In August 1846 at Canton a group of enterprising English business men invested in a Chinese junk in the hope of using the vessel as a floating trade exhibition, with the view of attracting tourists and trade to Hong Kong, which had been ceded to Britain by the “Treaty of Nanjing” in 1842, at the end of the first opium war of 1839–42. The junk was named after the noble Qiying (Keying), a Manchu mandarin of the dynasty of Purity, who was entrusted by the Emperor to deal with westerners in Hong Kong.
The purchase may have been against Chinese law under the Manchu Dynasty, which forbade in several ways interaction with foreigners. What is interesting is that a mandarin known as He Sing, and a well-known Chinese artist Sam Sing, were picked to go on the voyage, and it is suggested that the Emperor was aware of the project from the start and secretly kept informed about it, and that the mandarin served as an informer to report back in detail.
The junk Keying was a 160 feet long, with a hold depth of 19 feet, 800 tons (Chinese), mainsail 9 tons, mainmast 85 feet long from the deck of the ship, which was made of teak. The rudder was suspended by a series of ropes and weighed 7 tons and could be lifted by two winches. The ship was painted black and white, with a large eagle on her stern and two eyes on her bow, which gave its hideous assemblage of planks an appearance of a great marine monster. She cost $75,000.
After the Governor, Sir John Davis, Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane and all the Officers of the Fleet had visited the Keying she left Hong Kong on 6 December 1846 bound for London, under the command of Captain Charles Auckland Kellett (born Plymouth 1820) with a crew including 30 Chinese and 12 English. She rounded Cape Horn on 6 March 1847 and after being at sea for four and half months she put into St Helena on 17 April, leaving on the 23rd. She carried on her passage but was driven westward and running low on supplies she instead made for New York, arriving there on 9 July, 212 days from Canton.
She created a great deal of interest with 7,000 to 8,000 visitors per day initially, paying 25 cents each. She left New York for Boston and arrived there on 18 November and on Thanksgiving Day attracted 4,000 to 5,000 visitors.
Arrival off Jersey
She left Boston for London on 17 February, with her masts adorned with strips of red cloth that the Chinese crew believed would bring a good and safe journey to them. On about 11 March 1848 the vessel found herself near the Roches Douvres and was approached by the cutter Peirson under the command of Captain Chevalier, who escorted the junk into St Aubin’s Bay, for which he was paid £60.
The junk having made a quick crossing of the Atlantic in 21 days anchored off Jersey, her first European port of call, where she stayed for ten days. Crowds gathered on the Esplanade with their glasses to view the junk in the bay. Several boats ventured out to get a closer look at her, but no women were allowed to board her as the right of the first European woman to board was reserved for Queen Victoria.
Two boatmen, John Stone and John Kimber, took a party of onlookers out. As they neared the junk the packet from Plymouth the Zebra rounded Noirmont and steered a course close to the junk to also view the marvel. In doing so she swamped the boat of Stone and Kimber and the party were thrown into the water with Lieutenant Bassen of the Royal Navy, Boatman Kimber, and a boy, George Hamon, drowning. Among those who survived were:
- Josue Brayn, George Ingouville Perchard, Jean De Gruchy, Thomas De Gruchy, M Boisnet (of the Pomme D’Or), with his chef and commisionnaire, Elias Tinckam, Samuel Tinckam, (George Hamon was their apprentice) and James Murphy.
The Keying left Jersey for London with the steamer Monarch under Captain Priaulx as her escort, with the trip expected to take three days. She arrived at her destination and tied up at the East India Docks, adjoining the Railway and Steamboat Pier, Blackwall on 27 March, 477 days after leaving Canton. She created no less a stir in London, as she had elsewhere, with her Mandarin of rank and the artist of celebrity hosting visitors in the grand saloon, gorgeously furnished in the most approved style of the celestial empire with its collection of Chinese curiosities. The Times stated:
- “There is not a more interesting exhibition in the vicinity of London than the Chinese Junk: one step across the entrance, and you are in the Chinese world; you have quitted the Thames for the vicinity of Canton.”
Some famous visitors toured the junk, including the Duke of Wellington and Charles Dickens, and several of the young Chinese crew visited Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace.
From the Jersey Times, 5 April 1850
- "The Chinese Junk – On Saturday last an accident of a very serious character, but unattended with any loss of life, happened to a large wooden structure which had lately been in the course of erection at the Essex pier, at the bottom of Essex street, Strand, London, for the purpose of exhibiting the Chinese Junk. This building was erected on piles driven down into the river, and was 400 feet long, 60 feet high, and about 50 broad; and one side, the ends, and a portion of the roof had already been enclosed in boards. Throughout Friday night the whole shook and trembled under the influence of the wind, which was very high, and about ten on Saturday morning, while half a dozen workmen were engaged in securing the woodwork, the structure fell down with a large crash. A strong gust of wind was blowing at the time from the east, and the piles were not strong enough to resist the pressure occassioned by the wind acting on the whole length of the side. All the men escaped unhurt, except one, who was precipitated from a considerable height on the mud below, into which he sank several feet; and another who received such injuries on his arm as to render it necessary to remove him to the Hospital. Men had been employed on this building nearly a month, and the cost will be about £500".
The Keying was eventually taken to Liverpool where she was scrapped and her timbers used in the building of ferry boats for the River Mersey.