Europe in China/Chapter 9
Exodus from Macao and Events Leading up to the Cession of Hongkong.
1839 to 1841.
he Imperial Commissioner Lin had been instructed by the Government of Peking to do two things, both of which were equally impossible, viz. to extirpate the opium traffic, root and branch, but at the same time to secure the continuance at Canton of the legitimate foreign trade under the old regime. When Lin arrived in Canton, he found the opium trade stagnant and its worst features, the forced trade between Lintin and Whampoa, entirely cut off through the vigorous action, resorted to at the last moment, of the Cantonese Authorities. Had he confined himself to do the only thing possible, viz. to seek to initiate measures tending to bring about, in course of time, a moral regeneration of the Chinese nation, so as to reduce the demand for opium to the lowest possible minimum, and at the same time to introduce a moral reform of the mode of conducting the opium trade, so as to prevent the recurrence of its glaring abuses, he might have done some good and paved the way for an eventual peaceful solution of this complicated opium problem. But his instructions, based as they were on his own original violent recommendations to the Throne, pledged him to an extreme policy, impossible to carry out and necessarily resulting in giving the opium trade a new impetus, besides convincing at last even the people in England that, apart from the opium question, the legitimate trade itself could not be carried on, in a manner compatible with England's dignity, under the old conditions.
For four months before Lin's arrival at Canton (February 1839), the opium market had been overstocked and hardly any sales had taken place. The great bulk of the supply of 1838 had remained unsold, owing to the energetic measures taken in the inland districts, all through the southern provinces, to repress the consumption. The immense stock of the year 1839 was just commencing to arrive from India where, on the very day when over 20,000 chests were surrendered in Canton, sales were either impossible or ruinous, because the prices in China had fallen to between two or three hundred per cent. below the cost of production and charges. Under these circumstances, to rob the holders of opium of the stock which glutted the market, and to destroy over 20,000 chests of opium for which Elliot paid the owners at the rate of £120 a chest, by twelve months' bills on the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, was not to extinguish the trade but to give it a fresh fillip by relieving an overglutted market from the depressing weight of stocks. After March 24, 1839, when 20,283 chests of opium, which the holders could not have sold without ruin, were surrendered to Lin, prices recovered and the opium traffic was carried on with greater vigour and yielded larger profits than ever. By binding sixteen men, among whom were some of the foremost English merchants, gentlemen of high culture and refined feelings, to abstain from all future participation in the opium trade, which promise they all adhered to honourably, Lin merely helped to drive the opium trade into the hands of a lower and less scrupulous set of merchants. Lin's opium policy was an utter failure.
His policy with regard to the legitimate foreign trade was, moreover, equally unfortunate, because based on an utter misconception of the character and power of the English, whom Lin, like Napoleon, supposed to be nothing but a nation of shopkeepers, whose lives and fortunes depended upon the supply of Chinese tea, silk and rhubarb. His utter disregard of the sacredness which Britain attributes to the life, the liberty and the property of others, his reckless assumption that civilised foreigners, temporarily residing in China, must submit themselves to the barbarous code of Chinese penal laws and to the corrupt judicial process of Chinese tribunals, his open and undisguised determination to hold one set of foreign merchants responsible with their lives for the doings of others not under their control, his absurd affirmation of the sovereignty of China over Great Britain and other foreign nations, and finally his persistent refusal to give to Her Majesty's Representative in China a dignified official status, all these measures of Lin, as the typical representative of Chinese mandarindom, served only to force upon the English people, aroused at last from their apathy by the startling news of the imprisonment of the whole foreign community, the conviction that some serious alterations in British relations with the Chinese Empire were necessary and that British commerce could never be safely carried on, and certainly could never flourish in a country where British property are alike at the mercy of a capricious, corrupt and inordinately conceited Government. Driven out from Canton, and feeling that British trade with China must henceforth be carried on within sight of British shipping and close to the sea, on which Great Britain can hold her own against all comers, both Elliot and the British merchants now turned a deaf ear to all Lin's proposals for a reopening of trade, even under new regulations, at Canton or Whampoa. Forty-two British firms signed (May 23, 1889) a Memorial addressed to Lord Palmerston, in which they complained of the insincerity of the Canton Authorities in their dealing with the opium trade which these Authorities had themselves encouraged and supported for so many years, and of the violent measures of Commissioner Lin which made it a matter of pressing necessity to place the general trade of British subjects in China upon a secure and permanent basis. British merchants had no wish now to return to Canton under any circumstances. Their eyes were turned in the direction of Macao.
