CHINA AND JAPAN
Meet the Mississippi -- Arrival at Shanghai -- Appearance of the town -- American missionaries -- Sail for the Gulf -- Steam frigate Minnesota -- Sudden squall -- Tragic result -- Captain Dupont's valet kidnapped by the Chinese -- Valorous rescue by his gallant master -- Shabby treatment of American officers on board the gunboat "Woodstock" -- Return of Minister Reed from Tientsin -- Salute to the Fourth of July -- Participated in by all the foreign men-of-war -- Sail for Japan
With moderate weather and smooth seas, we paddled through Formosa channel, meeting with nothing in the way of interesting incident, and seeing nothing but Chinese fishing junks, of which "their name was legion." These hardy spoilers of the deep pursue their patient calling at the distance, frequently, of a hundred miles or more from the land, and in boats that have a most rickety and unseaworthy appearance; encountering the full force of the monsoons prevailing along the coast, and risking the sudden destruction which follows in the track of the Typhoon. Their vocation, however, makes them good prognosticators of the weather, and it is believed that but few of them suffer shipwreck from the periodical hurricane.
As our course to the Gulf of Pecheelee compelled us to pass within a few miles of the entrance of the Woosung river, Commodore Tattnall determined somewhat suddenly, to visit Shanghai, thinking it not improbable that he might receive there important intelligence from the scene of the recent warlike operations of the English and French at the mouth of the Pei-ho river, of which we had heard vague accounts while at Hong Kong, but nothing definite with regard to the course events had taken, subsequent to the demolition of the forts, and ascent of the river to Tientsin by the allied forces, with the Plenipotentiaries of their respective nations. Accordingly, on the evening of the 25th of May, we yielded a sullen obedience to the dictates of prudence, as suggested by the misty state of the weather, and let go an anchor near the "Saddle islands," situated at the distance of sixty miles from Woosung. We commenced getting under way again on the following morning, but soon had to relinquish the idea on account of a thick fog setting in, and it was rather fortunate that such was the case, as the delay resulted in our meeting with one of the vessels of the squadron directly from the Gulf of Pecheelee, with the very intelligence of which the Commodore was in quest. About 6 A.M., a large steamer was discovered quite near us, apparently feeling her way towards the same destination we were seeking, and as soon as it was ascertained on board the stranger that we were at anchor, we heard the sound of her chain rattling through the hawse-hole, as she dropped her anchor also, within half a mile of us. The fog soon lifted, and we hoisted our colors, and the ship's number, when to our great surprise the mysterious stranger displayed the Yankee flag, and the number of the steam frigate "Mississippi." Captain Nicholson and several of the officers soon came on board the Powhatan, and gave us the first authentic information we had received of the progress of events in the Gulf, from which desolate place the Mississippi had returned to replenish her stock of provisions, etc. For this purpose she was ordered by the Commodore to proceed to Hong Kong instead of Shanghai, and as she departed we got under way for the latter place. But the mists of the morning returning to darken the evening atmosphere, we were obliged again to anchor some thirty miles from our port. We learned from the officers of the Mississippi that our Minister, the Hon. W.B. Reed, had nearly concluded a treaty of amity and commerce with the Chinese Commissioners at Tientsin, when the destruction of the forts at the mouth of the Pei-ho by the belligerent allies, quashed the whole business, and rendered it necessary for him to await the result of their less pacific mode of negotiation.
