PEREIRA Brig-Gen. George (1923.)


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A substantial archive of notes, military reports, and maps covering Manchuria, Korea, and China (Yunnan, Gansu, Tibet, Altai-shan, Sichuan, Bhamo (Shan States, Vietnam), and Hainan Island). Overall in very good condition. 1882-

George Edward Pereira joined the Grenadier Guards as a lieutenant on 23 August 1884, was promoted to captain in 1896 and to major on 2 May 1900. He served in China (1900) with the 1st Chinese Regiment, where he received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his conduct during the Boxer Rebellion. He spent nearly two years as a Military Attaché in Korea and from the beginning he seems to have had a penchant for walking and exploration: He traversed the country from South to North and East to West, possibly the first Westerner to have achieved this. Pereira compiled a number of interesting reports about the country in the style of travel journals, using his characteristically lively language to paint a colourful (and often surprisingly frank) picture of local customs and characters. Some of the 1905 reports are of little strategic or political significance as they focus mostly on the living conditions of the people and the challenges of travel in the remote regions (they always include remarks on the state of the roads).  

“In all my Oriental travels, I am accustomed to be looked upon as an extraordinary freak of nature, but this journey has surpassed my most sanguine expectations, not only am I an object of ceaseless amusement to the children, but the yokels on the road gaze at me open mouthed with the same speechless amazement that a labourer in some country lane in England might feel if turning round a corner he suddenly found himself face to face with the evil spirit in person. The animals also meet me with the same boundless consternation… June 14thWiju: This inn hold the record for flies, & though it is boiling hot, I have to hear gloves and a handkerchief round my neck to protect me, & even then I am driven wild. ” (p.7 & p.10 typed report on Korea, file 1a).   

The large 90pp. ‘Confidential’ Report on Corea (dated 1904) provides a wealth of detail on political and other events in the country. It starts with the observation that the last few months have seen a rise in anti-foreign feeling in the capital of Seoul: A recently built tramway along the main road was a bone of contention and when a little child was killed by a tram a mob attacked the offices of the tram company and broke their windows. Clearly the events surrounding the Boxer rebellion in Peking added to a general feeling of nervousness. Pereira then proceeds to describe the events leading to the outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Japan: “The Russian legation at Seoul was always most optimistic, and, until the blow fell, they ridiculed the idea of hostilities. To take a small point to show this, one member of the legation laid a bet of 5/1 against there being any war, and within a week he and the rest of the Russians in Seoul were fugitives on board the French ship “Pascal” at Chemulpo… Whilst the Russians were sleeping in false security, the Japanese were moving with ceaseless energy…” (p. 2-3, Report on Events in Corea. File 1b) The rest of the Report provides a wealth of detail on Japanese troop movements, command structures, strength of forces and casualties etc. etc. It is an important first-hand account. British and Japanese intelligence cooperated during the Russo-Japanese War and in May 1905 he crosses from Korea into Liaoning province to observe Japanese troop movements in China:  

“In some of the Chinese houses we visited, 9 Japanese soldiers are billeted in a room about 7 yards long by 6 yards wide, the rooms are kept very clean and tidy. Chinese sentries were posted outside the village, in addition to the Japanese sentries. – The former are useful for identifying the natives and preventing doubtful strangers from entering the village… Rode from T’ung-chiang-k’ou nearly due north to Liang-chia-tzu (6 ¼ miles) which is headquarters of 14thDivision, Lt. General Oshima commanding, Col Adachi (artillery) chief of staff, Capt. Kisiwada (on the staff)…” (June 24th, p. 3 ‘Diary of Journey to T’ung-chiang-k’ou’. File 1a) “Tsang Chow is reckoned as a town of 40,000 or 50,000 inhabitants in normal times, though some had fled from the famine probably more have come into the city from the stricken areas… The city wall is partly brick and mostly mud, the latter in a very dilapidated state, and one good brick building is broken. An old coolie from France [where presumably he had spent time during WW1] talked about Babary (Poperinghe) and San O Mere as he ferried us across.” (Report of Journey from Tientsin for Tsang Chow, 15 Feb. no year, but ca. 1910. p. 1-2, file 6). “Mongrel in villages, the poorer eat them in times of stress, they object and yap at the foreigner in foreign clothes, (a missionary who wears both told me that they take no notice of him when in Chinese clothes). They also instinctively follow and bark at all beggars.” (idib. p. 2-3) “We passed a coffin, when they go to a great distance they have a cock tied on top, so that if the spirit of the deceased goes astray and gets lost, he hears the cock crowing and return to the coffin.” (ibid. p. 5) [Pingyao Hsien:] “The first missionaries who came here 40 or 50 years ago had a rough time, one of the pioneers told me that, hearing there was a mad dog he took his gun and shot it, thinking he was doing a public service. The rich owner however, came and demanded compensation and he had to attend the funeral of the dog as chief mourner.” (ibid, p. 9) [Pingyang:] “Mrs. Carr told me that the price of a wife has gone up here considerably, formerly 40 taels was an extreme price, now they cost up to $300.” (ibid. p. 20) 

He was posted to Peking in 1905 and three years later (June 1908) wrote to Colonel Haldane (General Staff) in London to ask for permission to ask for a period of leave: “I want to get several months leave to return to England overland, namely via Kan-su (Lan-chow Fu), Ssu-ch’uan (Ch’eng-tu Fu), Kuei-chou (Kuei-yang Fu) and Yün-nan Fu and thence to Burmah.” (letter, file 7). The prompt reply came on August 1st, 1908: “There will be no objection to your travelling home through Western China at your own expense as you suggest, although Kan-su, Szu-chuan, Kuei-chou and Yün-nan are of very little interest to this directorate.”  He returned to London in March 1909 and much to his surprise was gazetted out of the army.

