Monday, 22 September 2014

Keeper of the Archive

A collection of facts & musings on the life of

Henry Fletcher HANCE

by Christine M. Thomas

Henry Fletcher HANCE was born on 4 August 1827 in Gloucester Terrace, Old Brompton, London the son of Henry Hance and Jane Agnes Wells Fletcher.  He was baptised at the church of St. Mary Abbot, Kensington on 5 September.

Later in life Henry divulged that he had been a delicate child, troubled by the polluted air of old London Town.   As a result his parents sent him to Plymouth to stay with his maternal grandparents, James Butler Fletcher and Margaret. The men of the Fletcher family had a regimental background with his great grandfather having been a Colonel with the Royal Marines and his grandfather a Major.  Henry remembered his great grandfather as being nearly blind and scarred with wounds received during a long and very active service.

The clean air of Devon did young Henry the world of good - as did rising at daybreak and drinking milk fresh from the cow.  A lasting memory was to be the diamond-latticed panes of his bedroom windows.  Perhaps this is where he first became interested in botany.  Henry’s residence in 1841 at the time of the census is questionable.  The most likely sighting is that of a 15 year old Bookseller’s apprentice at Fore Street in Stoke Damerel, Plymouth.  His mother and two younger sisters can be found living just down the road in George Street.

His father was working in London and living in the very exclusive Brompton Row.  

This was the home of young Henry’s Great Grandmother Elizabeth Barbara Hance a grand house which she shared with four grandchildren – Henry Snr. (father of Henry Fletcher Hance), Charles, Mary and Emelia.   Elizabeth Barbara died in 1842 and her jewellery, silver and damask table cloths were shared amongst her children according to instructions given in her will. 

An alternative sighting for young Henry on the 1841 census is that of a 13 year old schoolboy at the Bradmore House School in Chiswick – only a few miles from his father and Great Grandmother in Brompton Row.   Henry was later reported as being “a polished Latinist and a facile writer of French, while his knowledge of German certainly influenced his tone of scientific thought in after years”. 

Reports differ on how Henry came to arrive in Hong Kong.  An obituary states that he arrived on the ship “Cleopatra”.  Another researcher has him arriving in Hong Kong with his father.  The third possibility is that given by P.D. Coates in that he arrived with Nicholas St. Croix on the Indiaman “John Laird”.  St. Croix is reported to have manned the ship with young men from Devon – the sons of friends and relatives.  The source of this information is said to be “a massive diary” kept by St. Croix.  Tantalising indeed is the fact that the diary itself is reputedly in New Zealand with the owners not wishing to be identified. 

A matter of record is that in September 1844, at the age of 17, Henry joined the Hong Kong Government as a clerk in the Clerk of Council’s Office.  From 1845 to 1851 he was 3rd. Clerk in the Colonial Secretary’s Office with records showing that he took at least 2-3 weeks sick leave every year.   His leisure hours were spent discovering the flora of Hong Kong and this soon became a passion rather than just a past time. 

Towards the end of 1847 Henry was confined to bed for 6 weeks and towards the end of 1849 was admitted to the Seaman’s Hospital for a month.  By 1851 his body was so weakened by fever that Dr. Harland and William Morrison, the Colonial Surgeon, advised that he be granted 18 months sick leave which should be spent in the cooler climate of England.  The Governor commented that he considered Henry to be “a promising gentleman of talents and education” but that he feared Hong Kong’s climate would not agree with him.  Henry’s medical leave was granted and he departed on 12 April 1851 by the barque Chebar under the command of Captain Grayson. 

The route of the voyage was to be via The Cape of Good Hope - a journey which should have taken a little over four months.  Unfortunately, the ship ran aground off the east coast of Sumatra and it was a week before she was freed and towed into port.  Henry was stuck in the heat and humidity for some weeks looking for a suitable means of continuing his journey.

Whilst on leave in England Henry met up with a childhood friend – Ann Edith Baylis. Ann had been born in Westminster in 1822 the first daughter of William Baylis and his wife Anne Harriet. Her father had died when Ann was just 6 months old but by this time her mother was already pregnant with a second child and a sister for Ann was born later in the year.   At the time of her father’s death Ann and her mother were living at 70 St. James Street, Piccadilly which was situated next door to the prestigious Carlton Club.  In 1830 her mother married Charles Vandergucht a silk merchant and by 1841 they were living and working from The Quadrant, Piccadilly Circus.  The daughters of her previous marriage were no longer living at home but she did have a six year old child the daughter of her second husband.  A possible sighting for Ann Edith on the 1841 census is as a member of the household of Sir Henry Peyton, 2nd. Baronet of Doddington in Grosvenor Place. 

