Evacuation of Canton
ON January 8, 1857, the Calcutta returned to Hong-Kong, and Captain Hall went down to take charge of her. It was also decided to evacuate our position before Canton, as we had no force to maintain it, nor object in doing so, especially as several gunboats were on their way out from England, and on their arrival we could resume operations. Accordingly, we cleared out of the Factories and the Dutch-folly Fort, and established ourselves in the Bird's-nest Fort; but as this fort was unprotected from the rear, and we should be exposed to attacks from that quarter, we fell back on the Macao Fort, where we remained till the 23rd, when we all returned to Hong-Kong. I was not sorry to get back to the ship after being in my boat for ninety days.
Soon after our return the captain sent for me, and after some complimentary remarks, which it is not necessary to repeat, he told me that there was a rumour that a night attack was intended on Hong-Kong by a fleet of mandarin junks, and that it was considered advisable to have a guard during the night, and that he should give me the
EVACUATION OF CANTON.
command of a small paddle-wheel steamer called the Eaglet to cruise about the harbour. The Eaglet, temporarily commissioned for this purpose, was an old craft mounting nine guns - viz., one long 18-pounder on a swivel on the forecastle, and two 9-pounders, four 6-pounders, and two 3-pounders on her broadside; the total weight of her broadside being 42 lb., the swivel firing on either side. Her speed was about 5 knots. However, as a midshipman eighteen years of age, I was as proud of my first command as though she were a frigate. I had a boat's crew and a cutter from the flagship with me. My orders were to weigh every evening at sunset, cruise about the harbour all night, and return to the Calcutta to report myself at daylight. I was to prevent any junks from entering the harbour during the night, and an exciting time we had - boarding junks which hung about the entrance in the early morning waiting for the sea-breeze to come into harbour. These craft usually turned out to be trading vessels, bringing fowls, fruit, and vegetables for the Hong-Kong market, but we could never tell for certain till we got alongside.
One suspicious craft we boarded had two 32 pounder carronades mounted on board, marked with the broad-arrow, proving they were English, of which they could give no satisfactory account: they had undoubtedly been stolen, and she was probably a pirate, so we gave them the benefit of the doubt! Having hitched all the crew by their tails to the rigging, hoisted out the carronades, which I sold for the benefit of my crew, I sent the craft adrift !
One morning we really thought we were in for
a fight. Just as day was breaking we made out a large fleet of junks bearing down to the Harbour by the western passage. They loomed large in the morning mist, and we made sure they were mandarin junks ; so we cleared for action and stood towards them, when, to our disgust, they proved to be peaceable traders.
I spent a very pleasant six weeks on board the Eaglet, and, absurd as it may seem, the projected attack on Hong-Kong was abandoned on account of the "fire-ship" which kept guard during the night. This we gathered from some despatches which fell into our hands, together with some most amusing and vainglorious instructions for destroying our ships, issued by one of the mandarins, Lin-Tsih-Sen, Governor-General of Two-Kwang, the translation of which I give presently ; but. before doing so it may be as well to mention the marks distinguishing the different degrees of rank belonging to the order of mandarin in the Chinese service.
There are altogether nine grades, their rank being distinguished by different-coloured buttons worn on the cap. The highest rank is a red button, only worn by nobles; second grade, red flowered gem; third grade, light-blue stone; fourth, darkblue stone; fifth, light crystal; sixth, opaque, white; seventh, eighth, and ninth, gold buttons. A peacock's feather is sometimes worn in the cap, an honour similar to a decoration. The feather is inserted in a hollow tube of green jade-stone.
But to return. The proclamation is entitled, " Seven General Rules for the Extermination of the Barbarian Forces."
EVACUATION OF CANTON.
1. Although the barbarian war-vessels are so many tens of feet long, you must not look at their length; although they have so many guns, you must not be afraid of the number or size of these. For as the barbarian guns are all in the sides of their vessels, our forces have only to attack them at the prow and stern. Suppose the ship stands with its prow to the south, if the wind is north, attack the stern; if the wind is south, attack the prow. If the prow stands east, and the wind is east, attack the prow ; but if the wind is west, attack the stern(!).
