Release of Messrs. Parkes and Loch — Looting the Summer Palace — British Share of the Spoil — Discovery of Secret Documents — Preparations for attacking Pekin — Surrender of the An-ting Gate — Restoration of other Prisoners — Spirit of Retaliation — Funeral of Murdered Prisoners — Lord Elgin’s Reasons for the Destruction of the Summer Palace — Firing the Yuen-ming-yuen — General Description of the Palace and Grounds.
On the day after the advance, Mr. Wade received a note from Mr. Parkes, dated the previous day (5th October). It was enclosed in a letter from Prince Kung, written from the Summer Palace. This note announced the intention of the authorities to release the prisoners confined in Pekin, on the 8th. Shortly after, Mr. Wade had an interview with Hangke, who had been appointed Assistant Commissioner with Prince Kung, and acquainted him of the demand of the Commanders-in-Chief that one of the gates of Pekin should be surrendered to the Allies. The mandarin of course protested against the possibility [p. 303] of such an act, but eventually promised to refer the matter to the Prince. When questioned with regard to the prisoners who were said not to be in the capital, he replied he would do his best to secure their return; but not knowing whither they had been conveyed, he could make no positive promise.
On the 8th, Messrs. Parkes and Loch, and their attendant sowar of Probyn’s troop, together with the Count L’Escayrac de Lauture, of the French scientific mission, and four French soldiers, were released. These eight were all the prisoners, the Chinese positively asserted, that they had inside the city; and we naturally felt much anxiety as to the fate of the other unfortunates in their hands, especially as we believed they had been handed over to the tender mercies of the Tartar soldiers.
To death inured, and nursed in scenes of woe.Messrs. Parkes and Loch, fortunately for them, had been held rather as state prisoners, and though at the first their treatment from the mandarins was brutal in the extreme, yet latterly, when matters were brought nearer to a crisis, their chains were taken off them, and they were properly housed and attended. The adventures of these two gentlemen, as related in their letters to Lord Elgin, having been already placed before the public, I cannot do more than [p. 304] allude to them as extremely interesting. Their constancy and courage throughout their imprisonment, and their high determination not to submit to acts which might in any way involve the honour of the country, merit admiration; but much as we sympathize with their sufferings, we cannot help feeling gratified at the information with regard to the internal working of the Pekin jail-system, which their trials have eliminated for the benefit of those interested in Chinese topics.
On Sunday the 7th, every one that could get permission to leave the camp repaired to the Summer Palace, as the General now made no objection to looting. Soon after breakfast I mounted my horse, and galloped across country alone, on a promise to meet some officers there. It was a bright, fresh forenoon, and the sunlight gave a youthful brightness to the decaying foliage of the groves that marked the way. A few villagers stood watchful at the doors of their domiciles, but disappeared sharply on spying me. The French camp still lay before the palace, and the French sentries at the gate; but no pass was required — the place was open to ravages of any and all. What a terrible scene of destruction presented itself! How disturbed now was the late quiescent state of the rooms, with their neat display of curiosities! Officers and men, English and French, were rushing about [p. 305] in a most unbecoming manner, each eager for the acquisition of valuables. Most of the Frenchmen were armed with large clubs, and what they could not carry away, they smashed to atoms. In one room you would see several officers and men of all ranks with their heads and hands brushing and knocking together in the same box, searching and grasping its contents. In another a scramble was going on over a collection of handsome state robes. Some would be playing pitch and toss against the large mirrors; others would be amusing themselves by taking “cock” shots at the chandeliers. Respect for position was completely lost sight of, and the most perfect disorganization prevailed.
The love of gain is most contagious, and in every sense the incitamentum malorum, as the Latin grammar rightly teaches us. No one just then cared for gazing tranquilly at the works of art; each one was bent on acquiring what was most valuable. That scene afforded a very good proof of the innate evil in man’s nature when unrestrained by the force of law or public opinion. Licensed theft soon displays the love of greed natural to every heart; and its concomitant vices, jealousy and dissension, speedily follow. The silk warehouses on the right were burst open, and dozens rushed in over the piles of valuable rolls of silk and embroidered dresses. These were thrown [p. 306] out in armfuls. There were piles on piles of them; and though plunderers were conveying them away by cartloads, still the ground was strewn with them, and there was yet more in the houses. A commission of prize agents had been formed by Sir Hope Grant for the purpose of collecting together curiosities to dispose of for the benefit of the army; and the officers composing it were busy all day in making their selections from what yet remained undamaged; while hundreds of others were looting on their own account. New rooms were constantly being found as the marauders extended their researches, still untouched and filled with old bronzes, clocks, enameled jars, and an infinity of jade-stone curiosities. To these the plunderers rushed with eagerness. The booty was plentiful, but the means of conveyance scarce. Chinese from the surrounding villages crowded in and added their numbers to the vivacious looters, and hundreds of them were going backwards and forwards all day laden with bundles of spoil. After the spoliation had continued some time, light portable valuables became more rare, and the natives were soon seized upon as porters for the larger curios. An officer would be seen struggling under the weight of old jars, furs, and embroidered suits; he would meet a native similarly laden; the native would be made to open out his pack, and the choice contents being [p. 307] added to the officer’s load, the native would be compelled to relinquish the remainder of his spoil and undertake the freight of the officer’s burden. Soon the rumour spread that treasure had been discovered, and an excited crowd ran about to seek for the spot. but very wisely a guard had been placed over it, and the money was made over to proper hands for fair division between the English and French armies.
