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Ernest Mason Satow: An Essay

Sir Ernest Mason Satow, British diplomat and renowned Japanologist, was a lynchpin of Anglo-Chinese and Anglo-Japanese relations in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During his long diplomatic career, Satow wrote many books on the region, including several on Japan during the transition from rule by the Tokugawa shogunate back to imperial power in the Meiji Restoration of 1868. His papers are an invaluable and unique resource on the British in Asia and on East Asian diplomacy at a fascinating time, through the private papers, diplomatic correspondence and personal diaries of a man at the centre of international events.

Below, Miyazawa Shinichi, visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of International Sinological Studies, Beijing Language and Culture University, discusses some of Ernest Satow’s life and legacy.

Ernest Mason Satow: An Essay

Miyazawa Shinichi


January 30, 1868. PRO/30/33 1/1: Sir Ernest Mason Satow: Papers; Commission On Japanese Secretary. Ernest Satow Papers. The National Archives (Kew). Archives Unbound. Web. 8 August, 2018.

In May 1861, Ernest Mason Satow (1843–1929) was wondering what to do after getting a B.A. at University College London. One option was to continue studying at Cambridge University. Another option, though a vague one, was to follow his elder brother, Edward Mason Satow (1840–1865), [1] to the Far East. Edward, who had received early training in business under their father, had many more traits in common with the younger Satow, for he had the makings of a scholar and a multi-linguist, with knowledge of German, Spanish, Russian, Malay, and Chinese. Ultimately, Edward went to Singapore and then moved to Shanghai, where he died of cholera at 25.

It was Edward, shortly before his departure for Singapore, who brought home one of Laurence Oliphant’s interesting books, [2] which he borrowed from the Mudie’s Lending Library. Oliphant lured and engrossed the young Satow with exotic scenes of “some dreamland”, so much so that he decided to sit the exams for the selection of student interpreterships in China and Japan. On August 20, he received his nomination from the Foreign Office. Satow’s choice was for Japan, on the strength of Oliphant’s charming words: “…well might we imagine ourselves gliding across these solitary waters to some dreamland, securely set in a quiet corner of another world, far away from the storms and troubles of this one.” [3]

Laurence Oliphant (1829–1888) was a strange man with a journalist’s premonition for approaching critical moments, and a travelogue writer’s keen sense of observation. He was self-conscious of his character and adventurous lifestyle when he gave the subtitle Moss from a Rolling Stone [4] to his autobiography. Oliphant was a rolling stone abroad, gathering not the green living moss but the figurative “moss” of experiences and observations right on the spot of critical situations in history. It was an education by contact at the height of Victorian expansionism. Oliphant and Satow were quite different in character and lifestyle, but when young and fresh in Shanghai, Peking, Edo, and Yokohama, Satow started his consular service as a rolling stone à la Oliphant.


5 February 1862, Shanghai. PRO/30/33 15/1: Sir Ernest Mason Satow: Papers; Diary.; 1 vol. With Considerable Lacunae. January 4, 1862 – December 2, 1862. Ernest Satow Papers. The National Archives (Kew). Archives Unbound. Web. 8 August, 2018.

Satow wrote in his diary from Shanghai, 5 February 1862, about his mixing with a circle of British merchant adventurers: “Afterwards, I played Billiards with Veitchat at Michie’s, [5] & saw Dallas, Turner, Gordon, King & Smith.” These were also friends of Charles Lenox Richardson, especially Barnes Dallas [6] who had travelled in company with Richardson from England to China on board the Indus, reaching Hong Kong on 11 March 1853, and departing for Shanghai with Robert Fortune added to their company. Satow arrived at Yokohama on 8 September 1862, and scarcely one week had passed, when on Sunday 14, Richardson, enjoying a summer vacation in Yokohama, was murdered by the Satsuma clan’s retainer on the main public road, called Tōkaido. This early episode in Shanghai and Yokohama in connection with Richardson and his friends shows us an example of education by contact on the part of the young Satow.


