Liberal Barbarism: The Primary Source Archive




The army commenced embarking at Tien-tsin about the middle of November, and by the exertions of our staff, and the able co-operation of the naval authorities, all were on board ship by the end of the month. The gunboats had hard v^ork, both night and day : and as the weather was very severe, their endless joumeyings from Tien-tsin to the fleet and back again were no pleasing duties. Our cavalry marched to Takoo, and embarked there; no accident occurring to any one. Upon the 19th November there was a heavy fall of snow, and the frosts at night were most trying. By the 25th of the month the Peiho was frozen over completely near the city, upon which day several of us walked across the river upon the ice. PoUtical considerations had detained us at Pekin almost to the very last day that it would have been possible to remain there without compromising our subsequent embarkation. As it was, much difficulty was experienced in getting the native followers away. Upon such occasions it is quite wonderful how people hitherto unheard of spring up; amateurs, private servants, apothecaries, &c. &c., of whose presence [p. 319] none had previously known anything, come forward at the last moment requesting passages, so much so, that in calculating for all such operations, it is invariably necessary to leave a margin for the accommodation of the tag-rag and bob-tail always certain to be there. Towards the end of the month many portions of the river were so blocked up with ice that the gunboats were sometimes three and four days in getting over the distance between Takoo and Tien-tsin. The Hindostanees, whom no amount of teaching or past experience will make provident as regards their own health, suffered considerably from the cold and exposure incident upon these unavoidable delays on the river. They were all liberally supplied with warm clothing, yet so incomprehensible are those people in* their proceedings, that it required much care to see that they used the various articles given to them. In one instance, when a vessel carrying out a number of syces (grooms) from Takoo to the fleet stuck upon the bar at the mouth of the river and wa^ detained there for about forty-eight hours before it got off, some few of the natives died from the exposure. Inquiries were instituted into the circumstance, when it was found that the warm clothing which had been served out to these people was tied up in their bundles, which all had with them, instead of being worn upon their persons. Their apathy and indifference as to future consequences had thus really occasioned their deaths; for there is every just reason for supposing that had they put on the clothing provided for their use their Uves would have been spared. At Tien-tsin, on the very coldest mornings, when snow was on the [p. 320] ground, I have seen numbers of these Hindostanee followers going about the streets with bare legs, as their custom is in India, while at that very time they had warm drawers and trousers in their possession. Officers commanding native troops there were obliged to make a pimishable offence of their omitting to clothe themselves properly. The garrison left at Tien-tsin consisted of the 2nd battaUon, 60th Eifles, 67th Eegiment, and half of the 31st Eegiment, the other half being quartered in the Takoo forts. A battery of Eoyal Artillery, one company of Eoyal Engineers, Fane’s Horse, and a battalion of Mihtary Train, with a due proportion of medical and commissariat staff, — Brigadier Staveley, C.B., being in command. This force was complete in every equipment, and provided with every comfort which it was possible to supply them with. The finest building in the place was converted into a hospital, no pains or expense being spared in fitting it up with every convenience. Indeed, if the garrison of Tien-tsin has not been comfortable during the past year, it is fi^om no want of care on the part of the Commander-in-Chief or of the staff officers who acted under his orders. The city and its suburbs are badly drained, the ground upon which they stand being so Uttle above the level of the river. After heavy rain the streets become seas of mire. Before we left all the shops were open as usual, and driving a lively trade. The pastrycook’s establishment quickly earned a well-deserved celebrity for its sponge cakes and biscuits, which were quite as good as any in Gunter’s shop. The poUteness of the shopmen soon [p. 321] made the place one of general resort. Of curiosities there were not many worth purchasiog, except what the French soldiers had still amongst them for sale. The Chinese dealers in such articles bought up eagerly all silks, jade-stone ornaments, &c. &c., which our aUies wished to dispose of, giving large prices for the latter-named article. In one instance that I knew of, an officer had purchased a jade-stone necklace, at the Pekin prize sale, for 50 dollars (about 11/.), for which he was subsequently offered 1500 taels, or 500Z. sterling. Sir Hope Grant, having remained at Tien-tsin whilst the army was embarking, left that place himself at the end of November, and proceeded to Shanghai. Up to the last moment that navigation along the Peiho was possible, our gimboats were employed in bringing up suppUes of stores from the fleet. The officers commanding those httle vessels deserve every praise for the manner in which they did their work, being always ready to oblige every one to their utmost, and making hght of all those httle difficulties and annoyances which always attend such arduous duties. The gunboat service holds a position in the navy very similar to what our Irregular Service does in the Indian army, giving young officers opportimities of commanding and acting upon their own responsibility, inculcating self-reUance, which, to both soldiers and sailors, is of such importance. This has been the means of bringiag forward some of the best officers now in her Majesty’s service, who must have been, otherwise, still holding subordinate positions. There is, however, even yet, in some quarters, a strong feeling against the employment of young men in im- [p. 322] portant posts. Considerable power is still in the hands of