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Fine Private Album relating to the Chinese Maritime Customs Service - Peking, Hong Kong, and Manchuria - 1910-3
1910-3. Landscape quarto album (267 × 360 mm) Deep tan half morocco on oatmeal buckram boards, gilt rules to spine and spine and corner edges, all edges gilt, marbled endpapers. 266 original sepia photographs (the majority 108 × 65 mm, and vice versa mounted on 27 dun card leaves, full y captioned in white ink. A little rubbed on the joints, but very good, the photographs largely mid to dark toned, overall very good. A highly interesting personal album containing over 250 good quality original photographs of the life of the European diplomatic and administrative community in China around the turn of the century. Unfortunately the identity of the photographer, as so often, remains a mystery, but the album is fully captioned throughout giving names, including a number of prominent figures, and locations. From the concentration of identified individuals around the Chinese Maritime Customs service, it is clear that the mystery compiler was either personally involved, or was a relative of an officer in the service, and from the timespan of the album and the evidence of a "leave" period in England, most likely the former. The album relates to a time when the plans of the recently retired Inspector-General Sir Robert Hart's of the CMC were coming fully into effect; "Hart's lasting contribution would be the foreign inspectorate of the CMC, a model of an empire-wide organization, centralized in Peking, administered efficiently and honestly, which The Times rightly declared 'one of the most striking monuments ever produced by the genius and labour of any individual Englishman' … He built lighthouses, made harbour and waterways improvements, and initiated a statistical service, the collection of medical and scientific data, and participation in international exhibitions … When Hart became inspector-general in 1863 the CMC was operating in seven open ports; in 1907 it was operating in 57, and 76 native customs stations were under his administration or guidance. Hart presided over the servicing of 182 lights, various other navigational aids, and 2800 post offices … China's trade had increased from 1863's £38.9 million to £111.7 million, and customs revenue from £2.3 million to £3.3 million, a formidable contribution to the revenues of the Chinese empire" (ODNB). This was also a time when China was suffering the turmoil consequent on the nationalist democratic revolutions of 1911 and 1912, circumstances greeted by one of the dramatis personae of the album, the Hong Kong doctor, Dalmahoy Allan, in breathless terms; "The Rebellion is spreading like wildfire. Last night the streets were pandemonium, because news had arrived by Chinese sources that Pekin had fallen … Canton won't be long now, and I think the Manchus will make a stern fight for it. They have threatened to burn the whole of that huge rabbit-warren of a city to the ground, and they can do it. I hope to go up there next week, as I believe, with the present exit going on, silks, etc., ought to be going cheap. If you don't hear from me next week, you will know that I have got held up there. I think it would be splendid if the Revolution started while I was there!" (D.F., James Cyril Dalmahoy Allan: A Memoir). There is little sign of disruption, emigrants do appear in the Manchurian segment of the album, but it does provide an interesting context for this visual record, and perhaps was part of the rationale behind the "tour". The images are essentially arranged in five main groups, each relating to a particular location; Peking, 1910; Hong Kong 1911; a shooting trip in South China, Christmas 1911-2; the voyage home, 1912; Shanghai, Mukden and Manchuria, 1913. The first grouping of 40 images is set in and around Peking, featuring locations such as the Tartar City; the pagoda at the Old Summer Palace, Yu Chuan Shan; the Big Bell Temple; and various tombs around the City. Among the group visiting the Big Bell Temple are M. Barbier, of Barbier, Bénard, Turenne, Sir Robert Hart's favoured supplier of lighthouses; Mlle. Korostovetz, daughter of the Russian Minister to Peking; Mrs. Bowra, the wife of the Chief Secretary in Peking, Cecil Arthur Verner Bowra; and from the CMC Alexander Henderson Forbes, an Assistant Commissioner at Chinkiang, and one Parkes, probably a nephew of Sir Harry Parkes, late British Minister in China and Japan. The sequence of 35 photographs of Hong Kong opens with some excellent views from the Peak, the entrance to the Harbour, Kowloon Station and Observatory, British naval craft in the harbour, several images of a frontier station and and the Commissioner's bungalow. The trip to HK was evidently by way of a holiday, and the group are shown swimming at Kowloon Tsai and playing croquet at Deepwater Bay. Among those in the party are Charles Bulmer Johnson, a solicitor in the Supreme Court of Hong Kong, Leslie Sandercock, an Assistant Inspector CMC, and William Shenton, later Sir William, an influential voice on the Legislative and Executive Councils of Hong Kong for nearly thirty years. The sojourn in HK was evidently a halt en route to a shooting trip in South China over Christmas/New Year, 1911-2, which is chronicled in a series of 43 images. Many picturesque views, steam yachts on the lagoon, and native vessels on the river including "Pirate Junks", the Governor's yacht, "Pineapple Bunds", paddy fields, the glassworks at Pakshawn; together with the usual guns, bearers, and trophies. The party includes two Hong Kong doctors, Gerard Fitzwilliams, and J.C. Dalmahoy Allan who was lecturer in Pathology at the School of Medicine. The anonymous photographer briefly returned to Britain in 1913, a voyage tracked by 43 images from Singapore, Penang, and Colombo, via the Canal to Heckington in Lincolnshire, and Woodbury Common in Devon, in which locations there may be some potential clue as to the compiler's identity. The Chinese sequence re-opens in Shanghai with 7 photographs which feature the enigmatic Eric A Sykes, arms expert, martial artist, and perhaps spy. Sykes first arrived in Shanghai in 1907 as a representative for the import-export company Reiss & Co., later becoming the China and Japan representative for Remington and Colt, and an expert instructor for the Shanghai Municipal Police. The scene then shifts to Mukden, with a sequence of 41 images opening with a portrait of the Commissioner R.B. Moorhead and his daughter, and followed by a superb collection of shots of the streets, shops, various "types" - blind musician, Manchu woman, 3 teachers, a blacksmith - and including 10 well-composed views of the Mausolea at Pei-ling. The tour then takes in the surrounding "Manchurian Country" in 52 exposures, a similar mixture as before - a barber, the "China Mender", beggars &c. - but several of emigrants carrying their worldly possessions in baskets and barrows. The final images in the album being of Foochow, and including "Sunday at the Commissioners" and the "Assistants' Mess at Foochow". In all, an extremely intriguing collection of images taken at pivotal moment in Chinese history.
      [Bookseller: Peter Harrington]
Last Found On: 2014-08-25           Check availability:      Biblio    

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