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.