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Chapter V

War With China.

WE were not destined to remain long inactive, for hardly had we refitted after our long sea cruise when troubles arose at Canton. The British flag had been insulted by the Chinese, and as no apology was forthcoming, and our ultimatum received with ridicule and contempt, war was declared with China in October 1856.

Meanwhile the Winchester 50-gun frigate arrived from the northward, having on board our gallant Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, whose flag was shifted to the Calcutta. The small paddle-steamer Coromandel was commissioned as tender to the flagship and manned from her. A few hours after receipt of the Governor's despatch announcing that negotiations had failed, the Calcutta sailed from Hong-Kong, steering for the Canton River and towing the boats of the Winchester, manned and armed, astern.

The Canton river is at its mouth so broad that for miles one cannot distinguish the banks on either side; but after thirty miles it narrows rapidly, until the Bogue Forts are reached. At this place, seventy miles from Hong-Kong and thirty from Canton, it is



about a mile wide, and soon afterwards not more than a quarter.

The wind falling light, we were taken in tow by the Barracouta till night, when we anchored, and in the morning again proceeded to another anchorage a few miles above the Bogue Forts, which was as far as the depth of the water would allow us to go. The Barracouta then went on up the river, towing the boats of the Winchester, Comus, and Bittern.

The Calcutta's boats were now manned and armed, and at 3 A.M., October 23, we left the ship and proceeded in tow of the Sampson up the river. The flotilla consisted of the launch, two pinnaces, and cutter, under the orders of Commander Rolland of the Calcutta, who took me in the launch. We made good progress during the day, and at dark the Sampson anchored: at daylight we pushed on till we reached the bar, where she grounded and we left her. The Coromandel, with the Admiral and Staff on board, had meanwhile gone up another branch of the river, which branch joins the main stream at Canton, fifteen miles farther up.

The Coromandel and Barracouta took possession of the Barrier Forts with slight opposition, the first shot in the war being fired from the Coromandel. After leaving the Sampson we pulled up the river in the direction of Canton, when about four miles from the city we were joined by Captain Bate of the Actaeon, whose knowledge of the people and locality was most useful. Acting upon his advice it was arranged to attack the Macao Fort.

This formidable fort was built on an island in the middle of the river, commanding the passage on both sides. Ninety guns of large calibre were mounted



within its walls, which were of immense thickness, and the fort was fully manned.

The importance of capturing this fortress was evident, but the force at our disposal was absurdly inadequate for the undertaking, consisting of three boats of the Calcutta, armed with a small brass howitzer apiece, and Captain Bate's whale-boat - about eighty men all told. Nevertheless, it was decided to make the attempt.

The Chinamen were watching our movements with unconcern, doubtless never dreaming that we should have the audacity to molest them with such an insignificant force. Great must have been their surprise when with three hearty cheers we made a dash at the fort, and before they had time to fire a shot we were alongside and into it. A well-directed broadside would have blown us out of the water, but not a shot was fired on either side. We turned out the garrison bag and baggage and took possession, whilst Captain Bate went on to report proceedings to the Admiral.

Simultaneously with the capture of Macao Fort, the "Bird's-nest Fort," mounting thirty-five guns, and another small fort opposite the English quarter of the city, were captured without opposition; also the Shamean Forts at the head of the Macao passage, all the guns being destroyed.

In Macao Fort we found many beautiful brass guns, some of them 14 inches in the bore, or twice as large as anything on board the Calcutta.

Leaving a pinnace in charge of the fort, and another a mile or so above it, we went on in the launch to Canton, where we found the Encounter screw corvette moored off the city.



The river was alive with every kind of craft, from the little sampan, propelled by a single oar in the stern, to the heavy trading junk with her single ironwood mast and mat sails. Numerous flower-boats belonging to wealthy mandarins were moored off the town, conspicuous by their gaudy paint, and crowded with laughing girls, who kept up an incessant chatter as they peeped out at the foreign devils

We were now ordered to drop down the river and rejoin our pinnace, so we anchored near her and made ourselves snug for the night. This was not so easy, as we had brought no blankets and the nights were cold. Moreover, being given to understand that I should be away only for a day or two, I had nothing but what I stood up in. As a matter of fact, I was away from the ship three months, living in the open boat, faring like my boat's crew on ship's pork, biscuit, dirty water, and a ration of rum. We got some clothes later on from the ship, and having my gun with me, I was able to supplement our diet with an occasional duck or snipe, and now and then a few fowls, which we looted from the villages near the banks of the river. About midnight we were alarmed by firing down the river, so we up anchor and pulled to the spot. We found the pinnace engaging something, but what it was we could not make out, as it was as dark as pitch. We could distinguish some figures running to and fro, returning the pinnace's fire with a few scattering shots; so we pulled in to close quarters and fired our 24-pounder howitzer into the mass, when all was silent, and we anchored till daylight, when we discovered five large junks moored alongside each other, close to the bank. They had no masts, and not a living



