Transcript of Sir Chaloner Alabaster Correspondence, 1840-1880

Transcript of Sir Chaloner Alabaster Correspondence, 1840-1880,

with Notes, Photographs and an Index


John S. Alabaster

Introductory notes

Sir Chaloner Alabaster was the youngest son of James Chaloner Alabaster of 58 Piccadilly, London, whose correspondence and other relevant documents relating to his visit to North America in 1837, together with a transcription and index, are deposited in the Westminster Archive as Acc. 2369. As with those papers, Nan Kenyon in Canada, direct descendant of Chaloner’s grandfather, has kindly supplied the letters transcribed here.

The letters are mainly written to his Aunt, Mary Ann Rebecca Criddle. She had cared for him and his two elder brothers ever since their parents had both died in 1840, when Chaloner was only 18 months old, Henry, four and Charles, seven. The letters span a period of about 34 years, the earliest being written at the age of six, and the last in 1878 when he was 40. Other letters were to his cousin, Percy Criddle, six years his junior, and by Chaloner’s wife who wrote several to his Aunt, up to 1880, and a few to his Aunt from Major John Holland, a friend of Chaloner.

Almost all of Chaloner’s letters were written from China where he was pursuing his career in the Foreign Service. They are intimate and private, and. altogether, give one a sense of both privilege and intrusion – privilege to be able to get closer to someone who has already gained our respect and admiration, yet intrusion because my family connection is so distant.

As a record, of course, they have their limitations: one or two are incomplete; gaps occur in the collection itself for no apparent reason; and none of the letters to which he replied, or others that he may have received from family and friends, are included. Nevertheless, read in conjunction with other sources, particularly the biography published by Adrian Alabaster[1], they help to round out the picture we have of this remarkable man, as well as of some of his close relatives and acquaintances.

In all, there are 56 letters. Many (almost a third) of them are written on extraordinarily thin paper, akin to tracing paper, extremely fragile, and requiring immediate repair with archival tissue; they were, incidentally, also quite difficult to read when written on both sides, as illustrated by Letter No. 9. Sizes vary considerably from as small as 4¼ by 5 inches (10.8 x 13.5 cm) for one of the tissue variety (No. 2), to 10½ by 17 inches (26.6 x 43 cm) for one of a more normal thickness (No. 20). Almost all, including the smallest had been folded in half to provide two leaves (four pages), but only two were further folded to form their own envelope for posting, one of which (No. 27) was clearly manufactured for the purpose, having a small stick-down flap provided. A extra envelope of some kind must have been generally used, an arrangement, incidentally, in sharp contrast to the letters Chaloner’s father wrote home from America in 1837, for which no separate envelopes were used. Further details of the paper used are given in an appendix.

To make the letters accessible to those interested in Chaloner, and short of publishing them in toto, a synopsis is being prepared of their main content, in which a selection is quoted, with supporting notes, notwithstanding the inevitable deficiencies and imbalance of such an approach[2].

Editing of the letters has been minimal, save for the need to augment Chaloner’s general indifference to punctuation, yet retaining, as far as possible, his style of multiple short phrases. Foreign words, titles and names of ships, etc. have been italicised, but some of his idiosyncratic spelling and coining of new words has been retained.

Included with the letters, are six photographs, two of Chaloner in ladies theatrical costume, and the rest of his first child, Cecil Osborne Alabaster.

Altogether, these letters provide illuminating autobiographical glimpses of Chaloner, but need to be put into context with other sources, particularly Adrian Alabaster’s biography already mentioned.

Note from H.C. [Henry Criddle, Chaloner’s uncle] 1840,

‘1840, 6, March

Chals [James Chaloner Alabaster’s] wife (Harriet Woodman [written in Harry Criddle’s hand]) died at our house No 4 Kimbolton Place (oppo’ Pelham Church), Brompton at 9 p.m. was born 8 May 1807 – buried at Kendal Green – 12 March 1840.

J. C. Alabaster died 22 May in same house at ¼ past 4 a.m. buried at Kendal Green on 27th [May] born 24 Oct 1806.

1845 28 July Chal christened at St Georges Hanover Square. London


(Harry Criddle [written in another hand, in pencil])’

[Three more lines, added in another hand, probably Percy Criddle’s, in ink:

‘Chal named above

is C[haloner] Grenville [Alabaster]’s father


Transcription of the letters

The chronological order in which the letters are listed here is tentative because some of the dates (among the first nineteen letters) are illegible, incomplete, seemingly in error, or missing, as indicated in each case.

1. 24 December 1844, from Chaloner, aged 6, in very neat pencil copperplate on pencilled lines to his brother Charles.

‘Chals first letter [written on the back in Harry Criddle’s hand]’

‘Dear Charles [his eldest brother, aged 11],

Baby’s [his cousin’s] name is to be Percy give my love to Henry [his older brother, aged 8],

Your affectionate


24 Decr 1844’

2. Probably September 1854 [dated ‘Sept 1855’ in a different ink in Percy Criddle’s adult hand], from Chaloner, aged 16 or 17, to Percy Criddle.

‘Dear Percy,

I shall soon be in China[3]. I have had lots of fun, have seen such funny things; I am sure you will wish to come out. At Ceylon it was so rough that we had to jump into the boats. I have had some rides, & that is all the news – how are you, your garden, cat, fish, cupboard, cricket, school. Blackbirds, &c.,


C Alabaster.

Mind you take care of my garden.’

3. Dated ‘1855’ in a different ink, in Percy Criddle’s adult hand; from Chaloner, aged 17, to Percy Criddle. Very neatly written.

‘Percy Criddle Esq. &c., &c &c, [on outside fold]’.

‘Well Sir,

How are you getting on? Are you jolly? Are your fish, dog, cat, garden and cupboard all comfortable? How are you getting on at school? Do you ever play chess; I am getting a capital player. We have lots of big ships here [probably, Hong Kong[4]], and it is a capital place for climbing, such tremendous hills, I have not got to the top of one yet. Mind you are a good boy and mind your mama, and now goodbye,

Sum semper tuus [I am always yours],

Chaloner Alabaster.

Here is a little latin [sic] for you.’

4. 14 April (‘1855’ added in a different ink, by a different hand), Hong Kong, Chaloner to Percy Criddle.

‘Dear Percy [aged 14],

Be a good boy. Mind your Mama. Learn your lessons. Take care of yourself. Come out here and make your fortune. How are you? How is your garden, and how are your fish, pug, puss, cupboard, music and self getting on?

I remain,

Your dearest cousin,


How are the young ladies?’

5. Dated ‘October, 1855’ in a different ink, in Percy Criddle’s adult hand, from Chaloner, to Percy Criddle.

‘Dear Percy,

How are you? How is your garden? How are your goldfish & your cupboard, and how are you getting on at the Kings?[5] I have got to China; it is such a funny place; all the men have pigtails and the women a handle on their head & we have no carriages, but are carried about like this [sketch inserted] or in a covered one like the [another sketch inserted] and there are loads of hills to climb & boats to sail in, but it is very hot indeed. All the Chinamen shave their heads. I am living in a house with Adkins, King & another, & we are very jolly indeed, but we have lots of work. Take care of my collection, and are you going to make one? If so, I will send you some things for it. Would not you laugh to see me all in white, with a white hat of this shape [sketch inserted].


With best love,

C Alabaster.’

6. 10 December 1855, Hong Kong, Chaloner, aged 17, to Percy Criddle.

‘Percy Criddle [written on outside fold]’.

‘Well sir,

How are you getting on? Are you enjoying your holidays kicking your football over into the waste ground, climbing trees, gardening &c., while here am I at work all day, & so fearfully hot, while you are throwing snowballs all about? We have such lots of large ships here & every now & then they fire all their guns & I go out in boats & have lots of fun, but I want to come home & eat some plumb pudding with you I am very glad to hear you are getting on so well with your music & at school. Work on & some day you will be a great man, never fear. How are your fish, cupboards & garden, Willie Marshall & all your friends? I have got a little dog[6] & he is such an ugly little fellow, but I expect some day he will be quite a large dog.

& now, goodbye

& God bless you,

Chaloner Alabaster.

P.S. Ask Mama to buy you a globe & I will send the money.’

7. 15 April [1856?] Hong Kong, Chaloner to Percy Criddle.

‘Percy Criddle Esq. [written on outside fold]’.

‘Dear Percy,

I just write to tell you to write longer letters. There is no news except that a gunboat has come out & 4 more are expected soon. I sleep every night with my revolver under my pillow, but have not had the opportunity of using it yet.

My temper is very bad which I hope yours is not, & I have to punish the Chinamen every day to make them do anything, which you will acknowledge is a nuisance. Mind you work hard; if you do not, I will not acknowledge you. How are you getting on? Write & tell me all about you.

Yours truly,

Chaloner Alabaster.’

8. 8 June 1856, Hong Kong, Chaloner to Percy Criddle.

‘Dear Percy,

How do you like Cornelius Nepos?[7] I suppose you have got a good way in by this time and that Marbles have gone out again. How is your dog; mine is very ill & very ugly. We have a lot of Men of War in our harbour now, and a gun is fired every evening at eight and another at nine, and the other day an American Man of War came in and they kept on firing for a long time. On the Queen’s birthday all the ships had lots of flags & saluted and we had a review. How do you get on in swimming, very well or how? I hope you don’t forget your music, for out here a person who can sing & play is thought a great deal of. Do you get lots of marks at school – mind you do and obey all your papa & mama’s orders. Work hard and make people love you & then Percy Criddle will be a great man, and would you not like that, so now Goodbye.

I remain,

Your affectionate cousin,

Chaloner Alabaster.’

9. 9 August 1856, Hong Kong, Chaloner to Percy Criddle.

‘Dear Percy,

Thanks for your long and interesting letter. Why, you are getting quite a man. I shall not know you when I come home. How do you like your music? I hear you are getting on finely. Have you begun Greek yet? How did your party get on? How many jolly girls fell in love with you, &c? I suppose your hand is well now. I so send you £1 to get another globe, but you must promise Mama never to empty it yourself. We have no news here. It has done nothing but rain for the last 3 months. One day I went & had a shower bath in it. How does your swimming get on? I have not been able to have a swim for a long time; it has been so wet. However, I hope that as soon as the rain is over I shall be able to get one every day. I am working at Chinese, just as I used to, but have got an old teacher or sinsang, & he & I grunt & growl at each other all day. How would you like to come out here & be a Chinaman, eh? Mind you are a good boy; now that Henry has come away, you know Mama will only have you to comfort her, & so you must do everything she wishes you to do, & never make her angry or unhappy by being naughty. You are getting so old now as to know how silly disobedience is, & so I shall not say any more about it.

I, and a lot of others were out in the fields the other day & had capital fun jumping over hedges & ditches, & even tried to jump over a hayrick, and a dog we had with us thought it was all done for his amusement & ran up against everything. We have such a lot of dogs here. One is a large brown one, & he is a capital fellow; he will give a paw like a gentleman. And then we have two others, such funny little fellows who do nothing but eat. How is Puppy? And how is Pug? Do you like your new garden as well as your old? Mind you write again soon. Goodbye &

I remain,

Your affectionate Cousin,

Chaloner Alabaster.

P.S. If your Mama would rather that you did not buy a globe, buy something else. How is Willie Marshall?’

10. 13 Sept (‘1856’ added in different ink, in Percy Criddle’s adult hand), Hong Kong, Chaloner to Percy Criddle.

‘Dear Percy,

Tomorrow is my birthday & I hope you will be able to finish the cake without me. Thanks for your long letter. Write to me every day [crossed out] month. We have got a two Decker out here & all the Chinamen are greatly astonished, for many of them never saw such a great ship before. We are very merry & the band plays nearly every evening. I was sorry to hear that you were absent at the examination, but never mind, work hard & you will get a prize yet, never fear. You’ve got wits; only use them. Work at music; it will be a great help to you & you know you can play well if you like. Be a good boy &


I remain,

Your affectionate cousin,

Chaloner Alabaster.

P.S. I’ve got a new little dog, such a rum little fellow.’

11. November 1856, Hong Kong, Chaloner, aged 18, to Percy Criddle.

‘Dear Percy,

How are you getting on? We have got a regular war out here in China[8], for the Governor General of Canton fancied he could do what he liked out here, and consequently pulled down the British Flag on board a lorcha (a sort of ship used for going short distances)[a light vessel of European build, but rigged like a Chinese junk] and then refused to make an apology as he was requested to do. On this, the Admiral [Sir M. Seymour] told Him that if he did not apologise and let our Government Officers into the City, we would bombard Canton, and as the Chinese Governor General continued obstinate, he took, first of all the forts on the river & then made a hole in the wall through which he marched with all his blue jackets and Marines and walked into the Governor’s Office. But as you may suppose, the Governor did not wait for him, but ran away at the beginning of the fight. After this, Our Admiral has continued day after day firing shot and shell into the city, and consequently there have been several grand fires in Canton. There has also been a regular naval engagement – 23 junks trying to capture the steamer Barracouta, but after a hard fight of 40 minutes all the junks were captured and burnt. Would not you be delighted to be here now with all these fine things going on – how is your music improving, I hope, fast. Mind you work hard. Did you get the £? If you get a prize, you shall have another. So now you have something to work for. Do all your mama tells you. Read your bible – never contradict your papa – strive to be agreeable to everyone and work hard.

