Monday, September 28, 2009 | By: Rudi Butt

Junk Promotion

The three-masted, 800-ton, 160-ft long Chinese trading junk – Keying (耆英號) [1], set sail from Hong Kong on December 6, 1846. Her destination – London. Under the command of British captain Charles A. Kettett, and manned by a crew of 12 English and 30 Chinese, the 20-gun, teak-made junk sailed around the Cape Horn on March 6. Having paused at St Helena, April 17 to 23, they set sail for England but were blown off course and ended up visiting New York and Boston first. Since finally arriving in London on March 27, 1848, 477 days after leaving Hong Kong , the Keying had been moored in the Thames at Blackwall, where it rapidly became established as one of the most popular visitor attractions in London. Some illustrious visitors toured the junk including the Duke of Wellington and Charles Dickens, and several of the young Chinese crew visited Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. The Illustrated London News had included the arrival of Keying in London as part of the “Events of this year in the Illustrated London News”. The Keying was eventually taken up to Liverpool where she was scrapped and her timbers used in building Mersey ferry boats.

Keying had been purchased in August 1846 in secrecy by Douglas Lapraik, who braved a Chinese law prohibiting the sale of Chinese ships to foreigners. Hoping to use the vessel as a floating exhibition in London, with a view to attracting trade and tourists to Hong Kong, Lapraik and his associates in this maverick promotion invested a sum of $75,000 in the junk.

[1] The Junk was named Keying most probably for the purpose to mock a high ranking Qing official of the same name. Aisin-gioro Keying (耆英) (1787-1858), or Qiying in Mandarin Chinese, was a clansman of Manchu Plain Blue Banner and a member of the Qing imperial family. Keying was best remembered as the negotiator and signatory of the Treaty of Nanking (with Britain), the Treaty of Whampoa (with France), the Treaty of Wanghia (With USA) and the Treaty of Canton (with Sweden-Norway)pursuant to the Frist Opium War. Whilst negotiating with representatives of Britain and France in Tianjin in 1858 for a treaty to end the Second Opium War, Keying left the negotiations after being humiliated by the British interpretors who sought to expose his duplicity by producing documents the British had captured in Guangzhou, in which Keying expressed his contempt for the British. Keying was later arrested for having left his post in contravention of imperial order. He was sentenced to death but was allowed to kill himself because of his royal stature.

[2] Charles Dickens, who is not very fond of Chinese 'things', had this to say about Keying:

Compared with the "stupendous" naval anchors displayed in the outer part of the Great Exhibition, the Chinese junk seemed to Dickens a "ridiculous abortion": more like "a China pen-tray" than "a ship of any kind". The Keying was nothing but a "floating toyshop", the risible invention of a stagnant country where "the best that seamanship can do for a ship is to paint two immense eyes on her bows, in order that she may see her way... and to hang out bits of red rag in stormy weather to mollify the wrath of the ocean." Here, as Dickens had concluded, was "the doctrine of finality beautifully worked out, and shut up in a corner of a dock near the Whitebait-house at Blackwall, for the edification of men. Thousands of years have passed away, since the first Chinese junk was constructed on this model; and the last Chinese junk that was ever launched was none the better for that waste and desert of time."


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