Journal of the proceedings of the late embassy to China; comprising a correct narrative of the public transactions of the embassy, of the voyage to and from China, and of the journey from the mouth of the Pei-ho to the return to Canton.

by Henry Ellis, third commissioner of the embassy,

It is a strange thing, that in sea voyages, where there is nothing to be seen but sky and sea, men should make diaries; but in land travel, wherein so much is to be observed, for the most part they omit it ; as if chance were fitter to be registered than observation : let diaries therefore be brought in use.— Lord Bacon.

Second Edition, in Two Volumes. Vol, II.

London : John Murray, Albemarle-Street. 1818

From: Chapter IX. (Pages 266 – 278)

Sketch of the discoveries of the Alceste and Lyra—Remarks upon Corea and Loo-choo islands—Author's further observations upon the Chinese nation.

The following sketch and observations have been brought together in a concluding chapter, from the circumstance of their not having originally formed parts of the journal, although obviously connected with the subjects which it embraces.


This sketch of the surveys in the Gulfs of Pe-tchee-lee, Leo-tong, the Chinese seas, &c by the squadron under the command of Captain Maxwell, is given rather with the view of exciting than satisfying curiosity respecting these interesting events. Indeed, they form so directly a part of the general result of the embassy, that to omit them altogether was scarcely justifiable.
        The first object which seems to have attracted Captain Maxwell's attention was, to obtain a complete knowledge of the navigation of the Gulf of Pe-tchee-lee, and for this purpose he divided the researches of the squadron, taking to himself the northern part in company with Captain Ross, of the Discovery, assigning the southern to Captain Hall, of the Lyra, and so directing the return of the General Hewitt, as to enable Captain Campbell to explore the central passage.
        The course taken by the Alceste led to an examination of the Gulf of Leo-tong, hitherto unvisited by European navigators. In coasting along the western shore of the Gulf, a view was obtained of the Great Wall, extending its vast but unavailing defences over the summits and along the skirts of hills and mountains. Stretching across to the opposite shore of Chinese Tartary, Captain Maxwell anchored in a commodious bay, called Ross's Bay, where he watered, latitude 39° 30’ north, longitude 121° 16' east. No intimate communication took place here with the inhabitants, who appear to have little knowledge of the value of the precious metals they, however, possessed comfortable dwellings, and were not unacquainted with the use of fire-arms. A considerable town was observed near this place with junks at anchor.
        The land of Chinese Tartary, in its southern extremity, forms a long narrow promontory, which, from its shape, Captain Maxwell named the Regent's Sword. From thence steering southward, and sailing through a cluster of islands, called the Company's Group, he passed in sight of the city of Ten-choo-foo, and standing to the eastward, reached the rendezvous in Che-a-tou Bay, latitude 37° 35' 30”, longitude 121° 29' 30", where the General Hewitt was found at anchor. The channel between the cluster of islands and the coast of Chinese Tartary was named Saint George's Channel.
        The Lyra arrived on the 22d of August, after having, during her cruize, kept the coast of China as much in sight as possible; she had passed between Ten-choo-foo and the Mee-a-tau islands, and obtained a complete knowledge of the navigation of the Gulf of Pe-tchee-lee from the Pei-ho to the rendezvous. The survey made by Sir Erasmus Gower of Che-a-tou Bay was ascertained to be perfectly correct. A difficulty being found in procuring water at this bay, the ships proceeded to Oei-aei-oei, lat. 37° 30’ 11” north, longitude 122° 9’ 30” east, where there is a good anchorage, but little facility for obtaining supplies.
        Had the squadron sailed from hence to Chu-san, and there awaited the change of the monsoon, any expectations originally formed would have been more than gratified : few, indeed, could have anticipated the further extension and increased importance of discoveries that awaited the Alceste and Lyra. Captain Maxwell, before leaving Che-a-tou Bay, ordered the Hewitt, Discovery, and Investigator to resume their original destination ; and on the 29th of August, directing his own course to the eastward, reached a group of islands near the coast of Corea, called Sir James Hall's Group, lat. 37° 45' north, long. 124° 40’ 30" east ; quitting these, the ships anchored in a bay on the main land, which was named Basil's Bay, in compliment to Captain Hall, of the Lyra, lat. 36° 4' 45 north, long. 126° 39' 46” east. Here they had some interesting communications with the natives, who seem to have been prevented by the strict orders of their government from encouraging an intercourse, which, if liberated from this restraint, their inclinations would have led them to cultivate. The dress and appearance were peculiar, and had no resemblance to the Chinese.
Standing southward, they met with an incalculable number of islands, which obtained the name of the Corean Archipelago. They continued amongst these islands from the 2d to the 10th of September, and in the further progress to the southward ascertained that the land observed on the voyage to the mouth of the Pei-ho, and considered as the extremity of the main land of Corea, belonged to a crowd of islands which Captain Maxwell named Amherst Isles. These extend from Alceste Island, latitude 34° 1' north, longitude 124° 51' east, marked, but not named in Burney's chart, to lat. 35° 00' north, and between 125° and 126° of east longitude. The. researches of Captain Maxwell establish the error in the position of the continent to be 2° 14 minutes to the westward, and reveal the existence of myriads of islands forming an archipelago, a fact before unknown and unsuspected. It is to be remarked, that, with the exception of the Corean coast, which the Jesuits professed to have laid down from Chinese accounts, the configuration of the sea-coast contained in their map was found correct, to a degree that could scarcely have been expected.
        On the 15th of September the ships reached Sulphur Island (lat. 27° 56' north, long. 128° 11' east), so called from the quantity of that mineral found on it. The sulphur is collected by a few individuals resident on the island solely for that purpose; sent to the Great Loo-choo, and thence exported to Japan and China.