I remain,

Your affectionate Cousin,

Chaloner Alabaster.

P.S. Write and tell me all about you.’

12. 14 February, 1857 (perhaps this year should be 1858, unless the diary dates are wrong[9]), Superintending of Trade, Hong Kong, Chaloner to Percy Criddle

‘Dear Percy,

I am glad you are well & hope you will continue. So how do you like Greek & Latin? Mind, I expect you to be a great scholar, & if you get a prize, I will send you another sovereign. So mind you work hard. Henry has gone to Siam, which I suppose you know is south of China. He has gone in one of their Men of War. In two days we shall have the races here & all sorts of fun. We kept watch here two or 3 nights near the Chinese New Year, which falls in February, but they did not make a row as we expected. Only think of me getting up at 3 o’clock in the night & walking about with sword & revolver to guard my property. Of course you heard we were all poisoned & have got well again.


I remain,

Yours affectionate Cousin,

Chaloner Alabaster.’

13. 14 March 1857, Hong Kong, Chaloner to Percy Criddle.

Dear Percy,

Bravo, go in and win the first sovereign I get. I promise you, work hard and you will get lots of prizes. Set to work with a will & it will soon become a pleasure. What a shabby letter you sent me; I was quite disgusted. We have had a fire here and lots of fighting at Canton, but that, I suppose won’t interest you much in London. All our boys are gone except one, and so we are in a horrid mess. My dog is very well & turns me out of bed every morning at 6 o’clock. I hope you get up early; depend upon it, it is the best way to get on in the world & now, with congratulations for your late prize, and hopes that you will soon gain another,

I remain,

Your affectionate Cousin,

Chaloner Alabaster.’

14. 15 May 1857, Hong Kong, Chaloner to Percy Criddle.

‘Dear Percy,

I am glad you are well & almost wish you were here. We shall have such fun before long, for we must take Canton.

The Chinese are so eager to fight that, as we will not indulge them just yet, they are fighting among themselves[10], knowing they will have enough of it by & by. So you don’t like Ovid. Never mind, you will get something better some day.

Smut my dog is erry[sic] well; he had a thrashing from two other dogs the other day and was nearly killed, but has now recovered. Take care of the cat.


I remain,

Your affectionate

C Alabaster.’

15. 15 May 1857, Hong Kong, Chaloner to his aunt Ann.

‘Dear Aunty,

I was glad to hear that you liked the box. I am sorry it was not a better one, but my means are limited. I am afraid I have offended Aunt Kate [Greaves], but I can assure her & you too that my present to her cost almost as much as yours. In fact the difference in value was scarcely anything, & the chopsticks I sent Miss White did not come to as much as Uncle Greeves’ [sic] paperknife. However, be it as it may, I can’t help it. I did my best, & if it was not successful in my attempt to please, I must try & manage better next time. I am remarkably jolly, as busy as a bee, & as brisk as a fairy. Hong Kong is getting an exciting place with the war. Lots of people having fled here because of it, & lodgings here will soon fetch fabulous prices as provisions had already. In fact, our living & our teacher entirely devour our income. However, better days are coming, so I keep up my spirits. Your telling me to keep myself safe for your sake reminds me of Mr. White imploring Mr. Pickwick to keep himself up in the pond for his sake. Depend upon it; I don’t want to pop off the books just yet – thanks for the postage stamps. Enclosed is a letter for Mary Poppy [possibly the sister of Francis who married Chaloner’s Uncle Henry], which had found its way to the Dead Letter Office. I am still in love with L.M. [probably Louisa Meyer[11]] just as bad as before, but have not written, wanting space. Remember me to Miss White; tell her that I hope to be a Consul some day & will write by the Bimonthly. Hurrah for the war; it must & shall make all our fortunes. I am too jolly to write, so goodbye.

Yours ever affectionately,

Chaloner Alabaster.

P.S. I have sent A. D. [probably Ada Dunlop] my last letter, this mail. It is not at all loving, though when I think of ducks[?] & Tomatoe [sic] sauce, I tremble at the consequences.

Give my love to Mrs Criddle [could this be Henry Criddle’s mother?] & remember me to every one at home. I will send you a fuller letter next mail, but I am regularly slumped up for anything to say, having said so much to Uncle. Ought I to write to Mr. & Mrs. Meyer. I have a great liking for both, but don’t know if I ought to express or not [his love for the daughter].’

16. 24 August 1857, Hong Kong, Chaloner to aunt Ann (the writing very irregular in size and slope).

‘Dear Aunty,

You are the best of Aunts & I am the worst of nephews; that’s pog [sic], but I can’t help it & I hope I make up inwardly the outward deficit. Many thanks for your kind offer of the christening present for my literary bantling [i.e., child], but I must decline it, for the present, as I do not feel strong enough to wing my flight into the literary world, & secondly, because I do not consider myself authorised in causing the useless expenditure of money upon my magnum opus which, however, progresses & has attracted the favourable notice of my philosophical & botanical neighbour, Dr. Hance to whose opinion I attach much weight, as he is certainly a very learned personage & would be quite a superior man if he had not taken into his head that the imbibition [sic] of beer is innocuous & that it is impossible for any amount thereof to overset his equilibrium. He is, however, well read &, except on those rare occasions when hops make him commit strange vagaries, a very sensible man, & Mrs. Hance is a very nice person indeed, and I am remarkably intimate with them both, & in the evening, continually go in to talk botany or science with the Doctor, & to discuss the local news with his lady. My Magnum Opus, as I said, progresses, though still slowly, & I am getting quite an affection for it as the vastness of the enterprise expands before me & I think of the reams of paper to be used before it can be finished[12]. By the by (spelt right?), if Uncle could pick up some immense, un-ruled ledger, I should be happy for life. I want it ruled horizontally, but not perpendicularly, & the larger it is, the better, nothing being so respectable as a large book, & I shall have oceans to put in it, more than I can ever do – also another with at least 1100 leaves in it, ruled horizontally for my translation of Roget’s Thesaurus which proceeds hand in hand with the magnum opus – I wish Gov[ernmen]t would give me £400 or 500, and time to do it. I would turn out something that would astound them. I intend to propose it when Mr. Wade [the Chinese secretary, in charge of the student interpreters] comes back. My official prospects, thanks to this Indian question and my bad writing look gloomy, but I am in better spirits than usual, having been sitting up with Mr. Woodgate, who has been very ill for 3 nights running, & getting regularly knocked up myself. However, he is all well now, and so am I, & with the exception of indigestion, toothache and general want of energy. My temper is perhaps improved by a severe lesson, & I am at daggers drawn with one person only, i.e. that snob Howlett whom I cannot possibly be friends with till he apologises, which he will never do. It aint [sic] much loss though his friendship – We have made a new & rummist [sic] acquaintance in the person of Mr. Vine, 2nd Master of H.M.S. Calcutta, a fellow with a great taste for music & who always sings like a thrush & plays Yankee Doodle on his face – any tune you like on a spoon or knife & as he sat in a low backed car on a milk jug, and is a most amusing fellow, also ½ a dozen or so staff surgeons, Crimean heroes, every one of them, ¾ Hebernians & the rest K.C.L [King’s College, London] fellows. There is no news much. The rebels are troublesome at Canton, & many complications are anticipated. Provisions are at famine prices; the blockade is inefficient; all the troops have been sent away as soon as they arrived. I’ve been summoned for thrashing two servants who were impudent, and fined £1.0.0 to my disgust, as I had not given them ½ the worth of my money, & to their disgust, as they had to pay for the summons, & the fine went to the Queen, God bless her. However, we got in a jolly mess in consequence, as they bolted on my signifying my intention of taking my moneys worth out of them when we caught them, & we had to subsist on Sardines, Jam, Bread & Bacon for 2 days till we got a new staff with whom we are getting on swimmingly, our curries being only 2nd to Col. Caine’s. Goodbye.

Your ever-affectionate nephew,

Chaloner Alabaster.

P.S. I have written to Mr. Meyer approving of the destruction of my epistolary communications, for I quite agree with him that it is inadvisable to fetter her with any engagement. He wrote to me a very good letter, one that one could not be offended at, and very complimentary at the same time that it was firm and determined. I’ve a great admiration for Mr. Meyer, & hope he will keep up the correspondence begun under such [an] unpropitious start. And perhaps, after all, I may some day claim the Young Lady, though a young lady here, Miss Irwin by name, in age 12, but in everything else at least 21, jostled Miss Louisa very rudely[13]. Married men seem to delight in making others as unfortunate as themselves, & the ladies, good heavens, it is lucky I am only a student Interpreter with £200, & so ugly that no one would have me, or I should have been happily or unhappily married to some one or other long ago – What abominable (I was much tempted to use a stronger epithet) people the Hammersmithians [probably Dr. John Greaves & family living in Hammersmith] are, I declare, tho’ I won’t write a line till I get a letter. All round, hang the young inconstants – well, I’ll remember their laziness some day – also that of sundry other individuals whom I could mention. Now for answers to your letter. I did not send £1.0.0 in May, but did [send] one afterwards to Percy, and you must charge the 1st to my account. I forget the mail I sent to Percy’s, but it was directly I heard he had got a prize. My health, tho’ I am under the Doctor’ hands, is better, no thanks to him, tho’ we have had such a cool summer, rarely more than 85º [F. = 29.4º C.] that everyone has been ill, for you know that in the summer, in the heat here, it is so damp that, unless we have a very hot sun to dry up the moisture, we, to a dead certainty, all get fever. Many thanks for the stories. You are the jolliest, kindest, nicest auntie in the world, & I’ll kick whoever says you are not. I almost think it would be better to sell all the houses, pay off all debts, & invest the money in China. I can always get 7%, & have no bother with it, & some people get 36%. However, you know best. Remember me to Mrs. G[reaves] & tell her I look forward to the promised rubber. Confound Messrs. Hawes. I hope, however, it is all for the best. I quite agree with Uncle in disbelieving in Doctors, but I hope he will follow my example and call one in directly he feels queer. Brother Charly & the Union, by the by don’t tell him, but that improving & interesting Newspaper has not even been looked into by me for the last 3 months, & I am thinking of writing something strong if he does not do as I tell him & stop [five words crossed out] my papers – I am horribly disgusted, however, to find that even you take the part of these beasts, the Cantonese: who have heaped insults on our heads for 500 years; who never would & never will listen to reason, except at the canon’s mouth; who murdered our countrymen when they took a walk for pleasure at Huangchu; who stone the people at living in the factory [an area where foreigners (factors) were permitted to reside] every day of their life, when trying to get a little exercise; who offered rewards for our heads; who kidnapped us, murdered us & poisoned us; who never were massacred at all; & who had the power to avoid all that befell them by simply according to us what was ours by treaty[14]. For, it was not Yeh[15] who would not admit us. What did these harmless and inoffensive victims say in their proclamations? – that they would murder us if we attempted to enter the city. If Yeh & all his mandarins were on our side, Oh, I hope we shall get a chance at them, & then, I hope we do massacre the brutes. My Vocabulary, as I said before, may come out some day, but not yet, & I must have the ledger (imperial octavo) before. Bravo Percy. Remember me to Mr Ray, the Setchells [his aunt had taken a few lessons in water-colouring from Miss S. Setchel in 1846[16]] & all my other friends & relatives, & tell the Hams [the Greaves family] that I shall have entirely forgotten them if I get no letter by next post

I remain,

Your affectionate nephew,

Chaloner Alabaster.’

17. 26 October 1857, Hong Kong, Chaloner, aged 19, to aunt Ann.

‘Dearest Aunty,

I have just received your letter & it has quite unmanned me. I have begun three letters & spoilt them all, but I have hope & trust it is not so bad as you think and that uncle [Henry Criddle who died that year] will, with rest, be able to enjoy the remainder of his life, and that remainder, a long one. Keep up your spirits dear aunty; even the Chinese hold the proverb, God will never desert the deserving, & if anyone ever deserved well of Heaven, ‘tis Uncle & you – while there is life there is hope. Why should you despair? Take a comfortable house in the country, with a nice garden and near a railway so that Uncle can have a run up to see the papers &c. when he feels inclined – mind, I possess nothing in England now, except your love. What used to belong to me it has become my duty to give up, & it is your duty to accept it. Aunty you must; you shall take it, & I know Henry [his brother] will do the same. That will, I hope, suffice for two or three years, & then I hope & trust I shall be in receipt of a better income. Uncle, I know, likes the country & he will never rest unless he is where he can do nothing, & Percy will be all the better for having to spend his holidays out of smoky London. Fear not Aunty or the future; there is a God above us & in him I trust. I am not rich, far from it, & certainly shall not be ever so, but while I have a halfpenny in the world, you shall have half or two thirds of it, if necessary. One of the first copies I ever wrote was, never say die, & I see no reason why I should now – do as I tell you, go into the country, take a comfortable house & don’t fret. What good did fretting ever do? None that I ever heard of, except make people unfit to cope with the troubles of their life – I won’t say more about it, but mind, all that I ever possessed in England is now yours & I will never touch a penny of it, & if I live, I will send home something, if but little, from China. You have both worked enough; ‘tis time for you to rest. You have worked for us; ‘tis meet that we should work for you. Do not make me unhappy in the thought that while I had plenty, you were in want. Never, never, make me so miserable, Aunty. I wonder you ever had the hardness of heart to imagine me capable of such a thing – why should you feel uneasy. The doctors say Uncle would be all right if he had rest. Well, why should he not? I, & Henry are both young & we can both work. It is not as if there was only one who might be knocked over any moment, but there are two of us, both young, both with fine prospects, & both willing &c. Charly [who had just obtained his B.A. at Oxford in 1856, and had taken Holy Orders] cannot be expected to help, as he will never have any money to help himself, but Aunty, I think you do him an injustice if you think he would not help you if he could. No Alabaster could be such a blaghard [sic]. When he wrote the letter you complain of, he was probably like I am now, half stunned & stupefied with the suddenness of the blow. Never fear, he will show his real nature yet. Never fear, do as I tell you. You want rest as much as Uncle, & believe me,

Your affectionate Nephew,

Chaloner Alabaster.


