Monday, 14 July 2008

Sir Rutherford Alcock's Bookplate (Reviewed)

Sir Rutherford Alcock, K.C.B., D.C.L.,F.R.G.S. (1809-1897)

After the death fo King John VI, in 1826, Portugal was ravaged by a Civil War between (1828-1834) opposing the proclaimed King, Dom Miguel I and the Liberals, led by Dom Pedro, duke fo Braganza, former Emperor of Brazil and for a short while King of Portugal. Dom Pedro gave a Constitutional Chart to the nation and abdicated the crown on his daughter D. Maria II, backed by Great Britain with the condition that she should marry his younger brother D. Miguel then exiled in Vienna. The prince at first complied and swore the new Constitution, but soon after with the support of the conservative forces called the ancient Cortes and was proclaimed King. The Liberals were prosecuted, emprisoned, some executed and others fled into exile, mainly to England.

Engraving by Daumier, 1833 (BNL)

When the Liberal forces disembarked in the North of Portugal taking the city of Oporto they were assisted by a Battalion composed of British Volunteers, under the comand of Lieut.-Colonel G. Lloyd Hodges ((1792-1862) and whose action was so important for the outcome of the war in 1834.

Among those Britons, was the young Doctor Rutherford Alcock, a Brigade Surgeon, who served throughout the civil war with bravery and distinction assisting the wounded and curing the sick amongst many difficulties.

After the end of the Civil War, Doctor R. Alcock was made a Knight of the Order of the Tower and Sword (founded in 1808 and reformed in 1832 by Dom Pedro, duke of Braganza) by Royal Decree of Queen D. Maria II, of May, 30th, 1835. The decree mentions Doctor Alcock's relevant services assisting the wounded under fire and the 6 wounds received during the battle of Lordelo, on July 25th, 1833 (*).

Other British Officers like Col. G. Lloyd Hodges KC TS (who later resigned and returned the order), Major Charles Shaw, Major Staunton (later killed in action) and Lieut. Mitchell, had received the Order of the Tower and Sword during the Civil War.

After the end of the war in Portugal, Doctor Alcock joined as a Surgeon the Naval Brigade who fought in Spain (1836) during the Carlist War.

Leaving the medical profession he was appointed British Consul at Fuchow and later in Shangai, in China and in 1858, he was appointed consul-general in the empire of Japan, and one year later was promoted to be Minister Plenipotentiary.

In 1865 he was appointed Minister to Pekin till he retired in 1871. He was also President of the Royal Geographical Society (1876-1878).
His activity as Envoy to Japan has been masterly discussed by Ambassador Sir Hugh Cortazzi, Sir Rutherford Alcock, the first British minister to Japan 1859-1864: a reassessment, «Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan»(4th series) 8, 1994, pp. 1-42.

Keen of oriental art, specially Chinese and Japanese, Sir Rutherford Alcock wrote Art and Art Industries in Japan, London, Virtue & Co, 1878 and Notes on the Medical History of the British Legion of Spain (1838), Elements of Japanese Grammar (1861); The Capital of the Tycoon (1863) and Familiar Dialogues in Japanese (1863).
Portrait at

The bookplate bears the insignia of the Orders of Bath, Isabel, a Católica (Spain) and the Tower and of the Sword (Portugal) and it must have been made (or altered) after 1860, date in which he was made a CB.

This bookplate is particularly interesting since there are few British members of Portuguese Orders, namely the order of the Tower and Sword (f. 1808 and reformed 1832) who proudly bore the order's insignia in their armorial bearings.

Apparently, Doctor Alcock used another bookplate with the same arms but with his initials.

Doctor Alcock's presence in Portugal at Oporto explains the presence of his bookplate in Portuguese collections.

See, G. Lloyd Hodges, Narrative of the Expedtition to Portugal in 1832, Under the Orders of His Imperial Majesty Dom Pedro, Duke fo Braganza, 2 vols., London, James Fraser, 1833;
Col. Hugh Owen, The Civil War in Portugal: And the Siege of Oporto, London, E. Moxon, 1836); Charles Shaw, Personal Memoirs and Correspondence of Colonel Charles Shaw: Comprising a ... , 2 vols., London, H. Colburn, 1837; Thomas Knight, The British Battalion at Oporto: With Adventures, Anecdotes, and Exploits in ..., London, 1834.

See also, an interesting article by Anna Jackson on the The Victorian Vision of China and Japan where Sir Rutherford Alcock’s oriental collection contribute to the the London International Exhibition of 1862 is discussed.

Biography; and for the military carrer see, Prof. Kaufman's:

Further reading: MICHIE, Alexander., THE ENGLISHMAN IN CHINA DURING THE VICTORIAN ERA: As As Illustrated in the Career of Sir Rutherford Alcock, K.C.B D.C.L. Many Years Consul & Minister in China & Japan, London 1900, and at

(*) Special thanks are due to my dear friend Paulo Estrela, a keen researcher and author on Phaleristics, for letting me know the documents referring the award of the Order of the Tower and Sword to Doctor Rutherford Alcock.

Posted November 6th, 2006
Text reviewed July 2008

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