some respects, greatly exaggerated. The white elephant is not an object of worship, but it is considered an indispensible part of the regalia of sovereignity. Royalty is incomplete without it … Both he court and people would consider it as peculiarly inauspicious to want a white elephant; and hence the repute in which they are held, and the anxiety to obtain them: the capture of a white elephant is consequently highly rewarded. …
The lower orders however, it must be observed, perform the shiko, or obeisance of submission to the white elephant; but the chiefs view this as a vulgar superstition, and do not follow it. (p. 142-144)
Ogilby was a publisher and man of letters who lost everything in the great fire of 1666. Fortunately, he had friends at court who helped him recover his business. Charles II made him the "King’s Cosmographer and Geographic Printer". As part of the privileges of this position, he published a series of folios including the work on display. The text is drawn from earlier writers, and the engravings are by Wenceslas Hollar. The frontispiece shows the Emperor of China, although the text in this volume is mainly concerned with Persia and India.
The Indian caste system is described,
These Idolators are very proud, for those of any Quality will, if possible, avoid to eat with any of a meaner Degree. There are some amongst the Brahmans call’d Pandite and Boten, who being highly esteem’d, will not eat in the House of a Brahman, Sinai, Naike, or any other Nobleman, because they eat Fish. These Sinai or Naike are vulgarly call’d Mazarens, and are of less esteem than the other, eat freely with a Pandite or Boti, and account it a great favor, and so with the other. Some are so vainly curious, that they will not eat in a place where another of a contrary Sect or Tribe hath Din’d or Supp’d before the Floor is rubb’d over with Ox-dung, which they believe cleanses it. (p. 125)
Athanasius Kircher was one of the most prominent Jesuit scholars of his time. His book on China was compiled partly from accounts provided by the Jesuit missionaries, and partly from the works of other travellers such as Marco Polo.
The China he describes is a country at the beginning of its contact with the west. Its isolation had produced a unique culture, although some of its ideas, particularly in the field of religion derive from India.
The original is in Latin. I have quoted from the translation by Dr. Charles Van Tuyl (Muskogee, Oklahoma: Indian University Press, 1987)
The Chinese Empire is the richest and most powerful of all in its division into fifteen kingdoms. It has a monarchy more absolute than all other kingdoms in the world today. Also Nature has separated it from the rest of the world and it seems different from anywhere else. Nature does not allow access anywhere. In the north and from the direction of Syro-Phoenecia, in addition to a three-hundred league wall, entrance is denied by a vast and endless sandy desert. To the east and south it is guarded by the still unknown recesses of the oceans, by the hidden rocks, and treacherous places where, even without shipwreck, one cannot easily approach the shores due to the savagery of the winds and the vehement changes in the ocean flow. Nature has obstructed the West by broken inaccessible and impenetrable paths inhabited by so many wild beasts and deadly serpents that it is fortified as a battle line. No one can hope to approach it from that direction. China is with good reason in their language called Chunghoa, which means "The Middle Kingdom." They believe they are in the middle of the earth and separated from everyone else. That term also means the "Middle Garden" or "Flowery Garden," due to the richness of all necessities of human life. (p. 159. Translation of beginning of part 4, chapter 1 in the original)
The volume on display is in a nineteenth century wooden binding, decorated with oriental motifs.
William Alexander was the artist on Macartney’s Embassy. His book contains forty-eight hand-coloured plates showing various scenes from the Embassy’s journey. The accompanying letterpress description is a useful supplement to Staunton’s official account.
Here we see "A Group of Trackers of the vessels at dinner". These men worked at pulling the boats along the rivers of China. Alexander tells us,
The chief food of these poor labourers, is rice; and they consider it a luxury, when they can procure vegetables fried in rancid oil, or animal offal, to mix with it. They are represented cooking their meal over an earthern stove; the standing figure is employed eating his rice in the usual way, which is by placing the edge of the bowl against his lower lip, and with the chopsticks knocking the contents into his mouth.
They sometimes wear shoes made of straw, but are more frequently without any. The pien-za, or queue, is often inconvenient to Chinese labourers; to avoid which they twist it round their heads, and secure it by tucking in its extremity.
The flat boards, with cordage to them, are applied to the breast when dragging the junks or vessels.
Mason’s book, also published by William Miller, develops one of the themes found in many accounts by travellers to China, the elaborate code of punishments devised to fit particular crimes. Alexander includes some, but Mason includes twenty-two colour plates of various punishments. The volume is open to the plate "Punishing an Interpreter".
A large piece of bamboo cane is placed behind the knees; this is trampled up0on by two men, one standing on each end, and who convey more or less pain, as they approach to, or recede from, his person. A punishment, decreed against interpreters, detected of wilful interpretation. (plate VIII)
Raffles began his career as a clerk in the East India Company stationed in Penang. His fluency in Malay and his knowledge of the local customs brought him to the attention of this superiors and he was of great assistance in Lord Minto’s operation in Java which resulted in the British supplanting the Dutch as rulers of the country in 1811. He was made Lieutenant-Governor and ruled until 1816. He was well-thought of, partly because he abolished the Dutch system of forced labour, and he took the trouble to familiarise himself with the native customs.
His History of Java is notable for the wealth of illustrations of the people, their artefacts, inscriptions and the Javan alphabet. The illustrations were re-published by Bohn in 1844.
Among the illustrations we see "A Ronggeng or Dancing Girl". Raffles describes them thus,
They make a profession of their art, and hire themselves to perform on particular occasions, for the amusement of the chiefs and the public. … they are constantly engaged on every occasion of festivity, and the regents frequently keep the most accomplished in their service for years. … The rong’gengs accompany the dance with singing, the words being generally extempore to the music of the gamelan salendro and pelog. … Their hair is dressed after a peculiar fashion, abundantly oiled, and ornamented with flowers of various kinds. They sometimes exhibit singly or sometimes in groupes, following and approaching each other, or receding at pleasure. They perform at any time of the day, but chiefly in the evening, and endeavour to exhibit their best attitudes round a lamp which hangs suspended. … Their action is usually distorted, their greatest excellence seeming to consist in bending the arms and hands back in an unnatural manner, and giving one or two fingers a tremulous motion. The voice, though sometimes harmonious, is often loud, dissonant, and harsh to a European ear. … Their song, though little esteemed and less understood by Europeans, sometimes possesses much humour and drollery; and in adapting their motions to the language, they frequently excite loud bursts of laughter, and obtain great applause from the native audience. (p. 342-343).
In an Appendix to the work he has a lengthy description of Bali, its people and customs. He alludes to the fact that, unlike the rest of the East Indies, they have remained Hindu and even practice suttee.
Unexpectedly, the Appendix contains a coloured illustration of "A Papuan native of New Guinea, 10 years old."
Raffles left for England in 1816 and Java was returned to the Dutch. He was soon sent back to the east as Governor of Bencoolen on the coast of Sumatra, arriving there in March 1818 with orders to subdue the piratical activities of the Malays in the Straits. He found Bencoolen utterly disorganised. The buildings had been largely destroyed by an earthquake, and the pepper trade, the reason the settlement had been established, was almost neglected. The main source of revenue in the area was now the breeding of gamecocks. Raffles applied himself energetically to cleaning up the settlement, but soon discovered that the Dutch intended occupying all sites commanding the straits of Sunda and Malacca. He advised that the British occupy the almost uninhabited island of Singapore. The East India Company purchased it from the Sultan of Johore, and the British flag was hoisted there on 29 February 1819. This was Raffles greatest achievement.
On one of his journeys through the jungles of Sumatra he discovered the enormous flower, Rafflesia Arnoldi.