On the morning of the 27th of May, the weather being favorable, we steamed into the anchorage near Woosung, some two miles above a filthy Chinese village of the same name. The country on both banks of the river is flat and uninteresting, save in the agricultural developments produced by the industrious and economical husbandry of the native population, which makes every inch of ground contribute to the subsistence of the teeming millions upon its surface. Considerable farmhouses, and thickly populated villages may be seen in every direction, cosily embowered beneath the umbrageous foliage of the camphor-tree, and the drooping boughs of the willow -- while the surrounding paddy -- or rice-fields, approach to within a few feet of these insular dwellings, leaving dry ground sufficient only for the absolute necessities of their primitive domestic arrangements. I had the pleasure of travelling in company with a friend, on one occasion, through these paddy fields, or along the narrow paths by which they are separated; we journeyed in sedan-chairs, each borne by two sturdy coolies, and I could not avoid a feeling of surprise at the facility with which these "horses without tails" threaded their way through the labyrinth of narrow, muddy pathways. Observing a number of oblong wooden structures, six or seven feet in length and two or three in width, dispersed here and there over the surface of the partially submerged rice-fields, I inquired of my compagnon du voyage, what they contained; and learned, to my surprise, that they were the coffins of the natives who had died on the farms through which we were passing, and on a little closer examination of one to which we passed quite near, I found that it was made of very thick pieces of timber, and covered over with a resinous substance to prevent decay. Large stones were placed under each corner, to keep it out of the water, and in this manner these wooden sarcophagi are preserved from generation to generation.
The European quarter of Shanghai presents a cheerful and elegant appearance from the river, the buildings being mostly of stone, with large and airy verandahs, and surrounded by handsomely ornamented grounds, where the birds chirp and flit about among the trees in undisturbed enjoyment of their cooling shades and waving branches. But entering the city as I did, at the southwestern extremity, passing through the interminable rice-fields, and the filthy purlieus where drunken sailors and the lowest class of women "most do congregate," is by no means calculated to give one a very favorable impression of the moral condition of the inhabitants, notwithstanding the proximity of the missionary establishments. I therefore take occasion to recommend all visitors to this growing mart of Eastern commodities, to approach it by water, or perhaps I had better say at once by the river, as there is certainly much more water than earth visible along the "overland route," as the road from Woosung is somewhat facetiously called.
The splendid mansions which line the "Bund," on the western bank of the river, are occupied by the members of the large commercial houses, through which the constantly increasing trade of Shanghai is conducted, and they live in a style of magnificence which fully entitles them to be called "merchant princes." They are extremely hospitable and attentive to their countrymen who come properly accredited to their notice, and I certainly have great reason to remember gratefully their extreme kindness to me personally, during my frequent visits to the city. I allude, of course, to the American houses alone; having formed no acquaintance among the European merchants or their families, I cannot presume to venture an opinion concerning their treatment of the visitors they may have among their respective countrymen.
The American missionaries occupy a prominent place in the community, not only in a social sense, but in the location of their residences, which are situated near the western bank of the river, immediately adjoining the other foreign habitations, the Hwangpu river, which is here disembogued, forming the line of demarcation between them; this is crossed by a substantial bridge erected in the line of the "Bund," as the public walk along the river front is called. The houses of these estimable conservators of the public morals are in admirable keeping with the humility, and, at the same time, the respectability of their calling, being of much more unpretending exterior than the generality of those occupied by persons engaged in secular pursuits, and yet they may be called handsome dwellings.
The Chinese city is separated from the European by a stone wall, having a circuit of five miles, within which the city proper is enclosed -- though there are several populous suburbs. The streets are narrow, and the population extremely dense, as may be said also of the atmosphere of horrible odors which surrounds their dwellings. Two hundred thousand people live within the walls of the city, and nearly half that number in the immediate vicinity, independent of those who spend their lives on the river, in the four or five thousand junks, sampans, cargo-boats, etc.; numbering, perhaps, thirty thousand more. One would certainly imagine, in walking through the wretched streets and lanes of this place -- lined on each side with shops of every conceivable description, and so teeming with half-naked, pumpkin-colored, shaven-pated excrescences in the shape of humanity, as to make a passage through the greasy crowds a difficult and by no means pleasant task -- that the Chinese were emphatically a nation of shopmen, and that each man had made an exact calculation of the amount of labor that would be required during the term of his natural life, to enable him to keep pace with his neighbor in the production of the particular article of trade to which he had devoted his time and talents, and thus to perpetuate the reciprocal operations of internal commerce. Such is the air of lazy indifference with which these incomprehensible Celestials strike a "foreign devil" at first sight, and yet it is a well-known fact that there does not exist a more ingenious or industrious race, in a small way, and their shrewdness in making a bargain, or taking advantage of a greenhorn "seeing the elephant" for the first time, will compare favorably with the far-famed Yankee keenness.
