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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XX


1860. HONG KONG—TIENTSIN

Expeditionary force—An incident—The island—Different bodies of troops—Certain difficulties—Red tape—Canton—" Sing-song" boats—Honan—Beggars---The city shops—Temple of Five Hundred Worthies—Buddhist temple—News from the north—Pekin occupied—Hong-Kong to Shanghai—Taiping rebels—Treaty —The city—Vicinity—H.M.S. Roeluck—Taku—Tientsin.

THE expeditionary force had already sailed northward, its equipment and appliances on a scale of completeness unknown prior to the recent Royal Commission. Before that expedition started, all non-effectives, whether by sickness or other causes, were eliminated; what was called a Provisional Battalion was organized for their reception, as well as for that of newly arrived reinforcements from home to fill expected "waste" among those actively engaged. The ordinary barrack accommodation at Hong-Kong being insufficient, huts were erected at various points, among others on the peak called Victoria; a large vessel in harbour fitted up for hospital purposes, and vessels engaged, as necessity arose, for the transport of invalids to the Cape of Good Hope and England.

Among the non-effectives left by the —st Regiment was an officer now indicated by the initial M—. At his request I visited him, in company with his medical attendant. It was evident at a glance that he was extremely ill, his life rapidly ebbing away. He addressed me after this manner: "I have asked you to see me that you might tell me what you think of my state." To my inquiry, "Are you prepared to receive my answer?" he replied, in impatient tones: "If I were not, I would not have asked the question." "I am sorry, then, to believe that you have but a very short time to live," was my remark. "I thought as much. Do you see that packet on my chest of drawers? I want you to take it away with you; as soon as I am dead, to burn it unopened in your own room." Such was his request, and so far I acceded to it. The following morning M— was dead; his packet burnt as he had desired. A sequel to this incident will be mentioned hereafter.

In the words of a newspaper correspondent,' the island of Hong- Kong may be compared to a beautiful woman with a notoriously bad temper,—to be admired from a distance, but not become intimately acquainted with. At the date of our arrival the midday heat, as gauged by our sensations, was great; the sky cloudless, exercise or duty out of doors very trying, a sensation of sickness experienced in a way altogether different from what was felt in India. Early in July the rainy season began. Quickly a series of waterfalls poured over rocky promontories; Victoria Peak was enveloped in mist; temperature moderated, the general conditions became bearable. So they continued till September; intervals of rain and sunshine alternated with each other. Unhappily endemic forms of disease went on steadily increasing in prevalence and rates of mortality. A favourable change took place in all these conditions as the last-named month advanced, and progressed till the cold season fairly set in.

The portion of the force with which I was immediately concerned included British and native Indian troops, the latter belonging to the three several presidencies of that Dependency. Each of these bodies had its own code of Regulations, in accordance with which routine duties were conducted, while all of them seemed unwilling to accept those of the Imperial service, under which alone administration of the expeditionary force had of necessity to be conducted.

Another difficulty in which I was personally affected seemed to arise from the circumstance that some of the instructions under which my duties in relation to shipping had to be conducted were special, while those under which the naval authority on the spot conducted his department were general. Unhappily a good deal of friction was the outcome of this state of things, all of which might have been possibly avoided had mutual explanation been given in respect to the particular orders under which we were severally acting. It seems to me, also, while I refer to what was very unpleasant at the time of its occurrence, that in many circumstances connected with public duties where misunderstandings arise, they would be most readily prevented by means of elucidation of the points of view from which divergent action is taken, or the interpretation of orders from which it is adopted.

As an example of the system of "red tape" under which duties of very ordinary description had to be carried on, the following may be mentioned:—A water-pipe connected with the military hospital went wrong; the supply through it had to be cut off, to the very great inconvenience of the sick. I at once reported the circumstance to the Officer in command of the garrison, such being the routine directed by Regulations, requesting at the same time that immediate steps should be taken to make the required repairs. My letter was by the Commanding Officer transmitted to the Engineer Officer, who forwarded it to the Clerk of the Works, who came and inspected the defect in the pipe, then wrote a report about it to the Engineer Officer, who sent the report to the Commanding Officer, who sent to the Town Major, who sent it to me. Meanwhile, the hot season being at its height, and nothing actually done to remedy the defect complained of, I was constrained to again start the correspondence by observing that what was urgently required was, not reports, but that the damaged pipe should be repaired. Doubtless my letter to that effect had, like its predecessor, to be transmitted through the series of "channels" so enumerated. I quite forget at this distance of time whether the pipe was ever repaired or not.

