Liberal Barbarism: The Primary Source Archive




Upon the 7th October a letter was received from the Prince of Kung, signed by Mr. Parkes. It was dated the day before, and should have reached us that same afternoon, but the bearer, whilst on the road to our camp, had met with our army when on the march, and taking fright, had turned back. The letter promised the return of all prisoners by the 8th October. There was a tone of nervous anxiety in it, which had not characterised any of his former communications. A verbal answer was sent back, intimating that Mr. Wade would meet a deputy without the city walls, at four o’clock in the afternoon.

The appointed interview took place, Hang-ki having been, according to his own statement, lowered from the top of the city walls in a basket, as all the gates were blockaded up. He informed Mr. Wade that the Prince of Kung had accompanied the army in its [p. 258] retreat the day before, taking most of the prisoners with him, but that most positively those still remaining in Pekin should be sent to our camp upon the following day.

Mr. Wade had previously drawn up a paper stating the conditions upon which we would spare Pekin. The immediate surrender of a gate was declared indispensable for the security of our ambassador, when he entered the capital; the treacherous capture of our people upon the 18th of September having rendered some such guarantee necessary as a precautionary measure. This request was most unpalatable, and for some time resisted by Hang-ki; but as Mr. Wade was unbending, Hang-ki at last acceded to it.

Upon the 8th October, Messrs. Loch, Parkes, a sowar of Probyn’s Horse, M. l’Escayrac de Lauture, and four French soldiers, were sent into our headquarters; upon the 12th October, one French soldier and eight sowars; and upon the 14th October two more sowars. Those were the only survivors of the twenty-six English and thirteen French subjects treacherously captured under the most flagrant disregard to all international law. There is truly no term in our language which so essentially describes the Chinese rulers as the word barbarian, which they use so universally as an opprobrious epithet when alluding to any people so happily fortunate as to be of any other nation than China. The gloomiest page of history does not disclose any more melancholy tale than that told by one and all of those who returned. The refinement of torture and unmeaning cruelty to which they had been subject, and the wanton disregard [p. 259] for all feelings of humanity evinced towards them, would almost cause one to doubt the humanism of their jailors, and to class them amongst some fearful species of ogre, which not only fed upon man, but loved to destroy him for mere destruction’s sake. The substance of their sad story is as follows:

Upon Captain Brabazon and Mr. Loch’s arrival at Tung-chow (for which place I have previously mentioned their having started from our army, some little time before the action of the 18th September commenced), they found that Mr. Parkes was engaged in a conference with the Prince of I, and that Messrs. Bowlby and De Norman were in the city searching for some building which would serve as a suitable residence for Lord Elgin during his stay in that place. The escort was at the Yamun, in which all had passed the previous night, and it was immediately ordered to saddle and prepare for leaving. Messengers were despatched into the city for those who were sight-seeing there; and when all were collected, they started at a brisk pace in the direction of our army. During the interview with the Prince of I, Mr. Parkes was struck with the altered demeanour of his Highness towards him, which was also evinced by the loud talking and unceremonious conduct of those about him. Mr. Parkes had entered his presence intending to carry everything, as usual, with a high hand; but upon demanding, “why, in direct violation of their previous agreement, a large army was in the field, almost surrounding our forces, and in possession of an entrenched position, where a number of guns had been lately mounted,” the Prince showed none of that eagerness to allay [p. 260] suspicions or remove unfavourable impressions which, upon all former occasions, had characterised his manner of speaking or writing.

The party reached Chang-kia-wan without any molestation, although there were large bodies of troops about. A party of Tartar horsemen were soon, however, discovered to be following them; and, as it was not thought advisable to appear running away from them, the pace of going was changed from a canter to a fast walk. The Tartars immediately assimilated their pace to theirs, and some of them were perceived blowing the matches of their matchlocks. Proceeding along the regular roadway, until they had reached an old watchtower which stood about half way between our army and Chang-kia-wan, they found their further progress arrested by a body of infantry, drawn up upon the road. The Chinese officer in charge was not particularly uncivil, but distinctly informed Mr. Parkes that he could not be allowed to pass until he had obtained the general’s permission. Upon learning that the general was close at hand, Mr. Parkes, accompanied by Mr. Loch and a sowar carrying a flag of truce, proceeded in the direction where the Chinese general was said to be. All this occurred just as the firing commenced upon Colonel Walker and his party.

