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Progress of the Chinese War


Progress of the Chinese War - Keshin, the Imperial Commissioner - His Duplicity - Convention between him and the British Plenipotentiary- Violated by the Chinese, and Disallowed by both Governments - Attack on Canton - Wrath of the Emperor - Report of Keshin on the National Defences - The Emperor's Reply - Second Attack on Canton, and Capture of the Forts - Suspension of Hostilities - Unsatisfactory Arrangement - Sir Henry Potfinger, the new Plenipotentiary - Vigorous Prosecution of the War - Capture of Amoy - Advance of the Squadron into the Interior - Capture of Chin-hae, Ning-po, and Chapou - Arrival of the Armament at Chin-Keang-Foo, which is taken by Assault - Nankin - Suspension of Hostilities - Negotiations for Peace - Terms of the Treaty - Report of the Chinese Commissioner to the Emperor.
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The climate of Chusan was found to be very unhealthy, and our men suffered severely, their sufferings being aggravated by the scarcity of fresh provisions. Consequently, soon after taking the island, only about 2,000 out of 3,650 men were fit for duty. Shortly after, Admiral Elliot, accompanied by Captain Elliot, sailed with part of the squadron northwards, and arrived on the 9th of August, 1840, at the harbour of Guef, into which the Peiho or Pekin river flows. Next day he proceeded into the mouth of the river in the steamer, with the boats of all the men-of-war. The steamer having anchored at the bar, the boats were sent up the river with a flag of truce. On their arrival off the forts at the entrance, a mandarin boat pushed off to them, and received the admiral's letter, ten days being demanded for an answer. In the meantime, the boats proceeded to the neighbouring islands to obtain bullocks and other supplies. At the time appointed for an answer, an interview was granted to the admiral by Keshin, the Imperial Commissioner, the third man in the empire, a mandarin of first class and red button. Negotiations were protracted till the 15th of September, Admiral Elliot agreeing that they should be concluded at Canton, where Keshin was to take the place of Commissioner Lin, who was recalled, and obliged to answer for his conduct in dealing so leniently with the "barbarians," which excited the highest displeasure of the Emperor.

Keshin represented himself as being invested with full powers to deal with the English, and adjust the quarrel between them and the Chinese Government. He had cunningly transferred the scene of negotiations to Canton, in order to secure time to strengthen the forts and prepare for defence. He accordingly employed the interval busily in erecting new batteries at the Bogue, barricading the bars in the river by sinking boats laden with stones, throwing up breastworks near Canton, and levying troops. The English Commissioner, wearied and irritated by these proceedings, gave directions to Commodore Bremer to proceed at once to compulsory methods of bringing the Chinese to reason. On the 7th of January, therefore, he opened fire on the Bogue forts, on two of which the English flag very soon floated. Next morning, when everything was ready to attack the principal fort, Annughoy, a flag of truce was sent by the Chinese, and hostilities were suspended. Keshin offered to adjust matters immediately, and on the 20th a circular appeared, signed by Captain Elliot, and dated Macao, addressed to "Her Britannic Majesty's subjects," stating that Her Majesty's plenipotentiary had to announce the conclusion of preliminary arrangements between the Imperial Commissioner and himself, involving the following conditions: - 1st. The cession of the harbour and island of Hong Kong to the British Crown. 2nd. An indemnity to the British Government of 6,000,000 dollars, to be paid in annual instalments in six years. 3rd. Direct official intercourse between the two countries upon equal footing. It was quite evident that Her Majesty's plenipotentiary did not understand the sort of people ho had to deal with; otherwise, he would not have arrested the operations of Commodore Bremer till he had all the principal forts in his possession. In fact he was completely duped by Keshin who boasted as follows: - " The English barbarians are now obedient to orders, and by an official document have restored Ting-hae and Shakow, invoking me, with the most earnest importunity, that I should for them report and beg the Imperial favour. At present all affairs are perfectly well settled. The former order for stopping their trade, and cutting off the supplies of provisions, it is unnecessary to enforce; it is for this purpose that I issue these orders."

