By S. A. VIGUIER.
IN 1865, Mr. De Chasseloup-Laubat, President de la Sociéte de Geographie de Paris et Ministre de la Marine, ordered the
Governor of Cochin-china to send a scientific party to explore the interior of the Indo-Chinese peninsula, as it was of the greatest importance for the future welfare of the colony that France was founding at the mouth of the Cambodje, to ascertain accurately to what countries that great stream gives access, and what populations and productions could be found in the valleys irrigated by the Meikong.
Commmander Doudart de Lagree was appointed Chief of the exploring party, but succumbed to the fatigues and hardships of the voyage, which was continued under the direction of Lieutenant Gamier, his second in command. On his return to France, Mr. Garnier who had filled an important post in the administration of the colony, and had been one of the principal promoters of the exploration, was directed by the Government to draw up the official report of the voyage he had accomplished.
Interrupted by the war the work of Mr. Garnier is now published in two volumes, the Atlas and Album, which I have the honor to present to the Society in his name.
Allow me to analyse in a few words the most remarkable parts of a work describing for the first time the immense country situated between the shores of Cochin-china and the southern frontiers of China.
The valley of the “Meikong,” under which name the “Cambodia River” is generally designated in old maps, was, until the French exploration, one of the most unknown regions of Asia. It was known that it included a large kingdom called Laos, to which the King of Holland sent an embassy in the 17th century, but Gerard van Wustoff, Chief of that mission, has left us no maps
* Read before the Society on the 2nd June, 18*3.
of, or geographical documents concerning the country. The relation of his travels, published in Flemish, contains however certain details giving the highest idea of the riches and productions of its capital Vien-chan, the ruins of which were visited by the French expedition.
In this century a French traveller Mouhot, having started from Bangkok, reached the Laotian city of Luang-Prabang, situated on the Meikong, where he suecumbed to the influence of malarious fever. Gutzlafl’ in an article published in the journal of the Royal Geographical Society having examined and made a résume of all that was known of Laos, could only arrive at very uncertain and contradictory conclusions.
In 1837 Lieutenant, now General, McLeod of the British Army, having started from Moulmein reached Xieng-Hong, a point on the Meikong, situated in 22° N. Latitude.
This was all that was known of the interior of Indo-China when on the 5th June 1866, the French travellers started to ascend the Meikong or Cambodia river.
The expedition was composed of:—
Commander Doudart de Lagree, Chief of the mission.
Lieut. Francis Garnier.
Lieut. Louis Delaporte.
Boctor Joubert, geologist.
Doctor Thorel, botanist.
And Mr. De Carne, diplomatic attach^.
Two interpreters for Siamese and Cambodian dialects. Four European soldiers, two European sailors, two Manilamen, and seven native soldiers from Saigon formed the escort.
Their first visit was to those magnificent ruins of Cambodje, already described by the German traveller Bastian. The publication under your notice contains the first complete work on the monuments of Angcor, a number of plans and drawings reproducing the most important edifices, and the most characteristic details of their architecture, and some of the bas-reliefs and inscriptions.
It can only be with a sentiment of admiration and astonishment, that any one contemplates these monuments, their wonderful proportions and the finish of their ornamentation, surpassing in purity and richness the most prized pieces of our antiquity.
The imaginary restoration of one of the city gates and of the singular edifice called the “Baion,” found in the Album, will give you an idea of this powerful and curious architecture.
These remains of an unknown civilisation are found very far in the interior of Laos and testify that all the southern part of IndoChina was formerly under the imperial domination of the ancient Cambodians.
Mr. Garnier has devoted a chapter of his book to a historical essay on the old kingdom of Cambodje. By a careful examination of the native traditions and a comparison with the Sanscrit and Chinese documents which very often allude, the former to a kingdom Cambodja, the latter to a kingdom of Chin-la or Kan-pu-chi, he has arrived at this conclusion, that to the second or third century of our era must be ascribed the original foundation of the IndoChinese empire. Mr. Garnier identifies it with the kingdom of Funan of the ancient Chinese historians, the same which Mr. Wade surmised to be the present kingdom of Siam, and finally ascribes to the fifth and sixth century the most glorious time of this architecture whose beautiful productions are now concealed under the tropical vegetation of the Cambodian forests.
