Travel and Voyages: Britain and the Far East

This week, our travels take us to the Far East, where we will be exploring the development of Britain’s relations with the region. Items displayed are from the MS64 Congleton manuscripts and MS62 Broadlands Archives.

Nagasaki, Japan, 1881-2 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20]

Nagasaki, Japan, 1881-2 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20]

The Far East is a term used to describe the geographical, economic, and cultural region that encompasses Eastern Russia (Siberia in particular), East Asia, and Southeast Asia, and in some cases, Pacific island nations. Use of this phrase dates back to twelfth-century Europe, when the ruling class, explorers, traders, and travelers took an eastern route to reach this area and so the term the Far East was used to refer to the region because it is the farthest of the 3 Eastern Asian areas, which are the: Near East, the Middle East, and the Far East. The expression became favoured during the reign of the British Empire, and was used to refer to any area east of British India.

The English Quarter, Shanghai, China [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20]

The English Quarter, Shanghai, China [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20]

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Western knowledge of the Far Eastern powers increased markedly. Trade with Japan was opened up, and further ports in China were made accessible: some ninety-two places in China were open for British trade by 1914. British business dominated the trade with China until the 1880s, especially through Shanghai, but was less successful later. In parallel with treaty arrangements guaranteeing access to trade, the British formally acquired territory. From a political point of view, this was a safeguard for British interests in India; and it was also a component in creating further economic growth. Accompanying this came the trappings of empire, especially its military presence. This was critical to ensure the security of trade where more informal relations existed. Territorial acquisition was also driven by rivalry with other Western powers, particularly the French and the Dutch; and it advanced as much by treaty with local rulers as it did by military action and annexation.

Samurai practising with double-handed swords, Japan 1881 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20]

Samurai practising with double-handed swords, Japan 1881 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/A20]

Singapore was ceded to Britain in 1819 and the Malay archipelago was divided into Dutch and British areas of influence in 1824. The British areas — the future Straits Settlements — were administered as part of British India. Later in the century, Singapore became of central importance in the China trade, as a coaling station. It was a major entrepot in the trade from the Netherlands East Indies, and its strategic position ensured that it was well-garrisoned. Its administration passed from the Indian government to the Colonial Office in 1867. There was then an expansion of British influence in the Malay peninsula through the establishment of a system of residencies — creating the Federated Malay States — and, as elsewhere, a blurring of distinction between those parts that were formally part of a British empire and those outside it. From the close of the nineteenth century, the development of rubber plantations in the Malay States created an additional element in the economy.

Programme for the Singapore Races, Autumn 1880 [MS64/292]

Programme for the Singapore Races, Autumn 1880 [MS64/292]

The image above shows a Singapore Races event programme, which belonged to the servant of the empire, Henry Parnell, fourth Baron Congleton (1839-1906), who was also a member of the Singapore Races organising committee. He had a military career, serving in the Crimea and the Zulu war of 1879. In 1880-3, his battalion of the Buffs (the Third Regiment of Foot) was posted to Singapore, where he was commandant of the garrison and president of the Singapore Defence Committee.

A draft of a report on the defences of Singapore, from Parnell’s papers as president of the Singapore Defence Committee, with his annotations and notes on business [MS 64/291]

A draft of a report on the defences of Singapore, from Parnell’s papers as president of the Singapore Defence Committee, with his annotations and notes on business [MS 64/291]

We also hold the journal of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Parnell. The image below shows a section of the journal describing his trip to Japan in September and October 1883. On 12 September he was at Kyoto, where he visited the imperial palace and, in the evening, had a demonstration of fighting with a two-handed sword.

Section from the Journal of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Parnell, describing is trip to Japan in September 1883 [MS 64/278]

Section from the Journal of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Parnell, describing his trip to Japan in September 1883 [MS 64/278]

The British imperial presence was reinforced by official tours. In August 1880, a detached squadron, led by the iron frigate, HMS Inconstant, embarked on a world cruise to show the flag, in a journey lasting more than two years. On the Inconstant was Prince Louis of Battenberg, who was to become First Sea Lord immediately prior to the First World War and who was to marry a favourite grand-daughter of Queen Victoria; two sons of the Prince of Wales, one of them the future George V, also served with the squadron. In 1921-2 another Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VIII, toured India and Japan, visiting Burma and Singapore en route.

Singapore: the route to Government House lined by head hunters (Dyak tribesmen) from Borneo, March 1922 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/N7, 187]  

Singapore: the route to Government House lined by head hunters (Dyak tribesmen) from Borneo, March 1922 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/N7, 187]

During the same trip, the party was able to visit the Malay-Borneo exhibition as well as unveil the Straits Settlements War Memorial.

Unveiling of the Straits Settlements War Memorial, with the Prince of Wales’ staff on the right, March 1922 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/N7, 189]

Unveiling of the Straits Settlements War Memorial, with the Prince of Wales’ staff on the right, March 1922 [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/N7, 189]

Join us next week for our third travel and voyages themed blog post, which will focus on South America and Central America.

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