At the close of the day’s loot it was found, as was to be expected, that much dissatisfaction occurred among the different members of the army. Numbers of the officers, and nearly the whole of the men, had by their duties been deprived of participation in the spoil; and among those that were there several had fallen across articles of great value, while others had only procured trumpery gewgaws. Some of General Napier’s staff officers, moreover, had stripped off and brought away with them the roof of a neglected cottage, which had been mistaken for brass, but which turned out to be nearly pure gold, worth some £9,000. This they handsomely placed at the disposal of the General of their Division, and it was being beaten out for distribution among the troops, when Sir Hope Grant received intelligence of the intention, and fearing the dissatisfaction that such distribution among a portion of the army was sure to produce, and in order to make matters more equal [p. 308] for those whose duties prevented them from sharing in the work of spoliation, he issued orders to call in all the loot acquired by the officers, appealing to their honour as officers and gentlemen to restore faithfully all they had taken. This measure, of course, caused great grumbling on the other side among those who had put themselves to considerable trouble in the acquisition and bringing away of what they held. One officer, in particular, who had laden his horse with his treasures and trudged all the way on foot to camp some five miles, leading his steed by the bridle, became the object of many sallies of wit when the orders were published. A sale was then appointed to take place on the 11th of all the articles collected by the commission, as well as of the booty called in; but on restoring his spoil each officer had the option of redeeming it at a price fixed by the commission. When the French had finished their work of destruction in the interior of the palace, they set the Emperor’s private residence on fire, and then relinquished the grounds and removed their camp to a village in front of the An-ting gate. The Sikhs and a few of the dragoons were the only privates that had found their way to the Palace, and consequently their camps, especially that of the former, were much resorted to for the purchase of silks; the price usually demanded averaging one dollar (4s. 6d.) a roll, [p. 309] whereas the real value of the silk might have rated at from 3l. to 5l. The store and canteen keepers who followed the camp consequently drove a large business in this article, receiving payment for stores and liquors supplied to the troops in silk at that rate. But for knickknacks and bijoux the French camp offered the greatest allurement for several days. You had only to ask the first French soldier you met if he had anything for sale, and he would soon produce gold watches, strings of jewels, jade ornaments, or furs; and numbers of British officers, who had disposable dollars, quickly found means of exchanging them for objects of greater value in the French camp. For weeks, in either camp, nothing was talked of but curiosities purloined from the Summer Palace, and what they were likely to fetch. Numbers of the French officers had acquired tolerable fortunes, and their men were rolling in dollars, which led to much disorder and serious disturbances in their camp. For days after their return from their late bivouac their soldiers were constantly to be met with in a state of intoxication, and still carrying out the acquired spirit of plunder and spoliation to the villages in their neighbourhood.
The British share of the plunder was all arranged for exhibition in the hall of the large llama temple, where the Head-quarters’ Staff were quartered, and a [p. 310] goodly display it was: white and green jade-stone ornaments of all tints, enamel-inlaid jars of antique shape, bronzes, gold and silver figures and statuettes, &c.; fine collections of furs, many of which were of much value, such as sable, sea -otter, ermine, Astracan lamb, &c.; and court costume, among which were two or three of the Emperor’s state robes of rich yellow silk, worked upon with dragons in gold thread, and beautifully woven with floss-silk embroidery on the skirts, the inside being lined with silver fur or ermine, and cuffed with glossy sable. At the end of the hall were piled immense quantities of rolls of silk and crape of various colours, with several of the beautiful imperial yellow, a kind prescribed by the Chinese law for the use of his Imperial Majesty alone.
