Ward Valencourt Ranger
b. Syracuse, New York, USA
early photographer

Transit of Venus expedition, 1874

Syracuse Journal, December 9, 1874


Letters from Mr. Ward V. Ranger, of the Transit of Venus Expedition to China.

Correspondence of the Syracuse Journal.

Peking, China, September 25, 1874.

According to agreement, I pen a few jottings from my note book on my way to Peking. I left home July 6th, and arrived in Chicago on the 9th. Was there during the great fire, which I witnessed. On the morning of the 15th, the rest of our Transit-of-Venus party arrived, and at 10:15 A.M., we left Chicago in a palace car for Omaha. Here we joined Professor Hall's party, who are to be stationed at Vladivostock. After waiting some time for our luggage to be transferred across the river to the Union Pacific railroad depot and weighed, the order was given "all aboard!" and soon we were out, and approaching the great West. The objects of interest in a trip across the continent I will not take your time and space in describing, as they are generally familiar to the reading public. On our arrival at Ogden, which is the terminus of the Union Pacific road, we took cars for Salt Lake City, and spent one day. The City of Salt Lake is beautifully situated near the shores of the Great Salt Lake. The atmosphere is remarkably clear. The mountains which lie back of the city on the east, several miles distant, appear distinct as if they were hardly two. We visited the Tabernacle and other points of interest about the city. In the afternoon, called on Brigham Young, at his residence (the famous Bee Hive), where we met Messrs. Wells and Smith, Elders of the Mormon Church. At 3:45 P.M. next day, we went to Ogden; there took the cars of the Central Pacific railroad for San Francisco, where we arrived on the 21st.


On the 28th of July, we took our baggage on board the steamship Alaska, one of the large and fine steamers of the Pacific Mail service. We were booked for a long voyage, not being allowed to see land within twenty-two days, according to the rules of the Company. The Alaska, is called one of the best sea boats in the Company's service, although not very fast. She measures 4,100 tons; length, 360 feet; breadth, 50 feet; depth of hold, 31 feet; diameter of wheel, 42 feet; cylinder, 105 inches diameter, 12 feet stroke; smokestack thirty-six feet in circumference (not a very small chimney to be sailing over the broad Pacific, reminding one of the big trees of California). I think she was registered to carry thirteen hundred and fifty passengers, of which number we had about three hundred and fifty, nearly all Chinese returning home. The ship carries one hundred and thirty four officers and crew, twelve life-boats and one life-raft. The raft and life boats add but little to one's sense of security.

When fairly out of the Golden Gate, we encountered those long ground swells which are so apt to turn the thoughts inward, and some of the passengers seemed to feel in duty bound to conform to the usages of the sea. At ten P.M., all lights are ordered out, and it is well to be in your so called magnificent stateroom (about the size of a closet), and when you turn in you will be forcibly reminded of that popular little song, "Put me in my little bed." We had rather a tame voyage so far as the sea itself was concerned, no foul weather, as you might say, and no very large seas. We did not see a ship or sail from the time of leaving San Francisco until near the coast of Japan. Every Sunday morning at eleven o'clock, the Episcopal service was read by the captain. It is a regulation of the company on all steamers in their service. The service is attended by all the officers, except those absolutely on duty, and most of the passengers. The time on ship board was generally spent in reading, the ship having a good library, playing a game called "bull" (something like quoits), and watching for whales, porpoises and flying-fish. Sea gulls accompanies us clear across the ocean, a distance of forty-seven hundred miles by our route--or at least we saw them every day.


On the 20th of August, being in the Black Stream, which is similar to the Gulf Stream on the Atlantic coast, the captain formed the passengers that they should see land the next morning, -- a pretty good calculation when you remember we had been more than three weeks with a sight of earthly things. Early next morning a goodly number were on the look-out. Soon the outline of Fusiyama, the sacred Mountain of Fire, the glory of Japan, towered up until its top was lost in the clouds. It is said to be visible more than one hundred and twenty five miles at sea weather and atmosphere being favorable. In a few hours more the short of Nipon, the principal island of the empire of Japan, was plainly visible. What a pleasure to see the solid earth again, after twenty-four days of ocean travel, and especially the shores of Japan. They appeared the most beautiful of any I ever saw. The endless variety of contour and originality of surface and outline profusely covered with verdure and foliage. The hills were terraced and under the highest state of cultivation even to the very top, and the brilliancy of color, even in August, makes the country unsurpassed in beauty.

