THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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4 posts categorized "East Asia"

27 January 2017

The East India Company and Nootka Sound

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Viewers of the BBC TV series Taboo have heard about Nootka Sound and the machinations of the East India Company to acquire land there owned by James Keziah Delaney. Taboo is fictional, but Nootka is a real place and the East India Company had indeed been interested in it in the late 18th century.

Nootka is situated on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the province of British Columbia, Canada.  The Sound is one of many inlets along the Pacific coast of the island.

 Vancouver Island

 From Handbook to Vancouver Island and British Columbia (London, 1862) Noc

Captain James Cook’s third voyage (1776-1780) had shown that there was potential for a maritime fur trade between North West America and China.  As China lay within the area of the East India Company’s trading monopoly, it was likely that British merchants would try to circumvent this restriction by entering foreign employment. To avoid losing out, the Company had to enter the fur trade itself or license British traders to operate at Canton in China.  Experimental voyages were sent out from England, India, and Macao. One of these was the result of a proposal sent to the East India Company in 1785 by Richard Cadman Etches, a London merchant. Etches headed a syndicate consisting of merchants and gentlemen, and one woman - Mary Camilla Brook, tea dealer of London.

 

Nootka

From James Bryce, A Cyclopædia of Geography (London, 1862) BL flickr Noc


In May 1785 Etches met with the Directors who sat on the Company's Committee of Correspondence. He proposed sending the ships King George and Queen Charlotte to the North West Coast of America where small trading posts would be established to purchase furs and other goods to sell in Japan and China. The Committee agreed that it was safe for the Company’s interests to grant a licence to the two ships to trade within the limits of its charter. However strict conditions were laid down, with large financial penalties if broken:

• The ships were to go to America via Cape Horn or the Straits of Magellan and then on to Japan or other places northward to sell furs and other goods.
• The ships were not to go southward or westward of Canton or westward of New Holland (Australia).
• No European goods were to be supplied to Canton.
• Money received for furs and other goods was to be paid into the Company treasury at Canton in return for bills of exchange.
• Unsold furs were to be offered to the Company's supercargoes at Canton, possibly for sale in India.
• If Etches’ ships were sound, they were to be used to carry a cargo of tea and other Chinese goods to London.  They needed to be free of any smell which might damage the tea. If unsuitable, the ships could go back to North West America and load goods for Europe.
•  If the traders upset the native peoples within the Company's monopoly limits, they were to make reparation so that Company interests were not damaged.

There are some journals for Etches’ ships in the East India Company archives as well as many papers about the various Nootka Sound expeditions, including ‘Additions to Capt. Cook's Vocabulary of the Nootka Sound Language’.  Plenty to satisfy the curiosity of anyone wanting to delve into the themes of Taboo!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Barry M Gough, Distant Dominion (University of British Columbia, 1980).
IOR/H/800 Papers concerning a Voyage to Nootka Sound.
IORL/MAR/B/404-O Journal of the voyage of the Prince of Wales to North West America and China 1786-1788.
IOR/L/MAR/B/477A Journal of the voyage of the Queen Charlotte from China to England 1788.
IOR/L/MAR/B/402G Journal of the voyage of the King George from China to England 1788.
IOR/D/120 Committee of Correspondence 6 May 1785.

IOR/D - the papers of the Committee of Correspondence 1700-1858 - now accessible as a digital resource:
East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there is access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.

 

09 November 2016

Archives seeking refuge

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After the Japanese invasion of Thailand in 1941, just before the Thai Government declared war on Britain and the United States on 25 January 1942, 22 cases containing the archives of the British Legation in Bangkok were removed. A similar thing happened to the 84 boxes containing the archives of the British Embassy in China for the years 1931-1939, which went from Beijing to Nanjing and, in 1941, were also removed for safe custody during the war.

 

Singapore_1942

Japanese troops at Singapore 1942 Wikimedia Commons

 

Confidential documents were said to have been destroyed, and then the boxes containing the two archives were carefully sent to Singapore in 1941. 

IOR L PS 12 716, f 34

IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 34 Noc

But this wasn’t a safe choice. Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, and the two archives were shipped to India shortly afterwards. The archives remained in Calcutta until the end of the war and, after Indian Independence in 1947, they were sent to the Foreign Office Library in London, in 1948, as part of the process of transferring records to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British government.