The general, into whose presence they were conducted, proved to be Sang-ko-lin-sin, the well-known Commander-in-Chief of his Majesty’s forces. The white banner was no protection for them against that barbarian’s temper. They were dragged from their horses and forced by those who held them to kow-tow humbly before him, having their faces rubbed in the [p. 261] dust at his feet. Their names were demanded, and questions regarding our military force in the field put to Mr. Parkes, whom Sang-ko-lin-sin heartily abused as the cause of all the war. He said that he had been looking for him a long time, and now, at last, he was in his power. He requested Mr. Parkes to write to our general and stop the action; but Mr. Parkes told him such would be useless, as he had no military authority. ‘

His conduct was most praiseworthy, both then and upon all the many occasions during his subsequent imprisonment, when endeavours were made, by means of cruel treatment and threats of condign punishment, to work upon his fears, and so, from a regard for his own personal safety, to persuade him to intercede with our ambassador for them. Under the most trying circumstances his courage does not seem ever to have deserted him, and no amount of indignity or punishment induced him to seek for his own personal security by any efforts to obtain the smallest remission of our original demands.

Being unable to obtain any satisfaction from Mr. Parkes, Sang-ko-lin-sin or Sang-wan, by which name he is only known to the Chinese people generally, ordered Messrs. Parkes and Loch, together with the sowar who accompanied them, to be sent to the Prince of I, and the escort to be conducted back to Changkia-wan. The poor sowar who was with Mr. Parkes, was most unwillingly made prisoner, having, upon the first sign of violence by the Chinese soldiers, brought his lance down to the charge, and being only with difficulty restrained from showing fight. “Oh, Sahib,” as he afterwards told us when released, “if we had [p. 262] only charged, it would have been all right, and we should have escaped.” His devotion, evinced by his desire to defend the officers with him when surrounded by enemies, was only equalled by his unrepining courage during his subsequent cruel imprisonment. Major Probyn promoted him on the evening of his return to camp. When I last saw him, his hands were still crippled, from the effects of the tight manner in which his wrists had been bound; and the sores caused by the cords used for that purpose were still unhealed.

Whilst Mr. Parkes was thus engaged with Sangwan, who can describe what must have been the feelings of the officers remaining with the escort upon the road? As their position did not enable them to see what was going on between Mr. Parkes and the Tartar general, they waited on in ignorance of what was passing, whilst every moment added to their difficulties by increasing the number of enemies around them. Having no orders, and ignorant of what had become of Mr. Parkes, they feared to act lest by so doing they might compromise his safety. Indeed, if at any moment before they were led off towards Pekin, they had assumed the offensive, and cut their way through into our camp, numbers, who now bemoan their fate, would have seriously blamed them, had Messrs. Parkes and Loch been murdered. In that case we should never have had a correct account of what befell them, and many would have attributed their deaths to the fact of the escort having commenced an attack. Of all the horrible positions in which I can fancy an officer being placed, I think that of Messrs. Brabazon and Anderson must have been the [p. 263] worst. All their subsequent ill-treatment must have been insignificant, when compared with the moments of uncertainty which they passed whilst awaiting in vain for the return of Mr. Parkes. There cannot be much doubt that, if the escort had charged, most of them would have reached our army safely. The sowars were all picked men and well mounted, and none, who knew either of the two officers with the party, imagine, I am sure, that they were men who would have preferred taking the chances of imprisonment to that of a hand-to-hand encounter.

It is very easy now to say, “Oh, why did they not charge”; but I feel certain, that but few brave men would have done so under their peculiar circumstances; and their having refrained from fighting was a noble example of men refusing to seek personal safety at the risk of compromising others. It evinced a disregard of self and a solicitude for the lives of others, which are amongst the rarest and most admirable of the heroic virtues.

The accounts of what happened to the party, are far from lucid or satisfactory. One feels a sort of unquenchable thirst, an earnest longing, which nothing can satisfy, to learn all the details of their sad fate. It is not then to be wondered at that the narratives related by the illiterate sowars who survived to return, should fail to be as ample as all would desire. Messrs. Brabazon, De Norman and Bowlby could not speak Hindostani, and as none of the sowars understood English our information regarding those gentlemen is meagre. Private Phipps, of the King’s Dragoon Guards, had a partial knowledge of Hindostani; so of him we [p. 264] know somewhat more. Up to the day of his death he never lost heart, and, as we were told by one who had been confined with him, always endeavoured to cheer up those about him when any complained or bemoaned their cruel fate. Even to his last moment of consciousness he tried to encourage them with words of hope and comfort.