By 1851 Ann was employed as the Governess at Noseley Hall in Leicestershire – the home of Sir Arthur Grey Hazlerigg 12th. Baronet.  Ann’s duties would have been to instruct the three elder daughters of the family who were listed on the census as being “scholars at home”.  Acquiring skills in music and needlework would have been top of the curriculum.   The death indexes for 1841 indicate that Ann’s sister, Harriet, died towards the end of the year whilst her mother died in Long Ditton, Surrey in 1846 at the age of 48.  Thus by the time Henry returned to England in 1851 Ann was alone with no immediate family.  She must have welcomed the return of her childhood friend.

On New Years Eve 1851 Henry and Ann visited Kew Gardens and it was here – by the lake in front of the Palm House – that Henry proposed.  

They were married at Highweek in Devon on 27 May 1852.  Even though he was on his honeymoon Botany could not entirely be forgotten and it was varieties of Erica Carnea from the heaths near Newton Abbot which particularly caught his attention.

On 1 May Henry had written to the Colonial Office applying for a two month extension to his overseas leave and this had been granted due to the exceptional circumstances of his having been shipwrecked on the voyage back to England.  At the end of June Henry again wrote to the Colonial Office applying for a further extension of one month due to “domestic circumstances”.  Perhaps Ann needed a little more time in which to purchase a dinner service and other items for her household in the Far East – or perhaps it was Henry who needed more time to buy books.

The couple arrived in Hong Kong in February 1853 but the voyage could not have been a particularly pleasant experience for Ann who was in the early stages of pregnancy. It was in May that their first son was born.  Henry returned to his position as 3rd. Clerk in the Colonial Secretariat and by this time was being shown as Dr. H. F. Hance – it was later reported that he had graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy on 24th. November 1849 possibly from the University of Giessen in Germany.

Towards the end of 1853 the post of Clerk to the Auditor General became vacant due to the death of the incumbent and Henry succeeded to the post on 17 December bringing an increase in salary from £243 pa to £300 pa.

On the 1 May 1854, having been recommended by Sir John Bowring, Henry left his position with the Hong Kong Government and was appointed 4th. Assistant to the Superintendent of Trade in Canton.  Sir John Bowring “was always ready to bring forward any man connected with science or literature”. 

At the end of 1854 a second son was born.

In 1856 Henry was appointed Senior Assistant at the British Consulate in Canton but the timing could not have been worse.  The Arrow incident saw the start of the Second Opium War and December brought the burning of the Foreign Factories in Canton.  The Hance family lost most of their possessions including a mahogony cottage piano and achromatic microscope.  Also destroyed was Ann’s embroidery frame along with the family’s sedan chair and the baby’s black lacquer carriage.  By this time Henry had collected some 200 books which were housed in several bookcases – all were lost in the flames.  His compensation claim shows that he valued his books at £187 13sh 10d; his furniture etc. £134 18sh 11 ½ d; clothing & linen etc. £107 7sh. 

After the riots Consulate staff, together with the Consular records which Henry maintained plus the archives of the Superintendent of Trade for China, were moved to Hong Kong.  Odiarne Tremayne Lane Second Secretary at the Consulate was killed during the troubles.  Being a close colleague Henry had been named as Executor in his will and on arrival in Hong Kong put in place the administrative tasks connected with probate. 

1856 had been a sad year for Henry as his father had died in London in May.  Henry Hance Snr. was buried in the family grave at Brompton Cemetery.  The section where the grave is located is now a “Conservation Area” – great for butterflies and bees but disastrous for a researcher searching for a grave.  However, Henry the Botanist would be more than content with this situation.

One of the ladies whom Ann may have been friends with at this time was Emma Buckton the widow of British tradesman, Charles Buckton.    Charles had been trading in the Far East for some years but in December 1847 the stock in trade of his Shipchandler’s business in HK was put up for sale due to his insolvency.  A year later he was advertising the sale of ladies’ bonnets, hams and cheeses.   By January 1849 his house in Hollywood Road was advertised as being available to let and in February his first wife left Hong Kong bound for England with their three children and a female servant.  Shortly after arrival the first Mrs. Buckton died at 29 Sloane Street, Chelsea.  Charles married his second wife, Emma, in Liverpool at the beginning of 1853 and brought her & her children by a previous marriage back to Whampoa where he reinstated his ship chandler’s business.   However, the following year the Buckton’s were caught in the midst of fighting and Charles suffered substantial losses.  He died at Whampoa in the summer of 1856 and Emma moved to the safety of Hong Kong.

Henry, as Senior Assistant of the Canton Consulate, was busy collating claims for losses which had been incurred by British subjects during the troubles – including submitting his own.  One of his colleagues – Theophilus Sampson the Consular Constable – submitted a very meagre claim of $17 for brushes and clothes whilst Henry’s claim amounted to $2128  95c.  His beloved books taking up 40% of the claim.

