McCauley Diary

Author: Edward Yorke McCauley

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The New York Historical Society

Perry Raises the Iron Curtain


August 20th [1853]. We walked through the town of Naha. The streets are all paved with granite, cut in all manners of shapes, with the edges neatly fitting each other. The houses are low, and the tiles cemented together presenting a very tidy appearance. Every house is walled around seven or eight feet high, and none have a direct entrance, but by a zigzag path round little wails and fences, which, though very good for the purpose of keeping off the spy, upon which system the government is founded, suggests difficulties in getting an easy access home after partaking of the compliments of the season on a New Year’s day, and in no way reconcilable with the object of latch keys.

Their dress consists of a short pair of "what d’ye call ’eras’" (unmens): something like a ballet mistress’s (not visible at all times, but chiefly so in windy weather and trotting up and down on board of ship), and a garment built of linen; blue or brown, like a Jews’ gaberdine. Their hair is shaved on the crown of the head leaving a band of hair about three inches wide which is gathered up into a neat little knot on the top of their pates and secured with a couple of skillets. The hair in doing this is drawn very taut, and when their toilet is over they walk along with the air of saying, "I’m ready for any emergency. I’m pointed at the end, ready for a transit even through an eyebolt." They patronize very large bamboo umbrellas roofed with Japanned paper, rattan sandals, and are altogether, and inoffensively clean people, with nothing coffin-ny about them.

We walked leisurely along the road to Thoudi, all paved in the same regular way. I should suppose that those roads are nearly of Deluvian date, from their length and number. As we walked along, we became painfully aware of the fact of our being under the surveillance of the police. There was a spy ahead and another astern, and as fast as we went they kept on in their stations. If any laborers happened to be coming along the road they passed the word to them and down they would squat with their backs towards us until we passed. Shops shut up, women disappeared, as though we were a "marriage blight," and children nearly went into fits in their terror and haste to get out of sight. If we dodged the van and rear spies and made a dip into a bye lane, a mandarin had apparently done so a moment before us, quite accidentally, of course, and everybody was seen helter skelter at the bottom of the street for a moment, and then vanish, leaving everything private and marketable where it stood.

This state of affairs not pleasing the Medico, and disagreeing entirely with my state of mind, we resolved to let them have their own way, and at the same time give them a little exercise, in view of which we separated with the intention of meeting at the opposite end of the town under the walls of the Palace. Then commenced a series of dodgings, counter-marchings, weatherings and sidling offs. I would walk ahead ten paces or so, and then go about and dash down an alley through doors, making a shell of myself in a family circle, shaking hands, patting everybody on the head, now getting into a schoolhouse conciliating the brats (easily done), now in a Pagoda, telegraphing eternal amity with the Bonzes, and bumping my pate in honor of Jos, according to their directions, which so gratified them (like all other Bonzes having an eye to proselytism) that they tea’d and smoked me before the mandarins had the smallest idea of my geographical position. And off again into a silversmith’s; out again before he could pantomime "tea," knocking down an accidental mandarin in my hurry to get through the town before the Medico anatomised the interior of the market basket without me.

The system of spying here is carried out not only on strangers arriving here, who are requested to clear out as soon as possible, but also among themselves, every man being a spy on his neighbor, so that everything that passes is known to the mandarins, who generally, I believe, are sent here from Japan, and are exceedingly jealous of everything they have. So that the moment one of us put their foot ashore, shops are closed and everything likely to interest us is put out of sight. With the islanders in general, we are great favorites. They come on board, will take anything to eat confidently, whereas on shore they will not touch it. It is true they are all the time so scared with the guns, drums, and calls as to be enjoying a somewhat precarious existence, but when they go they grin with satisfaction and always manage to come a second time in spite of the mandarins, who never if they can help it allow the same crew to come twice lest they should be conciliated and always have them accompanied by one of their own order.

Feb. 17th: [The] Commodore, having given the natives three days to deride on giving him a reception here or at Jeddo, they came on board today in a glorious humor, saying that they had good news from Jeddo; that the treaty was to be signed and everything settled amicably. I even got a pair of the officials to come down into the steerage, where we gave them a little feed, and a glass of something to astonish their insides. But, bless my wig, they swallowed poteen, brandy, gin and saki alternately, a mixture that would swamp the d—vl himself; and finally went off as happy as two such polite beings could ever get. (It wasn’t the first time that party got drunk by a long shot!) Before leaving, they showed us their swords, which are certainly beautiful. The grasp is long enough to be held by both hands and something to spare.

One thing must be said of these people, which cannot be gainsaid, that they are without exception the most polite people on the face of the earth, not only on board here, bat also in their boats alongside. Their inter. course with one another seemed to be of the most amiable and self-denying kind. This affects even their gestures. They are very graceful in everything except walking, which their garments deforms into a waddle. They are very inquisitive about everything on board. They have measured the ship, guns, and every odd and end they can spy.

March 27th [1854]: Fitted out the quarterdeck with flags, and all sorts of contrivances usual on such occasions, as bayonet, chandeliers, musket rack, candlesticks, etc., etc.

A table was set below for the Commodore and the high Commissioners, and another on deck for the lesser gents and the officers of the Squadron. This arrangement was consequent to the fact that the smaller fry are not allowed to sit, or eat in the presence of their Princes. At three their barge went alongside of the Macedonian, where they were shewn around and saluted with seventeen guns on leaving. They then Came on board here. Steam was up on one boiler. The engine was turned and explained. Every one of them had his paper and pencil at hand, and copied everything they could get at. One of the field pieces was worked with blank cartridges, quite surprising them by the rapidity with which they are fired. Afterwards they adjourned to dinner. Of course it was my luck to have the deck and I lost all the best part of the fun, being relieved about dessert time.

I had an opportunity of joining in a toast or two, and a peep at the state of affairs. The seats round the board were filled alternately with Japanese and Americans. The ladies of the respective lands were toasted and cheered with great good will. I am sorry to say that I perceived some of the two parties telegraphing the intention of a reciprocal interchange of sweethearts. Of course, they were laboring under the influence of the friendly spirits of the times.

As soon as the eating was over, a new phase took place. Every Japanese (except the interpreters who had learnt better by their acquaintance with Dutch and finding out from books what our customs are) left their seats and commenced pocketing all the edibles they could lay their hands on, wrapping each piece of pie, slice of beef, leg of chicken, etc., in a piece of paper, depositing it in the bag of their capacious sleeves. It was laughable to see them trotting around the tables picking out whatever suited their fancies. I saw one character end his foray by emptying a saltcellar. White sugar and cut glass are their particular weakness.

When the dinner was over the Commodore and party came on deck and all proceeded to the main deck, where a stage had been arranged for an Ethiopian performance. This they enjoyed very much, laughing violently during the whole exhibition. Some of them were very much affected by champagne, but none lost their dignity of manner for a moment, except one old fellow, who, it is said, is a habitual toper, and was caught learning the Polka from a midshipman on the hurricane deck. At sunset they left.

[March] 31st. Today the treaty was signed in great style, but being laid up [with scurvy], I am unable to go and see the instrument before it is boxed up. It appears that the port of Simoda in the principality of Idzu, Hakodaté in the principality of Matsumai, and Napa-Kiang in the Loochoo group are to be thrown open to us at once, or rather within fifty days, and that in the course of five years, when they have gained, as they say, a little more experience in the way of foreign trade, they will throw more ports open.

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Chicago: Edward Yorke McCauley, McCauley Diary in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed April 14, 2024,

MLA: McCauley, Edward Yorke. McCauley Diary, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 14 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: McCauley, EY, McCauley Diary. cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 14 April 2024, from