Book: By W. A. P. Martin
Author: Martin, W. A. P.
By W. A. P. Martin
From W. A. P. Martin's The Siege in Peking.
This siege in Peking will undoubtedly take rank as one of the most
notable in the annals of history. Others have been longer. The besieged have
been in most cases more numerous, their sufferings have oftentimes been
greater, yet this siege stands out uniquely as the uprising of a great nation
against the whole of the civilized world.
Cooped up within the narrow bounds of one legation - the British, which
covered the largest area and contained the largest number of buildings - were
people of fourteen nationalities and the Ministers of eleven nations, the
whole number of foreigners not much short of one thousand, and having under
their protection about two thousand native Christians. Outside of the city
gates, somewhere between the city and the sea, was an army under the banners
of the eight foremost Powers of the world advancing to the rescue, and the
eyes of the world were fixed on that movement with an intensity of interest
which no tragedy has ever awakened in the spectators of the most moving scenes
of a theatre.
All the appliances of modern civilization contributed to this effect. The
telegraph flashed the news of our distress beneath the waves of the ocean, and
the navy-yards and camps in the four quarters of the earth were set in
commotion. The politics of nations gave way to the interest of the universal
public in the one great question of the possibility of rescue. From day to day
the daily papers chronicled now the advance, then the retreat, of the rescuing
party. Hopes and fears rose and fell in alternate fluctuation. At one time
the besieged were reported as comfortably enjoying themselves, protected and
well fed; at another they were represented as having been massacred to a man
with all imaginable attendant horrors.
The siege was divided into two distinct stages. During the first of
these, of only ten days' duration, the Boxers were our conspicuous enemies,
the Government and soldiers of the Chinese Empire keeping themselves
studiously in the background. In the second stage, which lasted eight weeks,
the Government and its soldiers came prominently forward, and the Boxers
The guards summoned for the eight legations were not over four hundred
fifty, including officers, yet they saved the situation. Had they been
delayed no more than forty-eight hours the whole foreign community in Peking
must have perished, for reliable rumor affirmed that the Boxers had resolved
to attack the legations and destroy all foreign residents during the midsummer
festival, which occurs early in June. Without that handful of marines defence
would have been hopeless.
Rumor (in this case also reliable) further affirmed that the
Empress-Dowager had resolved to give the Boxers a free hand in their conflict.
Should they succeed, so much the better. Should they fail, there would still
be room to represent (as Chinese diplomacy has industriously done) that the
Government had been overpowered and its good intentions thwarted by the
uprising of an irresistible mob.
Rumor further asserted that, by way of clearing the ground for their
operations, the Empress-Dowager had given consent to the complete destruction
of the quarter of the city occupied by the foreign colony, viz., a street
called, from the number of legations on or near it, "Legation Street,"
together with blocks of Chinese buildings to a considerable distance on either
On June 9th, buildings and property belonging to foreigners in the
southern, or Chinese, division of the capital were destroyed by fire.
Foreigners, whether missionaries or civilians, living at outlying points in
the Tartar city took refuge under their respective national flags.
Missionaries brought with them their flocks, small or great, of native
converts, who were equally exposed to the rage of their enemies.
All possible measures were preconcerted for defence. Notice of our peril
was flashed to the seaboard by a roundabout route, and it was hoped that we
might maintain ourselves for a few days until the promised relief should
arrive. A strong body of marines, led by Admiral Seymour and Captain McCalla,
set out from Tientsin by rail, intending to repair the road, not knowing how
much it was damaged, and hoping to reach us in two or three days. That hope
proved illusory, for week succeeded week, during which we were encouraged by
fictitious reports of their advance, while in reality they had been driven
back upon their base and the destruction of the railway completed. Had they
in the first instance abandoned the railway, and pressed forward across the
remaining interval of forty miles, they might perhaps have succeeded in
reenforcing our legation guards, placing our community in security, and
perhaps averted the subsequent declaration of war; but this is anticipating.
