Rosmarie Wank-Nolasco Lamas*


While the right of men to freely travel around within and beyond their country for a variety of reasons, such as commerce, entertainment or education, has rarely been questioned or contested, this idea was tolerated only in special circumstances with respect to the female sex. The English proverb 'a woman's place is in the home' characterises very well the dominant ideology prevailing in Western (and most probably all) societies for a very long time. Before the nineteenth century, women would not travel for the mere sake and pleasure of travelling, or tourism, while men, for example, went on the 'Grand Tour', the origins of which date back to the sixteenth century, leading them to some of the most sacred places of European culture.

The journey of Harriet Low, undertaken between May of 1829 and September of 1834, took place in a period of social and economic transition in the USA. Foreign commerce was expanding too, largely due to the progress made in ship-building. It started to become socially acceptable that women travelled for other than the traditional, i. e., female reasons in their function as domestic beings, namely as daughters or spouses, accompanying their fathers, parents or husbands. Apart from this, going on a pilgrimage was perhaps the only socially acceptable form of travel to fulfil the desire of a woman to leave the boundaries of her home. At the beginning of the 1820s, however, a growing number of women would invoke personally motivated reasons for travelling: they wanted to see the world from the perspective of journalists, missionaries, teachers, artists, social activists, writers, scientists, adventurers, or wealthy women looking for distraction and erudition: "In an unprecedented female exodus, they fanned out around the globe on the waves of ideological, economic, political, and technological developments. [...] Travel was transforming women from private into public actors on the world stage."1

These new female aspirations were both criticised and approved, or even encouraged, by society. On the one hand, there existed the fear that the temporary absence of a mother would have a negative influence on the family's well-being; or, in the case of unmarried girls, that they would be exposed to new images and beliefs which might disturb their mental well-being, and that they might be troubled not only by a different standard of living abroad, assumedly inferior, but also by the gazes and, even worse, the deeds of foreign men. On the other hand, travelling turned quickly into something like a status symbol and an indicator of economic power in an increasingly competitive society. Especially after the American Civil War (1861-1865), the evidence of having travelled outside the USA was even considered as an asset for a young, middle-class lady at the age of marriage.

Apart from these materialist motives in favour of travelling, Schriber identifies three ideal motifs that justified, and even compelled, the Americans who were conscious of themselves and of their supreme position in the world, to encounter this world directly. 2 Firstly, they travelled in order to improve their intellect and cultural knowledge; secondly, in order to become more aware of their own national identity; and finally, in order to enjoy more profoundly the feeling of political and moral superiority associated with their country: "[T]his is the nation, which the Disposer of events designs shall go forth as the cynosure of nations, to guide them to the light and blessedness of that day [when "all nations shall rejoice and be made blessed"]."3

It was behind this background that the number of women who travelled abroad increased significantly, and just like their male compatriots, the women shared the same ideology. Their mission abroad was considered as even nobler, because they represented the best of American culture. Throughout the nineteenth century, the image of the woman served as a symbol for the Republic, exalted and honoured in ceremonies in the classical figure of the Goddess of Liberty. The women were described as "[...] powerful as the New World [..., or as...] the incarnation[s] of the essence of a whole continent [...]."4

This article will examine the diary of Harriet Low with respect to the three ideal motifs suggested by Schriber, testifying to the Zeitgeist prevailing among the American travellers, both male and female.


The diary of Harriet Low (°1809-†1877) begins on the 24th of May of 1829, the day when she left her parents' house in Salem (Massachusetts) for Macao as her destination, where she arrived on the 29th of September of the same year. The diary ends a few hours before her arrival in New York, on the 24th of September of 1834. During all this time she was regularly, almost daily, writing in it. The diary, or rather diaries, consist of nine volumes of different extent, including a gap between September of 1830 and February of 1831, corresponding to a lost volume. However, this lacuna is partially filled bye fragments of personal letters. Some of the individual volumes were given a title by Harriet Low. One of them, namely The Lights and Shadows of a Macau Life by a Travelling Spinster appear twice, in the volumes VI and VII, leading to suppose that this would have most probably been the title chosen by Harriet Low in case of a publication of the diary during her lifetime.

The original of the diary, exhaustively consulted by the author of this article, is in the Library of Congress Manuscript Section in Washington DC, among the papers and documents left by the Low-Mills family. There exist two published versions of the diary. The first, very abridged version was edited by her eldest daughter Katharine Hillard in 1900, with the title My mother's journal. A young lady's diary of five years spent in Manila, Macao, and the Cape of Good Hope from 1829-1834. The editor justifies the substantial cut in the introduction to the diary with the following words: "As there must necessarily be much repetition in a journal covering so long a space of time, a great deal has been cut out; but, with the exception of a few slips of the pen, nothing has been corrected or altered."5

Another published version of the diary is part of a larger volume edited, in 1953, by one of Harriet Low's granddaughters, Elma Loines, with the title The China trade post-bag of the Seth Low family of Salem and New York. Apart from a few slight modifications, the two versions are almost identical. As the title of Loines' book suggests, Harriet was merely one of the members of the Low family to live in Macao and China, although she was the only Low woman by birth.

Apart from this, there exists an integral version of the diary, minutely copied but not published, comprising nine hundred and forty seven typewritten pages. The author of this work was Arthur W. Hummel (°1884-†1975), former head of one of the sections of the Library of Congress, then called 'Orientalia'. Hummel did not merely transcribe the whole diary literally, but he also commented it, adding five hundred and twenty footnotes, which occupy another one hundred and twenty seven pages. A reproduction of the original transcription is inserted among the above mentioned papers of the Low-Mills family. 6 Hummel himself mentions that the Library of Congress was preparing a complete edition of the diary, 7 and Loines recounts in the Preface of her book that Hummel had just finished editing the nine volumes. 8 However, it was never published and seems to have fallen into oblivion. 9

