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Voyage to China: To China and back


Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Delaware Library Special Collections. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

George Arthur Gray was a young nineteenth-century American sailor who traveled from the United States to China, leaving Boston in 1863 and returning in 1866, aboard two trading vessels. On the outbound trip, Gray sailed on the Barque Dorchester under the command of Captain Fulton, and on the return voyage, he served on the Nabob under Captain Pettengill. Gray worked as captain's boy, seaman, steward, and boatswain.

The Dorchester sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and carried a cargo of boxes, bales, lumber, coal, pickles, crackers, a cabinet-organ, and tea. Once in China, both ships on which Gray served traded goods such as sugar, preserved ginger, root licorice, stick cinnamon, and paper between several Chinese ports. Gray's departure from China was delayed due to concern of naval conflicts with Confederate vessels at the tail-end of the Civil War.

Biographical information derived from the collection.

These four volumes contain three handwritten variations of the travel narrative of nineteenth-century American sailor George Arthur Gray recorded on his round trip voyage from Boston to China between March 1863 and May 1866. The original diary entries were expanded into a full narrative, which Gray apparently hoped to publish. The narrative focuses on Chinese social customs, the Chinese coast, and the details of a sailor's life.

The four volumes include a daily diary and two later narrative versions which were based on the diary. Volume four appears to be a fair copy (of the entire narrative in volumes 2 and 3) which was prepared for an intended publisher, “Boston, Dee & Shepard. Publisher’s.” Volume four also bears the information “Concord, Aug. 1, 1869.”

Volume one appears to be the original daily diary that Gray maintained on his voyage. An accomplished ink sketch with flourished title lettering faces the title page and one additional drawing is found within the text. This volume is filled with eighty-seven pages of autograph diary entries. These were short entries from March 29, 1863, through the end of the year, most only a few sentences long. Beginning in 1864, the entries were longer. This volume continued until May 8, 1866 (on page seventy-one). Several pages of "notes" refer to and expand upon earlier entries in the volume.

Volume two is titled "Voyage to China. To China, and back: Being an account of what occurred on board the barque Dorchester on the passage out; also giving an account of some of the curious manners and customs, religion &c of the Chinese. A description of the Empire and some of the cities and seaport towns. Volume First." It consists of 107 pages, a table of contents outlining the contents of ten chapters in this first volume. There is a full-page inked drawing in the front of the manuscript and seven additional drawings illustrating text throughout the volume. The drawings primarily depict ships or buildings on the coast.

Volume three is a continuation of the narrative of the previous volume; in addition to the full title, it is identified as "Volume Second." The volume also has a detailed ink drawing on the inside cover. This volume includes chronological diary entries, two hand-drawn maps, one of Swatow, and several drawings including an opium pipe. There is a list of Chinese characters and figures symbolizing numbers from one to 100 as well as a list of words with their definitions. The diary entries filled about 100 pages followed by four pages of contents and an additional short narrative.

Volume four has a different entry on the title page, "Voyage to China. To China and Back. Being a series of incidents that befell the writer on a three years cruise to China Also giving an account of some of the curious manner’s and customs of these ancient and superstitious people – a description of the Empire, and some of the most important cities and seaport towns. Boston, Dee & Shepard, Publisher’s." His introduction was dated August 1, 1869. This volume has 228 filled pages, 219 of which include much of the text from volumes two and three, followed by the table of contents. There are no autograph maps and only one sketch (the opium pipe). There are also three undated news clippings about China affixed to the blank pages in the back of the volume and two folded, published maps of Hong Kong (1866) and Amoy Harbour (1865).

All four volumes have leather spines and paper covers. They vary in height from twenty to twenty-two centimeters in height. The cover of volume two is loose. The spines of volumes one, two and three are damaged, and there are several loose pages in each. Otherwise all volumes are in good condition with autograph notes in ink. Several clippings about China were pasted into the back of volume four and a "card of a Chinese mandarin" is laid in volume two.

University of Delaware. Library.

Self works : diaries, scrapbooks, and other autobiographical efforts : catalog of an exhibition, August 19, 1997-December 18, 1997 : guide to selected sources. Newark, Del. : Special Collections, Hugh M. Morris Library, University of Delaware Library, 1997.

  1. Item 0030: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0097


Processed and encoded by Lynda Gillow, June 2007. Upgraded by E. Evan Echols, March 2015.

University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2007 June 27
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Collection Inventory

Voyage to China: To China and back, 1863-1869. 4 volumes.
Item 0030
Physical Description

4 volumes

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