P.S. Dear Aunty, I have just read over your letter again, & joint affairs or not, you shall have all my British Income & what I can save out here, for save I must, & save I will, & I know H[enr]y will do the same. Remember Charly has barely enough to support himself, & his mind is at present not his own. Wait till he shakes himself free of the trammels of cursed Puseyism [a hostile term for the theological & ecclesiastical principles & doctrines of E. B. Pusey (1800-1882) & those with whom he was associated in the ‘Oxford Movement’ for the revival of Catholic doctrine & observance in the Church of England[17]; his aim was to prevent the spread of rationalism[18]; Charles was at Oxford] & then he will show himself as he should, your loving eldest son. He is eaten up with ambition, I know, & there is no such perverter of the heart. But Aunty, he is an Alabaster & my brother & I cannot think him such a beast. Aunty, fear nothing while I, Henry or Charly live; neither you, Uncle nor Percy shall ever want. The bitter struggle has to commence. Let us show ourselves equal to it; let us show the old Alabaster spirit – & let us all adopt my motto, while there is life there is hope.


[A separate page]

‘Hang it, we’ve been sad long enough. Your bright eyes, dear aunty, were not made for tears. You have been cheerful through all troubles that we have caused you. Rather be glad that we have now an opportunity of showing that we do love you really, that it is not an empty word, but a reality. Go into the country chop-chop [i.e. immediately]; you will all get fat & jolly there & Percy will be able to indulge his mechanical tastes in directing watercourses, cascades &c. through the grounds. Uncle must have a nice room opening in the front garden where the sun shines in & P[ercy] amuse himself with finishing his work on Boxhill Heath Hills & the adjoining country. You must have a pretty little studio which I forbid you working in for the present, but which you can amuse yourself in drawing pictures in your mind of Chaloner Alabaster Esq., looking very big & very official, with silver band &c. auring [i.e., listening to?] the Chinese & pegging into [i.e., eating?] skinny fowls. By the by, when I come home, I forbid a single fowl entering the house. I expect to burst out fully-fledged daily for devil a thing, but fowls do we get in China & their skinniness defies description. It is the universal complaint of all.’

18. 28 December 1857, North Wangtong, (badly burnt by the ink), Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Aunty,

So poor dear Uncle’s trials & troubles are over and he has gone to where alone he can be rewarded, as he deserved. When I left England, I little thought that I saw him then for the last time, that I should never see his dear kind face again. He thought so then, I know, but I could not, would not believe it, that one so good should be taken away so soon. The first shock of my grief has now passed away & has given way to the feeling of one who is orphaned for the first time, for was not Uncle a father, & more than a father to us? Were we not his sons commandeered by him as such, and loved by him as such? Could a father have done more for us? Did he not devote his life to us? We have a heavy debt of gratitude to pay to him and to you. He is gone from us, gone suddenly in the midst of trial & trouble. May God reward him, as he deserves. As I lye awake in the night, I remember how he used to dandle me on his knee, how he tried to get me on at school, the hundreds & thousand acts of kindness he did me. I think I see him now at Southampton, so kind, so thoughtful, giving me good advice and, seeing my wants supplied. May Heaven pardon me for giving him pain as, alas, I have often done. Oh God that he should have died & I not near him, that he should have passed away, & two of his sons far away. But, cheer up dear Aunty; it is the will of God, & nothing we can do can alter it, though we mourn for him as who would not. Let us not be carried away by our grief. Let us live & let live, & let us strive to enjoy such space, as God is pleased to grant us here below. Aunty, you must live. I have lost my father, but I will not lose my mother. Live for Percy. Battle with your grief. Get charge of our change of scene & live for all of us. Goodbye dear Aunty. I cannot write more & would write to Percy, did not a touch of fever make my hand shaky. Goodbye.

Your affectionate son,

Chaloner Alabaster.’

19. 14 January, 1857 (someone has altered the date, to 1858[19]), Hong Kong, Chaloner aged 18 to Percy Criddle.

‘Dear Percy,

As your brother, I write hoping that now your poor father has gone to Heaven that you will work hard and behave yourself so as to save your mother from all vexation or anxiety on your account. This I feel sure you will do, for you are clever, brave and hardworking, and you must know that while you are praised, as you will be if you deserve it, the praises give more pleasure to your Mother than they can do even to yourself, and at the same time, she would more keenly feel any disgrace into which your hasty temper might cause you to fall. For your temper, you know is hasty, and if you do not curb it, as you may while you are young, you will find it a great nuisance & very difficult to cure when you are old. Always think before you act; it will save you from doing many a foolish thing and will often make you do a wise one. You have resolution & energy, two sterling qualities; make the most of them. You are young; work hard and you will never regret it. Make many friends; you want them, and never make an enemy. If you cannot agree with anyone avoid him; quarrelling injures your temper & credit, & besides being wrong. Tell the truth strictly and always, and your companions will know you, and without honour there is no love. Never, but this I need not tell you, do a dishonourable deed – respect yourself, and others will respect you. Be modest yet self reliant, not pushing yourself forward, but never holding back. Do your duty; no one can exceed that. Love your Mother and obey her commands. Goodbye dear Percy. I will write more another time.

Yours affectionate Cousin,

Chaloner Alabaster.

P.S. How would you like to come to China; try and persuade your Mama to bring you.’

20. 28 October 1858, Calcutta, Chaloner, aged 20, to Percy Criddle, aged 14.

‘Dear Percy,

You enquire justly enough why I don’t write. Dear boy, I have not had time[20], but I now sit down to redeem a promise I made some time back to do so, and am going to give you a tremendous lot of advice, which attend to.

You are, it strikes me, now 14, and from your letters seem very much behind hand. I tell you the truth plainly, because I fancy from what I know of your character, that to know your faults is, with you, to reform them. First, you write in a very bad hand, and a bad hand is always an impediment. I should have got on much quicker had I written a little better. Secondly, your letter is not half so well spelled as one I read 8 years ago. You are positively going back, a horrible thing to think of. Do try to do everything as well as possible. One may sometimes get on without doing so, but depend upon it; to do things well is the surest and safest way.

I also hear you are dreadfully quick tempered. Get over it, my dear boy at once. Never allow yourself to be supposed ever to be a coward, but whatever you do, keep your temper always. Nothing gives your adversaries so great an advantage over you as passion; nothing gives you so great an advantage over him as coolness.

Again, and you must not be offended at my lecturing you, be cautious; always accustom yourself to observe, to meditate, and to form your own opinions, but do not be too eager to combat those of others. Listen much and think little is a maxim I have tested, and I am sure, after repeated trials, that it is a good one.

I need not caution you always to stick to the truth; you are too honourable not to do so, nor to avoid flattery. You are so high-spirited, but I must, I fear, impress on you the necessity of working hard; do so, it pays. It is the one way to get on. Work hard at everything; be ready for anything, and never for a moment despair. Hard work, prudence and courage must win the day, and mind, by hard work I do not mean you are never to take up a work of light literature, far from it. Only manage to read works generally spoken of first, to form your taste on a good mould. By prudence, I do not mean cowardice nor by courage, rashness.

And now, with many happy returns of the year to you,

I am your loving Cousin,

Chaloner Alabaster.’

21. 18 July 1859, H.B.M. Consulate, Canton, Chaloner to aunt Ann

‘Dear Aunty,

Here goes for another epistle, for I suppose you will growl if I do not write by every mail.

We have been having interviews every day this week at each of which I have had to talk myself deaf, and from each of which save the last I have come away with a profound contempt of the Mandarins.

The last with the Acting Governor General I confess impressed one differently. This man is without doubt a fine one, and I conceived a great respect for him.

His predecessor, on the contrary, was a fat brute whom everybody hated, a horrid old brute with a gruff voice & whom [sic] in the presence of foreigners used misguided wretches to put on a double amount of brutality, thinking that thereby he was acting in the most agreeable manner to us.

There is news down from the north that all is well[21], so we are to have no glory or danger. So your heart may be at ease as to that.

And, but this you have I hope heard before, you can do the same financially, Je n’en ai aucune besoigne [I have no need of it at all] as the Romans say; I have quite enough without coming on you.

I shall want you to send out, however, a dinner & breakfast service & some flannel, four decanters, wine glasses, tumblers, cruets, as soon as I can send you home the money.

We have been honoured by a visit from a lady since my last – Mrs Hance, wife of Dr. Hance, the Man of Plants whom I have often written to you about coming up for a week, civilizing us somewhat, necessitating waistcoats & occasionally coats. So, I have not quite forgotten my civilisation. Yet I hope to do so, however, yet, as I am going away next month for a fortnight in a boat.

I made a bargain yesterday getting 900 books for 2/6 [two shillings & six pence, i.e. 30 New Pence]. Was it not cheap; unfortunately, they were all Chinese.

Yours lovingly,

Chal. July 24.

P.S. We have just had very bad news from the North[22], full accounts of which you will find in the papers, which, I hope you receive regularly. Adkins was in it, but escaped miraculously. You need not be uneasy, however, about us down here. We seized all the arms this morning and are not likely to be taken by surprise or, if attacked at all, to come off second best.

I got your letter and was dreadfully disappointed at it, though I knew you were only bothering yourself unnecessarily. I do not want any money from home, and if what you will then have will not be enough. I will send home £100 a year regularly, but mind dear Aunty, it is for you, not Charly. Whatever anybody chooses to say, I shall consult only myself in the disposal of my money, and as for you or Percy being in straits, I will not hear of it. As for what you say about Charly, poor fellow, I cannot and will not at present help him, and though I may seem unkind, will not change my resolution; so, all money either accruing from home property or that I may send is mine only & solely for you.


P.S. I have asked Jardines [Jardine, Matheson & Co., Shanghai’s largest western merchant firm] to send you a draft for the value of $87.05, or about £100[?], but am not at all sure that there is time, so do not be surprised if you do not get it.’

22. July 1859, H.B.M. Consulate, Canton, Chaloner to Percy Criddle.

‘Dear Percy,

It is a shame that I have not written before, but the fault is still graver on your side, for you have not yet answered my last letter written months ago.

How are you getting on? What are you doing? What are you going to do? Another year and you will have to think about making a start. Have you thought what you should like? If not, do so, and consider it well before you decide.

Two professions, which will probably come up first, are the Army and Navy. But you will throw them aside, for without a private fortune or great interest, neither of which you have, those who enter either soon get disgusted.

With regard to the Indian Army, it is different, but the allowances there will very shortly be reduced and the service is now being depressed greatly by the jealousy of the Horse Guards.

The Civil Branches of the Army are better, and if you could get into the Commissarial or Ordnance, it might do very well.

We next come to the Civil Service of India, which is, and notwithstanding the cutting, which is going on, will continue for some time a good service. But to get one of these, you will have to work very hard for the next five years. The Civil Service here is not a bad one, and if you like nothing better, you might come out here. The climate is not good, but would, I think, agree with you, & you would [have] a great advantage [to] come out to friends.

The Medical profession pays well if you work very hard & are clever, but that you must consider; if you are not industrious & sharp, it is no use at all. A lawyer, I should not like you to be.

And now hoping you will take these few hints,

Believe me, your loving cousin,

Chaloner Alabaster.’

23. 25 September 1859, H.B.M. Consulate, Canton, Chaloner, aged 21, to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Aunty,

I am at last twenty-one and able to prove that my offer of my share in the Piccadilly house was not empty words, and I declare it almost reconciled one to the conscience experience of being so old [as] to be able to do [so]. The share is yours, and my sole regret is that it is not better worth your acceptance. But at the same time, Aunty, it is only for your & Percy’s benefit, and its management must only pass out of your hands into mine, a condition you will, knowing my motives, not object to. And you must also agree not talk about it, or thank me for it, as it is only a very small instalment of a very large debt of gratitude I owe you, and your dear, kind old heart would be making it out, as you did in your last letter, a virtue on my part to pay it.

I spent my birthday very quietly doing, perhaps, a little more work than usual and telling no one anything about it till it was too late to make any noise or, as we call it, bobbery [Anglo-Indian slang], but I felt it my birthday, none the less, and thought of those dear people to whom I owe reaching it. Dear Aunty, we should indeed be the vilest of the vile did we fail in our duty & gratitude one moment.

I do not think we have done dishonour to your training either. Charles is the worst off, but he has gained plenty of Kudos in his time and is getting on. Now Henry is making [his] name, & though not yet a fortune, is well off. & I, though not satisfied, expect to be worth £500, or as I am, temporarily drawing £600 per annum. No Aunty, no one can mention your guardianship of us three without praise, or did they know what materials you had to deal with in us, admiration. It is not everyone who could turn out three, weak, sickly, feeling in mind as in body, as you have done, even forcing even us, with all our Alabasterian conceit to confess that we owe everything to you.

