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our last cigar on deck, we distinctly heard an ex-
plosion, which we supposed to be the blowing-up
of the booms. It was that operation, unfortunately
only imperfectly carried out, as our vessels learnt to
their cost the next day.

The morning of the attack now dawned. At an
early hour, when I was still in my cabin dressing,
Perrini brought me word that two Chinese junks had
come alongside with some message, it was said, for
the Minister. I hurried on deck and found there a
petty Mandarin, escorted by a ragged rabble, who
was charged with a letter to Mr. Bruce from
IJangfuh, Governor-General of Chi-li, stating that
he had been sent by the Emperor " to Pehtang,
a port to the north of Ta-ku," to do the honours.
Kweiliang and Hwashana, us the negotiators of last
year's Treaty, had been summoned to exchange the
ratifications ; he, Ilangfuh, was engaged in disarm-
ing Peh-tang, heretofore a fortified place. When the
men and guns had been moved to the southward,
he would come out in a junk to welcome Mr. Bruce



to Peh-tang, whence he (Mr. Bruce) might proceed
overland to Peking as soon as Kweiliang and his
colleague had arrived. The italics are mine, and
mark Mr. Bruce's reasons for treating this letter,
which reached his hands at the eleventh hour, as
unworthy of consideration. In effect, he was now
again asked to do what he had declined to do at
Shanghai, namely to wait till the Commissioners had
reached Peking, which he knew from themselves
they could not do for several weeks. Had he con-
sented to this delay, he would then have been
represented to the Chinese Court and people as
humbly and patiently waiting at their gate till it
was the Imperial pleasure that he should be let in ;
and when at last the decree had gone forth for the
admission of the supplicant, his progress by land
that is, at the mercy of the Chinese officials charged
to conduct him would have been marked by a suc-
cession of studied slights and indignities such as
shortly afterwards fell to the lot of the American
Envoy. On the ground of consistency alone, there-
fore, he could not possibly entertain the proposal.
Further, he knew that the Admiral was, at that very
moment, moving up the river (10 A.M. was the hour
appointed for the advance), and at the distance that
divided us from Ta-ku, it was more than doubtful
whether a request to suspend operations would reach
that officer in time. Mr. Bruce declined, therefore,
to receive the letter, on the plea that it was informal
in the place assigned to the characters indicating


the Queen's name, 1 and intimated to the bearer that
any further communications must be addressed to
him at Tien-tsin.

Ten o'clock struck, then eleven, then twelve,
and still not a sound reached us from the direction
of the river. I had been straining my eyes the
whole morning gazing through spy-glasses at the
forts, and was reading in Wade's cabin, when, at
twenty minutes past two, St. Clair called to us
through the hatchway that the attack had begun.
The entry in my diary for the time accurately
describes the effect of this announcement: "rushed
on deck cheering like mad ! " Indeed they were
hard at it, and when a quarter of an hour later we
saw and heard a tremendous explosion (one of the
enemy's powder-magazines had been blown up) we
gave another ringing cheer, so certain did we feel
that John Chinaman was getting the punishment
he so richly deserved. Behind the shore-line which,
as I have said above, is low and flat, the river takes
so sudden a bend that our vessels were entirely con-
cealed from us. We could only see the clouds of
smoke, and now and then an angry flash tearing
those clouds asunder. The firing went on without
intermission till about four o'clock, when it percep-

1 Tlio character signifying her Majesty is not on a level with that
signifying the Kmperor, as by the fixed rules of Chinese official com-
position it would be, were it employed in speaking of the Kmperor
himself. This marks a non-appreciation of the complete equality we
claim lor our Sovereign with all others, the Kmperor of China included,
and I should recommend that the original be returned for correction.
{' Minute by Wade endorsed on the translation of llangtuh's letter.]


tibly slackened. " A long stand they have made,"
thought we ; " but now they are sullenly yielding."
We sat down to dinner in good spirits, and were
half-way through the meal, when the firing redoubled
again. "Too long a stand," said Wade; "this is
not the usual style of Chinese fighting."

