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Leonard Arthur Lyall letters, Tylor papers PRM ms collections Box 13

Leonard Arthur Lyall (1867-?1934) worked for the Chinese customs authorities as his address is given as Customs House, Shanghai. He was the author of many books about China including The Sayings of Confucius, a full list is given here. Information from the Chinese Maritime Customs Project website, (November 2005) says that Leonard Arthur Lyall was born on the 28th July 1867 in London, and joined the Customs Service as 4h Assistant, B, on the 18th October 1886. After six months study of Chinese at Peking he served in various capacities at Wuhu, Swatow, Takow, Shanghai (three times), Hangchow, Nanking, Shasi, Dairen, and Szemao before returning to Peking in November 1911 as Assistant Chinese Secretary. He was promoted Deputy Commissioner on the 1st April 1912 and Commissioner (Chinese Secretary) on 1st November 1913. Lyall served as Commissioner at Shanghai on two occasions, from April 1919 to October 1920 and from September 1922 to October 1925. He was three times appointed Vice-President of the Chinese Commission for Tariff Revision; in November 1917 for the Commission which sat all through 1918; in February 1922 for the Commission which sat from March to September that year; and in September 1926 for the abortive Commission for the Compilation of Values. He retired from the Service on the 31st May 1927, and accepted a post as assessor on the Opium Advisory Committee of the League of Nations, a post which he filled with so much distinction that he was subsequently appointed Chairman of the Committee. Lyall has translated the analects of Confucius under the title ”The Sayings of Confucius” (2nd Edition), London, 1925, also the works of “Mencius,” London, 1932, and is the author of the volume “China” in the Modern World series, London, 1934. Lyall holds Civil Rank of the 4th Class; the Order of the Chia Ho, 3rd Class; 3rd Class Pao Kuang; and 2nd Class Pao Kuang.

The kites  mentioned below may match 1898.79.1-5 but these objects (Chinese kites), found unentered nearly a century later, and unaccessioned until then appear to be from China and the following objects turn out to be from Japan. It may be that Tylor never gave these objects to the Pitt Rivers Museum. The coins are coins for the dead and are entered in the PRM as 1917.53.753 .1-99 [though Lyall mentions 100 only 99 are in the museum]. The drawing of the coffin bird has not been definitely identified but is probably 1986.27.1 which was found unentered in 1986 and is a Chinese painting of a funeral procession.

Lyall L5 


Custom House

21. Feb 98

Dear Dr Tylor

You must not think that because I have not answered it I was not much pleased to receive your letter of last February, with the pamphlet on games. But I could not find out anything about the game & I should imagine that your correspondence is too large for you to appreciate letters about nothing. I am now sending you a few specimens of Chinese kites, which I hope will arrive safely & prove what you wished for. The only other common shape is a centipede, formed of a series of squares with a string running through them perpendicularly. These are too bulky to be easily sent.

The cost of the books was $1, that of the kites & packing $3 (I am afraid I was shockingly swindled over this purchase). So you owe me 8 shillings to which must be added the postage on the kites, which you can learn from the stamps. Should there by any Chinese stamps on the parcel they need not be counted.

It seems hardly worth remitting so small a sum, but as you ask I tell you the amount. Can I at any future time be of any service to you, I hope you will make use of me. With kind regards to Mrs Tylor

Believe me

Yours truly

L.A. Lyall 


Lyall L6

Custom House


6 May '99

Dear Dr Tylor

I am at last sending you the kites you asked for. The delay has been caused by the fact that they can only be bought in the spring. I enclose B/L [Bill of Lading] but the P&O will send the boxes on to Oxford. The freight by rail you will have to pay.

Fighting kites are not used here, nor, as far as I know, any where else in China--fighting of any kind not being to the taste of the Chinese. I procured them from Japan, & hope they are what you want. I have not opened the box myself. I send your Rentiers letter on the subject [1]

I could not hear of any Kite flying being done in connection with Buddhism.

I also enclose a fu or charm. Which I think may interest you. It was placarded on all the doors of a village at Chinese New Year. & emanated from the temple named on it. I have not been able to collect much information about it; but L.C. Hopkins, whom you may know, tells me that the original may have been written by Chang T'ien Shih, the Taoist Pope. Who lives in Kiangu Anyhow the charms written by him are the most efficacious & can in all cases be relied on: whereas the efficacy of other men's charms depends on the writer's blood & chi'i [Chinese script] & mê [Chinese script] being in good condition! He gives me these words in Chinese & you will find better translators in Oxford than I can pretend to be. Both his writer & mine suggest that the charm is made up of the following characters written one on the top of the other [Chinese script] "to order the malign to return into the right way" Watters [2] would, I think, be more likely to know about such matters than anyone else.