A larger expedition was being organized by the admirals of the combined
squadron at the mouth of the river. On June 19th a circular from the Yamen
notified the foreign Ministers that their admirals had demanded the surrender
of the forts (they did not say had carried the forts by storm, which was the
fact), adding: "This is an act of war. Our country is therefore at war with
yours. You must accordingly quit our capital within twenty-four hours,
accompanied by all your nationals." Exit Boxers - enter the regular Chinese
Thenceforward we were exposed to all the force the Government could bring
Warned by a kind letter from Mr. Squiers, secretary of the American
Legation, offering me the hospitality of his house, I had previously there
taken refuge from the university, where I had been living alone at a distance
of two miles. While we remained in the United States Legation no direct
attack was made upon us with firearms, but we were in hourly danger of being
destroyed by fire or trampled down by a rush of the Big Swords.
The fires of which I have spoken as having first shown themselves in the
outer city were not confined to mission chapels. A large quarter, containing
the richest magazines of foreign goods and estimated to be worth from five to
ten millions of pounds sterling, was laid in ashes by the infuriated Boxers,
not merely with a view to ridding themselves of industrial competition:
perhaps also in the expectation that a fair wind would carry the conflagration
over the walls and destroy the foreign settlement.
As a matter of fact, the high tower overlooking the great central gate of
the Tartar city caught fire and was consumed. The firebrands fell in
profusion on the inside of the walls, and we all turned out in expectation of
having to fight the flames. Happily a change of wind rendered this
Within a few days conflagrations were kindled by the Boxers themselves in
the inner city - missionary chapels, schoolhouses, churches, and cathedrals
were wrapped in flames, and lighted the lurid sky night by night for a whole
The new, or northern, cathedral, standing in an open ground by itself,
was considered capable of defence. Monsignor Favier bravely resolved to hold
it at all hazards, and thus preserve the lives of three thousand converts who
had there taken refuge. In this he was aided by a volunteer band of forty
brave marines, French, Italian, and Austrian, together with a disciplined
force of native Christians. The defence of that cathedral forms the most
brilliant page in the history of the siege.
Not until the siege was raised, however, had we any conception of the
severity of the conflict that devoted band had to wage in order to keep the
enemy at bay; for from us, though separated only by an interval of two miles
in a direct line, they were cut off from communication as completely as if
they had been situated at the north pole.
After the declaration of war and the ultimatum above referred to, the
Ministers had a meeting, at which they agreed that it would be impossible to
comply with the demand of the Chinese Government. They resolved to request an
extension of time, or at least to gain time by parleying over the conditions,
until our expected relief should arrive. With this view they agreed to go
separately to the Yamen to make remonstrance against the harsh treatment
implied in this ultimatum.
On the 18th two Boxers, mounted in a cart, had ostentatiously paraded the
street, by way of challenge, as heralds were wont to do in feudal times. As
they passed the German Legation the Minister ordered them to be arrested. One
made his escape; the other was captured and brought to the United States
Legation. On consultation it was decided to keep him a prisoner, and he was
led away, the Baron giving him a beating with his cane.
On the morning of the 20th Baron Ketteler set out for the Yamen, in
pursuance of the arrangement. No sooner had he reached a great street than he
was shot in the back, falling dead immediately. His secretary was wounded at
the same time, but succeeded in escaping to a mission hospital, whence, after
his blood was stanched, he was carried back to his legation.
The news produced a panic in all the legations. They considered that the
projected massacre had begun, and, as the British Legation alone was regarded
as capable of defence, to that they fell back, accompanied by all their
nationals. Sir Claude MacDonald placed its resources at the disposal of his
Had the enemy followed up their advantage and poured into the outlying
legations (abandoned as they were), they might have reduced them to ashes, or,
pursuing us into that of Great Britain, they might have overpowered us in the
midst of panic and confusion. Happily they were held in awe by their opinion
of foreign prowess, and carefully abstained at that time from coming to close
quarters. In the course of the day it was found that the legations had not
been invaded by the enemy, and they were reoccupied by their proper guards,
with the exception of the Belgian, Austrian, Dutch, and Italian, which lay
beyond the line of defence, and were speedily destroyed by fire.