We could bear the suspense no longer. Nearly
all the boats, and all the boats' crews, had left the
ship the day before, but we knew of a cranky old
gig that was still available, and resolved to man
her ourselves and make for the Hesper troopship,
that lay half-way between us and the shore, and
would doubtless have some intelligence respecting
the action. De Normann, St. Clair, Wyndham, and
I, with three non-combatant officers of the frigate,
made up a scratch crew, and, hoisting a sail, we
were soon under way. We had gone more than
two miles, or about half the distance, when the
wind, which had till then served us, suddenly veered
round and set right in our teeth. We took to our
oars, the tide flowing fast against us with an ugly,
chopping sea. Add to this, feeble and uneven
pulling, a boat that leaked, so that, sitting by turns
in the stern- sheets, we had to bale out the water
with an empty sardine-tin, a pitch-dark night with
only now and then the flash of a gun on the horizon
to point out where the land lay, and it will be seen
that we were in anything but a cheerful predica-
ment. It was hopeless to continue on our course,
and our only chance was to make again for the


frigate. How we managed to reach her I can
hardly tell, for the wind and waves rose every
minute, and we shipped numerous seas that all
but swamped us, but finally found ourselves on
board again, much exhausted and drenched to the
skin, and as ignorant as before of the details of the
fighting. To de Normann I think we owed much
that evening, for he pulled best and steadiest of us
all, and showed perfect coolness throughout. But
he came of a good stock, and combined German
earnestness and British pluck qualities which de-
veloped into heroic fortitude during the fortnight
of fiendish torments he afterwards endured, and
have shed a mournful lustre on his name. Tired
as I was, I slept but little that night, and, as I lay
facing the open port, heard at intervals the sullen
boom of a big gun preceded by the burning
of blue lights. What could they be firing at in
the darkness ?

The morning of Sunday the 26th broke with
glorious sunshine, calm weather, and perfect silence.
The forenoon wore on, and it was fully eleven
o'clock when the officer of the watch descried
vessels coming out of the river, and presently
reported the Coromandel. As she drew nearer she
hoisted a signal : " Send cot for wounded oiliccr."
There was nothing alarming in this ; so obstinately
fought an action had prepared us for casualties.
Our assistant-surgeon went off with all needful
appliances, and steered for the Admiral's tender,


which had meanwhile steamed closer and was now
within easy distance of us. She now hoisted a
second signal : " Admiral wishes to confer with
Minister." But before Mr. Bruce could return from
the interview we already knew the worst. The
surgeon above-mentioned had brought back a full
tale of defeat and slaughter. Our intrepid captain
was the officer for whom the cot was wanted. He
had just undergone amputation of the leg on board
the Coromandel, and wished to be brought back to
his own ship.

We soon had more ample proof of the extent of
our disaster. The same launches that had taken off
our lusty, exulting shipmates now drew alongside
with a sadly diminished freight of maimed and
shattered humanity, and it was a piteous sight to
watch the poor fellows crawl up the accommoda-
tion ladder down which we had seen them step so
jauntily just two days before. Presently came a
boat with Vansittart himself, whom we all lent a
hand to hoist up in the cot where he lay with a
calm, white face, but with that look of things be-
yond which so seldom misleads. Altogether it was
a miserable business, and being the first and only
occasion on which I have witnessed the sterner
aspects of war, left on me an indelible impression.

It had indeed been a most disastrous day. The
leading gun-boat the Opossum, I think had been
stopped by the imperfectly destroyed booms, and
the others crowding in upon her in the narrow and


shallow channel, they all got aground in turn, and
thus unable to move either forwards or backwards
had become easy targets to the seventy guns of
the forts, carefully trained on this one spot, which
now suddenly opened upon them. Our vessels had,
in fact, blindly rushed into the trap cunningly set
for them, the formidable character of which too
superficial a reconnaissance had prevented their
realising. After some hours of severe and most
unequal fighting, it had been resolved, as a despe-
rate resource, to land the marines and small arms
companies and try to storm one of the forts, which,
if taken, would have given us the key of the whole
position. The landing unfortunately took place at
low water and just before dark, and our men, in
jumping out of the boats, at once sank over their
knees in the ooze and tenacious mud of a beach
which was thoroughly raked by the fire of the
works in front of them. Under this deadly hail-
storm such of them as did not fall at once advanced,
dropping in tens and twenties as they went, or
floundered into deep ditches where they lost their
scaling-ladders and wetted their rifles and ammuni-
tion. It was quite dark when a determined band
of some sixty men over one-half of them officers
reached the last ditch at the very foot of the
fort, and there lay down for upwards of an hour
waiting for reinforcements which never came, for
the simple reason that there were none left to send.
Some old Crimeans among this undaunted handful


