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British Columbia
Canada
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Telephone +1 604 922 2444
Fax +1 604 922 2272
Mobile +1 604 720 2000
Specialists Books; Historical Documents and Manuscripts relating to Travel, Exploration and Voyages
Voyager Press Rare Books & Manuscripts
Stand E15

Access to Peking - Early China Trade

1797 Thibet - China - Opium

MSS Proposal for Tibet Mission - Access to Peking - Melville Papers , [ 1797 ]

[Great Britain], 1797. Manuscript memorandum revealing a trade relations strategy for Great Britain to increase access in China, written by an unidentified British colonial administrator or politician who was abreast with the political climate and the leaders in China, Nepal and Tibet. Folio. 16 pages in manuscript, written recto and verso with wide half-page margins, on five double leafs laid watermarked paper made by Whig politician and leading papermaker Clement Taylor in 1796, measuring approximately 20 x 31 cm, and string-tied to upper left margin with a green ribbon. Docketed to verso. A stellar primary source document.

Written shortly after the return of Lord Macartney's Embassy to China, most likely by an influential administrator of the East India Company, which had a monopoly on East Indies trade including Canton in China, the present memorandum is a proposal for a mission with the same objective of securing increased trade with China - this time by means of a somewhat obliquitous political connection through Nepal and Tibet.

The East India Company was both ambitious and persistent with its aim of expanding commerce with the Far East, sparing no expense in sending great missions such as Lord Macartney's, and also chancing more intimate, lesser known missions aimed at reconnaissance or relationship building.

This manuscript sets forth a new plan for British diplomacy in order to gain trade with China, "for us an open Trade of incalculable advantage." Indeed four years later, a small but successful mission, all but forgotten today, achieved the objectives laid out, by completing the first treaty with Nepal.

Owing to the limited trading opportunities with most trade being confined to Canton, and also to the exorbitant fees paid to the customs officer via Hong merchants, on behalf of the British Government, in the 1790s, the East India Company sought to penetrate the western China market by way of Tibet. In order to achieve this, they required permission to cross Nepal, since all of the navigable trans-Himalayan passages lending access to trade with both Tibet and China, were within Nepalese territories. To this end, and to exploit additional trade opportunities, they began efforts to establish political relations with the Nepalese government.

As evidenced by this primary source manuscript, British trade relations with China came to have an undertone of political complexity intertwined with the Tibetan-Nepalese Crisis, now known as the Sino-Nepalese War 1788-1792.

In September 1792, a delegation under Colonel William Kirkpatrick was sent to Kathmandu, as a representative of Lord Cornwallis and the East India Company, to mediate peace between China and Nepal. However, upon his arrival, the parties had already concluded a treaty.

The first vis-à-vis diplomatic meeting between China and Britain was that of Lord Macartney's in 1793. The embassy was intended to formalise and expand a trading relationship that, since the establishment of British trade at Canton around 1700, had become increasingly lucrative. Planned by the East India Company and the Pitt Government, and led by one of Britain’s most experienced diplomats, George Macartney (1737-1806), the embassy was equipped with all the pomps of a stately spectacle, designed to "impress the minds of the Chinese with a favourable impression of the Embassy, this Country and its commerce." Macartney carried £15,000 of presents from the East India Company, to be presented to the Emperor of China. In part because Macartney would not show submission by partaking in the kowtow custom, this mission was unsuccessful in obtaining a trade agreement. Although the request for a resident trade minister in Pekin was denied, as was the request for the lifting of some of the restrictions to English traders, the Emperor sent a letter promising friendship between the two nations.

In 1795, another delegation under Maulvi Abdul Qader was sent by the East India Company to establish diplomatic and commercial relations with Nepal, in its continued efforts to reach Tibet, ultimately its greater ambition being China.

