The Boxer Rebellion Project


Personal Letter from Franklin Blake, Hong Kong (January 14th, 1860)

Commercial agents such as Franklin Blake, who worked for Augustine Heard, were often young men who left home to seek fortune overseas.

Franklin Blake, 1837-1871, of Newtonville, Massachussets, was an American employee of the China trading firm of Augustine Heard & Co., based in Boston. Blake was the brother of a Worcester mayor and had attended school in Newton before going east to China in 1859. He became head of the firm Augustine Heard & Co. in Bangkok, and ten years later went to Yokohama in the same capacity, finally settling in Higo and its port Kobe. According to a newspaper obituary, he was one of the men responsible for the opening of Kobe to foreigners.

In this letter, Blake lists the recent trips he has made, and his impressions of several places. He also sends souvenirs and items home to his family.

Letter from Hong Kong, dated January 14th, 1860

Hong Kong, January 14th 1860

My dear Father,

Here I am in Hong Kong once more. We arrived on the 28th alto. all safe & sound. After a rough & dangerous passage of 30 days from Siam as you will notice by the hasty note I had just time to pen & send you by last mail, at the moment of its closing. Mr Gassett was anxiously looking for our arrival, and I was not disappointed to find that my first voyage as supercargo has proved so successful, giving a net profit of nearly $30000. & of course Mr G. couldn't be otherwise than well pleased, so much so that he is going to post me off again to take up residence in the Straits for a few months, & I leave day after tomorrow in the P&O Steamer "Firefly Cross", for Singapore & Penang, but shall probably be at Penang most of the time, so you see I'm continually "on the go". I can't tell how long I shall remain there, neither can Mr Gassett, but of course as long as he requires my services there, looking out for the ship, purchasing cargoes, etc... etc... & when I return from there shall probably go to Japan. I should have gone up there this time, had it not been for the loss of a little Brig which Mr G. Had chartered. The rice mill which I told you about has been entirely given up, and they have concluded to do nothing about it, and as Mr G. has nothing particular for me to so now, and as he is going into some operations in the Straits, I am to go down & look after the business there, have always heard that Penang was the "Paradise of the East". I hope I shall find it so, although I had much rather remain in China. My health has been first rate, so far. I have had hardly a sick day since leaving home.

Since my arrival here this time I have been with Mr Garrett to Macao, Whampoa, & Canton from which trip have just returned, & you may believe I enjoyed every moment og it. Mr G. is building a house at Macao & his wife & family whom he expects in July will live over there, of course keeping the house office & here also, and Mr Gay who arrived out in September last, who keeps the books etc... etc... will always remain here. Macao is a much more pleasant place to live than here, and much more health and as it is but about 4 hours steam across many of the merchants here with their families have private residences there. Canton is the interesting place after all, and as there are troops stationed inside, one can go all over the far famed city now, without much danger, although I had a great crowd about me all the time, who seemed to consider the Foreign Devil a great curiosity. I spent one whole day inside travelling about. & saw all the places of interest. The streets are extremely narrow & running in every direction crowded with long tailed Chinamen. Mr. G. being busy, I took chair & went in alone & that pocket compass which you gave me did good service. The Forts on the River as you go up are very interesting & are nearly all knocked to pieces, although some have guns left in them, wich the English spiked before leaving.

It did seem good I can assure you to get letters from home & Gorham, after so long a time having elapsed without hearing a word from either, and it was with the greatest pleasure that I first opened the ones of the latest dates and found all well & Mary so comfortably settled down in the nice little house so happy. & must say it brought on a severe attack of homesickness which I have hardly yet got over. It was a great treat to get so many, one invaluable one from Mother, one from Jim, 4 from Gorham, and a file from Mary & Nelly for which I cannot express my thanks fully enough, and as my time is limited and cannot write to you all you must take the will for the deed and each one consider the present epistle addressed to them. I was sorry to hear that there was really a prospect of selling the old place although I somewhat expected it. It will be a great loss to me to lse the only home I had, the dearest spot on earth. but hope all will result for the best. From what I hear, should judge property must have increased in value considerably since I left.

Percy is stopping here at Hong Kong now, & it make it very pleasant for me having him so near, & it seems good to talk over old times together. He feels Otis' death very much. He looks well. Mr John Everett is still stopping here at the house. He has been up North for the last 3 months.

While up at Canton the other day, not knowing when I might get another chance, I bought a few presents to send home, and as the "Sweepstakes" will probably find her way there in the course of 5 or 6 months. I have shipped them on board of her, and now enclose Invoice & Bill Lading of the same, so when you hear of her arrival at New York you can give the papers to Adams Express Co. & they will pay duties in N. Y. & bring them on.

Uncle Everett can tell you how he manages.

I have also sent an order through Percy to Foochow for 4 half chests of "A No. 1" Tea for family use which, as I shall not be here to attend to, he has kindly offered to do for me, & you will receive it through Tom Everett. All duties & expenses on any of these things you will please charge to my account which I should like to have sent out when convenient, as I would rather leave a balance in your hands.

You will see by the Invoice what the packages are. I intended the Flower pots, Lacquered Teatrays & Camphor Trunks (of which there are 5) or as many of them as she would like - for Mary - The Sandalwood card-case for Nelly - The Lacquered Cigar Box for Tom Williams - The Rice paper painting (which I prize most highly of all) for you & Mother, and the preserves to be divided between Jim, Mary & yourself. In each case of preserves there are 3 jars of the best dry sugar and ginger which I thought you would like as I know you used to be fond of it, the other jars are mixed preserves.

If Mary does not want all the Trunks, perhaps Jim or Mother would like some, they are very useful for Furs, woolens etc... etc... The Tea I intended - 1 Hf chest for Jim & Leoni, 1 for Mary, 1 for Harriet, and one for Mother. I thought I would address them all to you, that there might be no mistake. When you receive them please inform me if they arrived all safe.

You know exactly how I am situatied, & of course I can't go very deep into presents quite yet, but Mary having just gone to housekeeping, I thought would like some little things to help fill ip, and hope everything may be found strictly useful. I don't believe in all these little useless fancy nicknaks such as people generally send home from here.

And now, my dear Father & Family, as it is very late, & my boy having looked into the office here to see what had become of me, I must now close and with much love to you all & all enquiring friends I remain as ever

Your affectionate Son

Franklin Blake

P.S. --

Please find enclosed a letter on Siam which I wrote on the passage up & meant to have forwarded per last mail, but in the hurry my things being packed up & on board, I did not have an opportunity.

My next letter will be from Singapore, Penang or Batavia or somewhere down there. Please address my letters as before to Hong Kong. Am sorry I shan't have time to write to Mary, but know she will understand & excuse it.¨Percy says he will srite to her next time he has not time this mail.