Your last letter was, I was glad to see, more cheerful, though you were so anxious about what Percy is to do, get health & life, & what knowledge he can pick up for the next year. He is only 15 yet, & though when he gets 16 or 17 he will have to think what is to come next, there is lots of time yet, and whatever appears, remember that fretting does positively no good at all, but is waste, & worse than waste of time. You may, though I think it very unlikely, see me home some time next year and, at any rate, we shall find something for the youngster. I hope he will accept my calling him so yet.

Give my love to Aunt Kate, Uncle Greeves [sic], old Mrs. Criddle & all my friends & especially my dear cousins; tell [them] I am in frightful want of a few antimacassars, not pen wipes, for which I am willing to exchange crape shawls or silks or whatever they like.

Yours lovingly,

Chaloner Alabaster.

P.S. Remember my share in 123 Piccadilly is yours & Percy’s for as long as you want it.


There is a 3-year gap in correspondence from Chaloner; during the period 1859-1861 he was moved from Canton to Amoy and Swatow, and finally, to his satisfaction was posted to Shanghai.[23]

24. 18 August 1862, B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner, aged 23, to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Auntie,

I send by this mail a business letter & enclosure to wit a Power of Attorney & Bill for £150 to enable you to set about the cottage or, if necessary, to mortgage the other house.

I got your letter acknowledging the box & am glad you like it though the Mandarin’s dress, I am sorry to say is Mrs. Adkins’, not yours. Old Adkins asked me to send it home & I thought I had amended it, but suppose, forgetful beggar that I am, that I did not send it her like a good old lady, & apologise in my name for it’s not reaching before. I am sorry the small arrangements smashed, but will send some more.

I am getting on, having since my last [letter], successfully concluded the Belgian Treaty & am promised, if any Govt. allow one to accept it, which I am afraid they won’t, the Order of Leopold, so I shall be supposing they do bien decoré.

I got my medal last mail & intend to be photographed in the full splendour thereof, cocked hat & all, eh, old lady.

I got a letter full of news from J. Meyer by this mail. He is a capital correspondent. Why don’t those rascally cousins of mine write?

Yours lovingly,

In haste,

Chal Alabaster.’

25. 4 October 1862, B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner, aged 24, Aunt Ann (Stamped ‘62 DE 3 LONDON NC’ and also CHERTSEY A DE 4 62; addressed to Mrs. H. Criddle, Addlestone, near Chertsey’,

‘Dear Auntie,

A confounded boil has laid me completely on my back, & I defy the Doctors in sitting up to write to you a line. So excuse brevity, as I don’t want to be here more than the 3 or 4 days the Dr. says I shall, if I keep quite still. Being so healthy [I find] that being on my back is a confounded bore.

I have been to Japan since my last [letter] & shall have haste to write you next mail, having had a pleasant trip, saddened though it was by the murder of one of my best friends & the death of another on my birthday & the news of the loss of a third, Ward, on my return.

I trust you got the power of attorney & £150 all right. If you have not bought a place, hold on, as recent events have thrown the sale of the land off, & though I expect it will be all right, it may be several mails before I can send any more £. s. d. [pounds, shillings & pence]. In the meantime, dip freely into what I have sent if needful or desirable. It will give me as much pleasure if it is devoted to your comfort as if devoted to my future ditto.

Hang the doctors; I see him coming, so, chin-chin[24]

Yours in haste,

Chal Alabaster.’

26. 20 October 1862, B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Auntie,

Once more to the war[25], & this time, I hope, for the last time for many a day to come, for I am tired of soldiering & exposing myself to danger without the prospect of corresponding glory, although I must confess, my services will not have been thrown away, if the admiral [James Hope, who left for England in November] & I come out safe as the divine old man has promised, & not only to tag my services before Govt. at home, but to write to Mr. Bruce [later Sir Frederick] & Wade [later Sir Thomas] & ask for my promotion. I go, therefore, into action with far more interest & anxiety than heretofore, when the loss of either the admiral or myself would have been but an ordinary piece of ill fortune, instead of, as now, a tangible loss. For the Old Man’s recommendation would carry weight & he never forgets a promise.

I should have gone in, too, with considerable foreboding, everything having gone so wrong of late. Richardson, [Captain] Craigie, [Colonel] Ward[26], suddenly cut off, one after another, & blow after blow showering down on one, besides the natural alarm with which one always makes ones last venture. But the world has seemed to smile more the last few days, & fortune, or the favours of Providence, privy that I may not be blasphemous, seem to have returned. Hi, then, for a sharp, successful fight & a safe return to enjoy one’s laurels &, I trust, more solid rewards.

Your letter last received saddened me, deducing from it that you have been done out of the rent of my house & are hard up for money. But ere this, you will have received my letters, 1st enclosing £150, 2nd desiring you to apply it to your own purchases, & I feel no disturbance now that you have already carried out my wishes.

My trip to Japan was not so fortunate as I expected, Craigie, the Captain of the Bingdove, dieing directly I got there, & poor Richardson, whom I partially went to see, having been murdered some hours before I reached [there]. And [me] getting sick directly I returned. But it is a pretty place & I am glad I went there. Till you have seen Fusi Yama[27], you can have no idea of its beauty. The Mountain, regular in form, rising like Venus from the sea, enveloped Midway by floating clouds & crowned with the vapours of its ever burning fires. To see this with the blue sky overhead, & the flying fish playing about the rippled sea, studded here & there with the white sails of the fishing boats, & to feel the Bright Sun overhead, tempered by the sweet sea breeze is to experience in its perfection the Luxury of Nature.

The place, too, is pretty, abounding in hills & valleys, the one covered with the most beautiful trees & shrubs I have ever seen, the others divided into brilliant green patches of paddy by little quaint Villages, not perhaps quite so picturesque as Swiss chalets, but infinitely more comfortable looking, while for the picturesque you have more than you can appreciate at once of little Jap’s houses[28] peeping out among the trees.

But the people I love most. The women, indeed, have a grace & innocent abandon, which is charming to one used to, as a rule, inanimate awkward beauties of China. But the Men are not to be compared to dear old John Chinaman; polite they may be, but there is none of that jolly jivial [sic], roguish, civility of our celebrated friends. You fear every man you meet, & your hand is always on your revolver, nearly indeed in practice as in Theory. But enough of Japan. I know you prefer me to write about C.A. to giving you the most elaborate account of any place under the sun. Is it not so, lady mine? For you must know that in order to be in the fashion, spooney [i.e., foolishly amorous] on some one, & being unable to find a fair one out here to my liking, I drink your health with deep devotion when Saturday brings around the old China Toast, ‘Sweethearts & Wives’. You should have seen me last night tossing off my glass leaving no heel-taps [i.e., dregs], being in high spirits at the turning of the tide, shown to me beyond doubt by the fact that two ponies I had been out on during the afternoon had both come to grief, & I had not, escaping in the most marvellous manner; they say I always tumble on my feet, & so I seemed to do. You should have seen the disappointment of the Chinamen who thought a barbarian in his glory was going to eternal smash, instead of which the foreign devil, still smoking his cheroot, jumped off & helped his charger up, smiling cheerfully on all around.

Love to all,


Chal Alabaster.’

27. 20 December 1862, Hong Kong, Chaloner to aunt Ann (addressed to Mrs. H. Criddle, Addlestone near Chertsey, via Southampton); stamped Hong Kong, Dec 20, 62; London Feb 15; Chertsey Feb 17 1563.

‘… disquisitions on the Nature of things bother them all.

We have been having Vile weather the last week & now all is mud & vexation of spirit, but the sun is out today, the wind is not so bitter & I should not be surprised if tomorrow is a fine day, as Xmas day should be a day to make you feel at charity with all men.

So much for that. I have just got a letter from Percy & will answer him next mail. I am glad the young dog has not forgotten me. I liked his letter very much; it was just the sort of letter he ought to write at his age, manly enough & written in a good, gentlemanly, legible hand, not like mine, old lady.

The mail is closing, so Chin-chin or I shall be too late,

Yours lovingly,

Chaloner Alabaster.’

28. 8 January 1863, B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Old Lady,

A Happy New Year to you, & may we spend, as I hope, Xmas together, for I am getting sick & tired of this place & have almost determined to go home about August. I should like, if possible, to put it off a year, but don’t see how I can. The climate is beginning to have an effect, & if I don’t go home in time, I shall either never go at all, or be too ill to enjoy it when I am there. So, you may, I think, expect me.

I have your letter [saying] that you have sent Mrs. Adkins her silk, and Magically deciding that all the others were hers too. One silk, plum colour or some such colour, with very handsome embroidery or something on it, the one, I take it you have now, was hers, being a Mandarin’s dress in the Palace, but everything else was yours & yours only. Adkins, knowing I was sending home a box, asked me to send the dress for him, but everything else was either bought or looted by myself, & by me, destined for you.

I got also a letter from Percy, which I shall attempt to answer by this mail. I am sorry he has taken up so difficult a profession as Music, but if he has sufficient ability & works at it properly, it will, I doubt not, pay. If not, he has still time to start here, or go home some day with a pile, like the rest of them.

Charly & Henry I have no news from. From the former, alas, little good news is to be hoped for, but from the latter I rather expected a letter. I suppose he writes home regularly though, & I can’t complain, for I never write to him.

I am pretty jolly, though rather overworked, & it is too cold to be pleasant for a debilitated old man like me. You talk of yourself as an old woman [she was 57], but you have still 50 times the energy left one by this confounded China, where I never do anything but wish it was time for dinner, or late enough to go to bed, unless, as during the last fortnight, I have been dining out & coming home so early in the morning, to the great detriment of policemen & lamp posts, whence my present repentance & disgust at the follies of the world.

We have got an allowance made us for the time of the rebel blockade, of 15 per cent on our salaries, & have determined to consider it still going on, so I shall pocket £100, very agreeable, only I hear they will make one refund [some of it].

Yours lovingly,

Chal Alabaster

P.S. Make Meyers send me some books he has of mine & a few neckties.’

29. 9 March 1863, B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Auntie,

You must not expect a long letter this time as I have been laid up for the last fortnight & so have nothing to write about. Thank heaven I think I am getting all right now & I shall not be such a fool again as to go to work before I am quite well[29].

I enclose herewith the 2nd of Exchange, first of which I forwarded you two mails ago in case the 1st miscarried. I hope you have found a cottage to your taste & that the amount was enough to cover it.

I think I told you I had let a piece of land for 70 a year. I have now a bona fide offer of 200 & more a year for another, & if all goes well shall thus have a small independence if the climate proves too much for me & I have to go home.

The Emperor has given his assent to the Order of the Dragon, so you may consider me as already decoré, for our Government can hardly refuse to allow us to accept it.


Yours lovingly,

Chal Alabaster.’

30. June 1864. B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner, aged 25, to aunt Ann. One page missing (2 sides, pages 3 & 4); opening page and page numbered ‘5’ both extant.

‘Dear Auntie,

Last Mail came in with no letters and I have been melancholy for a fortnight, but happily the Mail, which came in today, brought two. I suppose your 1st was either underpaid, or something, so did not come on, though I have still a vague suspicion that there is a letter missing. You do not know how glad I am to hear that you are happy. I assure you it is the only thing that gives one pleasure to know that, whatever my faults, you are satisfied with me and that I cannot reproach myself with willingly causing you grief or anxiety. Though so unable to repay all your goodness towards me, I send £100 home in this letter to be used if you want it. If not, to be invested for me with the rest, for I can never save for myself, and must look to you to do it, like everything else for me. I think, if do you invest it, however, Consols or some Govt. Security [would be] better than land, or houses; it is more readily got at, there is less risk and bother, and it is, I think, in everyway better. I am awfully hard worked. I get to Office about 9.30 and I get away about 6 or later. Today I did not get clear until 8, so I have little or nothing to write about. My Court is still a great source of amusement. There is a certain pleasure in sitting in judgement. Though a perhaps foolish consciousness makes me, now & then anxious lest, by carelessness of mine, an innocent man should suffer. I try to be just and fair, and I think I am generally successful, and if my judgements are ever called…. [two pages missing]…


…to contract the exuberant hansiak[?], which seems to him to protrude itself uncomfortably into the circle of contagion. Good old man, the recollection of his kindness will make me gentler in our little difference. Indeed, the sickness has done me good in more ways than one. The kindness that has been shewn me on all sides making one more ready to see good in the world and forcing me out of the cynical, which was stealing over one. It is all very well to say sentiment and feeling are illogical and absurd; it would be a sad world without them, and if we destroy the sense & sensibilities of our natures, there would be nothing left worth living for.

As the Mail does not close until the day after tomorrow, I shall probably add more to this. In the meantime, Chin-chin.

Yours lovingly,

Chal Alabaster.’

31. 15 July 1864. B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Auntie,

I am off to Ningpo on duty to collect evidence in a Murder & Piracy case, so may miss the Mail. I write, therefore, by the French Mail[30] to enclose [a] Bill for £200 in your favour, making the 3rd Bill I have sent since my return, viz.,

One for £100

______ £30

______ £200.

This, with the balance in Johnston’s hands, which you had better draw, & the Bill left with you for the £160, I think ought to provide for a little time to come & perhaps admit of some being invested. I send home every farthing I can scrape, as I should only spend it here, & look to you to invest it for me. Don’t stint yourself in anything. The bust up of the Cart Co. does away with my hopes of brilliant fortune pro tem, but I am not ruined. I have still my pay intact.