All honour be to his memory: he was brave, when hundreds of brave men would have lost heart. The glorious excitement of action will inspire the most cold-blooded man with daring, and sometimes enable even a physically timid man to act with bravery; but nothing except the very highest order of courage, both mental and bodily, will sustain a man through the miseries of such a barbarous imprisonment and cruel torture as that which Private Phipps underwent patiently, his resolute spirit having within him up to the very last moment of his existence.

The particulars of the story, as collated from the accounts of those who lived to return, are as follows:

When Messrs. Parkes and Loch left them upon the road for the purpose of having an interview with the Chinese general, lieutenant Anderson, commanding the escort, told the men, that, as the aforesaid gentlemen were acting under a flag of truce, there was not to be any fighting. Almost immediately after they had halted, crowds of Chinese soldiers gathered round them, until they became hemmed in upon all sides closely. They were then really prisoners and had to give up their arms, after which they were ordered to dismount, but had their horses subsequently given back to them. They were conducted to the rear, and lodged for the night in a [p. 265] joss-house near the paved road from Tung-chow to Pekin. The next morning they were ordered to mount again, and were taken to the capital. Whilst on the road Captain Brabazon and the Abbe de Luc left them, saying, they were going back to our camp to make arrangements for the release of all the party. That was the last ever seen of them by any of our people. All the information subsequently gleaned from Chinese sources tends to prove that both were beheaded the 21st September during the action fought upon that day.

A Chinese general had been badly wounded at the stone bridge during the attack upon it, and, in revenge, ordered Captain Brabazon and the Abbe, who were in his power, to be put to death. A Chinese Christian related this story to the French shortly before the allied armies retired from Pekin, averring that he had been present then, and bringing in some portion of the Abbe’s gown in support of his statement. To those who judge of these facts by the commonly accepted laws of evidence, they must be conclusive, although there will be always some few who will refuse to believe, and will hope on against all rational hope. When the others of the party were taken to Pekin, they were paraded in triumph through the streets, and then taken to the summer palace, where they were lodged in tents pitched in an enclosed courtyard, the Europeans and natives separately, six men in each tent.