After a few months Henry’s excellent record keeping services were called for elsewhere.  He transferred back to the office of the Superintendent of Trade for China and placed in charge of The Archives leaving Sampson to cope with the Consulate administration. 

 Bundles of correspondence forming part of the
Archive of the Superintendent of Trade

The Hong Kong Directory lists Henry as living at The Albany.  In later years he was consulted on the best location for the proposed botanical garden and he recommended the area just in front of these Government Quarters.

Theo Sampson married the former Mrs. Buckton in Hong Kong in August 1858 and they moved to Canton where the Consulate had been re-established.  The Office of the Superintendent of Trade was wound up and Henry also found himself back in Canton as the Senior Assistant. 

It was September of the same year when the Colonial Surgeon William Aurelius Harland died in Hong Kong.  Henry’s two page handwritten obituary bears testimony to their long and deep friendship “The prospective opening of China by the Treaty of Tientsin caused him the liveliest satisfaction as likely to carrying out of a long cherished project – the scientific exploration of some of the less known portions of the Empire”.  I can imagine the two men spending long hours discussing the exciting prospects of what might be awaiting discovery in China.

In March 1861 Henry was promoted from the ranks of Assistant in the Consular Service to become Vice-Consul at Whampoa a position he held for the next 17 years.  Throughout this period Ann continued to produce children with the final total being eight.  The 1861 census shows the eldest son being educated by his Aunt in Devon and by 1871 he had been joined by the second son.

Although there was little social life in Whampoa the family were happy.  Henry continued to indulge his love of Botany and established a wide circle of contacts in the Far East and Europe.   Ann contented herself with music, needlework, and raising the children.  In her spare time she would assist her husband by labelling specimens destined for Kew Gardens.  Then one day in September 1872 Anne suffered a stroke. She died four hours later in Henry’s arms – she was 49 years of age.  In Henry’s own words:

 Half an hour previous to the attack I was laughing, & kissing and playing with her!  To add to my agony there was no medical man, nor even a lady, at the time at Whampoa; so that, amidst all my sorrow, I was obliged to keep a clear judicial mind as all the treatment and attendance devolved on me.  I am quite prostrated and heartbroken, and though more than two months have elapsed, I feel at times as if my mind would give way,  and as if I could not long survive this blow…………………….. I must say she was the sweetest, gentlest, tenderest and most unselfish woman I ever saw”. 

Henry was so grief stricken that it took three weeks before he could bring himself to register her death in the Consulate register.   No record exists of where Anne was buried but it is likely it would have been in the Foreigner’s Cemetery on Danes Island.  Most of the headstones have long since disappeared but a few have survived and been restored in recent years.  If anyone should ever visit this little cemetery please look out for an inscription to the memory of Ann Edith Hance - lay a hand on her headstone and tell her she has not been forgotten despite the passage of time.

After their mother’s death the remaining children were sent to England to be educated by their Aunt.  By 1881 the youngest son was attending Grammar School in Warwickshire.

Three years after Ann’s death Henry married Charlotte Page KNEEBONE in St. Johns, Hong Kong.  Consular correspondence reports Charlotte as being “halfe caste”.  As she was born and raised in India it is likely that her ancestry was Anglo Indian rather than Anglo Chinese. 

Due to Henry’s lack of knowledge with the Chinese language promotion was never a realistic proposition however during the late 1870s and throughout the 1880s he acted as Consul in Canton. 

Charlotte bore Henry a daughter and twin sons but as there was no physician based in Whampoa it was left to Henry to compound and prescribe medicines for the family.  In August 1880 his young boys were near the point of death and he had the anxiety of treating them whilst at the same time suffering himself from severe remittent fever.  In 1881 he wrote:

I feel alas that my days of active work are quietly and steadily closing in.  This is my thirty-sixth year in China and I have neither the hand nor head that I possessed ten years ago.  But I shall never cease my love for my favourite science”

By 1882 things were deteriorating further:

I am sick, aging, ill-disposed and too often unequal to any work.  I do not think I can stay here much longer, or be of any use to science

It was during his term as Acting Consul in 1883 that riots broke out in Canton and the English settlement on Shameen was at the mercy of the Chinese mob.  The general feeling, after the event, was that Henry “had exhibited no lack of those qualities which should distinguish a British official” – he had done well.  However, Botany had to take a back seat during these troubled times and in January 1884 he wrote to a friend:

 Amidst the constant worry and anxiety of my daily life, I have been unable, except for a spare half hour or so, to do anything at all botanically; but I hope, rather than expect, in a more or less proximate future, to get a little more time.  I quite gave up library and herbarium at the time of the irruption on Shameen!”

