A glimpse of China

To mark Chinese New Year 2018, this blog catches a glimpse of China as seen by Prince Louis of Battenberg, on board HMS Inconstant in 1881-2.

Decorations for Chinese New Year, February 1882

Decorations for Chinese New Year, Hong Kong, February 1882 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20 p. 81]

A career naval officer, Prince Louis of Battenberg (1854-1921) became a cadet in the British navy at the age of 14 years in October 1868. The following year Battenberg joined the Royal Alfred as a midshipman, achieving pr0motion to the rank of lieutenant in 1876. In August 1881, he was appointed to HMS Inconstant, the flag ship of Rear Admiral Lord Clanwilliam, and part of the “Detached Squadron”.

HMS Inconstant [MS 62 Broadlands Archive MB2/A20]

HMS Inconstant [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20]

HMS Inconstant was one of only three steam-assisted but also fully masted frigates that were built by the Royal Navy. Designed by Sir Edward Reed, who was Director of Naval Construction, in response to faster American frigates, the ship carried a crew of 600. The “Detached Squadron” left Spithead in October 1880, eventually arriving at Shanghai on 23 November 1881. From there it called at Amoy (Xiamen) in December and remained in Hong Kong from December until February 1882, although it left before Chinese New Year. The Squadron arrived back in Spithead in October that year, almost two years to the day from its departure.

Pagoda near Shanghai [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20 p.71]

Pagoda near Shanghai, 1881 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20 p.71]

English quarter, Shanghai, 1881 [MS 62 Broadlands Archive MB2/A20 p.76]

English quarter, Shanghai, 1881 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20 p.72]

Shanghai and Amoy (Xiamen) were among the treaty ports opened to foreign involvement from the 1840s onwards. Shanghai grew at a phenomenal rate in this period, changing from a village into a city which contained enclaves administered by the British, French, and Americans, each with it its particular culture, architecture, and society.

Xiamen, known as Amoy, 1881 [MS 62 Broadlands Archive MB2/A20 p.76]

Xiamen, known as Amoy, 1881 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20 p.76]

Xiamen, or Amoy, as it was known in its Romanised form in the nineteenth century, being the primary international port for Fujian, became a centre of China’s tea trade, with hundreds of thousands of tons shipped yearly to Europe and the Americas. European settlement in the port was concentrated on Gulangyu Island rather than in Xiamen: here as in Shanghai these foreign enclaves had their own particular architectural style.

Further information on Prince Louis of Battenberg or other material in MS 62 the Broadlands Archives can be found at the online resources.

We wish you a very Happy and Prosperous Year of the Dog!

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