Even before the imprisonment of the foreign community at Canton had come to an end, Elliot had managed, with great difficulty and risks, to send a message from Canton (April 13, 1839) to the Governor of Macao, throwing himself and all Her Majesty's subjects by anticipation under the protection of the Portuguese Government, and offering at the same time, on behalf of the British Government, immediate facilities on the British Treasury for the purpose of putting Macao in a state of effectual defence and of equipping some armed vessels to keep the coast clear. The Portuguese Governor, A. A. da Silveira Pinto, in reply (April 13, 1839), declined this offer on the ground that his very peculiar position compelled him to observe a strict neutrality as long as possible or until there should be evidence of the imminent peril which, he said, Elliot seemed to fear. Governor Pinto failed to understand that the imprisonment of the foreign community and of Her Majesty's Representative in China was in itself tantamount to a declaration of war. As soon as the Canton imprisonment came to an end, Captain Elliot (May 6, 1839) wrote to Lord Palmerston stating that access to Macao was now a matter of indispensable necessity for British trade in China, and that the settlement of Macao could easily he placed in a state of effective defence. He recommended that Lord Palmerston should conclude an immediate arrangement with the Government of Macao, either for the cession of the Portuguese claims to the place, or for its effectual defence and its appropriation to British uses by means of a subsidiary convention.
By the time the Canton prisoners were free to leave and began to take refuge at Macao, Governor Pinto had reason to observe that Commissioner Lin's policy was as hostile to the interests of Portuguese as to those of the British merchants. Governor Pinto had ordered off all opium stored at Macao and sent it (3,000 chests) to Manila, where it was safe from Lin's clutches; but the revenue of Macao, previously amounting to $100,000 a year, chiefly levied on the opium trade, had now dwindled down to next to nothing, and, besides, the Chinese now began to blockade Macao on the land side and Commissioner Lin coolly proposed to take charge of the Portuguese fortifications. Under the influence of these circumstances Governor Pinto gave the British refugees at first a cordial welcome. It seemed, indeed, as if the Government of Macao would make common cause with the British in their hour of distress. But Commissioner Lin interfered. As soon as Elliot requested Lin to send a special deputy to Macao to confer with him as to the continuance of the trade, and asked for permission to make Macao henceforth the headquarters of British commerce in China, Lin set to work to turn the mind of Governor Pinto against the British. Lin now relinquished his claim to occupy the forts of Macao and promised the Governor to leave him in undisturbed possession of the settlement, on condition that the Macao Government should aid him in the suppression of the opium traffic and in driving out the English from the place. Lin was determined to force British trade back to Whampoa and Canton, because he had pledged his word to the Emperor that, after extirpating the opium trade, he would soon be able to report the peaceful resumption of the regular British trade at Canton.
There is no evidence to show that Governor Pinto entered into any definite understanding with Lin on the subject, but within three months after the arrival of the British refugees at Macao, they all felt more or less that they had ceased to be welcome guests, and that the Governor had fallen back upon his original position of strict neutrality.
Lin was massing troops around Macao and had also ordered a camp to be erected opposite Hongkong on the point called Tsimshatsui, which, as part of the Kowloon peninsula, protrudes into the harbour of Hongkong. Lin's object was, whilst driving out the British from Macao, to disturb at the same time their shipping in Hongkong harbour, so as to compel the British merchants to come back into his loving arms at Canton.