This was a gigantic flower, of which I can hardly attempt to give anything like a just description. It is perhaps the largest and most magnificent flower in the world, and is so distinct from every other flower, that I know not to what I can compare it – its dimensions will astonish you – it measured across from the extremity of the petals rather more than a yard, the nectarium was nine inches wide, and as deep; estimatedto contain a gallon and a half of water, and the weight of the whole flower fifteen pounds. (vol. 1, p. 343)
The Venetian, Marco Polo (1254-1324), the greatest of all the early travellers in the east, is now an almost legendary figure. His father and uncle visited the Chinese court of Kublai Khan and returned in 1269.They set out again accompanied by the young Marco in November 1271, and arrived again at the Court of Kublai Khan in the spring of 1275. They journeyed through Eastern Tartary, across the Gobi Desert; the area shown in the map on display.
Marco Polo impressed the Emperor by learning the language and customs of the Chinese. He was made an envoy, going on missions to Tibet, Burma, and Cochin China, and was even given the governorship of the town of Yang-chow. Kublai Khan was reluctant to allow Marco and his father to leave, but finally agreed. They sailed back via Sumatra and southern India. When they returned to Venice, they were not recognised by their relatives, but they brought back riches in the form of precious stones, and Marco’s account of China and the east stimulated the interest of his fellow merchants in the area. Many manuscript versions of the work have survived in old French, Italian, and Latin.
Marco Polo has been criticised for not describing, for example, the Great Wall, but, being a merchant, he dwells mainly on the products from the various countries, and also gives details of many of the peculiar customs he observed, though not, as has often been noted, foot-binding. The province of Cangigu, he describes thus,
This country has its own king who is tributary to the great khan. The inhabitants are idolators, and have a peculiar language. The king has about three hundred wives. The province has much gold and many spices, but these cannot be easily transported, as it is far distant from the sea. It has also many elephants and much game. The inhabitants live on flesh, rice, and milk, having no wine, but they make an excellent drink of rice and spices. Both men and women ornament their faces, necks, hands, bellies, and legs, with the figures of lions, dragons, and birds, and these are so firmly imprinted, as to be almost indelible. There are in this country professors of this foolish art of skin embroidery, who follow no other trade but this needle work, and dying of fools skins; and the person who has the greatest number and variety of these images, is considered the finest and most gallantly ornamented. (vol. 1, p. 351-352)
Coleridge obtained many of the details for his poem, "Kubla Khan" from Purchas’s account of Marco Polo’s travels.
[Paper watermarked Pro Patria / GR crowned, therefore printing must be post 1714 and a facsimile, possibly circa 1772.]
Thomas Coryate was a wit and buffoon at the court of James I. His main work was Coryate’s Crudites (1611), an account of his travels in Europe in 1608. In 1612 he set off for the east. Travelling overland he reached India in 1616, arriving at Agra where the English merchants had a "factory". The book consists of the letters sent back to his friends at court. In December 1617 he died of "a flux" at Surat.
Coryate accompanied Sir Thomas Roe, the English ambassador to the royal entertainments at the court of the Great Mogul.
Twice every week, elephants fight before him [the Mogul], the bravest spectacle in the world: many of them are thirteene foot and a halfe high; and they justle together like two little mountains, and were they not parted in the middest of their fighting by certaine fire-workes, they would exceedingly gore and cruentate one another by their murdering teeth. Of elephants the King keepeth 30000 … I have rid upon an elephant since I came to this court, determining one day (by God’s leave) to have my picture expressed in my next Booke, sitting upon an elephant. (p. 26)
George Psalmanazar , whose real name is unknown, was born in the south of France, and educated by the Jesuits. He was proficient in Latin and several other languages. Early in life he left his native country and went to Germany where he tried to support himself by posing as a Japanese, having read of Japan in works by Jesuit writers. Still posing as a Japanese, he became a soldier in the Netherlands. There he came to the notice of William Innes, chaplain to a Scots regiment, who suggested he pretend to be Formosan, as that country was less well-known. Innes publicly baptised him and took him back to England where he was promoted as a convert to Anglicanism. Psalmanazar, with his talent for languages, was able to fabricate a "Formosan" language, and give detailed descriptions of "his country", most of which was gleaned from books or simply made-up. He became a celebrity, and was taken up by Sir Hans Sloane and other members of the Royal Society.
The deception culminated in his Historical and geographical description of Formosa. The book includes details of his "Formosan" language and illustrations of the religious customs. He was attacked over various points, e.g. that Formosa was under the control of Japan, but made it his practice never to withdraw or modify any statement he had made in public.
The book derives in part from Varenius’s Descriptio Regni Japoniae et Siam, and Candidus’s Voyages.
John Bell was a Scottish doctor who travelled to Moscow in 1714. He was appointed to the entourage of an embassy from the Czar to the Sophy of Persia, and on his return to Moscow obtained a similar appointment as part of an embassy to China. He continued in the Russian employ until 1738 when he set himself up as a merchant in Constantinople, returning to Scotland in 1746 to live on the paternal estate. He is said to have sought help from Robertson, the Scottish historian, in writing the account of his travels. Robertson advised him to use Gulliver’s Travels as his model. Unlike Swift’s work, Bell’s Travels is a factual account, and is considered to be a valuable record of China in the early eighteenth century, including descriptions of Chinese customs and of the Great Wall. Bell also visited Tibet and gives an account of the Dalai Lama.
This extraordinary man assumes to himself the character of omniscience, which is the interpretation of the word Kutuchtu; and the people are taught to believe that he really knows all things, past, present, and future. As his intelligence, by means of his lamas, is very extensive, he is easily able to impose on the vulgar in this particular. They also believe that he is immortal; not that his body lives always; but that his soul, upon the decay of an old one, immediately transmigrates into some young human body; which, by certain marks, the lamas discover to be animated by the soul of the Kutuchtu, and he is accordingly treated as high priest. When the spirit of the Kutuchtu has taken possession of a new body, that is, in plain English, when he is dead, the lamas are immediately employed to discover in what part of the world this wonderful person is regenerated, or born again, as they express it. They need, however, go to no great distance to find him; for, the affair being previously concerted among the chief lamas, they soon determine the choice of a successor; who generally happens to be a young boy, that has been well instructed how to behave on that occasion. When a successor is pretended to be found, a company of lamas are sent to examine the matter, who carry along with them many toys, such as small silver bells, and things of that nature, which belonged to the former Kutuchtu, intermixed with others that did not. All these are laid before the child, who picks out such things as belonged to his predecessor, and discovers the greatest fondness for them; but rejects with disgust whatever is not genuine. (vol. 1, p. 278-279)
Careri was an Italian Doctor of Laws who set out on his travels round the world in 1693, not returning home until 1699.
While in Peking he stayed with the Jesuits, and was able to observe many of the Chinese rituals. The volume is open at an illustration of "The Emperor of China’s retinue or train when he appears in Publick". Careri was a spectator of the imperial procession in 1695, when the Emperor set out for his country estate. He made special mention of the fact that,
the Emperor goes abroad in a chair carry’d by 32 men, who contrive it so Ingeniously, that all equally bear a part of the Burden. Besides four others who support the Chair on every side. I thought this publick appearance very Stately. (vol. 4, p. 324)
He also visited the Great Wall,
The Wall in some Places is fifteen Foot high, in others twenty; but in the Vallies it is much higher and thicker, for six Horses may easily go a-Breast on it. The structure is all of large burnt Bricks and few Stones, and at certain distances there are Strong square Towers about two Bow-shot from one another, which continue all the length of the Wall to the Sea … and above half a League into it because of its shallowness. …
… Almost all the structure, as has been said, is of brick, so well Built that it does not only Last, but looks New, after several Ages …. It is above 1800 Years since the Emperor Xi-hoam-ti caus’d it to be built against the incursions of the Tartars. This was one of the greatest, and most extravagant Works that ever was undertaken. In prudence the Chinese should have secur’d the most dangerous passes: But what I thought most ridiculous, was to see the Wall run up to the top of a vast high and steep Mountain, where the Birds would hardly Build, much less the Tartar horse Climb, to break into the country. And if they conceited those People could make their way climbing the Clifts and Rocks, it was certainly a great Folly to believe their Fury could be stop’d by so low a Wall. (vol. 4, p. 323-324)
The date subscribed to the dedication indicates that this account was written in 1685 for Sir John Hoskins, Robert Hooke and William Gyfford.
