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"Handbook for the Guidance of Shipmasters on the Ichang-Chunking Section of the Yangtze River"
Title: Handbook for the Guidance of Shipmasters on the Ichang-Chunking Section of the Yangtze River. Shanghai: Statistical Department of the Inspectorate General of Customs, 1920. Qto. vii, 91 pages, plus 34 maps and diagrams, the vast majority in colour. With signature to front pastedown (A.O. Theophold?) dated Shanghai 22 June 1920. Publisher's original printed yellow boards. An important, comprehensive, and superbly illustrated primary source river piloting manual, which remains the authoritative foundation for navigating in China today, this is the original work written by the first Yangtze conqueror and British river navigation pioneer Captain Samuel Cornell Plant (1866-1921), Senior River Inspector for the Chinese Maritime Customs, exceptionally skilled navigator, and map maker. Having superlative understanding of steamship performance and design, coupled with expert navigational knowledge and techniques, in the year 1900, commanding the aptly named 'Pioneer,' Captain Plant became the first man to pilot a merchant steamer through the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. Appointed "Senior River Inspector, Upper Yangtze" in 1910, a post which he held until 1919, he was subsequently engaged by the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs to produce this instructional shipmaster's guide. This was the first pilot book for the notoriously deadly stretch of the river. It immediately became an essential tool on every navigator's ship. Featuring place names in Chinese script, and numerous numbered illustrations, the book was equally instrumental to Chinese navigators as it was for foreigners. While Captain Plant's navigational methods and tools are still used today, the maps contained herein are historic as they illustrate the true River Yangtze as it once surged ferociously from Yichang to Chongqing, through the gorges of Qutang, Wuxia, and Xiling, before an immense dam was built to tame her. His detailed descriptions further reveal previous perils of an important river trade route which claimed many human lives and ships - the remains of which lay beneath a tranquil, recently transformed and now voluminous river transporting innumerable unsuspecting tourists. Until Captain Plant arrived with his practical instruction, Chinese junk captains and their crews had relied as much on their gods and superstitious rituals as they did on their own boating skills. Alas, Plant had observed that on average, 1 in 10 junks was badly damaged by the river's hazards, while 1 in 20 was wrecked, all cargo and many hands lost. He also note that less than 20 per cent of the junks that attempted the journey to Chongqing from Yichang in fact reached their destination, and every one of them that did arrive, had survived a harrowing voyage. Finally, and with painstaking attention to all critical factors of navigation, Captain Plant's river navigation guide would provide sound methodology on how a vessel should approach a rapid and follow the axis of its current, how to assess conditions in different seasons, how to back out of the white-water maelstrom if necessary, how to temporarily repair a hull, dealing with fog, rapids, and much more. The volume includes a detailed guided itinerary for the most dangerous section of the river, with 22 maps illustrating hidden reefs, currents, rapids and breakers, shoal beds, river widths, recommended approaches to safely pass hazardous regions, and so forth. Several diagrams further illustrate specific maneuvers. Although the most treacherous hazards of the original raging rivers have been submerged by the Three Gorges Dam completed in 2006, authorities continue to use the navigation system and rules and regulations designed by Captain Plant. His nautical marks - black triangles and balls - are dotted along the banks; his colour-coded buoys, white for the north bank and red for the south, keep the fleet on course. His Shipmaster's Guide and river charts remain the basis on which modern pilot manuals are written. He also later wrote a travel-guide companion to his pilot book, speaking more to tourists. Titled 'Glimpses of the Yangtze,' it was the first guidebook for the Three Gorges and its preface began with suggesting that 'the best way to see the glories and the dangers of this mighty river is to travel in a native boat.' When he retired from the Chinese Maritime Customs Service in 1919, the Chinese government and local civilians built a cottage for Captain Plant and his wife. It was situated at the top of a cliff overlooking the once infamous Hsin Tan rapid (which is now submerged). It then became customary for an up-stream shipmaster to sound his siren after successfully passing through the turbulence, whereupon Plant would wave a handkerchief or his hat from his terrace in acknowledgement. In 1923, to honour Captain Plant, a 30-foot granite obelisk monument was erected on the banks of the Yangtze, in the middle of Xiling Gorge, 1000 kilometres north