Embassy to the Eastern Courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat / In the U. S. Sloop-of-war Peacock, David Geisinger, Commander, During the Years 1832-3-4

Embassy to the Eastern Courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat / In the U. S. Sloop-of-war Peacock, David Geisinger, Commander, During the Years 1832-3-4

Edmund Roberts
Edmund Roberts

Author: Roberts, Edmund, 1784-1836
Southeast Asia — Description and travel
Southeast Asia — Commerce
Embassy to the Eastern Courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat
In the U. S. Sloop-of-war Peacock, David Geisinger, Commander, During the Years 1832-3-4
The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.



Entered according to act of Congress, in the year 1837,
In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the Southern District of New York.



Having some years since become acquainted with the commerce of Asia and Eastern Africa, the information produced on my mind a conviction that considerable benefit would result from effecting treaties with some of the native powers bordering on the Indian ocean.
With a view to effect an object apparently so important, I addressed a letter to the Hon. Levi Woodbury, then a Senator in Congress from the state of New Hampshire, detailing the neglected state of our commerce with certain eastern princes, and showing that the difference between the duties paid on English and American commerce, in their dominions, constituted of itself a very important item in profit, in favour of the former.
Subsequently to this period, Mr. Woodbury was appointed to the secretaryship of the Navy, and consequently became more deeply interested in the success of our floating commerce.
Scarcely had his appointment been confirmed before the melancholy news arrived, that the ship Friendship, of Salem, Mass., had been plundered, and a great portion of her crew murdered, by the natives of Qualah Battu.
As an important branch of our commerce to the pepper ports on the western coast of Sumatra was endangered, by the successful and hostile act of these barbarians, it was deemed necessary that the piratical outrage should be promptly noticed by a national demand for the surrender and punishment of the aggressors.
About this period, the U. S. ship-of-war Potomac was nearly ready to proceed to her station on the western coast of South America, by way of Cape Horn, but her destination was immediately changed for the western coast of Sumatra, accompanied by instructions to carry into effect the measures of government against the inhabitants of Qualah Battu.
As our government was anxious to guard against any casualty which might befall the Potomac in fulfilling her directions, it resolved to despatch the United States’ sloop-of-war Peacock and schooner Boxer, to carry into effect, if necessary, the orders of the first-named vessel, and also to convey to the courts of Cochin-China, Siam and Muscat, a mission charged to effect, if practicable, treaties with those respective powers which would place American commerce on a surer basis, and on an equality with that of the most favoured nations trading to those kingdoms.
A special or confidential agent being necessary to carry into effect the new measures of government, I had the honour to be selected for that duty, at the particular recommendation of the secretary of the Navy.
The summary chastisement of the inhabitants of Qualah Battu, and the complete success of Com. Downes, in the performance of the duties assigned by government, rendered a visit from the Peacock to that place unnecessary, and thus left the objects of the mission more fully open to a complete and minute investigation. How far they have been faithfully accomplished, I leave to the candid and impartial judgment of those who peruse the details of the Embassy, in the following pages.
At the period of my visit to the courts of Siam and Muscat, American commerce was placed on a most precarious footing, subject to every species of imposition which avarice might think proper to inflict, as the price of an uncertain protection.
Nor was it to pecuniary extortions alone that the uncontrolled hand of power extended. The person of the American citizen, in common with that of other foreigners, was subject to the penalties of a law which gave the creditor an absolute power over the life, equally with the property, of the debtor, at the court of Siam. As an American, I could not fail to be deeply impressed with the barbarity of this legal enactment, and its abrogation, in relation to my own countrymen, detailed in the Embassy, I consider as not the least among the benefits resulting from the mission.
With the courts of Siam and Muscat, it will be seen, I was enabled to effect the most friendly relation, and to place our commerce on a basis in which the excessive export and import duties, previously demanded, were reduced fifteen per cent.
If in the attainment of these benefits some sacrifice of personal feeling was at times made for the advantage of American commerce, the dignity of my country was never lost sight of, nor her honour jeoparded by humiliating and degrading concessions to eastern etiquette.
The insulting formalities required as preliminaries to the treaty, by the ministers from the capital of Cochin-China, left me no alternative, save that of terminating a protracted correspondence, singularly marked from its commencement to its termination by duplicity and prevarication in the official servants of the emperor. The detail of the various conversations, admissions and denials, on the part of these eastern ministers, in the pages of the Embassy, exhibits their diplomatic character in true, but not favourable colours.