Tonqueen was the area we would now recognise as North Vietnam, at the head of the Gulf of Tonkin. It was then a separate kingdom.
Baron’s first intention, he tells us was "only to note the errors in Monsieur Tavernier’s description of that country" (p. iv) but he found it much easier "to compose a new description of Tonqueen".
He describes some of the customs and pastimes of the Tonkinese, particularly their plays, singing and dancing. He then describes,
Another kind of dancing, with a bason filled or piled up with small lamps lighted, which a woman sets on her head, and then dances, turning, winding, and bowing her body in several shapes and figures, with great celerity, without spilling a drop of oyl in the lamps, to the admiration of the spectators; this act will last about half an hour.
Dancing on ropes their women are also expert at, and some will perform it very gracefully.
Cock-fighting is a mighty game amongst them, so that it is become a princely sport, and much in fashion with courtiers. (p. 13-14)
He then describes their New Year’s feast, "which commonly happens about the 25th of January, and is kept some thirty days". The engraving shows some of the entertainments including cock-fighting and "walking upon the swords with their legs in the air without touching their hands on the ground."
Macartney’s visit to China was an official Embassy from George III, bearing gifts and letters to the Emperor, but he was essentially acting as an envoy for the East India Company in the hope of securing more favourable trading rights. The visit failed in this. Far from impressing the Emperor with British generosity, the gifts were seen as tribute, as if from a vassal state.
It is usually considered that part of the failure of Macartney’s Embassy stemmed from his refusal to perform the full "kowtow" ritual on being presented to the Emperor. The ritual named from "ko" meaning "knock" and "tow" meaning "head", involved kneeling three times while approaching the throne, each time touching the ground three times with the forehead. Macartney refused to do more than kneel on one knee in the same manner in which he would approach his own King.
The Emperor seemed to accept this and certainly showed marks of special favour to Macartney and his party, but the negotiations for additional trading rights were unsuccessful.
China considered itself not to be in need of trade with outside powers. Macartney understood this and took it into account in his discussion with the Chinese.
His Excellency being no stranger to the haughty notions entertained by the Chinese of their being independent in point of commerce, and that every such transaction with foreigners was by them considered as a boon or courtesy, was far from insinuating that they could be advantaged in a mutual interchange of commodities; in the supply of cotton or rice from India; of bullion; or, lastly by the aid of a naval force to exterminate the swarm of pirates from their coasts. The Embassador was not averse to their considering a commercial intercourse as a condescension on their part, and offered to treat on those terms. (item [abridged ed.] , p. 210)
Sir George Staunton whose account of the Macartney’s Embassy is the one most often referred to, was a long-time friend of Macartney from India and the West Indies where Macartney had served prior to his Embassy to China.
Among the English presented to the Chinese Emperor was Staunton’s thirteen year old son, also named George Staunton. The young boy had studied the Chinese language and writing under two native Chinese from the Propaganda College at Naples, and was able to converse with the Emperor, who was so charmed that he gave the youth his own purse, a mark of great favour. (see engraving, p.234 vol. 2 Authentic Account.) The young George became an expert on China, playing a prominent role in Lord Amherst’s Embassy to Peking in 1816.
Clarke Abel was a doctor and botanist appointed as physician and naturalist to Lord Amherst’s mission to China.
Lord Amherst had been commanded to undertake a mission to China to seek redress for the wrongs inflicted on the English merchants at Canton. He was not, however, received respectfully, the gifts from the Prince regent to the Chinese Emperor, being seen as tribute, in much the same fashion as Macartney’s had been in 1793. The "kowtow" was also a problem for Amherst, as it had been for his predecessor. The Chinese insisted on nine strikings of the forehead on the ground upon admission to the presence of the Emperor. They claimed, falsely, that Macartney had done so. Amherst refused; offering only to bow nine times.
After a long journey, the Embassy reached the Royal Palace. Amherst was about to retire for the night when he was peremptorily invited to meet the Emperor. He felt this was a deliberate piece of rudeness and refused. The Embassy was ordered to leave China immediately without having obtained the promised audience, and without being able to undertake any negotiations whatever.
Abel describes all this in his account. He was outraged on his superior’s behalf, and his description of the Chinese and the treatment of their English visitors, was understandably coloured by this disappointing clash of cultures.
Before I take leave of China, I should be glad to state what is the impression on my mind with regard to the natural character of its people, but find it very difficult to form any conclusion respecting it, even to my own satisfaction. Persons travelling in a country in which they are looked upon by the government as objects of jealousy, and by the people as beings in all respects inferior to themselves must have continually to contend with prejudices likely to defeat their attempts at forming a correct estimate of the inhabitants. With the higher or better informed classes of society, for they are essentially the same in China, we had very little intercourse that was not purely official or ceremonious; and on all these occasions found them so cased in the armour of form that it was impossible to reach their natural character, or to depend on the information as the simple statement of matters of fact. My own opportunity of conversing with a man of rank, I have already had occasion to mention in the course of this work, and at the same time to point out his proneness to falsify. He seemed only anxious to please the person he was conversing with at the time, with very little regard to veracity. Our most extensive intercourse was with the trading part of the community, of whom I have little to add to what I have before stated, namely, that in their dealings with the Embassy they generally proved themselves cheats when their interest did not compel them to be honest. It is but fair, however, to remark that the principle of cheating is so legitimated amongst them by the general practice and toleration of their countrymen, as to be considered rather as a necessary qualification to the successful practice of their calling, than as an immoral quality. (p. 232)
Le Comte was a Jesuit who travelled to Asia in 1685 with the Chevalier de Chaumont, ambassadeur extraordinaire `a Siam. After spending two years in the Siamese court, Le Comte proceeded to China. He spent five years in China establishing and visiting mission stations there. Le Comte was a mathematician with a particular interest in astronomy. The Chinese were noted for their astronomical skills and the Jesuit was able to make use of their observatories to see two comets and the passing of Mercury across the face of the sun while he was there. The illustration is of the "celebrated Imperial Observatory" in Peking.
As with most of these accounts, the author describes the countryside and the cities through which he passed, as well as the customs of the Chinese. The Dutch passed through the city of Sou-tcheou-fou which they understood to be one of the principle cities of China, noted for the extent of its commerce. They were, however, hurried through the city. Van Braam noticed an apparent absence of women.
I learned this evening from my Chinese servant and was afterwards assured by our Interpreter that we owe to our first conductor all the difficulties that have been raised in opposition to our wish of seeing the city in detail. He had concerted with the Mandarins the means of deceiving our hopes, particularly with respect to a sight of the women, who are reckoned the handsomest in all China, and who have such a reputation for gallantry throughout the Empire, that the court and the principal Mandarins procure from hence the ornaments of their seraglios. In order to attain his end with greater certainty, he even went so far as to post up a prohibition before our arrival, forbidding any female to come in our way, under a severe penalty. It is no wonder then if our hopes were delusive.
With a conductor of a more generous nature we might have staid three days in the place, and have seen every thing worthy of attention as well as the environs; instead of which, our expectations were entirely frustrated by the base jealousy of this arrogant Mandarin, who did not however fail to purchase two pretty concubines, nor forget to carry them away with him.
This trade in women is a principal branch of the commerce of the city of Sou-tcheou-fou, and the best resource of many of its inhabitants, as well as those of Hong-tcheou fou, in the province of Tche-kiang. Sou-tcheou-fou, however, bears away the palm from its rival. A great number of individuals have no other means of existence, and, with a view to this traffic, make excursions about the country, in order to buy of the poor inhabitants such of their children as promise to be beautiful.