The sale continued over three whole days, and was largely attended both by officers and men. A perfect mania of competition appeared to have seized all ranks, and the prices realized were fabulous. The most trivial article fetched two or three pounds, and one of the court robes was knocked down at the high figure of £120. Had the Emperor been present he would doubtless have felt flattered at the value set by the foreigners on any object solely because it had belonged to him. Fancy the sale of an emperor’s effects beneath the walls of the capital of his empire, [p. 311] and this by a people he despised as weak barbarians and talked of driving into the sea! The proceeds of the sale amounted to 32,000 dollars, and the amount of treasure secured was estimated at over 61,000 dollars, making a rough total of 93,000 dollars. Of this, two-thirds was set apart for distribution in proportionate shares to the soldiers, and one-third for the officers, of all those engaged in active service during the day of the capture of the palace. Sir Hope Grant very generously made his share over to the men, and as a token of respect, the officers presented him with a gold claret jug richly chased, one of the handsomest pieces of the booty.
Several interesting documents were met with in the Summer Palace, many of which were in the Emperor’s own holograph, to which we have before made a passing allusion. In one San-kolinsin reports the loss of the forts, which he attributes to the accidental explosion of the two powder magazines, and he proceeds to tell the Emperor that he has again established himself near Tung-chow, and that there is no occasion to be alarmed. In a later memorial he tells the Emperor that the barbarians are advancing; and that, though there is little chance of their progressing far, he would recommend him to go on a hunting tour to Ge-hol, until matters assumed a more satisfactory appearance. To this proposal several Ministers [p. 312] in their memorials strongly object, alleging that, as for the last forty years no Emperor has been on a hunting tour, it would look in the eyes of the people, in the present crisis, very much as if his Majesty were showing the white feather. Besides, the country on the road to Ge-hol was much infested with banditti, and it would neither be safe, nor sanctioned by previous imperial custom, to undertake the recommended expedition without at least 4,000 troops, and, in the present exigent state of the capital, such a force could not be well spared. They, on the contrary, recommended him to stay in Pekin, where they might, with the reinforcements expected, manage to muster 300,000 men; and, as the barbarians had only 10,000, the Emperor would have little to fear; and that he would in so doing inspire the people with confidence. A measure they more strenuously urged was that he should go forth at the head of his troops to oppose the advance of the barbarians, and they had no doubt that his august presence would spread consternation throughout the ranks of the uncouth savages, and make them an easy prey to the brave soldiers of the imperial army. The vermilion pencil to these propositions makes rather a pusillanimous reply; it says that his Majesty will make every preparation to send his troops to the field of battle; that the people may be deceived into confidence; and [p. 313] that, when the time comes for him to lead forth his soldiers, he will quietly move off with his escort to Ge-hol. One Minister informs the Throne that he has heard that the greater part of the barbarian army is composed of Cantonese recruits; and he suggests that, as these mercenaries have engaged their services for the sake of gain, they might be easily won to the Chinese cause by the promise of larger bribes; and he therefore recommends that, instead of yielding to the barbarian claim for indemnity of 8,000,000 taels, one million of such money might be judiciously expended in gaining over the Cantonese portion of the barbarian army, and then the enemy’s force would be so weakened that they would be glad to listen to any terms the Chinese Government might choose to dictate. The majority of the memorialists talked with comparative indifference of the invading force, and referred with much greater alarm to the mutinous spirits within the walls of the city, who might encourage the people to rise and throw open the gates to the barbarians. They seemed much to fear that some of the Chinese in the allied camp were in league with the disaffected citizens of the town. Many of the papers showed a determination to resist the Allies even after the fall of Takoo, thus confirming previous impressions that all throughout it was the policy of the Chinese to [p. 314] lure Lord Elgin on from Tien-tsin with only a small guard, and, having got his lordship and party into their hands, on that to base their final proceedings.
The Chinese were given to the 12th for the surrender of the An-ting gate, the one near the western angle, and before which the French were encamped. The authorities had already made so many excuses that it was not to be supposed that the gate would he ceded without some semblance of opposition. To the left of this gate, and facing the city wall, within 200 yards, ran a wall about twenty feet high, which girt round a large space of ground some hundred acres in extent, in which was situated the Temple of Earth. Behind this covering wall was considered by our engineers a good spot to construct a battery in which to place our siege guns for the purpose of breaching the Pekin wall, and they at once commenced to prepare the battery, leaving the bricks in the wall till their work was finished. The plan of attack was to breach the city wall some fifteen feet from the ground; and the troops, entering by the breach, were to turn to the right, and, proceeding along the wall, to occupy the An-ting gate. The French to our left, and in advance of the temple wall, soon got a trench within 100 yards of the city wall, and they were also busily engaged preparing a battery. The Commanders-in-Chief had [p. 315] threatened to commence the attack at twelve precisely, if before that time the gate was not surrendered. The day had arrived, the batteries were all prepared, and the hour was fast approaching. The Royals were already in the temple by the side of the breaching guns, and a wing of the 67th was being paraded ready for the storming. Meanwhile Mr. Parkes and Colonel Stephenson, Deputy Adjutant-General, had repaired to the An-ting gate to receive any overtures the Chinese might make. General Napier stood by the guns with a watch in his hand, counting the minutes as they lapsed. Five minutes to twelve. Every one was eager and excited, and the order to fire was almost on the lips of the gallant General, when Colonel Stephenson came galloping to the spot, and announced that the gate had been surrendered.
