Demetrius Charles de Kavanagh Boulger.

The life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order online

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Eristaw), who do not seem to have realised his death. The Prince takes
two battalions of infantry and two guns nominally as an escort. There
are some very pretty ladies at Kutais who dance their national dances
capitally. They dance alone, and all the gentlemen beat time with
their hands. I was surprised at seeing the ladies wear a sort of bracelet
of black beads, to which they attached great value. I am sure they are
nothing more than bog oak. ... I have since discovered they are
cantiel coal, not bog oak. The ladies are very pretty, but have not very
cleanly habits in general ; they prefer their nails tipped, and do not
hesitate at taking a bone and gnawing it. They live in extremely dirty
houses, or rather huts. They are generally all princesses, and the men
all princes, who, however, do not hesitate to accept small donations. I
am always in fear and trembling lest they should give me anything, as it
is necessary to give in return. I, unfortunately, happened to notice a
certain glass letterweight with the Queen on it, and observed that it
was like Her Majesty. I was given it on the spot, and with deep regret
had to part with my soda-water machine the next day. I admire
nothing now, you may be sure. The servants of Prince Dimitri Gouriel
have made a good thing out of my visit, for each time they bring any-
thing — butter, fruit, etc. — orders are given that an equivalent be given
them in money. My hands get quite sticky with shaking hands with so
many princes, but I have hitherto borne up like a martyr under my
trials. On being invited to the house of a prince, you would figure
yourself invited to a palace ; but it is not the case here, and you would
find it out to your cost if you did not take something to eat in your

The work of this Commission proved exceedingly fatiguing — Gordon
breaking in characteristically with the statement : " I do not complain
when there is no occasion " — and consisted chiefly in replacing the
pyramids carefully removed by the population during the twelve months
since they were erected. The successful result of this Commission was
entirely due to Gordon's energy and untiring labour. Plis Russian and

The Cri77tea, Danube, and Armenia. 43

Turkish colleagues were always quarrelling, and Gordon had to play the
part of peacemaker — for which, he said, " I am naturally not well
adapted " — an admission that may be commended to those who think
that Gordon was a meek and colourless individual, with more affinity to
a Methodist parson than the dauntless and resolute soldier he really

Early in October the whole delimitation was concluded, and without
a hitch, much to Gordon's satisfaction. By 17th November he had
reached Constantinople on his way home, but notwithstanding the
special hardships of his work and his long absence from England, with
one brief interval, he was still anxious for work and action. In the
closing letter of his correspondence he said : " I do not feel at all
inclined to settle in England and be employed in any sedentary
way, and shall try and get employed here (Constantinople) if it is

While these letters contain a very vivid account of the striking and
remarkable events that occurred during the long military and diplomatic
struggle with Russia, they are not less interesting or important for the
many unconscious glimpses Gordon gives into his own character. In
them may be found references to habits and things which show
that the young officer was a sportsman, and by no means indifferent to
creature comforts ; and as the most careful search through all his later
writings of every kind will bring no similar discovery, these acquire a
special importance as showing that the original Gordon only differed
from his comrades in being more earnest, more active, and more
enthusiastic. I take at random such statements as " Our feeding is
pretty good, but the drinking is not," " The Russians gave a spread
[vulgar] on Saturday, noisily and badly got up. Their wine was simply
execrable," and " How I wish I could get some partridge shooting !
My bag up to the present (on the Danube) is 200 — not bad! eh.?"
Then again, on a more delicate subject, there are numerous references
to ladies, and to his appreciation of beauty. In a chaffing passage in
one of his letters, he wrote that one of his sisters "wants me to bring
home a Russian wife, I think ; but I am sure you would not admire the
Russian ladies I have seen." Again, the ladies of the Caucasus are
pronounced "very pretty," and "the Gourelians are beautiful — in fact,
I never saw so many handsome women as the peasants among them."
At this time Gordon was certainly not a misogynist, but I am assured
that the rumours as to his having met with an early disappointment in
love are quite baseless of truth. From a very early period of his life,
certainly before the Crimea, Gordon had made up his mind not to
marry, and was in the habit of going even further, and wishing himself

44 The Life of Gordon.

dead. This sentiment led him to constantly refer to himself as "the

dead man " ; and some years later he wrote, " There is a Miss

here, the nicest girl I ever met ; but don't be afraid, the dead do not
marry." His own secret opinion seems to have been that marriage
spoilt both men and women, and it will be at least admitted that if he
had married he could never have lived the disinterested, heroic life
which remains a marvel for the world.



