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.