The circumstance that a portion of our force occupied quarters at Canton led me to visit that important city. The steamer by which the trip thither along the Pearl River was performed bore the romantic name The White Cloud. We passed the Bocca Tigris or Bogue forts, continued our journey through a district thickly interspersed with villages and hamlets, but destitute of pasture land, though otherwise richly cultivated, the rice fields profusely irrigated. Whampoa was mean-looking, the greater number of its houses erected on piles so as to overhang the river; the stream crowded with ships and vessels of sorts belonging to various nations. The foreign population lived in "chops" or hulks of Chinese junks; others were utilised as offices and merchants' stores. Docks were being established, and other improvements effected which, in later years, have made that place the actual port of the southern capital.

Arrived at Canton, landing was effected by means of one of the thousands of sampans or passenger boats that lay along either bank and crowded the river,—these boats "manned" by women, who kept up a chorus of laughing and talking, their cheery and, for the most part, well-looking faces indicating that cares, as understood in the West, pressed upon them but lightly, if at all. "Sing-song," or Flower-boats, gorgeously painted and otherwise ornamented, lay in tiers, and towered high above the humble sampan. The particular race of natives by whom, through many generations, they have been occupied, are looked upon as descendants of the kin who held Northern China, A.D. 1100, supplemented by those of traitors who aided the Japanese in their descent upon Cheh-kiang, A.D. 1555-1563. Having landed, the "carriage" by which our further trip was taken consisted of "chairs" made of bamboo work, carried on the shoulders of three brawny Chinamen, namely, two in front and one behind, their strong muscles thrown in bold relief on their uncovered chests and limbs as they carried us at rapid pace along. Such were the conditions in 1860.

The island of Honan was occupied by various important 7zongs, or places of business belonging to native Chinese merchants. One of them, the property of Houqua, whose name at that time was familiar in England, was devoted to the cleaning and preparation of teas for the market. The large and well-aired hall within was occupied by a series of tables placed at convenient distances from each other.. At each sat a man or woman—for the sexes worked together—who from a basket at hand picked the coarser fragments, and so left the finer description of the tea to be dealt with again. In another hall stood a couple of fanners; 1 through them the tea was passed, the finer portions being separated in the process from the coarser. This apartment was ornamented with flowers and shrubs in pots; a delicious flavour of "the fragrant leaf" pervaded the air. All around was scrupulously clean and tidy, the employes neat in person, well-clothed, apparently well fed, and, to judge by their smiles and good humour, very happy.

Everywhere in the streets blind beggars abounded, each armed with two flat discs of bamboo; the sound produced by constantly beating them against each other became decidedly unpleasant by their very numbers, rendering conversation impossible. Whether a great part of their blindness was due to disease or to artificial means, we had no means of ascertaining.

The Tartar suburb or quarter of Canton comprised narrow streets paved with flag stones, intersected by narrow canals, spanned at intervals by bridges after the style of the "willow pattern plate"; the houses of no more than one storey high, for the reason that in China it is considered pretentious for a man to raise himself above his fellows. The odours that everywhere prevailed exceeded, in variety and intensity, all that had heretofore been experienced. The people, old and young, male and female, poor in circumstances as many of them appeared to be, looked physically hale, strong, and healthy. Traversing the breadth of the city, we arrived at "The Heights," on the slope of which stood the Yamen of the notorious Yehi; near thereto, "The Five-Storied Pagoda," now occupied by French troops, and above it waved the Tricolour; while in a series of bell tents were the men of the 8th Royal Irish Fusiliers—the conjunction not altogether a happy one, seeing that the 8th wear on their shakos a French eagle, in commemoration of that captured by them at Barossa. Various temples and other public buildings were visited in the course of our interesting excursion; one of the latter a native prison, ricketty, tottering, and foul, its unhappy inmates lying upon the damp floor, chained, or with caizgs on their necks, their existence dependent upon food supplied from without, their naked bodies besmeared with filth and presenting many ulcers. Many of them were not accused of crimes committed by themselves, but were undergoing punishment for the reason that their relatives had joined the ranks of the Taiping rebels. We intentionally refrained from a visit to "the Potter's field," or execution ground, immediately adjacent to the prison.

