Post-Opium Wars archive of manuscript and printed charts of the Yangtze River and Poyang Lake


Archive of two manuscript and three printed charts of the lower Yangtze River and Poyang Lake, descended in a North Shore, Massachusetts family after having been brought back to the United States by a ship on the Yangtze Patrol after the Second Opium War. Three of the charts are backed with silk and mounted on rollers, a charming marriage of western map-making technology with an Asian presentation.

Prior to the Second Opium War (1856-60) Westerners had been able to systematically survey the Yangtze only as far upriver as Nanking. The results of this work were first published by the British Hydrographic Office in 1843 as China. The Yang-Tse-Kiang from the Sea to Nanking. Surveyed by Capts. C.R.D. Bethune, H. Kellett, & R. Collinson. 1842. Much changed after the Second Opium War, in which the Qing Dynasty experienced a crushing defeat at the hands of an Anglo-French alliance, culminating in the burning of the Summer Palace in Peking and exile of the Emperor. The peace settlement included among other things legalization of the opium trade, the opening of additional ports to foreign trade, the right of navigation along the Yangtze for foreign vessels, and freedom for foreigners to travel in the interior.

The five charts in the archive seem to be a direct result of this newly-won freedom of travel for Westerners. For the first time they were free, not merely to push further up the Yangtze, but to do so at the deliberate pace required to conduct systematic surveys.

The charts
The individual charts are as follows:

  1. CHINA[.] SHEET IX. YANG-TSE-KYANG FROM THE SEA TO NANKING SURVEYED BY CAPTS. C.R.D. BETHUNE, H. KELLETT & R. COLLINSON. 1842.… Corrections by Capt. Sherard Osborn, H.M.S. Furious, Nov. 1858 … Resurveyed by Commr. J. Ward and the Officers of the H.M.S. Actaeon & Dove, March & April 1861. London: Hydrographic Office, 1862. Engraving by J. and C. Walker, 23 ¾”h x 37 ¼”w at neat line plus good margins, contemporary linen backing. Numerous annotations in ink and pencil. Light soiling, heavier at left and right edges.
  2. CHINA[.] YANG-TSE KIANG SHEET IV. TUNG-LIU TO HANKAU SURVEYED BY COMMANDER JOHN WARD R.N…. NOVEMBER, 1858 [with further corrections to 1869.] London: Hydrographic Office, 1869. Engraving by J. and C. Walker, 24 ¼”h x 38 ¼”w at neat line plus good margins. Edged with green silk, lined with linen and mounted on rollers at an early date.  Minor foxing and soiling, concentrated at left, small hole in left margin.
  3. CHINA[.] YANG-TSE KIANG SHEET V. HANKAU TO YOH-CHAU-FU SURVEYED BY COMMANDER JOHN WARD, R.N…. H.M. SHIP ACTAEON MARCH, 1861 [with further corrections to 1869.] [with inset:] SKETCH OF POYANG LAKE BY LIEUT. H. KERR & G. BARDIN, SECOND MASTER. H.M.S. Cockshafer, 1866. London: Hydrographic Office, 1869. Engraving by J. and C. Walker, 39”h x 24 ¾”w at neat line plus good margins. Edged with green silk, lined with linen and mounted on rollers at an early date.  Faint tide mark to top fifth of chart, minor foxing and soiling, three hard horizontal creases.
  4. Po Yang Lake. From Running Survey made by Lieut. Kerr commanding H.B.M. Gunboat Cockshafer. S.B.R.  [China: late 1867 or later]. Manuscript map on silk, 29 ¼”h x 21 1/8”w at sheet edge. Edged top and bottom with strips of block-printed paper, backed a larger sheet of silk[?], and the whole backed with linen and mounted on wooden rollers.  Some water staining to upper third of map.
  5. Avril-Mai. Lac Poyan. Corrections d ‘un croquis fair au mois de Decembre par la cannoniere anglaise “Cockshafer” … 6 Mai 1870. [China,] 1870. Manuscript map in ink, 15 ½”h x 10 ½”w plus good margins. Some hard folds, minor fold separation in upper and lower margins.

The first chart is a later edition of The Yang-Tse-Kiang from the Sea to Nanking, featuring corrections made in 1858 and an 1861 re-survey overseen by Commander John Ward on the HMS Actaeon (The Actaeon was a frigate commissioned in 1830, taken out of service, then recommissioned in 1857 as a survey ship for service in China.)

The next two items are also engraved Hydrographic Office charts, being Sheets IV and V of the Yangtze River series, with coverage from Tung-Liu upriver to Yoh-Chau-Fu, in all several hundred miles of river (As with The Yang-Tse-Kiang from the Sea to Nanking, these are based on surveys conducted by Ward in the Actaeon.) All three are classic Hydrographic Office publications, with strong, precise engraving indicating soundings, hazards to navigation, and the topography and man-made features along both shorelines. Sheet V of the Yangtze River chart includes at upper left a large inset Sketch of Poyang Lake by Lieut. H. Kerr & G. Bardin, Second Master. H.M.S. Cockshafer, 1866, though it appears to depict only the northern half of the lake (Named for some reason after one of Britain’s largest beetles, the Cockchafer was a shallow-draft gunboat, well suited for service along the Yangtze.)

Poyang Lake, a tributary of the Yangtze some 1000 miles upriver from Shanghai and China’s largest body of freshwater, is also the focus of the two manuscript charts that round out the archive. The larger of the two, at just over 29”h x 21”w, is based on a “running survey made by Lieut. Kerr commanding H B. M. Gunboat Cockchafer,” presumably the 1866 survey mentioned just above. It covers Poyang Lake in its entirety, though the emphasis is on navigable channels around its circumference, with the route of the Cockchafer marked by a dotted line, while the interior is marked simply “Unsurveyed probably all Covered in Summer.” It provides basic information about navigable channels as well as the topography and settlements along the shoreline. There is a strong resemblance to the depiction of the Lake on the inset chart on Sheet V of the Yangtze River chart, though the manuscript lacks soundings, includes fewer place names, and gives many variant spellings. This suggests that the two charts have a common ancestor, presumably a manuscript produced by Lieuts. Kerr and Bardin of the Cockshafer. Another feature of interest on the manuscript is the mention in several places of fishing boats encountered in December 1867—whether these are Kerr’s own observations from a later survey or additions by the copyist is not known.

The second, smaller manuscript (15 ½”h x 10”2) is in French, the title translating to “April-May[:] Lake Poyang[:] Corrections of a fair sketch [made?] in December by the English gunboat Cockshafer.” It depicts the upper lake from its juncture with the Yangtze as far south as Woshung City and is based on observations made by the French gunboat Flamme in April-May 1870 (see The London and China Telegraph for June 27, 1870, p. 423) The sounds along the Flamme’s route differ sharply from those taken by Kerr and Bardin, presumably because the lake’s waters run higher in the Spring.

In all, a most interesting group of early charts for the Yangtze River and vicinity, with intriguing provenance.