I’m talking this Sunday evening in Hong Kong, 8 November, as part of the wonderful Hong Kong International Literary Festival. To find out more check out the Festival website, starting of course with Past Perspectives: China Bound 太古集團乘風破浪 I’ll be talking about China Bound, and the story of nineteenth and century globalization that I found in the story of John Swire & Sons, and its worlds.
Let’s remember, please: Wuhan is not an unknown place, it is not beyond our knowledge. Wuhan has long been a part, even of British lives — and many others overseas — intimately so, if unobtrusively. Produce from Wuhan fed British days. Tea was shipped out from the port and found its way eventually into British homes and down British throats (and Australian ones, and many others). Powdered and later liquid egg was sent out from processing plants in the city and would fetch up in British bakeries. A British day in the 1920s might this way be sustained by Wuhan produce. So this long relationship could not be more physically intimate. Wuhan’s direct entanglement with the world beyond Hubei province’s borders is nothing new. Caravans took tea overland to Russia. In 1868, SS Agamemnon, a British-owned steamer of the Blue Funnel line, sailed to the port to collect the first crop of new teas, ready to carry them swiftly direct to London. Wuhan was an internationally-connected city, even then, though mostly tea went first downriver to Shanghai for transhipment.
The city of Wuhan is actually formed of what were historically three cities: Wuchang, on the right bank of the Yangzi, opposite the mouth of the Han river that enters it from the north; Hanyang, on the opposite shore, west of the Han river mouth, and Hankou – written in the past as Hankow – to the east of the Han river. These cities have now grown together into the municipality of Wuhan. It has been a centre of revolutions, of a government in flight, and of international trade.
Foreign flags once flew there. After 1861 a slice of Hankou on the Yangzi riverbank was controlled by the British, and in time other neighbouring slices adjoining it by Russia, France, Germany, and Japan. In Hankow’s British Concession a British Municipal Council ran a police force, employed British nurses in its hospital and British teachers in its school, and oversaw a militia, the Hankow British Volunteer Corps. The Council laid down roads, collected property taxes, and documented its activities in a voluminous printed annual report. Hankow’s Britons sailed home to join up in the First World War, and those who died were commemorated on a now long-ago removed war memorial on the riverside bund, which was unveiled on Remembrance Day, 1922. To the northeast of the city a fine race-track was laid out, and foreign residents and Chinese alike flowed along the road on race days to join the festivities, watch the races, and of course to gamble. The track and surrounds ‘might well be in the heart of surrey’ remarked a visitor in 1938. Britons were born in Hankow, were married there or found partners there, and were interred there in the foreign cemetery. The city’s locally-printed English newspapers published notices of these life events. The descendants of Hankow unions live across the world. They might be your neighbours.
This was no innocent presence; it was one local manifestation of the wider British enterprise in China that had degraded the country’s sovereignty, and seen parts of other cities surrendered to British – and to Japanese, Russian, German, Italian, French, and other – concessions and settlements. The British had acquired a colony in Hong Kong in 1842, the Japanese took Taiwan in 1895, the Germans Qingdao in 1897. Tsarist Russia had seized great swathes of Siberia from China’s Manchu rules, the Qing. All of this in turn was of course part of the ravaging of the world by the great hegemons, the European empires, the United States, Japan. These gains were defended with violence. Those British Volunteers and British marines fired on and killed demonstrators in the city in 1925. Names familiar today had a presence there: the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank (now HSBC), ICI, British American Tobacco. The airline Cathay Pacific flies there twice daily today from Hong Kong. Into the 1930s its owners, John Swire & Sons, operated passenger and cargo services to the port from Shanghai through their China Navigation Company steamers.