Instead of attributing to Buddhism, as Mr. Bastian does, this wonderful work of a by-gone age, Mr. Garnier, in accordance with the opinion already expressed on the subject by Mr. Fergusson, of the Royal Society, attempts to prove that Brahminism, and perhaps Serpent or Dragon worship preceded the introduction of Buddhism into Cambodje.
Unfortunately all the historical questions concerning this ancient empire cannot be accurately resolved until the epigraphic language of the Cambodian monuments becomes less obscure to the Indianist, for although all Cambodian inscriptions are easily made out, the latest only can be clearly understood, the old ones being written in an ancient language, which the present Cambodians themselves cannot understand; and it is to be hoped that by a profound study of the comparative philology of the present dialects, the savants will arrive at a translation of these important inscriptions.
From Cambodje the expedition marched towards the north, ascending in native canoes, the great river, the whole course of which they intended to explore.
A large zone of rapids and of thick and impenetrable forests separates the Cambodje from this mysterious Laos, which at first appeared to justify the terrible reputation of insalubrity reported by missionaries, who never succeeded in penetrating it, a reputation which had been confirmed by the death of Mouhot.
Many members of the expedition fell sick with “jungle fever,” and for ten or twelve days Mr. Garnier remained in his canoe in a despaired-of condition, but the rainy season was fortunately at an end, and with the northerly winds fine weather and good health returned.
The expedition was compelled to winter at Bassac, the chief town of the Laotian kingdom of that name, a tributary of Siam, where they arrived on the 16th of September. During their stay at Bassac they had a good opportunity of studying the customs, habits and religion of the Laotian people which you will find minutely described in Mr. Garnier’s book, and very artistically illustrated by Mr. Delaporte’s drawings.
Bassac was the place where the Governor of Saigon had promised to forward to them a fresh supply of provisions and instruments, and above all the Chinese passports which the Legation at Pekin could not forward to Saigon before their departure.
But, as weeks passed away without bringing the expected reliefs, Mr. Garnier went back alone to meet them, and descending the river as far as Stung-Treng, on the frontiers of Cambodje, was there informed that a formidable insurrection had broken out in that kingdom and that all communication with the colony was interrupted.
The banks of the river being occupied by rebels, the boatmen refused to go any further, but as the success of the expedition was hopeless without the Chinese passports, Mr. Garnier having rejoined the expedition at Bassac on the 23rd of .November proceeded with them to Oubon where they arrived on the 7th of January, 1867. Mr. Garnier devoted himself again to making a long tour overland through a perfectly unknown country, comprising the Laotian provinces of Si-Saket, Coucan, Sourtin and Tchoucan reached that part of the Great Cambodian lake belonging to the Siamese, and by boats arrived at Pnom-Peuh, the central station of the French forces in Cambodje, having, with great danger, passed through positions occupied by the Cambodian rebels.
Having found the wished-for passports at Pnom-Peuh, Mr. Garnier started to join the expedition, and going on foot by a more eastern route through the province of Sonkea, and the immense forest of Prey-sa&, reached his companions at Houten on the 10th of March.
During the stay of the expedition at Bassac, Commander de Lagree had made a long journey to the eastward of the river, as far as the frontiers of Anam, and surveyed the Se-kong and Se-don both tributaries of the Meikong river.
Proceeding further north, the expedition traversed a most admirable country covered with beautiful and rich vegetation, but hardly productive, on account of the exactions the Laotians have had to bear, since the Siamese conquered the kingdom of Laos in 1828.
On the 2nd of April, the travellers arrived at the ruins ofVienChan, situated on the left bank of the Meikong in 18° N. Lat., which had been visited by Wustoffin 1641, and on the 1st of May they reached Luang-Prabang where their countryman Mouhot had died six years before, and with the assistance of the local authorities erected over his grave a monument to his memory.
