The map depicts Peking at the time of the Boxer Rebellion (1900–01). In June 1900 anti-Western groups and around 25,000 Chinese imperial troops had besieged foreigners, as well as many Chinese Christians, in the quarter of the city that housed the foreign diplomatic legations. The siege was brought to an end on 14 August 1900 by military contingents from a number of European nations, the United States, and Japan.
During the rebellion Britain sought assistance from the Australian colonies. The Australian contingent (comprising elements from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia) did not arrive in time to see any real fighting, but it did play a role in the restoration of civil order. The New South Wales naval contingent undertook garrison duties in Peking. It was billeted at three locations, which are noted on this map.
Brought back as a souvenir by Able Seaman Joseph McCarthy of the Victorian naval contingent, the map is valuable as much for its annotations as for its handsome Chinese design. The annotations in brush and ink record events and places relating to the siege, and the subsequent occupation of the city by foreign troops. The map notes various troop positions and landmarks within the city. The New South Wales contingent headquarters were set up in the Chang-Wang Fu palace which is marked by a large flag (centre right). This contingent also guarded the British Legation, which is marked as number 21, and the Llama temple, marked with a small flag and the number 3.
The map and a letter from McCarthy about his visit to Peking were donated to the Australian War Memorial in 1965. However, it is not known how the map came into McCarthy’s possession, or who was responsible for the annotations.