The question remains why Harriet Low herself never published a book about her experiences and life in Macao. The idea certainly crossed her mind, and was even directly proposed to her by two well-known personalities, the German Protestant missionary Karl Guetzlaff (° 1803-†1851) and the British writer, journalist and sociologist Harriet Martineau (°1802-†1876). The former was in Macao several times during the stay of Harriet Low, trying on one occasion to convince her to write down her own story, obviously from the perspective of a Protestant Christian, as a moral example for the Chinese, offering his services in translating and divulging it among the Chinese during his missionary expeditions. Harriet comments to her brother about this encounter: "You may laugh at the idea, but he was serious and really excited my pity so much by his tales of cruelty and uncivilisation among my fellow beings, that for a time I felt the flame of enthusiasm burning within me, and I thought I would do anything for them, and would that I could. But, alas, I told him that I was too feeble a creature, and incapable even of writing anything. "But try", he says, and there our conversation ended."10

The proposal of Harriet Martineau, which was accompanied by the promise of an editorial contract and royalties, was made to Harriet during her 'English period', i. e., following her marriage to John Hillard, a period spent in England, which lasted, with interruptions, from 1836 to 1853, the year in which her husband died and she definitively returned to the USA. Her reaction to Martineau's suggestion was to feel herself flattered, but at the same time a little incredulous, as can be seen in a letter to her father written after an encounter with Harriet Martineau: "Capital idea! Do not fail to have them all cased in tin that they may be preserved from destruction!! What a treat it would for the public, to be sure!! All the little love passages, and the interesting characters described therein."11

This is why Manuel Teixeira's characterisation of Harriet Low as a "great authoress"12 is not totally justified, mainly if we put her side by side with other women who actively wrote and published. On the contrary, the diary made her famous only after her death. In this respect a quotation by Virginia Woolf, chosen by Hummel on the first page of his transcription of the diary, is much more adequate: "Should you wish to make sure that your birthday will be celebrated three hundred years hence, your best course is undoubtedly to keep a diary. Only first be certain that you have the courage to lock your genius in a private book and the humour to gloat over a fame that will be yours only in the grave".


Harriet was invited by her uncle William Henry Low (°1795-†1834) to accompany him and his wife Abigail (° 1800-†18??) to Macao for a period of about five years, because they had no children of their own. Her uncle went to Macao, or rather Guangzhou, initially as partner of the American company Russell & Co., becoming later its director. He joined the company on the 1st of October of 1829. 13

Harriet had one elder sister, Mary Ann or Molly, and ten younger siblings. Since Mary Ann already had a fiancé and the seven siblings following Harriet were all boys, the selection of her as accompanying family member seemed to have been natural. Apart from this, Harriet was her uncle's favourite niece. In the diary she refers to him as "Uncle", while her aunt is referred to a "Aunt Low" or "Aunty". The love, respect and care for her uncle and aunt are a frequent topic in the diary. Furthermore, apart from being a form of entertainment and pastime, the diary was written for her sister Mary Ann, who also kept a diary to be exchanged with Harriet. However, it has to be mentioned that Harriet was a very discreet writer, preferring to send news of a more delicate or intimate nature in a letter. Therefore, the sentence "[...] as regards particulars, see my letter dated [...]" can be read with a certain frequency in the diary. But this attitude is also understandable, because in her letters Harriet wanted to exchange impressions and get advice from her sister and family, which explains why the letters were sent more regularly than a completed volume of the diary. Even though, ten months had to pass on average, before an answer to a letter would be obtained. Unluckily, the majority of these letters has been lost or continue to be held in private hands. 14

Harriet's father, Seth Low (°1782-†1853), was a trader who imported goods from the Far East. Two months after her departure, this branch of the Low family moved from Salem to Brooklyn (New York), where several members and descendants would assume important public positions. Since the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, New York had rapidly turned into a navigational centre, while the harbour of Salem, due to problems of silting, could no longer receive large vessels.

Harriet is a typical example of a 'WASP' ('White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant'), i. e., the members of the middle class who most typically incorporated the American spirit and values, and proud of the independence of the USA from the British Crown. She identifies herself fully with the values propagated by this class, for which it was considered as the foremost task of a woman to take care of the family and to deal with domestic affairs, and where female travel would be justified only by the above mentioned conventional reasons. Yet her journey takes place at the same time as the first generation of Schriber's 'feminine exodus' from the USA, resulting in a more independent and selfmotivated type of travel by women. Though Harriet sometimes expresses her envy regarding the male freedom of movement, she does not question it, rather contenting herself with this fact.

One of the characteristics of Protestant families was that their daughters would also receive some kind of instruction, above all in order to be able to read The Bible and to care for their own salvation. The Lows belonged to the Unitarian Church, a Protestant creed to which Harriet adhered with great conviction and fervour. On the one hand, her strong faith would support her in the life in Macao in difficult moments; on the other hand, her inflexibility in this respect made her life, including her sentimental life, more difficult, mainly when associating with the Anglican, and consequently Trinitarian, British in Macao.


In China this was the height of the so-called 'Canton [Guangzhou] trade', the reason why Harriet's uncle went there in the first place, and at the same time a period of intensive opium trade. The trade of the foreign nations in Guangzhou, the only Chinese harbour open to the world since 1759, was subject to a great number of rules and regulations, which were rather strictly observed by the Chinese and, at the same time, greatly contested by the foreign community. 15 According to these regulations, for example, the visit or stay of women in the foreign factories in Guangzhou was absolutely forbidden. That is why the wives and the families of the traders lived in Macao, while the men dealt with their businesses in Guangzhou. The numbers indicated by Immanuel Hsue16 for 1836 refer to three hundred and seven foreigners in Guangzhou, out of whom only ninety four were of Asian origin, such as Indians, Arabs, or others. Therefore, it is not astonishing that any pretext served as an excuse for, once in a while, getting out of Guangzhou and down to Macao, in order to breathe its fresh air, to see the family, or to look for female companionship. According to Harriet, "[...] they seem as though they were just let loose from a cage, when they come down for a day or two, all life and spirits."17 On another occasion she observes: "[I received] a note from Blight saying Mr. Wood was in Macau, his health his plea, but I suspect [it] is all fudge. They do anything to get down now and then. Called to see us this morning, looking very well."18