soul could be seen, all their ports being closed ; so we pulled alongside and boarded, when we found them to be peaceable trading junks. The poor fellows had mistaken our pinnace for a pirate coming to attack them, and had opened fire upon her. They had paid dearly for their mistake, for we found one man dead and two severely wounded by our fire. We sent the latter on board the Barracouta for surgical treatment and returned to Canton. On the 24th October a detachment of marines was landed to protect the Factories (the English quarter of the city), reinforced subsequently by another party and some bluejackets. Advanced posts and field-guns were stationed at the most important points, and barricades thrown across the streets to guard against surprise. On the 25th an attack was made upon the pickets by a body of Chinese soldiers, but they were repulsed by the marines with a loss to the Chinese of fourteen killed and wounded.

The marines and bluejackets were housed in the library and boathouse; the Admiral and Staff took up their quarters in Mr Dent's house. The portion of the city occupied by the English, called the "Factories," included the merchants' houses, library, church, billiard-room, and boathouse, all of which were garrisoned by our people. On the 25th October the Dutch-folly Fort, mounting fifty guns, was taken possession of and garrisoned by 150 men of the Calcutta. The Dutch-folly, like the Macao Fort, was built upon an island abreast of the town, and commanded both approaches up the river: its position rendered it impregnable in the hands of any other people than the Chinese, and it is extraordinary that they made no effort to defend it. In the



middle of the fort was a joss-house enveloped in trees, the whole enclosed in a strong granite wall. Guns and mortars were mounted in this fort, so as to play upon the city walls at a distance of 400 yards. Governor Yeh having refused to redress the insult committed by his officials in having on October 8 forcibly seized twelve of the crew of the British lorcha Arrow and hauled down her flag, the Admiral decided to bombard the city. On the 27th Sir Michael sent an ultimatum to Yeh, warning him that should he refuse reparation he would open fire on the town at 1 P.M. that day. As no notice was taken of this, the Encounter fired the first gun punctually to time, and kept up the fire at regular intervals till sunset. The firing was principally directed against Governor Yeh's palace. The Barracouta also shelled some troops assembled on the hills at the back of the town, from a position she had taken in Sulphur Creek. The bombardment was continued on the 28th, by which time a breach was made in the city walls abreast of the Duch-folly Fort, and preparations were made for storming.

On the 29th the marines and bluejackets, and part of the 59th Regiment, detailed for the storming-party, were embarked in boats. The space between the landing-place and the breach was not more than 300 yards: it had at one time been occupied by houses, but was now a heap of ruins.

Firing a few shots to clear the way, we landed the storming-party, who quickly covered the space to the breach, where they were received by a sharp fire of gingalls (an antiquated kind of musket) and other weapons, killing three and wounding several more of our men; but the party, gallantly led by



Captain Bate, pushed on, and were soon in possession of the walls. This was all that was required, and indeed as much as could be done for the time, as our small force was not sufficient to hold the place; they were therefore re-embarked, and returned to the Factories. Our loss was small, but the Chinese suffered heavily. At daylight next morning we found that the enemy had filled up the breach, so we scattered them with a few shells.

The bombardment was now continued every day from October 30 to November 5 by H.M. ships Encounter and Sampson, and from the Dutch-folly, the fire being directed against the Government buildings in the Tartar city and the fortifications in rear of it.

As we had reason to believe the Chinese would set fire to the houses in the vicinity of the Factories, with the intention of burning us out, a party of bluejackets was employed for three days pulling them down, so as to leave a space clear around. On the night of the 4th November an attempt was made to blow us up by exploding a boat full of powder under the Club House. Fortunately the explosion did little damage, but after this performance all Chinese boats were cleared out of the river.

To guard against fire-rafts and torpedoes we made a boom across the river with spars and chains, connecting it with the shore on both sides. Some old junks were moored in mid-stream above and below the shipping; these junks were also connected with the shore, leaving a passage for a friendly vessel; this space was also closed by chains, which could be removed at pleasure. On board each junk a



guard was placed, and a 32-pounder gun mounted, and as an additional precaution our boats rowed guard outside the boom all through the night. These measures were most necessary, as the Chinese were very cunning in the use of torpedoes and infernal machines, for which the Canton river was well adapted. Almost every night we received some kind attention in the shape of a junk loaded with combustibles, floated down with the stream, and set on fire when close to us. Another clever apparatus consisted of one or more iron tanks filled with powder, sunk to the level of the water. On the outside were wire springs connected with a trigger, so as to explode on touching a ship's side. These were more dangerous than the junks or fire-ships, being so low in the water as to require the utmost vigilance to detect them. Our business was to sink or explode them before they got near enough to do us any harm, but it was not always possible: at times we managed to destroy some, others drifted wide of the mark, but they very nearly succeeded on one occasion. On November 8, at 4 A.M., four fire-junks came down with the tide on the top of the Barracouta anchored outside the boom, and had she not promptly slipped her cable she must have been set on fire or blown up.