Taking advantage of the wind and avoiding the fire from the guns, the character of the tide must also be considered; proceeding with the tide, victory is certain.
The largest of the barbarian ships draw upwards of 20 feet of water, the smallest draw above 10 ; but our ships only draw a few feet, so that taking a wide circuit, they can always secure the wind in their favour. In attacking the prow, the figurehead must be first fired at; in attacking the stern, the cabin must be first aimed at. The stern cabin has glass windows, it being occupied by the highest officer on board: the powder magazine and appendages are also in the same part of the ship, and a continuous cannonade is sure to effect an opening, when the powder will explode. Although the rudder is cased with copper, yet it is cast copper, and may be broken with cannon-balls.
When the figurehead is broken off and the rudder broken, there is no means of controlling the ship; and while there are an extraordinary number of hands engaged with the sails fore and aft, a few rounds from our guns will send them dropping into the sea, when, the ship being short of men, it will not be able to move, and the large guns will thus fall into our possession.
2. In approaching the prow or stern of a barbarian ship, our vessels must divide into two squadrons right and left, and advance in the form of the wings of a goose, in an oblique direction, closing up in front and opening out behind: in this manner a great many ships may be assembled without the risk of firing into our own fleet. Suppose the
prow of a barbarian ship stands east, our ships, taking advantage of a west wind, will attack it aft; on nearing the starboard side, our ships must stand towards the south-east; on nearing the larboard side, our ships must stand towards the north-east. Thus, all taking an oblique position, the fire from our guns will unavoidably strike the barbarian ship and will not touch our own vessels. The same principle may be applied to other positions. This all depends on the efficiency of the helmsman, in handling the rudder. Let those who are expert and active be rewarded several fold ; and when money, watches, cloth, or other articles are captured on board the barbarian ships, let a double portion be given to the helmsman. But if at the given time they mistake their business, omitting to advance when they ought to advance, or neglecting to turn when they ought to turn, then let the helmsmen be decapitated as a warning to the fleet.
3. On getting within cannot-shot reach, begin to open fire with the cannons; coming within musket-reach, commence the attack with muskets, approaching till rockets and stinkpots are available. These may be used without restriction, the more the better; but care must be taken that they reach the barbarian ships, it being most important that they should not fall amongst our own. The following is the method for casting stink-pots from the mast-head :
Let two men be selected wearing bamboo helmets, with a small rattan shield on the breast, tied on with a cord at the back, having a double sword at the waist and the matches also attached. One man ascends the foremast, and one the mizzen-mast, all going to the very top and remaining on the highest yard. Two men stand at the foot of each mast and haul up the baskets containing the stink-pots by means of a pulley. Each basket contains ten or more stink-pots, and every pot has 4-pounder rolls enclosed in cotton cases. These being drawn up briskly, the men at the mast-head then apply the matches, when they are instantaneously discharged. When one basket is emptied, another is hauled up, so as to keep up an uninterrupted delivery on board the barbarian ship. The attack being thus unremitting, the barbarian ship
EVACUATION OF CANTON.
will to a certainty be set on fire, if it is not reduced to ashes; yet when the fire is raging the barbarians will assuredly seek to move off, and our men can embrace the opportunity to board them.
Having boarded the ship, our stink-pots and rockets may cease, as they will then be of no use.
4. When our men board a ship, they must immediately put to the sword every barbarian they meet, and leave their heads to be counted afterwards, for there ought not to be an urgency in presenting the heads to the neglect of more important business. Having decapitated the barbarians the next matter of greatest importance respects the wheel and rudder bands, the stays, ropes, and lines: let all these be cut, and the ship is ours - there need be no anxiety with respect to the money or goods on board. When a barbarian ship is captured, those who board it must make an equitable distribution of the money and goods, awarding the additional prize-money where due; but those who first enter the ship are by no means allowed to begin plundering, and so neglect the more important work of slaying the thieves. Those who disobey will be visited with the rigour of military law.
5. Our vessels advancing obliquely to attack the barbarian ships at the stem and stern, let gun-vessels be placed opposite the four corners, at most not more than four to each corner - if large ones, three will be sufficient - and let there be a simultaneous attack at the four corners.
