Srinivas Ram Wagel Monday, Dec 23 2013 


Srinivas Ram Wagel,a Tamilian from India was the editor (financial department) for North China Daily News in Old Shanghai. Author of several finance books (including one on China) and journal articles, he migrated to USA , probably around WW1. He contributed many finance related articles for The New York Times. In the Hindu-German conspiracy trial, he was accused of taking money for Hindu uprisings. He denied the charges and was later exonerated. He died in 1940.

Now, if only there was more information available on his Old Shanghai sojourn!!

‘Shanghai’ by William Leonard Marshall Friday, Aug 30 2013 

Memoirs and narratives about Shanghai (prior to 1949), have provided varied perspectives of the international city. The focus has largely remained the western inhabitants, the refugees, stately buildings and the seedier side usually dominated  by the native Chinese or Europeans. The intrigue, the danger and the various Chinese & western brothels have proved to be nourishing fodder for writers, historians and film-makers, documenting a city with multiple facades. The Sikh policeman , too, has featured in such works, to give the authentic aura and flavor of a very multicultural place.  Be it fiction or non-fiction, the Shanghai Sikh policeman makes a guest appearance. Either as a stolid yet  imposing cop or a bumbling one. His giant frame, bushy beard and fiery nature have certainly merited a cursory sentence or two.  In Shanghai’s British history, the Sikh will remain synonymous with imperialism and its unfairness and is, thus generally, poorly caricatured.

william marshall bookNot many books delve deeper into the life of Sikhs in Shanghai. So, when I came across William Leonard Marshall’s crime fiction book, ‘Shanghai’, I wasn’t expecting to be pleasantly surprised. Published in 1979, this book is well-researched and encapsulates the maneuvers and machinations of Shanghai  Municipal Police (S.M.P.) and of course the western Shanghai.

The book begins in 1923 when the protagonist Jack Edge, an Anglo-American and Chinese by self-definition,  a sergeant in S.M.P.  is put to test. Tested because of his marriage to a Chinese woman which has cast doubts on his loyalties. His superior, Inspector Moffat, a supercilious Scot, asks him to shoot 2 young Chinese men who have crossed the International Settlement boundaries. Edge,  wavers and fails. Promotions are withheld and his Chinese wife leaves him. The setting shifts to Sino-Japanese conflict (just weeks before Pearl Harbor) and much of the action is around the death of 2 Japanese men and the cat and mouse game played by the Westerners & Japanese military officers investigating the incident. Moffat, now a Deputy Assistant commissioner recruits Edge for the job, clearly as the task is better entrusted to a lowly sergeant. Unfortunately, Edge is still in Moffat’s poor graces , hence, has not progressed at work and is being used as a stooge.

Vivid setting, rich with very believable characters and taut pace make this book a page-turner. Constable Singh, Edge’s colleague and crony actually gets a speaking part. Marshall, also very cleverly utilized a real life incident involving the failed hanging of a Shanghai Sikh to weave it in the very crisp narrative.  Clearly, the news clippings on the incident came in handy. But, Marshall, also provides a little more insight (read the book to find out) and maybe relied on unofficial sources as well to get more meat on the story.

The backdrop of the Sino-Japanese conflict is essential in defining and delineating the main characters as ‘Old China Hands’ or China lovers and others. The latter are more clear in their intent in leaving the sinking ship because of the inevitability of Japanese domination.  Constable Singh, falls into the latter category and we are given to believe that he fakes his own drowning to escape to India , to be with his family.

Marshall, has done justice to Singh, depicting him as a smart foil to Edge’s loyal Old China hand character.  Betrayal, triumph, love , hate, all the masala ingredients make ‘Shanghai’ a must read. Apparently this was Marshall’s most ambitious work (the author’s brief bio states it so). Marshall, born an Aussie worked as a journalist, photographer  and took on some very interesting jobs (morgue attendant, for one)  and lived for several years in the Far East.

The cons : in order to make the characters plausible, sometimes they come off as stiff and contrived.  Moffat’s departing speech is one such example, making him a look a little too inept for an S.M.P.  Secondly, despite intensive research, Marshall slips a little by calling the Former French Concession as the French part of the International Settlement. But, I’ve put that aside (superciliously!) merely because he made the effort to detail a Shanghai Sikh constable and got most of it right.