Foreign residence in Macao was authorised after 1757. This measure would slowly transform the whole city, waking it up from the lethargy that had enveloped it since the end of the Japan trade and the collapse of the Estado da India (Portuguese Empire in Asia), a little more than a century ago. From that moment onwards, nothing prohibited foreigners from coming to Macao, and its inhabitants started to benefit from their presence. Apart from paying custom dues, the foreigners also rented flats or houses from the Macanese, because they could not own buildings or land. The arrival of foreign women to Macao, however, did not occur immediately after the license of residence was given, and even the number of Portuguese women in Macao was quite reduced until the end of the eighteenth century. As we already know, the main obstacle preventing women from travelling was not geographical distance, but the social conventions and beliefs with respect to the female sex, their functions and capacities. As regards the relations between the foreign community and the Portuguese in Macao, the contacts were rather minimal, be cause of reasons of language and of religion, being restricted to an absolute minimum. In publications of contemporaries of Harriet, as well as in her own diary, we can frequently discover a certain disdain for the inhabitants of Macao. Wood, a compatriot of Harriet and her secret fiancé, though only for a short time, describes Macao's Portuguese population as intolerant, ignorant, fanatic, and absolutely dominated by the Catholic clergy, admitting only "[...] a few exceptions [...]."19 This opinion also applies to the Portuguese administration, generally considered to be merely nominal, and of bad quality: "The long-continued and scarce-resisted insults and exactions of the Chinese, have at length reduced the Portuguese power here to a mere name, and so long a period has elapsed since these oppressive measures have been patiently endured, that it would now be almost impossible for them to resume the privileges and immunities which their imperial grant originally entitled them to."20

It seems as if the foreigners acted almost as they liked in Macao, not taking the Portuguese administration very seriously, considering it rather an inevitable nuisance, as Harriet's reaction shows upon knowing that the Governor wanted to send the Lows away from Macao: "We have received orders from the Governor of Macau to leave this place. He says he has received them from the Court of Lisbon. Now this is so counter to the treaty of the nations that the reasons for doing it are not understood. He says he shall not resort to force to drive us away, but, I assure you, it is not very pleasant to be threatened from one place to another. We were sent to Macau by the Viceroy of Canton, and, if the Governor here tells us to walk, we shall just have to apply to said Viceroy for permission to remain. People say the government of Macau is only nominally Portuguese, and I do not think there is much danger of our being sent home. Soon after we arrived, Uncle called on his Excellency, as is customary, and told him what house he had taken, and the Governor told him he must apply to the Court of Lisbon or Goa for permission to stay here. He wrote to Lisbon; but it will probably be three years before he gets an answer, when I suspect we shall be ready to go home. So much for orders, which do no trouble us much."21 Wood tells a similar story with respect to the official registering of the presence of foreigners in Macao, of the type "[...] no questions are asked, and of course no difficulty experienced [...]" from the side of the Portuguese authorities. 22


"Everyone ought to go to sea, for they know nothing of the glories of creation until they do."23 This is the opinion of Harriet when remembering the long twilight and the splendid sunsets while crossing the oceans. But apart from the impressions left by the spectacular scenery presented by nature all over the world, travelling generally broadens one's intellectual horizon and contributes to the formation of the character of those individuals who dare to challenge the world: "I left home at 5 o'clock with feelings not to be described, nor imagined, but by those who have been placed in a similar situation. [...] However I behaved like a heroine, as I had resolved to be — at 10 o'clock was taken sick and remained so for the next day. Suffered nothing in comparison to what some people do, though enough to feel that state of utter hopelessness, such prostration of strength and spirits as I never before knew or desire to feel again."24

As regards Harriet's personal and intellectual development, the voyage with stopovers in Manila on the way there, and in South Africa, on St. Helena and in England on the way back, as well as her long stay in Macao, proportioned her unique opportunities in these respects. If instead she had remained in Salem, she certainly would have helped her mother to take care of her brothers and sisters and of the house, with only little spare time to read or to study. In Macao, on the contrary, there was no such work to do: her aunt and uncle did not have children, and the domestic affairs were all dealt with by the Chinese servants and coolies, organised in a clear hierarchy of responsibilities and competencies. Harriet was enchanted by this situation and she describes several times how easy it is in Macao to receive guests for tea or dinner: "Wish you could join us in these delightful little parties. You can have no idea how pleasant they are. The tea parties at home are so much trouble that you cannot enjoy them, but here every thing is easy. If any thing is wrong, it is all laid to the Servants, the lady is not blamed as at home."25

Apart from this, due to her position as one of the very few English-speaking young ladies in Macao at a marriageable age, Harriet had to loose her shyness and insecurity and learn how to talk to people whom she knew only very superficially or not at all, and who many times would bore her a lot: "Do you recollect what a dreadful thing I used to think it to sit down to table with half a dozen gentlemen. Times have altered since that and I do not mind 30 or 40 or as many more as you choose. [...] The critical moment is just when the ladies are about to go to dinner. The great point is to get between two pleasant people, but we poor dependent creatures have to put up with those who will put up with us. But I will not complain, I am generally very fortunate."26

The house of the Lows, where apart from Harriet and her aunt, a school friend of Harriet also lived between December of 1831 and March of 1833, must have been one of the most sought after places by the foreign men in Macao. Some of them would come with the intent of presenting a marriage proposal, but most just visited for the sake of the rare and pleasant female companionship. The report of a captain returning from Hawaii to Macao deserves the following commentary by Harriet: "He says reports reached the Islands [Hawaii] and the Coast [American continent] that I was to be married to three or four people. I told him I thought one quite enough. It is amusing to find what a notorious person my ladyship is; really I ought to be very vain. He says my fame has reached from pole to pole, and all forsooth because I happen to be a spinster in a distant land. I might have remained in America till the end of my days and never been known beyond my own fireside. And even now should I only take unto myself a spouse, I should forthwith sink into insignificance. Well, it is the fate of spinsters to be the subject of speculation."27

