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Another War in China


Another War in China - The Treaty of Tien-tsin - Treachery of the Chinese - Repulse of the British Forces - Second Mission of Lord Elgin - He is joined by Baron Gros, the French Plenipotentiary - Both the Ambassadors shipwrecked - Ultimatum of the Plenipotentiaries - It is scouted by the Chinese Government - Capture of the Taku Forts - Occupation of Tien-tsin - More Chinese Treachery - Imprisonment and torture of a number of English Officers and the Times Correspondent - Defeat of the Chinese - The Allies march on Pekin - The Emperor's Summer Palace looted by the French, and burned by the English - Surrender of Pekin - Submission of the Chinese, and Ratification of the Treaty.
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It would seem as if the difficulties with China were destined never to have an end. Our readers will recollect that the treaty of Tien-tsin provided for the appointment of ambassadors on the part of Great Britain and China to reside at their respective courts, and for the permanent establishment of the British minister at the court of Pekin. The Honourable Mr. Bruce, brother of Lord Elgin, was accordingly sent out in March, 1859, with instructions from Lord Malmesbury as to the course he was to pursue. Sir John Bowring was to be superseded as Governor of Hong-Kong, and the British head-quarters were to be transferred thence to Shanghai, where Mr. Bruce was to fix his residence for the present. Anticipating the usual obstacles of Chinese diplomacy in the way of the plenipotentiary to the metropolis, he was required to do his duty firmly, and admit of no excuses; but insist on the right of presenting his credentials to the Emperor in person, and to require the literal fulfilment of the treaty with regard to the establishment of the mission permanently at Pekin. A sufficient naval force was to accompany him to the mouth of the Peiho. He arrived at Hong-Kong in the month of May, and was joined there by M. de Bourboulon, the French ambassador. When they reached Shanghai, it was proposed to them by the Chinese authorities that the ratification should be exchanged there, or that, if they must go to Pekin, it should be by land, a journey of two months, instead of ascending the river Peiho. They, however, insisted on the latter route, and were escorted by a squadron of gun-boats and some other vessels under the command of Admiral Hope Proceeding in advance to reconnoitre the fortifications, he found those demolished last year now strengthened by additional ditches, with an increased number of more powerful booms. Pew guns were visible, but there were numerous embrasures masked with matting. After waiting for some days, tantalised with false promises and evasive answers, Admiral Hope was resolved to force his way up the river. The first barrier was penetrated, when a tremendous fire suddenly opened from the forts, where guns of large calibre had been concealed. The Plover was disabled, the Kestrel sank in her position, and the admiral was severely wounded. He then determined to take the forts by coups de main. A landing was effected, in obedience to his orders, on the evening of the 21st of June. What followed is graphically described by an eye-witness: -

"A vertical fire of arrows, as well as a constant fusilade, was kept up on the select band who now crowded in the ditch, waiting, but in vain, for reinforcements; and that any of them afterwards escaped alive was miraculous. Seeing what insurmountable difficulties presented themselves, the order was at last given to retire; the lion- hearted commander of the troops, Colonel Lemon, of the Royal Marines (who was one of the first into the farthest ditch), Captain Vansittart, of the Magicienne, and Captain Shad well, of the Highflier, all having been severely wounded. The latter was badly shot through the foot shortly after landing, but nevertheless managed to struggle manfully forward even to the advanced trench. Poor Captain Vansittart had his leg shot off. Lieutenant Groves, of the Assistance, Lieutenant Clutterbuck, of the Coromandel, young Herbert, of the Chesapeake, and Lieutenants Inglis and Woolridge, of the Royal Marines, were all killed, while gallantly cheering on the men; and at least three-fourths of the officers who landed were more or less severely hit. In effecting the retreat even more lives were lost, perhaps, than in advancing, as the Chinese, by lighting blue lights, were enabled to discover the exact position of our then reeling and thoroughly exhausted men, and so to shoot them down like birds. Even on arriving at the water's edge, matters were not improved, as so many of the boats had been smashed to pieces by round shot that there were not enough remaining to take off the surviving men. Several were drowned in attempting to get off, while many had to remain for more than an hour up to their necks in water before they could get a place in a boat; and even then their dangers were not passed, as the fire from the forts continued so heavy that several boats full of wounded were struck and swamped while pulling off to the ships. The Coromandel was made the temporary hospital-ship, and the scene on her upper deck was truly horrible."

