Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 1 - Chapter Six. My Second Trip to the Orient

We sailed from Tacoma for the Orient again in 1903 on the steamer "M. S. Dollar," with a list to starboard of about 10 degrees. For two days after we sailed the crew was busy moving coal and everything that would move, trying to straighten her up. The third night after dark, when there was considerable sea running, the Captain made an attempt to get her on her feet. He put the wheel hard over and got her up, but no sooner got her straight when she fell over to port and kept going until it looked as though she would turn turtle. I told the Captain that it was no use to try to save the deck load and we had better get rid of it. So he called all hands and by the time they had gotten to work she was listing over 25 degrees. It was impossible to walk on the deck as there was a heavy sea on. They had great difficulty working, and it went slowly. The lashings were very tight, and if they cut them the whole thing would go, so we tried to dig a hole under the lashings to get a start. They had thrown over some, old dunnage that was in the way and two large lumber shoots, when the Captain came and said she had stopped going over and not to do any more as he would try to shift some of the things they had moved.

We consulted, and came to the conclusion that some of the tanks must be partly empty, so he remained on deck arid I went below. We found water on top of the fireroom plates, and the Chief Engineer got the floor up to make an investigation and found the engine room tank (that we were sure was full) half empty, and what had run out of it had gone into the boiler room tank and filled her bilges. We got all the pumps going to empty the bilges and the boiler room double bottom, and started to fill up the engine room tank, when we discovered leaks in the tank top, which we temporarily closed. All this, with what the Captain was doing on deck, soon got her up to 12 degrees, which was the. best we could do, and she ran with a list from 5 to 12 degrees all the way over.

When we discovered the real cause, we felt like people who had been walking over a powder mine. But we learned one thing: that she was a very stiff old ship and would stand anything in reason.


While we were anchored in the harbor at Hong Kong a red cone was displayed one morning from the observatory, which indicated that there was a typhoon three hundred miles distant. As soon as it was seen, junks, sampans, lighters, and every other kind of craft began to make for the harbors of refuge, of which there are three in this harbor. There was one near where we were anchored, so we had a good chance to see the sights. In three hours the harbor was full of vessels under sail, all heading past us for the little bay. They kept passing us in this way for three or four hours when the wind ceased and then small tugs were employed. They would make four junks fast on each side, six to eight wide, then others attached behind until they had from fifty to sixty in tow like a great floating island. They kept this up until after dark, and at 10 o'clock that night they were still passing. The next morning the harbor was clear of all small craft, only large steamers remaining at their anchorages. As soon as the signal was hoisted the lighters alongside of our ship quit work at once and scurried away. I think there were about twelve there, and in a couple of hours there was not a thing near us. All this time there was only a light breeze. The approach of a typhoon seems to terrify them, and they have good cause, as during one storm over one thousand boats were wrecked and six thousand people lost their lives. All the families live on board, and, with women and children, they average from six to fifty people to a boat.

Although the signals were still up the next day no typhoon came, but every one was watching for it. I went ashore to the Typhoon Bay, as it was called, to see how so many boats would look. I found it landlocked on three sides and perfectly sheltered, something over eighty acres in extent. The boats had been put in the bay in perfect order, all in rows and as tight as they could be packed, the end rows made fast to the shore and the others all tied to them. The whole bay was packed so full there was not room for another. It would be impossible to tell how many boats there were but I estimated that there were over two thousand, which, averaging ten people to a boat, would make twenty thousand souls. This seems incredible, but I am sure I am under the mark. Peddlers were busy on shore and on the boats and were doing a lively business, and so they might, when one thinks of a town of twenty thousand people and no store in it. This was only one harbor, and with two others like it, you can imagine the people there must have been all crowded together. I was told that in Hong Kong harbor and Canton River, below Canton, there are over three hundred thousand people living on these boats.

All we got of the typhoon was a heavy rain storm, the wind having passed twenty miles north of us.


We then visited Nanking, staying there a few days, endeavoring to sell lumber for the new railroad that they were just starting.

The only hotel at Shaiquan, a suburb of Nanking, was called the German Hotel and was kept by a man named Diasang. It was about the toughest place I was ever in, and although it was the middle of winter and very cold, the window in my room was without glass, as there was none to be had in town. Notwithstanding my discomforts, it turned out that I had better accommodations than my son Harold, who had to sleep on the floor of a clothes closet.


Proceeding to Shanghai we left that interesting city for Tongku, and had a very pleasant trip up the coast. Although the sea was like glass when we arrived and we started

to discharge, we had to cast the lighters adrift very shortly as it got so rough and they pounded so hard it was impossible to do any work. It blew a gale all night but calmed down the next morning so they commenced work, all hands moving cargo, to get the ship on an even keel to cross the bar. They got her to draw ten feet, three inches; but nine feet, six inches was the most water there was on the bar, so they had to give it up and we went ashore in a small tug. We passed Taku on the left bank of the river, a long straggling village of mud huts, where there are probably seventy-five thousand people living. We landed at Tongku a little farther up the river and on the opposite side.