The unprotected state of our trade from the Cape of Good Hope to the eastern coast of Japan, including our valuable whale-fishery, was painfully impressed on my attention in the course of the Embassy. Not a single vessel-of-war is to be seen waving the national flag over our extensive commerce from the west of Africa to the east of Japan: our merchantmen, trading to Java, Sumatra and the Philippine islands, are totally unprotected. The extent of this commerce may be estimated from the fact that there arrived in two ports in Java during one year, one hundred and one ships, the united tonnage of which, amounted to thirty-eight thousand, eight hundred and seventy-seven tons. To this may be added the whale-fishery on the Japanese coast, which likewise calls loudly for succour, and protection from the government. The hardy whaler—the fearless adventurer on the deep—yielding an immense revenue to his country, amid sufferings and privations of no common order, certainly claims at the hand of that country, protection from the savage pirate of the Pacific. Among this class of citizens too, we may look for those bold and determined spirits who would form the bulwark of our national navy. The protection of this important and prolific branch of commerce is, in every point of view, a political and moral advantage. I indulge the hope that it will become the object of special legislation, and that the hardy sons of the ocean, while filling the coffers of their country, may enjoy the protection of her flag.
The various tables relative to exports, imports, currencies, weights and measures, in the various places visited by the Embassy, will, I trust, be found greatly beneficial to the commercial enterprise which, yearly, extends from the Cape of Good Hope to the China sea. They have been compiled in some instances from direct observation, and in others, from the best authority which could be obtained. While it has been my special object to render the pages of the Embassy a guide to the best interests of commerce, I have not been unmindful of the claims which the general reader may have on a work embracing a view of that interesting quarter of the world, the eastern and southern portion of the eastern hemisphere; its natural scenery, productions, language, manners, ceremonies, and internal political regulations, will be found in the Embassy. The picture may not be at all times of a pleasing character; it has rather been my object to give the original impression, than to decorate it with any factitious colouring. When visible demonstration could be obtained, I have always resorted to it, in drawing my conclusions; and in those cases in which this best auxiliary was denied me, I have given the testimony of travellers from other countries, who preceded me in visiting the courts touched at by the Embassy, and whose details have received the sanction of the world.
The abject condition of morals among the inhabitants of the Indian ocean, will naturally interest the philanthropist: while rejoicing in the high moral tone of society which distinguishes his own happy land, he will look with an eye of compassion on those regions where the worship of the Supreme Being gives place to the mysterious idolatry of Budha, or the external ceremonies of Confucius.
The searcher after literary information will find in the account of the literary institutions of China much interesting and useful matter for observation and reflection. In relation to the strictness of her collegiate examinations, and the high grade of learning necessary to secure their honours, some useful hints may be derived to our own collegiate institutions.
In the appendix will be found a curious literary document in relation to the aborigines of the Malay peninsula, particularly of the negroes called Semang, accompanied by specimens of the Semang language in two dialects, for which due credit has been given in the Embassy.
The philologist will doubtless receive this accession to the common stock of inquiries into the origin of language, with considerable gratification. A philosophical investigation of the relationship existing between the varied families of the earth, and their common origin, may perhaps yet be based on the analogy existing between their language and dialects.
The phraseology of the epistolary document from the Sultan of Muscat to the President of the United States, with that contained in the letter from Tumbah Tuah to Captain Geisinger, at Bencoolen, furnishes specimens of that figurative and high-wrought diction, for which the Oriental nations are distinguished.
As I am about to undertake another voyage to exchange the ratifications of the treaties alluded to in the Embassy, to form others in places not yet visited, and to extend, if possible, our commerce on advantageous terms, still farther east than India or Cochin-China, I beg my readers will consider the present volume as a prelude to much further and varied information to be derived under more favourable auspices—more intimate knowledge of eastern forms—and that caution which should ever be the child of experience.
In concluding my introductory remarks, I would freely acknowledge my obligation to the works of those authors who have preceded me in visiting the nations to which the Embassy was directed. I deemed it important that no useful information, from whatever source derived, should be withheld from my countrymen. Wherever ocular or audible demonstration could be had, I have recorded the facts as they were presented, in the most simple and unadorned manner; I had not in view the flights of rhetorical composition, but the detail of useful intelligence.
My country claimed at my hands, the faithful fulfilment of arduous and responsible duties. If, in the information furnished in the Embassy, her requirements have been accomplished, my ambition is satisfied.
E. R.