Baron Ketteler's life was in no unimportant sense a ransom for many, but
his was not the only foreign life offered up that day. In the afternoon
Professor James, of the Imperial University, while returning from the fu of a
Mongol prince on the opposite side of the canal, was shot dead in crossing the
bridge. He, too, sacrificed his life in a noble cause; for he, along with Dr.
Morrison, of the London Times, had there made arrangements for the shelter of
That very evening, and thenceforward every day, we were fired on by our
besiegers. The fusillades were particularly fierce when a thunder-storm
occurred, the Chinese seeming to regard heaven's artillery as coming to
supplement their own weapons.
The most dangerous of their attacks were, however, made with the
firebrand. Numerous buildings beyond our outer wall were successively fired
for no other object than to burn us out. Of these the principal was the
magnificent palace of the Hanlin Academy, containing the most costly library
in the Chinese Empire. That library only served the ruthless vandals for the
purpose of kindling a conflagration, and manuscripts of priceless value, five
or six centuries old, were consumed by the flames or trodden under foot. By
almost superhuman effort the flames were subdued and the enemy driven back.
That building henceforward became a bloody battle-ground between the
contending forces, which at times approached so near each other that the enemy
assailed us by throwing kerosene oil, and our people replied with oil of
vitriol in hand-to-hand encounters.
Early in this part of the siege a struggle occurred which more than any
other was the pivot of our destiny. This was on the wall. It had been held
by Chinese soldiers, but, as it dominated all the legations, had heavy
artillery been there planted, defence would have been impossible. The Chinese
were driven back from a portion of it by a combined force of Americans and
Germans; but, returning in greater numbers, they gradually forced our troops
to abandon their position. The situation appeared desperate. The Germans
being insufficient in number to defend their own legation, a combined force of
Americans, British, and Russians, amounting to about sixty men, was organized
under the lead of Captain Myers, of the United States marines.
Before the onslaught which was to decide our destiny Captain Myers made a
remarkable harangue. Pointing to the British legation, "My men," he said,
"yonder are four hundred women and children whose lives are dependent upon our
success. If we fail, they perish, and we perish also. When I say go, then
go." The Americans and English must have been moved beyond expression by this
appeal. The Russians, too, though they knew not a word of his speech, fully
comprehended the meaning of his gesture. They, as well as the others, were
willing to offer their life's blood for the success of this forlorn hope.
The Chinese, taken by surprise, were driven from their barricades, and a
large space fronting the legations remained in the possession of our foreign
guards. But the victory cost us dear, for, besides several others killed or
wounded, the gallant leader, who deserves to be regarded as one of the heroes
of the siege, fell wounded to the ground. Thenceforward he was unable to take
that share in our defence for which his soul thirsted.
Within the legation all was bustle and activity. The marines, reenforced
by a volunteer corps of a hundred or more, were occupying commanding points on
the legation walls, or making sorties from the legation gates - sometimes to
capture a gun which threatened to breach our defences, sometimes to disperse a
force that was gathering for an assault. Night and day this went on, week
after week, but not without loss. Several of the leaders of these sorties
fell in not futile attempts, and many of their soldiers were wounded. Our
fortifications were strengthened partly by sand-bags that were made by many
thousand by the ladies, who incessantly plied the sewing-machine - an
instrument which on that occasion proved to be no less effective than our
Much work was also done in the way of digging trenches to countermine the
operations of the enemy. Most of this was superintended with great skill by
missionaries, whose merit has been frankly acknowledged by diplomatists and
generals. It was carried out by the bone and muscle of native Christians.
With regard to these unhappy refugees, who were destitute of home and
livelihood, it has also been acknowledged that without their aid the defence
would have been impossible.