very old men, who frequently pooh-pooh youth, and stand up for their own ” order,” that of antiquity. Youth is frequently as much a disqualification for employment as old age ought always to be. All our transports, when leaving the Gulf of Pechili, were ordered to stop at Hong-kong, for the purpose of refitting, &c. &c., before proceeding to their final destinations. Thus ended the China War of 1860, the shortest, most brilliant, and most successful of all that we have waged with that country. Let us hope that it may be the last, by procuring for our merchants a perpetual immunity from those acts of violence and oppression, which have led to all our disputes with the Pekin Government. May its prophylactical effects enable us to trade on freely at every port along the great seaboard of the empire, and so open out new channels for our conamercial enterprise. It has cost us a large sums of money, but unlike many of our expensive European wars, we may with justice look forward to a liberal return for what we have expended. To have refrained from a war with China in 1860, and at the same time have maintained our position at the several ports where we traded, would have been impossible. If we had pocketed our defeat of 1859, and contented ourselves with written demands for apology or reparation, we might, perhaps, have struggled on for some Uttle time without any very violent rupture with the Chinese authorities; but the day must soon [p. 323] have arrived when we should have been forced to decide whether we should fight or withdraw finally from the country. The one great object which we have ever had in view there has been fi-eedom of action for our merchants, and imrestricted permission to trade with all parts of the empire. To prevent this last mentioned object has ever been the aim of all Chinese politicians. They sought to confine foreign trade to a few ports, where they wished our mercantile community to exist merely upon sufferance, and exposed to insult and exactions, in order to demonstrate pubKcly its dependent position. By Sir Henry Pottinger’s treaty, access for British subjects at all times into Canton was stipulated for, but, most improperly, never enforced By the Tien-tsin treaty of 1858, it was agreed that we should have Uberty to travel through all parts of the country, and that the treaty itself should be ratified in presence of our Minister at Pekin. When endeavouring to push his way there for that purpose, Mr. Bruce was opposed by force of arms, and prevented from accomplishing his object. Not only was the clause in the treaty which declared the unrestricted Uberty of travelling through China thus proved to be null, but even our Minister’s right of way to the capital was at once denied. That right of visiting Pekin at pleasure, and carrying on direct and personal communications with the Government there, was the principal advantage which Lord Elgin’s mission in 1858 had obtained for us; but upon our first attempt to avail ourselves of the engagement it was forcibly denied. To have quietly allowed them to recede from their contracts, [p. 324] would have been indeed a bad precedent to have established. The best guarantee we have for the fulfillment of the treaty now ratified, is the very act of ratification itself, which was a public recognition of our equality with China as a nation, and a renunciation, on their part, of those conceited notions regarding universal superiority, which has ever been one of the great difficulties in all our dealings with them. Surely no one can accuse our Government of having unnecessarily plunged into this war, although many may with justice find fault with its having been postponed so long. The British nation is always slow to enffao^e in war. John Bull has certain received notions as to right and wrong, justice and injustice, &c. &c., which, although essentially applicable in all his relations with the civilised nations of the West, are as unsuited for Eastern poUtics as red brick would be for ancient Grecian architecture. His repugnance to spUl blood has sometimes the very opposite effect of causing it to flow in quantities, which a sUght effusion earUer in the affair would have prevented. He prefers, in all matters Ukely to entail war, to concede to the utmost Umits of concession. In disputes with Asiatics such is not the line of action to pursue. To renounce any demand previously made, or to fail in enforcing any stipulated agreement, is simply to incur a reputation of weakness or cowardice with them. Notwithstanding our century’s experience in India, the EngUsh people really know Kttle of the Asiatic mind. The advice and instruction frequently put forward in print upon the subject by our Indian administrators, is rejected by the people at home. They insist upon [p. 325] considering that all our public servants in India are imbued with bigoted notions from long residence in the East, and that what is applicable to England and its people must be equally so to the enslaved negroes of America and the ancient governments of Asia. But to these, on the contrary, new ideas regarding international pohcy never penetrate, and the same motives influence the ruler and the subject now which actuated those classes when our ancestors went naked and painted their bodies sky blue. If any European monarch of the twelfth century had pursued the system of international pohcy at present general in the Western world, he must have entailed upon himself the hatred of his own people and the scorn of aU others. Such a revolution in the minds of men cannot be effected in a day. We might as well expect to christianise the Eastern nations at once, by giving them the Bible, as expect to overthrow their secular faith in pohtical economy by simply enunciating that system which our superior wisdom teaches us. To engraft the enhghtened institutions of the nineteenth, upon the ignorance of the twelth century, and expect the tree to bear fruit immediately, is folly. Before the Asiatic world can be led to beUeve in the justice of our polity, or before it will be apphcable to Eastern nations, it wiU be necessary first to raise them up to our standard of knowledge, and enable them to reason in the same logical