swore they had recognised Russian uniforms and
had heard Russ spoken in the fort, and their state-
ments led to an idle report of secret Russian co-
operation with the Chinese. It is just possible that
deserters from the forces on the Amoor may have
helped to work the Chinese guns, but I should be
equally ready to believe that there were English
deserters there too. The scum and refuse of man-
kind had long made China one of their favourite

The action was irretrievably lost. Five of our
vessels were sunk (two of these, the Cormorant and
the Lee, remained in Chinese hands), and we had a
casualty list of nearly 500 men out of a total force of
probably 1200. The Admiral himself was severely
wounded, as were the seconds in command, Captain
Vansittart and Shadwell. So was also the gallant
French captain, Tricault, one of the slender party
who had lain under cover of the last ditch. Bitter
as was the confession, we were obliged to admit
that all further operations were impossible with the
force left to us. Our sunken vessels, however, must
be removed, if possible ; so, during the fortnight
consumed by this arduous and dangerous operation,
we lay listlessly in the offing in our big ships under
the blazing sun of July the northern summer had
mockingly set in with all its glory and fierceness
surrounded by the wounded, the dying, and the
dead, who were borne out by the treacherous river
and came floating past us a ghastly, sickening


sight. One lovely evening, I remember pointing
out to an officer on deck an object at some little
distance that kept bobbing up and down in the
light on the curly water. He put up his glass,
gave me a queer look, and then ordered a boat to
pull towards it. It was the body of some officer
sewn up in a hammock, from which the shot that
was to submerge him had got detached. What we
saw was the head of the corpse floating upright, and
the body had to be thrust through before it could
be made to sink for ever " beneath the wave."

Most trying of all, perhaps, was the boom of
the enemy's guns, which began as soon as night
had closed in each shot preceded by a blue light
by which the gunners directed their fire at our men
working under cover of the darkness to raise their
sunken vessels. Fortunately the Chinamen made
very bad practice ; but there was something inex-
pressibly saddening, and at the same time galling,
in the sound to which we knew that no reply could
be made on our side. The tedium and tension of
these days were only relieved by the bright tales
of deeds of individual gallantry which cropped up
hourly with the details of the action. The Admiral
himself had been simply " heroic," as Tricault no
mean judge expressed it to me. He had shifted
his flag at least throe times from one sinking vessel
to another, and, though wounded at the outset and
afterwards disabled, had never given up the com-
mand. Conspicuous, too, for their intrepidity were


Commerell, 1 who subsequently reaped further glory
in Africa, and Commander Jones of the Lee, one of
the vessels hopelessly lost. Poor Jones " Gallows
Jones " his friends used to call him was one of the
finest and most promising officers in the service, and
unquestionably the most amusing I ever met. I see
him now in the cabin of the Magicienne trying on
the kit of clothes we had scraped together for him,
and keeping us in fits of laughter when everything
he had in the world a few hundred pounds' worth
was lying at the bottom of the river.

Perhaps the instance of cool daring that struck
me as most remarkable was that related, I think,
by Jones of a boatswain (I unfortunately forget his
name) who, in the thickest of the fight, volunteered
to be slung over the side of his sinking ship, where
he worked below the water-line plugging a hole,
coming up to breathe under the hottest fire imagin-
able, and being, in fact, the whole time between
asphyxia and round shot. But it is invidious to
quote special cases when all had behaved so admir-
ably. This obscure, hopeless, mismanaged affair
now utterly forgotten and merged in the events of
the great campaign of the following year of which
it was the cause deserves to the full as brilliant a
pen as that which has so minutely and imperishably
chronicled the day of Balaclava. Indeed, in the
errors committed and the redeeming heroism shown,
it much resembles that splendid piece of military

1 The late Admiral Sir Edmund Commerell, G.C.B.


folly. Surely the rewards of history are unfairly
portioned out. The ride of the " ten beautiful
squadrons " is set for ever in the most gorgeous
page of our military annals, while the record of the
landing of our humbler marines and blue-jackets
remains pigeon-holed in dust at the Admiralty.

