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ELLIS, Henry.

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. Interspersed with Observations upon the Face of the Country, the Polity, Moral Character, and Manners of the Chinese Nation.

Published: London: John Murray, 1817

Stock code: 86793

Price: £2,750

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First edition. Account of Lord Amherst’s ill-fated embassy to China by the “third commissioner”. Amherst’s refusal to kow-tow to the emperor meant that negotiations were short-lived, and on the voyage home the party was shipwrecked off the coast of Sumatra, only reaching Batavia after “a perilous journey of several hundred miles in an open boat.” (ODNB). Ellis’s account contains not only his commentary on events, and his impressions of the Chinese, “whom he considered xenophobic, ultra-traditional, and ‘uninteresting'”, but also his record of his interview with Napoleon at St. Helena on the return voyage, an account which the ex-emperor hotly disputed. The “much prized” aquatints (Hill) are from sketches by the Hon. Charles Abbot, later Lord Chichester, who was on board the Alceste as a “passenger” having previously studied at the Royal Naval College. Henry Ellis was the illegitimate son of the fourth Earl of Buckinghamshire, was raised in his father’s house, educated at Harrow and William Nicholson’s academy in Soho, before joining the East India Company in 1805, in 1808 becoming assistant to Sir John Malcolm. He accompanied Lord Minto on his mission to Sind in 1809, and in 1810 was with Malcolm in Persia, the first of a number of important missions to the region with which Ellis was connected. Following his return from China Ellis was elected for Boston in the election of 1820, but sat only briefly as he had accepted the posts of Deputy Colonial Secretary and Commissioner of Stamps in Cape Town (1820-4). He subsequently held a number of minor governmental posts, was briefly ambassador in Persia (1835-6), and headed an abortive trade mission to Brazil in 1842. He died in 1855. This copy with the Stratton Street library bookplate with ducal coronet of Harriot, Duchess of St. Albans to the front pastedown – formerly the “darling of the frivolous London stage”; mistress then wife of Thomas Coutts, one of the wealthiest men in Britain; becoming a successful businesswoman in her own right; much lampooned and caricatured, Harriot Beauclerk is one of the most intriguing women of her time.

Quarto (271 x 208 mm). Contemporary calf, red morocco label, flat spine, gilt tooling to compartments, single undulate rolled panel to the sides, zig-zag edge-roll in blind, edges sprinkled brown. Stipple-engraved portrait frontispiece, and 7 hand-coloured aquatint plates with tissue-guards, large folding general map and 2 full-page charts. Rubbed at the extremities, craquelure to spine, stabilised and restored, some restoration also to the joints, text-block just lightly browned, frontispiece and small maps somewhat spotted, the aquatints with just faint off-setting from the text, overall a very good copy.

Bibliography: Abbey Travel 536; Cordier 239304; Hill 542; Prideaux pp. 250-1, 335; Tooley 208.

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