As there will be only twelve or fifteen vessels thus engaged in the attack on one barbarian ship, and as there will be many more vessels at disposal, they may separate and attack other ships; they must not crowd up in one place, giving rise to disorder and confusion. If occasion requires a conjoint attack by a great number of vessels, attention must be paid to the orders of the officer in command. When the drum beats a heavy roll, and the red flag is hoisted as a summons, the vessels must assemble for a combined attack. If it happens that the foremost company of vessels are long engaged in the oblique attack
without apparent success, they should rest for a little and let the hinder company close up obliquely; but these changes must be always in obedience to the orders of the commanding officer: let none act on their own responsibility. Decapitation is the penalty of disobedience.
6. Let thirty small boats be obtained, on which place a quantity of hay, rosin, and coarse hemp soaked in oil, with from a tenth to a fifth part of the same amount of gunpowder, all bound together with straw ropes and covered with a rush mat. Let one or two small chains about 5 feet long be placed at the stem and stern ends of the boat, one end fastened by an iron ring and a large iron nail 7 or 8 inches long fixed to the other end with a very sharp point. Let two iron hammers be placed on the boat, and let three or four expert swimmers, with half their bodies under water and half leaning against the sides of the boat, act as oars in propelling it: the deeper they are in the water the better, that so the barbarian guns may not reach them.
Having drawn close up to the barbarian vessel, either in the stem, stern, or sides, they can drive in the nail securely, fasten the fire-boat to the barbarian ship, set fire to the combustibles, and then diving under water make their escape.
The very largest barbarian ship, with ten or more of such fire-boats nailed to and burning round it, will infallibly be consumed. Now, if there is a discharge of stink-pots and rockets amongst the rigging above, and our gallant braves ascend the masts and board the ship midway, while the fire is raging below, the barbarians will find they have three tiers of adversaries, and while attempting to defend themselves against one tier, they will be constrained to neglect the other, and thus deliver their heads over to us.
7. Valour and courage are the qualities most in esteem for the defeat of the enemy; for when valour is great and courage unbending, victory is certain.
On the present occasion, whoever kills a white barbarian will be rewarded with a hundred dollars, and half the
EVACUATION OF CANTON.
amount will be given for a black barbarian; for taking one alive, extraordinary rewards will be conferred, according to the rank of the individual. Thus for killing ten barbarians a thousand dollars may be obtained; for killing a hundred barbarians ten thousand dollars ; for a greater number an official appointment will be granted besides. What a happy prospect! Any one who falls in the contest will receive a reward of two hundred dollars, that so all who show their bravery at the risk of their lives may establish their merit and be duly recompensed. Should any withdraw during the contest, their heads will be instantly taken off and suspended on poles as a warning to all!
So ends this precious document. It would appear from it that a good many Chinamen's heads ought to "have been "suspended on poles," as, from our experience, their invariable practice was to " withdraw during the contest" at the earliest opportunity. Not but what the Chinaman is a brave man if properly led, which he never was, the mandarins having invariably a pressing engagement elsewhere when the fight was at its height; so the poor soldiers followed their example, and I believe that those of any other nation would do the same if their officers were the first to fly.
In February two fine brigs, the Elk and Camilla, arrived from England: the latter was subsequently lost with all hands in a typhoon, and not a trace of her was ever found.
On 16th February information was received of the whereabouts of some notorious pirates who had committed various outrages along the coast, so H.M.S. Niger and the East India Company's steamer Auckland were sent after them, and two of our boats - my old pinnace being one - were attached to the
RETURN TO HONG-KONG.
expedition. We found the vagabonds easily enough, a regular nest of them; but they bolted at our approach, leaving some fine junks in our possession. We shot a few of the pirates as they clambered up the hills, but the majority escaped; so, taking the junks in tow, we returned to Hong-Kong.
