August 24, 2011

The Distant Countries: Notes on the Journey (California, Mauritius, Aden, Madagascar)

Louis Laurent Simonin (1830–86) was a French mining engineer, writer, and traveler, who in this book, published in 1867, chronicled his impressions of four widely different places: the U.S. state of California; the British-controlled island of Mauritius; Aden (Yemen); and Madagascar. Simonin explained that these places would be of interest to European readers and that all four had shown economic development and other progress in recent years. He was impressed by California’s diverse population, and remarked on the state’s achievements in communications and transportation. Turning to Mauritius and its neighboring sister island, Réunion, he described their picturesque scenery and traced the unique history and culture of Mauritius and its ethnic makeup, which included Arabs and Parsees. He stressed the importance of the island for it sugar industry, mineral and agricultural production, and military and commercial function in the Indian Ocean as a station for ships. Simonin characterized Aden as a “new Gibraltar,” brought closer to Europe by new steam-powered ships. Simonin was also favorably impressed by Madagascar, then just becoming an object of imperial rivalry between France and Britain.

The Romance of an Eastern Capital

Francis Bradley Bradley-Birt (1874–1963), a member of the Indian Civil Service and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London, wrote several books on British India and Persia. The Romance of an Eastern Capital is a history of the city of Dacca, present-day Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Located on the Buriganga River, Dacca was, successively, under Buddhist, Hindu, Mughal, and British rule. This book traces the rise and fall of Mughal power, rivalry between the British and French for political and commercial influence in the city, the rising power of the British East India Company in the 18th century, and the history of the Dacca under British rule, which officially began in 1793. Originally part of the province of Bengal in British India, Dacca became the capital of the new state of Eastern Bengal and Assam after the partition of Bengal in 1905. In his preface, Bradley-Birt wrote that “the much-discussed Partition of Bengal” had brought Eastern Bengal “prominently before the general public, both in India and at home, and it is hoped that the story of its Capital, which the following pages attempt to relate in popular form, will be of special interest at the present time.”

Political Missions to Bootan, Comprising the Reports of the Hon'ble Ashley Eden,--1864; Capt. R.B. Pemberton, 1837, 1838, with Dr. W. Griffiths's Journal; and the Account by Baboo Kishen Kant Bose

Published in Calcutta (present-day Kolkata) in 1865, this volume contains four narratives relating to the interactions in the 19th century between British India and the Kingdom of Bhutan. The first is the report of Sir Ashley Eden (1831–87), a British administrator who, in 1863, was sent on a mission to conclude a treaty of peace and friendship with Bhutan. Eden’s mission failed and was followed by the outbreak of the Anglo-Bhutan War of 1864–65 (also known as the Dooar or Duār War), in which Bhutan was forced to cede several border regions to the British. The second narrative is by Captain R. Boileau Pemberton, who undertook a mission to Bhutan in 1837–38 but failed to conclude a treaty between Bhutan and the British East India Company. The third narrative is the journal of William Griffiths, a medical doctor who accompanied Pemberton. The final narrative is a translation of a report by Baboo Kishen Kant Bose, a native agent who, in 1815, traveled to Bhutan on behalf of the East India Company to negotiate certain issues. In addition to the main narratives, the book includes the texts of several draft treaties and tables containing detailed information about the vegetation, geology, and climate of Bhutan.

The Burmese Empire a Hundred Years Ago, as Described by Father Sangermano, with an Introduction and Notes by John Jardine

Vincenzo Sangermano (1758–1819) was a Roman Catholic priest, a member of the Barnabite religious order, who served as a missionary in Burma from 1783 to 1806. After initially going to the then-capital city of Ava, he settled in Rangoon, where he completed construction of a church and a college of missionaries. While heading the college, Sangermano undertook pioneering research on the political, legal, and administrative system of the Burmese Empire and on Burmese cosmography, science, religion, and manners and customs. Sangermano based his work on personal observations and inquiries, as well as on rare Burmese and Pali manuscripts that he analyzed and translated. In 1808, Sangermano returned to his native Italy, where he began preparing his research for publication, but he died in 1819 before he could complete his work. His manuscript remained in the hands of the Barnabite order and was published, with the support of the Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1833. Presented here is the second edition of Sangermano’s book, published in London in 1893, which includes a detailed introduction by John Jardine, a British legal scholar and judge who served in a variety of posts in the British Empire, including that of Judicial Commissioner of British Burma. Sangermano’s work remains a vital source for the study of pre-modern Burma.

The Melanesians of British New Guinea

Charles Gabriel Seligman (1873–1940) was a British ethnographer who conducted field research in New Guinea, Sarawak, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), and Sudan. Trained as a medical doctor, in 1898 he joined an expedition organized by Cambridge University to the Torres Strait, the body of water that separates the island of New Guinea from Australia. The purpose of the expedition was to document the cultures of the Torres Strait islanders, which were rapidly disappearing under the influence of colonization. In 1904, Seligman was one of three members of the Cooke Daniels Ethnographic Expedition to British New Guinea, funded by Denver, Colorado department store owner William Cooke Daniels. The Melanesians of British New Guinea contains a detailed record of much of Seligman’s anthropological research conducted during the expedition. Seligman’s findings demonstrated the striking physical and cultural differences between the western Papuans and his main preoccupation, their eastern neighbors, who had been more influenced by Melanesian immigration. The book established Seligman’s reputation as an anthropologist, and remains an important source for the study of the traditional culture of the peoples of present-day Papua New Guinea. The book includes photographs, drawings, maps, and a glossary of indigenous terms.

Samoa Travels

Otto Finsch (1839–1917) was a German ornithologist and ethnographer who was involved in the establishment of Kaiser Wilhelms-Land, a German protectorate located in the northeastern part of present-day Papua New Guinea. Finsch worked as a curator at the Museum of Natural History and Ethnography in Bremen. He was awarded an honorary doctorate for his ornithological work by the University of Bonn in 1868 and became director of the Bremen museum in 1876. After an initial expedition to the Pacific in 1879–82, he returned to Germany and became a member of the “South Sea Plotters,” a group of merchants, bankers, and scholars committed to establishing German colonies in the Pacific. In 1884–85 Finsch undertook explorations on the German steamer Samoa along the northeast coast of the island of New Guinea. He also visited British New Guinea, which occupied the southeastern part of the island. Finsch’s expedition led to the establishment, in 1884, of Kaiser Wilhelms-Land as a German protectorate. This book, published in 1888, is Finsch’s account of his travels. It includes illustrations based on his original sketches, maps, and descriptions of the geography, people, and culture of New Guinea. With the outbreak, in 1914, of World War I, Australian troops occupied Kaiser Wilhelms-Land, and the German protectorate became a League of Nations mandate under Australian administration at the end of the war.