Dating to 1797, this manuscript discloses the early stages of planning for the expedition of Captain William O. Knox, who would become the first to negotiate a treaty with the Nepalese Government on behalf of the East India Company, and the first to be granted Residency in Kathmandu. [Previously a member of the Kirkpatrick mission, Knox would be sent to Tibet in 1801. He would succeed to sign a treaty with Nepal, however within two years, political turbulence in the city forced him to leave in 1803. During his time in Kathmandu, Charles Crawford who was in charge of Knox's military escort, made some important geographical surveys of the surrounding valley, adding to the success of the mission.]

These pages discusse Britain's favourable relations with the "Rajah of Napaul" [Rana Bahadur Shah, King of Nepal from 1777 to 1806], the British East India Company having negotiated a commercial treaty with Nepal in 1792, and how that might influence the Chinese Emperor for fear of British support in a Nepalese or Tibetan retaliation of Qing rule since the late wars. Important events and outcomes of the Sino-Nepalese War are discussed as the writer strategizes a new approach to China, concluding that the British government has valid reasons for sending an envoy. The mission would be charged with the delicate task of mending tentative relations with Nepal, and also the Chinese province of Tibet, for Britain's "non-interference" in the Sino-Nepalese War, of appeasing both sides, in hopes of renewing old commercial treaties.

[The Sino-Nepalese War was an invasion of Tibet by Nepal from 1788-1792. The war was initially fought between Nepalese and Tibetan armies over a trade dispute related to a long-standing problem of low-quality coins manufactured by Nepal for Tibet. However, the initial Nepalese success in subduing the Tibetans, who were under the administrative rule of the Qing dynasty, led to the involvement of Qing imperial forces. The Nepalese were eventually driven out and forced to sign a peace treaty.]

The writer anticipates a welcome invitation from the King of Nepal, providing opportunity for a British resident team which would gather information on the customs and trade of Nepal and Tibet. At the same time, he proposes, that instead of a public embassy, one could potentially obtain intelligence by secretly meeting with the Chinese Emperor himself, without the presence of his Courtiers, further lending easier negotiations. Secondary means of communication, by means of written correspondence to the Pekin Court, are also suggested.

A far greater challenge, the mission's first task would be to change the existing mindset of the Chinese monarchy toward the English, to shift the perception of the latter from "beggarly merchants" to "dangerous enemy or powerful ally."

In keeping with the mandate of George III and the government of Prime Minister William Pitt in 1792, the writer supports and emphasizes the importance of showcasing Great Britain's power in neighbouring countries, to incite intimidation, or at the very least, respect from the Chinese Emperor. Referencing George Staunton's firsthand account from the Macartney Embassy, he also notes customs pertaining to the Chinese Emperor and his image of holding ultimate rule over the universe.

The above described proposal, made in 1797, would culminate into the 1801 expedition of Captain William O. Knox to Kathmandu, and the first treaty with the Nepalese Government. A short-lived opportunity, the Nepalese Darbar (Court) viewed Knox's residency and the signed treaty as having been imposed upon them, and furthermore, that the British acted more as masters than friends. Animosity grew exponentially and Knox withdrew from his post in 1803.

Excerpts from the manuscript:

"It appears probable that the impression made in China by the late Embassy in favour if this country [McCartney's Embassy to China] might be improved... by deputing a mission to the States in alliance with the East India Company, whose territories border the nearest on the Chinese Empire. - These are Napaul & Thibet"

"... Both the Napaul Rajah and the Lamas of Thibet have sought friendship of the Bengal Government... for assistance during the late War which they waged against each other... The Bengal Government observed a prudent neutrality... The Chinese, however, sent an Army to support the great Lama and punish the Rajah of Napaul... The contest ended with a treaty... the Chinese keeping possession of Lassa, a part of the Dominion of the Lama whom they came to defend."

"... the English Government has a very feasible pretext for sending a deputation into that quarter, in order to justify its non interference... to renew and extend commercial treaties... to remove, on the spot, the unjust suspicions entertained by the Chinese of the English having carried arms against them..."