For eight long weeks we were sickened by hope deferred. The forces of
our defenders were weakened by daily losses. Our store of provisions was
running low. Had the rescue been delayed another fortnight we must have
suffered the fate of Cawnpore, rather than the fortune of Lucknow. We had
eaten up all our horses and mules, to the number of eighty! Only three or
four remained, affording meat for not more than two days. Our meal-barrels
had also reached the bottom, and unhappily the widow's cruse of oil was not
within our reach. Our clothing even (many of us had no change of raiment) was
worn to shreds, and it became unfashionable to appear with a clean shirt.
This reminded me of a few lines from a well-known poet, referring to
another city, which I had written in my note-book on my first visit to Peking,
forty-one years ago. (They are a photograph of the city as it then was. And
now its condition is tenfold worse.)
"Whoso entereth within this town
Which sheening far celestial seems to be,
Disconsolate will wander up and down
'Mid many things unsightly to strange e'e.
For hut and palace show like filthily;
The dingy denizens are reared in dirt;
Nor personage of high or low degree
Doth care for cleanness of surtout or shirt." - Byron.
If asked how we spent our time, I answer, there was no time for amusement
and no unseemly frivolity. Fear and anxiety dwelt in every bosom, but we took
care that they should not show themselves upon our faces. Especially did our
brave women strive to look cheerful in order to strengthen the arms of their
defenders. In the midst of the fiercest attacks, when rifle-shots were
accompanied by bursting bombs, only one gave way to hysteric shrieks (she was
not American); and it may be added, by way of offset, that one man, a
Norwegian, went stark mad.
The place was overcrowded, and such was the want of room that forty or
fifty from the Roman Catholic missions were domiciled in an open pavilion,
where some of them were wounded by stray shots. Of Protestant missionaries,
forty-three were lodged in the legation chapel. The chapel was employed, I
need hardly say, more like a hotel than a meeting house. There was no time
for praying or singing. Sunday was as busily devoted to fighting as
week-days, nor did I once hear of a prayer-meeting. Yet never was more
heartfelt praying done than during this period.
Within the British Legation I was transferred from the table of Mrs.
Squiers to that of Mrs. Conger, both families occupying only a part of the
small house of the legation doctor. Had I been her brother I could not have
been treated with more affectionate kindness than I received at her hand and
those of the Minister. Calm, resolute, hopeful, and a devout Christian, Mrs.
Conger is one of the most admirable women it has been my privilege to know. I
wished many a time that, like her, I could look on all those events as nothing
more than a horrid nightmare, conjured up by a distempered imagination. The
round shot with which our walls were pierced was too tangible to be resolved
into fanciful ideas. The United States has had in Peking no worthier
representative than Major Conger. He had been a soldier through all the War
of Secession, and he met this outbreak with a fortitude and good sense
Some incidents of the siege may here be introduced. First among them was
the fall of the British flag, not in the order of time, but in the impression
which it made upon our minds. Charged with the duty of inspecting the passes
of Chinese coming and going between the legations, my post was at the gate
over which it waved so proudly (and there, through the whole siege, I passed
my days from 5 a.m. until 8 or 9 p.m.). Never did it wave more proudly than
during those days when, beneath its ample folds, it gave asylum to the
ministers of eleven legations and to persons of fourteen nationalities. Never
was the preeminent position of Great Britain more conspicuous - a position in
keeping with her history in the opening of China, and the paramount influence
she has exerted on the commerce and politics of that empire. One day, in the
early morning, down came the flag, the staff having been shot away. We had
observed that for several days it had been made a target by the enemy. The
Chinese seem to take as reality what to us is no more than poetry in speaking
of the protection of a flag. With them the flag is supposed to be accompanied
by a guardian spirit. In this case they would call it the tutelar genius of
the British Empire.
Before going into battle they offer a sacrifice to their own banner. If
they are able to seize or in any way destroy the banner of their enemy, they
consider the battle as more than half grained. To us the fall of the flag had
the effect of ill-omen. It was not replaced for several days, and the aspect
of the gatetower, deprived of its glorious crest, was certainly depressing.
