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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XXI


1860-1861. TIENTSIN

Arrangements for troops—The city—Absence of Tartar soldiers—Rides—Dogs and birds—Agriculture—Grain-stores—Winter—Great cold—Moderating—SpringTemples—Chinese "sport"—New Year's Day—Public baths— Ice-house - Foundling hospital—Story of Roman Catholic bishop—Hospital for Chinese— The "golden lily"—Gratitude—Wounded Tartars—Chinese Christian—Tortured Sikhs—French hospitals—Death of General Collineau—Sickness among the troops.

ARANGEMENTS rapidly advanced in regard to accommodation, food supplies, and medical care of the troops. Yamens—i.e., residences of wealthy inhabitants—were hired for temporary conversion into barracks. Markets and shops presented ample supplies of food, clothing, and articles of convenience, their owners showing much eagerness to do business with us. A tendency to pilfer, and other petty crimes, manifested itself on the part of some Asiatic followers and others, but was quickly suppressed by the Provost Marshal and his staff, after which discipline and order reigned among all classes pertaining to our force. Our French allies occupied quarters provided for them in the part of the city on the left side of the Peiho, the British and Indian being on the right of that river.

The city was of great commercial importance, its population some Soo,000; streets narrow and filthy, houses low and dilapidated; in extent stretching away to and embracing the point of junction, between the Imperial Canal and Peiho, thus covering a space of at least four miles by three. Merchandise from Corea and the south of China arrived abundantly as at a general depot. Around the city proper a high wall extends, the crowded portion outside being called "suburbs," but in no other respect different from the intra-mural city. In the Peiho was a Russian gunboat; in the city a small colony of Russian merchants, peacefully carrying on their business, and apparently on the most friendly terms with the people. A few Tartar traders, some leading their strong shaggy Bactrian camels, all laden with merchandise, were met with. As we pursued our way through the mazes of the city, the people simply ignored our presence, taking not the slightest notice of us, although by the caricatures of Europeans we frequently came across in shops and elsewhere it was evident that we were by no means welcome guests. In an open space a modeller was occupied in making, with great ease and rapidity, a series of figures in clay, representing, though with droll exaggeration, the Sikh and British soldiers. Women were conspicuous by their absence; virtue in the sex was honoured and commemorated by memorial arches at certain points throughout the city. Everywhere in the crowded, narrow, and extremely dirty streets, foot-passengers jostled each other; the diseased, of whom many suffering from loathsome affections, coming in contact with those better-to-do, and to all appearance healthy. At intervals a puppet show, the prototype of Punch and Judy, or more pretentious "show" attracted crowds; itinerant "doctors," their carts decorated with exaggerated illustrations of diseases and accidents, remedies for which were vociferously lauded and offered for sale. On either side pawnshops and restaurants; at the doors of the latter customers gambling whether they should pay double or quits for refreshments or foods served to them.

In vain we looked for representatives of Tartar troops, who were said to form the ordinary garrison force of Tientsin. We learned that, for the period of occupation by the foreigners, steps had been taken "to keep them out of sight."

A series of rides into the country in the vicinity of the city presented a great variety of interesting objects and incidents. On the left bank of the Peiho, a short distance down the course of that river, numerous large stacks of table salt attracted attention, as similar stacks on the same spot did that of Lord Macartney's mission nearly seventy years before. The arrival of the first trading ship under the recent treaty was an event not without interest; it was a small schooner, the property of a very eminent firm 1 at Hong-Kong, and as it immediately became ice-bound, it was to be a familiar object to us throughout the succeeding winter. Although so recently at war with the Chinese, we from the first walked or rode into the country without molestation, receiving invitations by signs to enter houses and huts that lay in our way; tea and cakes of various kinds being invariably pressed upon us on such occasions. In certain directions it seemed as if there was one continuous burial ground; coffins in all stages of decay strewed the surface; at intervals bodies of children sewn up in mats were seen, while on one occasion we saw the revolting spectacle of a dog in the act of carrying away the dead body of an infant.

In every village there were great numbers of dogs, fierce towards us foreigners; some by no means unlike "collies," others terriers, of which a very handsome variety obtains its special title from Shantung, to which district it more especially pertains. There were also the mandarin or "sleeve dogs," so named from the fact that as pets the smaller varieties are carried in the wide sleeves of the outer garments worn by the wealthy classes. There was the Canton or "chow-chow" dog, a large animal with a very thick coating of hair, the tail curling from its root; the head triangular, broad at the base, rapidly tapering to the muzzle; the eyes far forward, as if looking upward, something like those of the lemur. Pet birds were kept by many people, songsters being the greatest favourites. Of those observed were a large species of skylark, canaries, thrushes, linnets, a species here called the wamee, like the Shamah of India.