Shanghai is now regarded as the most important city in China, Canton having been so seriously injured by the attacks of foreign enemies, and the ravages of civil wars, as to reduce it to a second-rate town, and render it extremely doubtful whether the commercial supremacy of the place can ever be re-established; the wealthy Chinese merchants, who formerly collected the teas, silks, and other commodities for the foreign Hongs, having nearly all disappeared since the occupation of the city by the allied forces of England and France. The export trade of Shanghai now amounts to more than thirty millions of dollars annually, and the imports to about one-third of that sum. I do not pretend to give the exact figures, having no intention of writing a history -- only a hasty sketch. Notwithstanding the surrounding rice-fields, the climate is healthy, if temperance in eating and drinking is observed -- a subject to which the European and American residents of the better class pay proper attention, though it cannot be denied that the 8 o'clock dinners, from which they usually rise about midnight, have a most injurious effect upon the system.
On the day following the arrival of the Powhatan at Woosung, Commodore Tattnall proceeded by the river to Shanghai in his barge, and remained there until the 1st of June, collecting information relative to the state of affairs in the Gulf of Pecheelee, whither he intended to proceed with as little delay as possible, feeling himself compelled by a sense of duty to be present during the pending negotiations at Tientsin, though he would have preferred, as a matter of course, a protracted cruise around Cape Horn, to going there under existing circumstances. His patriotic and professional pride revolted at the idea of appearing among the large number of English and French men-of-war anchored off the mouth of the Pei-ho, in the character of a passive spectator -- or, "Jackall to the British lion" -- with which opprobrious epithet, among many others, the press in China had stigmatized the position assumed by the Government of the United States in its diplomatic intercourse with the Chinese. But there was no alternative -- the stern commands of duty had to be obeyed at every sacrifice of personal feeling, and no time was lost in continuing our voyage to the scene of action. On the 2d of June, the muddy waters of the Woosung were again stirred up by the revolving wheels of the "ponderous steamer Powhatan," as she was sarcastically designated by the "London Times," and we bade adieu to the fast-receding shores without a shade of regret, having before us the delightful prospect of a visit to Japan, after spending a few days in the less agreeable Gulf, to which we were in the first instance destined.
Being again singularly favored by mild and lovely weather, we had a quick and pleasant passage across the Yellow Sea, and up the Gulf of Pecheelee to the anchorage, where the allied squadrons had assembled, distant some seven miles from the entrance to the Pei-ho, or White River, which empties into the Gulf near its western extremity. The presence of the vessels at this point gave the only indication we could discover of our near approach to an anchorage; no signs of land being visible until we had dropped the "mud hook," and then the sites of the newly-demolished forts looming up in the distance, afforded the only ocular evidence of our proximity to the great Northern Capital of the Empire, whose nominal ruler claims such close relationship to the "Sun and Moon." We found here Admiral Seymour's flag-ship, the "Calcutta," of 74 guns, with several vessels of smaller class; and a French frigate, bearing the flag of Admiral Rigault de Genouilly, who commanded the French squadron, consisting of five or six vessels; making in all a force of fifteen regular men-of-war, besides the gunboats which were kept plying between the ships and Tientsin, some seventy miles up the river, where the Plenipotentiaries of England, France, Russia and America, were sojourning during the negotiation of the treaties finally concluded with the Chinese Commissioners.
The splendid steam frigate Minnesota, commanded by Captain S.F. Dupont, was the sole representative of the naval power of the great Western Republic, whose able and accomplished Envoy Extraordinary, the Hon. Wm. B. Reed, was endeavoring to achieve by pacific measures, the same results for which the allies had already expended so much blood and treasure, and whose Ambassadors were sustained in their efforts to bring the wily and treacherous Mandarins to terms, by the immediate presence of several gun-boats and a considerable military force, at the very doors of their official residence. The Russian Government was represented by Admiral Count Poutiatine, who combined the Naval Commander and the Diplomatic Envoy in the most extraordinary and admirable manner, having only the small steamer "America," mounting four guns, under his orders -- more as a yacht to convey him from place to place, than as a man-of-war. The entente cordiale which existed between the Russian Envoy and our Minister, excited considerable surprise, and some little diplomatic distrust on the part of Lord Elgin and Baron Gros, the English and French Ministers, although they never gave any tangible evidence of their dissatisfaction with its existence.