They bring up these young girls with the greatest care, dress them elegantly, teach them all sorts of needlework, and to play upon different instruments of music, in order that their charms and accomplishments may render them agreeable to the persons into whose hands they may chance to fall.
The handsomest of them are generally bought for the court and the Mandarins of the first class. One who unites beauty with agreeable accomplishments fetches from four hundred and fifty to seven hundred louis-d’ors, while there are some who sell for less than a hundred.
The nature of the population of China affords two girls for a boy; a circumstance which admits of the speculations I am speaking of, and renders them highly beneficial.
From this general practice, as well as from the custom of giving a price, called a dowry, to the parents of the girl whom a man marries, a custom prevalent even among the first personages of the Empire, it is evident that all the women in China are an article of trade.
The husband, in certain cases specified by the law, has a right to sell his lawful wife, unless her family choose to take her back, and restore the dowry they received at the time of her marriage.
There is no country in the world in which the women live in a greater state of humiliation, or are less considered than in China. Those whose husbands are of high rank are always confined; those of the second class are a sort of upper servants, deprived of all liberty; while those of the lower are partakers with the men of the hardest kind of labour. If the latter become mothers it is an additional burthen, since while at work they carry the child tied upon the back, at least till it is able to go alone.
Such is the fate of the Chinese women; and however hard it may appear to us, these weak beings suffer it with a patience and submission which habit alone can teach.
What a difference between their condition and that of the women in the greater part of Europe! Perhaps morose beings may be found to affirm, that there are some of the latter who would be benefited by participating for a time in the treatment the former endure. (vol. 2, p. 181-184)
Huc was a French missionary who set out to visit Tibet in 1844 by crossing the Gobi Desert. He did not reach Lhasa until January 1846. Shortly afterwards he and his mission were expelled by the Chinese Resident in the Tibetan capital, and forced to trek back to Canton. He returned to France in 1852. His account was very popular and quickly went through many editions. Some of the details were thought to be exaggerations, including the ability of some of the lamas to disembowel themselves, then by the power of prayer to heal the wound without trace. (see vol. 1, p. 192-193) have been corroborated by later visitors to Tibet
He described the Tibetan women,
The Thibetan women submit, in their toilet, to a custom, or rather rule, doubtless quite unique, and altogether incredible to those who have not actually witnessed its operation: before going out of doors, they always rub their faces over with a sort of black, glutinous varnish, not unlike currant jelly; and the object being to render themselves as ugly and hideous as possible, they daub this disgusting composition over every feature, in such a manner as no longer to resemble human creatures. (vol. 2, p. 141-142)
It was explained that this practice resulted from an edict handed down two hundred years ago by "the Nomekhan, a Lama king" who was trying to prevent the immorality which had crept into Tibetan life, even into the lamaseries. Most women still obeyed the law, although some ignored it.
Those, however, who permit themselves this license, are in very ill odour, and always take care to get out of the way of the police
It is said that the edict of the Nomekhan has been greatly promotive of the public morality. We are not in a position to affirm the contrary, with decision, but we can affirm that the Thibetians are far indeed from being exemplary in the matter of morality. There is lamentable licentiousness amongst them, and we are disposed to believe that the blackest and ugliest varnish is powerless to make corrupt people virtuous. Christianity can alone redeem the pagan nations from the shameful vices in which they wallow.
At the same time, there is one circumstance which may induce us to believe that in Thibet there is less corruption than in certain other pagan countries. The women there enjoy very great liberty. Instead of vegetating, prisoners in the depths of their houses, they lead an active and laborious life. Besides fulfilling the various duties of the household, they concentrate in their own hands all the petty trade of the country, whether as hawkers, as stall-keepers in the streets or in shops. In the rural districts, it is the women who perform most of the labours of agriculture. (vol. 2, p. 142-143)
This is the first publication of a seventeenth century French manuscript. It gives an account of a Frenchman employed by the Dutch East India Company. He visited Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, Siam, China, Japan, the Moluccas, India, Ceylon, Persia and Arabia.
Although he gives us much of interest on all these countries as they were in the period from 1669, when he arrived in the east, to 1675 when he returned, the most extensive coverage is given to Ceylon where he lived for three years and to Java which was his base.
The volume is open at an illustration of the volcanic island of Ternate in the Moluccas. This was one of the main centres of the clove trade. At this time the Dutch were involved in wresting control of the island from the Portuguese. It was governed by a sultan, one of the most powerful in the area. Lacombe mentions one of the claims made by him.
The Prince Exalts himself for his descent from one of the three Magi Kings who were at Bethlehem to adore the Messiah; and for proof of the verity of this, he wears upon his left side a Star emblazoned upon his robes (p. 95)
The illustrations are from Schultzen's Ost-indische Reyse (Amsterdan, 1676).
Glasspoole’s Narrative deals with his capture by Chinese pirates. It was first published in Wilkinson’s Sketches of Chinese Customs and Manners (1815), and was apparently written for the East India Company’s Select Committee of Supercargoes at Macao, the group which paid Glasspoole’s ransom. For this edition, Owen Rutter has looked at the East India Company records and extracted additional letters from Glasspoole, here published for the first time.
The sea around the mouth of the Canton River was infested with Chinese pirates, Ladrones as the Portuguese called them, after the islands where they lived. Hong Kong was only a very small settlement and Macao was the main European centre in the area. The practice of the pirates was to sail in a large fleet, attack Chinese and foreign ships with impunity, loot what they could and hold the crew and passengers captive in hopes of ransom.
Glasspoole was captured in the ships boat. He and some man had gone ashore at Macao to procure stores and on returning, had missed the ship in a storm. They were trying to find a pilot to guide them back to Macao. They pulled in close to an island,
And a large row-boat pulled after us; she soon came alongside, when about twenty savage-looking villains, who were stowed at the bottom of the boat, leaped on board us. They were armed with a shortsword in each hand, one of which they laid at our necks, and the other pointed to our breasts, keeping their eyes fixed on their officer, waiting his signal to cut or desist. Seeing we were incapable of making any resistance, he sheathed his sword, & the others immediately followed his example. (p. 28)
Rutter reprints the letter Glasspoole wrote to his captain under duress from the pirates, seeking ransom. This is preserved, along with various minutes and resolutions, in the East India Company Archives.
Because they had received no answer, they took Glasspoole with them on a journey up the river to levy tribute from the villages. Much of the narrative is taken up with descriptions of the horrible events of this expedition.
Eventually the pirates agreed to release the prisoners for $7,500, part in cash, part in kind, i.e. cloth, opium, gunpowder and a telescope. The chief objected that the telescope was not new, and refused to release one of the men unless another telescope was brought or a further $100 was paid. The extra sum was paid and the men were released to the crew of the Antelope.
In his general remarks Glasspoole wrote,
The Ladrones have no settled residence on shore, but live constantly in their vessels. The after-part is appropriated to the Captain and his wives; he generally has five or six. With respect to conjugal rights they are religiously strict; no person is allowed to have a woman on board, unless married to her according to their laws. Every man is allowed a small berth, about four feet square, where he stows with his wife and family.
From the number of souls crowded in so small a space, it must naturally be supposed they are horridly dirty, which is evidently the case, and their vessels swarm with all kinds of vermin. Rats in particular, which they encourage to breed, & eat them as great delicacies; in fact there are very few creatures they will not eat. During our captivity we lived three weeks on caterpillars boiled with rice. They are much addicted to gambling & spend all their leisure hours at cards and smoking opium. (p. 56)
William Hodges, is best-known in Australia as the artist on Captain Cook’s second voyage, 1772-1775. His paintings of people and scenes in the South Seas are among his best work.
In 1778 he went to India under the patronage of Warren Hastings and stayed for six years. His account of his time there is remarkable in many ways, particularly in the descriptions of events presented through an artist’s eye, supported by engravings.
