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Lt. Warre’s Huangpu River watercolor (Pt. 5)

At last! The final part of my series on Lt. Frederick Warre’s watercolor of Shanghai. As I mentioned in the last post, Warre was pointing out the location of the British consulate in panel 6 and that the huts behind the consulate were being removed. Warre starts his commentary on panel 7 by stating that the British have actually purchased the land all the way to “the point where the Joss Houses are” which I have learned is the word for a temple. I believe the point he is referring to is just to the right of mast on the vessel at the center of the image where you can see that typical, and architecturally beautiful Chinese style roof.

Behind the joss house you can see a river which Warre states is “of considerable importance and leads to the large city of Soochowfoo, about 30 miles up.” I believe the river is the Wusong and that “Soochowfoo” is Suzhou.

At this point Warre states that “a great number of junks are built and repaired here, at this present writing, there are no less than five hauled up on the right bank of the river.” I am not exactly sure which river bank (Huangpu’s or Wusong’s) is providing the drydocking facility but Warre does show us what the vessels being repaired look like at the left of panel 8 where he depicts a very large junk-like hull supported by posts on the riverbank.

In the foreground, there is a small boat loaded with large white bales (cotton) and the larger boat to its left is a fast boat. Between them in the background you can see what Warre calls a “Soochowfoo” boat going up the river. And here is where I learned something new! Granted, I don’t know much about Chinese small craft but I mistakenly believed they all had sails of woven grass. Warre corrects this mistaken assumption by stating that many craft carry cotton sails in addition to woven sails. He even shows us what they look like in panel 8 where you can see a vessel with woven sails and additional panels of cotton to the right. Just to make sure it makes sense he describes the panels in a way sailors will understand—”they have often cotton sails, or what sailors call bonnets.” A bonnet is an additional piece of canvas attached to a sail to make it bigger.

The point of land where the joss houses are is frequently covered with goats, sheep and horses as it is “the only piece of grass ground for miles round.” Behind the animals are the remains of an old embankment. I wonder if flooding was a problem?

The very first boat visible at the left of panel 8 is a vegetable boat “laden with cabbages, carrots, onions, turnips, radishes, large and red and covered with matting, for the Shanghai market.” Just to make sure we have a good understanding of the size of the vegetables on board Warre provides us with a full-size sketch of a radish—again with the wacky details! I wonder if there is someone out there who studies the evolution of radishes? Knowing how big a radish was in China is 1846 might be really important to their research!

Radish–“large & red” and “at least this size”!

The two boats near the large junk that has been hauled ashore for repair apparently provide ferry service on the river while the small boat to the far right has her mast “fitted like sheers, not to interfere with her accommodation, likewise for lowering when passing under bridges.” The river itself he describes as “rapid and muddy, and there are an infinite number and variety of boats, junks &c & sometimes large rafts of timber two or three hundred feet long with mat hunts, a few bamboo mast mat sails and half a dozen coolies to work them.” Although not depicted in the watercolor, Warre provides us with a sketch on the back of panel 6 of a “timber raft for drifting with the tide.” He also describes the sails and the sailors as being very ragged!

Do you remember me telling you that the American flag visible in panel 5 was just the temporary location of the consulate? In panel 8 the location of the forthcoming consulate is visible between the two sections of palisade. Unfortunately, at this point Warre loses me. He says “the Americans have a small piece of ground allotted to them between the Soochow river and the small river in No. 1”. What? The small river on panel 1? Does that mean that he didn’t paint a stretch of the river but stood on his head and turned in a complete circle to create this image? If anyone can explain how the rivers depicted on panel 1 and panel 8 can possibly match up with a modern map of Shanghai then I am ALL EARS!

And with that we are DONE! If you want to see Lt. Warre’s watercolor up close and personal then come to the Museum after February 3rd and see the image on display in the upcoming Sailor Made exhibition (along with a lot of other really cool stuff!).

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