On the evening of our arrival (June 6th), we were visited by several officers from the "Minnesota," and Captain Dupont came on board in a beautiful gig, upon which he had recently expended much taste and labor, to pay his respects to the Commodore. While he remained on board, two large boats were employed transporting to the Minnesota the numerous articles of provisions, etc., which we had brought for her from Shanghai. Among these were four bullocks, which were placed, "all alive and kicking," in the boats, and shoved off, as we felt assured that they would be enabled to reach their destination before the approach of a very ugly squall, which was slowly rising on the northern horizon. The boats had not pulled more than a quarter of a mile from the ship, however, when this squall struck them with such violence that they were fairly blown back alongside, and as the ship received it on her broadside, it caused her to careen over as much as if she had been under sail in a close-reefed topsail breeze. The rain came at the same time with blinding force, and the atmosphere was, for a few moments, so darkened by the sheets of rain and spray driven by the wind, that the boats and vessels were totally obscured. In the midst of the confusion necessarily arising from so sudden and terrific a convulsion of the elements, the cry was heard above the deck, "A boat capsized alongside!" Rushing to the starboard gangway, I saw the Minnesota's beautiful "gig" filled with water, and thumping violently against the side of the ship, having been just previously placed in readiness to convey Captain Dupont back to his ship, with the crew at their oars awaiting his coming. In a moment the boat was whirled over on her side by the violence of the wind and the suction created by the rapid swinging of the ship to its direction -- four of the men being dashed overboard and instantly lost to sight, as they were swept astern by the irresistible force of the waves before any assistance could be rendered them. Boats were lowered and manned with almost superhuman dispatch, for we all felt that the lives of four of our fellow-men depended on our efforts, and by this time the atmosphere had cleared sufficiently to enable those on board to discover two of the men struggling in the rushing waves, at the distance of half a mile from the ship. Their direction being pointed out to the officers of the boats, the order was issued to "give way," and the men bent to their oars with a determination to save their comrades, if human power could avail for their rescue. Meanwhile, the two boats belonging to the Minnesota had approached sufficiently near to the ship for the one containing the bullocks to be left in our charge, while that which had been employed in towing it was dispatched to the aid of the men in the water. She soon succeeded in rescuing one of them, and the other was picked up by one of our boats; both the poor fellows being in the last feeble struggles of exhausted nature. But there were still two of the boat's crew to be accounted for, and search was made in every direction by the three boats, bravely struggling with the wind and waves, but no trace of them could be discovered; they had passed forever from mortal sight, and the sea refused to give up its prey. It was subsequently ascertained that they had grasped the ship's rudder as the irresistible force of the tide swept them astern, but the strong eddy caused by the swinging of the ship to the wind soon compelled them to relinquish their hold. One of the men who were saved told me afterwards that he was near the unfortunates, but totally unable to render any assistance as he saw them go down, and that he had never in his life heard any thing so dreadful as the deathwail of one of them when he sank to rise no more. This extraordinary and tragical event produced a gloomy state of feeling on board both ships, particularly as the loss of the men had resulted from so common an occurrence as a squall -- an event which we were in the daily habit of witnessing without serious consequences of any kind. The poor bullocks had a terrible time of it, as they were kept in the boat towing astern nearly five hours, thoroughly drenched, and shivering with cold, while the boat pitched so violent as occasionally to throw them off their legs; and my sympathies were excited to such a degree that I almost felt as if I would willing change places with them for a little while, if they could be thereby rendered more comfortable. The colors of all the vessels present were worn at half mast all the next day -- this being the only mark of respect that could be paid to the memory of the unfortunate men so suddenly swept out of existence.