It became an object of interest to note the progress of agriculture, and the phenomena of nature generally, from the first opening of mild weather, onwards till autumn. On the 1st of March wheat sowing began, the fields having been prepared during the previous few days for that operation; five days thereafter—namely, on the 6th—the first indication was evident that buds were about to open, a species of poplar being the tree to take the lead in this respect. The operation of ploughing the fields then began; the implement used was of light construction, drawn by one man, while another guided it. Fields then began to be cleaned, manure to be spread, seed of various kinds for grain and vegetables sown, preparations for irrigation carried out; and as the surface ground thawed, and so became the more easily dealt with, ploughs of heavier kinds were used, mules, bullocks, and men promiscuously used and yoked together in draught. In other places women and girls were employed in field work. By the 15th signs of verdure began to show themselves near the irrigation canals, partly in the first leaf of autumn-sown wheat, partly of some culinary vegetable. On the 20th, wheat sown on the 1st had "shot," and was in tolerable leaf; after this its progress was rapid, for by the 9th of June the fact was noted that "some fields of wheat were turning yellow the crop nearly ready to be cut; pease, full in the pod.

At the distance of about four miles from Tientsin, on the left bank of the Peiho, we came upon a series of buildings, the purpose of which the storage of grain against famine. Sixteen such buildings, arranged in two rows of eight, constitute the group devoted to that purpose; each building some 300 feet in length, 45 to 50 in breadth, its walls 30 in height, the whole raised oil a plinth from the ground. By Imperial edict cultivators are obliged to deposit in these and kindred stores elsewhere a certain proportion of grain every year: an arrangement which has come down from ancient times, and on that account is now mentioned.

Very rapid was the increase of winter cold to its point of culmination. Situated in the latitude of Lisbon, the temperature of 55° F. during the night preceding the shortest day was to us a new and unlooked-for experience, yet next day active outdoor exercise was indulged in; the sensations soon ceased to indicate the actual degree of cold prevailing. Already the Peiho was closed in by ice, boats had given place to sledges, and they, pushed on by means of poles, were used in great numbers for transport of merchandise. A detachment of troops had just arrived by While Star at Taku. The officer in command landed with his men, his intention being to make arrangements for their march from that place, and then return to the ship for his wife. But meanwhile ice had formed so rapidly on the shallow bay that communication between the vessel and shore was impossible, the result that the White Star had to return to Hong-Kong, nor did the officer' alluded to see his wife or kit until next spring had well advanced. According to the Royal Chinese Almanack, published at Pekin, the winter season is divided into nine periods of nine days each. The first begins on December 20, the third on January 8, it ends on 17th of that month, and is considered to be that of the greatest cold; the last of the series is considered to end on March 2.

Communication with ships in the northern part of the Gulf of Pechili being cut off, letters had to be dispatched by land to Chefoo, two hundred miles to the southward, there to be put on board. Now a cold north wind set in; the temperature in our rooms sank at night to 30 F. As we awoke in the morning small icicles clung to moustaches, and during the day the sensation of cold became unpleasant. In the provision shops, fish and game frozen; some of the latter, especially deer, in artistic or picturesque attitudes, were exposed for sale. Men were engaged in cutting blocks of ice from that which covered the river, to be kept in pits and ice-houses for use during the heat of next summer. Through the openings so made small nets were let down for the capture of fish that happened to resort to those air-holes. Within our quarters water for cooking purposes and for the morning bath had to be obtained by breaking blocks of ice and placing the fragments to be liquefied in a vessel on the fire. Out of doors the unusual sight might be witnessed of soldiers carrying in sacks on their backs the blocks of ice into which the daily allowance of beer or porter had been congealed. As winter advanced sensation of cold naturally enough increased; northerly winds came over the long tract of flat country, several degrees in extent, that lay between us and Mongolia. Now it was that in our quarters we utilised the Chinese heated platform as a bed, to which is given the name of kang, not only for sleeping thereon, but for sitting or reclining during the day. Fireplaces according to advanced Western principles had been constructed, under the superintendence of the Royal Engineers; in them was burnt a liberal allowance of fuel, consisting of Manchurian coal and Pe chili mud in about equal proportions; but, as expressed by our Chinese servants, the arrangement was more calculated to carry the warmth clean away up the chimney than to diffuse it in our apartments.