17 Sept 1862, Yokohama. PRO/30/33 15/1 p38: Sir Ernest Mason Satow: Papers; Diary.; 1 vol. With Considerable Lacunae. January 4, 1862 – December 2, 1862. Ernest Satow Papers. The National Archives (Kew). Archives Unbound. Web. 8 August, 2018.

There is another episode to tell about moss, especially about the old saying, “A rolling stone gathers no moss”. About twenty years ago, in quest of some Richardson relics, I paid a research trip to Leamington Spa and Tunbridge Wells. In the graveyard of the Culverton Parish Church, I succeeded in locating the tombstone of Louisa, Richardson’s mother, under one of the huge oak trees. It was very easy to read its old inscriptions, for they stood out clear and fresh, as if raised, on the slab face. Perhaps, some readers may remember that one of the temporary residents at Leamington Spa was Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote in his essay “Leamington Spa” [7] that “beautifully embossed in raised letters of living green, a bas-relief of velvet moss on the marble slab.”

The young Satow had certainly spent a period of his life as a rolling stone. His natural character as a diligent scholar, patient linguist, and faithful diplomatic negotiator gradually asserted itself inward and outward. Meyrick Hewlett was a witness. Hewlett was first picked up as private secretary by British Minister Claude Macdonald at the critical moment of the Legation Siege in Peking in the summer of 1900. Hewlett was then attached in the same capacity to Satow, and bore witness to his new Minister’s being “an austere man”. Satow was not only “hard on his staff”, [8] but also hard and just in negotiating over the Protocol with Li Hung-chang, a prominent Chinese politician and diplomat. We find Satow no more like a rolling stone, but rather like a secure stone under an oak tree.


3 July 1900, London. PRO/30/33 16/3: Sir Ernest Mason Satow: Papers; Diary.; 1 vol. January 1, 1900 – December 26, 1900. Ernest Satow Papers. The National Archives (Kew). Archives Unbound. Web. 8 August, 2018.

Jennie, widow of George Ernest Morrison, [9] addressed a letter of thanks, dated June 1920, to Satow, who was then enjoying his pleasant and settled life after retirement in “Beaumont” at Ottery St. Mary. She said that “I was very touched and grateful to you for coming over yesterday. My dear Man had such an unbounded admiration and affection to you, and it was a great joy to him to see you in your beautiful home.” [10] Jennie and Morrison had made this visit in return to Satow’s earlier call, before Morrison’s death in May 1920. Morrison referred to their return visit as well as Satow’s call in his diary. [11] They had much to talk about: one interesting subject was mutual friends of their Peking days, including Valentine Chirol [12] and Edmund Backhouse. [13] Chirol was remembered fondly by them both, for he was a frequent visitor to “Beaumont” and Morrison’s former colleague at the Times. Satow also wanted to hear Morrison’s view of Backhouse, another book-hunter though suspected of forgery, and their secretive informant in Peking.

Morrison also recorded his visit to “Beaumont” in a letter, [14] summing up his admiration for the scholarly gentleman’s way of life: a large house, library, and beautiful gardens. Satow had cherry blossom and pear trees planted, many of which he bought at the Veitch’s nurseries, besides colourful Japanese maple trees raised from the seeds Masujima [増島六一郎] sent him from Tokyo. In this connection, many readers may like to remember the avenue of beautiful cherry trees that Satow took so much trouble to plant and grow near the British Embassy in Tokyo [千鳥ヶ淵櫻並木]. [15]

Satow was a plant-hunter, whose botanical enthusiasm eventually permeated into the heart of his son, Hisakichi [武田久吉]. Satow invited him to come to England, and supported his studies at Kew Gardens by giving him an annual allowance of £200, the same sum the young Satow used to be paid by his Government.