When replaced it was not exalted to its former height - the flagmast being
purposely shortened in some degree to guard against a repetition of the
On one of the first days of my service at the gate-house a marine
belonging to the guard there stationed was shot down and died instantly. Where
the shot came from it was not easy to determine, but on all sides, at no great
distance, were trees and high buildings in which it was possible for
sharpshooters to conceal themselves. So much, indeed, were we apprehensive of
unseen messengers of death that at night we seldom lighted a lamp, taking our
dinner before nightfall, and when it was necessary to light lamps they were
always extinguished as soon as possible, not to attract the aim of hidden
marksmen who might at night occupy commanding positions that would be too
dangerous for them during the day. Let it not be supposed that, because the
Chinese are backward in the military art, they were deficient in weapons of
precision or in the skill to use them.
One British captain, Halliday, was grievously wounded in a sortie. His
successor, Captain Strouts, was shot dead in crossing the canal in front of
our gate. Captain Wray was shot in the head, but not killed, in attempting to
capture a gun. The captain of French marines was killed. He had complained a
few weeks earlier that in Peking he had nothing to do, and that the marines
had been summoned on a false alarm. The sad procession closes with Captain
Riley, of the United States Navy, who in the hour of occupation, while playing
his artillery on the palace gates, fell a victim to a sharpshooter. It
seemed, indeed, as if those sharpshooters, as in other lands, knew how to pick
off the officers at the head of their troops, yet so numerous were the
casualties among our men as to show that their attention was not confined to
As rifle-shots were parried by our high walls, our chief danger was from
cannon. With these the enemy appeared to be insufficiently provided, but
gradually one after another opened its Cerberean mouth until big guns and
little guns were barking at us on all sides. The most dangerous gun was
distant only a few yards. The expedition for its capture was not successful
in accomplishing that object, yet so frightened were the Chinese soldiers by
the daring of that attack that they thought fit to remove the precious piece
of artillery to a safer distance, and its roar was no more heard.
Guns of heavy calibre were erected on the northeast of the Fu, which
played havoc with the French and German legations, and almost daily kept us
awake by the explosion of shells over our heads. Guns of less weight were
placed on an angle of the imperial city wall, close to British Legation. They
commanded both sides of the canal, and threatened to demolish a flimsy fort
hastily thrown up for the protection of our gate.
Hitherto we had nothing with which to respond larger than a machine-gun.
The want of heavier metal was deeply felt, and one of our marines, Mitchell by
name, aided by an ingenious Welshman named Thomas, undertook to construct a
cannon out of a brass pump - putting two pieces together and wrapping them
with steel wire somewhat as Milton represents the devils as doing in the
construction of a cannon out of a hollow pine. Before it was completed,
however, Sir Claude forbade its use, saying that to keep the pump to meet a
possible conflagration was of more vital importance.
Luckily, while this work was going on, the gunners were informed by a
Chinese that in an old junk-shop within our lines they had discovered an iron
cannon of considerable size. It was brought in, and so good was it that they
resolved to rig it up for use. Examination proved it to be of Chinese
Mounted on an Italian gun-carriage, and provided with Russian
bomb-shells, it became useful to us and formidable to our enemies. The
Russians, though bringing ammunition, had forgotten their gun. The Italians,
no doubt, had found theirs too heavy, and brought the empty carriage. Put
together and served by American and British gunners it was not unfitly
christened the International. It led the way in many a sortie, prostrating
barricades, and frightening the enemy by its terrible thunder. But as it was
not a breech-loader, and the ammunition was ill-adapted, it was inconvenient
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 see me 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 professor 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"His ardent front, the cive anheling wipes
And dreams of erring on ventiferous ripes."
We all lost flesh from perspiration and want of food - some ten, some
twenty, some fifty pounds. After the siege many strong men were brought down
by fevers produced no doubt by the privations of that trying time.
