The Chinese expedition: Chinese Gordon and the burning of the Summer Palace

Author(s) : HAKE Alfred Egmont
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The Tai-Ping Rebellion

“In the middle of July, 1860, he left home for China, traveling by Paris and Marseilles, and visiting Malta, Alexandria, Aden, Ceylon, Singapore, and Hong-Kong. On his arrival at the last-named place, the mail from the north came in, bringing the news of the capture of the Taku forts. As, “however, no counter-orders arrived relative to the stopping of officers going north, he was ordered a passage, and left on the 11th of September for Shanghai, whence, after one day's stay, he continued his journey for Tien-tsin, having traveled in all sixty-eight days. He had not been there long before he learned that his colleague, De Norman, with Mr. Parkes, Mr. Loch, Captains Anderson and Brabazon, Mr. Bowlby, and fourteen others, had been taken prisoners by San-ko-lin-sin [Sengge Rinchen, the Mongol general]. In consequence of this outrage, the allies marched on Pekin in October, and the city was invested. Gordon took part in the operations, and was present at the sacking and the burning of the Summer Palace on October 12th.”

The burning of the Summer Palace

“The following is an account he gives of the part he took in that famous affair:
“On the 11th October we were sent down in a great hurry to throw up works and batteries against the town. As the Chinese refused to give up the gate, we required them to surrender before we would treat with them. They were also required to give up all the prisoners. You will be sorry to hear that the treatment they have suffered has been very bad. Poor De Norman, who was with me in Asia, is one of the victims. It appears that they were tied so tight by the wrists that the flesh mortified, and they died in the greatest torture. Up to the time that elapsed before they arrived at the Summer Palace they were well treated, but then the ill-treatment began. The Emperor is supposed to have been there at the time.
To go back to the work – the Chinese were given until twelve on the 13th to give up the gate. We made a lot of batteries, and everything was ready for the assault of the wall, which is battlemented and forty feet high, but of inferior masonry. At 11.30 p.m., however, the gate was opened, and we took possession; so our work was of no avail. The Chinese had then until the 23d to think over our terms of treaty, and to pay £10,000 for each Englishman and £500 for each native soldier who had died during his captivity. This they did, and the money was paid and the treaty signed yesterday. I could not witness it, as all officers commanding companies were obliged to remain in camp. Owing to the ill-treatment the prisoners experienced at the Summer Palace, the general ordered it to be destroyed, and stuck up proclamations to say why it was ordered. We accordingly went out, and, after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal-like manner most valuable property, which could not be replaced for four millions. We got upward of £48 apiece prize-money before we went out of here; and although I have not as much as many, I have done well. Imagine D_____ giving 16s. for a string of pearls which he sold the next day for £500… The people are civil, but I think the grandees hate us, as they must after what we did to the palace. You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the palaces we burned. It made one's heart sore to burn them; in fact, these palaces were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities of gold ornaments were burned, considered as brass. It was wretchedly demoralizing work for an army. Everybody was wild for plunder.
“You would scarcely conceive the magnificence of this residence, or the tremendous devastation the French have committed. The throne and room were lined with ebony, carved in a marvelous way. There were huge mirrors of all shapes and kinds, clocks, watches, musical boxes with puppets on them, magnificent china of every description, heaps and heaps of silks of all colors, embroidery, and as much splendor and civilization as you would see at Windsor; carved ivory screens, coral screens, large amounts of treasure, etc. The French have smashed everything in the most wanton way. It was a scene of utter destruction which passes my description.
“For a month after these events Gordon remained in camp before Peking, paying occasional visits to the capital, and making his observations on the Chinese and their modes of living. On November 8th the two armies left for Tien-tsin, there to take up their winter quarters; and Gordon went as commanding royal engineer. His stay there was protracted, however, over a much longer period than he had expected; for, with the exception of a few excursions, he remained there till the spring of 1862. During this time he was engaged in providing for the wants of his troops, in surveying the neighboring country in parts where no European had ever been seen, and in occasional rides to the Taku forts and back, a distance of 140 miles; indeed, his longest absence from Tien-tsin did not exceed two months, and this was on the occasion of an expedition he made on horseback to the Outer Wall, with his comrade Lieutenant Cardew — a tour full of adventure, and for which they gained great credit, having visited, in the course of their journey, regions before unknown to Europeans.
Beyond this excursion, his many rides, and surveying expeditions, there is little to record of his doings at Tien-tsin.”
The Story of Chinese Gordon, by Alfred Egmont Hake, 1884, chapter III, pp. 23-25

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The Story of Chinese Gordon
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