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.


Sunday, 12 June 2011

Foochow Protestant Cemetery


Missionaries first came to Foochow in 1847. Later it was reported that during the following ten years seven had died in Foochow – two ladies from the American Board Mission; three ladies from the American Methodist Mission; one lady and one gentleman from the C.M.S. Mission. This picture shows the Protestant Cemetery which was once located on the side of a hill at Maiyuan Road. A century later the cemetery contained 400 graves. It’s fate? To be demolished during the Cultural Revolution.

Foochow was also the last resting place for many British seamen – Apprentices, Able Seamen, Engineers and Captains all of whom died at Pagoda Anchorage, Foochow. It is doubtful whether any of these had stones erected in their memory.