Primary sources: North China Campaign of 1860

Chapter 14


Declaration of Peace — Marauding Parties — Death of Dr. Thompson — Proclamations — Canton Coolies — The downward March of the Second Division — H.M.’s Legation — Disordered State of the Country — The Cold Season — Departure of the remaining Force — Embarkation of the Troops — Increase of Cold — Resume — Overweening Confidence of the Chinese — Rapid Communication of News — Our future Policy towards China — The present Condition of the Country — Conclusion.On the 1st November, the French started on their march to Tien-tsin, leaving their ambassador, Baron Gros, and his guard, still at Pekin; and the British army removed the same day from the village before the Tih-shing gate to the An-ting Mount, where the French had before been quartered. Peace had now’ been declared, and, consequently, no more foragingparties were allowed. But a habit that the followers of an army have acquired by permission, requires time and severe admonitions before it can be thoroughly [p. 376] uprooted. Extreme vigilance was demanded on the part of the provost-marshal; and it must be said in praise of that gallant officer, that both he and his sergeants were constantly about the country on the look-out for plundering-parties. The natives themselves were also on the alert, roving about the fields in gangs. Six unfortunate riflemen disappeared about this time in a somewhat mysterious manner. They left the camp unarmed one morning with the intention of raking up the neighbourhood of the Summer Palace for valuables, and were in all probability murdered; but as they had ostensibly set out for plunder, notwithstanding the strict injunctions that had been issued against looting, no inquiries were made after them. The mandarins had posted up proclamations, ordering all the villagers who had spoiled property from the imperial pleasure-grounds to restore what they had taken on pain of death. This many failed to do; and on strict search being instituted throughout the villages, and imperial efiects being found in private houses, the possessors were forthwith dragged out and decapitated, and their carcases left rotting in the highways. These headless trunks we frequently saw in our rides being torn and dragged by crows and dogs. The owners of the houses in the An-ting suburb now began to nHunii and some of them clamoured before Prince Kung to [p. 377] have their premises restored to them. So, on representation to the General, a few of the houses had to be given up, and the men quartered in them to be lodged under canvas. On the 4th November, poor Dr. Thompson, the P. M. O. of the Second Division, breathed hb last, lamented by all who knew him. He had for some weeks past complained of an affection of the liver. His remains were interred with due honour in the Russian Cemetery, side by side with the four unfortunate sufferers whose untimely end was brought about by the cruelty of the Chinese. The imperial edict confirming all that Prince Rung had signed was duly received, and large proclamations on the 6th were posted up all over the city, making the terms of peace patent to all the Celestials. This last performance of the great act was considered so important that the army interpreters were deputed to accompany the mandarins commissioned for the purpose of having the same placarded in all conspicuous parts of the great city; and parcels of proclamations were made up ready for posting at important places on the downward march. Much cordiality now existed between Lord Elgin and Prince Kung, and visits were frequently exchanged. The Prince threw off the nervous restraint and show of bad humour that marked his first interview. He sat [p. 378] with pleasure for his photograph before the camera of Signor Beato, and we are thus enabled to give a view of his far from comely visage to our readers. .He is said to bear a strong resemblance to the Emperor; and, indeed, a carefully executed portrait of his Celestial Majesty, which was secured by an officer from the Summer Palace, called so forcibly to our mind the physiognomy of the Prince that we declared it could be no other, until, from the Chinese inscription on the top, it was deciphered to represent the Emperor. The Chinese authorities bore a lasting grudge towards the Cantonese coolies in pay of the army, and took every opportunity of picking off any of them that straggled. They had a particular objection to ^these men entering the city, and even went so far as to make it a condition, when the gate was surrendered, that admission within its walls should be denied them. The promise was given, but it was simply impossible to perform, as the sentries could seldom distinguish between the coolies and the natives of the place. But many of the Cantonese, who did stray far into the city, contrary to the prohibition, had reason to repent of the act. On one occasion we had tho opportimily of preserving one of these meroenttry cbildreu of the i»oiUh from the rigoujiB of the law. As we were giijUafc^jJlgOBigh the Btrect^ ifi#i the HtreeU 880 NORTH CHINA CA:kIPAIGN OF 1860. in the suite of the General, we heard loud plaintive cries of ** Ingke-le-coolie,” and, looking round, beheld one dirty, emaciated Chinese being led in chains by