About the house, do what you think best. I fancy, in some ways, it would be well to move to Abbey Road, but this you must judge. Don’t, whatever you do, sacrifice your health or comfort. Percy cannot be considered. He is like me, young & at the disagreeable working stage of one’s career when likes & dislikes must count nothing. It is not from choice I am in China and, unfortunately, no young man is able to consult his choice and, however disagreeable it may be, we can only consider what is expedient & advantageous.

So much for business. For private affairs, I have no time to add a line, as I am overwhelmed with work & in a deuce of a hurry. I am sorry Belle Kelly is ill. I hope she has forgiven me.

Love to all. I wish Grandmama was here to kiss. Don’t forget the picture.

I have got everything ex Far East but my Crockery. Not a chip off the [picture] frames. A devil of a storm last night.

Don’t forget to sign the transfer of Abbey Road at Johnston’s, & what Consols you buy as an investment for me in my name.

Yours lovingly,

Cha; Alabaster.’

32. 19 July 1864. B.C. Shanghai [deleted & replaced by ‘Ningpo’], Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Auntie,

I sent a letter [No. 31] by the French Mail, enclosing [a] Bill for £200; I hope you got it all right.

I wrote this in a great hurry, as the gunboat is on the point of starting, to tell you I am as jolly as possible on a cruise. I thought I should not remain quiet long, though we are not on a fighting expedition this time (you will add, ‘thank heaven’)[31]. It is very jolly getting away from Shanghai to nothing to do & lots of time to do it in, and I bear the delays, which put off my return, with the calmest philosophy. I proposed to do it all in 3 days & expect it will last 3 weeks, if I am to do all, or even the greater part of what I am ordered.

I think I told you the pictures got out safe & are the solace of my existence. I look at them & a crowd of remembrances of the various pretty girls there, and assignations with them, bear me away on the wings of fancy till I almost fancy myself among them till, turning round to kiss the dear creature, I seem to hear rustle into the room, the illusion is lost and a horrid Chinaman with a dispatch, many yards long, claims my attention.

It is nice and cool here, compared with Shanghai and [there] is a charming absence of excitement. There is no hurry, no bustle, nobody wants to know, and you can be busy over a cigar without a dozen fellows, all of whom only want to speak two words, being down upon you and worrying your life out. Collars are almost unknown and respectability is at the lowest ebb.

I hope to have something to write about after this cruize as I am going to Chusan [Island north-east of Ningpo] & all round about, and the scenery is said to be very pretty. Besides which, I am on a Mission to a pirate chief, and a real one, not a melodrama, one a man who reduces piracy to a business and murder to a profession. I hope we shall find him amiably disposed, though it scarcely matters, as we are not going to fight him. No news of promotion.

Yours lovingly

Chal Alabaster.’

33. 21 August 1864. B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Auntie,

A sty in my left eye, an aching tooth on each side complete deafness of one ear, prickly heat all over, & a crowd of shippers & Chainmen have given me no time to write. Lay[32] has gone away sick & I am doing his work most gloriously, for I don’t know anything about it and, beyond sentencing men to six weeks hard labour & refusing to do anything for anybody if I can help it, I have not the vaguest idea of my duties. I trust to providence & what comes uppermost, & hope it is all right. I wish I had Percy here; I would commit him as a vagrant[33]. You have no idea of the pleasure of sending white men to prison. I had got surfeited with bambooing [i.e. flogging across the back of the thighs with a rattan cane] & beheading Chinamen & it is quite delicious turning from them to men & brothers.

Thanks for the Power of Attorney. I am trying to sell the property or lease it again. The Cart Company, I think I told you, has toppled over with a crash & all my dollars in it have disappeared, but I do not, all in all, I think, lose by it, so don’t fret. My losses, looked at in the light of what I ought to have, but did not get, are enormous; in the light of how much am I out of pocket, little or nothing.

I am dreadfully hard worked; 9 a.m., I begin, & it is cast iron steam engine pace till 6, with ½ an hours break at 12 for breakfast. Love to all,

Yours lovingly, in haste,

Chaloner Alabaster.’

34. 28 December 1864, B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner, aged 26, to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Old Lady,

A Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. As Henry is at home, I know you are jolly and comfortable. Tell him to bother them at the F[oreign] O[ffice] to confirm me as Vice [Consul] here. I am getting tired of waiting for this desired consummation to marry, and if Grandmama can be induced to come out next Mail [boat, I] will Marry her straight off. I am sure she will make a capital wife and I want some one to keep me in order. The other night, we had a grand dinner to a Benedict, & I astonished them by an improvised song. On the way home some cheerful friends had determined to upset my [sedan] chair, but fortunately for me I had lent it to another fellow and driven quickly home, so he got the benefit.

Give the best of wishes to everyone,

Your loving,

Chal Alabaster.

P.S. I got the broker’s receipt for the £600. Does it not leave you short? Next mail will take [time], hence more money, & I sent a bill for 90 dollars.’

35. 29 January 1865, Brunswick Villa, Gloucester, Major John Holland to Mrs. Criddle.

‘My Dear Mrs. Criddle,

Will you kindly inform me if your nephew (my old friend) Chaloner Alabaster is in his old office at Shanghai. An old protégé, of his who, under his auspices made a fortune in land speculations – has died suddenly in England. The brother, an ignorant man (a small tradesman) is in a fair way to be swindled out of the property by a shark of a lawyer, who had got hold of him, and is lending him money &c. – I am anxious to let C. A. know the particulars, as he can (if he is at Shanghai) instantly stop any fraudulent attempt top make sway with the poor man’s property.

I hope your last accounts of him were good – he is a shocking correspondent-

I remain

Yours Very Sincerely

Johny Holland

Major RMLS [Royal Marines]’

36. 21 April 1865. B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Auntie,

The sad news from New Zealand [of the death of his brother Charles] though more or less expected for so long, took one by surprise & has a greater affect upon me than I should have conceived possible. I feel as if another of the ties had snapped, and that one or two more gone & I should be alone in the world. Objectless & endless, I cannot work for personal success, for give one enough to live on and I am quite contented, & in any family whom alone I care for. Blow after blow crushes my hopes as far as I form them. Poor Charlie, given health what a career, he might have had, the scholar of the family. I looked to him for help in the hard struggle of life, & now he is gone. I can only reproach myself for neglecting to help him when perhaps he required it. I scarcely realize it yet, and pass alternately from the depths of grief at his loss, to the sweet delusion that he is still alive.

Annie [his wife] wrote to me telling me of the death, but says nothing as to the state of his affairs etc. She says she shall keep on the school and seems hopeful enough, such as she evidently is at her great loss. I wrote to her by this mail for full particulars, and you must give me what you can. If Charlie has left her badly off, I shall adopt my Godson & have him sent home to you to bring up. I trust he may have a happier fate than his father. Poor Charlie, I wish I could have seen him before he died. The news reached one in the midst of the excitement of the reform of our political institution, private theatricals & the races, but I have retired from them all & intend going away the day after tomorrow to get over the worry which has made me quite ill, not seriously, but most annoyingly, I intended to go to Pekin[g], but cannot get leave for so long, so shall go to Ningpo for a week and shall risk commencing the summer sadly and shall take 8 days up the river to set me right again. Bile plays the deuce with one out here. I have written to Annie offering to adopt my godson. If she wants it, I shall do so & send him home to you to bring up. My Marriage, unless Grandmama would come out, seems impossible. I shall not marry anyone here, & when I come home, I shall be too old. I wish I had married her before I came out.

P.S. I forgot that the £50 bill was made out in favour of Mrs. G. Criddle by accident. You must, therefore, with sign it J. Criddle, the best plan, you being the person referred to, or explain.

P.S. I am going [up the Yangtze River] to Hankow for a trip on Wednesday. The worry in consequence on the news of Charlie’s death and others annoyances have made me quite ill, and although am much better today, I do not like to…[possibly a page missing]…

P.S. Remember me to Holland. I would write but have nothing to write about or either do not feel in the humour for doing; so, just at present.’ [Strangely, there is no signing off]

37. 21 July 1865. B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘Dear Auntie,

I don’t know that I have anything to write about, and as I am excessively bilious, shall not waste paper in making you miserable. You will think I am getting horribly ill-tempered, but what can you expect after 10 days rain, dry clothes an impossibility, boots quite impracticable & the sensation when you wake in the morning that you have been very drunk over night & gone to bed by mistake in a very wet ditch with your head among a heap of mushrooms. I am mildewed and miserable; my clothes are a curiosity in Natural history & my books would be a godsend to an enthusiastic botanist studying the million and a half varieties of fungi. If it goes on much longer, I shall not only believe the Chinese prophesy that Shanghai is to sink bodily into the earth, but shall prey for its speedy fulfilment, for it is better to be smothered at once than to be buried alive in muck, and that we all are now: mud on our doorsteps, mud on our stairs, mud in our bedrooms, the very wall & roofs of our houses melting into mud. My house was struck by lightening the other day & it was so wet that it put it [the fire] out. I can’t get my boots on, & when I take to shoes, they stick in the mud and come off. Were my charmer to be on the jetty, I could not run to receive her, it is so shaky & slippery. Was ever Man so miserable, & with such just cause: and a villain, a creature with no appreciation of the eternal fetish of things, wants me to congratulate myself on the cool summer. Cool be blowed; for an hour it is cool, & then the heat comes & steam rises as a permanent vapour bath, without dry towels to follow. I can’t even smoke my bacey [i.e., tobacco] as it [is] so abominably moist.

I have not been able to get the money I wrote about yet. Times are so hard, & you had better not buy more Consols [stocks & shares], yet, at any rate. Always leave yourself in funds, for it is nearly four months, you know, from here home again.

The Judge has arrived, apparently a very jolly sort of fellow. He will not affect me much, at any rate, for the present. The Assistant Judge seems a charming man, about 45 – his hair standing up in all directions, & science & good nature distilling from his nose to his double chin. Mrs. Goodurn seems delightful, too; good, kind & motherly, something like you. It makes me feel more & more every day what a fool I was not to marry when I was at home. But, perhaps, after all, it was for the best, l’homme propose, Mais dieu dispose and [sic] but it certainly would be more pleasant to have a little woman to look after ones house & take care of things generally than to go on in this miserable bachelor life. I should certainly not be long in placing my hand, heart & aspirations at some young woman’s feet, if I was at home. Can’t you get Henry to bring me out a dear, confiding creature to worey [sic] to death. Kiss Grandmama for me, but don’t tell.

Yours lovingly,

Chal Alabaster.

P.S. Remember me to Mrs Meyer. Enclosed is a letter I intended to have sent by French Mail, but was too late. I don’t want to quarrel with anyone, much less an old friend like her. When does Henry come out? I wish I could get home. I am getting Nostalgia dreadfully. I wonder whether the Pekin[g] people would give me leave. I fear not. If my liver was in as bad a state as my heart, I should get it at once, but they don’t care sixpence for ones feelings.

Love to all the healthy girls, especially Grandmama & Dorothea.’

There is a 6-year gap in the correspondence (a 7-year gap for Chaloner) during which time he travelled further in China and eventually became Vice-Consul in Shanghai[34].

38. 29 October 1871, Bury Cross, Gosport, Major John Holland to Mrs. Criddle.

‘My Dear Mrs. Criddle,

My dear little friend Chaloner Alabaster, who has so suddenly taken flight for the East, has admitted me, and my wife still more fully, into some of his secrets. I would hardly believe that he was really in love at first, remembering him as I do when we were comrades in the Far East[35], but I am convinced that he is very deeply touched, and that this, or some other sacred influence, has entirely changed him: dear, good, kind hearted little man that he is and always was, unselfish, generous, ever ready to do any one a good turn, he only needed the softening influence of a pure woman’s affections to make him what all his true friends must wish to see him.

I have got a secret note from him this morning from Paris. It is very short, but there is one request in it, which I will most gladly carry out as well as I can, with all the regard and affection of a brother, but I don’t exactly know how to begin without consulting you first: you know how brief his notes mostly are, and all he says in this one is, “Poor little Ada” and, in a scrabble of a postscript, he adds,

“Pet little Ada for me while I am away”.

I cannot tell you how the latter appeal has touched me and I mean to do it as well as I can. But before setting about making Ada’s acquaintance, I want to find out a little how the land lies; perhaps if I went to her father’s house and asked for her, the old gentleman might send for the police, or set the dogs on me – I am not possessed of any details, beyond the bare fact, that our heroine’s name is “Ada” (and a very pretty name too,) and that she lives at a certain house in Hammersmith, but what her surname is, and whether the “Lord of the Castle” at Hammersmith is her Papa, and how or why, or on what account their loves have not reached a more mature condition are all left to my imagination, or to my ingenuity to discover: so in endeavouring to carry out his parting request, I am anxious not to make a mess of it by clashing with his or her friends, should there have been any unpleasantness anywhere – He had often written to me lately about his weak health, his unhappiness, and troubles and misfortunes, but always in his hurried offhand way, meaning much but saying little: I am sure that should it ever be possible for him to marry a girl truly suited to him (and he would need one of no ordinary mental capacity, or else of extreme sweetness) a fool or a doll would not do for him, it would be his complete salvation – and we would then really see him in his true and lovable character in all the relations of life.

