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  • The Ghost of Namamugi: Charles Lenox Richardson and the Anglo-Satsuma War by Robert S. G. Fletcher
  • Oleg Benesch (bio)
The Ghost of Namamugi: Charles Lenox Richardson and the Anglo-Satsuma War. By Robert S. G. Fletcher. Renaissance Books, Folkestone, 2019. xiv, 246 pages. £55.00.

With The Ghost of Namamugi, Robert Fletcher provides us with an intriguing and highly readable account of one of the best-known yet underexamined incidents of the bakumatsu period. For students and scholars who have dealt with Japan in the 1860s, the name of the merchant Charles Richardson is synonymous with the shelling of Satsuma by British ships in 1863. Along with the destruction of Shimonoseki by a combined foreign fleet in 1863–64, the Anglo-Satsuma War is usually seen primarily in terms of the impact it had on antiforeign forces in Japan, supposedly providing stark proof of the disparity in military technology and firepower between Japan and the Western powers. The broader political ramifications, especially at the higher levels of diplomacy, tend to dominate treatments of these incidents. Richardson himself is often a footnote in this larger narrative, with his killing on the Tōkaidō by Satsuma retainers seen as evidence of both foreigners' haughtiness and the violent and xenophobic character of the samurai.

However, the dominant narratives do not necessarily reflect the perceptions of the incident at the time, and Fletcher shows us the value of taking a much closer look at Richardson's life in China and Japan, conditions in the treaty ports, as well as the Anglo-Satsuma War. As Fletcher acknowledges, there is an extensive scholarship on the events in question in Japanese, but this focuses largely on Japanese-language sources and provides one part of the larger picture (p. 7). In contrast, Fletcher focuses on the Englishlanguage sources, including a previously unexamined collection of Richardson's letters, which Fletcher has transcribed in the final third of the book. Fletcher's approach helps to assemble a more complete picture of the events, which he further places into the larger context of British imperial policies, [End Page 475] as this was primarily how they were viewed at the time. This is particularly interesting to the reader as it gives a sense of the realities of treaty port life in the early 1860s, as well as the relations between Japanese and foreigners, which were marked by misunderstandings, fear, distrust, and a constant threat of violence.

Richardson had only been in Japan a short while when he was killed and was not well known in Yokohama. The subsequent launching of a punitive expedition in response to his death naturally led to polarized views of Richardson himself, which were enabled by the lack of accurate information about his person. By examining Richardson's correspondence and other documents from the decade Richardson had spent in Shanghai immediately before coming to Japan, Fletcher is able to provide a fuller picture of Richardson and his motivations that complicates the narrative significantly. Certainly, Richardson's family circumstances contributed to him deciding to seek his fortune in the empire's distant treaty ports. On the one hand, Richardson's somewhat distant uncle was already an established trader in Shanghai, while on the other, his own father's inability to manage money left Richardson feeling duty-bound to take care of his mother and sisters, and financial concerns were central in his correspondence. The reality of the opportunities in Shanghai was different from what many imagined, however, and Richardson was one of the vast majority of imperial wayfarers who never seemed to make enough money to truly establish themselves or to make a triumphant return to Britain as successful merchants. As Fletcher shows, Richardson spent his time in Shanghai working for a number of larger merchant houses, and his career mirrored all of the inconsistencies of foreign businesses in China at this turbulent time. Richardson's largest success was having the good fortune to purchase land at what was then the edge of the international settlement, which would later dramatically increase in value as Chinese refugees from the turmoil and warfare surrounding the settlement flooded into Shanghai. This benefit was largely realized by his family back...


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pp. 475-479
Launched on MUSE
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