Soon after this, news reached us of the capture of a passenger steamer called the Queen, and the brutal massacre of her passengers and crew. The Queen was on a voyage from Hong-Kong to Macao. Some Chinese soldiers, disguised as ordinary passengers, had gone on board, and while the saloon passengers were down below at luncheon, these rascals seized the arms, which had most foolishly been left on deck, and fired down the skylight, killing every soul but one, a gallant fellow named Cleverley, who, though badly wounded, managed to defend himself against the gang, two of whom he shot, and then escaped by jumping out of the stern-port. He was afterwards picked up by a lorcha and lived to tell the tale, otherwise we should never have had the details of this unfortunate affair.
The Chinese, having massacred the crew, ran the vessel ashore and gutted her, taking out the engines and boilers. The latter were converted into "infernal machines," filled with powder, and used against us.
After our exciting times up the river, existence at Hong-Kong was very monotonous: the weather was hot, and the season unhealthy, and many of our poor fellows died of dysentery from drinking bad water. For a long time I had to go to the hospital ship, regularly at 4 P.M., to take any men who had died in the night and bury them in the
EVACUATION OF CANTON.
English cemetery at "Happy Valley," the portico of which bore the cheerful inscription, "Hodie mihi, cras tibi " (To-day my turn, to-morrow thine). This duty, as may be supposed, was not a pleasant or a very healthy one, and I can't say I hankered after it. One afternoon I had just shoved off from the hospital ship with my ghastly cargo, the boat piled up with coffins, on the top of which I sat smoking a big cheroot (a very necessary precaution), when the doctor hailed me to say that one of the men was a Roman Catholic, but he did not say which; so, taking a piece of chalk, I marked the coffin on which I was sitting with a cross. Arriving at Happy Valley, we were met by the two parsons - one Church of England, the other Roman Catholic. The man marked with an X was buried in accordance with the rites of the Roman Catholic Church, and I apprehended it did not make much difference to the poor fellow mostly concerned.
Apropos of this scene, I accompanied the Roman Catholic coffin to the burial-ground with the bluejackets carrying the remains. The last rites were being observed with due reverence, and all went well till the priest sprinkled the coffin with holy water, when I heard one bluejacket say to another, "What's that, Bill?" "Why," said the other, " samshu, of course!" (samshu being a fiery spirit made from rice). This was too much for me, and I collapsed, much to my shame and regret; but I really could not help it - it was too comical. I sincerely hope the good priest did not notice it, but that if he did he attributed my emotion to a different cause, and not from any want of respect to his office or the solemn occasion.
SNIPE-SHOOTING IN THE PADDY-FIELDS
Besides the cemetery, Happy Valley contained a racecourse, which, from its beautiful situation, was a favourable place for picnics, and many a jovial party assembled there.
We also got a little shooting on the mainland opposite Hong-Kong, a place called Kowloon, where barracks and storehouses and docks are now established. But in those days there was nothing but rice-grounds, with a village some miles inland, inhabited by a gang of most treacherous scoundrels.
These rice-grounds or paddy-fields, as they are called - used to be my favourite resort, and I have reason to remember them, for on two occasions I had a narrow escape there. The first time was when I was snipe-shooting alone. I got bogged, and sank to my arm-pits, and there remained quite helpless. Whilst in this position, a water-buffalo spotted me and charged. I had my arms free, and gave the brute a charge of snipe-shot in the face at five yards: this slewed him round, and the second barrel, under the tail, quickened his movements. After a time I got out.
The second adventure was more serious. As I had never been molested, I had grown careless, and having wandered far inland, found myself near to the village. The day being hot, I sat down on the top of a hill to smoke and enjoy the breeze, but keeping my eyes open, when something flashing in the sun attracted my attention. I soon made this out to be a spear-head moving below me; this was followed by another, and then the bearers of them came in sight. There were seven of them, all armed. It struck me at once that they were stalking me, and were working round so
EVACUATION OF CANTON.
as to cut off my retreat from the boat, which I had left four miles off with orders to await my return in the evening. Taking in the situation, I drew the shot from the barrels of my gun and substituted ball, and then sloped quietly down the hill. The Chinamen, seeing my tactics, immediately gave chase. My head was worth 500 dollars to them, and much more to me: no doubt this fact did not retard me. Moreover, I was young and in splendid condition. I noticed that one at least of the party carried firearms, so tightening up my belt, I flew along with the seven scoundrels in full cry astern.