of Happy Valley where he is buried with his wife. Funds for its construction were collected from the Chinese Maritime Customs Service as well as local boatmen. That it still exists at all is quite remarkable. Built on ground prone to tremors and devastating landslides, it has survived natural disaster, vandalizing Red Guards and the Yangtze dam flood. In 1968 Mao's Red Guards attempted to destroy it with explosives, but failed. They then set to work erasing memories of his existence with hammers and chisels, effecting only negligible damage. At the turn of the twenty-first century, to prevent its immersion by waters set to rise imminently behind the Three Gorges Dam, government archaeologists selected the obelisk as one of the historic relics to be preserved, and thus caused it be moved high above the new water line. Captain Plant was nicknamed "Dragon Dodger" by his expat peers. The Kuomintang government awarded Plant the Order of the Chia-Ho for his outstanding services. Captain Plant is remembered today by some elderly locals as "the foreigner who saved lives on the river" and "the foreigner who made the river safe." His sea chest containing logbooks, photographs, Chinese scrolls and the like, is evidently held by his nephew Michael Gillam, a former British Royal Navy lieutenant commander, who occasionally delivers slideshows and lectures in remembrance of his uncle's uncle good works. Captain Samuel Cornell Plant (1866-1921) was the first man to successfully pilot a merchant steamer on the Upper Yangtze River in 1900, doing so in his purpose-built vessel called the 'Pioneer.' The Upper Yangtze is the section of river stretching through gorges from Yichang to Chongqing. Captain Plant later collaborated with Chinese merchants and the government to create the Sichuan Steam Navigation Company, serving as Captain of SS Shutung and SS Shuhun, and thus providing the first regular merchant steam service on the Upper Yangtze. He is further recognized for his important contributions as Chinese Maritime Customs' First Senior River Inspector on the Upper Yangtze. Plant installed the river's navigational marks, established signaling systems, wrote a manual for shipmasters (presented here), and trained hundreds of foreign and Chinese pilots. Plant began his mariner's life as a young lad of 14 years alongside side his father, joined him on what was to be their first and last voyage together. His father, 'Captain Sam' suffered a heart attack and died on the journey. Young Cornell buried his father upon arrival to India in Madras and continued after his father at sea. In the 1880s, Plant transitioned to river exploration, joining Messrs. Lynch Brothers' Euphrates & Tigris Steam Navigation Co.'s ship 'Khalifa'. At age 25 Plant was offered command of his first vessel, 'Shushan'. Plant explored the three upper rivers and established trade routes. In April 1894, Plant married Alice Sophia Peters in Bushire, Persia. He returned to England in 1896, with Alice who would accompany him in a lifetime of maritime adventures, for 20 years toiling on the dangerous section of the Yangtze River. He was selected by Archibald John Little in 1898 to solve the challenge of steamship navigation on the Upper Yangtze, connecting the cities of Yichang and Chongqing. . In 1900, he became the first to pilot a merchant steamship unaided through that stretch. The outbreak of the Boxer Rebellion put an end to its future commercial passages and the British Navy acquired the vessel for military use, renaming it HMS Kinsha. His services declined by the Royal Navy, Plant offered navigational expertise to the French Navy. Emile Auguste Léon Hourst hired Plant on Olry for exploration from Chongqing to Suifu. Plant contracted his services to the French from 1901 -1909. When the river was low, Plant operated an Upper Yangtze Chinese native craft, guazichuan, "Junie" with his wife and Chinese crew. He bought property on the hills opposite Chongqing in 1905 in the same expatriate community as Little and other foreign merchants and customs officials. Finally, in 1908, Chinese merchants and officials of Chongqing and Chengdu partnered with Plant, and formed the Sichuan Steam Navigation Company with private funds. 'SS Shutung', the company's first ship on the Upper Yangtze run, could travel upriver in five to seven days. The service was such a financial success that a second vessel of twice the carrying capacity, SS Shuhun was introduced in 1914. The Chinese Maritime Customs Service made Captain Plant 'First Senior River Inspector for the Upper Yangtze' and supplied him with an office in Chongqing. For his numerous and momentous accomplishments in this role, the was granted a prestigious Nationalist award. Captain Plant and his wife both died on a voyage to England in 1921. According to a letter written to Plant's brother by Charles J. L. Smith, British consul in Yichang, the couple were taking their two adopted daughters to Britain for their education. Smith wrote, "The two girls were waifs bought by Mrs Plant a number of years ago and brought up by her as servants in her own house. They