"It would be important to acquire more exact information... of the population, manners, manufacture and trade of Napaul & Thibet... to enjoy better opportunities of cultivating an intimate acquaintance with the Chinese. A Chinese Governor now commands at Lassa..."

"The invitation by the Emperor of China of another Embassy from England would probably incline the Governor of Lassa to give welcome reception to the Mission at his place of residence, from whence the Post travels in three weeks to Pekin, so that a regular & frequent correspondence could be maintained with the court should he refuse this, which is extremely improbable.... The Emperor constantly entertains at a great expense, and with much parade, two inferior Lamas at Pekin, as nuncios from the Dilai Lama the spiritual father of his faith..."

"... it is usual for Chinese Chiefs or Ministers to reside with whom there would be little difficulty of holding a direct communication and entering into Treaty."

"... by Sir George Stauntons account of the late Embassy [Sir George Staunton, 1st Baronet], it was much easier to negotiate with the Chief Mandarines & Viceroys of China, when at a distance from the Court..."

"The Chinese... have uniformly refuted, from a jealousy of the Imperial dignity, to comply with the demands or proposals of any public Embassy, least such compliance should appear in the light of humiliating concessions to the eyes of their own subjects, or should indicate to the latter the existence of some other Power equal to China. For the Chinese are taught to believe that the Emperor is Sovereign of the Universe..."

"This policy of the Empire to bind its own subjects in awe, rather than to impose on Foreigners, would not, however be encroached upon by such a mission as is now proposed. It could carry on a secret intelligence with the Emperor himself... who... keeps a personal and punctual correspondence with his distant Ministers, expressive of more good will to the English than they experienced from the Officers of His Court."

"A more familiar intercourse... with Chinese Chiefs residing in Thibet or on the Frontiers, than could take place in China itself, might likewise be prolonged... to enable the mission to explain friendly and pacific views of England towards China... the trade it wishes to carry on..."

"The fear of the English encouraging the Napaul Rajah to resume hostilities, or assisting the Lama to recover possessions lately arrested from him... losses & expenses sustained with the Rajah of Napaul, would be strong inducements to the Chinese, not only to meet the English on fair terms, but to court their friendship..."

"The fame of the British Arms on the taking of Dellamcotta [Bhutan] in 1773, spread alarm and terror through our adjacent states which are tributaries of China... The Chinese themselves have already shewn no small dread of our interference with them on the side of Napaul and Thibet... declining the deputation proposed by Lord Cornwallis in 1791 to be sent into that quarter in order to mediate peace..."

"... admonitions of the Viceroy of Canton to Lord Macartney to dissuade him from exciting resentment at home, on account of the refusal of his demands at Pekin, betray likewise an apprehension of the British power..."

"... while the proposed mission should take every necessary step to cultivate a good understanding with the Chinese Chiefs on the Frontiers of the Empire, it might be of advantage to keep just so much of their jealousy alive, as to make them feel the importance of being well with us in return, and the necessity of a reciprocation of good officers."

"Instead of thinking us a set of Beggarly Merchants, to use their own phrase, they would learn to treat us as a Nation that may be either a dangerous Enemy or powerful Ally. - Under this impression new and extensive Commercial privileges might be gained thro' fear... procuring for us an open Trade of incalculable advantage along the whole extent of its Eastern Coast."

End excerpts.

It is no coincidence that a few years after the Knox expedition, the British instigated the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-16), also known as the Gurkha War. On 2 December 1815 the Treaty of Sugauli was signed. It was ratified on 4 March 1816 by the East India Company and the King of Nepal, formally delineating the boundary of Nepal, conceding approximately one third of Nepalese-controlled territory to British India, and formally establishing a British representative in Kathmandu. The signatory for Nepal was Raj Guru Gajraj Mishra, aided by Chandra Sekher Upadhayaya, and the signatory for the Company was Lieutenant Colonel Paris Bradshaw.