The convention, which did not contain a word about the opium trade, gave great dissatisfaction at home, and Lord John Russell declared in the House of Commons, on the 6th of May, that it had been disapproved of by the Government; that Captain Elliot had been recalled, and Sir Henry Pottinger appointed plenipotentiary in his stead. The Chinese, however, soon violated their engagements. On the 19th of February an English boat was fired upon from North Wang-ton, in consequence of which the squadron under Captain Sir H. Flemming Senhouse attacked the forts on the 26th of February, and in a very short time the British colours were flying on the whole chain of these celebrated fortifications, and the British became masters of the islands without the loss of a single man. Proceeding up the river towards the Whampoa Reach they found it fortified with upwards of forty war junks, and the Cambridge, an old East Indiaman. But they were all silenced in an hour, when the marines and small-arm men were landed and stormed the works, driving before them upwards of 3,000 Chinese troops, and killing nearly 300. Next day Sir Gordon Bremer joined the advanced squadron, and the boats were pushed forward within gun-shot of Howgua's fort; and thus, for the first time, were foreign ships seen from the walls of Canton. On the 2nd of May the Cruiser came up, hi wing on board Major-General Sir Hugh Gough, who took command of the land forces. On approaching the port it was found to be abandoned, as well as those highei up the river, the Chinese having fired all their guns aid fled. The Prefect or Governor of Canton then made his appearance, accompanied by the Hong merchants, announcing that Keshin having been recalled and degraded, and the new Commissioner not having arrived, there was no authority to treat for peace. Captain Elliot again hesitating, requested the naval and military commanders to make no further movement towards the city until it was seen what was the disposition of the provincial authorities at Canton. But Sir G. Bremer observed in a despatch that he feared the forbearance was misunderstood, and that a further punishment must be inflicted before that arrogant and perfidious Government was brought to reason. He was right; for on the 17th of March a flag of truce, with a message sent by Captain Elliot to the Imperial Commissioner, was fired upon by the Chinese. In consequence of this, a force under Captain Herbert, who was in advance of the rest of the armament, carried in succession all the forts up to Canton, taking, sinking, burning, and otherwise destroying the flotilla of the enemy, and hoisted the Union Jack the same day on the walls of the British factory; the guns of the squadron commanding the approaches to the city, and thus placing it entirely at our mercy.

It then appeared that the Imperial Government had rejected the treaty and determined on war. Four imperial edicts were issued, which breathed fierce wrath and scorn against the English, whom the emperor declared to be like dogs or sheep in their dispositions, and stating that both gods and men were indignant at their conduct, and that neither heaven nor earth could bear with them any longer. The unhappy Keshin was delivered over to the board of punishment, though still retaining his command. It is not easy to understand the difficulties in which an Imperial Commissioner was placed under that excessively ignorant and intensely despotic Government. A few extracts from the Chinese documents bearing upon the subject will show how the British invasion was regarded from the Imperial point of view. They were translated by Mr. Thom, the interpreter of the British authorities, and this is a sufficient voucher for their authenticity and the fidelity of the translation. As the report of Keshin is a very able and a most instructive document, which throws the strongest light upon the condition of the celestial empire, and the spirit of its Government, the greater part of it is here reproduced, together with the reply and proclamation of the emperor: - "The slave Keshin, a high minister of state, and acting Governor of the two Kwang provinces, kneeling, presents before the throne of the Great Emperor a statement relating how that the English foreigners have sent a messenger to Che-Keang to restore Ting-hae, how that they have already restored us the forts of Shakow (Chumpee) and Takok, and the cruising vessels and salt junks, which they had previously captured, all of which have been duly received; and now that the ships of war of the said foreigners have already retired to the outer ocean, the said slave respectfully takes all the circumstances, and along with his most attentive observations on the military position of the country, the material of war, and the disposition of the people, offers them up, begging that a sacred glance may be bestowed upon the same. Whereas your slave, with a view to the defence of the ' country and protection of the people, previously to the receipt of your Majesty's commands, foolishly and confusedly begged for a display of Imperial clemency in favour of the English foreigners; at the same time (seeing that such was opposed to your Majesty's wishes), your slave repeatedly begged that his crime might be visited with the heaviest punishment, as is duly recorded. On the 28th day of the twelfth moon of last year (the 20th of January, 1840), I received a despatch from the private council to the following effect: - ' We have received the following imperial edict: - " Whereas Keshin has reported to us the measures he has taken in reference to the circumstances of the English foreigners, that as these rebellious foreigners are without reason, and refuse to listen to our commands, a dreadful example of severity ought immediately to be made in their regard. Already has a flying despatch been made to the different provinces of Hoonan, Syechuen, and Kweichow, that 4,000 soldiers be immediately got ready and sent with all haste to Canton, there to await orders. Cause, therefore, that Keshin, in concert with Lin Tschsen and Tang Tingehing, take the necessary steps for settling this business. If the rebellious foreigners dare to approach our inner shores, let them be immediately exterminated." ' And successively on the 4th day of the present moon, (26th of January, 1841), I received the following Imperial edict from the court direct: - 'Whereas Keshin has addressed to me a document in reference to the present circumstances of the English foreigners, which on glancing over we completely understand, cause that our previous edict be put in effect with implicit submission; let our military force be plentifully assembled together, and a complete display of heavenly majesty made in the utter extirpation of the rebels. As far as regards the expense necessary for these military operations, no matter whether it be the duties arising from foreign commerce or the land tax, you are hereby permitted to consult as to ways and means, and make true account of the expenditure of such revenues. Should these not be sufficient, you can report the same to me, and wait our further orders, &c. Respect this.' Your slave, while kneeling and hearing these commands read, reflected that though he had conditionally granted the several items (of the foreigners' demands), yet he but barely promised to make a representation of them to your Majesty in their behalf. Thus, in reference to one article, viz., the opening of the trade, although it appears that they (the foreigners) had requested that this might take place during the first decade of the present moon (23rd of January till the 1st of February), yet up till now I have not dared to permit it.