About two hours after their arrival they were all taken out one by one under the pretence of letting them wash, when each was thrown upon his face, his hands being then tied behind his back, and his feet bound together. The Chinese appeared to have a fair [p. 266] appreciation of the relative strength of their prisoners, as they took out the English first, then the French, and lastly the sowars. They were placed in a kneeling position, their hands and feet fastened together, and then thrown upon their backs. If they attempted to roll over on their side, they were kicked, beaten, and forced back into their former position, which caused all the weight of their bodies to rest upon their hands, which, being tightly fastened together, had no circulation through them, and consequently became rapidly black and swollen. A Chinese sentry watched over each prisoner. They were kept thus in an open yard, exposed to the sun during the day and the bitter cold at night, without any covering. Their guardians frequently threw water on the cords with which they were bound, so as to tighten them, and when any asked for food or water, dirt was thrust into their mouths. They were kept thus for three days, with scarcely any food; and but little water even was given to them. Some were, however, handcuffed and chained, their cord fastenings being taken off. The only one of the party knowing anything of Chinese was Mr. de Norman, who had learned a little during his residence at Shanghai, where he had been attached to the British Consulate. He was examined several times by ofiicials, and once was able to induce his jailor to give them some food. On the second day of their incarceration at the summer palace, Lieutenant Anderson became delirious from want of food and exposure. Up to that time he had always encouraged the sowars when they called out for water or repined in any way at their condition. His hands were swollen to about twice their natural size, and were [p. 267] as black as ink from the effects of the cords tied round his wrists. Poor fellow! It was merciful that delirium prevented him from feeling his subsequent miseries, as mortification setting in most rapidly, his fingers and nails actually burst, and worms, the usual consequence of undressed wounds, were generated about his hands and wrists in myriads. Crowds of people went to look at them daily, feasting their eyes upon the miseries of the few prisoners in their power. On the afternoon of the fourth day they were all placed in carts, and divided into four parties, one consisting of Lieutenant Anderson, Mr. de Norman, one duffedar and four sowars; the second of three Frenchmen and five Sikhs; the third party of four Sikhs, Private Phipps, King’s Dragoon Guards, a French officer, and Mr. Bowlby; the fourth of three Frenchmen and four Sikhs. The first party travelled all night, the mules trotting most of the time. In the morning they reached a fort, where they were loaded with chains and confined in cages. There Lieutenant Anderson died on the ninth day of his imprisonment. Before death, the bones of his wrists were actually exposed, the fleshy parts being in a mortified state. Upon the evening of his death they took the cords off the other prisoners. Lieutenant Anderson’s body was left lying amongst them for three days, when it was at last removed. Five days after that a sowar died, and three days subsequently Mr. de Norman died. The remainder of the party survived and returned to our camp, a melancholy evidence of the inhuman treatment which they had experienced. Their wrists and ankles were one mass of sores, horrible to look at; their fingers were contracted and almost useless. The second [p. 268] party was taken away towards the hills, halting for the first night on the way. Travelling the two following days they reached a walled town, outside of which was a white fort, about two miles from it. The place was surrounded on three sides by hills; they were placed in a jail within the town. One Frenchman died on the road, and another the day after they were placed in jail, and a sowar a few days after that. They died from the effects of the tight bindings round their wrists, which caused mortification. During the latter ten days of their imprisonment, the others of their party who survived were treated better, the mandarin, in charge of the jail, having removed their irons, and having had their wounds washed. The third party travelled all the night of their removal. They received nothing to eat, and were beaten when they asked for food. On the following morning, at about ten a.m., they reached a fort, within which they were kept in the open air for three days, after which they were dragged into an old kitchen, where they were kept eight days, and for the first three or four of which they were not on any account permitted to stir. Mr. Bowlby died on the second day after their arrival at the fort. His body remained where he had died for three days, when it was fastened to a kind of cross-beam and thrown over the wall. The day after his death the French officer died; two days after that, a Sikh died; and four days afterwards Private Phipps, and another Sikh sometime subsequently. Of the fourth party we know nothing, as none of them survived to tell the tale of woe and cruelty to which they had been, no doubt, like the others, subjected. Messrs. Loch and Parkes were taken into Pekin upon [p. 269] the night of their capture, their hands tied behind their backs. Together with the Frenchmen who were taken in Tung-chow, they were lodged in the common malefactors’ prison of Pekin, heavily chained, and with scarcely food enough to support life. The cells in which they were kept were so crowded that they had barely sufficient space to be down upon. From their jailors they met with only cruelty and insult, whilst from all their fellow-prisoners they received every little attention which the poor fellows were able to bestow upon them. They were frequently examined by officials and the Board of Punishments, when invariably their inquisitors ordered Mr. Parkes to be cuffed about the head and have his ears pulled for speaking what they said was false. Similar punishments were inflicted upon Mr. Loch because he did not answer their questions, he being totally ignorant of the language. At such times they were always obliged to remain in a kneeling position, and made to kow-tow to every official. Upon the 29th September they were removed from the jail and lodged in the Kaomio temple, where they were well fed, and treated more as guests than prisoners. Hang-ki endeavoured to obliterate from their memory all recollection of the cruel treatment to which they had been subjected, by subsequently overwhelming them with attentions. From the first, endeavours were made to work upon Mr. Parkes’s fears, so as to induce him to mediate for the Chinese Government with our ambassador. Mr. Parkes upon all occasions upheld the dignity of the nation to which he belonged, never allowing himself to be intimidated or cajoled into promising anything for which he might subsequently be [p. 270] sorry. When Hang-ki informed him on the 28th September that he should be released upon the day following, Mr. Parkes declined to accept the favour unless it was also extended to Mr. Loch: this disinterested conduct was rewarded by the discharge of both from prison upon the 29th. They were liberally treated from that time up to the date of their return to our camp upon the 8th October.

Upon the 9th October the French marched from Yuen-ming-yuen, and encamped to our left facing Pekin. The An-ting Gate was opposite the centre of the allied forces. The day following a summons was forwarded to the Prince of Kung, signed by the allied Commanders-in-Chief, naming noon of the 13th October as the latest time up to which he might save his city from bombardment by the surrender of one of its gates, and adding that in case the An-ting gate was not handed over to our possession by that time our batteries would open fire upon the walls.

A reconnaissance was made by Sir Hope Grant and General Montauban of the northern face of the city defences, during which our officers rode up to the edge of the ditch without being fired upon, although the walls were manned by the enemy, who held up white flags. A position was then selected for our breaching batteries, at about six hundred yards to the east of the An-ting gate. The guns were to be placed within the high wall which surrounded the “Te-tsu” or “Temple of the Earth,” and to be disposed as follows. The four 8-inch guns to make a breach between the second and third square flanking towers east of the gate; two Armstrong guns (12-pounders) to play also upon the breach, [p. 271] whilst two others fired down the road leading to the gate; two more to be in reserve. A battery of 9-pounders to counter-batter. Our mortars to play upon the breach. Our guns were simply placed upon wooden platforms laid down behind the massive brick walls of the temple; small magazines were constructed with lean-to’s against the wall. The French had no regular breaching guns, but they hoped to make their heaviest field battery serve instead. They constructed their batteries to our left, and at about sixty yards’ distance from the walls; our guns being larger were to be 198 yards from them. Small trenches were dug in advance for infantry, from which a rifle fire was to be maintained upon the Chinese gunners and the breach. The small suburb in front of the gate, and only about a hundred yards distant from it, was loopholed for musketry, and all necessary arrangements were made for reassuming the offensive in the event of our proffered terms being refused. Our interpreters had several interviews with Hang-ki, upon the 10th, 11th, and 12th October, when he spoke confidently of everything being arranged amicably.