Fevers, congestion of the liver and other complications sapped his strength with every passing year.  In the summer of 1884 he was so ill that he was moved to a Government pavilion on The Peak in Hong Kong and attended by Dr. Manson.  But this move was to coincide with the collapse of the Oriental Bank.  As every sixpence he had in the world was lodged there, his embarrassment left him no alternative but to resume his duties as Acting Consul at Canton”.

A year later his health was still of concern and he was ordered to Macao for three months absolute rest before returning briefly to his duties as Vice-Consul at Whampoa.  In May 1886 he was appointed Acting Consul at Amoy.

Just a few weeks later Henry suffered a serious attack of diarrhoea and died on 22 June 1886 at the age of 58 years.  His death was registered by the Acting Assistant at the Consulate.  Henry was shown as being “H.M. Vice Consul, Whampoa & H.M. Acting Consul, Amoy”.

Henry’s last wishes were that his funeral be “plain and cheap”.   Presumably his wife did not agree with this for his body was taken to Hong Kong for a funeral fit for an Acting Consul.  The Haiphong arrived early on Saturday 26 June and the coffin taken directly to Happy Valley to await the funeral service timed for 5pm.  The service was attended by all senior members of the Hong Kong Government plus British and Foreign Consuls – one of his sons was the Chief Mourner.  The coffin, covered with the ensign, was born from the chapel to the grave on the shoulders of four Consuls, the Colonial Treasurer, Revd. Chalmers, Charles Ford of the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens and Mr. Lammert.  Another friend describing the funeral reported that he was:

“buried on June 26th. 1886 in the beautiful Wong-nei-chung Valley, the wooded slopes of which were the home of many a plant gathered or described by him during his lifetime”.

 Wong-nei-chung Valley
Sir Thomas Wade, KCB writing about Henry said:

He was zealous, conscientious and intelligent.  I do not know that I ever met a man who seemed to me more constant in his endeavour to do his duty.  He had the misfortune not to know Chinese.  While he was in the Colonial service there was no inducement to him to study the language, and his leisure was devoted to his favourite pursuit Botany.  When he transferred to the Foreign Office service, although not old, he was no longer young and he was very hard worked.  The Foreign Office rule, which made knowledge of Chinese indispensable, became justly and naturally more stringent every year and by his unacquaintance with it he missed more than one opportunity of permanent advancement.  He was employed provisionally as a Consul and in my judgment, acquitted himself remarkably well in his acting capacity”.

Sir Joseph Hooker wrote:

With regard to Dr. Hance’s botanical attainments and the value of his labours I can speak in very high terms.  For upwards of forty years he devoted all his spare time to investigating the vegetation of China, displaying rare ability in mastering the technicalities of structural and descriptive Botany at the same time enriching the scientific journals in England with accounts of new plants of great interest in a botanical and economic point of view.  In all that he attempted he aimed at critical accuracy in identification and diagnosis and this he attained in an eminent degree so that there is no possibility of failure in recognising from his descriptions the plants he had under examination.  Had Dr. Hance lived he would doubtless have given in a connected form an account of the vegetable riches of China such as it would have been far beyond the grasp of any other naturalist to have produced, and this too with a classical diction that is extremely rare in the writing of scientific men.  As it is he has left no successor in China.”

Henry’s will stated that he wished his herbarium (which contained over 22,000 different species ) to be offered to the British Musuem as the Head of the Botanical Department had already expressed an interest in acquiring this.  His library of books was also to be sent to England for sale.  Charlotte was to be given the chance of choosing three items of jewellery with the remainder being divided amongst his children as a remembrance of their father.  His silver goblet was left to his sister in England.  Charlotte was also to receive $200 and any arrears of salary due to Henry.  Henry’s original will written in 1879 declared that the remainder of his estate be divided into eight equal portions with four of these going to the children of his first marriage and the remaining portions intended for Charlotte and her children.  A codicil written four years later revoked the portion for one of his sons who was by that time earning a living.  The portions for the daughters of his first marriage were to be revoked if they had married or were engaged at the time of his death.  The portion for the youngest son of the first marriage was also to be revoked if at the time of Henry’s death he too was earning a living.  Somehow or another I can see Charlotte’s hand behind this codicil. 

Henry’s estate was initially estimated at being $4500 and this is the amount for which probate duty was paid in China.  By October 1886 Charlotte had moved to Hong Kong and was living at 8 Seymour Terrace.  It was from this address that she provided a statement showing the “true” value of Henry’s estate was actually $2875  and as a result she applied for repayment of the excess duty which had been paid in China. 

Charlotte remained in Hong Kong and by 1891 was running a school teaching 3 boys and 7 girls.  Three years later Bubonic Plague raged through the Colony.  The area of Taipingshan was seen as being particularly unsanitary so much so that it was decided to raze the whole area to the ground.  The Taipingshan Resumption Ordinance of 1894 authorised the resumption of Crown Lots with compensation being paid to the owners.  Charlotte Page Hance was listed as being the owner of one of these lots.