He witnessed a suttee. This is the ritual burning of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband. The word comes from the Sanskrit, sati, meaning "virtuous wife". Lord Bentinck passed a law against it in 1829. Although there was fierce opposition from the Hindus; having the practice legally defined as murder led to its decline.
Hodges gives a detailed description of the suttee which he witnessed at Benares on the banks of the Ganges.
Upon my repairing to the spot, on the banks of the river, where the ceremony was to take place, I found the body of the man on a bier, and covered with linen, already brought down and laid at the edge of the river. At this time, about ten in the morning, only a few people were assembled, who appeared destitute of feeling of the catastrophe that was to take place; I may even say that they displayed the most perfect apathy and indifference. After waiting a considerable time the wife appeared, attended by the Bramins, and music, with some few relations. The procession was slow and solemn; the victim moved with a steady and firm step; and apparently with a perfect composure of countenance, approached close to the body of her husband, where for some time they halted. She then addressed those who were near her with composure, and without the least trepiditation of voice or change of countenance. She held in her left hand a cocoa nut, in which was a red colour mixed up, and dipping in it the fore finger of her right hand she marked those near her, to whom she wished to shew the last act of attention. As at this time I stood close to her, she observed me attentively, and with the colour marked me on the forehead. She might be about twenty-four or five years of age, a time of life when the bloom of beauty has generally fled the cheek in India; but she still preserved a sufficient share to prove that she must have been handsome: her figure was small, but elegantly turned; and the form of her hands and arms was particularly beautiful. Her dress was a loose robe of white flowing drapery, that extended from her head to the feet. The place of sacrifice was higher up on the bank of the river, a hundred yards or more from the spot where we now stood. The pile was composed of dried branches, leaves and rushes, with a door on one side, and arched and covered on the top: by the side of the door stood a man with a lighted brand. From the time the woman appeared to the taking up of the body to convey it into the pile, might occupy a space of half an hour, which was employed in prayer with the Bramins, in attentions to those who stood near her, and conversation with her relations. When the body was taken up she followed close to it, attended by the chief Bramin: and when it was deposited in the pile, she bowed to all around her, and entered without speaking. The moment she entered, the door was closed; the fire was put to the combustibles, which instantly flamed, and immense quantities of dried wood and other matters were thrown upon it. This last part of the ceremony was accompanied with the shouts of the multitude, who now became numerous, and the whole seemed a mass of confused rejoicing. For my part, I found myself actuated by very different sentiments: the event that I had been witness to was such, that the minutest circumstance attending it could not be erased from my memory; and when the melancholy which had overwhelmed me was somewhat abated, I made a drawing of the subject, and from a picture since painted the annexed plate was engraved. (p. 81-83)
James Rennell was a highly-respected geographer, surveyor and cartographer. He began his career in the Royal Navy, stationed in the east. He later worked for the East India Company as their surveyor-general in Bengal.
He is known for having produced the first correct map of India, in 1783. This Memoir is the text to accompany the map and gives details as to how he undertook his survey, as well as supplementary material.
It is open at a map showing the routes taken by the troops under Colonels Fullarton and Humberstone during the skirmishes to subdue Hyder Ali’s men in Malabar in 1783. This is a good example of the means by which Rennell acquired the information which went into his map. He surveyed large areas of India (or Hindoostan as he called it) in the course of his official duties, but he also went over in detail the accounts of those who passed through the various provinces, amending his survey according to their reports on the spot.
Robert Fortune was a botanist sent by the Royal Horticultural Society to the east to collect specimens in 1842. He proved himself a most assiduous collector, even penetrating the city of Soo-chow-foo, then closed to foreigners, disguised in Chinese dress. He had done this as occasion required in country areas but was nervous of attempting it in a city. As he approached the town, he remarked,
My old friends, or should I say my enemies, the dogs, who are as acute as any Chinaman, evidently did not disown me as a countryman, and this at once gave me confidence. These animals manifest very great hatred to foreigners, barking at them wherever they see them, and hanging on their skirts until they are fairly out of sight of the house or the village where their masters reside. (p. 258)
He was successful and managed to visit the nursery gardens,
out of which I was able to procure some new and valuable plants. Among these I may notice in passing a white Glycine, a fine new double yellow rose, and a Gardenia with large white blossoms, like a Camellia. These plants are now in England, and will soon be met with in every garden in the country. The Soo-chow nurseries abounded in dwarf trees, many of which were very curious and old, two properties to which the Chinese attach far greater importance than we do in England. (p. 260)
Soo-chow-foo was Fortune’s name for Suchau, fifty miles WNW of Shanghai. It was a city built on a network of canals, and was noted as a centre for silk production. It suffered badly during the Taiping Rebellion, many of its major buildings being destroyed by "Chinese" Gordon in 1863. The frontispiece to Fortune’s book shows its famous long bridge.
Fortune visited China on two subsequent occasions, mainly to investigate the tea and silk industries. Many of the tea varieties introduced into north-western India were as a result of Fortune’s botanical endeavours.
His third visit coincided with the Taiping Rebellion, and he was able to give first-hand accounts of some of the events. As in previous visits, he had made Shanghai his base. On returning there from a journey during which he tried to persuade some of the Chinese tea manufacturers to emigrate to India to teach their methods of production, he found the inhabitants of Shanghai preoccupied with the threat from the rebels.
The morning of the 7th of September, being the day on which the mandarins usually pay their visit to sacrifice in the temple of Confucius, was chosen by the rebels for the attack upon the city. Without knowing anything about their plans, I happened to pay a visit to the city soon after daybreak. On entering at the north gate I observed a number of men looking earnestly at some objects in the guard-house, and saw at a glance that something of an unusual nature had taken place. Ascending the steps of the guard-room with the Chinese, I was horrorstruck at finding the mats and pillows belonging to the guard saturated with human blood. Upon inquiry, I found that a band of men believed to be composed chiefly of the members of the secret society … called the "Small Sword Society," had entered the city and were then on their way to the houses of the chief mandarins. (p. 119)
These rebels were not in fact connected with the Taipings but seemed intent on looting the official buildings and handing the city over to those who could make the highest offer. The Europeans were in an area outside the city walls and the rebels left them alone. They occupied the city for over a year, until the French ships began to shell them as a consequence of a trade dispute. This triggered an attack by the Imperial army which saw the defeat of the rebels and the re-capture of the city. However, the Imperial soldiers set fire to much of Shanghai and looted the buildings left intact by the rebels.
Fortune’s first-hand account of the unrest in China adds to the value of this book which also includes descriptions of silk and tea cultivation, as well as the porcelain, and antique trades, Chinese commerce and industries in general, and the character of the people.
"Rajah" Brooke of Sarawak was successful in reducing the pirate menace along the eastern side of the Malay Peninsula. He was a wealthy adventurer who landed at Sarawak, on the north-west coast of Borneo, with the intention of achieving a commercial success. Most of the island of Borneo was at that time under the control of the Sultan of Brunei. There was a revolution taking place in Sarawak, and Brooke was instrumental in suppressing this. In return, the Sultan appointed him "Rajah", in charge of the country. He was able to expand the country’s borders, set it on a sound commercial footing and bring it under British control.
Captain Mundy and his ship, H.M.S. Iris assisted Brooke in his operations against the pirates. As part of their operations they proceeded up the rivers to attack the villages where the Dyak pirate tribes lived. The illustration shows the Dyaks using their sumpits, or blow-pipes to counter-attack the intruders.