Wuhan was a city at the centre of China’s great political resurgence in the twentieth century. It has been on the front pages of newspapers overseas more than once before 2020. In October 1911 revolutionary bomb makers accidentally blew themselves up there, prompting their comrades to launch the great military uprising that would lead to the toppling of the Qing dynasty. The republic that was then inaugurated floundered and in 1926 a new revolutionary alliance of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist party (the Guomindang), and the Chinese Communist Party, launched an audacious campaign to re-establish and reinvent the republic. The movement’s left wing head-quartered itself in Wuhan, establishing a revolutionary capital there. Wuhan’s people reoccupied the British concession, reclaiming it for their city: it never returned to British control despite the fury and tub-thumping of British politicians and British China hands downriver, and despite the fact that the left-wing was turned on by Chiang Kai-shek from his capital in Nanjing, and destroyed. Wuhan returned to the front pages in 1938 as the temporary capital of Chiang’s republic, which had withdrawn from Nanjing in the face of the Japanese invasion. ‘Defend Wuhan’ urges the poster below, but Wuhan fell to the Japanese in October 1938.
Wuhan’s history then is a history that was intertwined with wider global developments, international trade, imperialism, the rise of anti-colonial nationalism, the fascist onslaught of the 1930s, and slowly evolving resistance to it, first in Spain and then in China. In March 1938 the British poet W.H. Auden accompanied by the novelist Christopher Isherwood visited the refugee capital. ‘We would rather be in Hankow at this moment than anywhere else on earth’, wrote Isherwood. ‘History, grown weary of Shanghai, bored with Barcelona, has fixed her capricious interest upon Hankow’. Caprice again brings Wuhan to the world’s attention.
For more on the city’s history see:
Chris Courtney, The Nature of Disaster in China: The 1931 Yangzi River Flood (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
William Rowe, Hankow: Commerce and Society in a Chinese City, 1796-1889 (Stanford University Press, 1984)
William Rowe, Hankow: Conflict and Community in a Chinese City, 1796-1895 (Stanford University Press, 1989)
My books The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the QIng Empire, 1832-1918 (Penguin) and Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Foreign Domination (Penguin) chart the rise, fall and legacies of this historic degradation of China’s sovereignty, and the nature of the foreign-run establishment in Wuhan and other cities.
Still they seep out, items ‘from the Emperor’s Summer Palace’, the Yuanmingyuan. This is the long, long-established euphemism for material looted during the sacking of the Summer Palace by British and French soldiery ‘wild for plunder’ in the days before the complex was burned down by British forces on 18 October 1860. The context was the hard-fought North China Campaign, British and French forces slogging across the plain from the mouth of the Beihai river, avenging bloody defeat at the hands of the Qing at the Dagu forts on 25 July 1859, and the seizure and ill-treatment of Allied envoys by the Chinese. Civilisation and its virtues were reasserted by the destruction of the complex of buildings and gardens northeast of Beijing, the beauty of which had left observers stunned for words.
Lot 516 at today’s sale at Chorley’s, ‘Gloucester’s Fine Auctioneers’ is outlined as ‘An Interesting collection of items relating to General Sir John Hart Dunne KCB’. Then a Captain, Dunne served with the 99th Regiment of Foot. He seized one of the five Pekinese dogs found abandoned in the royal quarters, the one in fact that was presented to Queen Victoria, charmingly renamed ‘Looty’. Sarah Cheang has written nicely about this. Material relating to Dunne’s career was on view at an exhibition in sunny Sidmouth in the summer of 2018.
There are photographs in the lot of Looty, a negative of Dunne and a woman dressed in, presumably, clothing seized from the same place, ‘a filigree work bodkin case of cylinder form, the inner sleeve inscribed ‘A Trifle from the Emperor’s Summer Palace Gen John Hart Dunne'” and more.
Loot, and in fact fake loot, began circulating almost immediately after the days of plunder. Taipans rushed north to pick up what they could from antiques markets around Beijing, any savvy vendor of Chinese objets, or clothing, quickly ran up watertight provenance for their wares, all material now tracing its origins back to the Yuanmingyuan. The ‘fate’ of loot has been tracked by James Hevia, and by others.