On February ig there were signs that the intensity of winter was about to cease; the mid-day sunshine had in it some genial warmth; intensely cold winds that had for some time prevailed now did so no longer; the haze in which city and district had been concealed was to some extent gone, and yet the reading of the thermometer was a minimum at night of 8° F., at nine a.m. 1980 F. Snow that had shortly before fallen began to melt as day advanced, and the thick coating of ice on the Peiho became wet and sloppy. The few succeeding days, increasingly mild and genial, well illustrated the regularity and rapidity with which seasonal changes here take place. On March 3 winter was considered to be ended, spring to have began according to the Chinese estimate already mentioned, though at night the thermometer indicated 30º F., and at nine a.m. 33º F., snow meanwhile falling gently.

On 5th of that month a state of great electric tension in air was indicated by our registers. As in India, that condition heralded change in weather, its seasonal recurrence so regular that it is reckoned on to a day. The crews of a Russian gunboat and of an English schooner, frozen up through the winter, at once began the work of preparation for sea. On the 11th the ice suddenly broke up; in massive blocks grating against and rolling over each other, it floated along the stream. Next day, bridges of boats were re-established, ordinary traffic by boat resumed; within a few hours all traces of ice had disappeared. On the 14th the gunboat Drake arrived from Taku, bringing for us thirteen weeks' letters from home, none having been received while cut off from the world as we had been for so long. Orders were at the same time received directing Mr. Bruce to proceed to Pekin, and our force to remain at Tientsin, pending the manner of reception given to His Excellency at the Imperial capital. By April 6 the temperature rendered the exercise of walking unpleasant. By the middle of June, in the absence of tattles and other Indian appliances, resource was had to large blocks of ice supported over a tub in our apartments; close to and half embracing these we sat, in the airiest of costume, in our endeavours to keep ourselves cool under the circumstances.

Everywhere in and around the city, steps were taken to maintain due observance of respect towards buildings dedicated to purposes of "religion" or philosophy. In the early days of occupation, some of the Asiatics with us treated a few of those buildings in a manner that they would have violently resented if directed against their own in India; but the employment of stringent measures put an end to such demonstrations. In one of those temples, namely that dedicated to "Oceanic Influences," at a short distance beyond the city walls, the Treaty of Tientsin of 1859 was signed, the ratification of that deed being the actual cause of the present war.

Invited to a Chinese hunting and hawking party, the "meet" to take place at a distance of a few miles from the city, we proceeded to the appointed rendezvous under guidance of men sent for the purpose by our hosts. In early morning of a bitterly cold day in January we started, our steeds, shaggy, unkempt-looking Tartar ponies. Arrived at the appointed ground, several falconers, all on foot, each bearing on his wrist a peregrine, hooded, awaited us; the hounds of the kind known in India as the rampore, all under charge of a mounted whipper-in. All around us a dead fiat plain extended, to all appearance interminably, all crops removed, the surface frozen hard, but without snow. Soon the pack was scouring the plain in full chase of an unfortunate hare, the hounds being slipped as the quarry started; the falcons, unhooded, take wing. Away went our ponies at full speed, their pace a run, not a gallop. First one falcon and then another swooped down upon and rolled over the hunted animal; the dogs fast gain upon her; she disappears, for in this forestless region holes in the earth and burrows are so taken advantage of by ground game. A huntsman bares his arm; he reaches into one such opening; the hare is drawn out, crying in its terror like a child; it is dispatched by a blow on the nape. This we are told is "sport." To some of us it would be more appropriately called barbarous and unmanly cruelty. Further details of what proved to be "a successful day" need not be related.

New Year's Eve, according to the Chinese Calendar, was celebrated by the discharge of thousands of crackers and other fireworks, that being their manner of announcing to the world that the ceremony of propitiating their household gods had begun; the object in view, absolution for equivocal acts committed during the past twelve months. For several previous days the city was en file; establishments closed; caricatures distributed as so many valentines; visits of friendship and of ceremony exchanged; family and other misunderstandings arranged ; much feasting and carousing indulged in; houses swept and garnished in token that all things unpleasant, whether physical or ethical, had been cast out. The fronts of houses were decorated with strips of vermilion-coloured paper containing expressions of good-will and congratulation; ornamental lanterns were everywhere on sale, for purposes of illuminations, their shapes various and often grotesque, as fishes, frogs, dragons, and monsters of various forms. Buddhist temples had on their altars a series of gigantic candles, all "dyed red," bearing designs of dragons and other mythical creatures, before which people knelt with every appearance of devotion.