Later in life Charlotte developed cancer of the face and died in Hong Kong in June 1911.  She was buried with Henry in the Colonial Cemetery, Happy Valley.

The lives of the Henry’s children deserve a research study of their own and this I hope to complete next year.

If you should find this material of use in your research I would be grateful if you could provide a link back to this story.

Should you be descended from Henry Fletcher Hance then please make contact as I would love to hear from you.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Continuing the story of George Thomas Howell

(Apologies for the break in service but I have spent the past year in the midst of a property move.  My archive material is now slowly being unpacked so I am able to resume the story of George Thomas Howell.)

It may be remembered that the year is 1892 and George has arrived in Gank’ing (Anqing) 400 miles from Shanghai.  His letters home describe some of the scenes that greet him daily:

“We are greeted with opium fumes from one of the many dens we must pass as we walk westwards and a glance inside reveals some of the victims lying on couches of wood and inhaling the drug which ministers to their lusts and ruins them.  A little further we notice a group of men bending over a dirty pack of cards or throwing the dice and so intently absorbed in their gambling operations that even the “foreigners” pass unnoticed.  Gambling is a vice only second to opium smoking in China and one sees the tiniest of children, all but naked, seated round a dice bowl and learning to gamble almost before they can walk properly.

Turning into one of the main streets, dirty and narrow, we have to pick our way in and out amongst throngs of shouting coolies some of them bearing tremendously heavy burdens: water carriers with their two wooden pails, one slung at each end of the bamboo pole; hawkers of every conceivable kind of ware; and the inevitable barber also carrying his “shop” on a bamboo pole, having the water bowl and a kind of chest containing his kettle of hot water, combs, razors etc. at one end whilst at the other is the stool for his customers to sit upon.  It is quite a common thing to see a man having a shave and getting his queue plaited in open street – no-one taking the least notice or exhibiting the slightest interest in the operation. 

In this street to we shall probably notice a man sitting at a table with a piece of paper having Chinese characters written all over them, pasted on the surface of the table a few sticks in a sort of bamboo bottle without a neck, and perhaps two or three books complete his stock in trade.  With these he will, for a consideration, tell – or profess to tell – the fortune and misfortunes of his numerous patrons.  As the “Foreign Teachers” or “Foreign Devils” pass (according to the favour or disfavour with which he regards us) he will probably have something to say which directs the attention of the group surrounding hin to us, but we walk on, our limited knowledge of the language preventing us hearing as to whether he finds our passing at the auspicious moment an omen of good or evil.”

Over the next few months sickness prevailed and George lost at least one of his fellow missionaries.   He also made the long trip to Shanghai and during the visit met up with members of the Shanghai Municipal Police Force.   

On returning to Gank’ing George sat – and passed – his “first section” examination.  

If you have any stories of your own that you would like to share please feel free to e-mail me at:

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Monday, 29 August 2011

George Thomas Howell arrives in China 1892

As 1891 draws to a close George Thomas Howell, the young missionary from London, is on a voyage to the Orient.  He left London at the end of November and he and his companions have just passed through the Suez canal.

December 10th

At noon we reached Suez and a stop of three quarters of an hour was sufficient to take in poultry, vegetables, fruit etc. We were soon on our way again passing through wild and rugged mountainous scenery on each side.  The width of the Gulf of Suez varies from six to ten miles and extends from Suez to the Red Sea.

December 14th.

Our journey through the Red Sea is nearly over and at we are expecting to reach Aden.  At 2.30 we passed the island of Perim and saw the masts and yards of the P&O ss Hong Kong, wrecked off here about ten months ago. One can easily imagine a ship being wrecked here for huge rocks abound on every side and the only wonder is that so many hundreds of vessels pass every year without mishap. 

George journeyed on and reached Colombo on 22nd. December where he and the other missionaries transferred to the ss Malwa.  They reached Shanghai on Saturday 9th. January 1892 where they were welcomed by the Rev. J. Hudson Taylor and other members of the China Inland Mission.  Five days were spent in the city during which time George was transformed into a “Chinaman” with a false queue being added to his hair.  Then, with eight others he began a journey up the Yangtse river and into the interior of China.

