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East Sails West

The Voyage of the Keying, 1846–1855

Stephen Davies

Publication Year: 2013

In December 1846, the Keying, a Chinese junk purchased by British investors, set sail from Hong Kong for London. Named after the Chinese Imperial Commissioner who had signed away Hong Kong to the British, manned by a Chinese and European crew, and carrying a traveling exhibition of Chinese items, the Keying had a troubled voyage. After quarrels on the way and a diversion to New York, culminating in a legal dispute over arrears of wages for Chinese members of the crew, it finally reached London in 1848, where it went on exhibition on the River Thames until 1853. It was then auc¬tioned off, towed to Liverpool, and finally broken up. In this account of the ship, the crew and the voyage, Stephen Davies tells a story of missed opportunities with an erratic course, overambitious aims, and achievements born of lucky breaks—a microcosm, in fact, of early Hong Kong and relations between China and the West.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Quotes, Dedication

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-xii

List of Illustrations

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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. xvii-xxii

Between 1846 and 1848, one of the most extraordinary voyages ever undertaken created a record that has never been broken. The Chinese junk Keying became the first—and only—Chinese junk to sail on its own bottom from China via the Cape of Good Hope into the North Atlantic. In the process, it also became the first ever Chinese-built vessel to visit both Britain and the east coast of the...

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pp. xxiii-xxvi

This book started life as a result of three quite unrelated stimuli. All three resulted from the creation by the nascent Hong Kong Maritime Museum’s curatorial team, under the supervision of Mr. K. L. Tam and with the advice of the late Geoffrey Bonsall, my acquaintance and colleague of many years, of the Keying model in the museum’s displays....

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Introduction: Views from Different Seas

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pp. 1-26

Because of its record-making and very singular voyage, the sailing junk1 Keying is an interesting and apposite synecdoche for early—and enduring—British colonial Hong Kong. To understand the successes and failures of the Keying, to understand its missed opportunities and achievements born of lucky breaks, to understand its radically separate microcosms that had to pull together or drown...

Part I. The Voyage of the Keying

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1. Origins, Purchase and Commissioning

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pp. 29-52

The Keying was a large, sea-going junk, somewhere between fifty and possibly one hundred years old, that was illegally purchased in China in 1846 and smuggled out to Hong Kong. There the ship was prepared for its voyage. Its crew was completed. It gained the valediction of Hong Kong's official good and great. It set out and, eventually, after much vicissitude, completed its intended voyage. It ...

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2. The Ship’s Name

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pp. 53-62

Before we consider the name by which the junk has passed into record, it is worth pausing to ponder life before the ship became the Keying. We know that almost all Chinese trading junks had names.1 These were usually redolent of the hopes and expectations of the owners in a world governed by forces no one could control. They were auspicious names inviting the gods to bring the ship ...

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3. The Crew and the Voyage to New York

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pp. 63-118

The Keying was sailed by a motley crew. Looked at from a 'top-down' European perspective, there were three European officers (Captain Kellett; G. Burton, mate; Edward Revett, second mate), possibly twelve other Europeans, fourteen if we include Douglas Lapraik and T. A. Lane, and possibly thirty, more probably forty, Chinese crewmen.2 The latter were under their Chinese captain, So Yin ...

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4. The Troubled Stay in New York

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pp. 119-144

Closing a coast after weeks at sea is always an emotional moment. It is when a mental switch is thrown. For weeks, one has been inwardly focused on the microcosm that has carried one across the ocean’s vastness. One’s small, shipboard world has been the world. Its sounds, smells, patterns and rhythms have been all that there is, the intensely familiar accompaniment of one’s days and nights. Any...

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5. The Final Leg—Towards Journey’s End

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pp. 145-164

With the New York court case out of the way and perhaps with a need to get clear of the city, in November the Keying made its way to Boston with its remaining British sailors and up to fourteen remaining Chinese crewmen. Whether more Chinese or European crew were signed on before the ship left New York is unknown. It is equally obscure whether the visit to the Sectional Dock to have...

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6. Journey’s End: The London Stay

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pp. 165-172

The next two to three years of the story are clear enough. The ship was on display in two locations along the London River—first at the East India Docks at Blackwall and then briefly at the Strand. The move from Blackwall must have taken place sometime in early 1850, because there is a bill poster in the British ...

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7. The Endgame

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pp. 173-190

The history of the Keying, after the first three years of her visit to London and before her departure for Liverpool some two years later, is largely obscure. We do not know whether all that time was spent in London after the shift from the upmarket berth on the Strand, or whether, having been moved on from Temple...

Part II. The Ship Itself: Type, Build, Performance

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8. What Kind of Vessel Was the Keying?

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pp. 193-206

Identifying exactly what sort of junk the Keying was is as difficult, and important, as understanding this largely failed episode. The East sailed to the West, the ship got there physically, but that is about the Keying’s only achievement. East got to West on the West’s terms and conditions, failed to impress, was generally misunderstood and thus forgotten. The crew fell apart. The main human actors were...

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9. A Re-appraisal of the Keying’s Likely Shape

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pp. 207-216

Experts surmise the Keying was built largely on fuchuan lines, though Worcester, Audemard and others note the discrepancies between the written descriptions of the Keying and what is known of traditional Fujian vessels.1 One probability is that at least some of these discrepancies are founded on errors in the popular descriptions, almost all by Western observers with little or no knowledge of...

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10. The Keying’s Dimensions and Shape

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pp. 217-228

The measurements we can glean from the Description more or less fit with all other sources, though since all of these probably came from Captain Kellett, any errors he made have merely been replicated. We know from the Description, for example, that an attempt to measure the Keying in New York caused so much trouble that those who made the attempt threw up their hands in despair and...

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11. How Fast Could She Go?

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pp. 229-234

If the sail area mentioned in the various descriptions is accurate, the Keying was quite generously canvassed. She was also a relatively slender vessel in comparison to contemporary Western equivalents before the clipper era, with a small beam in relation to her length. In theory, she should have sailed quickly. Taken...

Part III. The Scrapyard of History

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12. Voyage Over

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pp. 237-242

It remains a singular oddity, in the context of high Victorian imperial Britain, that the one example of a Chinese vessel that their scientists, shipwrights, artists and budding ethnographers had a chance to sketch accurately, measure with precision, make line drawings of, and a table of offsets for, they ignored. Equally, the one Chinese vessel the leading practitioners of the burgeoning field of marine art ...

Appendix: The Images of the Keying

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pp. 243-254


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pp. 255-306


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pp. 307-322


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pp. 323-334


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pp. 335-350

E-ISBN-13: 9789888268207
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888208203

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 21 b/w & 25 colour illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1