My post was a vantage-ground for observation, and one of the deepest
impressions made upon me was by seeing men of all nationalities passing to and
fro cooperating for the common weal. It presented a foretaste of that union
which, we trust, may be realized in the coming millennium, with this
difference, that then the nations shall "learn war no more." The lines of
creed and nationality appeared to be obliterated. An orthodox Russian priest
filled sand-bags or dug trenches side by side with a Roman Catholic or
Protestant missionary. Often did I converse with the Catholic missionaries of
France, and I felt myself irresistibly drawn to them by their spirituality and
Having heard of the approach of the army of relief, we became more
cheerful. That we were able to hold out was, perhaps, in some degree due to
divided counsels among our enemies; for we learned, with deep sorrow, from the
Court Gazette, which had been surreptitiously brought in, that four Ministers
in the Tsung-Li-Yamen had been executed by order of the Empress-Dowager. We
mourned them as our friends, who had employed their influence as far as
possible in our favor. Of this I feel assured, for one of them was the High
Commissioner for Education, who had the supervision of our new university.
Two others were directors of the Tungwen College, the diplomatic school of
which I was president for so long a time, and I had come to hold them in the
highest estimation. One of them had sent three sons to be under my
instruction in the new university.
Prince Ching undoubtedly exerted a powerful, though secret, influence in
our favor. Commanding, as he did, the city guard, a Manchu force of fifty
thousand men, had he chosen to let them loose upon us all at once, we must
have been inevitably overwhelmed. Though he lacked the courage to remonstrate
with the tyrant Empress he had the power and the tact to restrain the fury of
One of our greatest privations was the want of newspapers. Not merely
were we without intelligence from the great world beyond the sea, we were for
the most part in absolute ignorance as to what was going on outside of our own
walls. From time to time we sought to remedy this state of things by
endeavoring in one way or another to get a glimpse, by means of messengers let
down at night, as Paul was let down in a basket from the wall of Damascus, or
by purchasing intelligence from our enemies.
In this last way Colonel Shiba considered himself peculiarly fortunate in
finding a man who gave him daily intelligence of the approach of our relief.
One day they had reached Lang Fang; another, they had got to Chang Kia Wan,
and, after passing five or six stations, it seemed as if they were just about
to reach Peking, when he felt it necessary to turn them about and make them
fall back a stage or two in order to keep up the flow of remuneration. He was
paid about thirty dollars a day for this cheering news. Needless to say that
for the whole of it he had drawn on his imagination.
One of our messengers who was most successful, having succeeded in the
guise of a blind beggar in reaching Tientsin and bringing back most
encouraging letters, was a lad of sixteen. Though not a Christian, he had
begged to be taken under the protection of a Christian mission, and nobly did
he reward their kindness. Having sewed the letters between the soles of his
shoe he was three times searched without discovery.
On August 14th, after midnight, a sentry burst into our sleeping-room,
calling aloud, "They are coming!"
The Minister and I arose and rushed out into the open air, not taking
time to put on our clothes, for we never had put them off. True enough, we
heard the playing of machine-guns on the outside of the city. Never was music
so sweet. We awakened the ladies. They also listened. The news spread from
one building to another, until all were under the open sky listening to the
playing of those guns, as the women at Lucknow listened to the bagpipes of
Havelock's Highlanders. Overwhelmed with joy, some impulsive women threw
themselves on one another's neck and wept aloud.
The next morning, at ten o'clock, the great gates of the legation were
thrown open, and in came a company of mounted Sikhs, the finest cavalry I ever
beheld; and with their long spears and high turbans they appeared the
handsomest men on whom my eyes had ever rested. So, perhaps, by the
magnifying effect of time and circumstance, they appeared to all of us as the
vanguard of the army of relief. They had come in through the water-gate, by
which the passage would have been impossible but for the occupation of the
wall by our marines.
The rest of our troops, of various nationalities, entered later in the
day by the great front gate, the key of which Mr. Squiers, acting as chief of
staff to Sir Claude MacDonald, had captured from the flying enemy.
Among the Roman Catholic missionaries, one white-haired father especially
attracted my attention. I had seen him walking on the bank of the canal amid
a shower of bullets, apparently courting death, yet in words he expressed the
hope of rescue. The morning of our deliverance he grasped my hand, and,
looking up with streaming eyes, exclaimed, "Te Deum, Te Deum, Laudamus!"