Whilst these measures were in course of preparation, an event happened, which caused a great deal of trouble to Elliot. Some American sailors and British lascars, belonging to the merchant ships which, for mutual protection and defence, had taken refuge in Hongkong harbour (since March 24, 1839), went on shore one evening (July 7, 1839) at Tsimshatsui, and got into a drunken fray with the Chinese, in the course of which a Chinaman, named Lin Wai-hi, was killed. Elliot at once hastened to Hong-kong and held a strict inquiry, terminating in the criminal trial of some lascars by a British jury. But there was no evidence whatever bringing home the charge of manslaughter to any one. The Chinese Government had been invited by Elliot to send some officers to witness the trial, but Liu claimed the jurisdiction for himself, sent no officer to watch the case and made a great clamour demanding of Elliot, again and again, that he should surrender the murderer or some British subject in his place. Lin, moreover, now demanded, in the most peremptory terms, that Elliot and all British merchants should at once sign a bond declaring that hereafter British subjects charged with any crime should at once be handed over to the Chinese Government to be tried according to Chinese forms of proceeding (involving examination by torture both of the accused and his witnesses) and to be executed according to the methods in vogue in China.
Poor Lin, he could not understand that the day for making such demands had entirely gone by, and that, by insisting upon them, he effectually defeated his own scheme of bringing British trade back to Canton. But he blindly rushed on in his mad career. He now ordered the Chinese sub-Prefect of Macao to withdraw all Chinese servants from British residents at Macao (July 21, 1839). Later on, he formally interdicted (August 15, 1839) the supply of provisions of any kind to British persons or ships. When British residents at Macao supplied the places of their Chinese servants with Portuguese, Lin forthwith requested Governor Pinto to prohibit Portuguese subjects either serving the British as domestic servants or supplying them with food or drink, and issued edict after edict, ordering the departure of British subjects on pain of severe punishment, and declaring them all to be responsible with their lives for the surrender of the murderer of Lin Wai-hi. A provisional Committee of a British Chamber of Commerce had been formed at Macao (August 3, 1839), Mr. James Mathieson acting as Chairman, Mr. Scott (the Secretary of the former Canton Chamber) as Secretary, and Messrs. J. H. Astell, G. Braine, W. Bell, G. Smith and Dinshaw Furdonjee as provisional Committee. Captain Elliot now consulted them and, acting in accord with their views, informed a public meeting of the British community at Macao (August 21, 1839) that, whereas the Chinese Imperial Commissioner had prohibited the Governor of Macao rendering any assistance to British subjects, he was unwilling to compromise Portuguese interests any further and proposed to leave Macao and to take refuge on board the ships in Hongkong harbour as soon as possible. Two days afterwards Captain Elliot and his family removed from Macao, Governor Pinto having made no declaration of his willingness that his English guests should remain. The whole British community meanwhile hastened to wind up their local business affairs and prepared for another exodus. The general excitement was increased by a disgraceful outrage, committed by the Chinese on the crew and a passenger (all British) of a small schooner (Black Joke), plying between Macao and Hongkong as a passage boat, when (with one exception) the whole crew were murdered and the passenger (Mr. Moss) horribly mutilated (August 24, 1839). The provisional Committee of the British Chamber of Commerce, in almost daily session after Elliot's departure, had frequent interviews with Governor Pinto, who was evidently in a great state of alarm, though he expressed his determination to afford the British community all the protection and aid in his power. However, on the evening of August 25, he told the Committee that he could not answer for the safety of British subjects remaining in Macao for more than eighteen hours longer. The Committee accordingly convened a public meeting the same night and it was resolved to leave Macao the following day. The night was spent in watching for an armed attack expected to be made simultaneously on all British houses by the Chinese soldiery. Nothing happened, however, and at noon on Monday, August 26, 1839, the second British exodus commenced. Men, women and children, with bag and baggage, were hurried through the streets of Macao amidst a terrible excitement of the whole population, expecting every moment a massacre by the Chinese soldiery. The refugees assembled on the Praya in the presence of Governor Pinto who had the whole of the Portuguese troops (some 400 Indian lascars and 500 Caffre slaves) under arms, and embarked hurriedly on board British ships, lorchas, schooners and boats of all descriptions, which immediately set sail for Hongkong harbour, a mournful procession, to seek refuge on board the ships at Hongkong.