  IOR L PS 12 716, f 29
IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 29 Noc

The file IOR/L/PS/12/716, part of the India Office Records and digitised for the Qatar Foundation Partnership, contains the correspondence telling the story of these two archives. Arrangements for the shipping and costs of the transport and storage are described in the file.

The exact content of the cases wasn’t known at the time.
There is a letter from the Foreign Office Librarian in 1948, saying that the content of the boxes was unknown to him and, at the purpose of shipping back to Bangkok the files which were less than 20 years old and were therefore considered current, he should have opened the boxes, or shipped the entire archives back to Thailand instead.

  IOR L PS 12 716, f 33
IOR/L/PS/12/716, f 33 Noc

We can guess that these archives ended up staying in London. The archives of the HM Legation in Bangkok and of the HM Embassy in China should now be available for public consultation at The National Archives in Kew.

Valentina Mirabella
Archival Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership Cc-by

Tweet @miravale


Qatar Digital Library

 

16 May 2016

William Adams – from Gillingham to Japan

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William Adams, often described as 'the first Englishman in Japan', died on 16 May 1620 at Hirado.  He has become a powerful symbol of Anglo-Japanese friendship, and each year a memorial service is held in Hirado in his honour. The British Library holds letters written by Adams to the English East India Company and so curators from the Library send an annual message to be read aloud at the service.

Here is part of a letter dated 23 October 1611 which was sent by William Adams at Hirado to his fellow countrymen at Bantam.

Adams William - letter E 3 1 B20095-09
IOR/E/3/1 ff.122-129v Images Online  Noc

The letter provided a potted biography to explain how Adams came to be in Japan, starting with his birth in Gillingham Kent and his apprenticeship in Limehouse to ship owner Nicholas Diggins. Following service with Queen Elizabeth’s ships and the Barbary Merchants, Adams joined a Dutch merchant fleet as chief pilot in 1598. After a disastrous voyage, Adams arrived in Japan on board the Liefde in 1600.  Adams became immersed in local customs and built a new life for himself in Japan, prospering under the patronage of Tokugawa Ieyasu. 

When the Dutch and English East India Companies arrived in Japan in 1609 and 1613 respectively, Adams helped them to establish factories (trading posts) at Hirado. Adams served the English as interpreter and adviser and also undertook local trading voyages for them.

Adams had married Mary Hyn at St Dunstan Stepney on 20 August 1589 and they had at least two children.  One was a daughter named Deliverance. Letters passed between William and Mary while he was in Japan, and he arranged for money to be paid to her in London by the East India Company.  He also had a Japanese wife by whom he had a son Joseph and a daughter Susanna.  Another child was said to have been born in Hirado to a Japanese woman.

Hirado B20095-11

Sea route from Hirado to Osaka, Japan Or.70.bbb.9. (roll 2) Images Online Noc


Adams remained in Japan until his death. His will was dated 16 May 1620, the day he died, and probate was granted to Mary Adams in London on 8 October 1621.  He wished his estate to be divided into two parts, half going to his ‘lovinge wyfe & children in England’ and the other half to Joseph and Susanna.

His daughter Deliverance married Ratcliff mariner Raph Goodchild at St Dunstan Stepney on 30 September 1618. Records show that they had two daughters: Abigail baptised and buried in October 1619, and Jane baptised on 8 April 1621.

In August 1624, Deliverance Goodchild petitioned the Court of Directors for payment of her father's investment sent home on the Company ships Moon and Elizabeth.  Her mother Mary had died, leaving her share to Deliverance.

Very little else is known about William’s children.  I have discovered that Deliverance  was married for a second time to John Wright at St Alfege Greenwich on 13 October 1624. Joseph Adams made five voyages to Cochin China and Siam between 1624 and 1635.  Susanna was given a present by East India Company merchant Richard Cocks  in 1622 but then she disappears from the records.

Can any of our readers shed more light on the family of William Adams?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan 1613-1623 (London, 1991)
IOR/E/3 Correspondence of overseas East India Company servants
IOR/B Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors
Parish records at London Metropolitan Archives

 

08 February 2016

Happy Chinese New Year!