A few days subsequent to this sad occurrence, I witnessed one of the most remarkable phenomena I have ever seen, just previous to the commencement of our usual afternoon squall. A dead calm prevailed for about ten minutes, during which an occasional breath of hot air would come off from the land, and all around us the wind was blowing in puffs, with such violence as to lift the water several feet into the air; during this time there were flocks of sparrows and swarms of bees flying around and all over the ship. The latter created considerable amusement by flying at every one, and endeavoring to take shelter about their persons, and, as may readily be supposed, their familiarities were repelled with as much dismay as indignation. The wind soon came, though, with such force as to drive the poor creatures far out to sea, from whence they were never to return to sip the sweets of Chinese flowers, or alarm the sensibilities of the Powhatan's officers and crew.
Our introduction to the Gulf of Pecheelee had been by no means sufficiently agreeable to lessen our anxiety to leave it at the earliest possible moment. We were, in fact, extremely impatient to be off for Japan, but we waited in vain from day to day for the much-desired order from our Commander-in-Chief; keeping the engines in proper condition for immediate use, until four weary weeks had worn away, without the occurrence of a single incident to break the dull round of our daily duties, except the funeral of some poor sailor who had died on board the English of French hospital-ships. These melancholy pageants were more frequently exhibited by the latter -- that horrible malady, the dysentery, having wasted the lives of many of their seamen. Their mode of burial was exceedingly careless and indifferent, as it seemed to us, for the bodies were merely sewn up in black painted hammocks, and thrown overboard at the distance of about a mile from the ship, without sufficient weight attached to them to prevent their rising to the surface, as the gases formed in the process of decomposition gave them a tendency to do. The consequence was, that the bodies of dead Frenchmen were constantly seen "bobbing around" among the vessels, as if keeping time to the motion of the waves; and the sight was by no means pleasant even to us outsiders -- what the living Crapeaus thought of it, "deponent saith not," but their sensibilities are not particularly keen, so I fancy they were rather less annoyed by the gloomy spectacle than our less volatile, but more sensitive race.
The weather was so frequently boisterous and rainy during our stay here, that our visits to and from the "Minnesota" were decidedly of the angelic order, "few and far between;" but several officers from both vessels availed themselves of an opportunity, presented through the kindness of the English Admiral, to take passage to Tientsin in one of the gunboats going up. Captain Dupont had occasion to go up at the same time, on a visit to Mr. Reed, and, expecting to be absent several days, was attended by his Chinese valet. This fellow circulated about the city without restraint, and, one afternoon, wandered beyond the suburbs in company with a colored gentleman of the same calling, belonging to the Legation, where they were encountered by a considerable mob of the natives, who attempted to kidnap the pair. But the darkey took to his heels, and outstripped his pursuers into the city, where, of course, he was safe. The Chinaman being somewhat less fleet of foot, was overhauled, and made prisoner; and upon his capture being reported to the gallant Captain, his master, he soon collected about a dozen of Uncle Sam's marines, and marched at their head in search of his lost valet. Chancing to fall upon the residence of a Mandarin, he called upon this functionary to deliver him up, and the defenceless official was so overawed by the large force at his door, that he promised instant compliance with his demand, and in a few hours the missing valet, or varlet, was forthcoming, with many apologies for the annoyance to which the Captain had been subjected by his absence. Captain Dupont afterwards ascertained that the dwelling he had entered contained several high Mandarins, and the still higher Commissioner sent down from Peking by the "Brother to the Sun and Moon," to negotiate treaties of peace with the representatives of all the mighty powers assembled here to demand from him privileges which had never yet been conceded to any nation on earth.
About the same time, the English Admiral was hooted at in the streets by a turbulent portion of the populace; and two English Captains, who had strayed outside the limits of the city, were stoned so vigorously as to be compelled to run to "save their bacon," in doing which one of them lost his cap.