Everywhere along the streets were signs of activity and industry; shops containing all sorts of clothing materials, strangely ornamented umbrellas and lanterns; others devoted to old curiosities, jewelry, or watch-making, a good many to lacquer ware; nor could we withhold admiration of the elegant patterns and workmanship of such articles as cabinets, tables, screens, fans, etc., exposed for sale. But here, as in countries more advanced in certain phases of civilization, signs of superstition are apparent. Above the door of such establishments a horse's hoof is nailed, and so Satanic influences guarded against. In the enlightened West, a horse's shoe fulfils the same purpose.

The Temple of the Five Hundred Gods or worthies, then deemed one of the most characteristic sights of Canton, well repaid our visit to it. Among objects within that edifice is a miniature pagoda of eight stages, the whole consisting of beautifully cut marble, its total height twenty-five feet. The figures of the gods or heroes are all life-size. They represent various nationalities, one of their number in feature and dress like an Englishman. According to legend, the person so commemorated was a sailor, cast ashore wrecked on the coast of China. His life being spared, he ultimately rose to high position, and finally was, in effigy, honoured with a place in this Walhalla.

Another portion of the building was devoted to the purposes of a Buddhist temple, in which, at the time of our visit, "service" was being performed, or "celebrated." The scene within comprised an altar, plain, without idols or other decoration; situated in an open space, bare-headed and shaven priests, some wearing robes of blue, others of grey cloth, all with a yellow-coloured surplice thrown over the left shoulder and brought loosely under the right arm. As they knelt at various distances from the altar, in seeming accordance with their rank, their hands in attitude of supplication, they joined in chanting what, in its intonation, resembled the Litany of our Western Churches; at intervals a small bell being gently struck, as in the Roman Catholic service. A congregation of men was present, but manifestly destitute of reverence or devotion. A few days were thus pleasantly spent; I then returned to duty at Hong-Kong. At the time referred to, that island was noted for the hospitality of residents, and the scale of magnificence upon which it was carried on. It was my good fortune to enjoy much of it, and of friendliness in other ways ; among others, from representatives of the great houses of Jardine, Dent, and others, and from Mr. Campbell, then of the Oriental Bank.

Towards the end of August, a French Express boat brought intelligence that the English and French combined forces had landed at Pehtang; that, while advancing thence to Taku, our cavalry had been charged by the Tartar horse, with results disastrous to the latter. A few days more, news reached us that a somewhat sharp action had taken place, with somewhat severe loss to the allies, but leaving in their hands Taku and neighbouring forts; that the whole disposable force was in rapid motion towards Tientsin, in view to carrying out the intention of Lord Elgin to push on to the capital. A short interval passed, when attempts at negotiation at Tientsin having failed, the army continued its onward march. At Tungchow, a very sad occurrence befell it. By treachery, a body of Chinese, headed by the Prince Tsai, captured several officials, officers, and others; namely, Mr. Parkes, Mr. Bowiby (of the Times), Mr. Loch, Mr. De Normann, Lieutenant Anderson, Captain Brabazon, and several troopers belonging to Fane's Horse. The Chinese army, under San ko Lin Sin, was, however, completely beaten; the road to Pekin left clear. Lord Elgin at once sent a communication to the Emperor, that, in the event of a hair of the head of one of the prisoners being touched, the combined forces would burn the Imperial palace to the ground.

A few days more, and on October 13 the allied army was in possession of the Chinese quarter of Pekin; the palace outside and north of the city given up to loot; the Emperor fled; the Summer Palace in ruins; the Chinese army vanished Unhappily, news at the same time reached us that, although Mr. Parkes and Mr. Loch had been given up by the Chinese, they had been subject to various indignities before being so; but that others of the prisoners had succumbed under the barbarities to which they were subjected, among them Mr. Bowlby.

Early in November, information reached us that a treaty of peace had been signed in the Imperial capital by Prince Kung and Lord Elgin. In accordance with its conditions, in addition to a war indemnity to be paid by the Chinese, a special sum was to be given for the families of the captives who had been killed or died in captivity. Thus, the object of the expedition had been obtained more speedily than Lord Elgin expected. The forces began their return march from Pekin towards Taku, there to embark, a brigade being detailed to occupy Tientsin until the indemnity should be paid.