We proceeded to Peking on the railroad, which is a first class road, a good deal on the English style although there is a passage from one end of the car to the other on one side. The second class cars on this line have plain board seats, and the third class are regular coal cars, flat with sides on them, no roof nor seats; when people, get tired of standing they can sit on the floor. When animals are carried they are put on these cars with the passengers, who are mostly Chinese.

The country above Tongku is perfectly level and as they have large engines they haul a very heavy train, and, considering the length of the trains, make fairly good time. At Tientsin there are a great many large European houses.

From Tientsin we took the tram for Port Arthur, which proved to be a long and tedious journey. However, it was all new to us, and we were very much interested. We took a branch road from Tongku. which ran along the south side of the Gulf of Pechili. The country around the gulf is level and of a rich black soil. There were several irrigating canals on which large junks and lighters were sailing.


Tengchow or Tungchow, in 1903. was a coal mining center with several pits in operation, which were producing a very good grade of coal. The coal also made a good grade of coke. This is a very important portion of Northern China.

A large English flag was flying from each coal pit. There is said to be trouble in the company, as some Germans have bought stock in it and are trying to change its rationality. For a few miles beyond the mines the country is rolling with low hills, up to Chinwangtao. There was a good breakwater here on which a double railroad track was laid, at the outer end of which there are nineteen feet of water at lowest tide, and three hundred and fifty feet in from the outer end there are eighteen feet. The company that owns this dock owns the Tenchow mines, so most of the coal goes over it. I consider Chinwangtao to be the key of Northern China. A direct railroad could be built to Peking (about one hundred and twenty miles), and, as it is a very rich, populous country, would pay very well.

Taku as a seaport is no good and will never be any good, as it is silting up all the time, but Chinwangtao has no river emptying into the harbor and in time I think it will be the principal Chinese seaport of Northern China. I say Chinese seaport as I do not mean Russian China. All harbor work was stopped and nothing was doing except shipping coal, as the whole place is a military camp. French, German, Japanese, Russian and Italian troops and two English soldiers garrison the place, each one claiming it and all there watching one another. They all had staked out a place and had their flags stuck up on bamboo poles all over the place, so it was impossible to know which nation claimed any certain place or piece of property. All this looked to me more like school boys playing soldiers than anything I ever saw. It was impossible to get any ground to store lumber. The Standard Oil Company's manager was there trying to find a place to locate large warehouses for oil, but he could not get a site without provoking an international controversy, so gave it up, seeing that there would be no chance of our Government backing him up. The company that owns the harbor and land is English, a Hong Kong corporation, but as the English have only two soldiers left it looks as if they were not going to fight for it. How the other nations will settle it is a question. The Chinese look on with indifference and do not seem to care who gets it and make no claim to anything, being completely cowed by the foreign soldiers. Truly China is in a bad way, and what the end will be is hard to foresee; it certainly looks as if the European nations will gobble up the whole land. The only hope for China seems to be to have some leader spring up that will unite and organize the nation to act as one man. then they could clean out the foreigners without any trouble. But apparently there is no prospect of anything but ultimate division, and each nation as it gets a slice will endeavor to keep the trade in its own hands and for its own people.


We arrived at Shanghai Quan after dark so could not see anything until the next morning when we had a good chance to examine the Great Wall of China, one of the seven wonders of the world. I must say it is a great sight to see the terminus of this great work where it enters the sea. The wall is something over one hundred feet thick at the base, made up of two paralleled walls about twelve feet thick at the base and six feet thick at the top, the space between being filled with earth. This having been dug up from the outside of the wall makes a great, deep trench. The parapet on top of the wall runs up higher than a man's head and is four feet thick, pierced with loop holes. The back part is causewayed with flat stones, making an excellent roadway the whole length. It is sixty feet high from the ground to the causeway and where it crosses a level country it runs zigzag for greater protection, so that an enemy would be exposed to a flank fire. It is hard to realize the immensity of this great work, though we know it's fifteen hundred miles long, crossing hills and plains, and, in crossing mountains it always goes on the highest peaks for greater defense.

We saw one gateway of solid masonry and as perfect an arch as I ever saw, when one considers that this arch was built long before the Christian era and is in such a perfect state of preservation that I did not see a crack or a displaced stone in it. All this goes to show what a wonderful people the Chinese were.