another. The General drew up to see what was the. matter, and found that the individual whose shouts had attracted our notice was a Cantonese coolie, who had been imprisoned for some ten days by the Chinese authorities, and was now being led by an officer, with a despatch addressed to the Board of Punishments bearing his death-warrant. The General ordered both parties to be conveyed to the camp, and, as the coolie turned out to be in French employ, the case was handed over to Baron Gros. The Second Division, under (General Napier, left on the 7th, on the downward march, and the rest of the army was to have followed on the morrow, but Mr. Bruce’s arrival deferred their departure till the 9th. Lord Elgin, as a closing measure, thought it necessary to introduce H. M.’s Minister to Prince Kung before his own departure. There had been as yet no time to provide a suitable residence for the Legation at Pekin, and, as it would have been undignified for II.M.’s representative to make shift in any quarters the Chinese should choose to apportion to him, it was determined, after an introduction and a short exchange of courtesies, that the plenipotentiary should retire and pass the winter at Tiea-tsin, DISORDERED STATE OP THE COUNTRY. 381 with the intention of returning in the ensuing spring and taking up his permanent abode in the capital. It was, however, necessary that some one should remain after the removal of the army to superintend the preparation of a suitable establishment for the Legation, and also to act as a pledge for the good faith of the Chinese, and for their future behaviour towards the residents at Pekin. Mr. Adkins was chosen for this purpose, and left unattended, except by a few Chinese domestics, to the tender mercies of the Pekinese. The country was in a sad state of disorder, and the neighbourhood of our suburb infested with gangs of ragamuflSns, who brought fruit and other articles for sale, but whose real purpose was to catch up whatever valuables chanced to fall in their way. The weather now grew colder and colder, the thermometer ranging at 29^ in the mornings, with continued hard frost the whole, day through, and we began to realize the misery of a life at such a temperature in the dirty paper-windowed hovels we were compelled to live in. We had exhausted the novelties of the city, and seen all the sights that its dirty, uneven, and poorly populated streets afforded, and began to feel the dulness of our condition. It waS, therefore, with no small delight that we hailed the adfent of the morning of the 9th. At that date the 382 NORTH CHINA CAMPAIGN OP 1860. troops now remaining — comprising the Bifles, 15th Punjauhees, Frobyn’s and Fane’s Horse, and Barry’s Battery — commenced their march to Tien-tsin. The baggage was ordered to collect at the Temple of the Earth outside the city at 8 a.m., and thence make a fair start; by this means the baggagers were enabled to get well away before the column marched a couple of hours later. Lord Elgin and party, accompanied by the 99th Begiment, 75th Seikh Horse, 25th Punjaubees, and two Armstrongs of Barry’s Battery, issued out at the Tungche gate of the city, and marched along the stone causeway direct to Tungchow, whence his Lordship proceeded by water to Tien-tsin. The French, at the same time, took their leave of the city, and the only representative of the Allies remaining was Mr. Adkins, whose solitude was by no means enviable, though he had the members of the Bussian Mission to sympathize with him. From the depot we picked up the detachment of Bifles quartered there, and thence proceeding, crossed the Eight Le bridge, and encamped on the other side for the night. However chilling and uncomfortable we found living in the native houses, a night passed under canvas in such cold weather was infinitely more disagreeable. Next morning our marching column was increased by Lord Elgin’s guard and the marines from Tung-chow, and as we passed Chang I DO^VNWARD MARCH. 383 chia-wan we were joined by the party of Fane’s Horse stationed there. We spent the night at Matow, whence the Commander-in-Chief hastened on to Tien-tsin by boat. The next day’s march brought us to Ho-see-woo, where the Slst Regiment was still in possession. The 1 5th Punjaubees, Fane’s Horse, and Barry’s Battery had to remain at this place a few days, until the larger part of the troops that thronged Tien-tsin should be shipped oflF. The rest of the retiring column marched on, and in two and a half more days reached Tien-tsin in safety, where the Quartermaster-General’s department was hard at work shipping oflF the Army; and in less than a fortnight the whole of the troops destined for embarkation were shipped off without accident. The Rifles, 67th Regiment, and Fane’s Horse were left to garrison Tien-tsin and the Takoo forts, under Brigadier Staveley. Of the interpreters borrowed from the Consular Service, Mr. Mongan alone was retained as interpreter to the garrison, and Mr. Davenport to the naval squadron, which had received orders to winter at the Miaou-taou islands, off Chefoo. The rest of us were taken off the list of Military and Naval Service, and we were directed to report ourselves to her Majesty’s Minister. The cold increased daily in intensity, and the thermometer for