In 1857, Laurence Oliphant accompanied the eighth Earl of Elgin on his journey to China. James Bruce or Lord Elgin was appointed High Commissioner and Plenipotentiary in China and the Far East in order to facilitate the opening up China and Japan to Western trade.

Oliphant had previously traveled widely in India and Ceylon as a young man, and later to Russia and the Crimea, publishing a book about his travels there. Oliphant had previously served under the Earl of Elgin as a superintendent of Indian affairs after Elgin's appointment as Governor-General of Canada.

When Elgin was dispatched to the East in response to differences arising between China and England in connection with the seizure of the 'Arrow', Oliphant again joined as Private Secretary. He was thus witness to the Mission's diversion to put down the mutiny in Calcutta; its arrival in Hong Kong; the bombardment of Canton and the storming of Tientsin... The plates which illustrate this work depict the natives in various activities or rituals as well as views of the country" (Hill 1258)

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During the Second Opium War, he led the bombardment of Canton (Guangzhou) and oversaw the end of the war by signing the Treaty of Tientsin (Tianjin) on 26 June 1858. In June 1860, Lord Elgin returned to China to assist with additional attacks, which were initially led by his brother.

In between Lord Elgin's two trips to China, he had visited Japan. In August 1858, he signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce whose negotiation was much eased by the recent Harris Treaty between Japan and the United States. Lord Elgin was ambivalent about the British policy on forcing opium on the people in the Far East. It was not without internal struggle that he carried out the duty laid on him by Britain. In a letter to his wife, in regard to the bombing of Canton, he wrote, "I never felt so ashamed of myself in my life."

25 plates, including 20 hand colored lithographs and 5 folding maps and charts (including the large folding maps of China and Japan).

Volume 1. (4), half title, epigraph, blank, frontis, title, preface v-viii, contents ix-xiii, illustration list, 1-492, (4); volume 2. (4), half title, epigraph, blank, frontis, title, blank, contents v-ix, illustration list x-xi, 1-496, (4).


Cordier Sinica III:2376; Cordier Japonica 546-7; Hill 1258.

Checkland, Olive. "Bruce, James, eighth earl of Elgin and twelfth earl of Kincardine (1811-1863)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004 ed.). Oxford University Press

Publisher: Edinburgh W. Blackwood




University of Toronto

ISBN-10: N/A

Date Added: 2019-03-21

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Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's Mission Vol. 1 - Map of China (1859)

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