My wife who has by no means come to the end of her romantic days (she is 13 years younger than I am) will have a lively sympathy with our yet unknown “little Ada” – it quite reminds one of “Bleak House” – and it is like living in one of Dickens’s romances – If she would like a change of scene just at this trying crisis, we shall be most happy to take care of her here in this quiet seaside cottage of ours. But for all these matters, I must wait, until you can enlighten me[36].

Yours Very Truly,

Johny Holland. Major RMLS.’

39. 6 November 1871, Bury Cross, Gosport, Major John Holland to Mrs. Criddle.

‘My Dear Mrs. Criddle,

Will you tell me if I can, without intrusion, call at “Ada’s” house at Hammersmith.

I am very anxious to prove to my dear friend, your nephew, that I have not let his parting request fall flat and unheeding, and at the same time I am most reluctant to force my acquaintance upon anybody. I do not think I am in any way betraying his confidence, in making you my confidant in his interest: he has always spoken of you to me with the affection he might have entertained for a mother. He says in his last note,

“Watch over and help little Ada for me I fear I have done her great hurt by trying to sacrifice her happiness to mine, but my friends helping, she will be happy and, through her, I.”

I should be a very poor “Friend” indeed if I sat still in the face of such an appeal to my sympathy, coming too from one naturally undemonstrative, and given to smothering his best feelings in his own bosom.

He gave me the address of his uncle John Greeves, Esq., of Clevedon House Hammersmith, so I imagine our heroine is that gentleman’s daughter. He has not told me whether she rejected him, or her father objected, or how it all came to nothing.

I wish you would advise me how I may best endeavour to carry out his wish, I would do anything that might in any way be pleasing or comforting to him.

I know how sad and lonely he will feel in that far off land, in indifferent health and under disappointment in many ways,

I am coming up to Town on Monday and shall put up at 27 Arundel Street, Strand. I would call on you either on Wednesday evening or Thursday forenoon. Will you kindly drop me a line by Tuesday’s post, and either tell me how to proceed, or whether I can meet you and have a talk with you.

Yours very Truly,

Johny Howard[37].’

40. 10 October 1872, B.C. Shanghai, Chaloner, aged 34, to aunt Ann.

‘My dear Aunt,

I have received the Mate’s receipt for Ada’s miniature, but the Steamer has not yet arrived, and am anxiously looking out for them, for although I have got over my regret that our affair was broken off, they will be a pleasant remembrance of a time wasted agreeably. I am still acting as Consul here, and have so far succeeded in pleasing my most difficult to please of chiefs who has just reported me favourably to the Foreign Office, but one must not shout till one is out of the wood, and I have still six weeks to get over before Mr. [Walter] Medhurst [Consul of Shanghai, successor to Thomas Taylor Meadows] arrives to relieve me. I profess and try to persuade myself that I prefer sinking into the position of Number two, but I am not sure that I really do so after being Lord & Master so long. However, whether I do or not, I must reconcile myself thereto, for I do not care for an acting appointment elsewhere, and see no hope of getting future promotion.

The weather has been so charming that my health has greatly improved, and I am far better than I was at home, and shall probably stay out till the end of my time, as I am getting too old to go home again in search of a wife, and there is little else to tempt me. However philosophical one may be, it is pleasant to be a personage, and in Shanghai I have friends & followers, while at home I should have to begin at the beginning & work up, for which I am getting too far in the scar & yellow leaf. I am, as usual, spooney on a very nice girl & she was not weighted with a pair of difficulties in the shape of parents – whom I see no way of getting rid of, so it is not likely to result in anything very serious, which is for the best, as she has no dollars & the worst possible taste in dress, and I am extremely happy as a bachelor, with my clubs[38] & societies, my stork & my cat to welcome me when I return from office, & my books to solace me when I come home at night.’

Yours affectionately,

Chal Alabaster.’

41. 24 December 1874, Supreme Court, Shanghai, Chaloner, aged 36, to aunt Ann.

‘My dear Aunt,

I write just a line to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and to convince you I have not forgotten days long gone bye.

I am not altogether enjoying my Christmas, for times are hard and people consequently are not cheerful. But I hope, in a few months, to get a decent Consulate & shall, if I do so, stick there till the time comes for taking my pension, for I find I am getting old, and this constant moving is too much for me.

So, Goodbye,

Your affectionate Nephew,

Chal Alabaster.’

42. 28 January 1875, Shanghai Club, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘My dear Aunt,

I received and, with greater pleasure than you will give me credit for, your letter and the tobacco pouch, and am delighted to find that you have not forgotten me any more than I have forgotten, or ceased to love you, for, believe me, although I may have seemed to you [word missing][39] or unkind [word missing], I have a [word missing] time caused you, has been felt as severely by myself. Throughout, I have, as I do still, loved you, and it is the greatest happiness that I have felt for the past six years, to find that the clouds that have obscured our affection are breaking at last. Write, like a good old lady and write often, and do not think for a moment that in my more unkind moments I have ever forgotten the Aunt who nursed me through my infancy and childhood.

I am still here nominally attached to the Supreme Court, having in a fit of temper, for which I am sincerely sorry, objected very strongly to take up my post and go into banishment at Formosa. I have paid for my folly and shall pay further, but I trust not in any star or self, but in the goodness and Mercy of My God, and having been taught by Him that the beginning of Wisdom is the Fear of the Lord, as I conform myself, more and more to his Will, I shall rise superior to the troubles and difficulties which surround me, and you may yet hope to see me coming home, well thought of and distinguished to comfort your old ages. I do not know what is to be my destination or what is in store for me but I hear I am to go to Hankow, which is a fine port, giving me the opportunity of useful work. In the meantime, I am living with my old friend, The Rev. Canon Batikes and should spent my days studying law[40], or more often chatting, arguing and planning with Sir Edmund, who, on the strength of my friendship for his late wife, treats me with the greatest confidence, and even affection. I am still too popular among my old community, and although the last three months have had these troubles, I ought not to be discontented.

I hear Percy has married[41], from which I infer that he is prospering. The more grateful news to me that I have been struggling and am still against a strong ebb tide, but I am, thank heaven, still out of debt & hope to be able to aid Charly’s widow in establishing her boys.

Of course, I am in love, & report says, engaged to two young ladies, but one is unkind and won’t look at me, which is fortunate, as with age I am getting uglier & crookeder [sic] than ever, while for the other, although I like her & she likes me, I am inclined to think I should not make the lady happy, so I shall probably come back an old bachelor after all[42].


Your affectionate Nephew,

Chal Alabaster.

P.S. Of course, you know I am a full Consul [Ningpo, April 1873[43]], trusty and well beloved as His Majesty is graciously pleased to say.’

43. 20 January 1876, B.C. Hankow, Chaloner, aged 37, to aunt Ann.

‘My dear Aunt,

I had commenced a long reply to your letter relative to my marriage, but cannot finish it in time to send by this the last opportunity for three weeks, during which we have no steamers to write a hasty line to assure you [that] you do me grave injustice in thinking I am either cruelly or unkindly disposed towards you. It is as great pain to me as it can be to you that we should not be as we once were, and I can only trust that even yet, you will judge me otherwise than you have done. I have not done all for you or others I could have wished, but it has been want of means, not of will, that prevented me, and that I have been throughout struggling & now am hardly able to make ends meet is my justification for many seeming meannesses, but really, merely necessary economies. However, I have no time to defend myself as the mail is closing, so must say goodbye & trust you [are] still well. Believe me,

Your would be as of old,

Chal Alabaster.

44. 31 January 1876, B.C. Hankow, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘My dear Aunt’

I wrote you by last mail to beg you not to think me unkind or unfeeling, as you seem to do, and to express my hope that you might yet do me greater justice than I think you have hitherto done, and my pen has been in my hand more than once since, to write more at length on what has so unhappily [happened]. For I believe both of us changed that old affectionate confidence and trust in one another, but I am afraid that nothing I could write would help, and it is better to continue to suffer in silence than to run the risk of saying something that might (for one cannot give one’s words on paper the tone and feeling with which they are uttered) might offend you more, and widen, rather than narrow, the breach between us. Suffice it, then, dear Auntie, to say that I have always loved you and that I love you now, and if in the past or present I think you have not been quite just to me, I have never had but one feeling in consequence, that of pain that clouds should have arisen between us.

And were I rich instead of poor, I would be just as lavish now as when I thought good fortune had adopted me. I have had no intention of abandoning you, even although wife & child demand provision. Nor, as my conscience acquits me of having ever given you ground of complaint against me in the past, shall I ever give you reasonable ground for thinking me unthoughtful of any duties in the future. Where I have failed, and may fail to satisfy, is where too much is asked of me. £800 a year in China, with the position I occupy to maintain, and with a change every year involving the purchasing of a new house, is a sorry pittance, and if I have up till now kept out of actual debt, it has not been without a struggle and many an act of self denial, even when I seemed most extravagant.

Your affectionate Nephew,

Chal Alabaster.’

45. 29 August 1876, B.C. Amoy, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘My dear Aunt,

Just a line to say Laura presented me with a son & heir last night about 11.45. Both doing well.

Yours affectionately,

Chal Alabaster.

46. 30 October 1876, B.C. Amoy, Chaloner, aged 38, to aunt Ann.

‘My dear Aunt,

I have not heard from home for an age & scarcely know whether there is anyone left there to care about me, but on the chance that you have not forgotten me, send you a photograph of my son. He is a very good little fellow & does not cry too much, but is not, I fancy, more wonderful than other babies, though I think him so.

I am expecting to be turned out here shortly, but Sir Thomas has, to my great, grateful expectation recommended me for the vacant consulate at Chepo, so I hope to be able to settle down at last & have a little rest before I give up work for good.

The Mail is closing, so I have no time for more.

Your affectionate nephew,

Chal Alabaster.

P.S. You must not think I have forgotten you, because hard times have prevented me sending money home. It has been a hard struggle with me to keep my head above water for the past two years, and I am not yet safe in Port.’

47. 12 March 1877, B.C. Amoy, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘My dear Aunt,

The bib arrived safely and gave great pleasure to my wife, who purposes writing herself to thank you for it. The young gentleman has just cut his first tooth and three more are coming. He still, thank heaven, enjoys the best of health, and consequently displays the best of temper, makes his few wants known by the most extraordinary noises &, as he has them instantly attended to, has no excuse for crying. Really, I have never known a child so little of a nuisance to those about him; since his grandmother left, he has been no bother at all.

I am still in doubt at to my movements, but suppose I shall soon know whether I am to be left here, or moved to Ningpo, or Tientsin, and really care very little which it is to be. If I remain here, I could hardly wish for a more agreeable society and prettier place. If I go to Ningpo, I shall be among, & close to, friends, whereas, at Tiensin I shall have the opportunity of securing Shanghai, by & by, when it falls vacant. For my health, which is just a little shaky, I should like to take a run home, but unless I get a windfall, & I see no tree with golden apples to shake, I don’t see how I am to manage it. When the sun shone I lay largely on the haycocks I made in the first few days, and my winter provision is short in consequence. However, I have much to be thankful for, & what I have to complain of is all my own fault.

Henry, by last accounts seems prospering & he tells me Percy is so too, so if the luck pecuniary has deserted me for the time being, I am happy to think others of the family have got a share of it.

Yours affectionately,

Chal Alabaster.’

48. 27 June 1877, B.C. Amoy, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

‘My dear Aunt,

I was so glad to receive your letter telling me of the dispatch of the Pelisse[44] which reached me two days ago, for it was so long since I had heard from home that I was wondering, I indeed, worrying to know how all were getting on. Happily, all seems well & prospering and [missing] it is cloudy [missing] I have the satisfaction of knowing that the clouds are merrily local. I am struggling with the misfortune my cleverness has brought on me, & which by God’s guidance I hope soon to overcome, & it was no light relief to me to get, 1st a cheerful letter from Henry to the effect that he was prospering, & then to hear from you that you were well & happy that Katy was prospering, & as I see from the papers, Mary’s husband is getting on. I had nothing to worry me more than my own troubles, which, as I said before, I hope are not insurmountable, God helping & sustaining me. And when I am once more settled down, although we will have to economise dreadfully, I have no doubt I shall be as happy as a king again, for a wife & child are all I could have prayed for, she the best of women, he the healthiest of children. The hardship is that, although I admit the justice of God is disturbing my ungrateful security, I must assert the injustice of man in the way I have been treated, but, as I have always found, I doubt not it will turn out to my ultimate advantage. I need these lessons every now & then, unfortunately.

I have been dreadfully unsettled the last 3 months, going, 1st to Wenchow to open the New Port, & unfortunately selling off all my furniture here, then on to Shanghai, then back here, & now I am hesitating whether to settle down here again or live on in boxes till my ultimate destination is determined, as they tell me I am probably to go to Tientsin in the Autumn. It is a great shame that one should be treated with such want of consideration, but I have not always been the most considerate of others feelings, so it is retributive justice, & for the very few good actions of my life, I must say I have indirectly reached many mercies. I only want now someone to leave me 2000 a year & we would all of us live happily ever after.

Your affectionate Nephew,

Chal Alabaster,

P.S. I expect Laura & all out a fortnight.’