        On the sixteenth of September they anchored at the Great Loo-choo island, in Napa-kiang roads, lat. 26° 13' north, long. 127° 37' east. The natives at first shewed the same disinclination to intercourse as on the coast of Corea, and it required great forbearance and discretion on the part of Captain Maxwell to produce a contrary feeling. In this object he succeeded ; and during a stay of six weeks obtained the most liberal assistance and friendly treatment from the public authorities and natives individually. They quitted their anchorage on the 28th of October ; passed Ty-pin-shan, the easternmost island of the Pa-tchou chain, lat. 24* 42' north, long. 125° 21' east, subject to the King of Loochoo, and reached Lin-tin the 2d of November.
        The kingdom of Corea and the Loo-choo islands are little known to Europeans. With respect to Corea, the personal observation of the missionaries did not extend beyond the frontier; and the few details which their works contain upon that kingdom and the Loo-choo islands are entirely derived from Chinese authority.
        Corea, called Kaoli by the Chinese, is bounded on the north by Man-tchoo Tartary, on the west by Leo-tong : the line of separation on this side is marked by a palisade of wood, and it has not been unusual to leave a portion of land on the frontiers unclaimed by either nation. Other accounts describe the river Ya-lou as the boundary ; the extent from east to west is said to be one hundred and twenty leagues ; and from north to south two hundred and twenty, or six degrees of longitude and nine degrees of latitude, from forty-three to thirty-four degrees north latitude. It may, however, be asserted on the authority of the late voyage, that the number of degrees of longitude is too great. Fong-houng-ching, in latitude forty-two degrees, thirty miles, and twenty seconds, longitude seven degrees forty-two minutes east from the meridian of Pekin, is the only point fixed by the astronomical observations of the Missionary Pere Regis, who accompanied a Tartar general to the frontier, and possessed himself of some Chinese maps. This country was brought under subjection by the Chinese in the year 1120 before the Christian era, from which period it has continued a connexion more or less intimate, according to the political situation of the superior state.
It has been the object of the Emperors of China to reduce Corea to the situation of a province; in this they have never succeeded for any length of time; and the present has most generally been the relation between the countries; that of a state governed by native hereditary monarchs, holding under a lord paramount on condition of the ceremony of homage, and the payment of a small tribute. The Japanese, for a time, established themselves in some provinces of Corea, but seem to have abandoned their conquest, from the difficulty of maintaining a possession so distant from their resources.
Corea was subdued by the Man-tchoo Tartars before the conquest of China was attempted, and their tributary connexion has suffered no interruption since the establishment of the Ta-tsing dynasty. On the death of the King of Corea, his successor does not assume the title until an application for investiture has been made, and granted by the Court of Pekin. A Mandarin of rank is deputed as the Emperor's representative, and the regal dignity is conferred on the candidate kneeling; the ceremony altogether nearly resembles the feudal homage of ancient Europe. Several articles, the production of the country, and eight hundred taels, or ounces of silver, are immediately offered by the King, either as a fee of investiture, or as the commencement of the tribute : the name of the reigning family is Li, and the title is Kou-i-wang. The Corean sovereign is entirely independent in the internal administration of his country. In regard to foreign policy, the active interference of China may be inferred from the opposition made by the Coreans in the instance of Captain Maxwell, to any communication with the interior of the country; an opposition, as has already been remarked, evidently arising from the positive laws of the kingdom. Corea is divided into eight provinces, and these into minor jurisdictions. The capital, King-ki-tao, is situated in the centre of the kingdom. The principal rivers are the Ya-lou and Tamen-oula.
        China has communicated her laws and municipal regulations to the Coreans; but while they concur in the honours paid to the memory of Confucius, they wisely reject the absurd idolatry of Fo, and the attendant burthen of an ignorant and contemptible priesthood.
        Embassadors are dispatched at stated periods by the King of Corea to pay, in his name, homage to his paramount, and to convey the regular tribute. This consists of ginseng, zibelines, paper made from cotton, much preferred, from its strength, for windows, and a few other articles the produce of the country. There is reason to believe that the tribute is rather sought for as a mark of subjection, than a branch of revenue. The Corean embassadors do not take precedence of Mandarins of the second rank, and are most strictly watched during their stay in China. It is somewhat singular that equal restrictions are imposed in Corea upon the representative of the Emperor. Corea is said in the missionary's account to export gold, silver, iron, ginseng, a yellow varnish obtained from a species of palm-tree, zibelines, castors, pens, paper, and fossil salt. The statement respecting the metals may be doubted; for while no ornaments made from the precious metals were observed amongst the natives, they refused to take dollars in exchange for their cattle, and from the sparing use of iron on their tools, a scarcity of that useful metal may also be inferred.
        The present Corean dress is that of the last Chinese dynasty; a robe with long and large sleeves, fastened by a girdle, and a hat of broad brim and conical crown; their boots are of silk, cotton, or leather. The Corean language differs both from Tartar and Chinese, but the latter character is in general use. The appearance of the natives is described by the last accounts as more warlike than that of the Chinese, and the attendants of the Corean chief, with whom some communication took place, seemed to use a sword with dexterity.
        On the whole, therefore, although the inflexible jealousy of the government, and Captain Maxwell's own sense of what was due to the embarrassing situation of an apparently well disposed public officer*, [* The Corean chief with whom Captain Maxwell communicated is described as a man of most venerable appearance, and as acting against his own inclination in opposing an intercourse with the country.] prevented him from pursuing his researches into the interior, the visit to the coast of Corea must be considered interesting, and as an addition to the geography of Asia, a highly important occurrence.