In obedience to orders to join "the Army of Occupation" at Tientsin, as the brigade left at that place was now officially called, I left Hong- Kong by the steamer Formosa, on November 28. Next day, we passed the mouth of the river Han, on the western bank of which stands Shah-tew, or, as pronounced in English, Swatow; the day following, traversed the channel that separates the island of Formosa from the city of Amoy on the mainland. Already the temperature was pleasantly cool, sky clear, wind and sea rather high, the effect of these conditions bracing and exhilarating, as compared with that produced by the trying and unpleasant climate we had left behind us. The general aspect of the coast wherever visible, as we advanced on our voyage, was bare and inhospitable. In our course, islands were numerous, the majority apparently uninhabited even by birds, and otherwise uninviting to look upon. As we approached the Yangtse, vegetation covered more and more thickly the islands passed by us; sea-birds were increasingly numerous, the water thick with mud. We arrived at Shanghai on December 3.

In the latter days of August, Shanghai had been seriously attacked by the Taiping rebels. On both occasions, the Imperialists fled before the enemy; but a foreign contingent of British, Indian, and French troops, with a body of volunteers composed of the foreign residents, repulsed the rebels, on whom they inflicted severe loss. During the attacks in question, several buildings had been destroyed or seriously damaged, the ruins being prominent objects in our view. So also were the remains of barricades and other extemporised defences. On the day of our arrival, the Indian Navy vessel, the Feroze, having on board Lord Elgin and suite, steamed up the Woosung River and anchored alongside us. The following day the Grenada arrived, with Sir Hope Grant, his staff, and various senior officers of the expedition, whose allotted task was completed in that the object of the expedition had been attained. But a new phase was about to be assumed by public affairs; arrangements had to be made for events, the shadow, as well as substance, of which affected the immediate vicinity of Shanghai, and extended over a great part of China. Whereas, diplomatic and military action had been directed heretofore against the Imperial power, both were now to be devoted to the support of that power, and against insurrectionary movements, the real object of which was the overthrow of the ruling dynasty. Various bands of marauders, taking advantage of existing disturbances, were devastating the neighbourhood. Piratical bands, in which were enrolled escaped sailors and vagabonds of sorts, were giving so much trouble on the Yangtse, that it was necessary at once to dispatch a small river force for their suppression.

Copies of the Treaty signed at Pekin on October 24 were immediately affixed to the walls throughout the native city of Shanghai. Crowds of Chinese assembled at various places to read the unwonted documents, printed as they were in their own language. An English version was at the same time published, for the benefit of foreigners, the nine articles comprised in it being to the effect that—(1) The Emperor expresses his deep regret for the affair at Taku; (2) Her Majesty's representative shall reside permanently, or occasionally, as she may wish, at Pekin; (3) Eight millions of taels (£2,000,000) to be paid in instalments (as indemnity); (4) Tientsin to be opened for trade; (5) Emigration of Chinese to British colonies to be permitted; (6) Kowloon to be ceded; (7) The Treaty of 1858 shall come at once into operation; (8) That Treaty shall be published in Pekin and in the provinces; (9) On the Convention being signed, Chusan to be restored to Chinese (from occupation by the British), the British forces to commence their march from Pekin to Tientsin; that, if necessary, Taku, the north coast of Shantung, and Canton shall be occupied until the indemnity is paid. The morning after that Proclamation had been affixed to the walls, it was found in tatters and defaced!

A visit to the native city and its immediate surroundings introduced us to scenes characteristic of Chinese habits and of the particular circumstances of the time. Within the city and fosse a succession of narrow dirty streets, low-built houses, canals spanned by "willow pattern" bridges, cook shops, vegetable stalls, fur and "curio" shops. Adjoining one such street, a wretched shed, the damp earthen floor partly covered with straw, partly with refuse of very filthy kind. On the floor three human dead bodies, emaciated from starvation; a woman almost devoid of clothing, wasted to an extreme degree, wailing piteously over one of the three; another, still alive, but to all appearance in the last extreme from long-continued want of food. This we were informed is the place to which the miserably poor, and those who give up the battle of life, resort to die. Among the establishments visited were numerous fur shops, an extensive store of china or porcelain ware, a factory in which is woven the beautiful gold embroidery for which Shanghai is famous,—the embroidery being for the most part on blue cloth, its own most characteristic pattern the Imperial dragon, distinguished by having five toes, whereas the more plebeian emblems of the same survival of the pterodactyl has but four. What had been until recently ornamental "Tea" gardens were now occupied by French troops; once highly ornamented buildings within such enclosures converted into barracks for our allies. Uprooted shrubs and valuable plants lay about decayed and withered; rockwork, including fanciful- shaped miniature bridges, cast like so much rubbish into what had been artificial lakes and streams peopled by fish and water-plants. The glory of the place was indeed gone—desecrated, as the Chinese could not inappropriately say, by Western "barbarians."