Satow was a lifelong collector of books and an avid reader. He built a large collection of books written in many different languages. On one occasion, he spent two days counting the number of books in his library. [16] A special collection occupied a bookcase of its own: the Dante collection, including the complete Japanese works by Nakayama [中山昌樹]. Satow compared the Japanese Dante scholar’s translations with their original counterparts, and reported to Paget Jackson Toynbee, a renowned UK Dante scholar. Another bookcase held Satow’s rare collection of Erasmus. His nephew, Percy Stafford Allen, was an Erasmus scholar at Oxford and a frequent visitor to “Beaumont”. [17]


8 Sept 1923, UK. PRO/30/33 17/7: Sir Ernest Mason Satow: Papers; Diary.; 1 vol. January 1, 1923 – December 31, 1923. Ernest Satow Papers. The National Archives (Kew). Archives Unbound. Web. 8 August, 2018.

Satow’s books and pamphlets were far less in quantity than the Morrison Library, which had been left in Peking and kept on worrying Morrison during his final illness: “My one hope now is to get back to China. I do not wish to die but if I have to die, let it be in Peking among the Chinese who have treated me with such consideration for so many years.” [18]

Hopefully, he would be happy to know that the Morrison Library now forms the nucleus of the Tōyō Bunko [東洋文庫] in Tokyo.

Now, let me conclude with a few words about the Gale digitised collection titled The Papers of Sir Ernest Satow. Sourced from the UK National Archives, the collection consists of Satow’s correspondence and papers (mostly private), letters, diaries, and travel journals covering a period of seven decades (1856–1927). It needs to be noted that the transcription undertaken by me for Satow’s diaries and travel journals has been incorporated into this digital collection, enabling readers to compare the handwritten text with the easily legible transcripts. Browsing through the collection, we can find out more about his life and efforts, which may deserve our best attention. See if Satow’s scribblings are raised with the velvet moss à la Hawthorne, for he once said: “I should like my memory to be vindicated, for I worked hard and have a good conscience about the policy I pursued and recommended to H.M.G.” [19]


PRO/30/33 16/12: Sir Ernest Mason Satow: Papers; Diary.; 1 vol. January 1, 1912 – December 31, 1912. Ernest Satow Papers. Transcription begins on page 95. The National Archives (Kew, United Kingdom). Archives Unbound. Web. 8 August, 2018.

Blog post cover image citation: British diplomat Ernest Mason Satow (1843 – 1929), circa 1890. He served in Japan, China, Siam, Morocco and Uruguay during his career. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) https://www.gettyimages.com/license/85871734

[1] Ernest Mason Satow, The Family Chronicle of the English Satows (Oxford: privately printed, 1925), 18.
[2] Laurence Oliphant, Narrative of the Earl of Elgin’s Mission to China and Japan in the years 1857, ’58, ’59, 2 volumes (London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1859).
[3] Ibid., volume II, 1-2.
[4] Laurence Oliphant, Episodes in a Life of Adventure—or Moss from a Rolling Stone (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1888).
[5] Alexander Michie, The Englishman in China, 2 volumes (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1900).
[6] Richardson’s letter to his father, dated Shanghai 7 December 1855, whose transcription I owe to Mr. Michael Wace, descendant of the Richardson family. “The fact is Aspinal & Co. have smashed for $300,000 & I am in no better position than when I first arrived at Shanghai. However, it does not matter much as I have lots of friends in this part of the world who, I fancy, will give one a leg up if necessary.”
[7] Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Leamington Spa,” Our Old Home (Boston: Houghton Miffin, 1907), 85.
[8] Sir Meyrick Hewlett, Forty Years in China (London: Macmillan & Co., 1943), 35.
[9] George Ernest Morrison (1862–1920) was an adventurer and writer, publishing An Australian in China in 1895 and working as The Times’ first permanent correspondent at Peking during 1897–1912.
[10] Jennie Morrison, letter to Earnest Mason Satow, 22 July 1920, UK National Archives, PRO/30/33/13/9/, 103-106.
[11] George Ernest Morrison diary, 9 & 23 April 1920, Morrison Collection at the Mitchell Library of the State Library, MLMSS 312/26 Item 113 (Sydney, Australia).
[12] Valentine Chirol’s life-long passion was painting in water colours. See Jonathan Cape, With Pen and Brush in Eastern Lands When I was Young (London: Jonathan Cape,1923).
[13] Hugh Trevor-Roper, Hermit of Peking (New York: Penguin Books, 1978).
[14] George Ernest Morrison, letter to John McLeary Brown, 6 May 1920, The Morrison Collection at the Mitchell Library (Sydney, Australia).
[15] “Cherry Blossom Will Be Seen Soon—Finest Trees in Tokyo, in Front of British Embassy—Were Planted by Former British Minister,” Japan Times, 31 March 1915.
[16] Ernest Mason Satow diary, 8 September 1923, UK National Archives, PRO/30/33/17/7/Folio 79 recto. “Yesterday & today I have counted my books, 3387 vols. or there abouts, of which 2008 in my library. Not a room in the house without books. If I were to have all the pamphlets bound there would probably be 3400.”
[17] Johan Huizaga, Erasmus and the Age of Reformation, translated by F. Hopman (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1957), 11. See also Percy Stafford Allen, Editor’s Preface to Erasmus—Lectures and Wayfaring Sketches, edited by Helen Mary Allen (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934).
[18] Cyril Pearl, Morrison of Peking (Sydney: Penguin Books, 1970), 407.
[19] Ernest Mason Satow diary, 29 Nov. 1911, UK National Archives, PRO/30/33/16/12/Folio 34 verso.