One gets the uncanny feeling that Marshall has based some of the main characters in the book on real Shanghai folks. One Valdmir Mischensko, a Russian,  became a naturalized Australian in 1924 and served the Australian military forces. By 1930 Vladmir, who’d changed his name to William Marshall, moved to China and was employed in Shanghai Municipal Police. He met and married Vera, a Russian in Shanghai. After the Sino-Japanese war, they repatriated to Australia. Vladmir claimed that he’d applied to rejoin the Australian army but the British felt his services were essential in Shanghai. By 1950s, Vladmir and Vera were living in Sydney and their son was attending a high school there.  Could be mere coincidence…or maybe not. Maybe, Vladmir was a source for the book, ‘Shanghai?’ Author William Marshall was born in 1944 in Australia. Could there be any connection?  The above information on Vladmir is documented in a book titled ‘ Australia’s Forgotten Prisoners: Civilians Interned by the Japanese in World War II’  by Christina Twomey.

Marshall’s book on Hong Kong (A Yellowthread Street Mystery) is next on my to-read list.

Hello ‘Dolly’! Wednesday, May 29 2013 

trains-worldexpresses comSince last week,I have been examining the old sea routes from India to China that must been have been undertaken by sailing vessels and steamers since 1880s onward.The Shanghai Sikh policemen would have to take the train journey from their native village or city in Punjab to Calcutta or Bombay ,as these were the two important ports where shipping companies offered Indo-China voyages.

Interestingly,  P&O,British Shipping company was one such establishment whose passenger & cargo steamers sometimes sailed from Bombay/Calcutta to Hong Kong and then to Shanghai via Singapore,servicing the Indo-China route.The maritime company’s employee,one D’Oliver Leonard and captain of S.S. Kutsang often navigated the Indo-China waters and in his spare time wrote books under the pseudonym ‘Dolly.’

‘China Coasters’  on, though has been credited to one Mrs. Vernon F. Creighton. But, a search on the topic quickly unveils ‘Dolly’ as D’Oliver Leonard.  China Coasters,published by Kelly & Walsh, 1903, was not his first book.’Tales of Hong Kong’,a scarce edition also bore his penmanship.

China Coasters, we learn is a term used for many things:the steamers that ran up and down the China coast, the sailors on these steamers:the officers, engineers and the Captain and the fanciful and humorous yarns told by them, which forms the basis for this book.

It would be truly ground breaking if any of these ‘China’ based commentaries actually deigned to depict other communities like the Parsees or Sikhs. Not holding my breath on it though.

Other books authored by ‘Dolly’ include:

Tales of Hong Kong in Verse and Story, 1891. In 1902, published as Hong Kong in Verse and Story. Hong Kong: Kelly & Walsh, 1902.  

Paul the Pretender: A Romance of Hong Kong. Shanghai: Shanghai Times, 1912. A novel. 

The Vampire Nemesis and Other Weird Stories of the China Coast was published but in Bristol by J. W. Arrowsmith in 1905.  

P R Kaikini – poems on Shanghai (1939) Friday, May 24 2013 

Recently, I came across a mention of 1930s poetry book , titled ‘Shanghai.’ The author was one Prabhakar Ramrao Kaikini. Unsurprisingly, this book is scarce. It was listed on Abebooks and I placed an order , only to have it canceled later by the seller, as it was out of print.

P.R.Kaikini ‘s known (poetry) works include  Snake in the Moon (1942), Poems of the Passionate East (1947), Some of my years (1972), This Civilization, (2006)  and others. Described as an Indo-Anglian  prose poet , Kaikini  it seems in his earlier works was  very much influenced by Rabindranath Tagore’s writing style.  Here’s a sample of his poetry.

But, after 1937, his poems were increasingly about blood and war and even the style changed to free verse. This transition was impacted strongly by nationalism, events in the East. Goverdhan Panchal (well-known exponent of Sanskrit theater) in his introduction of Shanghai (as mentioned in Abebooks website) provides a clue.  Panchal states ” These poems will help the reader, especially the foreign reader, to understand something of the contemporary movement in this country in relation to the Indian national movement for political and economic freedom.”

How did the battle of Shanghai, the Japanese invasion impact Kaikini? Was he a witness to the bloody events? Or was he a supporter of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, who had visited Shanghai around this time?  The political awakening and national identity question had swept a nation  and the unfolding war that reached India as well was perhaps expressed by this poet, looking for his country’s freedom from all kinds of imperialism. Or was the book title more of a creative metaphor?