And so still they circulate, in this instance ‘a trifle’, or two, and a record of others: relics of the entangled and violent history of British-China relations, items that pepper the collections of British museums and galleries, spoils of war all in plain sight. The photographs here come from the auction catalogue, and I have also edited the negative to reveal more clearly the figure of John Hart Dunne, all dressed in loot.
For more on the campaign and its legacies see my The Scramble for China: Foreign devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 (Penguin). I am grateful to Dr Stephen Lloyd, Curator of the Derby Collection, at Knowsley Hall, for drawing the sale to my attention.
And for dog-lovers: here’s Looty in colour, painted by Friedrich Wilhelm Keyl, courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust website.
The Kaiser approved. Well, at least, his favourite sculptor Rheinhold Begas did, the man whose florid creations littered the sites of Wilhelmine power in Germany, and had oversight of the creation of the first German memorial erected in Shanghai. The Iltis Monument — the Iltis Denkmal, 伊尔底司碑 — commemorated the 77 dead German naval personnel, whose ship, the gunboat SMS Iltis, had foundered off the Shandong coast in July 1896. As the vessel sank the men were reported to have gathered around the mast and sung a hymn: ‘Now thank we all our God’. Three days earlier the ship’s officers had entertained Shanghai society at a reception on board, and so it seemed only proper that the International Settlement should host a memorial. The German seizure of Jiaozhou Bay (‘Kiaochow’), and the development of what became the city of Qingdao did not take place until 1897, and Shanghai hosted the largest community of the ‘China Germans’, who were inscribed as such — Die Deutschen Chinas — on the memorial itself.
Three and a tons of bronze were cast into the shape of a broken mast, around which was wrapped a flag on a staff. A broken mast was a common funerary device, given added piquancy in this case by the facts of the Shandong disaster. The design was sketched by a German naval officer, and then the monument was designed by August Kraus. It was cast in Germany and shipped out to China where it was placed on the Bund, not far from the entrance to the Public Garden and close to the German Club Concordia.
It was unveiled by Prinz Albert Wilhelm Heinrich von Preußen (Crown Prince Henry of Prussia) on 21 November 1898. A German naval band played the hymn the crew had sung. Even more than the Allied War Memorial unveiled a quarter of a century later, the Iltis Monument came to serve a ceremonial function. The visual life of the structure online attests to this — for there seem to be many more postcards and other images of this monument than any of the others that were erected, and so more collateral records of it have survived. It came to be a common ritual for visiting German dignitaries or military personnel to pay a formal visit to the site and to lay a wreath, and this is recorded in photographs and postcards.
If the monument acquired a life as a nationalistic symbol, it was also much lauded as a symbol of Anglo-German friendship. The memorial was situated on a piece of the Bund foreshore that the British firm Jardine Matheson & Co. had residual rights to, but the company had pointedly acceded with alacrity to the request to allow the monument to be sited there. The interests of treaty port Germans and Britons were increasingly closely intertwined at this point. They formed companies together, hosted each other at their clubs, collaborated in running Shanghai’s International Settlement and Race Club, saluted each others’ monarchs, and cemented their commercial relations through marriage. Respecting and honouring the dead of the Iltis disaster was a part of this.
Breaking apart these ties when the lengthening war demanded it in 1914 proved difficult. But the Lusitania sinking in May 1915 and the ‘Roll of Honour’ published in the British Shanghai press started to have a tangible impact. With the allied victory in November 1918 debate immediately commenced about the Iltis monument. Why, demanded some, was a nationalist monument ever allowed to be erected on the internationalised Bund. But why should triumph change our past view, others countered, of the heroism of the men it honoured: ‘Is victory to turn us into Huns?’ asked one British woman? But the debate proved irrelevant, for a large contingent of French sailors, aided by others, pulled the memorial over on the evening of 1-2 December 1918 and made off with the flagstaff. Nobody saw a thing, funnily enough.