Gordon was back in England in good time for the Christmas festivities
of 1858, and a few months later— ist April 1859— he was gazetted to
the rank of Captain. About the same time he also received the
appointment of Field-Work Instructor and Adjutant at Chatham, where
his practical knowledge gained in the Sebastopol trenches was turned
to good account in the theoretical training of future officers of his
Corps. He was thus employed when the conflict in China, which had
been in progress for some years, assumed a graver character in con-
sequence of the Chinese refusal to ratify the Treaty of Tientsin and
Admiral Hope's repulse in front of the Taku forts. Gordon at once
volunteered for active service, and on 22nd July i860 he sailed for the
Far East. He did not reach Tientsin until the following 26th Septem-
ber, being, as he said in his first letter home, "rather late for the
amusement, which won't vex mother." Not only had he missed the
capture of the Taku forts, but also the one battle of the war, that fought
at Chan-chia-wan on 9th September. He was, however, in time for the
sack of the Summer Palace, which he describes in the following letter : —

" On the nth October we were sent down in a great hurry to throw
up works and batteries against the town, as the Chinese refused to give
up the gate we required them to surrender before we would treat with
them. They were also required to give up all the prisoners. You
will be sorry to hear that the treatment they have suffered is very bad.
Poor De Norman, who was with me in Asia, is one of the victims. It
appears that they were tied so tight by the wrists that the flesh
mortified, and they died in the greatest torture. Up to the time that
elapsed before they arrived at the Summer Palace they were well
treated, but then the ill-treatment began. The Emperor is supposed
to have been there at the time.

"To go back to the work — the Chinese were given until twelve on the
13th to give up the gate. We made a lot of batteries, and everything
was ready for the assault of the wall, which is battlemented and 40 feet
high, but of inferior masonry. At 11.30 p.m. the gate was opened, and

^6 The Life of Gordon.

we took possession ; so our work was of no avail. The Chinese had
then until the 23rd to think over our terms of peace, and to pay up
;^i 0,000 for each Englishman and ;^5oo for each native soldier who
died during their captivity. This they did, and the money was paid,
and the Treaty signed yesterday. I could not witness it, as all officers
commanding companies were obliged to remain in camp.

" Owing to the ill-treatment the prisoners experienced at the Summer
Palace, the General ordered it to be destroyed, and stuck up procla-
mations to say why it was so ordered. We accordingly went out, and,
after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a Vandal-like
manner most valuable property which would not be replaced for four
millions. We got upwards of ;^48 a-piece prize money before we went
out here ; and although I have not as much as many, I have done well.

Imagine D giving sixteen shillings for a string of pearls, which he

sold the next day for ^{^500 !

" The people are civil, but I think the grandees hate us, as they
must after what we did to the Palace. You can scarcely imagine the
beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one's heart
sore to burn them ; in fact, these palaces were so large, and we were so
pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities
of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass. It was wretchedly
demoralising work for an army. Everybody was wild for plunder.

" You would scarcely conceive the magnificence of this residence,
or the tremendous devastation the French have committed. The
throne-room was lined with ebony, carved in a marvellous way. There
were huge mirrors of all shapes and kinds, clocks, watches, musical
boxes with puppets on them, magnificent china of every description,
heaps and heaps of silks of all colours, embroidery, and as much
splendour and civilization as you would see at Windsor; carved ivory
screens, coral screens, large amounts of treasure, etc. The French have
smashed everything in the most wanton way. It was a scene of utter
destruction which passes my description."

It may be of interest to state here that Gordon bought the throne
referred to. Its supports are the Imperial Dragon's claws, and the
cushions are of yellow Imperial silk. He presented it long afterwards
to the headquarters of his Corps at Chatham, where it now stands.