Several of our men were wounded by the sumpits; however, the arrows, on being drawn out, left a very small incision, which a kind messmate instantly sucked, and the poison (a black substance made from the upas tree) was extracted. These arrows are nine inches long, of tough wood, not thicker than moderate sized wire, very neatly made, and generally barbed with sharpened fish bones. At twenty yards distance, the barb meeting the bare skin, would bury half the arrow in the flesh, but would not penetrate cloth at the distance of forty yards; the extreme range may be eighty or ninety yards. The length of the largest sumpitan I saw was between seven and eight feet, and much resembled the cherry-stick pipes of Turkey. The beauty and straightness of the bore is remarkable, and in order to give the greatest velocity to the arrow, the head of it is made to fit exactly the size of the tube, and is formed of a sort of pith, or of very soft wood. The quiver for these arrows is really curious, beautifully made from the large bamboo, and besides the darts usually contain a variety of amulets or charms in the shape of pebbles, bones, and odd pieces of wood, with the skins of monkeys. (vol. 2, p. 226-227)
The effects of the Upas, or poison tree were legendary. As we have seen, the natives used the gum to poison the tips of the darts they shot with their blow-pipes, but it was said that one could die, simply by standing in the shade of the Upas tree, and that it would kill all vegetation in its immediate vicinity.
"Upas" is the Malay word for poison. The tree is properly called Antiaris toxicaria.
Stockdale was a publisher, and this was one of many books he compiled from earlier sources, hence on a subject such as the Upas tree, we are given a range of accounts from the eighteenth century onwards.
Among them we find the following by M. Deschamps, the physician on D’Entrecasteaux’s voyage,
The bohon-upas is common in the province of Balembouang. It looks like an elm; and grows to the height of about thirty or forty feet. … the fruit is round, and contains a kernal. On breaking a branch of the tree, a milky juice runs from it, and immediately condenses itself: it is the famous poison. Mixed with the blood, it kills almost instantaneously. The Javans eat the animals killed by means of this poison, without feeling any ill effects from it.
The fiction which has gone abroad of the very atmosphere of the tree being mortal, is unfounded, as I have myself cut branches from it; but originates in the following circumstance:
The sovereigns of Java, who are much embarrassed by the great number of brothers which the custom of polygamy produces, get rid of them, by banishing them, with other state criminals, to very marshy and unhealthy islands, situate on the southern coast of the great island. As the greater part of these exiles perish there, the people have the great idea that they are killed by the exhalations of the bohon-upas. (p. 322-323)
Alfred Russel Wallace was a naturalist who established himself with a journey to the Amazon from 1848 to 1852. In 1854 he decided that the Malay Archipelego offered the most promising field for a naturalist so he sailed there and stayed for eight years, visiting every significant island group.
He is perhaps best remembered for his discovery that the area is divided zoologically into two distinct regions by the narrow but deep strait between Bali and Lombok, now known as the "Wallace Line". The western area is Oriental, the eastern, Australasian. In simple terms, the most obvious division is Malay to the west, Polynesian to the east.
He came upon the idea of evolution by natural selection independently of Darwin. It is supposed to have occurred to him while suffering from a fever at Ternate in 1858. He sent his conclusions to Darwin, who had been working on this theory for years. The findings were published in a joint paper for the Linnaean Society on 1 July 1858.
The frontispiece to volume one shows "An orang-utan attacked by Dyaks". This refers to an incident described by Wallace in chapter four of this volume. He visited Borneo with the express intention of observing the orang-utan, or "mias" as the natives called him, in his natural state. Wallace was collecting specimens so his method was to shoot the animals and, after measuring them, preserve their skin and skeleton. It makes rather gruesome reading nowadays.
Some Dyaks came to tell me that the day before a Mias had nearly killed one of their companions. A few miles down the river there is a Dyak house, and the inhabitants saw a large Orang feeding on the young shoots of a palm by the river-side. On being alarmed he retreated towards the jungle which was close by, and a number of the men armed with spears and choppers, ran out to intercept him. The man who was in front tried to run his spear through the animal’s body, but the Mias seized it in his hands, and in an instant got hold of the man’s arm, which he seized in his mouth, making his teeth meet in the flesh above the elbow, which he tore and lacerated in a dreadful manner. Had not the others been close behind, the man would have been more seriously injured, if not killed, as he was quite powerless; but they soon destroyed the creature with their spears and choppers. The man remained ill for a long time, and never fully recovered the use of his arm. ( vol. 1, p. 49)
Wallace describes the habits of the orang-utan,
It is a singular and very interesting sight to watch a Mias making his way leisurely through the forest. He walks deliberately along some of the larger branches, in the semi-erect attitude which the great length of his arms and the shortness of his legs cause him naturally to assume; and the disproportion between these limbs is increased by his walking on his knuckles, not on the palm of the hand, as we should do. He seems always to choose those branches which intermingle with a adjoining tree, on approaching which he stretches out his long arms, and, seizing the opposing boughs, grasps them together with both hands, seems to try their strength, and then deliberately swings himself across to the next branch, on which he walks along as before. He never jumps or springs, or even appears to hurry himself, and yet manages to get along almost as quickly as a person can run trough the forest beneath. The long and powerful arms are of the greatest use to the animal, enabling it to climb easily up the loftiest trees, to seize fruits and young leaves from slender boughs which will not bear its weight, and to gather leaves and branches which form its nest. I have already described how it forms a nest when wounded, but it uses a similar one to sleep on almost every night. This is placed low down, however, on a small tree not more than twenty to fifty feet from the ground, probably because it is warmer and less exposed to the wind than higher up. … The Dyaks say that, when it is very wet, the Mias covers himself over with leaves of pandanus, or large ferns, which has perhaps led to the story of his making a hut in the trees. (vol. 1, p. 59)
The frontispiece to volume two shows the bird of paradise. Wallace was the first to bring these birds alive to Europe.
Mrs Bishop, or Isabella Bird was a prolific writer of travel accounts, having visited America, Australia and the Pacific, and Asia. She was the first woman elected a member of the Royal Geographical Society.
Despite the disarming statement in her "Prefatory Note" that, "My first journey produced the impression that Korea is the most uninteresting country I ever travelled in". (p. xi), she visited Korea four times between January 1894 and March 1897, even establishing a hospital there, Greater familiarity changed her poor opinion of the place.
She describes an encounter with a group of Koreans who have benefited from the recent commercial exploitation of their country by Japan and the West,
At the large and prosperous-looking village of Chon-yaing the people told us that a "circus" was about to perform and impelled us towards it; but finding that it was in the court-yard of a large tiled-roof mansion, in good repair and of much pretension, we were retiring, when we were cordially invited to enter, and I was laid hold of (literally) by the serving-women and dragged through the women’s court into the women’s apartments. I was surrounded by fully forty women, old and young, wives, concubines, servants, all in gala dress and much adorned. The principal wife, a very young girl wearing some Indian jewellery, was very pretty and had an exquisite complexion, but one and all were destitute of manners. They investigated my clothing, pulled me about, took off my hat and tried it on, untwisted my hair and absorbed my hairpins, pulled off my gloves and tried them on with shrieks of laughter, and then, but not till they had exhausted all the amusement which could be got out of me, they bethought themselves of entertaining me by taking me through their apartments, crowding upon me to such an extent as they did so that I was nearly carried off my feet. …
In the outer court a rope was stretched for the rope-dancers, and kettledrums and reed-pipes gave promise of such music as Koreans love. I was escorted across two other courts surrounded by verandahs supported on dressed stone, and with iron railings instead of wood, to an elevated reception room, where a foreign table and some tawdry velvet covered chairs clashed with the tastefulness of the walls and the fine mats bordered with the Greek fret on the floor. … The host, a youth of eighteen, eldest son of the governor of one of the most important governships in Korea, welcomed us, and seemed anxious to receive us courteously. Wine, soup, eggs, and kimchi, an elaborate sort of "sour kraut," were produced, and had to be partaken of, our host meanwhile smoking an expensive foreign cigar, which gave him an opportunity for the ostentatious display of a showy diamond ring. He was dressed in sea-green silk, and wore a hat of very fine quality. (vol. 1, p. 97-99)
Mrs. Bishop pays much attention to the conditions of Korean women, remarking at one point that, "Her husband addresses her by the word ya-bu, signifying "Look here," which is significant of her relations to him." (vol. 1, p. 133)
Anna D’Almeida, who wrote under the name Anna d’A visited Asia in 1862 just as Japan was being opened to the West. Commodore Perry had extracted a treaty from the Shogun in 1854 which had set up trading links.