A party of the 67th Regiment and 8th Punjabis were at once despatched thither. They marched a few yards into the city, driving the dense crowd before them, and then took possession of the gate, quartering themselves on the right side. The French then marched in, drums beating and colours flying, and pushing in some distance farther along the broad road, returned and established themselves on the left side of the gate-top. A rope was then stretched across the road to keep the crowd back, and sentries posted, and entrance for the time strictly forbidden. [p. 316]
This so-called gate is a formidable-looking structure. As you approach down the road leading south through the An-ting suburb you see in front of you, on the top of the lofty bulging wall, an immense square tower with four rows of loopholes one above the other, twelve in each row: the tower is covered with sloping tiles, and the roof ridge curls upwards at each end in the usual style of Chinese architecture. This tower you would naturally suppose surmounted the gateway, but it is not so; it is built on a semicircular portion of wall projecting beyond the true wall, on which another similarly shaped tower, without the loopholes, but with windows and balcony instead, stands facing the first tower. Below this second tower stands the archway of the gate. In the approach you cross a stone bridge built over what was perhaps once a wet fosse, but is now quite dry, and find yourself before the first tower; you then follow the stoneway to the left as it sweeps round the projecting wall and enter the first gate, a massive folding portal beneath an archway, under which you pass into the space formed by the semicircular with the natural wall (at the sides of which are small guard-houses and temples), and then following the stoneway as it bends to the left, you are led through the second archway portal on to the broad road of the city, which runs direct south as far as your eye can strain through [p. 317] the dust and over the sea of heads that throng it. Inside of the second gate on the left a long ramp by the side of the wall carries you up to the second square tower, from which you can get a fair view of the neighbouring portion of the city on the one hand, and of the country beyond on the other. At right angles to the broad, irregular, dusty road which bends southwards from the gate, run innumerable lanes, along which are placed side by side low hovels, many of them dirty and in disrepair, much in the same style as in southern cities. Some larger and two-storied buildings, mostly temples, scattered here and there, however, relieve the eye of the flat monotony. Beyond the wall, with the exception of the few houses in the neighbourhood of the gate, open ground occurs for upwards of two miles, covered in part with trees. The natives in the town, from the way they crowded round the sentries, appeared to have little fear of the barbarians, and they soon learned to bring supplies of fowls and fruit, and to open a small market at the gate. The ramp enabled the artillery to bring up some large field-pieces on to the gate, and soon several Armstrong muzzles pointed threateningly over the city. A few guns were found on the wall, which the Chinese had pointed at our batteries; one brass one measured eleven feet in length, and was ornamented with [p. 318] devices and Mantchoo characters; another gun was made of wood and sheathed with copper in so able a manner as to appear to a casual observer as if wholly made of metal. The wall of Pekin is about forty feet high, and sixty-four feet broad at the top, gradually narrowing upwards from the base. It is constructed internally of earth, with a casing of bricks. Along the wall on the right, about 100 yards from the gate, our people cut a traverse through the top of the wall, and with the earth formed a battery to command the approach along the wall from the direction of the Tih-shing gate, a necessary precaution, as that gate was still in the hands of the Tartar troops.
In the afternoon of the 12th, after the surrender of the gate, eight more Sikhs and some Frenchmen were restored to the Allies, fearfully emaciated, with their arms and wrists much lacerated by the tight cords that had bound them. On the 14th, two more Sikhs were brought back, and these the Chinese declared were the last of the surviving prisoners. The poor creatures were in a fearful state of anguish, and one of them died shortly afterwards that same day.
