On 18 June 1842, Queen Victoria recorded in her journal an unusual afternoon’s visit:
… we drove with Uncle, the Cousins, &c riding to see a Chinese Collection belonging to a Mr Don [sic], who made the collection, in order to have it exhibited in aid of Charities. The profits made, are to be applied to charitable purposes. The collection is splendid & very complete, down to the smallest details. There were life size figures, dressed in various beautiful costumes, all done in China, indeed one could have almost fancied oneself in China.
It was a retired Philadelphian China trader, Nathan Dunn, amongst whose collection the royal party spent an hour and a half that day. Dunn had spent the best part of 12 years in Canton (Guangzhou), and on his return to the United States had opened a ‘Chinese Museum’ housing his collection in Philadelphia in 1838. Seeking a better financial return, he shipped it to London in November 1841. Dunn’s extensive and varied collection of objects and clay mannequins of Chinese figures has been the subject of a number of passages, including one of my own, in discussions of the engagement of American and British publics with Chinese material culture, and the image and understanding of China. As far as London knew in June 1842 Britain was still at war in China (the Queen, the previous month, had accepted a gift of four captured Chinese flags) and it was not until November that despatches communicating the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing arrived from China.
Frontispiece to William B. Langdon, “Ten thousand Chinese things.” A descriptive catalogue of the Chinese Collection … (London: 1844)
After the Queen’s visit, the exhibition was opened to the public. Housed in a purpose-built building on Knightsbridge Road, facing Hyde Park near Wilton Place, visitors entered through a ‘gorgeous’ (or ‘grotesque’ depending on the account) ‘exact copy’ of a ‘Chinese summer house’ – a pagoda, in fact — brought from the country itself. They then entered a cavernous hall 225 feet long and 50 wide within which was ‘China in miniature’, and which we can get a strong sense of from images published in the Illustrated London News, the exhibition’s Descriptive Catalogue, and other sources. The Pagoda and the hall remained a feature of London life for the best part of five years. Punch magazine published a satirical guide to it in 1844, and there were other spoofs. Newspapers report tours of it by visiting princes and pashas, while roundups of seasonal entertainments rarely fail to make mention of it. From late 1845 reports of its imminent closure and eventual relocation started appearing, but it was not until the last week of January 1847 that the exhibition closed down.
‘The Chinese Collection, Hyde Park Corner’, Illustrated London News, 21 August 1842, p. 204
In 1851 the exhibition reopened in a new building at Albert Gate, close by the original site, and close too, to the Crystal Palace housing the ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’. The minor puzzle is, where had it been in the meantime? Helen Saxbee, whose unpublished 1990 PhD dissertation remains the most complete account of the Chinese Collection’s London sojourn, concluded that while it might actually have gone on tour, as was claimed it would do, ‘an undertaking to tour a show as large and valuable as Dunn’s has no precedent or parallel in this period, and must ultimately be regarded as highly unlikely’. Saxbee did note that an installation styling itself ‘The Chinese Exhibition’ had been advertised as opening in August 1847 in Bow, in East London, but followed Richard D. Altick’s earlier conclusion that this was a copycat sham.
I’m not so sure. It was clearly a profitable enterprise, even if we discount as salesman’s hyperbole the assurances of its ability to earn ‘a very large sum’ annually from its display in London that William Langdon detailed in advertisements in May to August 1845 when offering it for sale as Dunn’s executor after the American’s death in 1844. A Briton, who had also worked in Canton and was the Museum’s salaried curator, Langdon was, under the terms of Dunn’s will, made joint trustee of the collection with a Philadelphia trader, Isaac Collins. The men were directed to maintain the collection on display in London for up to five years from its opening date and then sell it for the benefit of Dunn’s estate. Langdon did not sell it, or not entirely: he seems in fact to have bought it himself.
As this collection, mounted in display cases on a dozen and a half large carriages (the number varies), mostly transported by train, journeyed over the next three years from Bow to Birmingham then Liverpool, to Hull and Edinburgh, to Carlisle and then in late 1850 to Newcastle, Langdon’s name is often associated with it. In April 1849 we have sight of the outline business arrangements, for Langdon’s then partnership with a Kensington silversmith, Francis George Herbert, and a Knightsbridge Linendraper Robert Lewis Gawtry was dissolved, with Gawtry leaving the business. The partnership’s interest is duly recorded as ‘in the Chinese Exhibition’. Searching for the ‘Chinese exhibition’ in the ‘British Library Newspapers’ database throws up a steady series of references that have allowed me to track the exhibition as it made its way around the country. This was not least because of the special arrangements that needed to be made to effect that perambulation, for example from Hull to Edinburgh: the large number of outsize ‘caravans’ which were arranged at each site to form ‘a spacious and magnificent saloon, approached through a pagoda’, and which were conveyed by one train, suspended on special iron rods between railway trucks, sometimes on specially laid temporary lines to avoid the sides of low bridges. A second train carried the rest of the exhibition and the horses which were to pull the caravans to the actual exhibition site. 