Another frequent topic in the diary is the anxiety and preoccupation with becoming an "old maid".28 Since there were enough suitors, the question remains why Harriet did not marry any of them. Manuel Teixeira indicates two reasons: "The first one is that a girl who goes out with everybody, ends up without anybody. The second explanation is the one that I once heard from a woman from Madrid [...] — the one whom I want does not want me and the one who wants me, I do not want him [...]. "29 The reading of the full version of the diary, however, does not admit the first reason indicated by Manuel Teixeira. There is not even room left for the doubt which this Portuguese saying expresses. Harriet was a young woman with a serious character and firm moral principles. There is more evidence in the diary regarding the second reason indicated, but it applies only partially. It is obvious that there were more false suitors than men to whose feelings she would have replied with the same intensity. But for a few happy weeks Harriet was the secret fiancée of the already mentioned William Wood. The engagement with him was ended because of the pressure of her uncle and aunt, who considered him as an unstable character. Apart from this, Harriet nourished deep feelings for two Englishmen, the chaplain Vachell and the surgeon and ophthalmologist Colledge. In these two cases, according to the author's opinion, the major obstacle to her happiness was a certain shyness or lack of courage, as well as her strong Unitarian conviction, which ironically made her suffer a lot and at the same time gave her strength to overcome the most profound disappointments.

The materially well-off, and apparently easy life in Macao, implied at the same time many small and big vicissitudes, probing its inhabitants. The diary illustrates very well the struggles against the feeling of one's uselessness, exactly because there was nothing to do, or because people always did the same things, year-in and year-out, in the same small restricted space. A word frequently used is "blues", which in our modern times probably would be called "depression". There were several contributing factors to this state of mind, but the most important ones were homesickness and the enormous delay in receiving mail. In order not to become desperate due to the monotony of life in Macao, mainly during the long period of absence of the great majority of men in Guangzhou, the women would occupy themselves with a great variety of tasks and works: they visited each other regularly; they went on a walk whenever the weather allowed; they studied languages (Spanish and French in the case of Harriet and her aunt); they initiated themselves in the art of painting and drawing with the great master George Chinnery, or posed for him; they organised walks and picnics to Ilha Verde ("Green Island") and to Lappa, whenever there was male companion available; they modified their dresses according to the latest dictates of fashion from India or France; they did gardening and visited Macao's beautiful gardens, the aviary of Beale's, the only museum, etc., etc.

As regards Harriet, reading, her favourite pastime, was like an addiction, and so were receiving and writing letters. The diary vibrates with the lamentations about the delay of the boats and the mail carried on them, and about the laziness of her correspondents at home, who either did not answer her letters right away, or who answered them in too short a way. Her desperation sometimes even assumes sarcastic overtones, as in the following observation: "Vessel arrived at Singapore, the Captain has written word he has lots of letters for us all, but when we shall get them I know not. Here is his letter received. If he had only sent them up. But I suppose he chooses to keep them at Rhio and let them see Manila and Whampoa before we see them. He may be of opinion too that they will improve by age."30

Since Harriet usually mentions in the diary the books read by her, at the end of her four and a half years in Macao the titles sum up to an impressive list of about one hundred and fifty entries, several of which were in French or Spanish. As regards her reading preferences, Harriet states being inclined towards history, mainly biographies and the histories of countries and dynasties, because of their true and educating nature: "What a series of crimes and wickedness one reads in reading history; what contrasts in Character! [...] You seldom meet with a great and good man- they seem incompatible, almost. I am exceedingly fond of reading history, but yet it always disgusts me with human nature. What a strange propensity we have to admire men of great and powerful mind even if every page of their history is blotted with crimes". A little further ahead, after having read a book on natural history, she remarks: "I love to contrast the discords of man with the harmony of Nature. History lessens your respect for men; the study of nature leads you to admire more the author of all."30

Naturally Harriet also liked to read romances, and on her reading list figure many famous authors such as Walter Scott, Washington Irving, Miguel de Cervantes, Madame de Staël, Madame de Genlis, Maria Edgeworth and many others. However, Harriet's attitude towards romances is somewhat ambiguous: "[...] I don't want novels. I hate to see them come into our house, for they are bewitching. One must, however, read the novels of the day for small talk."31 But since this observation was made in a moment of bad mood, after having received a romance from an admirer who had fallen into disgrace, there rest some doubts regarding the sincerity of this affirmation. Apart from this, she also read drama (Shakespeare, Molière, Moratin), poetry (Byron, preferably), travel literature, literary correspondence (Madame de Sevigné), and even philosophical and theological works (Paley, Beattie, etc.). Her private collection of books with homilies written by Unitarian priests (Buckminster, Thatcher, Priestley, Channing) must not be forgotten. They were usually read on Sundays, frequently after having returned from mass at the Protestant chapel, in order to compensate the doctrinal "nonsense" preached by the English priests.

Another great chance to increase one's knowledge through travelling is through coming into contact not only with different individuals, but also with different peoples and cultures. Let us hear Harriet's impressions regarding this point, who, like the majority of her compatriots, knew foreign countries and peoples only through books and journals, or through the accounts of people who had travelled abroad. During her voyage she had the chance to see things with her own eyes and to correct her ideas about a great number of subjects. Many times, the differences between her expectations and the reality proved to be significant. A few months after having settled down in Macao, she comments: "[Mr. Ammidon, a passenger on the Sumatra] had endeavoured all the passage to make us think this [Macao] a dreadful place. But I do not much regret it: for if I had have had any encouragement I should have been joining a perfect place in my fertile imagination and have been disappointed." 32


The German philosopher Hermann von Keyserling (° 1880-†1946), a widely travelled person himself, expressed in a simple sentence something that any traveller will acknowledge: "The shortest way to oneself leads around the whole world." Being confronted with the different ways of being, both of neighbouring and far away cultures, a traveller becomes more aware of the values and practices in his or her 'mother-culture'. Travelling also implies the 'danger' or possibility of personal change, because the newly acquired knowledge may influence the traveller both positively or negatively. Harriet's father, who was very worried about the temptations waiting for his daughter, mainly in matters of faith, warned her in a letter written prior to her departure: "Positions which you may consider invulnerable, because you have never known them attacked, may be overthrown by surprise. [...] If you are not prepared with arguments for a defence at all points, your strongest fortresses may be demolished and you may be driven from one place of defence to another, till you lose confidence in your own mind and you come to every successive trial with less courage and decision and finally yield your faith and principles as indefensible."35 But we already know that Harriet won the "Unitarian battle" with distinction.

