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The Port Folio.
BY OLIVER OLDSCHOOL, ESQ.
VARIOUS; that the mind
For the Port Folio.
Montesquieu has told us, that “it is very remarkable that the Chinese, whose lives are guided by rites, are, nevertheless, the greatest cheats upon earth. This appears chiefly in their trade, which, in spite of its natural tendency, has never been able to make them honest. He who buys of them ought to carry with him his own weights, every merchant having three sorts; the one heavy, for buying; another light, for selling; and another of the true standard, for those who are on their guard.” The Cochin-Chinese, according to our author's account, prove themselves apt scholars of their more ancient neighbours, and perhaps exceed them, if possible, in fraud, knavery, and low cunning. Mercantile integrity or honour has no place among them. " It would be tedious to the reader and painful to myself,” says Lieut. White,“ to recapitulate the constant villany and turpitude, which we experienced from these people, during our residence in the country. Their total want of faith, eagerness to deceive and overreach us, and their pertinacity in trying to gain by shuffling and maneuvring, what might have been better and easier gained by openness and fair dealing; the tedious forms and ceremonies in transacting all kinds of business, carried into the most trifling transactions,
* History of a Voyage to the China Sea. By John White, Lieutenant in the United States Navy. Prodesse quam conspici. Boston, Wells and Lilly, 1823, pp. 372. JUNE, 1824.-NO. 266.
the uncertainty of the eventual ratification of any bargain, (the least hope of wearying the patience of the purchaser out, and inducing him to offer a little more, being sufficient to annul any verbal stipulation, and there being no appeal, unless there is a written contract, which is never made till every art has been used and every engine put in motion and exhausted, to gain more; all these vexations, combined with the rapacious, faithless, despotic, and anti-commercial character of the government, will, as long as these causes exist, render Cochin-China the least desirable country for mercantile adventurers. These causes have made the Japanese relinquish the trade: they bave driven the Portuguese of Macao from the country, and turned their commerce into other channels, and are yearly and rapidly lessening their intercourse with China and Siam."
Cochin-China or Onam, the inhabitants of which are termed Onamese, derives its present population from a body of Tonquinese, who, being defeated in a rebellion under a Tonquinese prince against his sovereign, about two centuries ago, fled hither, the Lois or Laos, an ignorant and timid people, who then occupied it, fleeing before them to the mountains. The former rapidly increased, and in process of time conquered Cambodia. The present limits of this country extend from latitude 8° 40' to 17° North, and from the coast about 150 miles westward. It comprises three divisions, and the large cities of Saigon, Don-nai, Nhiatrang, Quin-hone, and the royal city of Hué. At the middle of the 18th century Cochin-China had been rendered, by a mild government, a fertile country, and an extensive maritime coast, one of the most powerful in Eastern Asia. But luxury and effeminacy followed the discovery of gold and silver mines; and Cochin-China in the east, like Spain in the West, rapidly declined in character, strength, and population. Civil war laid waste the provinces, and the manners of the people suffered rapid deterioration. The reigning monarch, Caung-shung, was, in 1774, driven from the throne, and owed his reestablishment to a French missionary, nained Adran, whose adventures are singular. In 1787, this missionary sailed from Pondicherry with the son of the king, for Paris, where the young prince was presented at court, and Louis XVI. concluded a treaty with Adran, who was made a bishop, and received from Louis the appointment of ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Cochin-China. Matters being thus arranged, he returned with the young prince to Mauritius, where a fleet, consisting of a ship of 50 guns, 7 frigates, and some transports, and troops to the number of 4 or 3,000, were put under his direction. Their sailing was afterwards suspended, and the French revolution put a stop to further proceedings. By this time, however, Caung-shung had returned to his dominions and recovered his authority, and Adran became the prime minister of the monarch, to whom he had so zealously adhered. At the arrival of