Upon the 12th October Lord Elgin received a letter from the Prince of Kung, in answer to the summons sent him in the names of the allied Commanders-in-Chief, with whom he said that he did not wish to commence a correspondence, having hitherto been in the habit of writing to the ambassador direct. He signified his willingness to accede to all that we had demanded, but shilly-shallied about giving up a gate, saying that as such was always in charge of high officers, their withdrawal from the post might lead to the [p. 272] introduction of ill-disposed and disorderly people within the city: he was consequently desirous of ascertaining the measures which Lord Elgin proposed as a precaution against such an occurrence. This was simply an effort to throw difficulties in the way of our taking a gate of the city. He wrote as if peace had been already concluded: an old trick in Chinese diplomacy. By Sir Hope Grant’s order, proclamations were posted tip in the suburbs and other places which we could reach with safety, warning the inhabitants of Pekin, that, unless their rulers made peace by noon upon the 13th October and the An-ting gate were handed over into our possession, we should open fire upon the walls, in the event of which the people were advised to clear out of the city. Upon the night of the 12th all our arrangements for opening fire upon the following day were completed, and our embrasures unmasked. Mr. Parkes with a suitable escort met Hang-ki at ten a.m. upon the following day. He tried hard to get off giving up the gate, or even to postpone doing so; but Mr. Parkes was inexorable. Noon drew near, and the gate was still held by the Chinese. The artillery officers in charge of our batteries commenced getting everything ready for opening fire; the guns were sponged out and run back for loading, with the gunners standing to their guns waiting for the orders to commence. A few minutes before twelve o’clock the An-ting-mun was thrown open, and its defences surrendered to Major-General Sir Robert Napier, whose division was on duty close by. Our troops took immediate possession, the French marching in after us. In a few minutes afterwards the Union Jack was floating from the walls of [p. 273] Pekin, the far-famed celestial capital, the pride of China, and hitherto esteemed impregnable by every soul in that empire. We took possession of the walls extending from the An-ting gate to the Tih-shing-mun, the French holding the space to the left from the An-ting-mun to the south-east comer of the city. Our engineers at once placed the post in a defensible state, to resist any attack from within the city, and field guns were mounted upon the walls so as to command the interior approaches to the gate.

By the evening of the 16th October the remains of all our ill-fated countrymen and comrades had been sent in to our camp, with the exception of Captain Brabazon’s, of whom, as of the Abbe de Luc, the Chinese authorities said they knew nothing. Sir Hope Grant determined upon giving them a military funeral, and lending to the ceremony every possible importance, so as to impress upon the inhabitants of the place, not only our sorrow for their loss, but the great estimation we put upon the lives of our compatriots. General Ignatieff, the Russian ambassador in China, called upon the Commander-in-Chief and most civilly offered us permission to bury our dead in the Russian cemetery, near the An-ting gate of the city, which was gladly accepted. The bodies reached our camp in rough coffins, upon which attempts had been made to render the name of each in Chinese characters. English names, however, for the most part defy any such Chinese translation; so that it was only with great difficulty that we could recognise them individually, as all were in a state of decomposition and their mouldering clothes were the only real clues we had to go by. Upon the [p. 274] morning of the 17th October the funeral took place. The procession consisted of a troop of the King’s Dragoon Guards, a troop of Fane’s Horse, an officer and twenty men of each infantry regiment, and the band of the 60th Rifles. All the officers of our army and a large proportion of French officers attended in full uniform. The attaches of the Russian embassy also joined the procession. The Commander-in-Chief and Lord Elgin were the chief mourners. The service was performed by the Eev. E. J. M’Ghee.

The funeral of the murdered Frenchmen took place some few days subsequently, in the Jesuit burial-ground, which is to the west of the city, Sir Hope Grant and a large number of our staff and other officers attending it. [p. 275]