The great point of reference and comparison during her stay in Macao would be the English, due to the many similarities and influences existing between the North Americans (of the WASP-type) and the English, mainly as regards language and culture, and also because they were the ones with whom the Lows had more contact. Apart from the English, Harriet knew Irish, Scottish, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Swedish people in Macao, and obviously Portuguese, Macanese, Chinese, Africans, as well as halfcasts of various races. Indirectly, through the accounts of captains, missionaries and travellers she also knew other parts of the world, such as India, some of the major islands of modern Indonesia, and South America. Yet the preoccupation with the English is still visible in the preface to the first edition of the diary, written by her daughter Katharine Hillard: she does not even mention the word "Portuguese" in it, or that Macao was under Portuguese administration, but states that her mother went "[...] to live in China under the auspices of the East India Company, and in all the luxury and formality of the English society of that time."36

One of the most visible, or rather audible, differences between the two parties — considering that it must have been very difficult to distinguish a North American from a British just by looking at them — was the language and the use of certain words. What was current, everyday language for one group, frequently caused admiration, laughter and also mockery in the other group, as the following example of the American 'slapjacks' illustrates. For the latter, 'slapjacks' are a sort of pancakes, while the literal meaning of the word means to 'slap Jack'. Harriet writes: "Mr. L. says, "I hope you do not eat 'Slap Jacks'." I assured him I eat two every morning. To tell the truth I eat four, but I thought I would not shock him too much. He begged me to get a more euphonic name for them, begged me not to say I eat 'Slap Jacks', "oh, horrid," he says."37

The slapjacks acquired a certain fame in Macao and the Lows even invited a British couple to their house to try them, at a quite unusual hour for visitors, namely at 8.30h in the morning, when they are freshly made. They came, tried the slapjacks, and liked them. The Americans, on the other hand, were astonished with the use of certain words by the British, in a wider sense than they themselves would have used them, such as 'clever' or 'nasty'. She concludes: "One gets to be rather particular, living so much with [the] English, for they are always ready to call you to an account for such and such words, and though unwillingly, I must allow that generally they speak most correctly."38

Another frequent topic in the diary are the customs and habits of the British, which Harriet usually considers as old-fashioned and boring. The formal dinners at the British East India Company are described as "[...] the greatest of all bores [...]."39 And comparing the open manner of the Spanish when talking about any subject, exemplified in her Spanish teacher, who sometimes even makes Harriet and her friend Caroline blush, she writes: "The French and Spaniards appear to have none of those ideas of delicacy (perhaps it may be called false delicacy) that the English have."40 Furthermore, as regards ideas about love and marriage traditions, a topic mentioned with a certain frequency, Harriet comments: "It's strange what ideas the English have of matrimony. He [Colledge] says every man ought to make it a business to get his daughters married and while they are in prosperity too. We told him he ought not to make such a speech before a party of Americans, for our motives for marrying are not so mercenary generally as theirs."41 The American custom of marrying the widow or widower of a dead brother or sister is confirmed to be "very common" in the USA, while it is rather abhorred among Harriet's English acquaintances. But she admits: "I must confess I should not like to marry a brother-in-law [...]."42

In Macao Harriet also felt something what many travellers may confirm from their own experience: the greater the distance to one's home country, the smaller the barriers between social classes and other factors which would impede or restrict the contact between the same two (or more) individuals in their own country. Although the United States had already at that time acquired the fame of being a more egalitarian society than the ones existing in Europe, the majority still consisting of monarchies, a fact that is mentioned several times in the diary, the following comment of Harriet shows that in reality life in the USA was not so egalitarian after all: "Mr. Sullivan called this morning [...]. He is one of the Boston aristocrats and perhaps would not speak to us at home. However, they are very gracious here and very polite."43 A year later she writes about the same young Sullivan: "I told him he was [a] very proud young man, which he granted; but he says he has improved. So we may hope when he has seen a little more of the world and become a little older he will have corrected that feeling."44 Yet the following observation of Harriet with respect to Chay Beale, son of Thomas Beale, the owner of the famous garden and aviary, illustrates that the Low family in the USA also would not have social intercourse with certain — even innocent — individuals: "This youth perhaps (with your scrupulous ideas of what is good and proper) might not make one of your circle, as he is an illegitimate, but he has been educated in England and visits in the best society here. Alas, these misdeeds are too common in the eastern world to be looked upon with the shame they should be."45

Another subject once in a while surging through is the situation of the American traders in Guangzhou, as compared to that of the British. Wood, who was no friend of the British in Guangzhou, tries to clarify the ideas existing in the West, mainly in the USA, about the British East India Company and its influence: "Among other erroneous impresions which have been made, is that of the consequence and importance of the English East India Company. Many suppose that the Company's factory is the only one, or, rather that all the factories are the Company's, and other nations visiting Canton [Guangzhou] are under the protection and control of this monopoly [...]. The unity of the members as a body has enabled them to carry measures which depended on the unqualified co-operation of the parties concerned. This has been impossible among Americans and others [...]."46

Harriet suffered the truth of this observation when she and her aunt secretly visited the "heavenly city" in November of 1830. At the time of their arrival there were already, since various months, several wives and children of some of the leading members of the British East India Company living in Guangzhou. The first Western woman to visit and to live in Guangzhou was Mrs. Baynes, wife of the President of the Select Committee, who had arrived there in February of 1830, and who was shortly afterwards joined by other wives. The two American ladies, however, were forced by the Chinese to go back to Macao after a few weeks in Guangzhou: it was threatened that the trade with Russell & Co. would be interrupted, if they did not return: "These despicable Chinese, who are not worth our notice, have the power to disturb us all. [...] Now it is so provoking that the Company ladies, because they are a body and can bully them, are permitted to stay, and we, poor creatures, must go."47 The Chinese had tried to do the same with Mrs. Baynes, threatening to send soldiers to expel her by force, but her husband ordered one hundred sailors and a cannon to be put on guard in front of the English factory, which was seemingly enough to change the opinion of the Chinese.