The nine of us were packed into a cabin 11ft. in length and 8ft. wide.  Our furniture, if it could be termed as such, consisted of 12 shelves for sleeping upon (we carry our own bedding in China) and an oil lantern which like some of us Christians did not shed forth an over brilliant light.  The scope for our toilet operations was so limited that we did not attempt to undress.  Washing, which we considered a necessity, though unfortunately all Chinamen do not, was only accomplished by two getting up at a time, and after performing their ablutions with the cabin floor as a washstand, (we having bought basin, soap etc.), retiring to the deck whilst two more followed suit.  Meals were taken with considerable difficulty though these also were considered by us to be so necessary that difficulties were overcome, and we managed with the provisions which we had brought with us to get along very well in this department, occasionally varying our diet with a basin of rice (supplied by the ships people for breakfast, dinner and tea) upon which occasions we practiced the art, and it is an art, of using chopsticks.  You will be glad to know that I am getting on very well in this respect; it is really wonderful what one can do when he is hungry, even though chopsticks have to be manipulated in lieu of knives and forks.

The atmosphere of our cabin was by no means improved by the fumes of our opium smoking neighbour, and yet, in spite of all, we were as happy as if we had had the grandest saloon, with every comfort, on board a P & O liner.   I shall not soon forget my first experience on board a river steamer in China.

To-day is the first of the China New Year and at this time they give themselves over to visiting and feasting one another and to endeavouring in all sorts of ways to propitiate the gods and on every side we see emblems of the superstition and ignorance.  Prayers written and pasted on the doors of houses, worship and burning of incense before idols and at the graves of ancestors, firing off crackers to frighten away evil spirits and all sorts of folly are indulged in to a much larger extent that ever at this season of the year.

George finally reached Gank’ing (Anqing) in Anhuei Province some 400 miles from Shanghai and set about learning the language and acquainting himself with the city. 

Looking out from my window I can see the north wall to the hills beyond with their countless graves and shrines, with their evidence of superstition in the shape of burnt incense, remnants of crackers and paper houses and money for the use of the departed one’s spirit.

At breakfast this morning a request came for the missionary here to go to an opium poisoning case and the victim proved to be a girl of less than twenty.  In this case the relatives would not allow the medicine that might have saved her life to be given and upon enquiry this afternoon we learnt that another had been added to the awful list of victims and that she too was dead.

If God spares me I shall doubtless see many such scenes but this first one has left an impression on my mind that will long remain.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Continuing George Thomas Howell’s voyage to the Orient back in the early 1890s.

One of my own voyages through the Med

The date is December 4th. 1891 and George and his missionary friends are steaming through the Mediterranean having been at sea for nine days.  He writes:

The days, now that we are settling down to life on board ship, are wonderfully alike.  We generally rise about 7 and after a cold sea-water bath and private devotions get time for a turn on deck before breakfast at 8.30.  After breakfast we gather in the lower hatch for our Bible reading together.  After this we study the Phinese Radicals until about by which time we are ready to appreciate the fresh air which blows across the hurricane deck and occupy ourselves till dinner time, viz 1.30.  The afternoon is spent in reading or writing, some of us varying the proceeding by indulging in quoits, leap-frog, chess etc.  The Captain is proposing a cricket math between 1st and 2nd saloons and I am hoping to take part should this be arranged.

After tea we frequently adjourn to the hurricane deck again armed with our rugs and Sankey’s hymn book and for an hour or two the ship rings with the well known tunes from this book. 

December 5th.

At we anchored in the magnificent bay of Naples and the scene as we stood on deck and looked at this city of churches was a pretty one.  The bay is semi-circular with the houses almost down to the water’s edge and to the east Vesuvius stands out rugged and gloomy looking.  We had not been long at anchor before we were surrounded on all sides with craft of every sort, bringing vendors of trinkets and fancy articles of all descriptions which as soon as they could get on board they spread out on seats, hatchways and deck until our vessel had something of the appearance of a Fancy Fair or Eastern Bazaar.  Whilst at breakfast a boat with musicians came alongside and our ears were greeted with some of the beautiful airs and songs of these Neapolitans which the women who were gorgeously attired rendered capitally. 

At 9.15 we boarded the steam launch and in a few minutes were again on solid ground and having engaged a guide for our party of five we started on our tour resolved to see all that we could of Naples in the seven hours at our disposal.  I think we may fairly claimed to have done this mainly through the reckless driving of the “Jarvey” whom our guide engaged ! …………………………………………………………………..

Reaching Pompeii at 11.40 we at once proceeded to inspect this strange silent city – one day the centre of life and activity and steeped in sin and vice (awful evidence of which exists to-day after eighteen centuries) and the next in ruins and buried with its thousands of inhabitants in the stream of burning lava and ashes which belched forth from the sombre looking mountain which overhangs it, and which on the day we stood at its base was enveloped at the summit in thick smoke.

To describe all we saw would fill a volume and then I should fail to make you understand all the visitor feels as he walks up and down these deserted streets and thinks of the wonderful history and awful end of Pompeii ……………………………………

December 6th.