Yours sincerely

Leonard A. Lyall

Can I obtain anything else for you I shall be glad to do my best


[1] Lyall is slightly unclear but it seems most probable the kites may have been Japanese not Chinese. There are a set of kites donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1899, but they are all said to have been collected and donated by Basil Hall Chamberlain. However 8 kites which were found in the lower gallery of the museum but not accessioned have been tentatively matched to these references, but they are appear to be Chinese so may not be the right objects. 

[2] Possibly Thomas Watters (1840-1901) member of the British consular service and served in China and Taiwan and published books at China. 


[Note by Tylor: This letter is sent on by Leonard A. Lyall Custom House Shanghai]

H.M. Consulate


March 20 99

Dear Lyall

I return herewith Dr Tylor's letter enclosed in yours of the 24th inst. and in accordance with your request I am sending you by the N.Y.K. "Our marn' [?] leaving today 2 fighting kites with 1/2th of twine each & 2 cutters, 1 of wire the other of string covered with glass dust. Both kinds are used, but [insert] to use [end insert] the wire is, apparently, playing it rather low down on one's adversary. The cutting string, or wire, is of course fastened immediately to the kite, & then the twine onto the cutter. 

No special winders are used, a bit of board or handful of straw: but, in fighting, a wide box is, I am told, generally used, & the string coiled into it as drawn in. It can thus be more easily manipulated then by means of a winder. The outlay does not amount to much

Twine Yen 1

2 Kites .30

Glass string .15

box .75


2 Yen 20 sen

Freight 1


3 yen 20 sen

The cutting string is sold by the 100 fathoms, nominally, the length being actually only about 12. Sometimes 4 or 5 times this length is used in large fighting kites, but I thought the ordinary length would be plenty for you, as it's only as a specimen & not for use. Same with the twine.

In sending this at Nagasaki you came to the right place, for Kite fighting is practised more here than anywhere in Japan. You came at the right time too, for on several days in the old 3rd month there are great contests [insert] on the hills around Nagasaki [end insert] after that kites are hardly to be bought till the following Spring

I enclose B/L [bill of lading] for the box

Yours truly

John B Rentiers 


Lyall L7



10 March 1904

My dear Dr Tylor

The photograph my friend took of the coffins with a cock on it, & which I said I should send you, turned out to be not a cock at all, but a crane, the emblem of longevity, so I did not send it, as I did not think you attached much importance to this picture, I took no further steps in the matter. However, in conversation, the other day, I found the practice is so common a one that there is even a special name for the cock--the spirit leading cock. So I ordered a picture to be drawn of the subject which I now enclose.

I am conscious that I have been somewhat remiss in this matter, so I am sending you, as a peace offering, a small present of a hundred dollars, which I hope you will do me the honour of accepting. I trust that you may have no occasion to use them for many & many a day: but in the end they are sure to come in handy. They may seem to you a little light, but I assured that in the regions they are intended for, they are full weight & current coin of the realm. Hangchow is famous for this kind of coinage.

Please give my kind regards to Mrs Tylor.

Yours very truly

L.A. Lyall

I hope the other two pictures reached you safely.

The artist (?) has drawn the picture according to the Hangchow custom, which is to carry the cock in front of the coffin

[This letter comes with an envelope with a red wax HM Customs seal and its bill of lading]

Separate note

See Sir A. Lyall [sic] to EBT 10/3/04

Stephen *

Thank you for your "Correction" about those Chinese drawings. I find there is a drawer called "China" in the second of the two cabinets I am working through (the one in Schuyler JOnes' room) which seems a highly suitable place: so, at any rate for the moment, I have put the drawings & the note there

James *

("Put your pyjamas in the drawer marked 'Pyjamas;")

*Jeremy Coote identified 'Stephen' as J. Stephen Bach who was honorary archivist at the Pitt Rivers Museum in the 1970s according to the Museum's annual reports, the same source identifies 'James' as probably James Craig who worked on aerial photographs and other manuscript holdings at the same time. Schuyler Jones was one of the Lecturer / Curators in the Museum from 1977-78, presumably the letter dates from that time. It is now not clear where the drawings in this drawer were moved to. All 2D holdings in the Museum were worked on in the recent past but this drawing was not found.

Transcribed by AP April 2013

PS. Readers of this page who have never worked in a museum may find it extraordinary that a volunteer in a museum might find a painting in the late 1970s and move it to a location, where it is found a mere 8 years or so later but not matched to the existing documentation. A case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is aware of, or connecting. One of the major advantages of research projects like this is it allows the dots to be joined up and for connections to be made between manuscript collections and object collections, often for the first time. AP


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