" But your slave is a man of confused and dull understanding. What he has done has, unhappily, not met with the views of His Sacred Majesty. Fearing and trembling as I am, how shall I find words to give expression to my feelings? Humbly remembering that your slave's person has received marks of imperial goodness, his conscience is not hardened. How should I dare, while engaged on the important duty of curbing these outside foreigners, and struggling amid danger and difficulty, to strive after forbidden repose? From the moment that I came down to Canton have I been the victim of the craft and wiles of these presuming foreigners. In every instance are they quite ungovernable, until that my head aches and my heart is rent, and my morning meal comes to me without relish. Thus, for example, on one occasion, we gave the foreigners battle, but our men showed little firmness. We then requested that a manifestation of divine majesty might be made in their annihilation; but alas! the circumstances of the case and the wishes of my heart are sadly opposed All these facts have I offered up to your Majesty in repeated statements, praying that your Majesty would bestow thereon a holy glance. Now, it appears that after these said foreigners had sent a person to Che-Keang to deliver up Ting-hae, and had restored all that they had captured in Kwangtung, and withdrawn their ships of war to the outer ocean. Elliot requested a personal interview with me; and as your slave had not yet in person inspected the Bocca Tigris, and as the troops ordered from the several provinces had not yet arrived, it did not seem prudent to show any symptoms of dislike to his proposal, which would have given rise to suspicion on his part, and thus prematurely brought on a collision. So your slave took advantage of the opportunity to visit and inspect the Bocca Tigris, and on the third day (25th January, 1841) left the city, and, embarking on shipboard, approached Sze Yang (Lion's Ocean), on the Canton river, whither Elliot soon came in a wheeled fire-ship, and begged for an interview. He scarcely brought several tens of persons in his train; and on that day his language and demeanour were exceedingly respectful. But he handed up to me a rough draft of several regulations which he had planned, the most of which regarded the troublesome minutiae of commerce; and, at the same time, he agreed that afterwards, in relation to the bringing of opium, the leaking out sycee, or smuggling, he was quite willing that ship and cargo should be confiscated. But among the articles he proposed there were some items quite impossible to be granted. Your slave at the time pointed them out, and rebuked him, when the foreigner immediately begged that they might be discussed and amended. I consented that he might alter them, but told him he must wait till they had been maturely canvassed, and handed up to your Majesty for examination and approval. Your slave, after having parted with Elliot, found that the Sye He Yang (second bar) is distant from the Bocca Tigris about sixty le (twenty miles); but even there the sea vast, the billows boiling, and the wind fierce. Suddenly we came on the ocean, in all its majesty. No inland river can in any measure be compared to it. Your slave immediately changed his boat for a vessel capable of navigating the high seas, and, having arrived at the Bocca Tigris, made a most careful inspection of all the forts round about. If they may not be said to be utterly isolated on the four sides, and rising up alone in the midst of the ocean, yet are they situated beyond the extremity of our hills, and quite approachable from the sea. Supposing them to be surrounded and blockaded, even so much as provision for the troops it would be found difficult to introduce. Your slave then proceeded to measure the depth of the water, beginning at the Bocca Tigris, and sounding till he came to Canton, and found it at high water to be from one chang (two fathoms) and upwards to three and four chang, varying continually. Now, we all know that the principal cause of these forts being erected was as a barrier to merchant ships, which draw more water, and which, in time of peace, when they submit to constraint, dare not pass the bounds, or to go round about; but if they were to bring troops with intention to rebel, they may sneak in clandestinely through every hole and corner. There is no necessity for their passing before the forts; and thus may they proceed straight up to the provincial city itself. Moreover, after having passed the Bocca Tigris, though we may add obstruction to obstruction, yet such is the nature of the country, that there is no important point by which we may hold it. Again, in reference to the strength of our soldiers, I find that keeping off the foreigners must be done by sea-fights; and to fight well at sea we must have good marine troops. I have now to feel grateful to your Majesty for especially land troops from the different provinces. This shows the great and sacred anxiety your Majesty feels in the matter. But then these troops must go on board our sea-going ships before that they can give battle to the foreigners; and if they were not firm, or if they were not accustomed to the winds and waves, it might entail on us the calamity of a defeat. Now, they are not accustomed to go on board ships and handle them -, so that we cannot but use marine soldiers. The marine troops of Canton province are drawn by invitation from the sea-side, and their quality is irregular and uncertain. I had previously heard a rumour that on the fifteenth day of the twelfth moon (January 7, 1841), after the battle, the whole of these soldiers went to their Tetuh, or general, and under false pretences extorted money from him, otherwise they disband; and lately I went to the Tetuh, and asked him face to face concerning