On another occasion, Harriet complains about the way the government of the USA, colloquially designated as 'Uncle Sam', neglects its employees in China: "There has been some difficulty in Canton [Guangzhou] with the Consul. It is a great shame our rich "Uncle Sam" don't make the Consulate in Canton more respectable. There ought to be a salary and an establishment, instead of which there is neither honour or profit, not enough to support the flag."48 "Here our president to begin with has not so much as the Chief of the British Factory, not half the sum [...]. Then the Navy officers, poor creatures, how do they ever support a family — and if they die no provision for widows."49

As regards the other nationalities and cultures existing in Macao, the Chinese are generally looked upon as strange and incomprehensible beings, with a few exceptions, and therefore they will be dealt with in the next chapter. The Portuguese, too, do not serve as a model for comparisons, al though they are not rejected in the same way as the Chinese. Apart from this, the contact with members of these two cultures was very limited. Perhaps the only quality which Harriet recognises in the Chinese,is a certain courtesy towards foreign women. She mentions several times that in certain circumstances her male compatriots in the USA would certainly have shown a more curious, bold or even insulting behaviour towards foreign women, such as intimidating or even touching them. But the courtesy of the Chinese has its limits of credibility for Harriet: when during a walk she soils her foot and leg up to the knee and even looses a shoe in the mud, a Chinese coolie readily looks for the lost shoe, helps her cleaning her foot in a small river, and even washes her shoe. The conclusion of Harriet and Caroline about this totally unexpected behaviour of a Chinese is that the coolie must have been an admirer in disguise! 50


Although the Europeans and North Americans did not come to China as 'colonial masters', they nevertheless displayed a colonial attitude, ready to judge the Orient and its cultures according to the dominant ideas of their time. As regards China, in the nineteenth century the esteem of the Western nations for China had reached a very low level, comparatively, for example, to the image of China transmitted by the Jesuits, or by the encyclopedists, for whom China served as a model in order to criticise their own societies. 51 Which major contrast could there have existed between a young democracy and an old, several times over millennial monarchy? It is therefore not astonishing that Harriet celebrates the 'Fourth of July', or 'Independence Day', more and more enthusiastically as the years go by, and probably much more consciously than she would have done at home in the USA. When the English Colledge prophesises, in one of their usual conversations comparing the USA and Britain, that sooner or later the Americans would end up having a king, he meets with the fierce protest of the American party. Harriet comments: "He is thoroughly English, somewhat aristocratic, and fond of old customs. The English resemble the Chinese in this respect; even though their reason tells them they are wrong, they stick to old habits."52 According to Harriet, the quality that distinguishes the Americans from the rest of the world is the use of reason. One expression of this was the economic progress of the USA, especially during the presidency of Andrew Jackson (°1829-†1837), in spite of a variety of internal political problems.

Harriet's knowledge about China and the Chinese is very restricted and characterised by the stereotypes of her time. Astonishingly, no books about China appear on her extensive reading list, except the one written by Wood. It also never crossed her mind to study Chinese, contrary to intentions of the missionaries or some of the Western traders in Guangzhou, such as William C. Hunter or John F. Davis. When she mentions the Chinese in her diary, it is generally due to the occurrence of some problems or misunderstandings, mainly within the household, or in order to describe their celebrations and customs. The few direct encounters with some of the Hong merchants are also registered. The Chinese, as well as the English, are seen as the slaves of their traditions: "[...] but I assure you there is no comparison to be drawn between the Chinese and any other nation in the world. They will not allow any innovation upon 'old custom', and will ding these words into your ears forever if it is not for their interest to violate it, when it is quite a different thing. Another thing they acknowledge is that they 'cannot talky reason', and must be 'bullied'."53 Openly racist observations are very rare in the diary, and generally accompanied by some kind of excuse that she cannot really judge them, because she does not know the Chinese well enough. The most direct and offensive statement in this context, which was written after reading about the drowning of five Chinese during a rainstorm, is the following: "I can hardly account for the indifference we feel regarding these creatures; we hear of their being killed and drowned and misfortunes of divers kinds occurring, but not with the feelings that we should have in parallel cases in our own country or Europe. It must be that we have no sympathy with them. They appear to me to be a connection link between man a beast, but certainly not equal with civilised man. And [as] you see the different grade and links in all the rest of nature's works, is it not reasonable to suppose there are higher and lower orders of men? They certainly do not possess the sensibility and feelings of other nations. And when we hear of these accidents, our imaginations never picture distressed and bereaved families, and happy families destroyed — for knowing their brutal customs we cannot think such distresses exist."54 But as a firm believer in the progress of the human race, Harriet hopes that the day of liberation will come to the Chinese too: "We shall, or others will see these Chinese exalted in the scale, their turn must come, I think. The barriers must be broken down, ignorance must give place to knowledge, and slavery to freedom. Females will then be exalted."55

After having heard the description of a Chinese wedding in Guangzhou, to which several foreigners were invited, and where the bride was unable to move freely because of her bound feet, Harriet writes: "Ought we not to be thankful that we are so much further advanced in civilisation? For although refinement and civilisation bring with them their evils, they are of a more refined and civilised kind."56 Yet when a Chinese compares the Western habit of nipping the waist of women with the Chinese habit of foot-binding, Harriet comments: "It seems to be a matter of astonishment with them "how we can catchy chow-chow", that is how we can eat; which certainly would be a greater grievance to them than not being able to walk."57 This seems to be a really 'good' argument in order to illustrate the more "civilised" refinement of tortures that the elegant ladies in Western societies had to bear!