But the monument survived (and even the flagstaff was anonymously returned). The structure was placed in storage, and in 1929 it was restored to the German community and re-erected in the grounds of the German school in the west of the settlement. There it resumed a ceremonial role, as a site for annual Volkstrauertag — memorial day — ceremonies on 16 March. These were steadily Nazified after 1934 as ‘Heroes’ Day’ (Heldengedenktag). The Iltis made the longest journey of the mobile stone and bronze memorials that were erected on the Bund, and proved the most potent of symbols, to its friends and to its enemies. It was tied up both with the rising imperialism and nationalism of the Wilhelmine state, the Nazification of the Shanghai Germans after 1933, and of course the unforgiving belligerence of the victorious allies. But for some the attack on the monument broke a taboo: foreign power in China was rooted in solidarity, even when the imperialist states jockeyed for advantage and position with each other. The destruction of the memorial set a very bad example, some argued — German and Briton alike in 1914 — for who alone, ultimately, stood to gain from the internecine strife of the Europeans, if not the Chinese.
I get contacted fairly regularly by relatives and descendants of members of the Shanghai Municipal Police (as well as the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, and China coast residents more widely). Sometimes they have found my book, Empire Made Me (and sometimes I have mentioned the men), or they have found the website or other references to the work. I learn a great deal from these contacts, and have often been able to share information accumulated from personnel and other police files in the archives in Shanghai, published staff lists, and newspapers. Some of the information shared with me has gone into my books.
Shanghai lives often have a trajectory of their own in family memories: every Shanghai Sergeant becomes chief of police; every Customs tidewaiter is harbour master; every man who died in service has been killed by armed robbers, instead of typhoid, for example. So often I am the scholarly spoilsport, digging out the death notice and UK National Archives probate file reference. Of course, sometimes they are right, but in general a combination of the very idea of Shanghai — exotic and violent in the Western (and other) imagination — and perhaps the tall tales told by grandfathers and great uncles when home on leave, means that most careers have very greatly improved with a retelling.
A recent exchange highlighted both what can now be found out with relative ease, and the limits to tracing people in the past. What could I tell my correspondent in Australia about her grandfather, Philip James Doylend, killed in service shortly before her grandmother moved with the children from Shanghai to Canada? I found I could tell her quite a lot, for over a decade I had been contacted by other descendants in north America (who were unknown to her), and looked into his career a little. Born in Suffolk in 1880, Doylend had joined the police in 1903, after eight years service in the Royal Navy, and was promoted to Sergeant in 1907. He married a Finnish woman, Johanna Maatanan, in Shanghai in 1908 — when this photograph, left, was taken — and resigned to join the armed forces in 1917. In a common pattern he went on long leave on 23 June 1917, ahead of his contract actually terminating on 2 March 1918. Rather than leave his family in Shanghai, Doylend attempted to return to the UK via Finland, where they would stay until the war was over, heading overland on the Trans-Siberian railway. They ran slap into the Russian revolution: Finland was in turmoil, and they had to return to Shanghai — a much harder journey back across Russia. They arrived in February 1918, exhausted and penniless.
The Shanghai press next takes up part of the story. Far from finding stories of violent death at the hands of Chinese criminals, we find appearances in court in 1922 and 1923 of a couple whose marriage is breaking down. Doylend worked now in a Shanghai department store, and then in a hotel bar. His wife ran a boarding house. She sued him for maintenance and even at one point for the family furniture: when they were still living in the same house. The British judge made unenforcible orders that Doylend make a monthly payment, and attempted to cajole him to do the right thing: ‘I should have thought a great lazy man like you could do something’ to support them, he told Doylend, ‘you ought to feel ashamed of yourself’. The furniture issue gave the proceedings a novelty value, and papers in Hong Kong took up the story as well. In 1925 his wife and the children moved to Canada.