On the exchange of the Treaty ratifications, which took place within
the walls of the Imperial capital, the force under Sir Hope Grant was
withdrawn to Tientsin, and after a l^rief space from China. But pend-
ing the payment of the instalments of the war indemnity, a garrison of
3000 men, under General Staveley, was left at Tientsin, and Captain
Gordon was attached to this force. He had a very busy time of it at

The China War. 47

first, for suitable quarters had to be provided for our troops, and Gordon
was fully employed in the construction of barracks and stables. Among
the other tasks that engaged his attention at the time was the manage-
ment of a fund for the benefit of the Chinese poor, and he was much
distressed by an unfortunate accident that attended its distribution.

" We had collected about nine hundred dollars for the poor, and had
asked the mandarins to issue tickets to the most deserving. This they
would not do, so a certain day was fixed upon which to distribute the
funds. There were about 3000 beggars, and in the crush seven women
and one boy were killed. The poor women on their little feet, on which
they are never very safe, were thrown down and trampled upon."

During the eighteen months that Gordon resided at Tientsin he took
every opportunity of seeing the country, and as often as he could he
rode from that town along the banks of the Peiho river to the Taku
forts at its mouth. The distance is about forty miles each way, and he
computed that he accomplished it not fewer than twenty times. He,
also visited Peking in August 1S61, and remained several days on a visit
to Sir Frederick Bruce at the British Legation. At that date rumours
were already current that the Emperor Hienfung, who never returned to
Peking after our occupation, but made Yehol his capital and place of
residence, was dead. These were true, but some time elapsed before it
was officially announced that the Emperor had died on the 22nd of
that month, the very day that Gordon reached Peking himself, and wrote
the following letter : —

"The Emperor is reported to be dead, and his coffin has been sent
for; but this is no proof, since it is the custom to send for a man's
coffin when he is seriously ill, and it is kept for him even if he lives fifty
years after."

Writing again some time after, he says on the grave event : " A great
operation relating to the funeral of Hienfung is going on : a marble
block, weighing sixty tons, is being removed from the quarries to the
west of Peking to the cemetery in the east. It is drawn along upon a
huge truck by six hundred ponies, and proceeds at the rate of four miles
per day. When it arrives it is to be set up and carved into the shape
of an elephant ; several other large stones are also en route."

But the most interesting expedition Gordon undertook from Tientsin
was that to the Great Wall, and here I must borrow Dr Birkbeck Hill's
graphic description, which is based on a long letter from Gordon himself: —

"In December 1861, accompanied by Lieutenant Cardew of the
67th Regiment, he made a tour on horseback to the outer Wall of
China at Kalgan. A Chinese lad of the age of fourteen who knew a
little English acted as their servant and interpreter, while their baggage

4^ The Life of Gordon.

was carried in two carts. In the course of their journey they passed
through districts which had never before been visited by Europeans.
Against the northern side of the city of Siuen-hoa {not Si;zen-hoa, as
printed in Dr Hill's book) they found that the sand had drifted with the
wind till it had formed a sloping bank so high that it reached to the top
of the walls, though they were nearly twenty feet high. Nature had
followed in the steps of the generals of old, and had cast up a bank
against the town. At Kalgan the Great Wall was with its parapet
about 2 2 feet high and i6 feet broad. Both of its faces were built of
bricks, each of which was three times the size of one of our bricks.
The space between was filled in with rubble. ' It is wonderful,' writes
Colonel Gordon, ' to see the long line of wall stretching over the hills
as far as the eye can reach.' From Kalgan they travelled westwards
to Taitong, where the wall was not so high. There they saw huge
caravans of camels laden with 'brick tea' going towards Russia. Here
they were forced to have the axle-trees of their carts widened, for they
had come into a part of the country where the wheels were always set
wider apart than in the province whence they came. Their carts there-
fore no longer filled the deep ruts which had been worn in the roads.

" The chief object of their journey had been to ascertain whether
there was in the inner wall any pass besides the Tchatiaou, which
on that side of the country led from the Russian territory to Peking.
They pushed along southwards, in vain trying for a long time to find
a way eastward over the mountains. It was not till they reached
Taiyuen that they struck into the road that led to Peking or Tientsin.

