The past and future of British relations in China.

Edinburgh and London, William Blackwood & Sons, 1860.

Small 8vo, pp. vi, [2], 184, with 2 folding maps, lacking the folding map of China; a remarkably clean copy in red pebble-grained cloth by Edmonds & Remnants of London (binder’s ticket to lower pastedown), boards blind-blocked, spine lettered in gilt with gilt ornaments, brown endpapers, uncut and opened by hand; somewhat bumped at caps and corners, a few faint marks, hinges cracked; ink presentation inscription to half-title, ‘The Viscount Palmerston &c &c, with the author’s respectful compliments ... Aug 30/60’, pastedown signed ‘Palmerston'.


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Presentation copy of the first edition of Osborn’s short work on British relations with China, informed by his service with the Royal Navy in China in 1840-42 and 1857-58 and partially drawing on his earlier articles for Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and the Royal Geographical Society. Published at the end of the Second Opium War (1856-60), the present copy is inscribed to and signed by the then Prime Minister, Viscount Palmerston, who counted among his achievements as Foreign Secretary the opening of China to British trade through the First Opium War some twenty years previously.

‘An intelligent and resourceful officer,’ Captain Sherard Osborn (1822-1875) had ‘a brilliant, if unconventional, career, largely devoted to the projection of power from the sea against the shore’ (ODNB). He rose very quickly in the Navy on his early trips to the Far East, commanding his own ship by the age of seventeen, though his later return met with somewhat less success: after leading six steamers to China in 1863 for the service of the Chinese government, he resigned on hearing that his orders would not be received directly from the imperial government and returned to England.

In addition to three periods in China, he served with distinction in the Black Sea during the Crimean War, being appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath and to the Ottoman Order of the Mejidiye (fourth class) and receiving the cross of the Légion d’honneur. His greatest fame, however, is likely derived from his involvement in the search for Sir John Franklin, commanding the Pioneer in the Arctic expeditions of 1850-51 and 1852-54 and publishing Stray Leaves from an Arctic Journal (1852), The Discovery of a North-West Passage … by Captain M’Clure (1856), and The Career, Last Voyage, and Fate of Captain Sir John Franklin (1860).

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