So far, so unexceptional. Except that after the last court appearance in December 1923 Doylend himself disappears entirely from view. He does not resurface in the newspaper, or in any of the databases I can access. New digital family history tools have generally changed the game, especially in the case of a group of men like this, serving overseas. The family history sites have ship passenger lists, for example, and you can trace men and women backwards and forwards, and it helps immensely also if they ever travelled across the United States or Canada. But Doylend’s name — and it is not a common surname surname — does not appear. The story in the north American side of the family was that a former colleague still serving in the Shanghai police delivered news to his family in England, early during the Second World War, that Doylend had recently died in Shanghai. But in fact this man, Alexander Aitkenhead, had also left the police, back in 1912.
The newly available digitalised newspapers and passenger lists mean that a researcher can often now track those who deliberately disappeared. You can trace people and their movements, life events, court appearances etc, through newspapers on sites such as Australia’s Trove, New Zealand’s Papers Past, the Singapore National Library Board’s NewspapersSG, and Hong Kong’s Old HK Newspapers (but not easily in the last, for it is a very poor platform). These are all free to access (you can also find some other resources I have created here). The English-language press in Shanghai can also be searched, but mostly only by those with access to scholarly resources (although an incomplete version of the North China Herald can be found in the international newspapers resources on findmypast). You can find an obituary — as I have — in a small town Canadian newspaper of a Glaswegian which bears no relation to the known facts of his life, but which is eloquent testimony to the power of his own reinvention far from home.
That sort of thing hardly surprises: as they career through life people often lie, dissemble, hide, or flee. Birth dates are often tweaked — for men are too old or too young otherwise for military or other service: Doylend added at least a year to his age on joining the navy, which has his birth in 1879. Men and women change names, invent backgrounds and careers. The Shanghai Municipal Police’s Special Branch files, helpfully scooped up the CIA in 1949, document various tricksters moving their way around East Asia, securing credit or an entree to society with this tall tale or that one. Of course, a patient sleuth could do this before, and such wonderful books as Hugh Trevor-Roper’s Hermit of Peking, about Sir Edmund Backhouse, a liar, fraud, forger and fantasist, living on remittance in Peking for decades a very long way from his family, have emerged from such searches. It does seem, however, to be much easier now than ever before to track people down, even those who hid their tracks. In Doylend’s case perhaps it was as simple as assuming another name, for I can find no trace at all of him, having ransacked all the newspapers, family history websites, city directories, etc. that I know of. Perhaps we should respect his choices, and leave him in whatever obscurity he found. Perhaps I simply have not looked in the right place, and of course the paper archive still dwarfs the digitised one. He might simply be just out of sight and reach.
So while the family tales were incomplete, and had grown fanciful in the telling, a mystery remains: Philip James Doylend, where are you?
An upcoming Christie’s sale in London, of the Hanshan Tang Reserve Collection, includes (lot no. 96), a gorgeously illustrated copy of an album of handpainted scenes of battles in the Second Opium, or Arrow, War. This is described on p.63 of the catalogue, from which the illustrations reproduced here are taken. As it was completed before the Anglo-French assualt on north China in the autumn of 1860, it concludes on a triumphal note with the allied defeat at the Dagu Forts on 25 June 1859. Well it might, for this was a comprehensive victory for the Qing, and a complete disaster for the British forces.
The British were attempting to force their way to Beijing to secure ratification of the 1858 Treaty of Tianjin, and thought the forts, which guarded the entrance to the Beihe, would be a pushover, not least as the forts had been captured a year earlier without a struggle. Then, the garrisons had simply fled. In the interim, however, the defenders had been improving their discipline, their weaponry, their defences, and their artillery targetting. The progress made was revealed, with considerable effect on 25 June. So confident was the British belief in Qing incompetence and cowardice, however, and so hysterical was the response to the drubbing received, that the only explanation many Britons accepted was that the Russians were behind it all, and must have equipped and trained the Chinese forces, if not helped out in the fighting.