I was out with Colonel Wolseley and a party of the cavalry on a survey of the west wall. We had just fallen in with a company of some twenty Tartar troopers, who fled before us, and we were [p. 319] passing the northernmost gate on that side, when we encountered a party with five carts, each cart bearing a coffin. We drew near and examined these coffins, naturally supposing that they contained the remains of our murdered countrymen. Our surmises turned out to be correct: on the head of each coffin was pasted a piece of paper, inscribed, in Chinese characters, with the name of the deceased person it contained. Chinese characters represent but poorly the sounds of foreign names, but we all agreed that the one marked “Po-ne-pe, died of disease on the 25th September,” referred to Mr. Bowlby, the ill-fated correspondent of The Times. The persons in charge of the bodies told us, in answer to our questions, that the coffins had been brought from a town some forty miles north of Pekin. By the 17th, all the bodies were returned; they were found to be in such a fearful state of decomposition that not a feature was recognizable, and it was only by the tattered garments that the doctors, who inspected the corpses, made them out to be the remains of Mr. De Norman, Attache to H.M’s Legation; Lieut. R. B. Anderson, of Fane’s Horse; Private John Phipps, King’s Dragoon Guards; Mr. Bowlby, The Times’ correspondent; and eight Sikhs. Captain Brabazon, of the Artillery, and the Abbe de Luc, alone remained unaccounted for; but it appears from the statements of the sur- [p. 320] viving prisoners, that when the party captured on the 18th September were being conveyed to Pekin, the Abbe and Captain Brabazon were separated from them, and led back towards the Chinese army; and the Russians bore out the testimony of several Chinese citizens, who assured us that these two were detained by the soldiers of General Paou, and when that mandarin was mortally wounded by the French at the Pali Bridge, in a paroxysm of rage and anguish, the Chinese general ordered them to be decapitated. Some time after, two headless bodies, apparently of Europeans, were reported floating about the Yungleang canal. At the time they were observed, there was no suspicion of any such murder having taken place, and it was thought that they might have belonged to the fairer class of Tartars. When afterwards the suspicion assumed the form of fact, a search was made for them, but the corpses had disappeared.
From the statements of the surviving sowars, we learned that, after the capture of their party at Chang–chia–wan, [Zhangjiawan] they were led to the rear of the Chinese troops and disarmed, but were allowed to remain mounted on their horses, and so conducted along the stone road towards Pekin. Before reaching that city, they were told to dismount, and had to spend the night all together at a wayside temple. Next day, Captain Brabazon and the Abbe de Luc [p. 321] were taken away towards Tung-chow, and the rest of the party carried to Pekin, whence they were led to the Summer Palace, where they were put up in tents. About an hour after their arrival, they were called out, one by one, thrown on their faces, and their hands and feet tied together behind. The sowars were tied with single cords, but the Europeans with double ones; and not content with drawing the cords as tight round the limbs as possible, the pitiless captors wetted them with water, that they might shrink firmer together. The unfortunate sufferers were then carried into a courtyard, and exposed for three days to the sun and the cold without either food or water. In the daytime, the doors were left open, and the gaping crowds admitted to stare at them in their misery. If they spoke a word, or asked for water they were beaten, stamped upon, and kicked about the head; and when they asked for food, dirt was crammed into their mouths. At the end of the third day, a little food was dealt out to them, and irons were put on their necks, wrists, and ankles. On the fourth day, they were divided into four parties, placed in carts, and, with their limbs still bound, driven away to four small hill fortresses, varying twenty to forty miles from Pekin. Sir Hope Grant writes: ” Of the cause of their death, there can be no doubt; the survivors of each party tell [p. 327] sad tale of how they remained with their hands tightly hound with cords until mortification ensued and they died. The whole party would have doubtless shared the same fat«, had not their cords been cut on the ninth day, or thereabouts.”
When we learnt the sad fate of our countrymen the indignation in the camp reached a terrible pitchy and fortunate it was for the Chinese that no more encounters occurred, as they would thenceforth have found the Allies far more brutal enemies than they had hitherto proved. The indignation on the part of the Sikhs was not so easily allyed. It rankled in each individual’s heart, and one striking instance occurred of the desire for retribution they showed even on guiltless individuals of the Tartar race. One evening, shortly after the restoration of the maltreated prisoners, a Chinese presented himself before the Rev. Mr. McGhee, who was out for a quiet walk, and, after sundry prostrations, signified his intention to be followed. The man led him to a house near the out-picket of Fane’s Horse. A Sikh slipped out of the house and ran away, and the Chaplain, on entering, found two unfortunate Chinese villagers on their faces, tied with cords round their ankles and wrists, in precisely the same manner as our unhappy friends had been treated by the barbarous mandarins. The Spirit of retalia- [p. 323] tion was carried out to a nicety, for the cords were not only strained as tight round the wrists as possible, but they were even wetted. The Sikh had been, apparently, gloating over the sufferings of these unfortunate Chinese, and evidently chuckling at the chance he thus had in subjecting two of the same race to the tortures inflicted by their authorities on his captive clansman.
