The 1816 Embassy of Lord Amherst to China

(The following text is that linked to in the title, from very well documented (basically commercial) pages by George C. Baxley)
This British embassy was recommended to the King of England by the Directors of the East India Company based upon interference with their trade by the Viceroy of Canton. The East India Company actually financed the embassy and it was in the interests of that agency that the embassy was dispatched. A request directly to the Emperor of China for a redress of grievances was the key mission of the embassy. The Amherst embassy to China departed England on February 8, 1816 aboard H.M.S. Alceste commanded Captain Maxwell and H.M. Brig Lyra commanded by Captain Basil Hall. The embassy arrived in China in early August.
Lord Amherst traveled inland arriving at Yuen-Ming-Yuen (Pekin) on August 29, 1816 for an audience with the Emperor. To his consternation, the Emperor demanded to see him immediately on his arrival. Lord Amherst declined based upon ill health and the desire to recover from the overland journey. The British believed that the Emperor wanted to see Amherst privately to insist that he perform the "ko-tou" ceremony of prostration during the public reception of the embassy. The Emperor immediately ordered the embassy to depart and this was done the next day. Amherst never did see the Emperor to request the redress of grievances, the main objective of the mission. After the fact, it appears the Emperor planned on making Lord Amherst perform an elaborate series prostrations during the official reception.
                Despite being dismissed by the Emperor, Amherst traveled extensively throughout China and did not depart until January of 1817. He dispatched H.M.S. Alceste and H.M Brig Lyra on surveying expeditions commanded by Captain Maxwell to Korea and Okinawa (Loochoo) in late August of 1816. This aspect of the mission is covered rather briefly ("Remarks upon Corea and Loo-Choo Islands") in Chapter IX (pages 469-491). The ships spent considerable time in Okinawa (September 16 to 28 October). This aspect of the expedition was covered in great detail in important books written by John McLeod and Basil Hall and published at the same time as the official account by Henry Ellis. Both McLeod and Hall were members of the embassy. Clarke Abel, the main surgeon on the embassy, also published a very thorough account of China. (See below)
                The embassy departed China on January 21, 1817.  During the voyage back to England on February 18 in the Straits of Gaspar in the Java sea near the island of Pulo Leat, H.M.S. Alceste struck a submerged rock and sank. There was no loss of life and Lord Amherst was taken to Batavia aboard the H.M. Brig Lyra. On the return voyage Lord Amherst visited with Napoleon Bonaparte who was in exile on St. Helena. The mission was completed at Spithead on August 17, 1817.
                This embassy was extensively documented in non-government books published shortly after it was completed. In fact, this seemed to have been an officially sanctioned policy of the British Government. The following quote is found at the foot of the title page: “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
                The strategic and ultimate mission of the embassy was not accomplished. Lord Amherst was denied the personal audience with the Emperor of China to present the British grievances. On a tactical level, while the mission went rather smoothly, the embassy suffered a catastrophe in the sinking of the lead ship, H.M. Ship Alceste. In addition, H.M. Brig Lyra was nearly shipwrecked on the coral reefs as she surveyed Okinawa. Despite the major failures, the embassy performed an important role in acquainting the general public with the conditions in China and the then relatively unknown of Kingdoms of Korea and Loo-Choo.

Henry EllisJournal 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, Interspersed with Observations upon the Face of the Country, the Polity, Moral Character, and Manners of the Chinese Nation, Illustrated by Maps and Drawings, London.
1817 [In 1818, a second edition in 2 volumes was published,]  Click here to read the portion of text related to Corea.

John McLeodNarrative of a Voyage, in His Majesty's Late Ship Alceste, to the Yellow Sea, Along the Coast of Corea and Through its Numerous Hitherto Undiscovered Islands, to the Island of Lewchew; with an Account of Her Shipwreck in the Straits of Gaspar, London.
1817 [The 2nd edition of 1818 had a shorter title: Voyage of His Majesty's Ship Alceste, Along the Coast of Corea to the Island of Lewchew; with an Account of Her Subsequent Shipwreck. This was translated in Dutch, French and Swedish by 1820. 3rd and 4th editions followed in 1819 and 1820].  Click here for the portion of text related to Corea.