" In this town, for the first time on their journey, they got into any
kind of trouble. When their bill was brought them for their night's
lodging they found that the charge was enormous. Seeing that a dis-
pute would arise, they sent on their carts, and waited at the inn till they
felt sure that they had got well on their way. They then, like the three
Quakers with whom Charles Lamb travelled to Exeter, offered what
they thought a reasonable sum. It was refused. They tried to mount
their horses, but the people of the inn stopped them. Major Gordon
took out his revolver, for show more than for use, for he allowed them to
take it from him. He thereupon said, ' Let us go to the Mandarin ! '

" To this they agreed, and at the same time they gave him back his re-
volver. They all walked towards the Mandarin's house — the two English-
men alongside their horses. On the way Major Gordon said to his com-
panion, ' Are you ready to mount?' 'Yes,' he answered. So they
mounted quietly, and went on with the people. When they reached the
Mandarin's they turned horses, and scampered after their carts as fast as
they could. The people yelled and rushed after them, but it was too late.

The CJiina War. 49

" Some way beyond Taiyuen they came upon the pass over the
mountains which led down into the country drained by the Peiho.
The descent was a terrible one. All along the cold had been intense —
so much so that raw eggs were frozen hard as if they had been boiled.
To add to their troubles, when they were on in front their carts were
attacked by robbers ; but the Chinese lad — an ugly imp — kept them off
with his gun. When they drew near Paoting-fu they sent on with
the lad the two carts and their tired horses, which had now carried them
for three weeks without the break of a single day, and they hired a fresh
cart in which they thought to ride to Tientsin. But with the boy gone
they had no interpreter, and in their impatience, 'their new driver' — to
quote our traveller's own words — ' got rather crossly dealt with.' They
stopped near Paoting-fu for the night. Early next morning as they were
washing they heard the gates of the inn open and the rumble of cart-
wheels. They guessed what was happening. ' Half stripped as I was,
I rushed out and saw our cart bolting away. I ran for a mile after it,
but had to come back and hire another with which we got to Tientsin —
more than fourteen days over our leave.' "

From this pleasant but uneventful occupation Gordon was sum-
moned to a scene where important events were in progress, and upon
which he was destined to play what was perhaps, after all, the most
brilliant part in the long course of his remarkable career. His brother
puts the change into a single sentence : —

"On the 28th of April 1862 Captain Gordon left the Peiho and
arrived at Shanghai on 3rd of May, and at once dropped into the
command of a district with the charge of the engineer part of an
expedition about to start, with the intention of driving the rebels out
of a circuit of thirty miles from Shanghai."

By the end of March 1862 the Chinese Government had suffi-
ciently carried out its obligations to admit of the withdrawal of the
force at Tientsin, and General Staveley transferred the troops and
his quarters from that place to Shanghai, where the Taeping rebels
were causing the European settlement grave anxiety, and what seemed
imminent peril. The Taepings, of whose rebellion some account
will be given in the next chapter, were impelled to menace Shanghai
by their own necessities. They wanted arms, ammunition, and money,
and the only means of obtaining them was by the capture of the
great emporium of foreign trade. But such an adventure not merely
implied a want of prudence and knowledge, it could only be attempted
by a breach of their own promises. When Admiral Hope had sailed
up the Yangtsekiang and visited Nanking, he demanded and received
from Tien Wang, the Taeping king or leader, a promise that thf


50 The Life of Gordon.

Taeping forces should not advance within a radius of thirty miles
of Shanghai. That promise in its larger extent had soon been broken,
and an attack on Shanghai itself, although unsuccessful, crowned
the offences of the rebels, and entailed the chastisement a more
prudent course would have averted. Without entering into the details
here that will be supplied later on, it will suffice to say that in
January 1862 the Taepings advanced against Shanghai, burning all
the villages en route, and laid irregular siege to it during more than
six weeks. Although they suffered several reverses, the European
garrison was not in sufficient strength to drive them away, and a
general anxiety prevailed among the European community when the
arrival of General Staveley altered the posture of affairs.

