17th & 18th of January 2019 – Kaohsiung
Having been the superb back up crew for the last 2 weeks, Taiwan was Chris (my partner’s) opportunity for a bit of limelight. Chris’ surname is Swinhoe-Standen and his 1st cousin 4 times removed, yes that is a long way back, was a man called Robert Swinhoe. Robert was a significant figure in Taiwanese history for two reasons. Firstly he was a great naturalist and ‘discovered’ and scientifically named well over 300 species, some of which have his name. Secondly he was the first British Vice Consul of Formosa (Taiwan) aged 24 in 1860. In this capacity opened the British Consulate in 1861 in Takao, now Kaohsiung. http://takaoclub.com/swinhoe/index.htm
Having emailed the Ministry of Culture, Chris was invited to a hosted tour of the Natural History gallery at the National Museum of Taiwan in Taipei so they could show him Robert Swinhoe related things. We were greeted with high excitement by two of the museum staff who showed us around the gallery and explained that whilst Robert was very important, he was definitely not alone there having been a good number of Victorian naturalists and missionaries who had come to Formosa in that period. Having briefly met the more important curator our two hosts gave us a variety of museum mementos and said that they had been in touch with their colleagues in Kaohsiung and they had organised an English speaking guide to the Former British Consulate museum and booked us on the Robert Swinhoe cruise tour!
We had alway planned to visit the Consulate museum in Kaohsiung, but were definitely not expecting to be hosted.
Before we left Taipei we headed to the Taipei Zoo to see some of Robert’s species in a slightly less stuffed form than they had been at the museum. One of his most famous is the Swinhoe Pheasant, which was pleasingly beautiful, its feathers iridescent. The males strut about making a rather less than manly cooing sound.
The next day saw us speeding down the country on the very rapid train for a date with Kate, one of the staff members at the Former British Consulate museum. We were in need of lunch when we arrived, which we had at the touristy ‘Shell Lovers’ restaurant close to the Consulate. Walking round the corner to the museum we found we had been very eagerly awaited by what seemed like the whole staff. After many welcomes, our guide Jose set off to show us around, whilst Kate and her colleague followed us snapping pictures.
The former Consulate residence is on top of a hill with a stunning view of Kaohsiung harbour and has been lovingly re-built after it was destroyed by a typhoon and left derelict for decades It is a popular spot for watching the sun set and amusingly they serve English afternoon tea and have a rather wonderful exhibition of strange tea related pictures of the royal family.
After a comprehensive tour we headed for the dockside and for the boat section of our Swinhoe extravaganza. There is a massive re-generation of the docks area in progress and a busy dock yard and the tour took in spots relevant to Robert’s story such as where the boat he resided on for 6 months prior to coming ashore to start the consulate was probably moored.
Tours over, Chris was asked to sign some books about the consulate’s history and amusingly a random member of the public decided her book should also get a signature. Slightly bemused, we were then told that Kate’s supervisor was on her way to meet their illustrious guest. After some time she appeared with an entourage of 3 or 4 other people and outside the residency, overlooking the harbour, there was much more handshaking and photography. It then became more like a great diplomatic visit as the supervisor spoke in Chinese about how honoured they were to have Chris visit and how much this would do for English, Taiwan relations, all of which was translated by Kate. They then asked for permission to create a press release about Chris’ visit as they were so excited by it.
It is a very lovely spot and well worth a visit if you are in Kaohsiung, and is shortly going to become a National Heritage monument which was very exciting for the team on the ground there.
I have Grace Hong, scanning the papers and new for any articles that appear about the ‘great Swinhoe relative’s visit’….
Postscript… Chris made the papers! Taipei Times 19th January 2019 – very amusing. Also the following online publications http://news.ltn.com.tw/news/life/breakingnews/2675808