Four hundred Bitish soldiers and sailors were killed, many cut down as they waded across mudflats towards the forts in a frontal assualt, and tried to negotiate pallisades. Four ships were lost. The British retreated from north China. Qing officials who opposed compromise gained the upper hand in discussions about what to do about the foreigners. Everybody settled down to coninue the war.
The Dagu forts are best known, visually, through Felice Beato’s war photography. That might serve to counterpoint the colourful images of Qing victory, for unfortunately for the Manchus, and the garrisons at Dagu, the British and French came back in August 1860, and they took the forts from the landward side. Then they marched on Beijing. Behind them they left the death and devastation caused by their more advanced weaponry, including the new Armstrong Guns that they were testing in action. Ahead of them lay the Yuanmingyuan – the Old Summer Palace. The destruction of the complex later that year by the British was one of the greatest acts of cultural vandalism of the nineteenth century. Partly driving that act, aside from the sheer difficulty of the fight in 1860, and the killing and maltreatment of allied prisoners, was a desire for revenge, not least for the bitter defeat of June 1859.
The Boxer uprising of 1900 was the indirect prompt for a landmark moment in the history of cinema. British director James Wiliamson took savvy advantage of the feverish news coverage of events in north China, and assembled a team of actors (including his daughter Florence) at a house in Hove, near Brighton, and made ‘Attack on a China Mission’. The four-minute film was first shown ‘with appropriate music’ — what ever that might have been — at Hove Town Hall on 17 November 1900, and includes the first reverse angle cut yet identified by film historians. Williamson’s film jumps from its view of the ‘mission station’ under attack, to the reverse view: the arrival of the rescuers, a party of British marines, a mounted officer in the rear, who line up in fours and fire directly into the camera, and into the Boxers. For that brief moment a British audience might be said to have shared the same view of British military might as the people of north China.
I wrote about ‘Attack on a China Mission’ in chapter 11 of The Scramble for China. You can now view some of the surviving footage here on Youtube, or here (46 minutes in) presented in the context of other work of the time. If you have access you can also watch it on the British Film Institute site (the supporting material is open access), and there is an academic piece about the technical innovation involved here. The 2006 BBC/BFI documentary ‘Silent Britain’ includes footage missing from the version online linked to above, notably the cut back to the arriving rescuers, and their volleys into the camera.
The post below was originally published on the website of the British Inter-university China Centre, which I direct.
BICC has been collaborating with Dr Weipin Tsai at Royal Holloway University of London, on her imaginative initiative to restore to public view the achievements of Sir Robert Hart, the Ulsterman who served from 1863-1911 as Inspector-General of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service. The first stage of this programme was completed on 22 February, when sixty guests assembled at All Saint’s Church in Bisham, near Marlow in Berkshire, for a ceremony to rededicate the gravestone of Sir Robert and Lady Hester Jane Hart.
The tombstone had been in danger of being removed, as it was in a decrepit state, but the team have had it professionally restored. On a freezing cold, but sunny morning, an audience of former diplomats, business figures, Chinese studies academics, several descendents of Customs staff, including descendents of Hart himself, and visitors from China, assembled for a simple rededication ceremony. The grave is but a few yards from the Thames, and there the Reverend Sara Fitzgerald led a service which included addresses on Hart’s spiritual life and motivations from Hans van de Ven, at Cambridge University, and on Hart’s contribution to Anglo-Chinese relations from Robert Bickers.
Wreaths were then laid by Etain Alexander, great grand-daughter of Sir Robert, Deidre Wildy on behalf of his alma mater Queens’ University Belfast, Julie Shipley, Head of the Sir Robert Hart Memorial Primary School in Portadown, Dr Mary Tiffen, in memory of the Carrall family, and Weipin Tsai on behalf of The Royal Philatelic Society London, Taiwan Chapter; Chinese Taipei Philatelic Society; The China Stamp Society, Inc. Taiwan Chapter. (Hart was appointed to manage the new Imperial Chinese Post Office when it was established in 1896).