Before leaving the scene of our disaster, I must
pay a heart-felt tribute to the bearing of the Ameri-
can, Commodore Tatnall. The Toey-wan, as I said
before, had got aground, and from her deck this type
of Southern chivalry had watched the contest with
ever-increasing impatience. At last, riy tenant plus,
he ordered his gig to be manned and, through a fire
so tremendous that his coxswain's head was taken
off by a round shot and his boat smashed to pieces
alongside the Admiral's vessel, he steered straight
for the British flag in danger, and, coolly stepping
on deck, inquired how the Admiral was doing.
When afterwards asked why he had thus exposed
himself, he simply replied that Sir James Hope had
called upon him a few days before, and that he had
had no earlier opportunity of returning his visit.
He had to borrow a boat to go back to his own
vessel, but the crew of his gig concealed themselves
on board the English gun-boat and helped to work
her gun throughout the action. 1 In explanation of
this imneutral proceeding, it was that the old man
gave vent to his memorable saying : " After all, sir,

1 Wade states, no doubt on good authority, that the Toey-ican helped
to tow up our boats carrying the landing party.


blood is thicker than water ! " Grand words, that
should be carefully treasured up in every habitation
of the Anglo-Saxon race. Could but more such
instances of American brotherly feeling be quoted.

At last the weary task was accomplished. Of
the five sunken vessels three had been raised from
their slimy bed and brought safely out of the river
the Lee and Cormorant remaining to mark the
short-lived triumph of the Chinese. How thorough
an ambuscade they had prepared for us is shown
by the fact that, before the action, our officers were
assured that the obstructions in the river were not
devised against us, but as a protection against
pirates, while, after our repulse, the Emperor issued
a boastful decree expressly stating that San-ko-lin-
sin had been ordered to fortify the passage so as to
keep us out. Another circumstance worth record-
ing is that so little was the Imperial commander
assured of his success that it \vas not till several
days after the action, when it became evident that
we did not contemplate a renewal of the attack,
that he ventured to flaunt his Tartar banners from
the Taku walls in sign of victory.

The maimed and baffled squadron now once more
shaped its course for the south, and at the Saddle
Islands (a group off the entrance to the Yangtse) we
were transhipped to the Coromandel, which was to
take us back to Shanghai. Here we took a last
sad leave of Vansittart, who was fast sinking and
breathed his last two days after we left his ship.


" Brave as Nelson, gentle as Collingwood," might
well be said of him. The navy in him sustained an
irreparable loss. The fight, with all its heroism, and
mortification, and slaughter, was now well behind
us, but to our chief remained the bitter task of
reporting home a failure, which he rightly foresaw
would be mainly laid to his account, however un-
fairly. Written explanations could hardly be deemed
sufficient in such an emergency, so he resolved to
send me home for the purpose of furnishing any
additional information that might be desired by the

At this period it was that Mr. Bruce displayed
the strength of character and nobility of disposition
to which I have before paid my tribute. He was,
indeed, sustained throughout by the conviction that
his policy, although temporarily thwarted, was the
only right one, but he none the less keenly felt the
disaster that had befallen our arms and the cruel
sacrifice of life it had entailed. Yet he did not
shrink an instant from taking upon himself the
entire responsibility of the operations, although he
had, of course, in no way controlled their execution.
Almost his last words to me when I took leave of
him at Shanghai were : " Remember ! I stand or
fall with the Admiral ! " But 1 have approached
delicate ground, and it is no part of these purely
personal recollections to awaken long-laid contro-
versies, or still less to dwell on the treatment which
Mr. Bruce received at this time in quarters where it


