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The Chinese are not a seafaring people; they navigate large rivers, broad canals, and tranquil lakes, and they creep along the somewhat inhospitable coasts of their vast empire; but, from their indisposition either to visit foreign countries, or trade with distant nations, or from an actual natural timidity, they seldom cast their fortunes upon the broad waters of the ocean, like the British mariner. To such inexperienced seamen the strait of Hong-Kong, with its snug shelter and safe anchorage, was invaluable; and on the promontory of Kow-loon, immediately in front of which coasting junks cast anchor, a village and two batteries stood, before the opium war. The village is at some distance from the water, but the fortified position formed the extreme south-east point of the peninsula, or tongue of level land, that stretched towards the roadstead. The soil here is more fertile than that of the opposite shore, the climate not so damp, atmospheric chanoes being neither so frequent nor so sudden, and the spot itself is a much more eligible site for a military or commercial settlement than our ceded island. Oil the arrival of our expedition in these waters, in 1843, the fleet procured supplies at Kow-loon, where they found an active trade, but to a small extent, conducted by the natives. After the first compact into which we entered with these "treaty-breakers," it was agreed that the peninsula of Kow-loon should be considered neutral ground, and that the two batteries which stood there should be dismantled, to remove all apprehension on our part. Idolaters have been known to observe their engagements, and respect their character, but the species of worship which the Chinese embrace is so base and senseless, that genius and dishonesty are, in their tongue, synonymous terms-faith and false-hood valued only in proportion to the success of the observer. The tenure of their friendship must inevitably be precarious--the enjoyment of their alliance an unenviable possession. However, to their promises we trusted, and, leaving Kow-loon in their custody, believed ourselves secure from insult or aggression at Hong-Kong.
Scarcely had we indulged in a cessation from active war, when the imperial government expressed its total disregard for treaties, especially with Barbarians, and without hesitation resumed an aggressive attitude. This iniquitous measure decided the question of occupancy at Kow-loon; and, instead of the old battery, whose useless and time-worn artillery was quite in character with their dastardly artillery-men, a re-edification, but in the Chinese architectural manner, has taken place; and a stout fortress, manned by brave British military, has succeeded, known by the appropriate, and now ever-memorable name in China, of Fort Victoria.
Though he traveled widely in the course of his work, Allom produced his drawings of China, probably his most successful series, by merely crossing the road from the house in Hart Street to the British Museum. It was obviously an economical solution for his publisher, who had managed to convince himself that 'Having dwelt in "the land of the cypress and myrtle", Mr. Allom's talents were fully matured for the faithful delineation of Oriental scenery. His designs were based entirely on the work of earlier artists who had traveled in China, and although he has been justifiably criticised for failure in some instances to acknowledge the original sketches, Allom displays considerable resourcefulness and ingenuity in the way he borrowed and gathered his material from them. Acknowledgement was made to three amateurs, eight of the plates to Lieutenant Frederick White R.M., fourteen to Captain Stoddart, R.N. and two to R. Varnham (who was the son of a tea planter and a pupil of George Chinnery (1774-1852). Nine designs are taken entirely or partially from Sketches of China and the Chinese (1842) by August Borget (1808-1877)," which had been published in England the previous year. He made neat pencil sketches from an album of Chinese landscapes water colours by anonymous Chinese artists that he then turned into fourteen designs. "Another group are based on a set of anonymous drawings that show the silk manufacturing process. Allom made particularly ingenious use of the drawings of William Alexander (1767-1818). Having first traced over a number of Alexander's watercolors in the British Museum (a practice which would certainly be frowned upon today) he used these tracings' either in part or combination in about twenty of his designs. But he never uses exactly the same scene as Alexander without altering the viewpoint or changing the details, his knowledge of perspective enabling him 'to walk round' a view of a building as in his Western Gates of Peking, which takes a viewpoint to the other side of the river. He uses background to Alexander's more peaceful seascape of 1794, The Forts of Anunghoi saluting the 'Lion' in the Bocca Tigris, and updates it to an event sketched by White during the First Opium War of 1841 when the Imogene and Andromache under Lord Napier forced a passage through the straits. Two of Alexander's drawings are sometimes combined - his Chinamen playing 'Shitticock' (sic) are placed by Allom in front of the Pagoda of Lin-ching-shih taken from another Alexander drawing.
The prints were a welcome addition to Fisher's series and became the best known source on the subject of China. Until the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 China had been almost totally inaccessible to the European traveller but the first Opium War had created a new sort of interest. The admiration of the 18th and early 19th centuries for Chinese culture and decoration was replaced by a more critical and inquiring attitude. Until photography gave a more accurate picture, a great many people's perception of China and the Chinese people was probably influenced by Allom's idealised images. An interesting use of these, on the ceramic pot lids produced by F. & R. Pratt and Co. throughout the second half of the 19th century, demonstrate how Allom's images, themselves derived from such a variety of sources, became in turn a design source for other ornamental applications. Because of their decorative appeal wide use is still made of reproductions of these illustrations.
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Please note: the terms used in our auctions for engraving, heliogravure, lithograph, print, plate, photogravure etc. are ALL prints on paper, NOT blocks of steel or wood. "ENGRAVINGS", the term commonly used for these paper prints, were the most common method in the 1700s and 1800s for illustrating old books, and these paper prints or "engravings" were inserted into the book with a tissue guard frontis, usually on much thicker quality rag stock paper, although many were also printed and issued as loose stand alone prints. So this auction is for an antique paper print(s), probably from an old book, of very high quality and usually on very thick rag stock paper.