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Today is Chinese New Year (the Year of the Monkey) and to celebrate we thought we would share with you some of the amazing images we have of China made by the artist William Alexander (1767-1816) who was appointed draughtsman on the first formal British diplomatic mission to China between 1792 and 1794. Born at Maidstone in Kent, Alexander attended Maidstone grammar school before moving to London in 1782 and enrolling as a student at the Royal Academy Schools two years later. It was whilst in London that the quality of his draughtsmanship was recognised, possibly by the artist Julius Caesar Ibbetson (1759-1817), and he was recommended to accompany Lord George Macartney's embassy to China as an illustrator.

View of Eastern Side of Imperial Park Gehol Add MS 35300

'View of Eastern Side of Imperial Park Gehol' by William Alexander in Thirty-seven water-colour drawings, made for the most part in 1792-3 on Lord Macartney's embassy to China, British Library Add MS 35300  6a00d8341c464853ef01b8d19bb344970c

Tasked with promoting British trading interests with China the Macartney Embassy landed at Tianjin in northern China in August 1793 and travelled overland via Beijing to Jehol near present day Chengde where the emperor Qianlong was residing beyond the Great Wall near Inner Mongolia to escape the summer heat. After much ceremony and discussion about how the embassy would be presented to the Emperor (particularly whether Macartney would kowtow to Qianlong) the mission failed to achieve any of its primary objectives and the embassy was dismissed by the Chinese on 3 October 1793.

Chinese Man Add MS 35300

'Chinese Man' by William Alexander in Thirty-seven water-colour drawings, made for the most part in 1792-3 on Lord Macartney's embassy to China, British Library Add MS 35300  6a00d8341c464853ef01b8d19bb344970c

 Yet despite this, the mission could be considered a partial success in that it exposed China to men like William Alexander who was able to make detailed observations of the great Chinese empire which he brought back and disseminated before an excited British public. During their long journey to meet the Emperor, the Macartney Embassy was treated with great hospitality by their Chinese hosts who allowed them guarded access to Chinese culture and customs. These encounters provided a rich source of inspiration for Alexander who made copious images of the Chinese landscapes and its people throughout his visit.    

Chinese Figures from Nature Add MS 35300

'Chinese Figures from Nature' by William Alexander in Thirty-seven water-colour drawings, made for the most part in 1792-3 on Lord Macartney's embassy to China, British Library Add MS 35300  6a00d8341c464853ef01b8d19bb344970c

Alexander’s experiences of China made a lasting impression on him and long after his return he continued drafting, publishing and exhibiting images of the country inspired by the mission. His drawings illustrative of the expedition were engraved for the official record in George Staunton’s An Authentic Account of an Embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China (1797) and his own Views of the headlands, islands, etc., taken during a voyage …along the eastern coast of China (1798). All these images were immensely popular amongst the British public, coinciding as it did with the fashion for chinoiserie that so influenced the decorative arts in eighteenth-century Britain and which helped foster a strong commercial interest for the British in the Far East.

Though William Alexander is best remembered for his work on China he also has a close connection to us at The British Library. Some years after his tour of China, on 11 June 1808, Alexander was appointed assistant librarian and first keeper of prints and drawings at the British Museum. In 1810, he began the first inventory of the museum's collection of prints and drawings and so we owe him a great debt of gratitude that we are able to locate his, and many other, images in our collections today.

William Alexander

Self-portait by William Alexander, 1792-4, watercolour over pencil, British Museum 1897,0813.2. This drawing was given to the British Museum at the same time as Alexander's Journal which is now in the British Library at Add MS 35714  NPGCC

Like the Macartney Embassy, The British Library continues to seek to strengthen Sino-British relations and has recently announced that, for the first time in its history, it is to display some of Britain’s most iconic literary treasures in China. In all, ten items will star in pop-up exhibitions across the country between 2016 and 2019. They are expected to include handwritten manuscripts and early editions by some of the greatest British authors of all time, from Shakespeare and Dickens to the Brontë sisters and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

Dr Alexander Lock, Curator, Modern Historical Manuscripts and Archives, 1851-1950