To a distance of several miles inland from the city the aspect of the country is more or less that of a continuous burial ground, interspersed with coffins left as they were placed, upon rather than under the surface of the ground, many of them broken and so exposing to view their ghastly contents. Here and there patches of ground were devoted to the cultivation of vegetables, in the midst of graves and coffins; while continuing our walk we met isolated coolies carrying at each end of an elastic piece of bamboo, supported on the shoulder at its middle, a jar containing the bones of their "ancestors," being so borne away, doubtless, to be reverently disposed of elsewhere. Everywhere the district was intersected by canals and water-courses, raised and narrow pathways across the intervening fields; we seemed to be wandering in the "city of the silent." Alongside the several canals and pathways were avenues of trees and ornamental shrubs.' The presence of the magpie, jackdaw, wagtail, and sandpiper carried our associations away to the "insignificant island in the Western sea." Game birds were abundant, as we had an opportunity of witnessing in the city market; but since that date we learn that villas, gardens, and ornamental grounds have grown up, and so completely transformed the landscape as seen by us. Almost at every turn we met French soldiers off duty, or in considerable bodies marching from Woosung, at which place reinforcements were being landed from transports; in fact, there was little in the aspect of Shanghai to indicate that it was an English settlement. These and some other excursions were taken in company of Mr. Lamond, to whom I was much indebted for hospitality.

H.M.S. Roebuck, by which I was ordered to proceed northward, left Shanghai on December 11. Three days afterwards we were off the promontory of Shantung; the weather propitious, sky clear, breeze moderate, temperature on deck 48° F. to 44° F., sea smooth. But a rapid change took place. During the night of the 14th, darkness became so intense that Captain Martin, deeming it unsafe to proceed in a region little known and imperfectly surveyed, determined to cast anchor. By midnight we were in a heavy wind storm; it having cleared off by daylight, the ship resumed progress and was speedily among the Meatao Islands; a few hours more and we were in Hope Sound, otherwise a sheltered position in the concavity of the larger island of that group, called Chang Shang, where we found the British fleet collected, that of the French being off Chefoo, not far from our own. The Roebuck was ordered to await dispatches. While so doing, a number of rough-looking natives, brown in hue, Tartar in feature, their clothing partly consisting of wadded cotton, but in addition abundance of furs, came alongside in their boats, bringing with them rolls of bread, vegetables and fruits, similar to those we are accustomed to see at home. The presence of numbers of the common gull, the colder weather, the rougher sea, combined still further to recall the shores of England.

Arrived off Taku, so thick was the haze and mist by which that place and the sea to some distance from it were concealed, that for several hours neither the forts nor coast were visible, nor was it till the following day that we were able to land. The little gunboat the Clown having taken us on board, we were quickly in sight of the forts, some of them very formidable in appearance; in the shallow discoloured water stakes still stood in lines where they had opposed the approach of Admiral Hope's gunboats, and we were able to estimate the further difficulties on that occasion presented by the long stretch of mud which at low tide separated us from the forts. As evening was closing in, we entered the mouth of the Peiho; in due time were within the southern fort, above which floated the Union Jack, the northern being similarly distinguished by the Tricolour. The great extent of its mud ramparts was seen as we passed the inner gateway; huts in rows that had been occupied by its defenders were now used as barracks by officers and men of the detachment temporarily stationed here, or by military stores. In all directions old gun carriages, broken wheels, furniture, and debris of sorts lay about in a state of confusion. I was under the very unpleasant necessity of begging a night's accommodation from an officer, a charity which he kindly accorded me.

Mounted on a borrowed horse, without guard or guide, I started next day en route to my destination, the distance to be travelled not less than thirty miles. A midday halt to rest my steed; a solitary ride along an ill-made road, through a flat, uninteresting tract of country, and final arrival without misadventure at Tientsin, completed the day's proceedings. Already the cold had become severe; the wind, strong from east, swept over the plain; patches of water and canals were covered by ice; thus the journey has left on memory not a very agreeable impression. On arrival, however, I was kindly received by a brother officer.


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