manner with ourselves. Time, bringing with it increased learning, alone can eradicate traditional errors. If it took many centuries to overcome in us the fear of witchcraft, and to enable us to discover how wrong it was to bum our fellow-creatures for differing with [p. 326] US upon religious matters, surely many generations must pass away before our essentially British mode of proceeding in the East is appreciated there in its true hght. Year after year the local authorities of Canton oppressed our merchants, and offered insults to our officials, but rather than plunge into hostilities we left those injuries vmredressed. Every individual slight that we submitted to was the sure precursor of another, until at last an impression was established that we would sooner bear with any indignity than draw the sword. If we had insisted from the first upon the right of entry within Canton, and had been sharp in avenging at once all serious attempts at violence upon the part of the local authorities there, we should have saved the milUons which we have since had to expend in war. Nothing, however, but the presence of an armed force effecting a chronic intimidation could have enabled us to accomphsh that end; and the British nation, taking but little interest in the matter, as long as trade somehow or other went on, preferred ignoring the difficulties encountered by our officials to incurring the yearly expense which the maintenance of such a force would have entailed. So strong was our disinclination to embroil ourselves, that Sir John Davis was disgraced for having insisted upon the right of entry into Canton, and severe strictures were made by many upon those who were responsible for the active measures taken in the Arrow affair. Before entering upon the war of 1860, an ultimatum was despatched to Pekin by orders of the Home Government, offering, the most liberal terms for reconciliation. These terms were so favourable to the Imperial Government, that [p. 327] all who were ignorant of the train of reasoning common to Asiatic minds were certain of their acxieptance, and believed om* warKke preparations imcalled for in consequence. The UberaUty of the proffered terms, however, only made war the more inevitable after all. They were supposed to be dictated by fear arising from our recent defeat. By placing ourselves gratuitously in the position of suppliants we gave his Celestial Majesty cause for imagining that he was really our superior in strength, and consequently entitled to dictate terms to us. His impertinently evasive answer was the result. By the residence of our Minister at Pekin, we can now apply directly to the authorities there for redress in all matters of local grievance, and the authorities at the various ports will henceforth hesitate before they embroil themselves witlj foreigners who have a minister at the Chinese seat of government, in direct personal conmnmication with their immediate superiors there. By this war we have practically opened out the trade of the Yang-tse-kiang, whence a vastly increased commerce is to be expected. We have inflicted such a severe blow upon the inflated pride of Hien-fung, that the whole face of Chinese politics, and our relations with that country, must change, before he will again dare to insult our flag or obstruct our commerce. It is to be hoped, also, that intercourse with such men as Mr. Bruce, and those now acting under him, may serve in a measure to open the eyes of Chinese politicians to a just appreciation of their own shortcomings and real interests. [p. 328] The commercial advantages which we have obtained are great, but we have gained others also. We have carried on a most successful war at a distance of seventeen thousand miles from England. Fighting side by side with the soi-disant most military nation in Europe, our organisation, staff, commissariat, &c. &c., has, at the very humblest estimation of our merits, proved at least equal to that of France. We have had a fine opportunity of testing the powers, and adaptibihty to service in the field, of our new Armstrong guns, proving them side by side with the artillery which gained SoHerino for Louis Napoleon. Their efficiency having thus received the only corroboration wanting, warrants confidence in their future manufacture. In the general administration of both army and navy, and their relative bearings one towards the other in such a species of warfare, we have gained much useful experience, which might now be of great practical benefit, whilst the formation of a regular transport service is under consideration. It is to be hoped that those upon whom such a duty devolves will avail themselves of the information which the military officers who had charge of the transport arrangements in China can afford. We have received a lesson against overestimating the effect which the substitution of rifles for the smooth-bored musket produces in action, proving that to close with an enemy is still as essential for victory as it was in the days of spears and crossbows. No amount of skirmishing at a distance will inflict any very decisive loss upon an enemy; and it is much to be feared that the possession of rifled weapons may tend towards inculcating the principle of engaging [p. 329] at long bowls and avoiding close combat, from which alone decisive events are to be obtained. As a nation we are prone to run away with such questions, and a few enthusiasts in shooting — not riflemen in the military acceptation of the term — have propounded the theory of utterly destroying an army by sharpshooters. They demonstrate by calculations upon paper and experiments upon the Hythe sands the certainty of doing so. Such gentlemen are mostly those who have never seen a shot fired in earnest, and the incorrectness of their views is vouched for by almost every oflicer of long-tried experience in the field. The smallness of the loss incurred the other day by the Federal army, which was engaged for hours at long ranges with their victorious opponents, proves still more of how httle damage is inflicted in action by infantry fire delivered at great distances. In the execution or results of the war there is nothing left to be wished for. [p. 330]