The Russian Minister, Count Ignatieff, who had all along lent his aid to the furtherance of the views of the Allies, and been most assiduous in procuring and communicating intelligence of the intentions of the Chinese, now came forward and offered the Russian cemetery for the interment of our much lamented comrades; and, on the 17th, the corpses were borne to the spot on gun wagons, attended by a long procession of troops and officers, the band of the Rifles playing a slow march. The Russian cemetery is outside the city to the right of the An-ting gate, situate about a quarter of a mile off the northern wall. It is a small space of ground enclosed by a wall, with a gate on the side facing north; within this wall is another and a smaller piece of ground enclosed by another square wall. It was to the right of its gate, in the space between the two walls, that the graves had been dug. The burial service was read by the Rev. Mr. [p. 324] McGhee, Chaplain to the British forces. The priest of the Russian Mission attended in his pontifical robes, holding on high the emblem of our faith. General Montauban and several French officers were present, besides the greater part of the officers of the British army and Embassy. The coffins were laid side by side, and three volleys fired over the grave. It was a bitterly cold day, and a cutting wind was driving over the heads of the attendants at the funeral; but the scene was, nevertheless, affecting, and a tear glistened down many a rough, weather-worn face in sorrow for the cruel fate of those they committed to mother earth, but not less so for the sake of the anguish that awaited the hearths of the relations and friends when, by the next mail, they would hear of the loss of their loved ones; and the boughs of the trees overhead, as they rocked to and fro, with the wind rustling through their branches, moaned aloud, and seemed to add nature’s lament to the one common cause of sorrow.
The dead Sikhs were handed over to their comrades, and were by them burnt to ashes, as is their custom.
The Frenchmen had no need to accept the Russians’ offer. An old Roman Catholic cemetery, constructed when the Jesuits were in the height of [p. 325] their power in Pekin some centuries back, lay within the west wall, and to the plot of earth within its precincts they consigned their dead.
Lord Elgin shared the general indignation at the barbarities committed on the prisoners; but his were difficult cards to play. Sir Hope Grant had given his word that Pekin would be spared if the gate was immediately surrendered, before the murder of the victims had come to light. The cold weather was drawing on fast, and the General maintained the necessity of commencing the downward march by the 1st November. It was highly necessary that we should leave some lasting mark in the neighbourhood, of our indignation at the treachery and cruelty of the authorities, to serve as a warning in future. As, therefore, the Summer Palace was the place where the barbarous cruelties first began, and as these were committed at the Emperor’s special instigation, it was forthwith determined to level his sinning Majesty’s rural retreat to the ground; and, further, to insist on compensation for the bereaved friends of the murdered ones of 300,000 taels (about 100,000 pounds) In justification of the demolition of the Summer Palace, Lord Elgin writes:
“As the destruction of the Yuen-ming-yuen] is, however, an act to which exception may, with great apparent reason, be taken, it is my duty to say a few words [p. 326] respecting the only modes of inflicting a specific punishment for the crime in question, which, limited as were my means of action, I could have adopted as substitutes for that measure.
“I might, perhaps,” have demanded a large sum of money, not as compensation for the sufferers, but as a penalty inflicted on the Chinese Government. But, independently of the objection in principle to making high crime of this nature a mere money question, I hold on this point the opinion which is, I believe, entertained by all persons without exception who have investigated the subject, that, in the present disorganized state of the Chinese Government, to obtain large pecuniary indemnities from it is simply impossible, and that all that can be done practically in the matter is to appropriate such a portion of the customs revenue as will still leave to it a sufficient interest in that revenue to induce it to allow the natives to continue to trade with foreigners. It is calculated that it will be necessary to take forty per cent, of the gross customs revenue of China for about four years, in order to procure payment of the indemnities already claimed by Baron Gros and me, under instructions from your lordship and the French Government.
“Or I might have required that the persons guilty of cruelty to our countrymen, or of the violation of a [p. 327] flag of truce, should be surrendered. But if I had made this demand in general terms, some miserable subordinates would probably have been given up, whom it would have been difficult to pardon, and impossible to punish; and if I had specified Sankolinsin, of whose guilt in violating a flag of truce evidence sufficient to cause his condemnation by a court-martial could be furnished, I should have made a demand which, it may be confidently affirmed, the Chinese Government would not have conceded, and mine could not have enforced. I must add, that throwing the responsibility for the acts of Government in this way on individuals resembles too closely the Chinese mode of conducting war to approve itself altogether to my judgment. Having, therefore, to the best of my judgment examined the question in all its bearings, I came to the conclusion that the destruction of Yuen-ming-yuen was the least objectionable of the several courses open to me, unless I could have reconciled it to my sense of duty to suffer the crime which had been committed to pass practically unavenged. I had reason, moreover, to believe that it was an act calculated to produce a greater effect in China, and on the Emperor, than persons who look on from a distance may suppose.