The officers who accepted the proffered conveyance up the river to Tientsin in the gunboat "Woodstock," returned quite indignant at the want of courtesy manifested toward them by the Lieutenant in charge, who had not even the civility to invite them on to the quarter-deck, much less to offer them anything in the way of refreshments. Fortunately, they were wise enough to go armed and equipped against any serious inconvenience to the "inner man," and quietly seating themselves at the appropriate hour, on spare spars, shot-boxes, or whatever could be pressed into service as a seat, forward of the main-mast, relished their bread and cheese, with the "trimmings," quite as much as if the gallant Lieutenant had been ever so polite.
Vague and vexatious rumors occasionally reached us relative to the progress of the impending negotiations, and as "hope deferred maketh the heart sick," poor John Chinaman was rapidly contracting the direst animosity of his hitherto peaceful neighbors from Yankee land, by not signing the very reasonable Treaty we desired to conclude with him, and thereby obviating the necessity for our longer delay in these miserable waters. Vessels were frequently arriving from Hong Kong and Shanghai, but from some inexplicable cause our letters were not forwarded to us, and we were left in total ignorance of all that concerned us most nearly -- our families and friends -- in the glorious land where peace, liberty, and enlightenment are so universal and so common as to be scarcely appreciated at their proper value by those who never have the opportunity of contrasting their condition, face to face, with the people of the older nations of the earth.
On the 28th of June, the number of vessels at anchor off the mouth of the Pei-ho amounted to twenty-two, several having arrived within a few days previous, bringing fresh troops for a contemplated invasion of the "Celestial City" of Peking, in the event of a refusal on the part of the Mandarins to sign the proposed Treaty; but, as the sequel will show, they had no idea of subjecting themselves to any such disastrous consequences of their obstinacy, until they were somewhat better prepared to encounter them; so they signed the Treaties on the 25th of June, with all the powers represented, reserving to themselves, privately, the course most likely to be adopted by their government when the year rolled round, at the end of which an exchange of the ratifications of these Treaties was stipulated to take place in Peking, excepting only that entered into with the Americana minister, which specified no particular place for this purpose.
On the 3d of July, the Hon. Mr. Reed returned from Tientsin in the Russian steamer "America," which had been placed at his disposal by Count Poutiatine, and resumed his quarters on board the "Minnesota" -- an event which was hailed by all good Yankees present with joyful hearts, as we now began to see our way clear out of this doubly mystified region. It was soon announced that the "Minnesota" would proceed immediately to Shanghai, with Mr. Reed on board, to replenish her supplies, after which she would rejoin us in Japan.
English transports, and French gun-boats continued to arrive, until the number swelled to thirty vessels, anchored in our immediate vicinity; all of which, however, were soon to be dispersed to various ports on the coasts of China and Japan; but it appeared remarkable that so large an accession to the force of the Allies should have joined that already assembled here, just in time to contribute their quota of gunpowder to the celebration of our National Jubilee. The 4th of July falling on Sunday, no official notice was taken of the great event usually commemorated on that day, but the occasion was by no means permitted to pass unnoticed in the way of private "celebration," for the dinner which we had in the ward-room of the Powhatan, would have rejoiced the heart of an Alderman -- while the amount of J. Howard March's best Navy Madeira, which went down in libations to the glorious old heroes of the Revolution, is something beyond my present powers of calculation. The prospect of immediate relief from the bondage which had so long confined us within the "pent up Utica" of this wretched Gulf, gave a new zest to the enjoyment of the day, and I fear that even the solemnity of the Sabbath was partially forgotten in the hilarious rejoicings at our release, and the pleasant anticipations before us. The morning of the 5th was bright and beautiful, and as the bell struck eight "the stars and stripes" floated gracefully in the breeze from each mast-head of the Powhatan and Minnesota, and from the main royal mast of each of the thirty men-of-war present. At meridian a salute of 21 guns was fired in honor of the day by all the regular men-of-war, the smaller vessels being prohibited by regulation from indulging in such expensive luxuries. In the afternoon, the Hon. Mr. Reed visited the Powhatan, and received a salute of 19 guns as a parting mark of respect for his diplomatic position, and at 5 P.M. we were fairly under way, steaming swiftly toward the beautiful land of which we had heard just enough to stimulate our curiosity, without in any degree satisfying it.
Go to top page of China and Japan material