One might well suppose that now at last the time had come for the establishment of a British Colony on the island of Hongkong, but no such thought was entertained yet. Driven out from Canton, bowed out of Macao, forced to retreat to the ships anchored in the harbour of Hongkong, the British merchants looked back with regret to the flesh pots of Macao. The appearance of affairs at Hongkong was indeed depressing. On one side of the harbour there was a well-nigh barren rock, unable to supply provisions for the two thousand British subjects now crowded together on shipboard in a starving condition, and on the other side they beheld a large Chinese camp in process of construction on Kowloon peninsula, with two shore batteries on Tsimshatsui, one at the present Craig Millar and the other near the site of the present Military Barracks, commanding the best portions of the anchorage. These were not encouraging sights. Provisions were obtainable with great difficulty from Chinese junks and bum-boats, but prices were very high. No wonder that fresh negotiations now commenced with Governor Pinto. Captain Elliot, established on board the ship Fort William, which subsequently for many years graced the harbour of Hongkong as a receiving hulk, wrote to Governor Pinto (September 1, 1839), offering to send all the British subjects back to Macao, and to place at the Governor's disposal H.M.S. Volage which had just arrived, and a force of 800 to 1000 men for the defence of the Portuguese settlement. Elliot remarked at the same time, with reference to certain Chinese official documents in his possession, that the action of the Chinese Government, in praising and thanking the Portuguese Authorities for 'assisting them in driving forth the British people,' was no doubt an infamous calumny, which must have been a source of deep chagrin to the Governor. Here was another chance for the Portuguese Government of preventing, at the last moment, the establishment of a rival Colony at Hongkong, and of making the fortune of Macao. But Adriaŏ Accacio da Silveira Pinto, Governor of Macao and its Dependencies, impelled no doubt by foolish instructions from Lisbon, slammed the door in the face of the British community. He replied (September 3, 1839), in stiff but stately terms, that he could not cease to preserve the most strict neutrality between the Chinese and British nations, and added that the British subjects, having retired of their own accord from Macao with a view of not compromising the Portuguese establishment, had by this step placed themselves under the necessity of not landing there again so long as all the difficulties now existing between the Chinese and the English should continue unsettled. When Governor Pinto sealed this letter, he sealed the doom of Macao's prosperity as a Colony and virtually established Hongkong.
Nevertheless the time for Hongkong, though now seemingly near at hand, had not come yet. Elliot was, on the one hand, determined not to locate British trade again within the Bogue, but, on the other hand, he was averse to the idea of settling on the island of Hongkong, probably on account of its inability to furnish provisions and on account of the proximity of the Kowloon peninsula then occupied by Chinese troops. When Elliot, seeing the scarcity of provisions, went with Dr. Gützlaff in two small boats (September 4, 1839) to induce the villagers near Kowloon city to furnish the fleet with provisions, three Chinese war junks and the battery at Kowloon pier (still in existence) opened fire upon them, which was gallantly returned by Elliot's boats, and the junks were driven off. As to the merchants, they likewise do not appear to have entertained any desire yet to settle on Hongkong. They now (September 7, 1839) addressed a Memorial to Lord Palmerston, which was signed by twenty-eight British firms, representing thirty-eight sea-going British ships assembled in Hongkong Bay. But in this Memorial there is not a word as to the establishment of a British Colony. The memorialists complained of having been driven out from Canton and from Macao. They stated that they left Macao under a perfect conviction that such a course was imperatively necessary for the general safety. They also repeated their former declaration that, after the violent acts of Commissioner Lin, the return of British subjects to Canton would be alike dangerous to themselves and to the property of their constituents and derogatory to the honour of their country, 'until such time as the power of the British Government might convince the Chinese Authorities that such outrages would not be endured.' These last words appear to indicate that the British merchants expected speedy succour from home, the effective punishment of the Cantonese Authorities, and finally re-establishment of the whole British community, on a new basis of international equality, at Canton or Macao. Hongkong had no chance yet.