On the 13th a most audacious attempt was made to blow up the Niger steam-sloop. In broad daylight two sampans, with one man in each, came under the bows of the ship; the men jumped overboard and escaped, and the sampans blew up without doing any damage, but covering the ship, masts, and rigging with filth. This was apparently intended more as an insult than any thing else, and the Nigers got considerably



chaffed about it. At this time I was in charge of the Calcutta's pinnace, the launch having been sent back to the ship. Our life under the circumstances above mentioned was anything but monotonous; indeed we had a lively time of it - hard work all day, with a good chance of being blown up during the night.

On the evening of the 5th November I received orders to accompany the Barracouta on a secret expedition at daylight the following morning. Lieutenant H. Beamish, gunnery lieutenant of the Calcutta, came in my boat and took charge, as I was only a midshipman. The object of the expedition was known only to Captain Fortescue of the Barracouta, but it mattered little to us what the job was. Daylight of the 6th saw us alongside the Barracouta, which immediately weighed and stood down the river towards the French-folly Fort. This fort was built on an island about a mile distant from the Dutch-folly, and mounted twenty-six heavy guns. It was, moreover, backed by twenty-five mandarin junks, heavily armed and moored under the guns of the fort. These junks had been collected with a view to attack our ships, and our object was to destroy them. (See plan and sketch [below].)

The Barracouta was ordered to engage the junks, and our business was to lay out her stern anchor and enable her to bring her broadside to bear. We soon sighted the junks, and very formidable they looked in the morning sun with all their banners flying. They were moored in a crescent, with the horns towards us, supported by the fort in a very strong position. The Barracouta mounted only six guns, and the pinnace a 12-pounder howitzer, an absurdly



small force for the work; but we had learned to despise our enemy, and laughed at any odds.

The Chinamen were fully prepared for us: the junks lay broadside on, with their guns run out on one side, springs on their cables to keep their broadside bearing, and "stink-pots" at the mast-heads. These offensive weapons are deserving of description. The stink-pot is an earthenware vessel filled with powder, sulphur, &c. Each junk had cages at the mast-head, which in action were occupied by one or

Plan of Action of Nov. 6, 1856

more men, whose duty it was to throw these stinkpots on to the decks of the enemy, or into boats attempting to board; and woe betide any unlucky boat that received one of these missiles: the crew would certainly have to jump overboard or be stifled.

As soon as we hove in sight the junks beat to quarters, and kept up a hideous din with gongs and tom-toms; their crews, stripped to the waist, stood to their guns, matches in hand, but waiting, according to their usual tactics, for the first shot.



The Barracouta steamed slowly towards them, her guns cleared for action, every man at his post. Our little gun was loaded with grape, and trained on the nearest junk. It was an exciting moment, as we advanced till we were within 300 yards of the centre junk, and the horns of the crescent overlapped us. The Barracouta now anchored, and simultaneously fired her bow gun loaded with shell into the midst of the junks. At the same instant the junks opened fire with a deafening roar, and were enveloped in fire and smoke. Round-shot, grape, canister, and scrap iron hurtled through the air, and the water was ploughed up around us. The Barracouta's men worked well, directing their fire towards the thickest of the smoke; but owing to the ship being bows-on, only one gun on the forecastle could bear on the enemy. Shots were flying in all directions, knocking about spars and cutting away ropes; but fortunately their aim was too high, as we were so close. Loud above the din could be heard the yells of the Chinamen and the clanging of their gongs. Captain Fortescue now ordered us to lay out his stern anchor, as his ship was being raked and her forecastle swept by the storm of missiles.

Having got the anchor in our boat, we proceeded to lay it out, being exposed meantime to a murderous fire of grape. A shot struck one of my boat's crew in the head, killing him instantly, and spattering us with his blood; but we dropped the anchor in the right place, and enabled the Barracouta to bring her broadside to bear on the junks, thus bringing three more heavy guns into action: our little brass gun also did some execution on the crowded decks of the enemy.