Upon going on deck this morning our eyes were greeted with a glorious sight.  We were in the Straits of Messina and on one side were the vine covered hills of Sicily, with the lovely little towns dotted here and there, and on the other side the scene on the Italian shore was one of perfect beauty and as we slowly steamed through with a grand sky and bright sun overhead “Etna” came in sight making with the surrounding hills a picture glorious in the extreme.

December 8th.

To-day we have been enjoying a cricket match in which several of us took part between the first and second saloons.  A match on board a large steamer is a matter of interest and we had many spectators.  The game is not played quite in the orthodox style of “Lords” as the ball is made of rope, the wicket with four stumps instead of three and the bat a little narrower than regulation width.  This will be readily understood as being necessary when the difficulty of bowling straight on board ship is considered.  Should a ball be sent overboard the batsman scores six but is out.  I had been chosen as captain of the second saloon team and there was a humorous account of the match in the Sutlej Gazette the next morning.  We thus spent an enjoyable afternoon though intensely hot.

December 9th.

Arrival at Port Said remarkable as the greatest coaling station in the world, 1,000,000 tons being supplied annually to steamers here.  We went on shore for a couple of hours and returned disgusted; the only enjoyable feature being a short visit to the missionary in charge of the Sailors’ Rest, with whom we had a chat and prayer.  Quite a number of boys came alongside our vessel as soon as we “made fast” and showed considerable skill in diving for coins which the passengers threw into the water invariably bringing them to the surface and putting then into their mouths which formed a temporary pocket while they dived for others.

Port Said at dusk in 2008

At we entered the Canal and by aid of the magnificent electric search light fixed at the bow of our vessel commenced to make our way slowly through.  It took us eighteen hours to travel the eighty-seven miles from Port Said to Suez, including a short stay at Ismailia to land a few passengers.

Steaming through the Suez canal

I will continue with George's voyage in a few days so please keep following the tale.

Friday, 8 July 2011

George Thomas HOWELL, Missionary

George was born in Bermondsey on 12 June 1870 and as a child was educated by the London School Board. He was a scholarly lad and won many prizes. At the age of 11 he attended the Sunday School at the East London Tabernacle and it was this which set him on his path in life. He became a teacher and developed an interest in missionary work. At the age of 21 he joined the China Inland Mission and was chosen to represent the Missionary Union of the Christian Police Association. George was engaged to be married to Grace Selby Brown the second daughter of the Revd. Archibald Brown. Grace was also training to become a missionary. On 25 November 1892 George set forth on the SS Sutlej on the voyage to China, hoping that his fiancé would be able to join him in the not too distant future. In this and the next couple of blogs I will bring you something of his journey for it will be similar to voyages made by all those who travelled East.

After the last farewells had been said and father and all the friends who had come down to Tilbury with us had returned home the band of seven Missionaries (myself among the number) met in the largest of our cabins and commended our loved ones left behind. ………………

Passing out of Tilbury the scene as night came on and we got out into the open sea was indeed a grand one. The magnificent lighthouses and ships that surround our English coasts and tell of “Hidden rock and treacherous sands” began to send forth their bright rays and flash their warning signals. The sea was very calm and our first night afloat was a pleasant one.

After a good night’s rest we were glad to find, on going on deck in the morning that the old country was still in sight. With the aid of Mr. Green’s glasses splendid views of Bonchurch and Ventnor were obtained and also of vessels passing up & down the channel. At 4.30 I got my last glimpse of dear old England which we were rapidly leaving behind and as night came on our eyes were directed towards the point which marks the entrance to the famous Bay of Biscay – Ushant. We remained on deck until the light on the headland came in sight and then retired for the night.

We awoke on Saturday morning to find ourselves being pitched backwards and forwards in a way which made dressing an extremely difficult operation, and this combined with the uncomfortable sensation within was far from pleasant.

Fortunately, it appears that George found his sea legs quite quickly for he goes on to record:

On Saturday we shipped a great deal of water, several seas coming right on to the hurricane deck and the main deck oft-times being flooded the ship pitching about in a decidedly uncomfortable way, which however we (Preedy and I) rather enjoyed when our sickness was over.

December 1st.
Going on deck this morning revealed to us that we were off the north-east of Africa on the one side and Spain on the other and making for Gibraltar. All eyes were turned to the direction of the mighty Rock we expected soon to see and about 9 o’clock it came in sight, looming through a thick mist which was soon dispelled by the rising sun. At 10.15 we anchored in the beautiful harbour side by side with the great liner of the P & O Co “Victoria” which arrived at the same time on her homeward voyage. ………..

It was difficult, as we wandered along under a hot sun, with geraniums on every side and oranges hanging on the trees in rich clusters, to realise that it was the first of December and that at home rain and fog were the order of the day.

George and his friends only had a couple of hours ashore and at 2pm they were back on board as the ship weighed anchor.

