Takao Club

Stent's Stores

George Carter Stent

George Carter Stent's Lifestyle
       George Carter Stent, as Assistant-in-Charge of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs (CMC) at Takow, was responsible for processing the papers of all foreign vessels that entered or left the ports of Takow (Kaohsiung) and Anping at Taiwanfu (Tainan) on the island of Taiwan.

      In his position, Stent would have overseen about half a dozen CMC personnel. There would probably have been a Tide-Surveyor, a 2nd Assistant (Mr W B Russell) and two Tidewaiters at Takow; and another 2nd Assistant plus two Tidewaiters up at Anping: there would have also been various Chinese secretaries and coolies on his payroll. 

      The Tide-Surveyor at Takow had his own office and residence, and was in charge of the boarding officers or Tidewaiters. The Tidewaiters literally waited for ships to enter the harbour on the tide, and would then board the ships to check the goods and search for contraband.

      The Customs Commissioner's house, where Stent would have lived, can be seen in the 1875 engraving after Thomson's photograph below. The view is looking south across the Takow lagoon towards Chi-chin. The Commissioner's house is the balconied building with mast in the right foreground. However, in Stent's time which was 8 years later, there would have been the British Consular Offices to the right of the building, and the British Consular Residence above and overlooking on the hill to the right. 

      Stent's staff at the Customs Commissioner's house consisted of five people. There was a cook and houseboy, Chen Chia [陳加], who would also buy fresh produce from the market and was paid 10 dollars a month. The house coolie, Huang An-lu [黄安緑], was paid 7 dollars a month, and a punkah coolie, Lu Yun, was paid 3 dollars a month. In addition, there was a washerman, Wu Chin, who was paid on a pro rata basis of about 4 dollars a month. 

      Overseeing this household was a housekeeper, Ah-hsui (sew) [亜秀], who was paid an 'allowance' of 20 dollars a month. The housekeeper enjoyed considerable power in the house, and Ah-hsui seems to have been made a further ex gratia payment of 260 dollars from Stent's estate.

      Stent also employed a Chinese scholar, Kuo Li-chen [郭理珍], who was paid 15 dollars a month, to tutor him in Chinese. 

      These dollars would have been Spanish silver dollars, with a nominal value of 3/6d (0.16 GBP), theoretically equivalent to 12.80 GBP or 800 NTD today.

Stent's Larder 

      George Carter Stent's Foreign Office file also offers a fascinating glimpse into the way such foreigners lived in Takow in the late 19th century. Indeed the 1880s were the dawning of the Belle Epoque period.

      The Foreign Office file contains a full inventory of Stent's possessions at the time of his death. The most striking thing about the list is the copious amounts of alcoholic beverage it shows. First, are the beers.

      Along with some 47 pints of beer, there are 70 pints of stout. Beer had proven difficult to ship from England to the East, but two ways were found to preserve it during the long voyages: high alcoholic content and hops.

      Stout, a dark strong porter, was very popular in the 19th century, and was the drink of choice around the markets of England (hence the name 'porter'). Indeed Stent, coming from a fruiterer's family would have been very familiar with this drink.

      However, as even London Stout at 6-8% alcoholic content proved difficult to ship, a 'tropical stout' at 8-10% was developed especially to ship to the East.

      The other solution for preserving beer over the long sea voyage was the use of more hops. The beer developed was called India Pale Ale (IPA), which was pale, bitter and still strong at 6%.

       In addition to the beer, Stent had just over 100 bottles of claret wine (St Julien) in his storeroom. These Bordeaux wines were well adapted to shipping. He also kept a reasonable reserve of Port.

       Probably more suitable for the climate, he also had various white wines including 31 bottles of Champagne, 23 bottles of Chablis, and 15 of California White.

      As an aperitif, Stent also seems to have been particularly partial to Vermouth (19 bottles) which probably would have stored very well in the warm coastal climate of Takow. However, he also had several bottles of sherry.