Capt. White in 1819, Adran was dead; Caung-shung was still on the throne, but verging fast to dissolution. Adran had adopted wise and vigorous measures for restoring the country, and under his administration it was returning to order and strength: his death, however, put a stop to all further improvements, and it suddenly relapsed into licentiousness, misrule, and barbarism. Of this state of things the events in our author's voyage furnish abundant proof. “In regard to the population,” says Lieut. White, “we received contradictory accounts, and we never could obtain access to any of the archives by which this point might be settled. Some of the mandarins asserted that the country contained ten millions of inhabitants, others calculated the population to be 14 millions, but the missionaries reduced the number to 6 millions. This difference probably arose from the fluctuating boundaries of the country by annual conquests. It may be presumed, that those mandarins exaggerate, who state the population to be 14 millions; which, indeed, may be the case with those who assert it to be 10 millions. Perhaps, if we place its amount at 8 millions, the mean between the smallest number of the mandarins, and that of the missionaries, we shall come nearest the truth; but this conjecture rests upon no better data than those I have already mentioned.” All calculations of population founded on conjecture, must necessarily be unsatisfactory, as is evinced by the contradictory accounts of China, the erroneous statements in relation to England and Ireland in the middle of last century, and indeed of all countries that do not adopt the American mode, of taking a census, at regular periods. If the population of Cochin-China be no more than 6 or 8 millions, it is manifestly the result of the despotism of the government, its bad Jaws, and corrupt manners, for such are the fertility of its soil, the facilities of navigation; the value and variety of its productions, and the agreeableness of its climate, that under the operation of liberty and industry, it would support probably as many people as any country in the world of the same extent. The mountains yield gold, silver, copper, iron, and other metals. “The forests, besides the various kinds of odoriferous woods, such as the eagle, rose, saffron, and others, afford iron wood, several species of the varnish tree, the dammer or pitch tree, the gambooge, the bamboo, and the rattan, besides a great variety of woods useful in dying, in construction, and in the mechanic arts. The country produces also cinnamon, honey, wax, peltry of various kinds, areka, betel, tobacco, cotton, raw silk, sugar, musk, cassia, cardamums, some pepper, indigo, sago, ivory, gold dust, rhinoceros horns, and rice of six different kinds."
It is to be regretted that the samples of rice brought to the United States by Lieut. White could not have been prepared for planting, as they would probably have improved the quality of this valuable article of food. “ There are six different kinds of rice in Cochin-China, five of which I procured samples of and
brought to the United States; but unfortunately the weavels and other vermin destroyed the vegetative principle in all of them. Of one kind the kernel is quite long, farinaceous and opake: this is generally distilled into whiskey. Another kind is small, long, and semi-transparent, and is very delicate and nutritious. A third kind is covered with a thin red coat and in consequence of some parts of it being removed in the process of husking appears variegated-red and white: this species is very fragrant and is much esteemed. There is another kind with a short round kernel which is generally used for boiling. Besides all these kinds, which are propagated in low grounds, there are two sorts of upland or mountaip rice, from which a most beautiful fine snowy white flour is made, and used in making cakes and various kinds of confectionary.”
The object of Lieut. White's voyage was to trade; and after one disappointment he succeeded in reaching the city of Saigon, situated
up the river Donnai, where he had been led to expect he should be able to procure a cargo of sugar, and other commodities. He arrived there with his vessel, the brig Franklin, of Salem, in company with another vessel,—the ship Marmion, of Boston, commanded by Capt. Blanchard," the first American ship that ever ascended the Donnai river, and displayed the stars and stripes before the city of Saigon." The difficulties and delays in treating with the officers and merchants of the character we have before described, where every artifice was employed to exact, extort, and cheat, and where perpetual demands were occurring for presents, which were very unceremoniously enforced by seizure, may easily be conceived. The adventurers, however, succeeded in obtaining parts of cargoes of sugar, and it appears that with all the burthens added to the price, it was procured considerably cheaper than the price of the remainder cargo subsequently purchased at Java; the former costing 7 dollars 22 cents per Chinese picul, the latter 8 dollars 50 cents: a circumstance probably owing to the little competition existing in the trade at Saigon.
The price current of the market at Saigon, a city of 180,000 people, bespeaks abundance. “Pork 3 cents per pound; beef 4 cents per pound; fowls 50 cents per dozen; ducks 10 cents each; eggs 50 cents per hundred; pigeons 30 cents per dozen; number of fish sufficient for the ship's company 50 cents; a fine deer a dollar and a quarter; 100 large yams 30 cents; rice 1 dollar per picul of 150 lbs. English; sweet potatoes 45 cents per picul; oranges from 30 cents to 1 dollar per hundred; plantains 2 cents per bunch, &c. &c.”
The following narrative of a species of musical fish is a matter of curiosity.
“On the passage ap one of the seven mouth of the river, our ears were saluted by a variety of sounds, resembling the deep bass of an organ, accompanied by the hollow guttural chaunt of the bull frog, the heavy chime of a bell, and the tones