We were soon steaming down the Mediterranean leaving the huge fortress, 1,400 feet high and bristling with British guns, in the distance. This afternoon we witnessed the most glorious sunset conceivable. Standing on the deck of the ship we watched “Old Sol” sink behind the hills of Africa leaving as it did so such a blaze of golden light and tinting the horizon where earth and sky seemed to meet and lose themselves in each other with wondrous colours and making a picture of matchless beauty and one worth travelling any distance to behold.

Oh dear, I think I am going to have to end here otherwise I will be on the internet booking another cruise for myself !! It is EXACTLY how George describes it - a very magical experience. I will return in a few days with a bit more of George’s voyage to the Orient back in 1892.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Miss Emma Georgiana Hurn

Emma was born at Peckham Rye on 6 July 1868 and “born again” in July 1890.  In 1896 she was accepted at Doric Lodge which had been established in 1884 by Dr. & Mrs. Grattan Guinness for the training of lady missionaries. The Lodge was situated in Bow Road opposite Harley House which was the training centre for male missionaries.  During holidays she did work for the YWCA where it was reported that all the girls loved her and brought their troubles to her as to a friend.

Once Emma’s basic training was over she entered the China Inland Mission Home to prepare for her move to the Far East.  She sailed for China on 3 January 1898.

Emma was posted to Si-chau, Shansi Province way up in the north of China.  A few months after arriving she wrote that she was slowly learning the difficult language.  As each day progressed she was able to understand a little more of what was being said.  She longed to be able to speak freely to the local people.

The year 1900 saw the Boxer uprising in northern China.  Emma hid in the mountains for three weeks with fellow missionaries  - Emma Dobson, Mr. & Mrs. Peat and their two children.  They were captured by the Boxers who were on the verge of killing them when the local magistrate at Si-chau stepped in and, for their own safety, put them in prison.  They were then moved to Ping-yang and from there to K’u-wu.  At K’u-wu they managed to borrow a little money from the magistrate which got them as far as the Ai-koo mountains but here they were overtaken by another group of Boxers.  This time all six were slaughtered.

In all 189 Protestant Missionaries including 53 children were killed during the Boxer uprising.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Summer Heat in Old Shanghai

Shanghai – Paris of the East – what a picture those words conjure up in the mind. I had the very good fortune to visit Shanghai very briefly a couple of years ago and I was hoping against hope that some of the Shanghai of yesteryears survived. It took a lot of searching for but I did find manage to find a wonderful coffee shop hidden deep within the old Hongkong Shanghai Bank building on The Bund. It was decorated in 1920s style and for a few moments, as I sipped my coffee on its veranda, I thought that I might be back in old Shanghai.

The summer of 1900 proved to be oppressively hot and humid and proved too much for some of the Old China Hands. Mr. David BRAND, born in Glasgow in 1845, had journeyed to China in the late 1860s and later became the Head Partner in the firm of Brand Bros. He was much respected in the community and was affectionately called “Dahvid”. He was described as being “witty and ready with a keen shrewd Scotch humour that made him a most sought after companion”. Heat and fever caught up with Mr. Brand and he passed away at 1am on Monday 23 July at his home on The Bund.

The funeral took place at The New Cemetery, Bubbling Well Road at 6pm the same day and the hearse and coffin were covered in beautiful floral wreaths and crosses. Half the Settlement turned out to pay their respects.

Little did anyone know at that time but events later in the 20th. century were to spell disaster for that lovely cemetery. In the early 1950s it was announced that all the graves were to be exhumed and moved to a new cemetery at Dazang on the outskirts of the city. Anyone wishing to arrange for the re-interment of their family members elsewhere were to make their own arrangements. The British Government did what it could and arranged for notices to appear in the major English and Scottish newspapers. A few families did manage to get the remains of their loved ones moved to Hong Kong and the imports started early in 1954. Hong Kong Burial Registers show that the cremated ashes of Mr. D. Brand (and his son Mr. R.A. Brand) were imported into HK from Shanghai under Removal Permit No. 8. They were re-interred in Section 16G of the Colonial Cemetery in grave number 10869 on 3rd. March 1954. No service was held on this occasion. During the month another 15 sets of ashes came in from Shanghai and were re-interred in the Hong Kong Cemetery.

These were the lucky ones. The graves of those souls who had no-one to arrange for their safe removal to Hong Kong – or back to the UK – were exhumed and moved to Dazang. If their headstones happened to show that they had been members of the military then the inscriptions were defaced to remove all reference to their units, ranks, service numbers and dates of death. The cemetery at Dazang has now been “lost”. Historians and researchers in Shanghai have been unable to determine where it was sited – all that they can say is that it no longer exists. Section 16G at the Hong Kong Cemetery is therefore a very special place as in my mind it represents all those who were previously buried in the Foreign Cemeteries of Old Shanghai.