In recognition of Hart’s place in the history of the European classical music’s reception in China — he organised and ran the first secular brass band in the country — the local Waltham St Lawrence Silver Band played a selection of pieces. These included some that are known to have been included in the programmes played by Hart’s own band in the gardens of his residence in Peking.
The ceremony was followed by a reception and presentations about Hart and his legacies, including his archive at Queens’ University Belfast Special Collections, and discussion of how the rich private archives of the British presence in China, not least its photographic records, can help furnish unique materials for understanding China’s modern history, its heritage, and social life and customs.
Hart joined the Customs in 1859, and 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of his formal appointment to the Inspector-Generalship. He was a Chinese civil servant, and never let the foreign nationals on his own staff forget this point, and he worked consistently to try and fashion structures and practices that would reduce the potential for tension between China and the foreign powers. He did not always succeed, but he undoubtedly had a significant impact on the course of events. Hart’s reputation has varied over the years. In Anglophone historical writing in the 1950s-60s he was presented as fairly central to any understanding of China’s interaction with foreign power, but thereafter new scholarly trends explored different fields and approaches and he largely fell out of sight. In China, until relatively recently, he was viewed simply as an agent of foreign, principally British, imperialism.
Attitudes in China today are more nuanced, and there has been a revival of scholarship internationally into the rich and varied history of the activities of Hart and his service. This event was part of a wider initiative, which will include a film, which aims to place Hart back into broader debates about British-Chinese relations, their history, contemporary features and their future. In particular, those state to state relations are at heart also relations between people, British and Chinese. In Hart, and the 22,000 foreign and Chinese staff of the Customs, and in the legacies of those careersdown to today, we have a rich field in which to explore how people shaped such abstractions as ‘Anglo-Chinese relations’.
The booklet accompany this commemorative event, Between Two Worlds: Commorating Sir Robert Hart, compiled by Weipin Tsai, can be found on the History of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service project website.
A dominating presence in the opening chapters of The Scramble for China is Hugh Hamilton Lindsay (1802–1881), probably the first Briton to visit Shanghai, in 1832 on board the Lord Amherst. It was frustrating to write about a man of whom no images whatsoever appeared to have survived. At a late stage, I was alerted to a watercolour in the Chater Collection of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank, which seems to show him ‘leaving Canton in a fast-boat’, according to a description written on the painting. It is an atmospheric image, and I used it in the book, but the man shown is fairly indistinct.
In September 2011 I fleshed out Lindsay’s life and career more fully in a lecture to the Royal Historical Society, now published in the Society’s Transactions. Afterwards, as a result of the publicity, I received an email asking if I would be interested in seeing a portrait of the man, painted by the great India and China coast artist, George Chinnery. Within a few days I was holding this delightful small painting in my office in Bristol.
Lindsay had no children, but the owner was a descendant on his sister’s side. It shows a man perhaps not yet 30, in a romantic style. It fits very well with descriptions of LIndsay in the journal letters of the American Macao resident Harriet, Low, ‘droll’, handsome, ‘always ready, for adventures of any kind’. Lindsay commissioned the famous drawing of Karl Gützlaff in Chinese clothing by Chinnery, which is best known in the form of a print, and it made perfect sense to find that the artist had painted the Scotsman as well.
So there he is, at last: Hugh Hamilton Lindsay, would-be Sinologist, restless traveller, warmonger, Member of Parliament, angry young man, embittered old China hand. He railed successively against the East India Company which employed him until 1832, the Qing empire which thwarted his ambition in China, the British state which did not follow a ‘forward’ enough policy there and, later, he fought with ‘Rajah’ James Brooke over concessions in Borneo. Most of that story was yet to come when George Chinnery captured the spirit of this nonetheless charming adventurer, sometime around 1830, in sleepy Macao.