In comparison to the beers and wines, Stent was only moderately stocked with spirits. His favourite seems to have been Ginger Brandy (14 bottles), though there were also several bottles of Benedictine and Whiskey.

      In amongst the sundry stores are 5 bottles of Cowslip Wine. This wine was popular not only as a beverage, but also as palliative against various ailments and for its calmative effect.

      George Carter Stent's stores of alcohol may seem excessive, but it would seem that such a supply was necessary if one wished to entertain others. 

      In this regard it is illuminating to read Dr Myers' description of a 'moderate drinker', who is defined as an individual who never drinks anything before 11 am. "Assume at that hour he takes the seductive 'cocktail', i.e., 1 oz. of gin; suppose he does not imbibe until tiffin, when he allows himself, say, 1 pint of beer, with two glasses of sherry. He then goes on until 4 or 5 pm, when he will take, say, one glass of whiskey and water, or it may be three glasses of sherry; he then goes on to dinner, when he takes, say, another pint of beer, or, say, two glasses of claret and water, with two glasses of sherry. Before retiring at night he takes a glass of whiskey and water." Thus during the day this moderate drinker may easily consume 6 ounces of pure alcohol. (This is about 4 times the recommended daily consumption).

      Although alcohol was generally considered as a necessity for life, some of the drinks, such as Cowslip Wine, did lay claim to further virtues to combat the fatigue and ailments of a tropical climate.

      Famous amongst the palliatives was Angostura Bitters, which had been developed in 1824 by Dr Johann Siegert to combat fatigue and stomach ailments. Stent naturally had Angostura Bitters at hand.

      Another drink which was familiar to Stent, and remains a popular drink in Taiwan today, is Sarsaparilla. This is made from the root of a thorny vine found in Central America, though the finest is said to come from Jamaica. 

      In the 19th century this was a widely-touted cure for syphilis and gonorrhea, and was requested by many after a visit to the brothel. Moreover, sarsaparilla was also considered highly effective in inducing perspiration and thus cooling the body in hot climes. However, its most proven effect has been from its external use against skin diseases.

      In addition to its many other properties, sarsaparilla's cooling effect and its curative powers for syphilis would have particularly appealed to Stent. In any case, Stent had a goodly supply of Sarsaparilla that was sealed in tins.

      There were also sundry bottles of Cod Liver Oil, Lemon & Lime Juice, and Sherbet to be found in Stent's storeroom.

      Then, as now, Takow had plentiful fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, good fish and passable chicken. Yet monotony was a risk.

      Stent would regularly order tinned roast beef from Vosteen's Store across the lagoon, and kept a stock of tinned salmon in his stores.

      To spice up his foods, and recall his days in India, Stent also had supplies of curry powder, pickles and chutney.

      At the back of the house was a yard, where he kept some 80 pigeons, 53 rabbits, 2 turkeys and a pheasant in cages. The last, we are told, was 'tame'.

Customs House at An-ping, Taiwanfu

      Stent, as Assistant-in-Charge for Takow, was also responsible for trade at the port of An-ping, some 25 miles north of Takow. The Customs House at Anping is shown in the late 1870s photograph above. In the foreground can be seen the ruins of Fort Zeelandia.

      An-ping was in a more exposed position than his residence at Takow, and it is interesting to note that he maintained a stock of coal there for burning in the grate. It is probable that he would spend the off-months of October to December, when little sugar trade was conducted at Takow, up at the An-ping Customs House. Although the Customs House no longer stands, a probably similar room with fireplace can be seen at his contemporary Julius Mannich's old house nearby in Anping.

      On a last sad note, Stent kept his accordion up at An-ping perhaps to wile away lonely nights. The only item that Sarah Ann Page requested from the effects of George Carter Stent was his accordion. She was never to get it. It was sold at Anping for 45 dollars.

Takao Club

Stent's Stores

George Carter Stent