As we steamed up the Gulf of Yeddo, the scene becomes more animated and Japanese in its aspects. Fishing boats with square sails, junks, small boats propelled by the coolies or poorer classes nearly or quite naked, gave such a different appearance as almost to seem unreal. Near two P.M. we entered the harbor of Yokohama, the principal port of Japan. Vessels of all nations, men of war, merchant ships, etc., were lying at anchor, giving the bay a familiar look. The firing of our gun and dropping our anchor brought around us swarms of natives in their sampans. They propel their boats with sculls, and are almost innocent of clothing. After waiting some time our luggage was put in boats and two of us stepped into another propelled by two lusty natives, who at every stroke of their sculls sent forth a kind of wail or groan, rather novel if not so pleasing.


We soon reached the shore. Then came the strife to see who should carry our baggage to our hotel. I must say it was a better mannered crowd than one would see at any American landing or railway station. After the formalities of the custom house were gone through, the coolies divided off into separate squads, all remaining quiet, except for two or three who were making some arrangements which I did not know or understand. It soon appeared they were drawing lots, made from little ropes of straw curiously entwined and bound together by a band of straw. The band was severed and with a shout the coolies lifter their hands when four were found tied by another band. This indicated the four fortunate ones. The rest submitting without a sign of dissatisfaction, forcibly forcing the thought on one, how much more pleasant, if not better, to cast lots for passengers than tear or pull them in pieces. This manner of determining by lot as to who should wait upon or serve you I saw universally practiced wherever there was an occasion, through all my journeyings in my short stay in Japan.


That part of Yokohama which we enter upon landing, is built and occupied by foreigners, and is known and called "The Concession." No wharf is built. A wide bund, as it is called, or street, extends towards a mile along and fronting the bay of Yokohama. The European or foreign population have their bungalows, or stores and offices, most generally enclosed by walls, along this bund, although a number of the foreign merchants have their residences on the high bluff overlooking the city and bay and country towards Fusyiama. The foreign population numbers about two thousand. Formerly Yokohama was the residence of the foreign Ministers, but now they are about to be removed to Yeddo, or Tokio, as the city is now called.

There are no wagon roads or paths in the whole empire wide enough to drive horses and carriages, except the great Tikado. This is the great imperial road of Japan, and extends the whole length of the island, about three hundred miles. It is lined on either side with very old and large trees, a species of pine, which give the road a charming and romantic appearance. When on an elevation you can trace the windings of the road by its stately trees, and the effect is beautiful, backed up by the brilliant coloring of the fields on either side. In every direction there are foot paths wide enough for foot passengers, ponies or chairs. The chairs are rapidly growing into disuse, in fact, now one is seldom seen; the genrichisha, a modern institution, having supplanted nearly all the old modes of conveyance. They are much more pleasant and convenient that the street cars, not more expensive and even quicker. They are of modern introduction, only about two years old. I was told that the idea originated with a Japanese, who had visited the United States and saw our popular baby wagons. On his return to Japan he secured some kind of privilege or royalty, whereby he secured an exclusive license for their introduction. The term genrichisha in Japanese means man-carriage. It is ample for one person, and I frequently saw two natives riding in one. They are constructed with steel springs under the body and over the axeltree, (of course only two wheels are used, and with a light top fitted with nice cushions, and it is with a feeling of luxuriousness that you ride around. They are drawn by one coolie, except in going long distances, when two are generally used. You always find them, with the coolie who draws them, awaiting at your door, shops, stores or at any public or frequented place. They take you shopping, or making calls, or to your place of business, and wait your pleasure to return unless dismissed. Fares are twelve and one-half cents, or one-half a boo for two and one-half miles ride; one quarter boo for a short distance and return. With two coolies to one genrichisha you can make long or extended journeys in as short a time as with their horses and carriages.