Before Gordon arrived two affairs of some importance had taken
place. At Wongkadza, a village twelve miles west of Shanghai,
General Staveley obtained a considerable success, which was, however,
turned into a disaster by the disobedience of his orders. The Tae-
pings had retired to some stronger stockades, and General Staveley
had ordered the postponement of the attack until the next day, when
the trained Chinese troops, carried away by their leaders' impetuosity,
renewed the assault. The result was a rude repulse, with the loss
of nearly 100 men killed and wounded. The next day the stockades
were evacuated, and within another week the fortified villages of
Tsipu and Kahding were also taken. It was at this point that Gordon
arrived from Tientsin, and reached the scene of action just as the
arrangements for attacking the important village of Tsingpu were
being completed.

That the Taepings were not contemptible adversaries, at least
those under their redoubtable leader Chung Wang, was shown by
their attempting to destroy Shanghai by fire, even while these opera-
tions were in progress. The plot nearly succeeded, but its promoters
were severely punished by the summary execution of 200 of their
number. The force assembled for the attack on Tsingpu assumed
almost the dimensions of an army. General Staveley commanded
1,429 British troops with twenty guns and mortars, in addition to a
naval brigade of 380 men and five guns. There was also a French con-
tingent of 800 men and ten guns, under Admiral Protet. At Tsingpu
Gordon specially distinguished himself by the manner in which he
reconnoitred the place, and then placed and led the ladder parties after
two breaches had been pronounced practical. The Taepings fought well,
but the place was carried, and the Chinese auxiliaries killed every
one they found with arms in their hands. Commenting on Gordon's
part in this affair, General Staveley wrote in his official despatch : —

The China War. 51

" Captain Gordon was of the greatest use to me when the task of
clearing the rebels from out of the country within a radius of thirty
miles from Shanghai had to be undertaken. He reconnoitred the
enemy's defences, and arranged for the ladder parties to cross the
moats, and for the escalading of the works; for we had to attack
and carry by storm several towns fortified with high walls and deep
wet ditches. He was, however, at the same time a source of much
anxiety to me from the daring manner he approached the enemy's
works to acquire information. Previous to our attack upon Tsingpu,
and when with me in a boat reconnoitring the place, he begged to be
allowed to land in order better to see the nature of the defences;
presently, to my dismay, I saw him gradually going nearer and nearer,
by rushes from cover to cover, until he got behind a small outlying
pagoda within 100 yards of the wall, and here he was quietly making
a sketch and taking notes. I, in the meantime, was shouting myself
hoarse in trying to get him back, for not only were the rebels firing
at him from the walls, but I saw a party stealing round to cut him off."

A letter from Gordon gives an interesting account of the two
subsequent affairs at Nanjao, where Admiral Protet was killed, and
at Cholin, where the Taepings suffered a severe but, as it proved, not a
decisive defeat.

" On going through the village a Chang-mow (rebel leader) came out
of a house rubbing his eyes, evidently having been taking a siesta ; he
was horrified, and bolted, but was soon caught, and the sailors had
much difficulty in saving his life from the villagers, who flew upon and
would have killed him. Poor man ! he had such a nice costume when
taken, but in five minutes afterwards you would scarcely have known
him; alibis finery, and even more, had been taken from him. The
small force encamped and entrenched themselves 900 yards from
Cholin, much to the surprise and anger of the garrison. They came
down in force on the next morning with no end of banners. Upon the
principle that inquiring minds should not be balked, they were allowed
to come pretty close, but then the poor things received a check, and
the beautiful silk banners were furled up and carried back to the

" The next day General Staveley sent us word to come back, since
he would attack Nanjao first, but as there were nearly 1000 vil-
lagers depending upon our protection and crowding round our camp,
I was sent back with an armed party, and Captain Willes remained in
front of the town. I went back by a different road and came on the
General four miles from Nanjao. We marched on, and halted near the
town, which was reconnoitred during the night, and the guns placed in

52 The Life oj Gordon.

position by 5 p.m. On the 17th we opened fire at seven, and attacked

Online LibraryDemetrius Charles de Kavanagh BoulgerThe life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order → online text (page 6 of 40)