several days stood at 15°. Ice soon 884 NORTH CHINA CAMPAIGN OF 1860. formed over the river, and the last gunboat that attempted to force its way failed in the attempt, and, narrowly escaping being jammed in, had to steam down again. I was, therefore, not sorry when I received my orders to leave for my post in the south. The Head-quarters* Staff had completed their duties at Tien-tsin and had already started on the march to Takoo. The General was about to leave on the 29th; and tendering my services to him as interpreter, I was glad to gain permission to follow in his suite. We spent the first night at Kih-koo, and the forenoon of the second day saw us at Ta-koo, where, on presenting a letter from Mr. Bruce to the Admiral, I was ordered a passage to Hong Eong in the steamer Lightning. It was a bitterly cold morning, clothed in a moist fog, when we left Kihkoo to follow the orchard-lined road to the forts; the face of nature displayed a lovely phenomenon, which has been aptly and brilliantly described in the following lines of Ambrose Phillips: — ” Soon as the silent shades of night withdrew. The ruddy mom disclosed at once to view The face of nature in a rich disguise, And brightened every object to my eyes: For every shrub and every blade of grass, And every pointed thorn, seemed wrought in glass; In pearls and rubies rich the hawthorns show, While through the ice the crimson berries glow. RESULTS OF THE CAMPAIGN. 885 Tlie thiok sprung reeds, which watery marshes yield. Seemed polished lances in a hostile field. The spreading oak, the beech, and towering pine. Glazed over, in the fireezing ether shine: The flighted birds the rattling branches shun. Which wave and glitter in the distant sun.” The campaign is now over. Its short-lived career has indeed been a glorious one, though mournful on account of the one black deed that stains its fair face. The object sought by the costly undertaking has been signally won. We had too long been blind to our own interests in allowing ourselves to be trampled under foot and branded as barbarians by an effete government, who weU appreciated the value of our trade, but whose jealous and niggardly policy, — ever fearing that the ingress of western civilisation would lead to an encroachment on that territory, which had been usurped by the present incumbents through treachery and low cunning, — ^long prescribed to western nations, within very narrow limits, the right of trade with a people eminently notorious for their love of gain and commercial enterprise. And where such trade was allowed, no opportunity was lost of humbling its promoters before the eyes of the Chinese populace. Thanks to the expedition, a new era has now opened in foreign relations with China. The unapproachable and impregnable city of the 25 386 NORTH CHINA CAMPAIGN OP 1860. native idea has entirely succumbed, without a blow, before the approach of the Allies, and such terms and privileges have been wrung from the wily Emperor that any nation may well be proud of. So sure were the Southern Chinese that we would be defeated in the north, that the Cotton Guild at Canton offered to bet 50,000 dollars against the capture of the forts, and this money they agreed to lodge in the Oriental Bank at Hong Kong on the risk; but, strange enough, the British merchants lacked confidence in our authorities to take up the wager. A few American merchants only came forward to back the side of the AUies, but then refused to stake more than 10,000 dollars, which the Guild declined, saying that they would only bet at the figure they had first stated. The Cantonese took a great interest in the northern struggle, both politically and with a mercantile view, and one large firm in particular was always well advised on the progress of the Allied arms. The chief of this firm had a brother at a town near Tien-tsin, who communicated to him the events that transpired in his neighbourhood. The news was always in possession of this firm within twelve days of any occurrence in the north, the letters containing it being carried by relays of couriers over some 1,300 miles’ extent of country in this wondrously short space of time. Thus RAPID COMMUNICATION OP NEWS. 387 many of the Chinese were advised of the various actions long before intelligence reached Hong Kong by steam. Mr. Pedder, interpreter at the British Consulate, Canton, ingratiated himself into favour with this particular firm, and was regularly supplied by them with the earliest intelligence, which he was thus enabled to forward to the Foreign Office and to Mr. Bruce, through the Consul at Canton, long before it could reach them from any other source. Many people at first smiled at the possibility of the news arriving at Canton with this almost electric speed, but in nearly every instance the facts conveyed by this means were confirmed by the subsequent arrival of the steamer from Shanghai. The gathering of the ships off Pehtang was first reported, the correspondent giving their number, and expressing surprise at the presence of some Americans among* them. Then came the landing of the troops and the concentrating of the Allied forces at Pehtang; their first skirmish while on reconnaissance, which was, of course, magnified into a defeat. The engagements at