were too young to marry and therefore Mrs Plant was taking them home with her, intending to bring them back at the conclusion of her furlough, after which she intended to marry them off and give them a small dowry.' After the funeral, the girls were sent back from Hong Kong to the Church of Scotland Mission in Yichang, wrote Smith, under the guardianship of a Mary Emelia Moore. Other sources add that when the girls grew older, they moved to Chengdu, and that Ms Moore fled there from Yichang to seek refuge with the girls during the advance of the Japanese in 1937-38. More, from the South China Morning Post, 2 October 2011: He [Samuel Cornell Plant] was born in August 1866, in Framlingham, Suffolk, to a seafaring family. He served on blue-ocean vessels before being posted to Persia, where he charted the raging rivers of Iraq and Iran, including the Euphrates. There, he met and married his wife, Alice. When they moved to the Middle Kingdom, the couple fell in love with the Yangtze and Plant's pioneering work in the Three Gorges defined him. He had been enticed to China by a Scottish merchant, Archibald Little, during a meeting at the Oriental Club in London in 1899. Little was from a prominent Shanghai expatriate family and perhaps the first to recognize the trade potential of the Sichuan basin. He [Little] had been trying for decades to conquer the Three Gorges rapids without trackers and make Chongqing a viable river port. Little explained to Plant that the trackers were essential but made travel slow and did not guarantee safe passage. Junk captains and their crews relied as much on their gods and rituals as they did on their boating skills, but none delivered, he said. All told, trade was unprofitable. 'Can you help?' Little asked Plant.... Having just conquered the rapid-strewn Karun River, in modern-day Iran, Plant agreed to take up Little's challenge. He travelled first to Clydebank, Scotland, to oversee the building of a boat specially designed for the Yangtze quest and arrived in China later in 1899 to take charge of the 'Pioneer', a side-wheeled, shallow-draft 160-foot steam boat, which had been shipped to the Far East in parts and assembled in Shanghai. In June 1900, Plant gripped the helm at Yichang and pointed the Pioneer's bow in the direction of Chongqing. The voyage took a full three days, spread over a week, of tight turns to avoid rocks in the cascades, the steam turbine engine huffing and puffing, and relentlessly turning the screaming propeller. The Pioneer made it through and, for the first time in the river's long history, Plant succeeded in docking a large vessel at Chongqing without having had to use trackers. With him he brought the age of steam and 19th-century industrial modernity, which he anchored deep inside China's western interior. The Chinese were in awe of his fearless approach to the devouring waters and, with fondness, called him Pu Lan Tian. He was dubbed Dragon Dodger by his expat peers. After accomplishing his mission, Plant set about charting the gorges. He bought a house boat, called Junie, on which he lived with his wife, and from its decks he conducted detailed hydrographic surveys. He designed his own boat, the Shutung, made in England and also shipped out in parts, and with it he ran a Yichang-Chongqing-Yichang passenger and freight service, which took one week to sail up stream and three days down. A map-maker and navigator extraordinaire, he was headhunted by Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs... Appointed 'Senior River Inspector, Upper Yangtze' in 1910, he compiled the Shipmaster's Guide, the first pilot book for that stretch of the river. It became an essential part of a navigator's kit, showing captains in numbered diagrams (for non-English readers) how to approach a rapid and follow the axis of its current, and- crucially- how to back out of the white-water maelstrom if things started to go awry. The book could be found on the bridges of ships and junks for more than half a century, its pages dog-eared and marked with pencil by many a nervous but grateful skipper. Merchants and officials feted the Plants up and down the river and denizens of the Yangtze saluted the captain for having saved the lives of relatives, friends and themselves. In 1921, the Plants decided to visit England for a holiday before returning to Xintan to live out the rest of their lives. In Shanghai, they boarded the Blue Funnel line's SS Teiresias, which was to take them to Europe via various ports. En route to Hong Kong, however, Plant, aged 54, came down with pneumonia. He died at sea on February 26, 1921... Alice also passed away - just two days after the ship docked in Victoria Harbour... They were buried together in Happy Valley. The Order of the Golden Grain (Chia ho) was instituted on 29 July 1912 by President Yuan Shi-kai as an award of Nationalist China, for outstanding civil or military achievement. It was conferred in nine classes. This order was abolished by the Nationalist Government in 1929 and replaced by the Order of the Brilliant Jade.
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