It became a source of interest to a few of us to visit places and institutions of purely Chinese origin or character. Of such places, a public bathing establishment was one, the interior well lighted, spacious, pervaded by steam from water heated by a furnace, the fuel of which consisted of reeds and straw. A series of troughs, and at one end a plunge bath, were being used by considerable numbers of men at a time, the charge for each being about a farthing. Here then were public baths existing as a Chinese institution, though even yet their introduction generally into England remains rather in the initiative than accomplished stage.

Very different in kind was an ice pit, otherwise a large underground room, one part of which was devoted to the preservation of that substance, another having a series of shelves crowded with vegetables and fruit of different kinds. As we descend into that pit, the sensation we experienced was that of comparative warm//i, so bitterly cold had the wind outside become.

The Chinese Foundling Hospital, situated in the suburbs of the city, was a large and substantial building; its chief ornament a tablet, the characters on which intimated that the door over which it was placed was the entrance to "The Hall for Cherishing Children." At the time of our visit the institution contained eighty foundlings; to each of those still in infancy was assigned a wet nurse. One portion of the establishment was occupied by children, and some grown-up persons affected with various infirmities, as the blind, the deaf, and the idiotic, together with their respective attendants. Being invited by the superintendent to visit his own quarters, a tablet over the entrance door thereto displayed the characters, "We beseech thee to rescue the naked"; on the walls of the reception hail a series of tablets with names of patrons and donors of considerable sums; others with items of regulations relating to the administration of the institution. The children, if in good health, are disposed of at fourteen years of age—some adopted, some become servants, others apprenticed to trades. To the girls who marry, a dowry of the equivalent value of £5 is given.

At the end of March a visit by the Roman Catholic bishop of Pekin gave us the opportunity of hearing from himself his strange story. In 1834 the cathedral erected in Pekin by the Jesuits in the seventeenth century was closed during an outbreak of the populace against that mission, several of its members put to death, others "disappearing," to be no more heard of. Among the latter was for many years the bishop. Taken from the power of the rioters by some of the Catholic converts, he was concealed by them in the capital, and protected for the long period of twenty-seven years, he meanwhile carrying on his special work among them. The arrival at Pekin of the allied army was quickly followed by the re-opening of the cathedral and celebration of Grand Mass therein. On that occasion, as the procession of priests attached to the forces, and their acolytes, advanced toward the altar, the bishop, wearing ordinary Chinese costume, emerged from the throng, and took his place at its head. The Emperor of the French being made acquainted with the story, desired to see the bishop at the Tuileries to hear it from himself. While on his way through Tientsin the bishop remained with us several days. To inquiries on the subject, he remarked that his first endeavour with the Chinese was to teach them the practical results of Christianity, rather than inculcate doctrines, the significance of which were beyond their train of thought.
As early as practicable, measures were taken to establish a charitable hospital for the sick poor of Tientsin. For that purpose £ioo was given by Admiral Sir James Hope, and subscriptions established among the officers of the force; applications to the rich natives being unproductive. At last, a building capable of accommodating twenty patients was engaged and fitted up for its purpose; professional work being undertaken by Dr. Lamprey, 67th Regiment. Under him its reputation rapidly spread, so much so that applications for admission exceeded our means of reception. In those days the use of chloroform was still in its infancy; very wonderful in the idea of the patients did its effect appear, exceeding, as they expressed themselves, "the power of the Dragon." The majority, however, looked upon the drug with suspicion, preferring to undergo operations—even of great severity—without it or any other anasthetic. Their apparent indifference to pain under such circumstance was to us subject of amazement.

Duties connected with this hospital gave me an opportunity of seeing the contracted foot, otherwise "golden lily," of a Chinese woman. The foot had been deformed by the method of cramping usually followed for that purpose; the four smaller toes pressed under the sole, the natural arch raised to an altogether abnormal degree, the points of support limited to the heel and tip of the great-toe. The process of contraction takes place in early youth; it is conducted by means of bandages "artistically" applied, and is said to be painless. The aspect of the foot is thus made hideous, while the natural contour of the calf being destroyed, the appearance of the limb below the knee is—to Western eyes—ungraceful.

