In 1859 George Fleming volunteered to serve as a veterinary officer on the expedition to North China. Whilst there, in July 1861, he embarked on a journey of almost 700 miles from Tien-tsin, where he was stationed, to Mantchu Tartary. Two years later he wrote an account of the journey which was published as Travels on horseback in Mantchu Tartary (Hurst and Blackett, 1863)
In the preface Fleming explains his reasons for writing an account of ‘his novel ride through one of the most distant regions of the great Chinese empire’ :
“Little in reality is known regarding the far north, more especially of those hitherto inaccessible districts which border on, or lie beyond, that marvellous monument of human industry – The Great Wall, in its course along the eastern margin of Old China.
It is therefore hoped that an attempt to describe the general features of the country and the special characteristics of the northern Chinese … may prove in some degree interesting. It may be a long time before Europeans will again venture so far as from the vicinity of Peking to the birthplace of the Mantchu dynasty … So until a more leisurely survey can be made … these notes of a holiday pilgrimage the author hopes will not be unacceptable.”
The book is 566 pages long and describes the people Fleming met; their customs; the landscape and the climate etc. He also gives descriptions of agricultural practices in the various regions and of the hardships he faced along the way The text is accompanied by 54 illustrations a number of which are reproduced below.
A Chinese horse-dealer ‘who had all the vices and dodges of his Western confreres’
A warning to robbers
A Pig-driver – wearing a ‘first-rate waterproof of rushes’
The roadside sanctuary
Inn at the Wall – the useless passport
Fast in the mud
Courtyard wall – ‘the open brick-work in front was literally plastered with human faces’