But he was back in Peking about one year later (May 1910). Now began a series of journeys which combined his passion for travel with his skills as an intelligence officer. In June, he set off from Peking and spent the next nine months exploring Western China in the remote Altai and T'ien Shan Mountains before heading for Lanzhou on the Tibetan border.  

“The country up to the Dain Nor is under the jurisdiction of the Shara-sume Amban, and is called the Altai Shan district, the districts on either side are under the Ambans at Kobdo and Chuquchak or Tarbagatai… Russian money is accepted… There are no regular roads, only a track for track animals. There are no boats even on the lakes and all streams have to be forded.” (Notes on the Altai sketch. File 2)” He visited the Kumbum and Labrang monasteries before moving south along the mountainous upper reaches of the Salween and Mekong rivers.  “Opium is planted in November and ready in March or April. – During the present year the magistrate of Hui-li Chou (near the Yunnan frontier) who has since died, encouraged the people of his district to grow it… It is also grown in the hills where the magistrates have no jurisdiction and in some of the L’o-lo districts. The Lolos do not smoke it themselves, but sell it to the Chinese… Ya-chou Fu was occupied by soldiers (belonging to Chao-erh-feng) last autumn, who refused to recognize the Republic, and suffered a siege in consequence before it submitted. On Aug 6thit was looted by men of the 14thregiment of Lu-chün on their way to take part in the Tibetan show, and the merchants estimated their loss at 400,000 taels…” (Journey Ch’eng-tu Fu to Ning-yüan Fu, p. 1&2, file 2)  “Personally, I found the officers and men exceedingly friendly and well-behaved, but the sacking of Ya-chou Fu on the 6thAugust by about 1000men, chiefly of the 14thregiment, shows that there is no real discipline.” (The Tibetan Expedition I, file 2).  “As fighting appears to be the chief object of Lolo existence they require slaves and these are recruited from their Chinese captives and those captured in their internal feuds… The hill tribes often carry their raids to within a few miles of Ning-yüan Fu, burning villages under the eyes of the officials, and carrying off men, women and children as captives. These are usually driven into the interior, and are not allowed to speak Chinese…”  

He crossed briefly into the Burmese Shan states before travelling cross country and then by steamer to Shanghai. He finally arrived back in London on 29 March 1913. During the World War I he distinguished himself as a commander and played an important part in the capture of Guillemont and Ginchyduring the battle of the Somme.  After the end of the war he resigned his commission and returned to China. In September 1919 he was in Harbin where he wrote a lengthy report on relations between the Russians, the Chinese and the Japanese:

 “Whilst I do not believe in the danger of China becoming Bolshevik, still there is always a large unruly element in China, which, if it furthered their designs, would probably readily ally itself with the Bolsheviks. This is especially the case in Manchuria, where robber-bands (hung-hutzu) have always flourished…” “The Japanese have shown no foresight and have missed great opportunities in the last few years. As usual, they are overbearing to the Chinese and are constantly wounding their pride. The Chinese, who in the past, despised the Japanese as an inferior race, now realize that they are not strong enough to resist them.” (Sept. 17th, 1919, File 1) 

This time, he was determined to make the great 7,000-mile trek from Peking to Gangtok in India. The only other Europeans who had achieved this feat were the Vincentian Abbé Évariste Régis Huc and Abbé Joseph Gabet in 1846; The challenges were immense. China was in a state of chaos, and part of the country had fragmented into states controlled by war-lords busy either fighting each other or the central government; famine stalked the North; the frontier people on the border of Tibet and China, torn between allegiances, were in disorder; and no European had been allowed into Lhasa from China.  