High society continued to patronise the collection when it opened, and notable foreign visitors were also reported attending, but admission prices were half those of London’s, and the ‘working classes’ paid half-price. There were lantern nights, and there was always a band performing as the customers strolled between the display cases. Sometimes this ‘UNRIVALLED FULL SAX-HORN BAND’ performed ‘original Chinese airs, and other musical oddities’ in the evening, as they did one week of February nights in Edinburgh at a ‘Feast of Lanterns’ when the exhibition was augmented with an eighty-foot-long arch (and the ticket price doubled). William Blight’s band, ‘of metropolitan celebrity’ was undoubtedly an additional draw, for he was well known from engagements at the Surrey Zoological Gardens and Royal Gardens, Vauxhall. Visitors got a taste of London, as they got their taste of China.
The final provincial exhibition in Newcastle was closed on 28 January 1851, and the collection was conveyed south to London. The caravans, now surplus to requirement, were sold off (minus their wheels), and instead, installed in its new building, augmented now with a ‘real Chinese lady and her attendants’, the exhibition reopened on 21 April in London. So ended the provincial adventures of Nathan Dunn’s collection of ‘ten thousand things’, which had probably entertained rather than instructed the working and the leisured classes in several cities and towns, leaving little by way of any trace, barring perhaps a repurposed cararvan ‘bought of the Chinese Exhibition’ and advertised for its hauling services by a Newcastle carter, William McCree, in late February 1851. The exhibition faced more competition in London in 1851, than it had nine years earlier – even its caterer was bankrupted — and it closed in October. The collection was then sold off at auction in December that year. The pagoda seems already to have been sold, and re-erected in the new Victoria Park in east London after the closure of the original exhibition. It remained in the park until it was demolished in 1956. Langdon sought a different kind of fortune in late 1852 when he travelled to Melbourne, one of tens of thousands attracted by the gold rush. He eventually settled in Australia for good, where he died in 1868.
There’s more that might be extracted from this story, and I might return to it. For now, I’m happy to leave with the thought of William McCree boasting about his new cart’s exotic associations, for I cannot think of any other reason that he would make detailed reference to its purchase when offering his services to the public. And how long did he go on doing so, as memories of the exhibition faded? Might it still have been worthy of note up until the time he sold off all his equipment and horses in 1861 when he set himself up as a commission agent? I’d like to think so.
NB: I am grateful to Dr Andrew Hillier for inadvertently prompting this post.
 Notably: John Rogers Haddad, The Romance of China: Excursions to China in U.S. Culture, 1776-1876 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008); Elizabeth Chang, Britain’s Chinese Eye: Literature, Empire, and Aesthetics in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), pp. 116-17; Jonathan Goldstein, ‘Nathan Dunn (1782–1844) as Anti-Opium China Trader and Sino-Western Cultural Intermediary’, in Paul A. Van Dyke, and Susan E. Schopp (eds), The Private Side of the Canton Trade, 1700-1840: Beyond the Companies (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018), pp. 95-114; see also my The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qinq Empire, 1832-1914 (London: Allen Lane, 2011), pp. 88-89.
 Description from Morning Post, 21 June 1842, p. 6 (‘grotesque’ from Illustrated London News, 6 August 1842, p. 204); Elizabeth Phillips, ‘A Pagoda in Knightsbridge’, The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 4:2 (1984), pp. 37-42.
 The Era, 17 January 1847, p. 8; Punch’s Guide to the Chinese Collection (London: Punch, 1844). The magazine’s role in creating and perpetuating caricatures of China and the Chinese is the subject of Amy Matthewson’s recent book, Cartooning China: Punch, Power, & Politics in the Victorian Era (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022).
 Helen Saxbee, ‘An Orient Exhibited: The exhibition of the Chinese Collection in England in the 1840’ (Royal College of Art, Unpublished PhD thesis, 1990), p. 49; ‘Removal of the Chinese Exhibition’, The People’s Journal, January 1847, p. 4.
 Richard D. Altick, The Shows of London (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 292-94
 Eg Morning Post, 29 May 1845, p. 1.
 Public Ledger (Philadelphia), 20 November 1844, and Nathan Dunn’s will and associated documents, via Ancetry.com
 London Gazette, 20 April 1849, p. 1331. The 1851 census records Langdon as a visitor at Herbert’s home (via Ancestry.com).
 In this instance the details are from The Caledonian Mercury, 3 December 1849, p. 3; and The Inverness Courier, 15 November 1849.
 Caledonian Mercury, 11 February 1850, p. 1.
 Newcastle Journal, 5 January 1851, p. 1; 15 February 1851, p. 5;
 Morning Post, 23 September 1851, p. 7; Times, 10 December 1851, p. 8; 8 October 1956, p. 5. The last of the daily advertisements for it in the London press appeared on 15 October. I cannot trace an explicit contemporary reference to the re-erection of the pagoda in Victoria Park, but an early print of it shows a very clear similarity. This structure was in place by the winter of 1849: Morning Chronicle, 2 January 1850, p. 3.
 Newcastle Courant, 28 February 1851, p. 1, 26 July 1861, p. 4.