Clarke AbelNarrative of a Journey in the Interior of China, and of a Voyage to and From That Country in the Years 1816 and 1817; containing an Account of the Most interesting Transactions of Lord Amherst's Embassy to the Court of Peking and Observations on the Countries which it Visited, London.
1818, He does not describe Corea but his book is an outstanding account of the flora and fauna as well as the culture of China. He mentions briefly how, when the Alceste was sinking, a seaman threw away his entire collection of botanical specimens in order to use the chest for "a gentleman's linen."

Basil HallAccount of a Voyage of Discovery to the West Coast of Corea and the Great Loo-choo Island; with an Appendix Containing Charts, and Various Hydrographical and Scientific Notices. By Captain Basil Hall, Royal Navy, F.R.S. Lond. & Edin. Member of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, of the Literary Society of Bombay, and of the Society of Arts and Sciences of Batavia. And a Vocabulary of the Loo-Choo Language, by H. J. Clifford, Esq., Lieutenant, Royal Navy, London.
1818. [In 1826 a 3-volume edition was published in Edinburgh, with the 2 additional volumes reporting other journeys to South America. The account of the visit to Corea forming the 2nd chapter of the 1826 Voyage to Loo-Choo, and other places in the eastern seas is rewritten and rather expanded, compared to that forming the first chapter in the earlier editions.]  Click here for the text from the 1826 edition related to Corea. A corrected text file of the whole volume of the first edition is in Project Gutenberg. Click here for the text of Chapter 1 of the first edition, devoted to their visit to the Corean coast. See also Baxley's detailed account with good images of maps and pictures.

Two pictures from McLeod's book and one from Hall's. These seem to be the first depictions of Koreans published in the West. See Baxley's detailed page with maps and paintings.


Map (frontispiece) from Henry Ellis:
Journal of the Proceedings of the Late Embassy to China

[Basil Hall, 1818, Appendix page x - xviii]

This chart extends from 34º to 38º north latitude, and from 124º to 127º
east longitude. The time of our stay on the coast being only nine days,
no great accuracy is to be expected, and this chart pretends to be
little more than an eye-draught, checked by chronometers and meridian
altitudes of the sun and stars. Under circumstances of such haste, much
has unavoidably been left untouched, and what is now given is presented
with no great confidence.

What follows is extracted from notes made at the time by Mr. Clifford
and myself. The longitudes by chronometer have all been carefully
recomputed, and the greatest care was taken in ascertaining the various
latitudes. The true bearings are in every instance set down, the
variation being allowed for at the moment. The variation of the compass
recorded in this notice, was determined by two azimuth compasses, and
the method recommended by Captain Flinders, of repeating the
observations by turning the compass first one way and then the other,
was invariably followed.

His Majesty's ships Alceste and Lyra, after quitting the port of
Oei-hai-oei, which is in latitude 37º 30' 40" north, and longitude 122º
16' east, on the north coast of Shantung Promontory, stood to the
northward and eastward till in latitude 38º north, and then ran to the
eastward. On the morning of the 1st of September, 1816, we saw the land,
bearing about east. By sights with chronometer on the meridian of these
islands, we ascertained that the west end of the northern one lies in
124º 44-1/2' east. The latitude of the south end of the eastern island
was ascertained by meridian altitude of the sun to be 37º 44-1/2' north.
There is a rocky white islet off the west end of the middle island. We
had from twenty to thirty fathoms on rounding the south-west end of the
islands, but on the south side of the southern one there is a bight with
seven fathoms, black sand in the centre: here we anchored. There is good
anchorage all over the bay, which is sheltered from all winds except
between west south-west and south-east, being open to the southward.
There are two villages here. From the top of the highest peak on this
island, which is about seven or eight hundred feet high, we could
discern the main land of Corea, high and rugged, stretching north
north-west and south south-east, distant from eight to ten leagues.
Along the coast abreast of us there were seen many islands. The channel
between the middle island of the group and the one we were upon appeared
clear and broad; but the northern and middle islands seemed connected by
a reef which shews above water at several places.

The inhabitants were suspicious and unfriendly: we saw some cattle and
many fowls, but neither money nor any thing else that we had could
induce them to part with either.

In the evening we weighed and stood to the southward; next morning there
was no land in sight. At noon we were in longitude 124º 47' 52" east,
and latitude 36º 44-1/2' north, no land in sight. We hauled in shore to
the eastward, and anchored in the night in deep water.