was least to be expected. I cannot, however, pass
over entirely the attitude of the Conservative states-
man by whom he had been sent out, and who was
no longer in power when I brought home the un-
welcome news of his repulse. It certainly was a
strange and painful circumstance that, during the
debate which took place on the subject in the
House of Lords, the ex-Foreign Secretary who had
drawn up the instructions under which the British
Envoy had acted instructions which clearly con-
templated the possibility of a collision, since they
enjoined his taking a sufficient force with him to
the north, and especially dwelt on the importance
of his asserting a right to passage up the river-
should have attacked his policy and disclaimed all
responsibility for it, while Lord Palmcrston (now
become Prime Minister), who might fairly have
abstained from defending a course of action for
which he was in no way answerable, gave the Envoy
his warm and uncompromising support.

I left Shanghai on one of the last days iu July,
and just before starting had a sharp attack of China
fever, accompanied by great nervous prostration, due
in great part, I think, to the season of painful ex-
citement and anxiety I had just gone through. In
the first week of August I took the homeward-
bound mail at Hong-Kong. My voyage was devoid
of all incident beyond a storm we experienced at
the very outset. It had been blowing in fitful
gusts in Hong-Kong harbour the morning I weut


on board, and the glass had fallen low enough to
make things look ominous. Yet, for the first few
hours, we found the sea outside rough, but nothing
more. Dinner was just over, I remember, and being
still weak from fever, I was seated dozing in an
arm-chair on deck when Bersolle, a French Secre-
tary of Legation who was going home invalided,
suddenly roused me, pointing straight before him
at the same time over the bulwarks we were facing.
On what seemed the extreme verge of the horizon,
narrowed by the rapidly closing -in night, what
looked like a huge green wall was moving towards
us with unbroken front, and levelling, as it advanced,
the chopping billows round us. A few more seconds
and this liquid mound overtopped us, the white crest
bent over and broke, and then, simultaneously lifting
the keel and striking the ship's side, the enormous
wave made her shiver from stem to stern, then
bounding on deck ran hissing along, drenching and
driving us below and floating all the loose gear that
lay about. Nothing could be more sudden. From
that moment we lay in the trough of a terrific sea
that came tumbling in in wildest confusion from all
sides, while the wind veering every minute, and the
glass falling at the rate of 0.3 inch an hour, left no
doubt that we were within the range of a violent

We passed two miserable days and nights, with
everything battened down ; suffocated by the damp


heat which specially characterises these storms ; un-
able to sit, or lie down, or stand, or eat, or read, or
sleep ; surrounded by terrified women and children
(most of them Spanish passengers from Manilla) ;
without any reckoning (we could obtain none) of
our exact position in waters which abound in hidden
rocks and shoals ; reduced to wait and watch till the
fury of the tempest should pass away from us. All
we could do was to keep on our course at the lowest
possible speed and trust to our not being drawn
nearer to the centre of the cyclone that was crossing
our path. Fortunately our ship the same Pekin
which three months before had taken me from Galle
to Hong-Kong had the most skilful and resolute
of commanders in Burne, a Lancashire gentleman
of good family and religious training (a brother, I
believe, of that distinguished Indian official, Sir
Owen Burne), whose cheerful energy and simple
trust in Providence gave confidence to all on board.
On the third morning a break was visible in the
sky to us it seemed as the first ray of light that
shone on chaos and by the barometrical readings
we knew that the centre of the storm was moving
rapidly to the westward, and that by keeping
steadily on our course, though we made little or
no progress, we were certain to be in smooth
waters by the morrow.

Just before nightfall of that third day occurred
the incident which has so deeply engraved this


tempest on my memory. The sea was still running
furiously, but we had picked up heart, and, after such
dinner as we could swallow, a few of us had ventured
on the wave-swept deck to get a breath of fresh air.
As we stood there, holding on to life-lines and
stanchions, alternately gazing down into fathom-
less depths of cruel, mocking green, or glancing
upwards at mountains of foam, the officer of the
watch called out : " A boat ! " A boat, indeed !
what craft of that size could live in such a sea
as this ? Peering out through the blinding spray,
we could just discern six silhouettes clearly cut
out against the background of raging sea and
scudding cloud ; half-a-dozen human frames sus-
pended, they looked, in mid-air, and jerked up and

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