Meanwhile Commissioner Lin, after arranging for a re-opening of trade with Macao, on condition that the British should remain excluded from the port, and after strengthening the defences of Tsimshatsui, sec to work to cajole the American and other foreign merchants to remain in or return to Canton, and did everything he could to bring about a division among the British merchants and to set them against Elliot. Lin now looked upon Elliot as the only hindrance in his way, and accordingly charged him, in public proclamations, with all sorts of crimes, in order to arouse among the Chinese people a strong feeling against Elliot. Lin also directed the Magistrates of neighbouring districts to issue proclamations prohibiting, under severe penalties, the supply of provisions to the British fleet, and commanding the people to fire upon British subjects whenever they went on shore.
In consequence of these proceedings Captain Smith, in command of H.M.S. Volage, gave notice of his intention of establishing a blockade of the port of Canton (September 11, 1839), but when the Cantonese Authorities thereupon promised to withdraw the offensive proclamations, the blockade was suspended five days later. Negotiations now commenced afresh concerning Elliot's desire to bring the British community back to Macao. Captains Elliot and Smith had an interview (September 24, 1839) with the Chinese Sub-Prefect of Macao, in the presence of Governor Pinto, endeavouring to find a basis of agreement between Elliot and Lin. Elliot was determined not to re-open trade inside the Bogue. Lin was equally determined not to let the British return to Macao. Accordingly it was proposed, on the Chinese side, as a compromise, that British trade should henceforth be conducted at Chuenpi, under the guns of the Bogue forts. Lin proposed also a series of new trade regulations, the leading ideas of which were that the Hong Merchants' monopoly of supervising and conducting the trade as responsible mediators should continue, and that cargoes should be at the risk of the ship until laid down at Canton, and at the risk of the Hong Merchants until shipped on board. This compromise would have had a good chance of success, had not Lin coupled with it the impossible stipulation that every merchant, before participating in the trade, should sign a bond, agreeing that all British subjects in China should be subject to trial and capital punishment by Chinese tribunals according to the provisions of the Penal Code of China. Captain Elliot having asked a representative Committee of British merchants (Messrs. H. Wright, G. T. Braine, W. Wallace and Wilkinson Dent) to advise him on the subject of the proposed trade regulations, the Committee, after consultation with the Hong Merchants, stated (October 22, 1839) that in their opinion a trade under the proposed new plan could not be commenced until the British community had returned to Macao. Individuals from among the British community indeed went back to Macao whilst these negotiations proceeded. A British ship (Thomas Coutts), the master of which (Captain Warner), acting under legal advice obtained in India, signed the bond of submission to Chinese criminal jurisdiction, entered the Bogue in defiance of Elliot's prohibition. The ship was admitted to trade and liberally treated by the Chinese who were anxious that other British skippers should follow the example of Captain Warner.
When Elliot informed Lin of his inability to approve of British trade being re-opened on the proposed basis at Chuenpi, Liu sent to Elliot (October 26, 1839) a peremptory demand that all British ships should leave the coast of China within three days, unless the bond of submission to Chinese criminal jurisdiction were signed at once. Captain Elliot, being aware that Lin followed up this demand by preparing numbers of fire-ships and assembling a large fleet of war-junks, to attack the British ships in Hongkong Bay, and considering the anchorage in Tungku Bay to be less liable to surprise by fire-ships, now ordered all the British ships anchored at Hongkong to remove to Tungku. But the commanders of thirty-five ships at Hongkong, and the heads of twenty British firms, together with the agents for Lloyds and for eleven Insurance Offices, protested repeatedly (October 26 and November 9, 1839) against this order. They were of opinion that Tungku anchorage was less safe and that, if Hongkong were deserted, the Chinese would occupy and fortify the Island. The merchant ships accordingly remained, for the present, anchored in Hongkong Harbour.