3rd of September.--Weighed at 3.30 and stood in shore; at 7.45 A.M. we
were due south of the western of a group of islands. Many sights were
taken as we passed to settle the place of this group: it lies between
125º 42-1/2' east, and 125º 57-1/2' east, and in latitude 36º 44' north.
After passing this group we stood to the south-east towards a vast
cluster of islands: at noon, when we were just entering the cluster, the
latitude was observed 36º 18' 21" north, and longitude 126º 10' east.
The south-west extreme of the islands bore south 40º west. There were
eight islands near us between south-east and south-west, and a high
bluff dark rock south one-quarter east, four miles: and on the main land
a very high hill, east 19º north. When we had got well among the islands
it fell calm, and we anchored in eight and a half fathoms. It remained
calm during the night.

4th of September.--Weighed on a breeze springing up, and stood in shore.
Observed in 36º 13' north, longitude 126º 30' east; at this time the
following bearings were taken.

A remarkable peak on the main land, east.
High mountain on the main land, east 38-1/2º north.
White cliff on the east end of the fourth island to the left of the wide entrance into the cluster, north.
Small round island, north 30º west.
Another, north 35º west.
Extremes of a large bluff island from north 38º west, to north 32-1/2º west.
Rock, north 72º west.
Outer island, north 75º west.
Extremes of the outer cluster, from north 77-1/2 west, to west 1º south.
Large island, from west 14º 30' south, to west 18º south.

These islands being within from ten to fifteen miles, were laid down by
estimated distances, but it was quite impossible to assign places to the
immense number of others which stretched away to the south and
south-east, as far as the eye could reach. We stood in shore for the
purpose of discovering whether there was any place of shelter in the
main land, but in general it proved shallow and unsafe. At length we
discovered a bay which promised shelter, but on running into it, the
depth was found not to exceed three or four fathoms. This bay is open
towards the south, and is formed by a curved tongue of land on the north
and west. The longitude of the south end of this point is 126º 42' 22"
east, and latitude 36º 7' 38" north. We remained here during the night,
and the forenoon of the 5th. The natives came on board, but made great
objections to our landing.

The tide rose and fell fifteen feet and a half; it was low water at 8
P.M., and high water at 2.30 A.M. This was two and a half days before
full moon.

The Alceste's boats were sent to sound in the eastern quarter, but they
found shoal water every where.

5th of September.--At 11 A.M. we got under weigh and stood to the
south-west among the islands, carrying seven, eight, nine, ten, to
fifteen fathoms, and occasionally deepening to seventeen fathoms. At
4.45 we observed in longitude 126º 24-1/2' east, and latitude 35º 52'
north at this time.

Two islands bore north half east, seven miles.
A remarkable small black island, west 32º, north four miles.
Another, west 22º north, seven miles.
A range of islands, from east 10º north, to east 16º south.
A long island, from south 25º east, to south 11º east.
The islands off which we anchored on the 2nd instant bearing about north 10º west.

Two islands, from south 16º west, to south 25º west.

The main land from south south-east to north-east, high and rugged.

We had a sea breeze to-day, and fine weather. Variation 2º 10' westerly.
We ran on by moonlight till 11 P.M., and then anchored among the
islands. Latitude, observed by Polaris 35º 26' north. Longitude, at
anchor by chronometer next morning 126º 23' 22" east. From this spot the
main land was seen from east 12º north, to south 20º east.

A rock, west 7º south, four miles.
An island, from west 15º north, to west 31º north, 4-1/2'.
Three islands, extending from west 36º south, to west 45º south, 3'.
Two distant ones in the same direction.
Cluster of islands, from west 64º south, to west 84-1/2º south.
Large island, north 12º west, ten or twelve miles.
A cluster of islands, from north 15º east, to north 28º east.
Two distant islands, north 32º east.
Two others, north 42º east.

6th of September.--Weighed and stood to the southward. At noon observed
in 35º 17' north, longitude 126º 28-1/2' east, being then in the centre
of a semicircle of islands, extending from north-east to south-east and
south-west. During the forenoon the flood tide set strong to the north
north-east against us. Most of the channels between the islands were
deep, but to-day we tried one which had not more than five and a half
fathoms. At 4.30. took sights, when a long bluff island bore east
north-east a quarter of a mile. Longitude 126º 6' 37" east; latitude 35º
6' north. This island is the most westerly of the range of islands which
lie between the latitude 35º and 36º north. High and connected land was
faintly discernible to the eastward. The soundings were generally from
nine to fifteen fathoms, deepening in most cases on approaching the
bluff islands.