The outer wall is one hundred feet through, the arch about twenty-five feet high, and the roadway about twenty feet wide. Inside of the wall proper is a large square about three hundred feet each way across. This is surrounded by high walls all around, the same height as the main wall. The gate going out of this enclosure leads out at right angles from the main gate, so if the outer gate were forced they would have the enemy in this enclosure with still another gate to force. The gates are old cumbersome wooden structures, strongly put together with large iron rivets. These are shut every night. The masonry is perfect. The stones are backed up with brick 16x8x5 inches thick. They are tearing down the wall in places to get stone and brick to build dwelling houses, which seems to be too bad.

Outside the wall there were evidences that the Manchus were not to be despised, as the remains of their walls and well planned forts are still in a good state of preservation. A large high tower on the top of every hill for a hundred miles along the railroad leads one to believe they were experts in the practice of signaling. The Chinese method of signaling was, to build a projection out from the wall every three hundred feet, almost like a big buttress, where men were stationed to pass any verbal message that might be sent, so that in a short time a message could be passed the entire length of the wall. In addition to this, there were forts of about two hundred feet square nearly every thousand feet apart, or at every corner where the point of the zigzag occurred.

The old civilization has gone to decay, but the new one is very much in evidence and very active. The Russians have built a large walled-in barracks right in the town and a few feet from the wall, the inside being China proper (Manchuria being outside where they have built a large military post with a large force of soldiers). The French also have not been idle as they have a large encampment inside the wall and outside of the town.

The trains do not run at night so we left Shanghai Ouan the next morning at 7 o'clock. It was hot and dusty, and the cars very poor: first class being like our caboose, with board seats. On account of the Boxer trouble the train service was badly disorganized.

Before reaching Taliendio, a notice was posted in the car saying that they had torn up the old bridge to build a new one across the river, and that we could be carried across the river on the backs of coolies for five cents and our baggage taken over for five cents a picul (133 pounds). We found that there was a 3 x 12 plank on top of the trestle, so we walked it rather than ride over on a coolie's back. There was no preparation for taking the passengers across the river to New chwang when we arrived opposite it, so we got a small tug that was towing a barge to take us across for $1.00 each.


The town of Newchwang is Russian in every sense of the word. It is filled with soldiers, and as the place is walled in they patrol the wall as well as the streets, day and night. The municipal affairs are carried on by Russian officials, the head man of the Customs also being a Russian, A short time ago it was reported in the papers that the Russians had evacuated Newchwang, which was true. Our Consul informed us that they all left, and immediately commenced to return in companies of from six or eight to one hundred, then by the hundreds, until the place was full of them, and no matter what the government or the press say, I say without fear of contradiction from any one who knows, that the Russians are in Newchwang, Dalny, Port Arthur and in the whole of Manchuria to stay forever, or until displaced by force of arms.

I asked the Consul if he had kept our Government informed, as the papers only reported the evacuation of the town but never got the news that they returned the next day. What a joke those nations play on each other!

While I am on the subject I will also give you facts and my opinion about our chance for trade in Manchuria. Our principal exports into this section are cotton goods, kerosene, flour and lumber, their importance being in the order stated. Now, since the Siberian railroad is completed, it is possible to deliver other cotton goods cheaper than our American product. Oil can be brought from the Black Sea cheaper than from the United States, and while not of as good quality, there is no doubt that, as they have the steamers available, the Government will insist on their using the native product. "American flour," on which we so depend to keep up our trade, has also a short life before it.

The country around Harbin is well adapted to wheat growing, and the industry has grown to such an extern that they grind out two thousand barrels of flour daily. Our compradore, who is agent for Allis Chalmers & Company, has a request to bid for two separate mills, one of two hundred and fifty barrels and one of five thousand barrels a day capacity. All the Russians with whom I talked were quite confident that our flour would be stamped out within two years. I doubt this statement but it will not be long, if we can believe half of the accounts of this rich country.

It takes a good deal of wheat to feed an army of one hundred thousand men, and I believe they have fully this number with attendants, etc.

(What changes take place in the world and how little we know what is ahead of us! The foregoing -was written fifteen years ago and the prediction that the Americans -would lose the trade they were enjoying has fully come to pass. Our lumber and flour have long disappeared with our cotton goods, and our kerosene oil or what little is left of this business is on the ragged edge.

At this wiring, 1903, Russia appeared to be completely and permanently established and there to stay. Who could have been bold enough (at that time), to have even thought that little, insignificant Japan would be able to oust the big bully out of such an apparently firm and substantial position?)


At last we came to Tsao Chau. The Russian Government has formed a company of seven million roubles capital to open up the Yalu River country, that is the dividing line between Manchuria and Korea. The Russians want to get firmly established on the frontier, and have a large number of men logging on the river and floating the logs to tide water. I have seen quantities of the wood, and I must say it is as good as Oregon pine. I am told there are plenty of trees four feet in diameter. These are hewn in the woods either on two or four sides, and are then whip-sawn by the natives at the place of consumption. The great market for this wood is Port Arthur, Dalny, Newchwang, Chefuo and Tientsin. and it is against this wood that we now have to compete in the ports named, with our Oregon fir.