As regards the Portuguese, the quality which is most repulsive in Harriet's eyes, is their being Catholic. The Catholics are accused of not being reasonable in matters of faith, of mechanically executing their Christian duties without understanding them intellectually, and of exhausting themselves in empty and even blaspheme rituals and ceremonies. As the Catholic festivities repeat themselves, so does Harriet's critique of them. Once, upon being informed by a Chinese servant that "[...] the God of the Portuguese would walk on the streets [...]," i. e., about a procession, Harriet observes: "It is now lent, and they have many of these processions. When I see these things I thank God that I was born where they worship him in a more Christian way, at least in a place where every person knows what they worship, and where, I hope, [it] is more heartfelt than I think it here. But I will not judge."58 Towards the end of her stay in Macao, after having seen, heard and learnt a lot about the Catholics, she pronounces the following hope: "I wonder if the time will ever come when this Catholic religion (if we can call it so) will be done away. Yes, by degrees I think it will. Think of the time when all Europe was in the same state, but as the world becomes enlightened, this bigotry and superstition will be done away. [...] The religion of Jesus Christ will overspread the earth. The mild spirit of Christian Charity is growing in America, and it cannot fail of spreading itself. I should like to look upon this little planet 2000 years hence and see what mind will be then."59 Once more, obviously, America is indicating the right way to the world.


The diary of Harriet Low can be considered as a valuable source for studying this particular period of the 'China trade' and of foreign residency in Macao, mainly if read together with other contemporary accounts. Although Harriet's knowledge about Guangzhou and the China trade is obviously very limited, because this aspect did not belong to the social domain of women, the diary is rich in other respects. It is one of the few female accounts of this period in Macao, and the only one known so far extending over a period of several years. Through it we get a clearer idea about the daily life of the women, of its joyful and sad moments, and also of the daily life of the foreign community in Macao, which included many famous individuals such as the painter George Chinnery, the missionary and translator Robert Morrison and his family, the surgeon Dr. Thomas Colledge, the historian Sir Anders Ljungstedt, the future governor of Hong Kong, John F. Davis, and many others. Harriet's descriptions of these people do not merely refer to the qualities for which they are still remembered, but also to their personality, thus giving us a fuller and more complete idea of these people. The advantage of the diary, as compared to the books of William C. Hunter for example, which were written several decades after his stay in Guangzhou and Macao and largely reconstructed from memory, consists in the fact of being 'fresh' and not influenced by any literary ambitions or intentions of publication.

Apart from this, the diary constitutes an interesting reading because it was written by a person with an inclination to, and a talent for, introspection. We learn about the challenges awaiting the travellers, not only on the intellectual or cognitive planes, but also on the religious and emotional-sentimental planes, and how the individual faces them. While male authors rarely write about challenges of the latter type, as for example the "blues", because it would be interpreted as a weak point in the strong sex, we know through Harriet's diary that they also had to fight against it.

This means that the diary can be examined from a variety of viewpoints, being Schriber's model of the three ideal motives in favour of travelling within the North American culture just one instrument of analysis. As it could be seen, the diary offers ample evidence to support Schriber's propositions. At the end of her stay in Macao, while reflecting about the decision to accompany her uncle and aunt to China, Harriet writes: "I shall never forget the variety of feelings I had — inclination drawing me one way and duty another; to resign for such a length of time all the delights of home [...], though I must confess I have much greater respect for my character and my resolution than I should have had, had I yielded to its weakness. I have gained a world of experience in the time which I hope will not be lost."60

* MA in Social Anthropology from the University of Mainz (Germany) and a post-graduate qualification in Ciências da Informação (Communication Sciences) from the Universidade Católica (Catholic University), Lisbon. Assistant Professor at the Instituto de Formação Turística (Institute of Tourism Education), Macao.


1 SCHRIBER, Mary Suzanne, Writing home. American women abroad, 1830-1920, Charlottesville - London, University Press of Virginia, 1997, p. 13.

2 Ibidem., pp. 20-21.

3 Ibidem., p. 21 — The author quoting Catherine Beecher.

4 Ibidem., p 34 — The author quoting various other authors.

5 HILLARD, Katharine, ed., My mother's journal. A young lady's diary of five years spent in Manila, Macao, and the Cape of Good Hope from 1829-1834, Boston, George H. Ellis, 1900, pp. vi-vii.

6 In this article, the references to Hummel's typewritten transcription are indicated by: LCMSS [Library of Congress Manuscript Section, Washington DC], Low Mills Family Papers

· Boxes 22-23 - HUMMEL, Arthur W., The Journal of Harriet Low, [etc.]. The date in curly brackets following the quotation refers to Harriet Low's entry in her diary.

7 HUMMEL, Arthur W., The journal of Harriet Low, in "The Library of Congress Quarterly Journal of Current Acquistions", Washington DC, 2 (3-4) 1945, pp. 972-989, p.975.

8 LOINES, Elma, ed., The China trade post-bag of the Seth Low family of Salem and New York, Manchester/ Maine, Falmouth Publishing House, 1953, p. vii.

9 TEIXEIRA, Manuel, Macau no século XIX visto por uma jovem americana (Macau in the Nineteenth Century as Seen by a Young American Woman), Macau, Direcção dos Serviços de Educação e Cultura 1981 —As regards the knowledge about Harriet Low's diary in the Portuguese-speaking world. This small volume is based on the version edited by Katharine Hillard and contains extracts from the diary relating to a great variety of subjects, such as the description of a razing typhoon or of the procession of our Lord of Passion [Lord of Sorrows], together with short commentaries by the author. Manuel Teixeira mentions that he was not the first one to translate from Harriet Low's diary, but Luís Gonzaga Gomes in his book Páginas da História de Macau (Pages from Macau's History) (1966).

10 LOINES, Elma, ed., op. cit., p. 48 — The author quoting a passage from a letter by Harriet Low.

11 LCMSS: Low Mills Family Papers - LOW, Harriet, Letters {5 June 1837}.

12 TEIXEIRA, Manuel, op. cit. — In the Preface to the author's translation of some scenes from Harnet Low's diary.

13 LOINES, Elma, ed., op. cit., p. vi.

14 Most of the letters quoted by Loines in The China Trade Post-bag were not among the Low-Mills Family Papers, though she states in the Foreword to her book "[I] have since given most of the original letters in my possession and intend to give the rest" (1953, p. vii). This means either that the letters quoted by her belong to other family members, or that she has not given them to the Library of Congress after all.