As with Isabella Bird, Anna D’A pays a great deal of attention to the domestic arrangements, social customs and the mode of life of the women.
The women dress very much like the men, with a loose flowing robe, confined at the waist by a scarf. At the back they wear a bundle of cloth or silk, the most costly article of their whole attire. Every woman, whether of low or high degree, poor or wealthy, always turns round on passing another woman, and fixes her eyes on this singular appendage, a scrutiny which enables her to judge of the wearer’s station and wealth. They redden their lips with a preparation the name of which is Ben-tsu-ba. By means of another mixture, which many avail themselves of, they give them a golden tinge, the appearance of which strikes one at first as very singular.
The Japanese make companions of their wives in a more general sense that any Eastern nation I have seen or heard of, polygamy being, we were told forbidden by law.
Every Japanese parent is allowed to sell his daughter to the proprietor of any "tea house," or other similar place; but only some of the poorer classes, I believe, avail themselves of this sad means of economizing their household, by parting with their offspring at the tender age of seven or eight. When they are thus sold, the better-looking naturally command the highest price. These poor children are, for their owner’s own benefit, carefully tended, being kept in comparative seclusion until they attain the age of fourteen or fifteen, when they are compelled to commence an immoral course of life, the poor girls, like too many sad victims in our own land, being decked out in the gayest and most fanciful attire.
Either previous or subsequent to this time, any Japanese wanting a wife can purchase one of these young creatures, and be legally married to her; but if no such chance occurs, she is not permitted to leave the establishment until she is twenty-five, when she is perfectly free, and not in the least regarded as inferior to any other girl in her station in life – in fact, generally marrying well.
On one occasion, I remember, we visited the house of a Yacoonin, who received us with evident pleasure, treating us to tea and cake. After some minutes’ conversation, his wife entered, accompanied by her female attendant. … She was a good-looking young woman, thickly powdered, her eyebrows shaved entirely off, and her teeth blackened. The two last-mentioned operations are performed by every woman when she becomes a wife, and as they have generally strongly-marked eyebrows, and pretty regular teeth, with by no means small mouths, the disfiguring effect of the operations may be better imagined than described. The reason ascribed for this extraordinary practice is that each woman may show her husband that from henceforth she desires no admiration but his; though how a husband can reconcile himself to the disfigurement, I cannot think. Fancy wooing a lovely brunette, with hair like a raven’s wing, and eyebrows to correspond, whose coral lips open to disclose two rows of pearls. Then, when the vows have been uttered, and this fair being becomes your own, picture to yourself what you must think on beholding the transformation that, in obedience to the tyrant custom, she has effected – the pearls suddenly turned to ebony, and the arch formed by the eye-brow now a bluish-looking desert! (p. 204-207)
James Hingston was a journalist on the Argus newspaper in Melbourne. These two volumes consist of the articles he sent back to the Argus for publication during his round the world tour in 1876 to 1878.
Volume one covers Japan, China, South-East Asia, the Dutch East Indies and New Zealand (and also has chapters on New South Wales and South Australia).
He landed first at Yokahama and gives an assessment of the state of trade there.
Fortunes are no longer made quickly in the white settlements of Japan. A steady jog-trot trade is now done, similar to what might be done at any of the New Zealand ports. The Japanese manufactures have been hitherto works of art in metal, porcelain, cottons and silk. They have been exported largely, and the demand has now decreased. The bronzes, vases and curious porcelain wares have become not the curious and expensive things that they once were, and no longer pay the profits they did. (vol. 1 p. 3)
He found the Japanese easy to get on with, and had his own theory as to why this was so.
The Japanese are a small race. The men are rarely over 5ft. 4in., and the women usually under 5ft. They are the most polite, cheerful, and pleasant of people. It is easily accounted for. They eat the most easily digested of all food, and drink nought but that which cheers but not inebriates. (vol. 1, p. 4)
He remarks on the mode of transport in Japan,
They have no horses. The palanquin was the mode of conveyance until the Japanese saw an American buggy, and the way of making light wheel and springs. Seven years ago this ingenious people made the jinrickishaw (man-power carriage), which is a cross between the perambulator and a small hansom. One man could, between the shafts of this conveyance, do the work that two had done hitherto with the palanquin. This new pull-man car is now the national vehicle of Japan. I went forty miles with ease in one day in one of these, and the same conveyancers brought me back forty miles the next day. In these long journeys two men will go, one as an emergency man, to occasionally take a turn in the shafts, and uphill pull at a rope in tandem fashion. At first it looks objectionable to be dragged about by one’s fellow beings in place of horses. The traveller, however, gets used to everything in time, and comes to look upon whatever is as being right. Our prejudices and predilections are all accidents of birth. Our thoughts, beliefs and tastes are of education. (vol. 1, p. 4-5)
The second volume begins with Hingston’s visit to Ceylon. The different races on the island are remarked upon,
One has to remember the former connexion with India in seeing how many different native races there are in Ceylon – Cingalese, Malays, Hindoos, Tamils, Arabs, Moors, and other brown skins, in addition to the white and whitey-brown ones, that become better known on a longer acquaintanceship than I had with the place. The difference between the races is not easily distinguishable at first. They are all dark-skinned alike to European eyes. To the initiated the shades of brown are, however, as plain as is the national dress of each race. Though the clothing is scanty, the habit suffices, as Shakespeare says. "to bespeak the man.," and in Eastern nations the fashion of clothing never alters.
… The Tamils from among whom the running footmen are usually chosen, wear the simplest dress – merely a rag around the loins. Of the races visible in Ceylon the Veddah claims first place – in the order of arrival. He is the real aboriginal – the oldest inhabitant in every sense. He is the primeval man, and a veritable wild man of the woods. His abode is a cave, and he shoots birds and monkeys with a bow which he draws with his toes. He is nearly as untamable as the gorilla, and must be somewhere near to that missing link between the two which Darwinians are in search. (vol. 2, p. 17-18)
George Ernest "Chinese" Morrison was born in Geelong. He graduated as a medical doctor from Edinburgh, From an early age he made his reputation as an adventurer. Before he was 21 he had visited the south seas and New Guinea, returning overland from Normanton, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, to Melbourne on foot.
After serving as a doctor in Spain and Morocco, he returned to Victoria and became the resident surgeon at Ballarat. He left that post in 1893 to visit the Far East and in 1894 travelled from Shanghai to Rangoon overland, a distance of 3000 miles. It took him one hundred days and cost him eighteen pounds. He is noted for having respected the customs of the peoples through whose country he travelled.
I travelled as a Chinese, dressed in warm Chinese winter clothing, with a pigtail attached to the inside of my hat. I could not have been more comfortable. I had a small cabin to myself. I had of course my own bedding, and by paying a Mexican dollar a day to the Chinese steward, "foreign chow" was brought me from the saloon. The traveller who cares to travel in this way, to put his pride in his pocket and a pigtail down his back, need pay only one-fourth of what it would cost him to travel as a European in European dress. (p. 2)
He later became the Times correspondent on Eastern affairs, covering the Boxer Rebellion, and the Russo-Japanese War. After the fall of the Manchu Dynasty, he became an adviser to the new Chinese government.
This account was printed "For private circulation only" by James Veitch and Sons, Royal Exotic Nursery, Chelsea. It gathers together articles written for the Gardener's chronicle 1891-1894.
Among the illustrations we find one which shows, a "Pine tree at Kinhakuji trained in the form of a sailing junk". The Japanese predilection for bonsai and topiary fascinated westerners.