49. 8 August 1877, Shanghai, Laura A. Alabaster to Mrs. Criddle,

‘My dear Mrs. Criddle,

I do not feel as if I was addressing a stranger when writing to you, for I have heard you always as affectionately spoken of by my dear husband – and I cannot forget that you were really a mother to him from his early years – Some day I hope we may meet – I should so much like to show you our dear little Cecil. I enclose his photograph, which has just been taken: it does not show his sweet bright smile & dimples, but a child of that age is difficult to take. The Ahmah [i.e., nurse] held him while I stood at a distance trying to amuse him – I have been waiting to send you the likeness before writing my best thanks for your very pretty present to this dear little fellow. The Pelisse fits him so nicely, and the second bib is as pretty as the first – you so kindly sent – he wears the little suit & blue sash constantly in the afternoon when going to the Public Gardens. The weather has been cool this summer – so he only wears low-necked & short-sleeved frocks in the house. I wish he could kiss you and thank you for making him the Pelisse – himself – but I have to do so for him at present. I value it all the more highly for its having been worked by yourself – The beautiful picture you have sent me I have had framed and will prize all my life – the face of the little girl is particularly sweet – and the whole subject is interesting & attractive. I asked my dear husband to write to you as soon as the parcel came; I hope he did. So. I came up with baby in the spring when he went to open “Wenchow” – he afterwards joined us here for three weeks, returning to Amoy in June – I expected to have followed him, long ere this, but first a new roof was being put on our house at Amoy – and when that was ready, the Doctor there would not have my husband send for us on account of the outbreak of Cholera – but now he has given his consent & I start with baby – in two or three days – I have had in the meantime a long visit with my dear Parents – and the only thing I regret in being stationed at Amoy is that we are far from them. We hopefully may come to a northern port next spring. The climate at Amoy is more like that of Italy – and it is a picturesque little spot with its many curious rocks with boulders – and blue water & sandy beaches.

Dear Baby is getting on very nicely. He has just cut his eighth tooth & can nearly walk alone – he is very merry and active – and, I hope & pray, will grow up to be a good man.

I enclose a tiny lock of his hair; it is light, & curls prettily in his neck; his skin is very fair & his eyes are brown.

I hope you will pardon me for writing all this brief; I thought you would like to know what your little great-nephew was like – I shall ever regard you with love.

Hoping you are keeping well,

Believe me,


Laura A. Alabaster.

I enclose a note to Mrs. Cuff; will you kindly forward.’

50. 10 November 1877, B.C. Amoy, Chaloner, aged 39, to aunt Ann.

‘My dear Aunt,

I just send a line to wish you a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year, as the steamers just leaving, will reach home just in time to enable me to do so.

I am still here, very uncertain as to my movements, and in consequence, very unsettled & uncomfortable, but thank heaven all three of us have good health, and it will, I doubt not, end all right if I can manage it. I shall try to stop out a couple of years more & then probably come home for good.

My wife is far more than I could properly have looked for, the sweetest tempered of women and we are as happy in our married life as it is possible to be, and Master Cecil is a particularly well regulated young man, cuts his teeth rapidly & without trouble, has no sicknesses beyond an occasional cold, laughs a good deal, sleeps ditto, runs about wonderfully, & cries very little. His mother thinks him wonderfully intelligent & I allow he is far less trouble than most children I have met.

I have had a peck [i.e., a great deal] of troubles during the year, but many blessings also to be thankful for, & hope the time is not far distant when I shall have the holiday to which I think my long service entitles me.

Yours affectionate Nephew,

Chal Alabaster.’

51. 8 May 1878, Amoy, Laura Alabaster to Mrs. Criddle.

‘My dear Mrs. Criddle,

I have been waiting to write to you until I could find you a photograph of our dear Cecil – I did not like the last one, which my husband sent you. The poor little fellow was tired and afraid of the camera – so his expression was not at all happy – this is a better likeness – I enclose also a little curl to show you the colour of his hair; his eyes are brown, not very dark – As my eyes are a greyish blue, and his dear Papa’s also – I suppose he inherited that colour from my husband’s mother. My parents have blue eyes, although nearly all my mother’s family have large dark eyes – Cecil is unusually tall for his age – he measured two inches less than three feet when he was 18 months old. I wish I could let you see him – I am sure you would love him very soon. But I must not weary you with too long an account of your little great-nephew.

We were very grieved to hear how ill you had been, & also Dr. Greeves [sic]. I hope, as the winter seems to have been a comparatively mild one in England that you have quite recovered from the severe attack – but you will have to be very careful for a long time. I nursed my dear Mother through a similar illness, just the winter before I was married, & I know how long it was before she regained her strength

We are still feeling unsettled, for Mr. Pedder’s leave is up this month – and he does not say whether he is coming, or is going to remain at home until after the Summer. My dear husband has orders to proceed to Canton and take charge there when Mr. P does come – he expected to have gone to Shintsin – but it seems we are to be moved about indefinitely – however, I am a little afraid the winter so far north would be too severe for my husband & our dear boy. One or two friends who have lately seen the former, after an interval of three weeks, say they have never seen him look so well as he does now – and that makes me feel quite happy.

We were very glad to have the pretty photograph of Mrs. Rion – it has been admired a great deal!

The painting you so kindly did for me, ornaments our drawing-room & I value greatly the pique coat & caps you made & suit Cecil – was most useful – he wore it until November – and it is in perfect order now though he has outgrown it – I think it will, by & by, be used for another little one.

Cecil & his Papa have fine plays together in our large hall, and I often think it would amuse you to see them – I hope your son, his wife – and their dear little boys [check who they are] are well.

With out united love to you & a kiss from Cecil.

I remain, dear Mrs. Criddle,

Your affectionate

Laura A. Alabaster.’

52. 13 June 1878, B.C. Amoy, Chaloner to aunt Ann.

My dear Aunt,

Cecil received this morning your very beautiful present and will, I hope, a year or two hence, be able to thank you for it. They take his fancy immensely, and are the very best alphabet I have seen. If the means existed out here, I should have them lithographed for the benefit of other little people.

My orders are changed again and I am told that I shall probably be allowed to take up my post when Pedder comes out in the winter. It is perfectly shameful treating me as they have done, but for my wife’s sake I am glad we are not to be moved for the next few months, and Amoy is certainly a splendid place for children. So, I suppose I ought not to complain.

Did I send you the last photo? If I did, give the enclosed to whomever I have neglected who cares to have it.

Your affectionate nephew,

(in haste)

Chal Alabaster.’

53. 3 December 1878, B.C. Amoy, Chaloner, aged 40, to aunt Ann (edged in black).

‘My dear Aunt

I write in the greatest sorrow of my life in the loss of my first born who has been taken from me when I least thought he was in danger, a fortnight ago. He was full of health and spirits, and I was congratulating myself that, with the teeth he was cutting, all his childhood troubles would be over, and especially in the thought that I was left here for the winter & should not have to expose him to the rigours of a northern climate. When we feel most secure, we are in the greatest danger. I looked forward for a delightful winter, and pictured him daily becoming daily more a portion of my life, if that were possible. The next day he was laid up, we thought with cold. In the middle of the night, I went for the doctor, not liking the way he was breathing, and by Sunday morning he was dead. Indeed, but for the skill of the doctors he would have died on the Thursday.

As you may imagine, I am nearly heartbroken, & neither the consolation of Religion or Philosophy are thoroughly availing, although I strive to take comfort from both and I find more relief in turning to temporary forgetfulness in work, than even on the kind sympathy of friends or the love and affection of my dear wife. It is disheartening indeed though I should be thankful that I have been allowed so great a blessing as, for the last year of his little life, my darling has been to me. The promise of his future in this world is broken, but if our relief be well founded, he is happier, far than he would have been had he been spared us, and we may yet hope to see him in the Glory hereafter.

It is some time since I heard of any of you at home, and sorrow makes my heart yearn to you all. I trust, indeed, you will have a happier Christmas and Merrier New Year than I would endure to pass in my present melancholy.

Yours affectionate nephew,

Chal Alabaster.’

54. 8 May 1879, Amoy, Laura Alabaster to Mrs Criddle, (edged in black).

‘My dear Mrs Criddle,

Several times I have sat down at my desk to write to you, but as often had to give it up – even now it is hard to write about our darling boy.

Your sweet letters to my dear husband – and myself – on the birth or our little Rupert, and on the death of our Cecil – were much appreciated, and I feel I have been very wrong in not replying to them long ago – I hope you will forgive me – and, believe me that it is not from any want of thought of you – but only because I dreaded writing of our bitter grief – We know our child is safe and in a happier home than we would ever have given him, and that thought has helped us to bear this blow. But the blank in our home here has been dreadful. Thank God our little Rupert is well. His happy little face has often cheered our hearts when nothing else could have given us comfort – he is a fine big boy for his age – I wish you could see him, but I trust some day we shall have the pleasure of showing him to you; he has a beautifully fair skin, and fair hair – with large, bright, blue eyes – and a very merry smile – his complexion and expression when he laughs is very like his dear brother’s, but Cecil’s beautiful eyes were dark – and I think must have been like those of my husband’s mother, as you described them.

The very beautiful Alphabet you painted and sent was a source of delight to our loved Cecil – and is now treasured up for Rupert – I wish we could have a proper likeness of our dear boy. My husband intends sending home the best photograph we have of him to be copied and enlarged.

I was so sorry to hear that you had been ill, but last winter seems to have been particularly severe in England – and I hope the spring and summer weather will quite restore you. I am glad to hear such interesting accounts of your dear little grandsons.

We are expecting to be moved shortly to Hankow – I shall like it on some accounts, but this place is very dear to us now from its association with our dear Cecil, and I shall miss the sea and pretty views.

Miss Gordon Cumnding who is travelling round the world on a sketching tour – was charmed with the scenery and made some good sketches from this Island. (Ku-lang-su?)

My dear husband intends to write to you very soon – With kind regards to Dr. Greeves and all his family – & to your son [Percy] and daughter – and hoping to hear soon you are [the rest is missing].

55. 15 February 1880, Hankow, Laura Alabaster to Mrs. Criddle (edged in black).

‘My dear Mrs. Criddle,

I have thought of you very often, and ought to have replied sooner to your last kind letter, but it came just after a visit I had paid to my dear father in his desolate home, and I had a number of letters to write to my relations and my dear mother’s friends regarding their sympathy in our loss – so each mail I have postponed writing to you – hoping to give you a more cheerful letter.

I hope my dear husband has written to you. I know he talked of doing so when he heard of his uncle’s [John Greaves] death, and I think he wrote to Ada [his daughter] – he felt deeply that sad news – and so often says he wishes he could have seen his Uncle once more – and talks to me of his great and invariable kindness.

I hope the very severe weather that seems to have prevailed in England this winter has not tried you very much – but, I fear you have had to shut yourself up a great deal.

You, of course, heard of the sad summer we had last year – the illness and death of my loved Mother in August last when both my dear husband & our little Rupert were very ill – it seemed at one time as if God was going to take them from me as well, and it was hard to bear up amidst such anxiety and grief – but we do not know what we can pass through and live until the dark days come – when strength is given. The Northern winter has been very beneficial to us all, & we are quite well – I enclose a photograph taken recently of Rupert & myself. It is very like our dear boy – only it does not show his pretty complexion and merry laugh – he is not as lovely a child as our darling Cecil – but is a fine boy – and very loving & happy tempered – he has fair light golden hair – nice large blue eyes – a good mouth – fair skin & rosy cheeks –

By each mail now we expect the Consular promotions to come out, but I imagine we shall be left here for the present.

I hope your son, his wife and her little boys are well. We have not heard of Mr. & Mrs Henry Alabaster [of Siam] for a very long time. It is said the King of Siam intends to go to Hong Kong shortly for a visit. I hope, if my brother-in-law accompanies him – he will take leave and come on to see us.

General & Mrs. Grant[45] told me last spring – they were charmed with Mr. & Mrs H[enry] A[labaster] and seemed to appreciate their kindness and attention.

My husband is so busy in his office writing his Trade report today that I do not like to disturb him to say I am writing to you – but am sure he would join me in sending [his] love –

Believe me –

Affectionately yours,

Laura A. Alabaster’

56. 22 November 1880, H. B. M’s Consulate, Hankow, China, Laura Alabaster to Mrs Criddle.

‘My dear Mrs Criddle,

I cannot let the “New Year mail” reach England without writing to wish you a very Happy new Year – and I do trust some day to have the pleasure of seeing you – my husband still talks of our going to England this ‘coming spring, but when the time draws near he may, after all, decide to postpone it until the following one. I was very glad to have your kind letter – it came just as I was recovering after dear little baby’s birth – and, as soon as I could bear the journey, we all were ordered away by the Doctors – we did not make a long stay in Shanghai – as we all were feeling much stronger and the great heat had broken. However, I stopped on the way back at Chinkiang with some friends for ten days –The hills at that part are so near the settlement that we could enjoy country walks and rides every day. It did both Rupert & I good. Still, I was glad to settle down at home again, & have been very truly getting everything ready for the winter – the children’s clothing and the house affairs – & entertaining various guests. You have heard from my dear husband of Baby’s arrival – he is a fine little fellow now of nearly four months old. His name is Chaloner Grenville – we had him christened by Dean Butcher when in Shanghai – I think he will grow to look like our darling Cecil – he has the same large dark hazel eyes. Rupert’s are blue – I trust these two dear boys will be spared to us – Rupert is just getting to a most interesting age and is a delight to his dear Father and Grandfather.

I nurse Baby myself, but feel it is rather pulling me down – so I have commenced giving him the bottle once a day.