15 HUNTER, William C., Bits of Old China, Shanghai & others, Kelly and Walsh Limited, 1911, pp. 220-221 — For a map of the factories in Guangzhou. The author, a contemporary of Harriet Low, published two books dedicated to the Guangzhou trade, describing the life of the foreigners in this city, their relations with the Chinese in general and with the 'hong' merchants in particular, the regulations to which the foreigners had to obey, the products exchanged, etc.

16 HSUE, Immanuel C. Y., The rise of modern China, New York & others, Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 151.

17 LCMSS: Low Mills Family Papers - HUMMEL, Arthur W., The journal of Harriet Low, vol. 3, p. 29 — {7.4.1831}.

18 Ibidem., vol.4, p.500. {19.7.1832}.

19 WOOD, William W., Sketches of China: with illustrations from original drawings, Philadelphia, Carey & Lea, 1830, p.23.

20 Ibidem., p.20.

21 Extract of a letter of 3.3.1831, written a few months after the expulsion of the American ladies from Guangzhou. This is why Harriet makes reference to the "Viceroy of Canton".

Also see: LCMSS: Low Mills Family Papers -HUMMEL, Arthur W., op. cit., pp. 270-271 — For a quotation of this letter.

22 WOOD, William W., op. cit., pp. 20-21.

23 LCMSS: Low Mills Family Papers - HUMMEL, Arthur W., op. cit., vol.1, p.27. {3.11.1929}.

24 Ibidem., vol. 1, p.1 — {24.5.1829}.

25 Ibidem., vol. 2, p.168 — {5.4.1830}.

26 Ibidem., vol. 2, p.194— {12.5.1830}.

27 Ibidem., vol. 5, p.600— {28.1.1833}.

28 The idea of ending up as a spinster or "old maid" lurked like a ghost over the women of that time. Harriet mentions in her diary that at that time, according to a recent census, there existed fourteen thousand more women than men in Massachusetts. This figure must have troubled any woman who did not want to become a "vieille fille".

See: FRAISSE, Geneviève - PERROT, Michelle, eds., A history of women in the West, in DUBY, Georges -PERROT, Michelle, eds., "Emerging feminism from revolution to World War", Cambridge/Massachusetts -London/UK, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995, vol.4. —Where the attitude of society towards 'old maids' is very well documented.

Also see: DAUPHIN, Cécile, Single Women, in FRAISSE, Genevieve - PERROT, Michelle, eds., "A history of women in the West", in DUBY, Georges PERROT, Michelle, eds., Emerging feminism from revolution to World War, Cambridge/Massachusetts - Lon don/UK, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995, vol.4, in pp. 427-442.

29 TEIXEIRA, Manuel, op. cit., p.27 — The original quotation reads: "A primeira é porque a Maria-que-vaicom-todos, fica sem nenhum. A segunda é aquela que eu ouvi a uma madrilena [...] Lo que yo quiero no me quiere e lo que me quiere yo no lo quiero [...]."

30 LCMSS: Low Mills Family Papers - HUMMEL, Arthur W., op. cit., vol. 3, p.329— {22.6.1831}.

31 Ibidem., vol. 6, p.636 — {23.3.1833}

32 Ibidem., vol. 6, p.672 — {22.5.1833}.

Ibidem., vol. 5, p.514— {14.8.1832}.

Ibidem., vol. 2, p.154— {25.3.1830}.

35 LOINES, Elma, ed., The China trade post-bag of the Seth Low family of Salem and New York, Manchester/ Maine, Falmouth Publishing House, 1953, p.20.

36 HILLARD, Katharine, op. cit., 1900, p. vi.

37 LCMSS: Low Mills Family Papers - HUMMEL, Arthur W., op. cit., vol. 3, p.278 — {13.4.1831}.

38 Ibidem., vol. 6, p.696 — {1.7.1833}.

39 Ibidem., vol. 2, p.50 — {26.8.1830}.

40 Ibidem., vol. 4, p.417— {10.3.1832}.

41 Ibidem., vol. 4, p.410 —{18.2.1832}.

42 Ibidem., vol. 3, p.273 — {6.3.1831}.

43 Ibidem., vol. 3, p.342 — {19.7.1831}.

44 Ibidem., vol. 4, p.492 — {3.7.1832}.

45 Ibidem., vol. 4, p.425 — {27.3.1832}.

46 WOOD, William W., op. cit., pp. 64-65.

47 LCMSS: Low Mills Family Papers - HUMMEL, Arthur W., op. cit., vol.2, p.261 — {15.11.1830}.

48 Ibidem., vol. 4, p. 468 — {31.5.1832}.

49 Ibidem., vol. 5, p. 565 — {28.11.1832}.

50 Ibidem., vol. 5, pp. 538-539— {6.10.1832}.

51 Mackerras analyses the changing ideas and images that existed in the West about China during various centuries. He also examines the creators of these images, such as missionaries, traders, travellers and philosophers.

52 LCMSS: Low Mills Family Papers - HUMMEL, Arthur W., op. cit., vol.5, p.603 — {1.2.1833}.

53 Ibidem., vol. 2, p. 265— {25.1.1831} Extract from a letter.

54 Ibidem., vol. 5, pp. 620-621 — {23.2.1833}.

55 Ibidem., vol. 5, p. 615 — {17.2.1833}.

56 Ibidem., vol. 5, p. 616 — {17.2.1833}.

57 Ibidem., vol. 5, p. 615 — {17.2.1833}.

58 Ibidem., vol. 2, p.133 — {8.2.1830}.

59 Ibidem., vol. 5, pp. 614-615— {17.2.1833}. Furthermore, it is interesting to look at the evolution of the Unitarian Church since Harriet Low's days. A visit to some of their homepages in the Internet confirms that the Unitarians have totally moved away from the Christian Church, calling themselves "Church of the Open Mind", "liberal religion", etc. The Harriet known to us through her diary would most probably not agree with the way taken by the Unitarian Church during the last one hundred and seventy years.

60 LCMSS: Low Mills Family Papers - HUMMEL, Arthur W., op. cit., vol. 6, p.673 — {23.5.1833}.

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