Captain Smith (H.M.S. Volage) was under strict injunctions from the Admiralty to avoid by all means possible any collision with the Chinese. Observing, however, the daily increase of troops in the neighbourhood of the shipping at Hongkong, and the erection of batteries approaching now the beach, he resolved to make a decided stand against further encroachments. Accordingly he proposed (October 28, 1839) to deliver at the Bogue forts a letter addressed to Commissioner Lin, demanding that the warlike and hostile proclamations should be withdrawn and British merchants allowed to reside at Macao. Captain Elliot, having agreed to this measure, went the same day on the Volage which, together with H.M.S. Hyacinth (Captain Warren), proceeded forthwith to the Bogue forts, where Commissioner Lin and Viceroy Tang were at the time inspecting the forts, fire-ships, and a fleet of twenty-nine powerful war-junks under the command of Admiral Kwan (a direct descendant of Kwan Ti, the god of war). On arrival at the Bogue on the morning of November 2, 1839, Captain Smith sent to Admiral Kwan a letter addressed to Commissioner Lin and Viceroy Tang. This letter, written in Chinese, contained a demand that, within three days, a proclamation should be published withdrawing the official orders for the destruction of English cargo ships, find permitting English merchants and families to reside on shore and to be furnished with servants and supplies until the commands of the Queen of England could be received for the adjustment of all difficulties. In forwarding this letter by an Interpreter (Mr. Morrison), Captain Smith informed the Admiral that he would wait for the reply of Lin and Tang and that the boat conveying the reply should carry a white flag. Admiral Kwan civilly promised to submit the letter to their Excellencies, but expressed a wish that the two frigates should meanwhile move down a little further. Captain Smith immediately complied with this request to show his sincerity. Instead of forwarding a reply, however. Admiral Kwan twice sent for Mr. Morrison to visit him, which requests were refused, on the ground that Captain Smith's letter stated all that was needful. Next morning, in the course of the forenoon (November 3, 1839), the Chinese squadron, under Admiral Kwan, broke ground and stood out towards Her Majesty's ships, which were immediately got under weigh and directed towards the approaching force. As soon as the Chinese observed this proceeding, their squadron anchored in good order to the number of twenty-nine sail, and Her Majesty's ships were hove to, whilst a message was sent by Captain Smith to the war-junks, requesting them instantly to return to the anchorage north of Chuenpi. In reply Admiral Kwan stated that, if the murderer of Lin Wai-hi were at once surrendered to him, he would draw back his force to the Bogue, but not otherwise. The Admiral, at the same time, returned Captain Smith's original letter, addressed to Lin and Tang, without an answer. This was plain enough and forthwith ensued the Battle of Chuenpi. As it is the first naval engagement between Chinese and English ships of war that history knows of, a detailed account of it, both from Chinese and English sources, will be of interest.
According to Chinese history the Battle of Chuenpi arose out of Elliot's sending two men-of-war to the Bogue with a petition that the Chinese should have mercy on the British ships at Tsimshatsui and not destroy them, so that he might wait for dispatches from England. Admiral Kwan returned the petition unanswered because the English refused to surrender the murderer of Lin Wai-hi. Just then five Chinese war-ships started to preserve peace on the seaboard, carrying red flags at their mast-heads. The English mistook these flags for a declaration of war, because in England a red flag means war and a white one peace, and opened fire. Admiral Kwan advanced foremost, leading on the forces in his own person, standing by the mast of his junk, and returning shot for shot. The figure-head of one English ship was knocked off by shots from Kwan's guns, causing the death by drowning of many European soldiers. When the Emperor read the account of this engagement, he wrote on the margin, 'Admiral Kwan ought to have known better than standing by the mast, whereby he compromised the dignity of his office in the eyes of his men.' At the time the Emperor bestowed on him, for his bravery, the title of Batulu, and ordered a statement of officers deserving honours and a list of the persons killed and wounded in the action to be prepared that they might receive the rewards enacted by law.