Now the Russian Government proposes to manufacture all the lumber required in their own country, and, in fact, all that is used in the Gulf of Pechili. For this purpose they have plans out for a mill and are looking for the machinery and will build at once, the capacity to be about one hundred million feet a year. They are also getting out plans for three steam schooners with a capacity of about four hundred thousand feet each with a draft of from ten to eleven feet to carry the lumber, and in the event of war to carry men, supplies, etc., into that Yalu River country. They claim there is an abundant supply of standing timber, and as the Chinese have been lumbering there for a great many years and carrying it out with their junks, I expect there is plenty of it so far as Russian requirements are concerned.

The Russians have spent millions in Manchuria, and as a prominent Russian put it to me: "We have spent millions upon millions of Russian money to open up and develop Manchuria, and do you suppose we have done all this for the benefit of foreigners? This has all been done for the benefit of our people and we propose to keep it, sure."

And there is no doubt they will. Our Government claims we must keep the Open Door, and they will keep the outside door open but they will also make sure that we cannot get in, either by competition or by cumbersome regulations that will make it impossible for us to do business. Even under present circumstances it is not easy to do business there.

Contrast this policy with ours in the Philippines, where I heard Mr. Taft make a speech before the American Chamber of Commerce, saying that the Philippine Islands were for the Filipinos and not for the Americans. He has made his word good, and I am told that the American population there has decreased fifty per cent since last year.

We had a little trouble finding out about the trains leaving Newchwang. We had a Russian (none of the officials talk English) telephone the station master to find out when the train left for Port Arthur, but that official said he did not know. We finally got in touch with a higher official who said a train would leave at 2 p. m. and connect at the junction of the Great Siberian Railroad at Tsao Chau with the train from St. Petersburg, which runs twice a week. The train, however, did not start out until 4 p. m. It is impossible to get information ahead of time as to when you can get a train for any place, and this is on the great highway from St. Petersburg to Peking.

We had to hire a tug to take us from the city to the station, three miles further up the river than the town, but were landed about a mile below and walked the balance of the way. There was no hurry as the train did not start for two hours after the time they said. The train on the main line was very fair, as it had sleepers and a dining car, which for Russia were fine. The waiters and porters all talk some French, so we got on all right and arrived at Dalny three days from Tientsin. We went to the hotel, and had a great time getting breakfast. After waiting one and a half hours we got boiled eggs, coffee and bread and butter, the last made in Odessa was similar to axle grease. However, we were glad to get anything, as the regular breakfast is served at noon. The people here stay up half the night and rise about noon.


From Dalny I proceeded to Port Arthur on business, but traveling was so difficult and uncomfortable that we decided to have Mrs. Dollar and the young people go to Japan, where I was to join them at a later date.

It was blowing a gale and a sand storm came up making it so disagreeable that we did not leave the hotel at Port Arthur. There are no hotels worthy of the name, but we were glad to get anywhere as the place was very crowded. We found a hotel where the landlady was French, so we had the satisfaction of asking for what we wanted and got along fairly well.


Port Arthur is a military town situated on a small bay and in itself does not amount to much, but the military work going on beat anything I had ever seen. On the streets at any hour of the day we were continually meeting squads and companies of soldiers going from and to, no one seemed to know where. On the top of every hill great gangs of them were working. It was just a great bee hive of industry, all doing the one thing, fortifying the place at every conceivable point. (No one surmised that in a very few weeks this would be the center of one of the world's great wars.)

There is a very good dry dock here, but not much room for merchant ships. Eight to ten would fill the place, but at Dalny there is plenty of room. There were fourteen large men-of-war lying at anchor outside the harbor, and a small fleet of small ones inside. Everywhere there seemed to be a feverish haste to get ready. To look at it one would think that a war had been declared.

I had been in many hard and tough places before during my lifeline, but Port Arthur certainly beats them all for vice and iniquity of all kinds.

We left Port Arthur in the evening and went through the Russian fleet shortly after. It was certainly a formidable sight. The next morning we were at Chefoo, and there went through the American fleet of twelve men-of-war— poor China had two there. Then at Weihaiwei the English have a large fleet and at Kiaochaw, seventy-five miles further, the Germans have twelve to fifteen large men-of-war. Northern China has probably more warships and men concentrated than anywhere else in the world. In fact the eyes of the whole world are turned this way at the present time, no one knowing what all this preparation means. A short time ago the Russian and Japanese governments bought up all the available flour in the Orient, and they had every bakery shop in Hong Kong and Shanghai running their full capacity on hard tack.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus