Swiss history in Asia: the private archives of Arnold Dumelin

In 1866, aged just 22, businessman Arnold Dumelin from Frauenfeld travels to Japan. For more than 30 years, he makes Yokohama his home. Successful in business, he also represents Switzerland’s interests from 1886 onwards, first as Vice Consul and then as Consul-General. The two volumes of his correspondence acquired by the Swiss Federal Archives in 2015 offer a rare insight into the work of Swiss diplomats in Asia in the 19th century. The archives can now be researched online. 

Arnold Dumelin (1844–1905)

After Switzerland and Japan sign a Treaty of Amity and Trade in February 1864, increasing numbers of Swiss firms set up operations in the port city of Yokohama.

Reaching Yokohama on 19 May 1866 after a journey lasting almost two months, businessman Arnold Dumelin (1844-1905) from the canton of Thurgau rapidly finds employment in the city. 

Businessman and consul

Dumelin will remain in Japan for over 30 years, rising from commercial employee to partner in the company Siber & Hegner. In its obituary, the Thurgauer Zeitung newspaper later refers to him as "one of the first pioneers of European trade in Japan".

Dumelin is well connected in the worlds of business, politics and culture, leading the Federal Council to appoint him Vice Consul in 1886 and Consul-General two years later. Dumelin represents Swiss interests in Japan in this function until 1892, when he asks to be relieved of his duties.

In 1899 he retires to his home town of Frauenfeld, dying six years later after a lengthy illness.

1,000 pages of correspondence

Vice Consul and Consul-General Arnold Dumelin leaves behind an extensive correspondence. The volume entitled "Official Letters, Copie-Buch Nr. 1" covers the period from 20 November 1886 to 19 April 1890, while "Copie-Buch Nr. 2" contains copies of letters sent between 15 April 1890 and 8 December 1892 as well as a single letter from Frauenfeld dated 9 October 1900.

The Dumelin archives can be researched online and ordered for consultation at the Federal Archives (reference code J1.377*).  

Digital copies of two volumes of correspondence (J1.377-01#2015/174#1* and J1.377-01#2015/174#2*) can be viewed online and are available for download. Additionally, the Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland (Dodis) publishing project is making a selection of the digitised letters available online.

Other documents on Japan at the Federal Archives

Additional documents on Japan in the second half of the 19th century can be found via the online database Swiss Archives. Various documents on the consulate in Yokohama, for which Dumelin also worked, are held in the foreign affairs fonds, as are the consular reports from 1883 to 1904. The Federal Archives also hold the 1864 Treaty of Amity and Trade and the "Souvenir du Japon" photo album by the Swiss politician and ethnographer Aimé Humbert-Droz, containing images from the years 1863 to 1865.

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