Was Mesny a Liar?

David Leffman Mesny Leave a Comment

Reading the Miscellany, with all its action, great claims and grandstanding, you have to wonder – how much of it is true? After all, there’s no doubt that the Miscellany was written as a piece of propaganda, designed to restore Mesny’s reputation at a time that his life was unravelling. Could anyone have led such an adventurous life, and yet …

The Battle for Changshu, 1863

David Leffman General Hou, Mesny, Taipings Leave a Comment

During one of his smuggling operations along the Yangzi river in November 1862, Mesny was captured by Taiping rebels off Fushan, a small village notorious for its pirates and gun-runners. First threatening him with execution, then planning to ransom him for $100,000, the rebels eventually decided to keep Mesny alive as a bargaining chip. Mesny was escorted 16km south along …

Little Marcle Rectory

David Leffman Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Bit of a change of direction here – although I guess it’s still about trying to reconstruct history. Years ago I came across this Victorian-era envelope with a Penny Red stamp, postmarked Ledbury and Worcester, February 1853: SO I went to Worcester and found College Yard (nice Victorian-era postbox, by the way): The envelope had been sealed with wax, and …

Mesny’s Famine Report, 1889

David Leffman Anhui, Famine Relief, Hefei, Mesny Leave a Comment

In 1889, Mesny made a brief survey of the countryside around Hefei, the modern capital of Anhui province, for the Shanghai Famine Relief Committee. This had been set up to raise and distribute funds during a prolonged drought in eastern China, which had hit central and northern Anhui particularly hard. Mesny’s task – undertaken voluntarily – was to see that …

Great Travel Disasters

David Leffman Travel writing 2 Comments

I hate lists. Patricia Shultz and her “1000 Places to See Before you Die”, first published in 2003, killed my enthusiasm for being a guidebook writer by persuading the industry that the beautiful intricacy of the world’s different countries, cultures and landscapes – not to mention the sheer enjoyment of travel for its own sake – could be reduced to …

Mercenary Mandarin Sources

David Leffman Mesny, Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Mesny on Mesny The biggest single source of information for Mesny’s life are his own writings, especially the four-volume, 2000-page Mesny’s Chinese Miscellany, published between 1895 and 1906. Aside from thousands of random articles on Chinese subjects, the Miscellany sketches in Mesny’s childhood and time at sea (1842–1860), before focusing in-depth on selected episodes from his first fifteen years in …

Mesny 1862: A Prisoner on the Yangzi

David Leffman General Hou, Mesny, Taipings, Travel writing Leave a Comment

During the Taiping Uprising, Mesny found work as a “Blockade Runner”, ferrying contraband arms and salt upstream along the war-ravaged lower Yangzi between Shanghai and the inland metropolis of Wuhan. The work was profitable but extremely dangerous, and it wasn’t long before Mesny was fighting off pirates and getting himself badly battered during a near-fatal assault by the Qing navy. …

Mountains and Monkeys

David Leffman Fanjing Shan, Golden Monkeys, Travel writing 3 Comments

There’s no point spending half your life living rough on the road if you can’t indulge a few private interests from time to time. One of mine is seeing as much wildlife as possible. Though I’m really more interested in smaller stuff like reptiles and insects, I’ve always had good luck with primates; highlights include seeing orang-utan, proboscis monkeys, gibbon, …

Baoding 1882: Mesny meets Li Hongzhang

David Leffman Baoding, Li Hongzhang, Mesny Leave a Comment

In late January 1882 Mesny arrived at Baoding, the capital of Zhili province. Wrapped protectively around Beijing, Zhili was heavily militarised and only absolutely trusted ministers were put in charge; its viceroy was Li Hongzhang, a scholar-turned-general who had fought his way to Imperial recognition during the Taiping Rebellion. Li had since become one of the most powerful men in …