George Taylor

By Ian Keller

(Edited by Douglas Fix)

George Taylor became a member of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service (IMCS) in June 1877.(1)  From 1877 to 1882 he was the lighthouse keeper at Fisher Island in the Pescadores Islands, west of Taiwan.  Initially he served as Second Lightkeeper B; in April 1880 he was promoted to Second Lightkeeper A.(2)

In 1882 Taylor was transferred to South Cape, Formosa to assist with the construction of a new lighthouse there.(3)  On April 1, 1883, the new lighthouse was ready and it's light was lit.(4)  The South Cape lighthouse was well fortified with armor and armaments that included two 18-pound cannons, two gatling machine guns, and a mortar.  It was protected by a crew of sixteen under the command of a German officer, and provisions and water tanks were calculated to last three months.  There was also a non-military staff of laborers and kitchen hands.(5)  Taylor was in charge of the lighthouse and was promoted to Chief Lightkeeper B in July 1883 and to Chief Lightkeeper A in January 1885.(6)

During his time on the South Cape, Taylor had frequent contact with local Paiwan aborigines.(7)  W.W. Myers (a fellow IMCS employee) visited South Cape in 1884 and commented on Taylor's knowledge of Chinese and his facility with the local Paiwan language.(8)  Taylor explored South Cape and the surrounding region, once traveling as far up the eastern coast as Pilam before taking a junk back to South Cape.(9)  This contact and travel provided background knowledge for his publications regarding the inhabitants of southern Formosa and local culture.  Taylor once hired natives for an archeological dig at Tortoise Hill (Gui Shan) in the hopes that he could prove the existence of a pre-Dutch foreign colony there.(10)  Janet B. Montgomery McGovern, a British anthropologist who taught for a few years in Taipei, wrote that Taylor "probably knew the aborigines more intimately than any white man since the time of the Dutch occupation."(11)

After being promoted to Clerk,(12) Taylor was transferred to the Chinese mainland in 1889, where he had a desk job serving on the Harbours Staff at the Shanghai station.(13)

Major Publications:

Taylor, G.  "Aborigines of Formosa."  The China Review, or Notes and Queries on the Far East 14 [1886]: 121-126; 194-198; 285-290.

Taylor, G.  "Folk-lore of aboriginal Formosa."  Folk-lore Journal 5 (1887): 139-153.

Taylor, G.  "A ramble through southern Formosa."  The China Review, or Notes and Queries on the Far East 16 [1888]: 137-161.

Taylor, George.  "Formosa: Characteristic traits of the island and its aboriginal inhabitants."  Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record (1889): 224-239.


1. Glen Dudbridge, Aborigines of South Taiwan in the 1880s: Papers by the South Cape lightkeeper George Taylor (Taipei: Institute of Taiwan History, Academia Sinica, 1999), p. 3; Dudbridge cites IMCS service lists from various years.

2. Ibid., p. 3, footnote 8; several IMCS service lists are cited.

3. Ibid., p. 3; citing Xun Tai tui si lu (Taipei, 1958), p. 61, document 36, dated 6 July 1882.

4. Ibid., p. 2; citing "Notices to mariners 1883," IMCS, special series no. 5, second issue (Shanghai, 1884), p. 4, no. 166.

5. Warburg, [O.], "Ueber seine Reisen in Formosa" [On his travels in Formosa], Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin 16 (1889): 374-387, English translation by Tina Schneider.  There is some discrepancy in the staff as described by Warburg and by Dudbridge, who cites Xun Tai tui si lu.  Dudbridge mentions one European colleague, six Chinese marines, four laborers, and some kitchen hands -- about seventeen or eighteen men in total.  See also Dudbridge, 1999, pp. 12-13, footnote 25, citing Documents illustrative of the origin, development, and activities of the Chinese Customs Service, China, The Maritime Customs, IV, Service Series No. 69, Vol. 6 (Shanghai 1938), pp. 647-648.

6. Dudbridge, 1999, p. 2, f.n. 8, 11, citing Xun Tai tui si lu 1958, doc. 36; multiple IMCS service lists are mentioned.

7. George Taylor, "Aborigines of Formosa," The China Review 14 [1886]: 121-123.

8. Dudbridge, 1999, p. 4, f. n. 10, citing W.W. Myers, Imperial Maritime Customs Service Medical reports for the half-year ended 30th September 1884.

9. George Taylor, "A ramble through southern Formosa," The China Review, or Notes and Queries on the Far East 16 [1888]: 137-161.

10. George Taylor, "Tortoise Hill, Formosa," The China Review, or Notes and Queries on the Far East 15 [1887]: 305-306.

11. Harold Otness, One thousand Westerners in Taiwan, to 1945; A biographical and bibliographical dictionary ([Taipei]: Institute of Taiwan history, preparatory office, Academia Sinica, 1999), p. 102, pp. 153-154.

12. Dudbridge, 1999, p. 150, f.n. 2, citing Archives of China's Imperial Maritime Customs, Vol. 3, p. 1253, telegram 1714; p. 1254, telegram 1722.

13. Dudbridge, 1999, p. 3, f.n. 8, citing IMCS service lists.