Memoirs of Henry Keppel – 1867 – Trading with Japan

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This is the fourteenth installment in our series on Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Keppel, GCB, OM (14 June 1809 – 17 January 1904). He was a British admiral and son of the 4th Earl of Albemarle.

Memoirs of Henry Keppel – 1867 – Trading with Japan


On July 10, [ 1867], Keppel, accompanied by Harry Stephenson, his nephew, arrived at the capital of Japan, then called Yedo, where he was persuaded by Sir Harry Parkes to visit the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and was struck by the ease and bearing of the Japanese officials.  He was amazed not only at the beauty of the country, but at the wonderful revolution that had taken place in the political state of the Japanese and their feelings towards foreigners, who were now welcomed with smiles and good temper.

Of these changes Keppel gives an interesting account in his diary written at the time:

The Daimios (feudal barons of peculiarly high standing), who would a few years ago have put their Shogoon to death for entertaining the idea of permitting foreigners to trade, are now quarrelling among themselves as to whose port shall be the first opened to trade.  These feudal chiefs are tenacious of their independence, and no longer live with a portion of their family within the precincts of the castle and moat at Yedo, but excuse themselves by stating that troublous times oblige them to keep their retainers with them and ready.

They seem to be ignorant of the fact that nothing will tend more to sap and explode the whole feudal system than the introduction of the foreigner with his free notions.

‘The United States, with their prohibitive restrictions on commerce and despotic governments, are the loudest in their call for Free Trade, and were the first to compel the Japanese to open their ports to the foreigner.  France, that “grand nation,” governed by force of arms, will allow herself to be second to none in free intercourse with the Japanese.  Holland no longer eats dirt to be allowed to monopolise the whole trade, and, unable to compete with other nations in free notions of commerce, is fast retiring from the Japanese waters.  Imperial Russia seems afraid of contamination with any traders. England, I believe, while she feels the hardship of enforcing our trade on these primitive and would-be exclusive people, is obliged to go with the stream, and as yet enjoys two-thirds of the whole commerce. Certain ports are open and carrying on a thriving trade, and others are to be opened in January [1868].

The apple of discord has been thrown among these warlike Daimios, who, finding that their whole strength united can no longer keep out the foreigner, are likely to divide and quarrel among themselves.




Further Reading and External Links


Henry Keppel on Wikipedia