In consequence of this humiliating repulse, Lord Elgin was again sent out as British plenipotentiary, with a powerful expedition, to enforce the execution of the treaty of which he was the author. General Hope Grant, then in India, was appointed to the chief command, and several Sikh regiments volunteered their services. Baron Gros, the French plenipotentiary, accompanied Lord Elgin. They sailed together in the Malabar, which was driven upon a reef of sunken rocks in the Harbour of Point de Galle, in Ceylon, and became a total wreck. The lives of the ambassadors were saved with difficulty, and much valuable property and important papers were lost. They resumed their voyage, however, in the Pekin, and arrived at Hong-Kong on the 21st of June, 1860. On the 2oth of July, the French expedition joined the British near the mouth of the Peiho river; disembarking at Pehtang, where they remained encamped to the 12th of August, in a wilderness of mud and water, destitute of tree, plant, shrub, or grass, amidst a scene of utter misery and desolation." In the meantime an ultimatum had been sent to Pekin, demanding satisfaction for the treacherous attack on the British, the immediate ratification of the treaty at Pekin, permission to proceed in a British vessel to "Tien-tsin, and an escort to conduct the British ambassador with due honour to Pekin. The French ambassador joined in these demands, which also included an indemnity for the losses sustained. The Great Council answered this despatch, stating that its contents had filled them with the greatest astonishment, and that they were altogether contrary to " decorum." The language of the British minister was described to bo "too insubordinate and extravagant" for his propositions to be entertained or discussed more than superficially; and lie was told that, for the future, he must not be so wanting in, decorum, nor adhere so obstinately to his own opinion.

Nothing now remained for the allies but to fight their way to the metropolis. They advanced along the banks of the Peiho, constructing bridges over the creeks and ditches, till, arriving within a mile of Taku, they encountered the enemy's batteries, which they carried by storm, routing the Chinese garrison, and capturing forty- five guns. They then advanced against the Taku forts, which they assailed with Armstrong guns at 2,000 yards' range, the Chinese firing upon the troops from all their forts within range so effectively that our sappers were unable to lay down the bridge, the men who carried it being knocked over, and the pontoon destroyed. A breach, however, was soon made, our men swarming across and entering single file in the most gallant manner. At the same time the French effected an entrance, the garrison was driven back step by step, and hurled pell-mell through the embrasures on the opposite sides. "Between the English and French," said the Times' correspondent, "there was nothing to choose. A Frenchman climbed to the top of the parapet, where for some time he stood alone; one rifle after another was handed to him, which he fired against the enemy, till he fell back speared through the eye." Another, pickaxe in hand, was shot while he attempted to cut away the top of the wall. Lieutenant Burslem seized the pick and continued the work. Lieutenant Levon forced the point of his sword into the wall, and from this Lieutenant Rogers leaped through the embrasure, and was the first Englishman in the place. After an hour's desperate fighting, the whole of the forts on both sides of the river hauled down their war banners, and hoisted flags of truce, but they refused to surrender. In the course of the evening, however, they abandoned all their positions, leaving 400 guns in the hands of the allies. Admiral Hope then advanced to Tien-tsin, which he occupied. There he found a placard posted on the walls, announcing that the barbarians were defeated, and were suing for peace, and that the inhabitants need not be alarmed. Negotiations were then opened by fresh commissioners of high rank, whom Messrs. Parkes and Wade were sent to meet at Tang-chow, twenty-five miles distant. On the 15th of September they returned, having made satisfactory arrangements for Lord Elgin's reception; and camping- ground had been assigned to the British forces. On arriving at the spot, however, they found it occupied by a large Chinese army; while batteries had been hastily thrown up and armed so as to flank the proposed site of the British camp. Mr. Parkes started back to Tang-chow to see the High Commissioners, and ask the reason of this move. He was accompanied by Mr. De Morgan, attaché to the British Legation, and by Mr. Bowlby, correspondent of the Times. Meantime, the Chinese cavalry, which were very numerous, had almost entirely surrounded the British forces. Sufficient time had elapsed for the party to arrive from Tang-chow. While anxiously waiting for them, a sudden attempt was made to assassinate Colonel Walters and others, including some French officers. Mr. Parkes and his companions, however, did not return. They were all taken prisoners by the Chinese, carried off into the interior, and treated with frightful cruelty; their hands and feet being so tightly bound with cords, that in some instances the flesh burst, and mortification ensued.