Chapter XX is devoted by Mr. Garnier to the history of Laos, compiled principally from Chinese documents, and he arrives at the conclusion that the Laotians came originally from the province of Fohkien, the population of which shows, even now, a remarkable anthropologic difference from that of the other provinces of China.
On account of the enormous difficulties of navigation in the middle of the terrific rapids formed at each of the numerous turns and windings of the river, the travellers had to abandon all hopes. of reaching the frontiers of China by ascending the Meikong, and on reaching Tang-ho on the 18th of June, at the limit of the Siamese possessions, they were compelled to leave their canoes and proceed on foot.
The expedition had then arrived in a part of Laos, tributary to the Burmese empire, and as they could not before their departure from Saigon procure passports from the Court of Ava, they had to encounter all the difficulties and obstacles that the local authorities, and principally the Burman representative could raise to prevent them from proceeding any further.
The travellers had now the greatest difficulty to find bearers for their instruments and luggage, and the rainy season having set in, rendered their march very laborious and painful. They were obliged to leave behind all the botanical and geological specimens they had collected with so much trouble and care, and each one had to abandon the greater part of his clothing and carry his arms and instruments.
The journey, which until then had been comparatively easy and pleasant, became very arduous and fatiguing in the midst of all kinds of dangers.
The travellers had to cross very dense forests full of wild animals; to sleep on the damp soil; and very often to walk for days through an inundated country with water up to their waists.
The poor travellers’ hare feet, torn by roots, and eaten up by leeches, could hardly support them. They all suffered from fever, and very often abandoned all hope, not only of successfully performing their mission but even of ever seeing their country again.
However, the energy of their Chief kept up their spirits; the firm attitude of Commander de Lagree baffled the opposition of the Burman Officers, and after four months of direst miseries and struggles they at last reached, on the 29th of September, the important city of Xieng-Hong, situated in northern Laos, on the banks of the Meikong in 22° N. Latitude.
In order to remove the difficulties put in the way of the expedition by the local Burman representative, Commander de Lagree left his companions at Muong-Yong on the 14th of August, and made a long journey overland to the westward of the Meikong valley, to Xieng-Tong, the residence of the King of that province whose father had been visited by Lieutenant McLeod in 1837, and having obtained permission to continue his march to the north, rejoined his companions at Mong-You or Xieng-Keng, on the 13th of September, having traversed the regions occupied by the independent Does tribes.
Xieng-Hong being tributary to both Burmah and China, the passports delivered to the expedition by Prince Kung appeared at first to remove all difficulties raised by the local authorities to prevent its entrance into China, but the western part of the Yunan province, at which frontier they had arrived, having been for years in rebellion against the Imperial Government of Peking, the expedition in order to avoid the rebel territories, was compelled to turn to the eastward and to rejoin the Ho-ti-kiang or Tong-King river, which springs from the Yunan mountains near Yuen-Kiang (cheou), having therefore a good opportunity of visiting the important frontier markets of Se-mao, Pou-eul and Ta-lan, and of studying the mineral riches of that part of Yunan.
Mr. Garnier descended the Ho-ti.kiang about 30 miles to ascertain whether it was not a tributary of the “Meikong” but really entered the kingdom of Anam, and returned to China by Li-nganfu, named by Commander de Lagree as a place of rendezvous.
In that city Mr. Garnier very nearly fell a victim to popular curiosity, and only avoided lapidation by the use of his revolver, its rapid and successive detonations in the air, without any apparent loading, terrifying the population so much that they left him alone in the pagoda where he had taken up his abode and where they had besieged him.
Having been rejoined by his companions, they continued their journey through the region of lakes situated in the centre of the Yunan province.
All that country showed frightful signs of the most horrid civil war, roads leading through ruins were covered with the bodies of the dead and dying; whole cities had not a roof standing to shelter their miserable inhabitants, and an epidemic of cholera having spread over the country after the massacres, unburied coffins covered miles and miles of abandoned fields.