Subsequently, a second grand scale mission to Pekin would finally be undertaken, when in 1816 Lord Amherst [William Pitt Amherst] was sent to the court of China's Qing dynasty, also with a view of expanding commercial relations between China and Great Britain. Just like Macartney his predecessor, Amherst returned without any agreement from the Chinese government. In 1833, the jealously-protected monopoly of the East India Company was finally abolished. China trade was opened to the competition of all British subjects, including companies who had been petitioning the government and lobbying members of Parliament for free trade for years. Limitations restricting trade to a single factory in Canton were lifted. Much to the chagrin of the pioneering Company who had laid the foundation for immense enterprise, the trade was no longer overseen by the East India Company Supercargoes, but managed by a Chief Superintendent appointed by the Crown.

Also interesting to note, at the time of this proposed strategy, there was a heightened global demand for tea, China being the sole producer of the commodity. A secondary demand for Chinese silk and porcelain also became prevalent in the English market. China accepted only silver as currency from foreigners, creating a shortage of it. As Britain did not possess sufficient amounts of silver to trade with the Qing Empire, the East India Company (EIC), monopoly suppliers of tea to the English market, circumvented the problem by creating a barter system based on Indian opium to bridge the problem of payment. The opium was grown on their plantations in India, then sold to the Chinese, the proceeds from which they used to pay for tea. The exponential increase of opium in China between 1790 and 1832 brought about new problems, creating clashes between the Qing government and British merchants, which would ultimately escalate into the Opium Wars.

A substantial archive of the Melville Papers (1786-1847), is held by the University of Manchester Library, which was acquired by the John Rylands Library from various sources in the 1930s, and which comprises correspondence and papers of Henry Dundas (1742-1811), 1st Viscount Melville, as well as his son Robert Saunders Dundas (1771-1851), 2nd Viscount.

The National Records of Scotland also holds an important Melville Papers Archive, with documents dating from 1629-1939. "At the core of the collection are the papers of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville and his son Robert, 2nd Viscount, dating from 1775 to 1830. Both men were de facto Secretaries of State for Scotland. Father and son were very involved in the government of India and in the administration of the Royal Navy."

Similar collections can be found at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford,

George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, KB (1737-1806), best known as Lord Macartney, was a British statesman, colonial administrator and diplomat. He is often remembered for his observation following Britain's success in the Seven Years War and subsequent territorial expansion at the Treaty of Paris that Britain now controlled "a vast Empire, on which the sun never sets". Macartney arrived in the Caribbean in 1776 and was the Governor of Grenada, Tobago, and the Grenadines, from 1776 to 1779. Grenada was invaded in July 1779 by the French royal fleet of the Comte d'Estaing, the fortifications on Hospital Hill being besieged, and Macartney was imprisoned.

After his return to Great Britain, he was governor of Madras from 1781 to 1785. Lord Macartney had the further distinction of being the first British ambassador to China. Appointed by George III in 1792, he was charged with the demonstration of British equality with, if not superiority to, the peoples of China, and the negotiation of commercial treaties for the export of tea, and more particularly the import of British goods to pay for the tea (until this attempt the Chinese had always forced the British to use silver for payment). Macartney was not especially well received, most likely because of his refusal to acknowledge the divine nature of the Chinese Qing Emperor Tchieng Lung by observing the traditional kowtow (k'ou-t'ou) or ritual abasement and because of his attempt to negotiate a diplomatic treaty acknowledging British equality. The Chinese viewed Macartney as a tributary ambassador (and therefore George III as a tributary king) and his requests were turned down. However, Macartney did take with him a considerable retinue, among them a number of people who published influential accounts of the journey to China and the customs and manners of the Chinese themselves. The embassy returned to England via Macao and St. Helena, arriving in September 1794, and Macartney received an earldom the same year.

Provenance
The Melville Papers

Condition
Very slight occasional age-toning, otherwise in very good condition, clean and bright
£5,750