I am hoping I come across a physical copy in a US library. Till then we are left with the thought that, at least, there is this added, still unexplored, reflective element in the Shanghai Indian saga.

More on H W G Hayter’s caricatures Tuesday, May 7 2013 

Sikh caricature from 'Letters from a Shanghai Griffin'

Sikh caricature from ‘Letters from a Shanghai Griffin’

In my last post on H W G Hayter, I referred to his 1902 book,’Caricatures’ among other things.

Henry William Goodenough Hayter (1862-1915) edited or illustrated for other well-known Shanghai or China related books, besides contributing to dailies or weeklies such as, ‘The Rattle’ or ‘The Eastern Sketch.’ In ‘Letters from a Shanghai Griffin’ he includes again the caricature of a Sikh policeman. The author of the book, Jay Denby, provides a tiny description of the Indian contingent in the Shanghai Municipal Police:

“The police force is composed principally of Indians, who also supply a great deal of the crime. They are of two castes, viz.,Malwais and Manjhas.”

Denby meant Malwas & Manjhas/Majhas  and this was essentially how the Sikhs were categorized in Old Shanghai and other colonies. The legal disputes involving Shanghai Sikhs took enormous amount of the H.B.M. court’s time and with language complexities included many a times, the Sikh policemen.

Not much information is available on H.W.G. Hayter except to state his role as a caricaturist in Shanghai.

What follows below is my puny attempt to create a bibliography of sorts (along with online links/physical formats) for H.W.G. Hayter’s books on China/Shanghai. Please feel free to email me at for any additions/modifications.

H.W.G Hayter’s select China bibliography

Lays of far Cathay and others. A collection of original poems. By “Tung Chia.” [pseud. for J.O.P. Bland] Illus. by H. H. ( 1890 by Kelly & Walsh iShanghai) 
View at

The amateur circus of 1901 by J Em Lemière;H.W.G.Hayter(Toole-Stott, Shanghai, 1901) (No online views available)

Available at

Caricatures bH. W. G. Hayter (Kelly & Walsh, Shanghai, the Oriental Press, 1902)

View at

 Pidgin English rhymes : being the strange adventures of Wei Man-Man and Ossaw Tee / by H.W.G. Hayter ;  (Shanghai : China Print. Co., 1909) 

View (U.S. only) at

Folk songs of China / by A.K. ; illustrated by H.W.G. Hayter (Shanghai : China Printing Company, Ltd., Publishers, 1909 )

Available in National Library of Australia.

Letters of a Shanghai Griffin … Illustrated by H. W. G. Hayter  Jay Denby (Author) aka Letters from China and some Eastern sketches (1911)

View at

Books on China Sunday, May 5 2013 

To Read Books on China

Naturalist in China – Arthur Sowerby Tuesday, Mar 5 2013 


Arthur Sowerby was the son of a Christian missionary in China, the Reverend Arthur Sowerby, and Louisa Clayton. He was also the great grandson of James Sowerby the botanist and founder of the Geological Society. From 1881, Arthur’s parents were based at the Baptist Missionary Society mission station in Shanxi.The Sowerby family was on furlough in England at the time of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion during which many of their friends and colleagues at their Shanxi mission station were massacred. Sowerby attended Bristol University studying for a BSc in Science but dropped out and returned to China where he was appointed lecturer and curator of the Anglo-Chinese College in Tientsin.  Sowerby joined the Duke of Bedford’s 1906 Mission to collect zoological specimens in Shensi for the British Museum during which time he discovered a new species of Jerboa which was subsequently named after him Dipus sagitta sowerby. Sowerby was taken on as a naturalist for Robert Sterling Clark‘s Expedition of 1909 which sought specimens from the Yellow River into Shensi and then to Kansu province and made the first map of a little-known area of China. Clarke and Sowerby later published a book about the expedition entitled Through Shên-kan: the account of the Clark expedition in north China, 1908-9. Sowerby married Mary Ann Mesny in 1909, but she was to die just 5 years later.He made four separate expeditions into Manchuria and parts of Mongolia during the next few years, the last being in 1915 and then wrote his book Fur and Feather in North China. In. the autumn of 1915 he went over to meet his brother and sister, both missionaries in Sian, and took the opportunity to seek more specimens in the Ch’ingling range to the south of the city.”  (Source: Wikipedia).

Book link :

Smithsonian has a nice collection of Sowerby’s papers.

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