I can imagine what a great pet your dear little Granddaughter must be. I hope she and her brothers are all well. What a sad time of illness and anxiety you had in the spring, dear Mrs. Criddle. I trust the coming year will bring happiness and health to you all – We were glad to hear Mrs. Greeves [sic] and Ada (I suppose I may call her so) have a pleasant time. I hope too they are stronger.

I wish your little grandsons and their sisters could be at our Christmas Tree on 24th, which we are to have for all the children in the settlement – We are very busy in preparing various things for it and hope all the little people will enjoy themselves – On Christmas Day we give a large dinner party to the English members of the Community. I should be so glad if we could only have you present too – I often think of all you did for my dear husband – from his babyhood –

With united love,

Believe me,

Affectionately yours,

Laura A. Alabaster.’

List of photographs (numbered on the back in pencil)

1 Photograph of Cecil Osborne Alabaster at 2 months, with his mother, Laura. Printed on back, ‘Photographer China’. Sent by Chaloner to his aunt, October 1876 (see Letter No. 46)
2. Photograph of Cecil Osborne Alabaster, July 1877. Inscribed on back, ‘For Mrs. Criddle… .Little Cecil Osborne Alabaster (11 months old) With love from L[aura]. A. A[labaster]. July 1877’. Note added in pencil ‘born Aug 28 1876, d{ied 18]78’ (see letter No. 45) Sent by Laura Alabaster to Chaloner’s aunt/ (see Letter No. 49 which mentions his being held by the Almah).
3. Photograph of Cecil Osborne Alabaster. Printed on back, ‘Shing Sang Photographer Amoy’ & Chinese characters indicating ‘basic image creation’. Sent by Laura to Mrs. Criddle (see Letter No. 51)
4. Probably ‘the best photograph we have of him’ (Cecil Osborne Alabaster). Printed on back, ‘Shing Sang Photographer Amoy’ & Chinese characters indicating ‘basic image creation’. Sent by Laura to Mrs Criddle (see Letter No. 54)
5 & 6. Photographs of Chaloner in theatrical costume. Printed on back, ‘Ye Chung Photographer, Portrait Painter. &c. Corner Foochow & Kiangse Rd., Shanghai. (see oblique reference in Letter No. 40)

Paper used in the letters (white and folded in half to form four sides unless otherwise stated)

Letter No. Width (cm) Length (cm) Paper thickness Notes (tentative readings of watermarks and embossing included)
Tissue Thin Thick
1 16.3 20.1 * Not folded in half. Watermark, a stylised animal in a roundel.
2 10.8 13.5 *
3 13 20.4 * Not folded in half; embossed in top left corner ‘O&h’?
4 13.5 21.4 *
5 13.5 21.5 *
6 21.7 27 *
7 13.2 21 *
8 20 24.9 *
9 21.2 26.5 *
10 10.5 13.2 *
11 22.4 35.4 *
12 13.3 20.9 * Not folded in half.
13 13.2 21.1 * Purple/mauve; Not folded in half.
14 12.5 20 * Blue. Watermark, ‘A PIRIE & SONS 1834; Not folded in half.
15 20 25.1 * Blue. Watermark, ‘A PIRIE & SONS 1834; Not folded in half.
16 22.3 36 * Slightly thicker than No. 17; Not folded in half. Watermark, elaborate, with crown, hanging horn.
17 22.3 36 * Folded & embossed, ‘A Grange 3 Holborn Bars & New Road’; extra half page.
18 26.9 41.9 * Watermark, as No 16., elaborate, with crown, hanging horn.
19 24.5 40 *
20 26.6 43 *
21 20.3 25.2 * Folded & embossed with a bird breathing fire & ‘Commersia P & P’
22 20.3 25.2 * Folded & embossed with a bird breathing fire & ‘Commersia P & P’
23 26.8 42 *
24 20.3 25.2 * Folded & embossed with a bird breathing fire & ‘Commersia P & P’. Writing starting on consecutive pages, not alternately as earlier.
25 19.9 26.3 * Folded as own envelope. Watermark, crown and roundel
26 20.1 24.9 * 2 sheets. Watermark, crown and roundel, as No. 16
27 20 26.2 * Folded as own envelope and sealed with a small gummed integral flap; opening of letter missing. Watermark, crown and roundel, as Nos. 16 & 26
28 18.1 22.9 * Watermark, ‘RSH TURKEY MILL 1861’
29 20 24.7 * Watermark, crown and roundel, as Nos. 16. 26 & 27
30 13.5 21 *
31 18.2 22.5 * Blue
32 18 22.8 * Watermark, ‘CANSELL’
33 20.8 27.1 * Watermark, ‘L-JDL&Cº’
34 15.8 19.7 * Piece torn out of top edge, probably an embossed area.
35 18 22.4 * Embossed area cut out. Watermark. ‘A. PIRIE & SONS 1862’
36 13.5 20.9 * Not folded; 3 sheets cross-written on back
37 21.2 26.4 * . Folded but written on one side only. Watermark, ‘L-JDL&Cº’ as No. 33.
38 20.2 25.1 * Embossed, ‘Bury Cross Gosport’. Watermark, ‘A. ANNANDALE&SONS’
39 20.2 25.1 * Watermark, ‘A ANNANDALE&SONS
39a 18 22.4 * Embossed, ‘Bury Cross, Gosport’ Watermark, ‘JOYNSON 1871’
40 20.5 25.4 * Blue
41 18.2 22.9 * Govt. embossment
42 22.0 25 * Embossed area cut out of page 1; embossed roundel, ‘Shanghai Club’ (in red), enclosing two characters indicating ‘General Club’.
43 20.7 26.3 * Watermark, ’L-JDJ&C°’; Chinese signature stamped in blue[46].
44 20.7 26.3 * Watermark, ’L-JDJ&C°’; Chinese signature stamped in blue.
45 13 20.7 * Half sheet. Chinese signature, stamped in red
46 18.5 23 * Govt. embossed
47 20.1 25.2 * Watermark,’TOWGOOD’S EXTRA SURER’. Chinese signature, as above, stamped in blue
48 18.4 23.1 * Govt. embossed (torn out of first page.
49 20.7 25.4 * Chinese signature, but stamped in blue.
50 18.3 22.8 * Govt. embossed.
51 21.5 26.9 *
52 18.3 23 * Govt. embossed.
53 18 22.7 * Black-edged.
54 18 22.7 * Black-edged. Watermark, ‘WATERIOWS’’, over a roundel, over ‘LONDON’ and ‘Royal English Vellum’.
55 18 22.7 * Black-edged
56 15.5 19.4 * Watermark Crown over intertwined ‘DLR’[De La Rue];




  1. Alabaster, Adrian (1999) A Quintet of Alabasters. Able Publishing, 259 pp.
  2. Alabaster, John S, (in preparation) Sir Chaloner Alabaster Correspondence, 1840-1880, Occasional Monograph, No. 2. The Alabaster Society.
  3. He sailed on 4 August and arrived in Hong Kong early in October (See Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.).
  4. It was a deep-water anchorage used by the British as a staging post for the opium trade, and taken by them as a free port at the end of the first Opium War (1839-42) when it’s occupancy was ratified by the Treaty of Nanking. The treaty, furthermore, granted extraterritorial rights to the British at the Treaty Ports of Canton, and farther north at Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo and Shanghai (see Calaeb Carr (1992) The Devil Soldier. Random House, New York, 366 pp.
  5. Probably King’s College School where Chaloner and his brothers had all attended.
  6. Among the Chinese dogs were regarded as little more than a source of meat.
  7. A Roman historian writing on eminent commanders.
  8. Despite (or even because of) the Treaties, there was considerable hostility between China and their foreign guests in Canton, as elsewhere, culminating in an Anglo-French force marching on the city in December 1857 and resulting in a further treaty signed the following June (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit.).
  9. The letter mentions Henry having gone to Siam, but the diary records Henry not arriving in Hong Kong until 9 October 1857 (see Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.).
  10. The Taiping Rebellion was waged against the Manchu Imperial Government from 1850 to 1864 (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit.).
  11. See P.S. to letter No.16 of 24 August 1857 in which he agrees not to pursue her.
  12. Chaloner mentioned in his diary his idea of collecting and describing the indigenous grasses (see Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.).
  13. Chaloner later confides to his diary (24 September) his intention to fall in love with Miss Irwin (see Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.).
  14. The humiliating 1842 Treaty of Nanking that established British consulates in five ‘Treaty Ports’.
  15. Yeh Ming-Chen, Imperial Commissioner was later apprehended by the British and put under ‘restricted residence’ and deported to Calcutta, with Chaloner as his escort (see Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.).
  16. See E. C. Clayton (1876) English Female Artists, Vol. 2, kindly supplied by Ann Kenyon.
  17. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1988. Guild Publishing
  18. Goring, Rosemary (1992) Ed. Chambers Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions. BCA, London, p. 420.
  19. The date is written clearly enough, but the letter is inconsistent with letters written to his aunt in October 1857 (No. 17) about his uncle’s illness, and in December 1857 (No.19) about his uncle’s death.
  20. Chaloner was much occupied with Yeh, and his own education, writing and social life, and did not return to Hong Kong until 11 July 1859 (see Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.).
  21. This may have been about the plan of the British minister in China, Frederick Bruce to go to Peking for treaty ratification (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit.).
  22. The arrogance of Bruce & the French representative prevented treaty ratification and resulted in their defeat by the Chinese at Taku in June 1859 (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit.).
  23. See Adrian Alabaster (loc. cit.).
  24. An Anglo-Chinese salutation,
  25. This may refer to the Allied attack on Chia-ting on 23 October, the only Taiping rebel stronghold left in the Shanghai 30-mile radius. Chaloner had already been involved in the defence of Shanghai, for instance: on 20-21 February 1862 he accompanied an Anglo-French force, together with Chinese soldiers under the command of Colonel Ward to attack a strategic town downstream of Shanghai; in May he had experienced rebel fire under a flag of truce; and he was involved in the last of more than a dozen battles fought near Shanghai during the rest of the year (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit. and Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.).
  26. Colonel Ward died on 21 September during the expedition to defend Ningpo from the Taiping (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit.).
  27. Probably Fugi Yama (Mount Fugi).
  28. These are well described by Edward Morse (1888) Japanese Homes. London, Samson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivngton. 372 pp.
  29. On 17 June he set sail for home to recuperate and returned in February 1864 (see Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.).
  30. The French, rather than the British were in the ascendancy at Ningpo (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit.).
  31. By this time the Taiping rebellion was over. Major Gordon had taken command of the demoralised ‘Ever Victorious Army’ of Chinese in March 1863 and (with considerable administrative support from Chaloner) had forced the surrender of the rebels at Soochow in December. Finally the rebel leader had taken poison on 3 June 1864 (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit.).
  32. Probably Horatio Nelson Lay one time head of the Imperial Chinese Customs Service, described as ‘a remarkably arrogant and ambitious man’ (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit.).
  33. Chaloner’s remark may stem from Percy’s engagement in February 1863, at the age of 19, to Elise Harrer in Heidelberg and his mother’s refusal to permit him to marry (see Vane, Oriole (2003) ‘Chips of Alabasters:…’: My Great German Search. Alabaster Chronicle No 21, pp. 10-23:).
  34. See Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.
  35. Briefly commanding Shanghai Chinese forces in 1863, he failed dismally (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit.).
  36. On 9 October Chaloner learned at Yarmouth that Ada had been untrue to him and had broken off the engagement at her request, and on 5 November, en route back to Shanghai he had heard from her that she was engaged to another (see Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.). ‘Grandmama’ was probably an alias.
  37. Holland’s understanding and approach to this delicate situation seem to mirror those of his military endeavours that were based upon brute force and a disastrous disregard for tactics (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit.).
  38. Chaloner’s involvement in the Amateur Dramatic Club as a founding member is referred to, in his obituary (see Angela Alabaster, loc. cit.), and as a performer, in his diary (see Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.).
  39. The missing words appear to be the fortuitous result of someone tearing out the red, embossed roundel of the Shanghai Club, rather than deliberately attempting to remove them.
  40. His youngest son, Ernest, subsequently wrote ‘Notes and commentaries on Chinese criminal law…’ (1899), based on his father’s notes (British Library Shelf No. 05319 I 23) and further notes in the Shanghai Mercury, 1906, p.89 (No. 05319 ee 33).
  41. Percy Criddle had married Alice Nicol on 8 September 1874, but he had also had six children by Elise, and both women were pregnant in January 1875 (see Oriole Vane Veldhuis, loc. cit.).
  42. In fact he had met Laura Macgowan in January 1872, by February 1875 he was ‘really getting in love’ with her, and they married in September (see Adrian Alabaster, loc. cit.).. She was the daughter of Dr. Daniel Jerome Macgowan, an American Baptist missionary and physician who also acted as a reliable journalist (see Caleb Carr, loc. cit.).
  43. See Adrian Alabaster, loc cit.
  44. A long over garment, probably, in this case for the child for outdoors.
  45. General Grant was mentioned by Henry’s wife Palacia in a letter from Bangkok to ‘Auntie’ Criddle in May 1879; writing to her earlier (June 1877) she enquires after Miss Grant [From letters owned and kindly shown by Nan Kenyon, October 1993]
  46. The same stamp used in all cases (Letters Nos. 43, 44, 45, 47 & 49).

One thought on “Transcript of Sir Chaloner Alabaster Correspondence, 1840-1880”

Leave a Reply