The Chinese garden behind the Kinhakuji Monastery, attached to the Zen sect of Buddhists, is from four hundred to five hundred years old, and most prettily situated. It contains a lake, in which are some huge carp and red-fish, a golden pavilion, and a curious Pine in the form of a junk, certainly one of the most curious of the many interesting and strange trained Pines in the whole Empire. This remarkable example of horticultural skill stand alone in a courtyard, the result – according to the attendant priests – of over three centuries of patient labour. (p. 113)
This scroll shows the various provinces of Japan, their income from trade, and their insignia.
This guide book covers the ports in the Far East which had been opened for trade with foreigners as a result of the Opium Wars with China, and the subsequent Treaties of Nanking and of T’ien-Tsin; and Perry’s Treaty with Japan.
The volume is open at a plan of Victoria, the capital of Hong Kong. The island of Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking and soon became the chief entrepot in Eastern Asia.
In the nineteenth century, after the east was opened to trade, it began to become a popular tourist destination. The London publishing firm of John Murray included Asian countries in their list of guide-books.
The Indian volume has extensive lists of phrases in several Indian languages. For example, under "Hiring of servants", the first phrases we find phrases are, "Hold your tongue", "Go about your business", "Let one speak at a time."
One of the Japanese guide-books is open at the map of Mount Fuji. This had been from the beginning a favourite tourist attraction. Among the pieces of advice we find ,
The number of coolies required will of course depend on the amount of baggage to be carried. When ladies are making the ascent, it is advisable to have a spare man or two to pull and push them up when tired. (1901 ed., p. 169)
The P & O Line of steamers was one of the most significant in the Far East. This is one of their guide-books. As well as extensive information on Australia and New Zealand, it also includes information on such Asian ports as Colombo.
The Preanger Regencies are in the south of Java; the major centre is Bandoeng.
Much water has flowed under the bridge and a great change has come over the situation of the world, especially in this part of the globe, since it was first published in 1935.
Despite the remarkable change in the world situation and despite a new economic fabric built in various parts of the world, it is my firm conviction that better understanding and closer friendship will be fostered through promotion of trade between the countries concerned – a conviction which has prompted me to publish the "Japan Trade Guide", designed to place at the disposal of foreign traders and manufacturers interested in commerce with Japan full information on the business conditions of this country.
There are also Prefaces by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Commerce and Industry, the Minister of Communications, the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, the President of Japan Chamber of Commerce, and the Chairman of the Yokohama and Tokyo Foreign Board of Trade.
Hachiro Arita, the Minister for Foreign Affairs wrote,
We are now engaged in a colossal campaign in China. The attainment of our aims, namely the creation of a new order in east Asia based on equity and justice, will not only bring enduring peace to our part of the globe but increased prosperity to the entire world. Needless to say, the cooperation of foreign powers will be welcomed in the coming task of China’s economic reconstruction and rehabilitation.
The Travellers Library
The idea behind this publishing venture was to provide a set of compact books for stowing conveniently in a trunk while on your travels. As is only to be expected there are several volumes devoted to voyages and travels (thirteen in all). We have volume eight open at Twenty years in the Philippines, By Paul de La Gironière.
La Gironière was in the Philippines from 1820 to 1840. He was a successful trader who set up his own township of Jala-Jala. Among the experiences he describes we find his account of the general uprising of the Filipinos in Manila against the Europeans in 1820. This occurred after a cholera epidemic.
The Indians [i.e. the Filipinos] said amongst themselves, that the foreigners had poisoned the rivers and fountains, in order to destroy the native population and get possession of the Philippines. (p. 9)
Also in volume eight, we find Eothen, Kinglake’s famous travel book, and Huc’s Tartary both of which are referred to by Ian Mabbett in his Introduction to this catalogue.
The remainder of the volumes include biography and history, fiction, essays and practical works on "mines and mining".
This multi-volume work appeared originally in monthly parts. It aimed to bring the most recent travel accounts to the public attention. Each issue was advertised as appearing "With engravings from original drawings by celebrated artists."
As Japan had just been opened to Westerners, there was a great deal of contemporary interest in that country. This is reflected in the preponderance of articles on Japan published in this journal. We have four of the volumes open at illustrations of "A Japanese School", "A Wayside Inn", "Shops, Shinagawa", "Street in Yedo", and, from India, "Hindoo Fakir".
Asia has always been a popular locale for adventure stories. We have an extensive collection of childrens’ books and they include many set in the east. They provide the opportunity for researchers to study popular attitudes to Asians. Certain assumptions can be noted. Peter Parley’s Tales about Universal History on the Bases of Geography, has a frontispiece showing four scenes one above the other. The first is "The Savage State" and shows natives around a tepee; the second shows natives around a thatched hut with the caption reading "The Barbarous State"; the third is set in India and shows elephants carrying people in the foreground with a typical Indian city-scape in the background. The caption reads "The Civilized State"; while the fourth, "The Highest State of Civilization", shows a London scene, with a printing press in the foreground and a group of people consulting plans while looking at a new stone building under construction.
The Peter Parley travel books take their young readers on a tour of the world in the company of the pseudonymous Peter. Sumatra, China, Japan, Tibet are all visited, as is Indo-China,
It comprises the Burman Empire, the empire of Tonquin, and the kingdoms of Assam, Siam and Malacca; but the principal of them is the Burman empire, recently formed by the union of several small kingdoms subdued by the Burmans.
The capital of the Burman empire is Ummerapoora, about four miles from Ava, the former capital, which is now in ruins, the most splendid part of the materials having been carried thence to form the present capital. The city is called the Golden City, and the Emperor styled his Golden Majesty. Though absolute in power, and very despotic, he is nevertheless almost wholly under the influence of the court astrologers, since nothing of importance is undertaken without consulting them as to the propitious time for its performance.
The people are very superstitious, insomuch that an unusual grunt from the white elephant, which they highly venerate, is at all times sufficient to interrupt the most important affairs, and cause the most solemn engagements to be broken off. (p. 80-81)
As with many childrens’ books in the nineteenth century, there is a strong emphasis on missionary work. One of the countries described is Burma. The section on "The Karens" begins,
Among the mountains of Burmah, there are a wild people called the Karens, very poor and very ignorant; yet some have attended to the voice of the missionaries. They are not so proud as the Burmese; for they have no gods at all, and no books at all: they have not filled their heads with five hundred and fifty stories about Gaudama; therefore they are more ready to listen to the history of Jesus. (p. 195)
Mrs. Sherwood was a writer of sentimental children’s books with an uplifting message. This story is set in India and presents us with a young boy who dies after a long illness. His devoutness so affects Boosy, his Indian bearer that he "renounced cast and declared himself a Christian. After due examination he was baptized; and continued till his death (which happened not very long after) a sincere Christian." (p. 137-138)
Bracebridge Hemyng was a prolific writer of boy’s adventure stories. Jack Harkaway was one of his most successful creations. The stories in which he featured take place at various spots around the world. There is even one set in Australia. Writers of children’s stories, romances or "bloods" often used the east as an exotic backdrop to their plots. The details were usually worked up from published sources
The Jack Harkaway books originally appeared in penny weekly numbers.
Among the countries a young reader would learn about in this book, are Japan, China, and India. The caption for the illustration of the Japanese boy reads,
Poor, but contented, all he wishes,
Is a little rice and a few small fishes.
Annuals and Gift Books
68. Empire Annual for Australian Boys (London, Religious Tract Society, [1912?])
69. The wonder book of children and the people they live with / edited by
70. Blackie’s Boys Annual (London, Blackie, 1939)
71. Girls Big Christmas Annual (London, Westminster Press, [n. d.])
72. Schoolgirl's adventure book / edited by Mrs. Sheridan Jones. (London : Shoe Lane, [n. d.])
73. The Girls' adventure book. (London : Juvenile Productions, )
74. The Treasure of Chin-Loo and other stories of adventure / by Paul Blake
The Children’s annuals and gift books on display show illustrations of adventures in the East, predominantly in India and China. They show some of the stereotypes prevalent in the public perception of Asians.