Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Japanese Suit of Armor and Josiah Tatnall... in Georgia?

This morning I was at the Hawaii State Library reading through the March 1860 editions of The Polynesian, a Honolulu-based business oriented newspaper. As was the case with other news sources of the time, The Polynesian featured news of the arrival of the Powhatan with Josiah Tatnall, his crew and the Japanese ambassadorial delegation.

A transcript of an article I found caught my eye. It references an article quoted from the North China Herald about a Japanese suit of armor. The Polynesian reported that the suit described here was in the possession of Commodore Tatnall of the Powhatan, and it was his intention to donate it to the "Historical Society of Georgia." The commodore was a native Georgian.

I've contacted the Georgia Historical Society in the hopes that it may have this suit among it's collections:

Japan Armor. The Polynesian: Honolulu. Saturday, March 10, 1860, Page 2.

Of the many beautiful productions of art in which Japan abounds, none has excited greater or more deserved admiration than a complete suit of armor purchased upon his late visit to that country by His Excellency Mr. Ward, U.S. Minister to China. This curious and magnificent suit is of mixed chain and lacquered copper plate, and although evidently of great antiquity is yet in a complete state of preservation. The helmet is of polished steel, engraved and richly inlaid with gold. Upon the summit is an aperture for the insertion of a small staff with a Japanese flag. The mask and gorget are of fine elastic plates of steel. The armlets, anklets and gauntlets are likewise of steel with concentric hoops in front for the purpose of entangling and breaking a sword or lance. The cuirass (or body armor) is of copper, covered and ornamented beautifully with silk. The designs and chasings are of the most exquisite workmanship, and the entire panoply has been pronounced by those familiar with the armories of Malta and the Tower of London, the most perfect and unique specimen extant. It is said to have belonged to the grandfather of the present Emperor of Japan, and is therefore invested with an historical as well as artistic interest. Accompanying the armor are two handsome Japanese swords, and a pair of heavy silver stirrups inlaid with gold. We learn that is it the intention of His Excellency to present it entire to the Historical Society of Georgia, his native State. It is the only suit of armor ever obtained from Japan. –North China Herald.

We are informed by a person who has seen it, and is most eulogistic in his praises of its beauties and merits as a chef d’oeuvre, that the armor above described was presented by His Excellency Mr. Ward to Admiral Tattnall and is now on board the Powhatan, where the Admiral showed it to our informant. So fine a specimen of Japanese skill could fall into no better hands than the gallant Admiral’s, who has endeared himself to men of every nation by the kindness of the heart conjoined with true bravery exhibited by him towards the unfortunate Englishmen who were exposed to such ruthless slaughter at the Peiho forts.

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