it, when he said that it was quite true, and that he, the Tetuh, having no remedy, was obliged to pawn his clothes and things, by which means he was enabled to give a bonus of a couple of dollars to each of his Canton soldiers, and thus got them to remain at their posts till now. If, then, the disposition of these soldiers is greatly to be lamented, as it is, supposing at the most critical moment, when we had actually joined battle, these marine forces were to be found weak and without energy, it might lead to the most fatal consequences; and although we might have veteran troops among them, yet there would be no means of inspiring them with a portion of their skill and steadiness. Moreover, our war-ships are neither large nor strong; they are not capable of sustaining large guns, so that they are unable to repulse the foreigners; and these are the remarks I have to offer on the weakness of our soldiery. I have also found, on careful examination, that the characteristics of the people of Canton province are falsehood, ingratitude, and greediness - putting out of the question those who are actual traitors, and whom there is no occasion to speak about. The rest have all been born and dwell in the same place, mixed up with the foreigners. They are constantly accustomed to see them, and for many years have been as intimate with them as very brothers. They are not at all like the people of Ting hae, who having never been accustomed to hold intercourse with foreigners, immediately discovered them to be a distinct species. But if we suppose that what they did there, they had done here, if these said foreigners had deceitfully distributed their paltry presents, and set the machinery of their tricks to work, I really fear that the whole people of the province would have been seduced to them - they would certainly not have shown the unbending firmness of the Ting-hae people. Such are the observations I have got to offer on the flexible disposition of the Canton people, which circumstance gives us still more cause for anxiety. Your slave has again and again resolved the matter in his anxious mind! In so far as it regards his own person, it is unworthy of his notice; but the consequences touching the vital interests of the country, and the lives of the people involved in it, are vast, and extending to posterity; but, alas! your slave has sinned in giving battle, when he could not command destiny to give him the victory; and he has no less sinned in being unable to settle matters in unison with in unison with your sacred Majesty's wishes. Both of these are crimes which affect his poor life; but what is there in this worthy of pity or consideration? Still your slave, though he has sinned in not being able to settle matters your sacred Majesty's wishes, yet the territory and people of Canton still exist, and look up to your most sacred Majesty for your gracious support and protection; while your slave, by having sinned in giving battle when fate denied him the victory, has soiled the glory of his master, and poured out the lives of his people; and still more, left himself without a sensible plan to put into operation: therefore it is that, after having duly consulted with the Tartar General of the garrison and his Adjutants, Lieutenant-Governor, the literary Chancellor, the Judge and Treasurer, the Intendants of Circuit, the chief magistrates of larger and lesser districts, and the ex-governors, Lin Tschsen and Tang Tingehing, &c., we have unanimously come to the conclusion that our defences are not to be relied on, and that in the tug of battle our troops will not stand their ground. Moreover, in regard to troops which have been ordered by your Majesty from different provinces, time is still necessary for that object, nor can they all arrive at once; and the assembling of a large body is not a thing that can be done quietly; the native traitors are sure to give timely notice of it, and the foreigners would, in the first instance, give loose to their madness and extravagance. Your slave is the vexed to death thinking of these things; even still he loathes his food, and still sleep has forsaken his eyelids, forasmuch as he does not shrink from the heavy guilt he is incurring in taking all these facts, the results of his diligent inquiries, and with them annoying the ears of Heaven's Son; and at the same time he takes everything connected with foreigners, and all the foreign letters, and hands them up for Imperial inspection. He humbly hopes that the holy one will look down with pity and compassion on the black-haired race, and shower upon them an extra measure of clemency in granting what is therein requested, so that the people of the land may not be turned to ashes. In times of difficulty is seen good government; victory is but a transient thing; in restraining the ruin that is before our eyes, we ought carefully to eradicate the cause of it for after ages. In reference to all the circumstances contained in this, whether the result of my conference with the high provincial officers or of my own diligent investigation, I only hope that your sacred Majesty will condescend to inquire regarding them, and I beg that your Majesty will specially appoint a high officer to come here to ascertain their truth. Your slave has been actuated by a desire to save the country and the people from first to last, and not swayed by the smallest atoms of fear; and, still more, he dare not make use of the least glossing or deception. Inasmuch, therefore, this respectful memorial is forwarded at the rate of 600 le a day, humbly hoping that the Emperor's holy glance may be bestowed thereon. A respectful memorial."

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Victoria, Hong Kong
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Porcelain tower
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