The French expedition arrived at Yunan-fu on Christmas Eve, 1867, and was received with very kind attention by the Chinese authorities.
Their mission might have then been considered at an end; they had but to join the navigable part of the Yangtze to proceed to Shanghai, but the travellers entertaining hopes of rejoining the Meikong ( Lan-tsang-hiang ) closer to its source and of being then able to trace its whole course, resolved to push on as far as the Thibetan frontier.
As they had to cross the country occupied by the Mahometan rebels, which was a very dangerous enterprise, and it being desirable to march as rapidly as possible, it was decided that a portion only of the expedition should attempt it.
At Tong-chuen where they arrived on the 16th January, 1868, the fatigues of the march, the privations of all sorts and the intense application of mind to which Commander de Lagree had given himself during the last eighteen months overcame his energy, and he fell very seriously ill. Mr. Garnier, directed by him to accomplish the last part of their programme, left his Chief under the care of Dr. Joubert, and taking Mr. Delaporte, Mr. De Carne, Dr. Thorel and five men with him, proceeded to Mong-kou, situated in 26° -4′ N. Lat. on the right bank of the Yangtze, called there the Kin-cha-hiang.
The Kin-cha-kiang making a long bend of nearly 150 miles to the south between Mong-kou and Hong-pou-so, situated about 60 miles to the eastward, the expedition crossed over to the left bank at Mong-kou and travelled through very arid and steep mountains, visiting Houey-li (cheau) and the coal and copper mines of that part of Szechuen.
They arrived at Hong-pou-so on the 8th of February, and on the 10th visited the junction of the Kin-cha-kiang with the Yalong-kiang coming from the north between two high walls cut in the mountain.
At Hong-pou-so the natives call the Ya-long-kiang which is the affluent, the Kin-cha-hiang, and the principal river or Yangtze, the Pei-chouy-hiang, although it is certain that the Pei-chauy-Mang is really the continuation of the Yangtze called the Kin-cha-hiang at Mong-kou.
The river runs in a gorge and is so interrupted by rapids that it is almost unnavigable. After following the left bank of the river in order to visit the Ma-chang coal mines, the expedition re-crossing the Kin-cha-kiang travelled westward through the mountains, following a direction parallel to that of the river whose course they surveyed for 300 miles further up than Ping-chan, visited by Captain Blakiston in 1861.
On the 26th of February they arrived at Tou-toui-tsi, a small village in the mountains, about 50 miles from Ta-ly, where they found a missionary, Mr. Leguilcher, who had lived in the country for twenty years.
From that place Mr. Garnier sent an express to Tu-wan-hsiu the Mahometan Chief or Sultan, informing him of his intention to visit him, and without waiting for a reply, the expedition started two hours after their courier, accompanied by Mr. Leguilcher whose knowledge of the dialects, and of Mahometan customs would be of great assistance.
The city of Ta-ly is built in a beautiful plain, situated between the western bank of the Eul-hay lake and a range of inaccessible mountains, covered with snow, which encircle the lake from north to south, leaving only at each end a narrow pass very easy to defend, which renders the place impregnable and only assailable from the lake.
This lake, situated more than 6,000 feet above the level of the sea, measures 22 miles from N. to S., and 6 or 7 miles from E. to W., the water is very deep, in some places exceeding 50 fathoms. The lake overflows at its south end through a small river which joins the Meikong on the frontier of Yunan.
The plain of Ta-ly contained formerly more than 150 villages, these, ruined by the war, are now occupied by the Mahometans.
The eastern shore of the lake is inhabited by the Minhias and the Pentis.
The Pentis are descended from the first Chinese families that were sent to colonize Yunan by the Mongols, after the conquests of the western province by Khoublai Kan’s generals; the ilinhias are said to have come from Nankin. Mr. Garnier’s book gives a very minute description of the different human types, such as Chinese, Laotians, Thibetans, Lolos, Mautze, and other independent tribes that are found in that part of Yunan.