7th of September.--We anchored last night about ten o'clock in seventeen
fathoms; the flood tide had made; it ran north nearly three miles an
hour, till four A.M. when we got under weigh, and drifted fast to the
southward with the ebb. At 9.30. got sights, which gave longitude 125º
52' 45" east, latitude 34º 42' north; at this time a very remarkable
hill on an island bore east 8º south; it has the appearance of a turret
or large chimney. The other bearings from this spot were--

Western extreme of a large island stretching west north-west, and east south-east; north 27º, east 4 or 5'.
Round rock, north 18º east, 8'.
Cluster of islands from north 50º west, to north 74º west.
Round bluff small island, west 9º south.
Large island, west 42º south, 7 or eight leagues.
Two small distant islands, west 53º south, 10' leagues.
Small island, south 11º east.

Extreme of distant land, south 37º east: besides, as usual, innumerable
distant islands. The flood tide made against us between ten and eleven.
The soundings this morning have been from twenty-three to nineteen
fathoms. The weather extremely hot and the water smooth. The ebb made
about four, and there being no wind, it carried us rapidly towards some
rocks joining two islands. We anchored in twenty-one fathoms. The
variation of the compass 2-1/2º westerly. The bearings at anchor this
evening were as follows:

Small island, south 3º 22' east.
Large island, from south to south 20-1/2º east.
A small island, south 22º east.
Another, south 28-1/2º east.
High bluff island, south 31º east.
Island from south 9º east, to south 18º west.
Sharp peaked rock, south 25º 40' west.
Island from south 63º west, to south 65º west.
Distant island, from south 63-1/2º west, to south 66º west, nine or ten leagues.
Distant small island, west 1º 10' north, seven or eight leagues.
Distant island, from west 6º 39' north, to west 9º north, formed of one
large flat space and five hummocks, eight or nine leagues.
Island, west 28º 50' north.
Large island, from west 31º north, to west 38º 19' north.
Round bluff island, off which we observed at noon to-day, west 39º 52' north.
Distant small island, west 44º 28' north, four or five leagues.
Large island, from west 71º north, to west 81º 30' north.

An island, afterwards called Thistle Island, south 79º east, to east 14º
52' north, besides numberless islands, in thick clusters, extending as
far as the eye could reach, in the north-east and east quarters. In the
afternoon a boat went inside Thistle Island, and reported that there was
a clear anchorage.

8th of September.--At noon we weighed and sailed round the north end of
Thistle Island, carrying seventeen fathoms, till the north end bore
south; we then shoaled to ten and eleven, and one cast nine fathoms. On
rounding the island we steered south, and anchored in eleven fathoms,
soft bottom, about four hundred yards from the middle part of the
island. The islands at this place are so situated as to form a capacious
and secure anchorage, with passages among the islands in all directions.
The latitude observed with an artificial horizon on shore, was 34º 22'
39" north; longitude by mean of two chronometers, agreeing nearly, 126º
2' 52" east. The tides run at the springs at the rate of three and four
knots, the flood to the north north-east; the rise and fall is fifteen
feet. Strong eddies are felt among the islands. The variation of the
compass is 2º 30' westerly.

On the 9th of September Captain Maxwell and a party went to the summit
of a high peak, on an island to the south-east of the ships, in latitude
34º 20' north, and longitude 126º 6' east. From this spot, elevated
about seven or eight hundred feet above the sea, the view of the islands
was very striking: we endeavoured to number them, but our accounts
varied, owing to the difficulty of estimating the number in the distant
groups; it will serve, however, to give some idea of this splendid
scene, to say that the lowest enumeration gave one hundred and twenty

Many of these islands are large and high, almost all are cultivated, and
their forms present an endless diversity.

High land was seen to rise above the distant islands in the east and
north-east; this probably was the main land of Corea, for it seemed more
extensive and connected than any group of islands we had seen.

We had now ran along upwards of two hundred miles of this coast, and at
every part which we approached, the islands were no less thickly sown
than here; so that our attempts to enumerate them all, or even to assign
places on the chart to those which we passed the nearest to, became
after a time quite hopeless.

During our stay upon the coast of Corea, between the 1st and 10th of
September, the winds were principally from the northward; the weather
was moderate and clear; and occasionally calm during the heat of the

The barometer rose and fell gradually between 29. 78. and 29. 98. The
thermometer was never above 82º, and never, even at night, under 72º For
further details respecting the winds and weather, see the Meteorological