Nazi Germany, Ancient Rome: The appropriation of classical culture for the formulation of national identity

By Paula Maher Martín, Gale Ambassador at NUI Galway
Paula Maher Martín is a third-year student of English and Classics at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Interested in language as a means of simultaneously reflecting and transcending human experience, she plans to do postgraduate research in English, with a focus on the metaphysical construction of reality in Modernist literature. She enjoys reading Nancy Mitford, Leo Tolstoy, Evelyn Waugh or Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, the wind, the music of the world, wandering immersed in philosophical abstractions, writing poetry in lectures and falling in love with characters in paintings. Paula is blogging for Gale in both English and Spanish.

To read this blog in Spanish, click here.

The Germania, an apparently harmless description of the territories, customs and tribes of the Germani by 1st century Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, was acclaimed by Nazi Germans as a banner: a portrait of the primitive Aryan; ‘virtuous, fearless and heavily militarized’, qualities the Nazis felt had reverberated through the centuries and supported the racial identity of the modern German.

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Medway-A Pictorial History of England

The Dutch Raid on the Medway, 1667

By Becky Wright
I joined Gale in 2015 as Content Researcher. I completed my MA in Historical Research at the Institute of Historical Research and am delighted to work in a role where I can indulge my love of all things history. I’m based in London and, when I’m not surrounded by books and manuscripts in various libraries and archives, I love exploring all that my home city has to offer.

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the Dutch raid on the Medway in June 1667. Commemorative events have been taking place at the historic dockyards in Chatham throughout the summer. Continue reading

A History of Golf with Gale Primary Sources

Golf has a long and rich history, with countless books having been written on the origins and development of the game. But if a new history was to be written today with the help of Gale Primary Sources, how much would our knowledge be improved? My suspicion is that it would be improved a good deal, for even a relatively short period of research using Gale Primary Sources unearths thousands of interesting references to golf from the fifteenth century forward, many of which may never have been seen before. Here follows a select sample of the references to golf in the Gale historical collections that could potentially give us a better appreciation of the history of the game and the role it has played in society.

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The World’s Fair Set to Return to the US!

By Kevin Kohls, Associate Marketing Manager – Academic, Gale USA

Earlier this month, US President Trump signed the “U.S. Wants to Compete for a World Expo Act” into law, setting the stage for Minnesota to make its case to host the Fair in 2023. If Minnesota is successful in securing the honor of hosting the World’s Fair it would be the first World’s Fair in the United States in almost 40 years. The last World’s Fair on US soil took place in New Orleans in 1984 and proved to be financially ruinous for the organizers. There was an attempt to bring the fair to Chicago in 1992 but the plan was cancelled before it ever came to fruition.

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Amelia Earhart – Mystery Solved?

By Mark Mikula
Mark Mikula is a senior content developer for several of Gale’s history databases. In his travels, he has attended numerous film and theatre festivals; the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut; and the oldest consecutively held Fourth of July celebration in Bristol, Rhode Island, USA.