We remained over one steamer at Yokohama and made some excursions into the country. In traveling in Japan you constantly meet with Shinto shrines (miga), Buddhist temples (Iereo), wayside idols, images, and tablets of various kinds--the evidences of the religion or superstition of the Japanese people. A Shinto temple may be known by the Torii or sacred portal of stone, or wood, which fronts the avenue leading to the temple. In a Buddhist temple are images, candles, bells, drums, books, and a great though repeated variety of altar ornaments. The shrines dedicated to Inari Sama, the patron of rice husbandry and foxes, are numerous. In the gateway before a Shinto temple, two quaint-looking Japanese figures, in ancient costume, with bows and arrows, are seen. They are carved in wood and gaily painted and gilded. In front of Buddhist temples, are usually two huge red figures called Nio. The one hates evil and the other welcomes good. Often the pious worshippers fling balls of chewed paper at them, and if they stick the omen is good, and their prayers are answered. The believers in the Shinto doctrines live in fear or reverence of the memories of the dead. Shinto literally means "way," or doctrines of the gods. Buddhism is Japan was introduced from India, through China and Corea. The Buddhists worship Buddha, and a host of minor deified men, and pray to a vast number of saints. They believe in the transmigration of souls, in progressive states of future rewards and punishments, and have a high moral code, a voluminous canon of sacred books, and are influenced in their actions by the fears and hopes of the future.


Ranger, Ward V., (1835?-1900?) photographer, Syracuse, New York, USA.

Details of ancestry of Ward V. Ranger as follows:

Direct Descendants of Capt. Edmund Ranger, [The Emigrant]

Capt. Edmund Ranger, [The Emigrant] b: January 1636 in Dover, Kent, England d: November 1705 in Wrentham, Norfolk, Massachusetts
*1st Wife of Capt. Edmund Ranger
+Sarah Fuller b: July 21, 1647 in Dedham, Norfolk, Massachusetts d: Bef. 1675 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts m: 1671 in Dedham, Norfolk, Massachusetts
Their son:
John Ranger b: April 16, 1674 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts d: February 13, 1718 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
+Elizabeth Wyllys b: Abt. 1676 m: October 9, 1695 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
Their son:
Samuel Ranger b: Abt. 1706 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts d: Abt. 1815 in Wrentham, Norfolk, Massachusetts
+Esther Dering b: June 7, 1710 in Wrentham, Norfolk, Massachusetts d: June 5, 1750 in Wrentham, Norfolk, Massachusetts m: August 5, 1740 in Wrentham, Norfolk, Massachusetts
Their son:
Samuel Ranger, [French & Indian War] b: June 6, 1743 in Wrentham, Norfolk, Massachusetts d: February 28, 1838 in East Hampton, Suffolk, New York
+Elizabeth Parsons b: in maybe Williamstown, Berkshire, Massachusetts d: in East Hampton, Suffolk, New York m: Abt. 1768 in Williamstown, Berkshire, Massachusetts
Their son:
Abraham Parsons Ranger, [War of 1812] b: 1775 in Williamstown, Berkshire, Massachusetts d: Bef. 1820 in Taylor, Cortand, New York
+Martha Torrey b: July 15, 1776 in Williamstown, Berkshire, Massachusetts d: July 20, 1852 in Plymouth, Chenango, New York m: January 5, 1799 in Williamstown, Berkshire, Massachusetts
Their son:
John Torrey Ranger b: October 12, 1800 in Williamstown, Berkshire, Massachusetts d: February 9, 1869 in probably Plymouth, Chenango, New York *2nd Wife of John Torrey Ranger:
+Janette Valencourt b: Abt. 1815 in Connecticut?? d: Abt. 1855 in Plymouth, Chenango, New York m: Abt. 1834
Their son:
Ward Valencourt Ranger b: Abt. 1835 in Plymouth, Chenango, New York d: in Syracuse, Onondaga, New York
+Martha Marie (Ranger) d: in Syracuse, Onondaga, New York m: in Syracuse, Onondaga, New York

As of September 1998 - If Ward V. Ranger's wife's maiden name was Ranger, then judging by her given name, Martha Marie, she is likely a descendant of Hubert Ranger and would be a cousin to us. Their son, Henry Ward Ranger, would be a distant cousin as well.
Their son:
Henry Ward Ranger b: January 29, 1858 in Syracuse, Onondaga, New York d: November 7, 1916 in New York City, New York
+ Helen Jennings

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