Looking over my shoulder, I soon found that I had the heels of them, except one fellow who kept about the same distance, and he carried an enormously long matchlock, or gingall, as it is called in China. These weapons are usually loaded with a handful of slugs, and scatter over a large area at 100 yards. I made up my mind to shoot this fellow if he gained on me; but I could not afford to lose time, unless he came dangerously close, as I should have been unable to load my muzzle-loader. He stopped twice to draw a bead on me, but did not fire, and I gained some yards. Presently I came to a river, which took me up to my arm-pits and lost me some time, enabling my pursuers to gain somewhat; but once on the other bank, I bounded along as fresh as ever. On topping a hill, I saw my boat, but at anchor a long way from the shore. Yelling out at the top of my voice, I was rejoiced to see that Amoy, our faithful Chinese boatman, had observed me, and began weighing his anchor; but, to my dismay, he pulled
BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP SEA
in for the shore in my direction. Had he continued his course I must have been captured, as they would have been down on the beach before the boat reached it, so I waved to Amoy to pull to a point of land farther off. At this moment my pursuers were in full sight streaming down the hill. I was between the devil and the deep sea.
Amoy, now understanding the situation, altered his course, so that we should reach a given spot together. I got there a little before the boat, plunged into the water, and was hauled on board just as the Chinamen reached the beach. They shouted out something to Amoy. "What do they say? " I inquired. " They say, ` Suppose I bring you ashore they give me 500 dollars,'" and he added, "Suppose I bring you ashore they cut off your head, and mine too." In reply I fired both barrels over their heads, and hoisting our sail, we soon put a safe distance between us.
I have often wondered since why I did not shoot a couple of the scoundrels, as I could easily have done; but I was thankful for my escape, and could afford to be generous. I kept this adventure quiet, as we should have certainly been barred from landing again on that side, and it was our best snipe-ground; but I told one of my messmates about it, Lieutenant the Hon. J. B. Vivian, and we arranged to pay that village a visit. So one day, having armed ourselves with revolvers, we went there, and by way of commencement we shot several of their tame ducks. The villagers turned out and surrounded us, and things began to look ugly. One of the men laid hands on J. B., who
EVACUATION OF CANTON.
let him have it across the mouth with a bunch of ducks, knocking him down. We then drew our revolvers and threatened to shoot any who approached: we kept them off, but had to retreat, leaving the ducks.
About this time reinforcements began to arrive from England - the Inflexible paddle-wheel sloop, with the Starling gunboat in tow, the pioneer of a whole fleet of these useful little vessels, which have done such good service since in China. Some of these gunboats were commanded by officers who have since risen to the highest rank in the service, and who, happily, still adorn it. Others are no more. There was one, a most amusing character, who commanded a small 40-horse-power gunboat. This individual stood six feet in his stockings, and could not stand upright in his cabin, so he used to perform his toilet partly on deck and partly below, his body being in the cabin, and his head through the skylight, with a shaving-pot and looking-glass on deck. He used to say that, having no doctor on board, he mixed the medicines provided in a chest into two bottles, and whenever any of his crew happened to be sick, he drew an imaginary line across the man's stomach, and according as the pain was above or below that line, he gave him a dose out of number one or number two ! He claimed that no man ever came to him twice, which was very likely.
One Sunday morning in April, a French steamer, the Catinat, brought news of the total loss of H.M.S. Raleigh, a fine 50-gun frigate, commanded by Commodore Harry Keppel, now Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. Keppel. As the gallant Admiral
ANOTHER FIGHT IMMINENT
has given us an account of his adventures, it is unnecessary for me to allude further to this disaster. The Raleigh was beached in Macao Roads, and became a total wreck; but her guns, spars, &c., were saved, and her officers and crew were distributed amongst the squadron, and did good service in the subsequent operations. Sir Michael Seymour's command having been further augmented by the Fury paddle-wheel steam sloop, the Highflyer corvette, and the Tribune frigate, we looked forward to the prospect of another brush with the Chinamen in the Canton river; and towards the end of May it was decided to attack the fleet of mandarin junks assembled in Fatshan Creek.
<-Chapter 6 - Chapter 8->
^ back to top ^