“It was the Emperor’s favourite residence, and its destruction could not fail to be a blow to his pride as [p. 328] well as to his feelings. To this place, as appears from the deposition of the Seikh troopers, he brought our hapless countrymen in order that they might undergo their severest tortures within its precincts. Here have been found the horses and accouterments of the troopers seized, the decorations torn from the breast of a gallant French officer, and other effects belonging to the prisoners. As almost all the valuables had already been taken from the Palace, the army would go there, not to pillage, but to mark by a solemn act of retribution the horror and indignation with which we were inspired by the perpetration of a great crime. The punishment was one which would fall not on people who may be comparatively innocent, but exclusively on the Emperor, whose direct personal responsibility for the crime committed is established, not only by the treatment of the prisoners at the Yuen-ming-yuen, but also by the edict in which he offers a pecuniary reward for the heads of the foreigners, adding that he is ready to expend all his treasure in the wages of assassination.”
The First Division, under General Michel, was detailed for this work of destruction, and betimes on the 18th started for the Palace, where the buildings were apportioned to the different companies to destroy. The French refused to co-operate, as they condemned the measure as a piece of barbarism, for- [p. 329] getting that the chief mischief had been committed by themselves, not only in purloining and demolishing everything that the Palace contained in the way of art, hut also in having permitted their men to incendiarise the choicest rooms of the Emperor.
Ere long a dense column of smoke rising to the sky indicated that the work had commenced, and as the day waned the column increased in magnitude, and grew denser and denser, wafting in the shape of a large cloud over Pekin, and having the semblance of a fearful thunderstorm impending. As we approached the Palace the crackling and rushing noise of fire was appalling, and the sun shining through the masses of smoke gave a sickly hue to every plant and tree, and the red flame gleaming on the faces of the troops engaged made them appear like demons glorying in the destruction of what they could not replace. The night was a warm one, and as roof after roof crashed in, smothering the fire that devoured its sustaining walls, and belching out instead large volumes of smoke, it betokened to our minds a sad portent of the fate of this antique empire, its very entrails being consumed hy internecine war, how it has compelled those nations that might have heen its prop to aid in its destruction, and how, beset on all sides, with nought to turn to for succour, it at last succumbs with a burst of vapour, lost in the ashes of its former [p. 330] self. This seemed merely a portent, but it may not have been a truthful one, for there is time yet for China to regenerate herself, and by cultivating friendly relations with foreign empires, learn from them how in the present emergency of her case she may maintain order among her people, and keep pace with the march of progress.
The Yuen-ming-yuen, or Bound and Brilliant Garden, was fast becoming a scene of confusion and desolation, but there was yet much spoil within its walls, and as they were now allowed to plunder to their hearts’ content, numbers of idlers were rushing about and extending their explorations to every nook and comer. In an outhouse two carriages, presented by Lord Macartney to the Emperor Taou-kwang, were found intact and in good order. The Emperor appears never to have used them, preferring instead the springless native cart or the sedan. Two howitzer guns, with equipments complete, the gift also of Lord Macartney, were likewise found; and among astronomical and various other scientific instruments, a double-barrelled English made gun in case occurred, with tins of powder and boxes of Eley’s caps. The 15th Funjaubees, who had the destruction of this most important garden, fell in with large quantities of gold, one officer alone managing to appropriate to himself as much as £9,000. [p. 331]
A paved road leading from the left wall of the Summer Park passes close under the wall of another enclosed park, named the Wan-show-yuen, or Birthday Garden. This consisted of a pleasantly wooded hill, not many acres in extent, and covered with magnificent temples, comprising the shrines of the three recognized superstitions of China, viz., the Confucian, the Daoist, and Bhuddhist, with a few yellow-tiled halls, dedicated to the Llamas of Tibet. The temples and minarets in this ground were in excellent repair, and many of them were fine specimens of art, got up with much taste, and decorated with colours of gaudy hue. Within these temples the celestial monarchs were wont to sacrifice and pay their homage to the multitudinous deities and sages that the different sects of Chinese religionists suppose to overrule the destinies of man, on the occasion of each birthday of the “Monarch of Endless Years,” as the ruling majesty of China is designated. A view from the hill-top in this garden of its palatial temples and the country around was most perfect; you looked down on a series of quaintly picturesque buildings, grouped together with much taste; and beyond the wall, towards the south-west, a large lake, with a temple standing on its bosom, connected with the shore by a marble bridge of arches; the flat champaign stretched away south, speckled with groups of [p. 332] trees and villages; a tier of hills shut in the prospect on the right, and Pekin’s turrets loomed in the distance.