“I made 518 ¾ miles from Tangar to Jyekundo. Chinese call it 1470 li, so 1 mile = 2.834 li approximately. My route said to be less hilly than western route, via Cheng-to and La-pu Monasteries. I took 36 stages and 8 days’ halts. I had 8 riding horses, 15 mules, a boy, interpreter for Tibetan, and 5 Chinese muleteers. 5 mules died and I sold 4 exhausted ones to Tibetans. Yaks though slower are cheaper and more suited to the climate and poor grazing. Grain for animals is unprocurable…” (23 June 1922, p. 5-6, Notes on part of his journey from Peking to Lhasa, file 3)   

Travelling in China at that time was an extraordinary balancing act between shortages of cash, varying levels of armed protection, and the hire of cooks, coolies, bearers, mules and ponies.  “In China the road up to Teng-yüeh is kept up by the Anglo-Chinese commission at Teng-yüeh, consisting of the Consul, Commissioner of Customs, Tao-yin and magistrate, the cost being defrayed by a tax on mules. The charge for my 13 mules was only $10.70. I hired mules and riding ponies for 10 rupees a-piece to Teng-yüeh, and 4 chair-bearers for 72 rupees to the same place.” (Report… on his Journey from Bhamo to Yunnanfu, 18.3.1923, p. 1, file 5). [Unrest in Yunnan:] “How long this chaotic state will continue is impossible to say… As soon as they can try to get a strong man, who is not engrossed with making his own fortune, but has the sense to pay his troops regularly, the brigands will find it more profitable to come in, and again become soldiers. I confess my sympathy is entirely with the brigands, the more so as, up to the present, I have not had the enforced pleasure of enjoying their hospitality.” (ibid. p. 2) “From Ya-shang I took and escort of 30 men (pao-shang-tui, i.e. merchant protecting force). Some of these men had been in the abortive expedition against Szechwan some 3 or 4 years ago. They were mostly armed with pre-historic Schneiders, whilst a few had Mauser carbines… The usual idea of the Chinese soldier, help by foreigners, is that he is a brutal ruffian, but after an experience of many thousands of them throughout all the Provinces of the Chinese empire, I do not think that this is generally the case. Usually I have found them a light-hearted, mirth-loving race, much given on the road to laughter and to indulge in what they imagine to be singing.” (ibid. p. 5-6) Pereira’s maps are often accompanied by ‘sketch-notes’ usually of a geographical nature mixed with information that was deemed to be of strategic importance and often cross-referenced to other maps he was using. “All maps appear to be wrong about the rivers.” (Notes on sketch 1, Yunnan, file 5). “Descending one crosses gradually open out grass plains till the great plain of Gobi is reached, which connects to S.W. with the Tak-La-Makan Desert. To N. in this great plateau there are the curious depressions below sea level e.g. Turfan near Urumchi and the Bodshante Kul, marked as 426’ below sea level. From Batang to W. one traverses great mountains and deep valleys, perhaps the deepest valleys in the world till one reaches the great unknown between the Salween and the Tsang Po.” (ibid. p ) “The Bata-sumdo Chu… is shown on Rockhill’s map, which complicates matters as Rockhill shows Churema some 15 or 20 miles to the East of Batasumdo, whilst map shows small road coming in some 30 miles to the East of Churema.” (file 4).

Pereira often found that names of villages, rivers and mountains could vary widely depending on who you talked to: Official Chinese names could differ widely from the one used by local people and this of course applied particularly to tribal areas. But there were other potholes when naming places: [Rockhill is responsible for several blunders:] “Unfortunately he spent the night at a hamlet of 4 houses, a mile or two from Denchin, called Nar Ru. In this village resided the Chinese official, whose title was ruler of 100 households “pai-hu” pronounced pei-hu in Western China. This official was called by the Chinese the Nar-pei-hu. Rockhill mistook this for the name of the village of Nar Hu, and unluckily the official was put on the map instead of the village, whilst the very important centre of Denchin was left out.” (Notes made by GP in Calcutta. p. 8, file 4a) 

GP set off from Tientsin to Mt Emei, at 10,167ft the highest of the four Buddhist holy mountains in China. The next leg took him to Yachow-fu, Kwanshien, Nan-P’ing, and Choni. Now Tibet was in sight and after reaching Jyekundo, he met up with 52-year-old Madame Alexandra David-Néel, a remarkable Frenchwoman who had spent several years in India and Tibet, studying the practices and scriptures of Tibetan Buddhism. She too was hoping to get to Lhasa and was able to give GP some valuable information of what lay ahead. As they were both in the country illegally, travelling under false identities, their meeting had to be kept as short as possible and GP’s account is very sparse.  “The new Kalon Lama, whom I met 19thSept at Shobendo, on his way to Chamdo, had 40 soldiers. These were smarter looking than others I had seen. The sentries had proper khaki and turbans with bandoliers and English rifles.” (Tibetan soldiers at Chamdo. File 4). He was amongst a handful of Europeans to explore the Western regions of China and Tibet, and amongst the first to describe the Anyi Machen range in eastern Tibet (Qinghai province) in 1921-2. [Anye Machin]: “Snow does not usually lay for long excepting patches on hills of 15,000’ and 16,000’ Excepting Amne Machin, which has an eternal covering of snow, and must be anything over 25’000’, it may easily be over 30,000’... it completely dwarfed everything else.”  His journey from Yunnan along the Tibetan border in 1923 was his last, he died of an illness aged 58 near Batang, Sichuan, on October 20th, 1923. George Pereira was an intrepid explorer who was willing to endure long periods of deprivation, hunger and discomfort in order to explore remote places that very few had seen before. He appears to have been accustomed to long periods of solitary travels, willing to risk his life in the service of his country.

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Stock Code: 233642

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