In consequence of the treachery of the Chinese, their camp was attacked by the allied forces, and the enemy was completely defeated. The authorities were now willing to negotiate once more; but Lord Elgin refused unless the prisoners were surrendered in three days, threatening that otherwise his army would advance to the assault on Pekin. Prince Kung, who now became the chief negotiator, persisting in the system of evasion, the allied armies marched forward, and on the 6th of October the French entered the Summer Palace of the Emperor, which an eye-witness thus described: - " The Summer Palace is about five miles, by a circuitous road, north-west of this camp, outside the earthwork. A description of it is given in Staunton's account of Lord Macartney's embassy, and other works on China; but no pen can describe correctly the scene which has taken place there the last two days. Indiscriminate loot has been allowed. The public reception-hall, the state and private bed-rooms, ante-rooms, boudoirs, and every other apartment, has been ransacked; articles of vertu, of native and foreign workmanship, taken, or broken if too large to be carried away; ornamental lattice-work screens, jade-stone ornaments, jars, clocks, watches, and other pieces of mechanism, curtains and furniture - none have escaped from destruction. There were extensive wardrobes of every article of dress; coats richly embroidered in silk and gold thread in the imperial dragon pattern, boots, head-dress, and fans, &c. - in fact, rooms all but filled with them; store-rooms of manufactured silk in rolls, such as may be bought in Canton at twenty to thirty dollars per piece." Two days afterwards Mr. Parkes and his companions were released, and permitted to join the camp. "At two o'clock, he (Hang-Ki) told us that all the prisoners had been assembled, and that we could take our departure. We were placed in covered carts, without being allowed to see each other, and were escorted by a large party of soldiers and mandarins through streets which wore a deserted appearance, to the Se-che, or north-western gate of the city. We soon saw, with thankful hearts, as those great portals opened and then immediately closed behind us, that we were already free men, for our guard, not daring to follow us out of the city, had left to ourselves the pleasant task of finding our own way to the allied camp."

The siege guns were placed in position before the walls of the mysterious metropolis of the vast Chinese empire, and notice had been given to its defenders that unless it were surrendered before noon of the following day the attack would commence. The Emperor had departed, on the pretext that he was obliged to go on a hunting expedition, deputing his authority to Prince Kung and his ministers. The latter thought it the wisest course to surrender unconditionally, in order to save the city from destruction. The gates were thrown open, and the flags of England and France were soon seen floating from the walls. It was the first time for thousands of years that the sanctity of the Imperial capital was thus violated. In the terms proposed Lord Elgin stipulated that, if the garrison surrendered, the city would be spared. He was then in ignorance of the fate of some of the English prisoners; but when he became acquainted with the horrifying details he resolved to inflict signal punishment for such barbarous outrages against humanity: he therefore proposed that the Summer Palace of the Emperor, the place in which some of the worst tortures had been inflicted upon the prisoners, should be burnt to the ground. Baron Gros declined to take part in this measure; but Lord Elgin determined to act in the matter on his own responsibility. He wrote to Prince Kung, reminding him that of the total number of twenty-six British subjects seized in defiance of honour and of the law of nations, thirteen only had been restored alive, all of whom carried on their persons evidence, more or less distinctly marked, of the indignities which they had suffered; while thirteen had been barbarously murdered. He declared that until this foul deed should be expiated peace between Great Britain and the existing dynasty of China was impossible. He announced that the Summer Palace must be forthwith levelled with the ground. He required that the sum of 300,000 taels should be at once paid down, to be appropriated, at the discretion of Her Majesty's Government, to those who had suffered, and to the families of the murdered men; and, lastly, that the whole of the indemnity stipulated in the treaty of Tien-tsin should be paid before the armies of England and France removed from the city, should the Governments of those countries see fit to adopt that course.

Notwithstanding the indiscriminate loot by which the Summer Palace had been stripped of all that was portable among its precious treasures, there yet remained much that was beautiful and gorgeous in that wonderful abode of Oriental pomp and luxury. It consisted of a series of elegant and picturesque buildings spread over an extensive park. Lord Elgin was determined that not a trace of this grandeur should remain, and that the spot on which the blood of British subjects had been so treacherously and cruelly shed should for ever remain a monument of British power and of retributive justice. Accordingly, the buildings were set on fire by a detachment of our troops, and totally destroyed. The Chinese authorities had now been brought to a sense of their real position. They no longer dared to talk of Lord Elgin's want of decorum, but humbly signed the convention on the 24th of October. In that treaty the Emperor expressed his deep regret at the breach of friendly relations which had occurred by the conduct of the garrison of Taku in obstructing Her Majesty's representative when on his way to Pekin; he conceded the right to her of having an ambassador resident in that city if she thought proper; he agreed to pay a sum of 8,000,000 taels, in certain fixed instalments, as indemnity for the cost of the war. It was also provided that British subjects were to be allowed to reside and trade at Tien-tsin, and that Chinese subjects should be at liberty to emigrate to British Colonies, and to ship themselves and their families on board British vessels; and the Queen was to have the option of retaining a force at Tien-tsin and at other specified places, until the indemnity should be paid. The ratifications were duly exchanged, and the allied armies retired from Pekin to Tien-tsin on the 5th of November, 1860.


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Pictures for Another War in China

Lord Elgin
Lord Elgin >>>>
Burial ground at Pekin
Burial ground at Pekin >>>>

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