Neither by word or manner was the slightest gratitude expressed for benefits thus conferred upon them. But in one respect their demeanour drew from us a measure of appreciation; namely, in the care and assistance shown to each other by male patients. Contrasted therewith, however, their want of thoughtful care for sick women was no less remarkable; the more suitable of the two wards having been given up to the latter, the arrangement was protested against in no "gallant" terms by the men.

For a short time an idea seemed to prevail that an object with which the hospital was set on foot was, that in it attempts would be made upon sick inmates to press upon them what they called "the Western philosophy." Their minds were set at rest on this point; but among the patients there was a Christian convert, around whom other inmates in increasing numbers came to listen, while he read and expounded from a Chinese version of the Scriptures of which he was the possessor.

In our regular military hospital were several Tartar soldiers, some of them severely wounded, who had been picked up on the field of battle by our establishments, and now treated like our own men. In due time they recovered from their injuries as far as art could effect their restoration; they came to appreciate the comforts of their position so much that among their numbers no anxiety was expressed to be discharged. Application was made to the Chinese local authorities to receive them. The reply by them was to the effect that "the men having fallen in battle, they were officially dead; there being no precedent of dead men coming to life again, they could in no way recognise or acknowledge them." A liberal sum of money was subscribed by us for them; it was distributed among them; they were then, with military formalities, handed over to the local authorities, to be by them sent on to the care of the British Representative at Pekin. Before being so disposed of, they were seen by the bishop already mentioned. To his question, "What do you now think of the Barbarian doctors?" the answer given by one was that he could no longer fight as an infantry soldier, but he might do so as a cavalry man; by a second, that "he had been left upon the field dead, his wife a widow, his children orphans. By the care shown to him, he had been lifted up from death, fitted to return to and work for those dependent upon him; nor had he breath in his chest sufficient to express his gratitude for it all."

Among the inmates of the hospitals pertaining to our force were some of the Sikhs who, during the advance of the army on Pekin, had the misfortune to be taken prisoners, and subsequently subjected to cruelties as already mentioned. Their wrists bore large cicatrices, marking the potion of the cords with which they had been so tightly bound that ulcers in which maggots crawled were results, the agony so great that several of their companions in misery had become delirious, and died under it. On September 18, a party of eighteen, including an officer, all of Fane's Horse, were taken prisoners; of them the officer and eight sowars succumbed under the atrocious cruelties to which they were subjected, the remaining nine being now in hospital.' But it would serve no good purpose to give particulars in regard to these sad occurrences.

Our French allies suffered in health during the period of greatest cold to an extent even greater than did our own men, the circumstance being readily accounted for by the fact that the former were insufficiently provided with warm clothing; indeed, many of them were dressed as when on board the transport ship in which several months previous they had been brought, via the Red Sea, to China. Whereas with us, every honour was shown at the burial of such soldiers as succumbed to the circumstances of our position, no such formality was seen by any of us in the quarter occupied by the French; but as day by day the black wooden crosses increased in number in their cemetery, these silent tokens told that they too had the hand of death among them. A temple had been converted by the French into a military hospital; the sick accommodated therein well cared for, its administration altogether under the Intendance, the duties of medical officers limited to professional attendance on the patients. Among the latter was a soldier who bore marks precisely like those of our own men already alluded to as having been made prisoners and tortured, he having been of their party.

While the winter cold was most intense an epidemic of small-pox raged among the native Chinese, and to a less degree among both the British and French portions of our combined force. In the latter, General Collineau, its commanding officer, was an early victim. As he expressed himself before he lost consciousness, it was hard that after having escaped the dangers of various campaigns, including thirty battles, he should come to Tientsin to die of such a disease. He entered the army as a private soldier, obtained each succeeding step for services in the field, culminating in that of general officer for the Italian campaign.

Our British soldiers suffered severely in health, and, what was remarkable, to a greater extent than did the Sikhs, although the latter paid less attention to warm clothing and care of their persons in other respects than the British soldier. Our officers were affected variously; the younger, and those who had not undergone tropical service, enjoyed the cold weather immensely; but with those of us who had but recently undergone the wear and tear incidental to the Mutiny campaign, things were very different, the severity of the winter cold inducing among us serious illness.


 


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