Barracouta and Calcutta’s Pinnace Engaging Mandarin Junks and French Folly Fort in Canton River



Having deposited the body of our shipmate on board the Barracouta, we continued the action: meantime the heavy metal of that ship began to tell, and some of the junks blew up with all their crew as their magazines ignited. Several more were in flames, and the fire of the others began to slacken. It was evident they had had enough of it, and soon we had the satisfaction of seeing all the junks on fire and their crews making for the shore. The Coromandel, with the Admiral on board, towing the boats of the squadron, now made her appearance, coming to our support; but the action was over. The boats formed line and pulled for the shore ; the fort fired a few shots as we approached, but was speedily abandoned, and so ended the capture of the French-folly Fort and the destruction of twenty-five of the finest mandarin junks in the imperial navy.

The rest of the day we were busy spiking the guns and levelling the parapets, after which we returned to Canton.

On November 11 we all embarked on board the Coromandel and proceeded down the river to the flagship, anchored above the Bogue Forts. We heard that we were to bombard the forts the following day, unless the mandarin in charge was prepared to hand them over without fighting. Happily there was no chance of that; for, according to the custom of the country, he would certainly have been beheaded or disembowelled if he gave up the forts without resistance. Any doubts on the subject were removed the next morning by the gallant old fellow sending off a message to the Admiral to say he was quite ready for us whenever we chose. And he had reason too on his side, seeing the enormous strength of the



forts, four of which mounted 410 guns between them, while three others were equally well armed in proportion to their size.

The Admiral's reply to the polite invitation of the governor was not made public; if any, it was probably concise and to the point. Our subsequent proceedings were sufficient. I give herewith the names of the forts and number of guns mounted, so far as we knew, also the force opposed to them :

North Anunghoy mounting between them 210 guns.
South Anunghoy
North Wantung 200 guns.
South Wantung
Chuenpee Fort number of guns not known.
Ty-Cock-Tow Fort
Tiger Island

All the above were comprised under the term Bogue Forts.

The ships opposed to them were

H.M.S. Calcutta (flagship) 84 guns.
Nankin (frigate) 50
Encounter (corvette) 14
Hornet (sloop) 17
Barracouta (sloop) 6
Coromandel (tender) 4 howitzers.
Total 175 guns.

But this must be divided by two, as a ship cannot fight her guns on both sides when engaging shore batteries.

At daylight, November 12, the ships cleared for action, and took up their appointed station, the Calcutta having the post of honour, abreast of and within a few hundred yards of the South Wantung, mounting 100 guns. Our position was so well



chosen that only a few guns could bear upon the ship. The Chinamen, with incomprehensible stupidity or indifference, allowed the ships to take up their positions and moor head and stern right under their guns without firing a shot, nor was it till we had carefully laid our guns and delivered a concentrated broadside that they condescended to reply.

The result of these tactics was that we had it all our own way. The Nankin and the small craft having taken a position to engage the other forts, at a signal from the Calcutta the action commenced.

As anticipated, after an hour-and-a-half's firing the batteries were silenced, having been crushed from the beginning by the terrible fire from the ships. Orders were now given to prepare to storm the forts; the ships ceased firing, and we pulled for the shore. But little resistance was offered : we had a scramble up a very steep hill to reach the wall, and while taking breath preparatory to climbing in through an embrasure, a Chinese soldier threw a stink-pot, which exploded at our feet, doing no harm. We then rushed in, followed by the men as they came up. The Chinamen stood for a moment, and then bolted to the opposite side of the fort, where boats awaited them. Orders were given to cease firing and let the poor fellows go ; but such was the panic that many of them, unable to find room in the boats, took to the water and endeavoured to swim, in attempting which numbers were drowned.

The next day we bombarded the Anunghoy Forts these, unlike the Wantung, which were built upon islands in the river, stood upon the mainland; the whole commanded the passage of the river, and should have been impregnable in other hands. We



found many beautiful brass guns in the forts of enormous calibre and fine workmanship.

For several days following we were employed blowing up the parapets, bursting the guns, and generally demolishing the forts - an arduous duty under a burning sun when all excitement is over.

On the 15th I was ordered up the river again to Canton, and started in tow of the Barracouta. There were three boats towing astern - the Calcutta's pinnace (my boat), the cutter, and the Nankin's pinnace. All went well until we were within a few miles of Canton, the Barracouta making ten knots through the water: my boat was towing from the starboard sponson, the Nankin's from the port. For better security whilst towing we had sent most of the crews in-board, and dismounted the boats' guns, so as to bring their bows out of the water.

Suddenly the Nankin's coxswain left the helm; in an instant the boat sheered into the wake of the wheels, and went down bows foremost, appearing some way astern bottom up. We at once slipped our painter and went to her assistance, in time to pick up two of the crew and some gear that was floating about; but the gun and all the heavy things were lost, and two men sank to rise no more. Proceeding on our way, we reached Canton without further adventure.

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