Before the advent of modern newspapers and journalism, those who were intimately involved in events such as the Opium Wars captured the circumstances in writing and image. These included the captains, quartermasters, and midshipmen aboard the ships that constituted the punitive expeditions to China.
The entries produced in these original logs give details about the progress of the naval forces in Chinese waters. The Wason Collection, besides owning the original logbook of the HMS Lion (part of the aforementioned Macartney Papers), includes a number of other highly unique logs, such as the log of the HMS Belleisle, the same boat that brought back the famous Chinese cannons of the destroyed Taku Forts in 1861, and the log of the HMS Retribution, a ship second in command to Lord Elgin's HMS Furious, which went up the Yangzi River, attacked the city of Nanjing, and then proceeded further north, ending with the destruction of the imperial Summer Palace in 1860.
Excerpt from the log of HMS Belleisle
29th August 1842. Treaty of Peace between the Emperor of China and Victoria Queen of England was this day signed on board HMS Cornwallis, by the Plenipotentiary Sir H. Pottinger and Keying, Elipoo, and the other Imperial Commissioners. A salute of 21 guns announced the conclusion of the War.
John Crealock's hand-drawn sketches of the assault on Canton on December 29, 1859, are equally dramatic as the eyewitness accounts of soldiers and officers in the allied forces. In the rare Atlas of Pallu published in 1861, military cartographers precisely mapped the waters off the Chinese coast for the first time and even took an interest in the thickness of ramparts surrounding Chinese cities that were about to be attacked.
A great number of published materials housed in Cornell's Rare Book collection bear witness to the fact that the Wason Collection contains tremendous amounts of resources especially on 19th- and early 20th-century Chinese history. Western materials include pamphlets from the original Wason Pamphlet Collection, amassed until 1918 and comprising some 1600 pieces of early "gray literature" related mostly to things Chinese, or books published immediately after or even during the events of the two Opium Wars.