BOOK REVIEW: ‘Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient

Author: Jon Bursey

No. of Pages: 274

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8 ½

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In the Author’s Note at the front of this volume, the author, when alluding to the establishment of Hong Kong, notes that ‘…I have been struck…both by the critical nature of [Charles] Elliot’s role and by the comparative lack of recognition accorded him subsequently as a person and for his work. I have sought in this book to describe his life…the challenges that faced him, and to set them in historical context’. He also states that ‘It has been my intention to cover the whole of Elliot’s career as thoroughly as sources permit’. It is an effective summary.

An Acknowledgements section placed after the Contents page thanks those individuals and organisations who contributed to the volume. It is followed by the previously mentioned Author’s Note. Within that section (and in addition to the statements already noted), the author also details the efforts he made to ensure accuracy of the narrative and to provide modern-day equivalent-values for mid-Nineteenth Century currency. A Maps section follows. This contains four full-page maps relevant to the narrative. A List of Illustrations appears next. This replicates the captions for the 36 images appearing within a 16 page section placed at the centre of the volume. A Prologue section then precis’ what is to follow. The main part of the work then follows. Consisting of nineteen Chapters, these are in turn sub-divided to three Parts. These trace Charles Elliot’s life, with Chapter One (Forbears, Father and Family) providing ancestral background. The remaining Chapters detail Elliot’s career, while simultaneously providing background to the various events in which he played a part. Such is their detail, these ‘backgrounds’ are in themselves worthy of scrutiny. An Epilogue placed after Chapter 19 summarises and reviews Elliot’s life and his accomplishments. Three Appendices follow that Chapter. Where appropriate, the book uses End-notes to provide addition information. These are numeric, sequential and Chapter-specific, with the relevant citations being placed in a dedicated Notes and References section after the Appendices. A Bibliography follows and is in turn followed by an eight-page Index; the volume’s final section. As already noted, the book contains both Illustrations and Maps.

There is no doubt that this is an excellent and well-researched volume. For this reviewer however it was let down by inconsistencies in its Index. Random Index searching during the reviewing process for items such as Pax Britannica (page xvii) and Royal Botanic Gardens and Kew (both on page 213), found entries for neither. What else may also have been omitted is not known. In addition, the English East India Company (page xviii)  appears within the Index as East India Company. Which title is correct?  There is no way of knowing. Numerous quotes appear within the volume. Some are referenced, some are not (the quotes on page 165 being but two examples of such practices). In the absence of relevant citations to prove their authenticity, unreferenced quotes have little research value, a detail which may reduce the volume’s value as a research tool. Curiously, many quotes do not commence with a capital letter. In apparent defence of this practice the author states that ‘For the sake of authenticity I have reproduced spelling punctuation and syntax…as they appear in the original odd though they may sometimes seem including the apparently random use of capital letters’.  Whether this statement applies to the aforementioned quotes is unclear, but the presence of capitalised and non-capitalised quotes within the volume, does the narrative no favours.

This volume is well written and researched. Being biographical in nature it may appeal to readers seeking a straight ‘adventure’ story. It may also be useful to historians interested in the Nineteenth Century Royal Navy.  Historians researching British Imperial Policies and actions during the same century may well find it worthy of their attentions, while those seeking in-depth historical data on locations such as China, the ‘British’ Caribbean and the Republic of Texas may also find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient’

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