Some spent their days in digging trenches, others inspected latrines in the interest of sanitation.
Continuing The Boxer Uprising,
our selection from The Siege in Peking by William A.P. Martin published in 1900. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Boxer Uprising.
In one of these sorties Mitchell, the brave gunner, who seemed to love the cannon as if it had been his sweetheart, had his arm shattered.
The first shells that rained upon us led us to apprehend a heavier shower, and to contrive umbrellas for our protection. These so-called “bomb-proofs” were excavations in the ground in front of the building occupied by each legation. They were barely large enough for the women and children: the men were expected to stand outside to fight the enemy. They were covered with heavy beams, and these with earth and sand-bags.
No man kept up his spirits better than Sir Robert Hart, who was always cheerful, and his conversation sparkled with humor, notwithstanding the customs headquarters and imperial post- offices, erected and organized by him as the visible fruit of forty years of service, had all been laid in ashes. On arriving in the legation he said to me, ” Dr. Martin, I have no other clothes than those you sec mc standing in.”
As we looked each other in the face, we could not help blushing for shame at the thought that our life-long services had been so little valued. The man who had nursed their customs revenue from three to thirty millions, the Chinese were trying to butcher; while from my thirty years’ teaching of international law they had learned that the lives of ambassadors were not to be held sacred!
He was accompanied in this place of refuge by Mr. Bredon, Assistant Inspector- General, and all the customs staff, as well as by the professors in the Tungwuen College, and I was accompanied by seven of the professors in the imperial university — one having fallen a martyr to his good works. All those cooperated with the missionaries and others in discharging various duties, the humblest of which was made honorable by the circumstances of the siege.
Some spent their days in digging trenches, others inspected latrines in the interest of sanitation. One of our professors superintended the butchery of horses and the distribution of horse-meat, while a commissioner of customs presided over the operations of a Chinese laundry.
In the way of food-supply the greatest service was rendered by a Swiss named Chamot. Though he was only an innkeeper, his name will be recorded on the roll of fame, and the French Minister purposes to procure for him the cordon of the Legion of Honor. He had newly opened a hotel, which, aided by his brave wife, who carried a rifle and used it with effect, he fortified and defended. He opened a flour-mill for the occasion, and kept his bakery running at high speed to supply bread (sour and coarse it was), barely sufficient for a thousand mouths. As he crossed the bridge, often was he fired on, his bread-cart was pierced by many bullets, and once his flag was shot away.
I recall a notable expedition in which Chamot and his wife bore a conspicuous part. After the burning of the churches several parties were sent out to bring in the surviving Christians. One of these parties was accompanied by Chamot and his wife — she discharging the full duty of an armed soldier.
Another of these parties proceeding to the Nan Tang southern cathedral was accompanied by Dr. Morrison, a man equally skilled with gun and pen, and no less brave in the use of the latter. His opinions are worth a broadside of cannon.
When this last company of refugees came in I saw them in the street before they proceeded to the Fu. Never had I witnessed such a heart-moving spectacle. Two hundred of the forlornest objects I ever beheld had been raked up from the ashes of their dwellings. They were starving and weary, and appeared hardly able to stand. They were old and young, men and women, all apparently ready to perish. One woman was the mother of Ching Chang, a student of mine, former Minister to France. She, like the others, was on foot and destitute of all things. Her family has been Christian for many generations.
The most striking object was a man of fifty bearing on his shoulders his mother, a white-haired women of threescore and ten.
In the Fu were domiciled nearly two thousand such fugitives, of whom four or five hundred were Protestant. The latter were subsequently removed to other quarters.
The Fu was, as I have said, defended by Austrians, French, Italians, and especially by the Japanese, at the cost of much bloodshed, though assailed by the heaviest guns and the fiercest forces of the enemy. Its importance came not only from its covering the approach to the four legations — Spanish, Japanese, German, and French — it also commanded the canal front of the British Legation. To this (in part at least) our Christians owed the protection of their asylum.
In these engagements more than half the Japanese, under the lead of Colonel Shiba, were killed or wounded, and many of the other nationalities. Daily some were brought through the gate only to die in the hospital. Often have I saluted bright young soldiers as they passed out, and seen them return in a few hours dead, dying, or maimed for life.
Never had I so vivid an impression of the vanity of human life.
— ” O Great Eternity,
Our little life is but a gust
That bends the branches of thy tree
And trails its blossoms in the dust.”
Within our walls few were killed or wounded by shot or shell. The health of the imprisoned community was remarkably good, perhaps the better because they had to live on low diet. The only deaths from disease were those of small children, who, deprived of milk and exposed to heat, withered away like flowers.
Ordinarily in Peking the heat of summer is unendurable, and every foreigner escapes to the mountains or the sea. On this occasion the heat was not excessive for a single day, yet what Holmes calls “intramural aestivation” was far from agreeable. Our experience was true to the picture in that amusing skit
His ardent front, the cive anheling wipes
And dreams of erring on ventiferous ripes.”
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