Continuing along the paved road, destined alone for the Emperor’s use, but now blocked up at intervals with sand and stone barriers to keep passenger carts from availing themselves of it, you pass through the village of Tsing-lung-cheaow, so called from the short stone bridge it leads out on, which crosses a stream that connects the artificial waters of the park with a branch of the Peiho. The bridge past the pavement winds to the left, and finishes its graceful curve round the walls of the next garden — the Chinming-yuen, or Gold and Brilliant Garden. In this are two hills enclosed by a wall, the southernmost hill being surmounted by a tall stone monument, ascended internally by a winding staircase, with loopholes in each story, admitting light on small groups of josses arranged in niches inside. This column was named the Ya-tsing Pagoda, and, from its height, could be seen at a great distance, thus affording an excellent landmark. Its destruction would, consequently, have been more noticeable, but the General was struck with its simple beauty, and spared it as a work of art. The northernmost hill was crowned with a one-spired llama temple, approached by tunnels bored through the living rock, whose sides within were carved into [p. 333] fantastic bas-relief images and representations of Buddha. The temple, however, was neglected, and in ruins. The grand entrance to these gardens was by the south side, where the road widened into an outer courtyard. There were several reception halls, with thrones, within its precincts, a small lake, with a bath-house, and handsomely painted punts, tasty little minarets, triumphal arches, and some fine temples; but the whole bore the stamp of neglect, and most of the rooms appeared to have been used merely as store rooms for the reception of cast-away finery and old documents. The visits of the Emperor hitherwards must have been few and far between. It seems to have been the custom with the Chinese throughout their parks only to keep those parts in order which the imperial eyes were likely to behold. Elsewhere, bridges and other works, which cost much labour to construct, were allowed to drop to decay; and the watercourses supplying artificial basins were left choked up with dirt, and what should be a handsome piece of water to be converted into a spring was covered with rushes and dank weeds.
On the west of the garden hill stood a stately yellow tiled llama temple, with magnificent images of a towering size. In the back rooms of this temple were discovered several large chests, containing quantities of valuable old books and pictures. From the hills of this garden [p. 334] we could see, about three miles off on the side of the tier of hills, another collection of magnificent houses embosomed in trees, and girt round by a serpentine wall, which ran up the face of the hills, took a circuit over their tops, and again descended to the plain. This was called the Heangshan, or Fragrant Hills, and formed the fourth and last park of the Emperor. The stone way led to its gate, but several large and uniformly built villages, tenanted by the families of the Mantchoo soldiers who ranged under the eight banners of the imperial army, had to be passed along the hard, even, sandy road, before you arrived at its walls. Close to the villages was the Mantchoo parade-ground, a walled-in space of land, about two acres in extent, where the bannermen practised archery, and went through their military evolutions. The inhabitants of these barracks were much alarmed, thinking their turn might come next, and consequently showed every eagerness to conciliate us. Women and boys stood at the doors of their houses with teapots and cups, tempting the troops to refresh themselves, while others dealt round trays of cakes. The arrangement of these Heangshan pleasure grounds was even more complete than that of the three before visited. The flights of stone steps leading from palace to palace, with the rural summer-houses, shady bowers, delightful terraces, made the spot quite unique and of a [p. 335] perfect loveliness all its own. Herds of deer bounded up the rocks, and halting on a projecting point would gaze with fixed and curious stare at the intruders. Large quantities of rare and costly enamels and bronzes were obtained here by many, with articles of value; but most of the precious things were so bulky and cumbersome, that they were obliged to be destroyed, because no one could carry them away.
The day was not sufficient to accomplish the work of demolition, so the troops had to bivouac out, and finish their work on the morrow. I was there on duty both days, and was enabled to take a cursory view of the different grounds of which I have endeavoured to give a short description above. But I confess I feel, what all must feel, how impossible it is to call to the mind’s eye of the reader, by any display of words, what one glance of his own eye, however hastily snatched, would have conveyed to himself.
Before sunset of the 19th, every place had been fired, and the troops were marched back to camp. We were among the last to leave, and we passed the Summer Palace on our return; flames and smouldering ruins deterred our passage every way, and unhappily many of the peasants’ houses adjoining the contagious fire had caught, and were fast being reduced to ashes. We passed the chief entrance to the Yuenming-yuen, and watched with mournful pleasure the [p. 336] dancing flames curling into grotesque festoons and wreaths, as they twined in their last embrace round the grand portal of the Palace, while the black column of smoke that rose straight up into the sky from the already roof-fallen reception-hall, formed a deep background to this living picture of active red flame that hissed and crackled as if glorying in the destruction it spread around. “Good for evil,” is a hard moral for man to learn; but however much we regretted the cruel destruction of those stately buildings, we yet could not help feeling a secret gratification that the blow had fallen, and the murder of our hapless countrymen revenged on the cruel and perfidious author and instigator of the crime. [p. 337]