Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
China Diary, 1859-1860

Finding aid created by
Richard C. Bates, October 2006, and Meg Hixon, January 2012

Summary Information
Title: China diary
Creator: Anonymous
Inclusive dates: 1859-1860
Extent: 1 volume
This diary chronicles the author's sea voyage from New York to China in the spring of 1859, as well as his life in Shanghai between July 1859 and July 1860. At sea, he detailed the daily weather, scenery, and life onboard the ship, and in Shanghai he described his everyday life as a doctor and shared numerous observations on the effects of foreign trade on the country, local missionary efforts, and military conflict between the British and Chinese.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1985. M-2238.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

China Diary, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The author of this diary, a doctor, traveled onboard the American clipper N. B. Palmer from New York to Shanghai, China, between 1859 and 1860, leaving his wife and children in the United States. In Shanghai, he met his brother, a doctor who had previously relocated to China, and the pair provided medical services for the crews of arriving ships, as well as for local residents. Though his brother eventually left, he remained in Shanghai until at least July 1860.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This diary (289 pages) chronicles the author's sea voyage from New York to China in the spring of 1859, as well as his life in Shanghai between July 1859 and July 1860. The first entry, dated February 28, 1859, opens with the author embarking for China on the N. B. Palmer , an American clipper under a Captain Frisbie. Over the next several months, he recorded daily observations of the weather and of life onboard the ship, including the captain's occasional harsh treatment of the crew. In addition to recording daily measurements of latitude and longitude, he occasionally described the scenery as the ship rounded the Cape of Good Hope and made its way to China by way of Indonesia. After a brief stop on Java in mid-May, the ship proceeded to Hong Kong, where it arrived on June 11 to discharge its cargo. During his brief time in Hong Kong, the author noted several aspects of local life, including the influence of foreign missionaries. On June 27, the N. B. Palmer departed Hong Kong bound for Shanghai, which it reached on July 4 amid Independence Day celebrations. Once in Shanghai, the diarist recorded his impressions of the city and incidents from his medical career, which included administering vaccinations as well as caring for the sick. The diary contains many references to political affairs and to the local efforts of foreign missionaries; much of the political focus is on the influence of Great Britain, particularly after the escalation of the Second Opium War. In addition to political commentary and descriptions of his daily life as a doctor, the diarist occasionally expressed his hope that Christianity would eventually win over the locals. The author remained in Shanghai until at least July 21, 1860, the date of his final entry. Two items laid into the volume include an undated note of thanks for the doctor's services (pp. 58-59) and a sheet of paper containing two Chinese characters (pp. 90-91).

Subject Terms

    • China--History--Foreign intervention, 1857-1861.
    • China--Foreign relations--Great Britain.
    • Great Britain--Foreign relations--China.
    • Hong Kong (China)--Description and travel.
    • Medicine--Practice.
    • Missions--China.
    • Nathaniel B. Palmer (Ship)
    • Ocean travel.
    • Shanghai (China)--Description and travel.
    • Shanghai (China)--Religious life and customs.
    • Transatlantic voyages.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    China diary,  1859-1860 [series]