Sinho, Tangkoo, and, finally, the capture of the north fort; the explosion in which latter was mentioned, the writer adding that he was not sure whether it was that of a magazine or a mine fired purposely by the besieged. He spoke of the loss being heavy on both sides, but considerably more so 888 NORTH CHINA CAMPAIGN OP 1860. an that of the Chinese. Several Cantonese coolies in the engagement were killed. The other forts appeared to have surrendered without a struggle, why, he could not say. He then talked of the advance of the Allies on Tien-tsin, which city it was not the intention of the Chinese to defend; as if the AUies could take the forts, their force, which would he chiefly naval, would find little difficulty in capturing Tien-tsin, whither access by water was easy. San-kolinsin had withdrawn to take up a position nearer Pekin, where ample time was being allowed him to establish himself, as the mandarins, by making excuses, were detaining the Allies from advancing. That the Allies would eventually be induced to march towards Pekin in small numbers, under the impression that peace was made; and as then they would not be able to carry their big guns or supplies with them, for want of further water communication, they would fall an easy prey to the Tartar host. All these and later particulars of the campaign were supplied to the Canton firm by their constituents in the north with wonderful exactitude; and had we at the time known what reliance might have been placed on their reports, much trouble and loss of time might have been saved to the Allies. As it is, they afford one testimony more to the deeply-laid treachery of the Chinese authorities towards the OUR FUTUTE RELATIONS WITH CHINA. 889 Allies, and show that no secret even was made of the matter to their own people. The Chinese little doubted the success of their schemes, as they imagined the barbarians they had to deal with were merely strong on the seas, but in the field infinitely inferior to their own brave Tartar troops. It remains with our civil authorities now mildly to insist on the performance of what our arms have so ably won. To the few ports we before had per* mission to resort to, we now have an accession of several others, which in the course of a few years are likely to prove vastly greater emporiums of trade; and while additional wealth is wafted thence to the shores of Great Britain, we trust, in return, that Christianity, with her civilising influences may gradually flow in, and, taking firm hold on China’s millions, lead them to bless the scourge of war that for a few short months ravaged their lands, and, in spite of their preconceived hostility to foreign opinions, insisted on right of access being granted to foreign nations. The opening of Neuchwang lays patent to our mart free competition with encroaching Russia. Tang-chow and Tien-tsin put us in possession of the high roads of commerce to the capital. Swatow throws open a fine river bordering the provinces of Canton and Fuhkeen; and promising fields are offered to us in the large and little 890 NORTH CHINA CAMPAIGN OP 1860. known islands of Hainan and Formosa. The much desired admission to the heart of China is also now secured by the ports opened to our commerce on its shores, whence access is procured to the vast lands where the best teas and silks are manufactured. The great obstacle there, however, is the devastating inroads of the rebels, who, to the disappointment of all interested in their movements, have lately well proved that plunder is their object and luxury their god. But they have very properly been taught by the late repulse they received at Shanghai, from the hands of the Allies, that their existence depends on the good conduct they show towards the promotion of trade. Rebellion, such as this, which amounts to little else than brigandism, is an event always to be dreaded in whatever country; but it is not for me to point out the course that should be pursued, whether of strict neutrality or of interference on the imperialist side. It is true that the energy of China is at present much shaken; but, as in former years she has ridden through similar storms, if her history speak true, it is not improbable she may yet regain strength, and in one mighty effort quench this glowing spark that has for years been slowly consuming her vitals. The field is now open for us, and it is our course to “go in and win.” By upholding firmly the character and honour of our CONCLUSION891 country, and at once resenting any show of enmity, we may long continue to maintain friendly relations on a satisfactory footing, and gradually develop the vast resources of this country. The footing we have now gained is mainly due to the success of the late expedition, which, thanks to the exertions of all the departments concerned, was enabled to supply, notwithstanding the vast distance travelled, the most complete army, perfect in all its branches, that has ever yet taken the field; and though every Englishman naturally grumbles at the expense incurred, yet he cannot help feeling gratification at its signal success, more especially when he surveys the large tract of country it has thrown open to our enterprise, and from which great advantages are likely to be derived. THE END