On the 2nd of March the expedition having received a favorable answer from the Sultan, entered the plain of Ta-ly by the Hiangkouan pass, to the north of the lake, reached the city in the afternoon, and being quartered in a yamen near the south gate had occasion to visit the city from one end to the other.
The next day was appointed for the audience, but, instead of receiving them, the Sultan ordered them to leave the country immediately.
“Tell them,” he said to Mr. Leguilcher, “that they can conquer the eighteen provinces of China but never the country I rule, that I give them life because they are foreigners, but although they have sounded my lake and measured the height of my mountains, they will never take them.”
The Sultan’s refusal to receive them being known to all, the soldiers and people showed signs of bad feeling towards the travellers, and it was only the European prestige—the fear of their arms, which were considered marvellous—and the energetic attitude of all, that saved their lives. The expedition left Ta-ly the next day early in the morning, going outside the city walls, and soon arrived at the fortress that defends the Hiang-kouan pass where the Commander told them that he had received instructions from the Sultan to offer them hospitality for the night, but Mr. Garnier very proudly answered, that as the Sultan would not receive him in his palace he could not now accept his hospitality in the fort, and before any thing could be done to prevent it, they marched through the pass and found themselves again with great satisfaction in the open country. After a few days rest at Tou-toui-tsi, finding it impossible, owing to the state of the country, to proceed further, they started back for Tong-chouen, where they arrived on the 4th of April, and had the affliction to learn that their Chief, Commander Doudart de Lagree, had died on the 12th of March.
Unwilling to leave behind the body of an Officer, who had so nobly served his country and died on the battle-field of science and civilization, Mr. Garnier, with the assistance of the Chinese authorities and surmounting the difficulties of a long voyage through the mountains, transported him to Sui-tcheou-fu where the Yangtze begins to he open to navigation.
On the 19th of May the exploring expedition, now reduced to fourteen persons, proceeded down the Yangtze; they passed in the way Mr. T. T. Cooper who was then proceeding through the province of Szechuen to join Mgr. Chauveau the Vicar Apostolic of Thibet, who failed in his attempt to reach that country and visit Ta-ly. At the same time Captain, now Major Sladen, who had started from Bamo on the Irawady was detained at Momein ( Tengyue) on the frontier of Yunan without being allowed to proceed further.
The French expedition arrived at Shanghai on the 12th of June, 1868, having been two years on the voyage.
From Cratieh, the most distant point above Saigon surveyed by the naval hydrographers, the expedition travelled 6,225 miles, 4,200 miles of which were geographically determined for the first time.
In this long journey the geographical positions of 66 places were astronomically determined, 57 of them for the first time, accurate soundings were taken and minute surveys made of the Meikong and other rivers visited by the expedition, the different altitudes of mountains were observed and registered, together with a minute description of the country, its trade, its mineral and vegetable productions and its political organisation.
Besides these geographical results, Mr. Garnier’s book contains a historical part to which I have already alluded, and a very interesting illustrated description of Buddhism as practised in the kingdom of Laos, together with geological, botanical and anthropological observations by Doctors Thorel and Joubert, and a very minute account of the working of the Yunan mines compiled from Chinese documents.
The Atlas contains twelve charts of the journey, and ten plans of Khmers monuments visited in Cambodje, and the Album a very fine collection of lithographs and chromolithographs representing the types and dresses of the natives, and views of the different places visited by the expedition. They have been executed by the best Parisian artists from the sketches and drawings made by Lieutenant Delaporte during the voyage.
This exploring expedition, by which Europeans have been able for the first time to enter China by an Indian route, has received the sanction of the most competent Societies.
In 1869, the Sociéte de Geographie de Paris divided its gold medal between the two Chiefs of the expedition, Commander Doudart de Lagr§e and Lieutenant Garnier; the International Geographical Congress of Anvers voted two special medals, one for Dr. Livingston and the other for Mr. Garnier, who was also presented in 1870 with what all travellers consider the most honorable recompense, the Patron’s Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society of London.