Sailing from Boston; Arrival at St. Jago; Description; Exports; Great Drought; Fogo; Fortifications; Sailing for Brazil; Description of the Coast; Harbour of Rio and Distant Views; the City; Public Garden; Boto Fogo; Botanic Garden; Population; Public Buildings; Senate and House of Representatives 13
Sailing from Montevideo; Description of the Island of Tristan D’Acunha; St. Pauls; Engano; Arrival at Bencoolen and Description 29
Sailing from Bencoolen; Arrival at Crokatoa and Forsaken Islands; Scenery; Beautiful Submarine Garden; British Frigate; Arrival at Angier; Sailing from Angier; Bay and City of Manila; Buildings; Population; Provisions; Labour 39
Manila, continued; Calzada; Sea-Cucumber; Cigar-Factory at Binondo; Exports; Duties; Weights and Currency; Exchange; Imports; Luzon; Cavité; Hurricane; Lago de Bria; Pina; Indian and Buffalo; Visits to the Alcade 51
Departure from Manila: Cholera; Cape Bolina; Chinese Vessels; Pilot; Macao; Linting, Village; Whampoa; Jos Houses; Sacrifice; Arrival at Canton; River and Boats; Description of Canton; Great Idol Temple; Legend of the Jos House; Religious Ceremonies; Minor Temples 63
Budhism; Tombs of Ancestors; Ceremonies; Origin of Tumuli or Tombs; Sacrifices to Confucius; Pan-Hwny-Pan; Infanticide; Charitable Institutions; Government Gratuities 75
Description of Canton; Sacking of the City; Place of Honour; Mourning; Compass; Materials for Buildings; Houses; Principal Offices; Duties and Penalties of Governor; Fires; Governor’s Salary; Division of Power 89
Literary Institutions of China; Examinations; Schools; Teachers; School-room Ceremonies; Colleges; Domestic Commerce; Population of the Provinces; Imports; Exports 109
Early Commerce of China; American Trade; Hong-Merchants; Translators; Linguists; Foreign Factories; Style of Living; Manufactories and Trade; Physicians; Egg-Boats; Manufacturers; Mechanics; Population of Canton 123
Weights and Measures; Money Weights; Commercial Weights; Opium; Opium-Smokers; Mantchou Dynasty 135
Death; Ceremonies of Imperial Mourning; Population of the Chinese Empire; Knock-head Ceremony; Beggars; Cat and Dog Market; Dr. B. and the China-man; Barbers; Dress of the Chinese; the Dragon God; Slavery 147
Climate of Canton and Macao; Meteorological Averages; Departure from Canton for Macao and Linting; Macao; Population; Superstitious Ceremony 162
Sailing from Linting to Vung-Lam Harbour, in the Province of Fooyan, or Phuyen; Government of Shundai; Assistant Keeper of Vung-lam; Letters to the King of Cochin-China; Catholic Priest; Deputies from Shundai 171
Present of a Feast to the Embassy; Description of Arrangement; Deputies of Hué; Extraordinary Demands—Refusal to Forward Despatches to the Emperor; Letter of the Envoy to the Minister of Commerce; President’s Letter; Unconditional Requirements of the Deputies 189
Suspension of Intercourse; Failure of Mission; Departure of Embassy from Vung-Lam Bay; Envoy’s Titles; Mode of Husking Rice; Tombs of the Dead; Fishing Boats; Absence of Priests and Temples; Superstitions; Wild Animals; Mandarins’ House; Mode of taking Leave; Government of Cochin-China; Grades of Rank 213
Passage from Cochin-China to the Gulf of Siam; Arrival at the Mouth of the River Menam; Packnam; Procession to the Government-House; Reception; Governor; Siamese Temples; Interview with the Siamese Foreign Minister; Prima Donna; Feats of Strength; Siamese Females; Fire at Bang-kok; White Elephants; Embalming; Shaving-head Ceremony and Feast; Fox-bats 227
Presentation at the Palace of Bang-kok; Description; Royal Elephant; White Elephants; King of Siam; Great Temple of Guatama; City of Bang-kok; Temple of Wat-chan-tong, and Figure of Budha; Banyan Tree; Fire-feeders; Missionaries 253
Chinese Junks; Mechanic Arts of Siam; Amusements; Dancing Snakes; Annual Oath of Allegiance; Description of the Capital; Embassy from Cochin-China; Education in Siam; Palace 271
Procession to the Funeral Pile of Wang-na, or Second King; Origin of Budhism in Siam; Sommona Kodom; Atheistical Principles of Budhism; Budhist Commandments; History of Siam; Government; Titles of the King; Officers of the Government 289
Ancient Laws of Siam; Legal Oaths; Punishment for Debt; Divorces; Population of Siam; Stature and Complexion of the Siamese; Division of Time; Boundaries and Possessions of Siam; Marine of Siam; Imports; Inland Trade; Currency; Treaty of Commerce; Table of Exports 305
Departure from Bang-kok for Singapore; Singapore; Commerce; Bugis; Maritime Laws; Departure from Singapore; Straits of Gaspar; Island of Java; Population of Java; Clothing; Dying; Stamping; Fruits; Birds 319
Batavia; Burying-Grounds; Servants’ Wages; Academy of Arts; Departure from Batavia; Arrival at Angier; Departure from Angier; Red Sea; Arrival at Mocha; Turkie Ben Al Mas; Palace of Mocha; Currency at Mocha; Transparent Stone; Colour of the Red Sea 336
Departure from the Red Sea; Cape Rosselgate; Arrival at Muscat; Blind Beggars; Fin-back Whales; Bedouin Arabs; Pearl Islanders; Arab Houses; Currency of Muscat; Naval Force of Muscat 351
Departure from Muscat; Arrival at Quintangony and Mozambique; Exports from Mozambique; Imports; Departure from Mozambique; Arrival at Table Bay; Cape of Good Hope 365
Algoa Bay; Imports; Population of the Cape of Good Hope; Public Institutions; Newspapers; Departure from the Cape; Arrival at Rio Janeiro; Departure from Rio Janeiro; Arrival at Boston Harbour; Statistical Table 386
Various Documents connected with the Work 403




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Embassy to the Eastern Courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat / In the U. S. Sloop-of-war Peacock, David Geisinger, Commander, During the Years 1832-3-4
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