11th December 1919

Author and Chinese army chief William Mesny dies

William Mesny explored China at a time when international travel still required considerable effort. The texts he produced as a result are still read today.

Born in Jersey in 1842, he took to the seas aged 12 and had settled in China by the age of 18, after visiting both India and Australia en route. He joined the Chinese army, rising to become commander in chief of the Chinese armed forces, and remained in the country until his death on 11 December 1919.

A potted history

In Guernsey, The Star gave a potted history, cribbed from “British Press” on 30 October 1883, outlining how “although this distinguished officer of the Chinese Army is generally stated to be a native of Jersey, we believe that while he was actually born in the island, he is really an Alderney-man by parentage. His father, Mr William Mesny, is a native of Alderney, and still resides there, as well as other members of the family, and there the Chinese general passed his infancy and boyhood. In company with his brother John, he embarked in a trading vessel, determined to seek adventures in a larger sphere than was offered by his native country. This brother has, we believe, attained an important office in Customs.”

Despite holding such a respected position in a foreign military organisation – and at a time when Britain was flooding China with opium to, effectively, force the country to trade with it – Mesny retained his original citizenship and was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. His book, Tungking, tells the history of northern Vietnam, in which he travelled extensively.

In 1992, Jersey Philatelic Bureau produced a series of stamps commemorating the 150th anniversary of Mesny’s birth.


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