The Arnold Arboretum Archives is fortunate to hold a number of official travel documents relating to Ernest H. Wilson’s expeditions in China from 1899-1911. They provide a glimpse into some of the government paperwork which accompanied a plant collecting trip a century ago.
Both the American and British Consulate offices in China issued Ernest Wilson passports to travel in the interior of the country. They called upon local officials to, “allow him to travel with protection at all times and respect,” both for he and his assistants. He was also issued permits to allow him to carry hunting guns and ammunition during his explorations. The permits were then countersigned by Chinese officials when he arrived in the regions in which he would be collecting. The text is usually in ink in script on folio-sized Chinese fiber paper. Many of the documents have added notations in English, with some in Wilson’s own hand.
He had calling cards as well which spelled his name phonetically in Chinese characters and were printed on red paper. We are also fortunate to hold one of Wilson’s British passports, issued to him and his wife Ellen in 1916 in preparation for his expedition to Japan, Korea and Formosa.
When you visit the Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library, be sure to look up above the map case just before you enter the Reading Room. There you will see reproductions of three of Wilson’s Chinese passports.
—Lisa Pearson, Head of Library and Archives