Setting off alone to carry the good news to the Bishop at the northern
cathedral, he was shot dead by some enemy in ambush. Mr. Knobel, the
Netherlands Minister, was wounded in the same way the day after the siege was
raised, while standing on a bridge near the legation.
In the batch of Peking Gazettes were several decrees of considerable
interest. One of them referred to the murder of the Japanese Chancellor on
June 11th. He had gone to the railway station in the hope of getting news of
Seymour's relief column. He was there set upon by soldiers and Boxers,
dragged from his cart, and slain. This being nearly a week before the capture
of the forts, the Empress-Dowager, wishing still to shun responsibility,
issued a decree in which she said: "On hearing this intelligence we were
exceedingly grieved. Officials of a neighboring nation stationed in Peking
ought to be protected in every possible way. We now order all the Yamens
concerned to set a limit of time for the arrest of these criminals, that they
may suffer the extreme penalty of the law."
A colored print, extensively circulated in Shanghai and elsewhere,
depicts this event with a view to firing the loyal heart, representing the
murder not as the act of a mob, but as an execution by court-martial, with
Boxers drawn up in one file and soldiers in another; the whole presided over
by General Sung, a high commander of the imperial forces.
On June 21st, two days after the declaration of war, the Dowager sent
forth a manifesto, in the name of the Emperor, for the purpose of announcing
her action and justifying it to her subjects:
"Ever since the foundation of the dynasty, foreigners coming to China
have been kindly treated. In the reign of Tao Kwang and Hien Fund they were
allowed to trade and to propagate their religion. At first they were amenable
to Chinese control, but for the past thirty years they have taken advantage of
our forbearance to encroach on our territory, to trample on the Chinese
people, and to absorb the wealth of the empire. Every concession made only
serves to increase their insolence. They oppress our peaceful subjects, and
insult the gods and sages, exciting burning indignation among the people.
Hence the burning of chapels and the slaughter of converts by the patriotic
braves. The Throne was desirous to avoid war, and issued edicts enjoining
protection of legations and pity toward converts, declaring Boxers and
converts to be equally the children of the State. With tears have we
announced in our ancestral shrines the outbreak of war. Better it is to do
our utmost and enter on the struggle than to seek self-preservation involving
eternal disgrace. All our officials, high and low, are of one mind. There
have also assembled, without official summons, several hundred thousands of
patriotic soldiers (Boxers). Even children carry spears in the defence of
On June 24th the Board of Revenue was ordered to give Kang Yi two hundred
bags of rice as provision for general distribution among the Boxers.
A decree of the same date appointed one of the princes to be the official
head of the Boxer organization.
Nothing could show more distinctly the complicity of the Government in
the Boxer movement - and its responsibility for the outrages perpetrated by
the Boxers - than these documents. Yet our admirals, in demanding the
surrender of the forts, took care to announce their purpose as that of coming
to the aid of the Government against the Boxers!
About the middle of July a white flag, or rather a white sheet of paper,
was displayed on the upper bridge, announcing to us, in large letters visible
with the aid of a telescope, that "We have received orders to protect the
foreign Ministers." The same day a small supply of melons, vegetables, and
flour was sent in to us, accompanied by overtures for an armistice, and
proposing that Princes Tuan and Ching be admitted to an interview. The melons
and vegetables were eaten with gusto, but the flour was shunned as probably
not conducive to health. The proposed meeting with the princes was conceded,
though regarded with suspicion. But when the time came, they failed to
appear, excusing themselves on the ground that we had not observed the
armistice, and had killed a vast number of their people. The fact is that,
the very day on which they showed the decree ordering protection for the
Ministers, they fired on us in the evening, and through the night they were
seen preparing for a general assault, which our people averted by a successful
During this time the good offices of our Government, as well as those of
the courts of Europe and Japan, were solicited by China. The Secretary of
State replied by demanding a communication from Minister Conger as a condition
indispensable to compliance with that request. Our Minister was accordingly
permitted to send a despatch in cipher, which, so far from tending to stop the
advance of the army of relief, set forth our peril, and had a mighty influence
in quickening their movements.