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Lt. Warre’s Huangpu River (Pt. 4)

Let’s get back to Lt. Warre’s watercolor!

Panorama of the Huangpu River, Shanghai, China, 1846-1847

He starts panel number five by stating that the American flag you can see at the left is the temporary location of the American Consulate and that it is actually sitting on “British ground.” The location of its permanent home is down in panel 7 on “the right bank of a small river…leading to Souchowfoo”. I think the river is the Wusong (also called Suzhou) and that “Souchowfoo” is actually Suzhou—at least that’s the closest spot I can figure fits his phonetic spelling of the place name! [I did check to see if the “S” was an “F” because there was a place called “Fouchowfoo” (Fuzhou) but the shape of Warre’s letters is pretty specific and luckily he gave me an “F” and “S” to make the comparison—you can thank graduate school for the paleography training!]

The American Consulate was established in 1844 and is one of the oldest American diplomatic and consular posts in the Far East and apparently the second oldest in China. Since there wasn’t a consul at the time the task fell to American businessman Henry Wolcott (the local agent for a Boston trading company) who raised the American flag above his company’s offices and played consul onto one could be appointed.

To the left of the American flag is property of Dirom Gray & Co. Lyles says all of the “sticks” standing around it like a fence are probably bamboo scaffolding. The large building to the right of the flag belongs to Holliday Wise & Co. Immediately to the right you can see a flag pole in the distance which marks the location of “Richards Victoria Hotel”; now the Astor House Hotel. Mr. Richards was one of the very first foreign residents of Shanghai.
The house at the extreme left of panel 5, the one with the Chinese roof, is the home of Mr. Empson and it was apparently the second house built in Shanghai by Europeans.

Warre then moves out into the river and states that the large vessel at the left is an anchored Shanghai junk and the boat in the center is a “fast boat” for taking passengers to Wusung. In the background he shows the wharves “crowded with coolies and the landing places with boats &c loading tea and silk.” To help us understand what the people along the shore look like he gives us a sketch on the reverse of “coolies” hauling a sedan chair, a tea broker with a pipe and an “itinerant tea seller striking a bamboo drum to call customers”—can’t you just hear it??

As we move to panel six Warre has depicted several types of craft that were used to ferry passengers among the other ships in the port. The little river boat at the right he describes as “highly varnished.” At this point he admits to making a mistake as the boatman in the central sampan should be standing as these boats are skulled not rowed, usually by women, and he provides a sketch of what it should look like on the reverse.

At this point he gives a great description of women’s dress because he apparently finds if very hard to tell the sex of the boatmen because they dress the same! “It is very difficult to distinguish the sex as they dress exactly alike except the headress – the women wear their hair long, twisted about their heads with knots and large skewers, with a few tawdry artificial flowers, sometimes a dark turban.” [Now THIS I would like to see a sketch of!]

The white house with the green railings and godowns is the house of “Mr. Dallas” of the firm Jardine Matheson & Co. Some of you might recognize the name as that company still exists! Dallas’s house was the very first built by Europeans in Shanghai. The building next to it is the British Consulate which apparently is still under construction so the consul lives in “a large Chinese house in the Chinese part of the City of Shanghai.” Warre also mentions that the old huts behind it are in the process of being removed. Sometimes I think what he includes in the written detail is a bit odd, but I guess the person comparing his image to the actual scene at some point in the future will understand why the British Consulate doesn’t match his watercolor!

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