History is a dynamic field of study. New discoveries and ongoing research often provide opportunities to learn new facts about the people and events that have shaped our world. One of American history’s long-standing mysteries regards the fate of the storied aviator Amelia Earhart, whose plane went missing in 1937 during her attempt to circumnavigate the world with navigator Fred Noonan. Various theories regarding her disappearance have been put forward, but a few years ago, a photograph was discovered in the National Archives that is being analysed to determine whether its subjects include both Earhart and Noonan on one of the Marshall Islands. If their likenesses can be confirmed, it will add credence to speculation that Earhart and Noonan survived after their plane went down.

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50 years ago today: celebrating the anniversary of ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’

“Garner, Richard, Education Editor. “‘Sgt Pepper’ guaranteed to raise a smile on GCSE syllabus.” Independent, 14 May 2015, p. 15. The Independent Digital Archive, tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/4rQeL0. © Independent Print Limited”

It was 50 years ago this week that The Beatles issued their ground-breaking album, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The third biggest-selling album in the UK (and the top-selling when compilation albums are removed) [1] it remains one of the most influential and recognised albums 50 years after its release (although personally, I prefer Revolver). I took a look back through the collections in Gale Primary Sources to see what I could find out about this iconic album.

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The Homophobic AIDS Crisis of the 1980s

Written by Rory Herbert, Gale Ambassador at the University of Portsmouth

I am a second year History student and President of the History Society at the University of Portsmouth. I enjoy trying to grapple with the vastness and complexity of this subject, and the challenges it can present. On the rare occasions that I have free time, I can be found playing hockey or researching historical facts and events.

Homophobia surrounding the 1980s AIDS crisis

During the early 1980s, AIDS became an ever-growing concern in the minds of Americans, and brought to the fore the deep-seated tensions and homophobic tendencies that plagued the nation’s media and political institutes. Gale’s Archives of Sexuality & Gender  provides access to a wealth of sources that help us to understand the issues and struggles experienced by these long-oppressed and ignored members of society during a particularly trying period.

Mass, Lawrence. “About Your Health ….” Bay Windows: Boston’s Gay and Lesbian Newspaper, June 1983.

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Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners

Written by Anita Klich, Gale Ambassador & contributor

I am a Gale Ambassador as well as a Student Ambassador at the University of Portsmouth where I study Journalism and Media Studies. I’m graduating this year and hope to work in the fields of journalism, public relations or digital marketing next year. Some of my many interests are art, learning foreign languages and psychology. I have a passion for broadening my knowledge, and want to promote Gale resources as they give people the opportunity to explore history, which is a key element of research in every field of study. Anita Klich.

Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) is considered one of the most important alliances in LGBT history. It saw lesbians and gays coming together in the mid-1980s to support British miners who were striking to prevent colliery closures. The strike was condemned by the government led by Margaret Thatcher. Some believe the alliance between the LGBT community and British working class was a turning point in the history of LGBT people and their existence within British society. I decided to find out how different newspapers described the strike and the alliance. Thanks to the Archives of Sexuality & Gender resource in Gale Primary Sources, available through Portsmouth University Library, I was able to find out how newspapers covered the strike, including what visuals they provided to support their coverage.

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Australia’s 183-year Search for its Own Anthem

By Darren Brain, Sales Representative, Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia & Northern Territory

On 19 April 1984, ‘Advance Australia Fair’ was proclaimed as Australia’s national anthem, following many decades of debate, disagreement and campaigns for change. I used Gale Primary Sources to research more about this topic, and experienced an entertaining and enlightening journey through Gale’s extensive collection of assorted British Newspapers.
‘God Save the Queen’ (or King depending on the gender of the British monarch) had been used on ceremonial and official occasions since the federation of Australia in 1901 (when the six British, self-governing colonies agreed to unite and form the Commonwealth of Australia). In our British Library Newspapers series, I found a number of examples in the early 1900s of interest in an Australian Anthem to compliment ‘God Save The King/Queen’ including the below examples from the gossip column of the Nottingham Evening Post.

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