The English account of the Battle of Chuenpi is somewhat different. The following is Captain Elliot's version. 'Captain Smith did not feel himself warranted in leaving this formidable Chinese flotilla at liberty to pass inside of him at night and to carry into effect the menaces against the merchant vessels. Thinking that the retirement of the two ships of Her Majesty (Volage and Hyacinth), before a force moved out with the palpable intention to intimidate, was not compatible with the honour of the flag, he determined forthwith to constrain their return to their former anchorage. Therefore, about noon (November 3, 1839), the signal was made to engage, and the ships, then lying hove to, on the extreme right of the Chinese force, bore away in a line ahead and close order, having the wind on the starboard beam. In this way, and under sail, they ran down the Chinese line, pouring in a destructive fire. The lateral direction of the wind enabled the ships to perform the same evolution from the opposite extreme of the line, running up it again with the larboard broadsides bearing. The Chinese answered with their accustomed spirit; but the terrible effect of our own fire was soon manifest. One war-junk blew up at about pistol shot distance from the Volage, a shot probably having passed through the magazine; three were sunk and several others were obviously water-logged. It is an act of justice to a brave man to say, that the Chinese Admiral's conduct was worthy of his station. His junk was evidently better armed and manned than the other vessels; and, after he had weighed or, more probably, cut or slipped, he bore up and engaged Her Majesty's ships in handsome style, manifesting a resolution of behaviour, honourably enhanced by the hopelessness of his efforts. In less than three-quarters of an hour, however, he and the remainder of the squadron were retiring in great distress to their former anchorage; and as it was not Captain Smith's disposition to protract destructive hostilities, or indeed to do more than repel onward movements, he offered no obstruction to their retreat, but discontinued the fire and made sail for Macao with the purpose to cover the embarkation of such of Her Majesty's subjects as might see fit to retire from that place.' We may add to this account that the Volage got some shot through her sails and the Hyacinth was a good deal cut up in her rigging and spars; a twelve-pound shot lodged in her mizenmast and one went through her main yard, requiring it to be secured. The wretched gunnery of the Chinese hurt no one. Their guns and powder must have been good, from the distance they carried, but not being fitted for elevation and depression, all their shots were too high to have any effect except on the spars and rigging.
As soon as the news of the battle of Chuenpi reached the Chinese army encamped at Tsimshatsui, the shore batteries opened fire (November 6, 1839) upon the merchant ships anchored in Hongkong harbour, keeping up a rambling cannonade for several days. There is a statement in the Chinese Annals that, in November, 1839, the English unsuccessfully attacked the fort north of Tsimshatsui, but that, as the wells had been poisoned, and they feared a night attack, they made off to their ships again. There is no evidence for the correctness of this statement. Owing, however, to the above-mentioned cannonade, the commanders of the merchant ships resolved to yield to Elliot's previous demands and removed the ships to Tungku. Hongkong was once more deserted.
Ever since British merchants were excluded by Commissioner Lin from any direct share in the trade conducted at Macao and especially since his failure to induce them to resort to Chuenpi, and whilst Elliot prohibited their returning to Canton or Whampoa, a great deal of freighting business had been going on by means of trans-shipment of British cargoes to and from American and other foreign vessels. The anxiety of British shipowners and consignees to clear their vessels caused them to chafe under the restraints imposed upon them by the deadlock of understanding between Lin and Elliot. Only one English ship, the Royal Saxon (Captain Town), followed the bad example set by Captain Warner. But as the animosity of Lin extended only to loyal British merchants and ships, whilst the ships of other foreign nationalities were treated by Lin as neutrals and rather favoured because they signed the bond which Elliot so abhorred, a great demand arose for neutral ships, under the benefit of the bond, to carry cargo to and fro between the port of Whampoa and British ships at Hongkong or Tungku. Freights for this short route rose to $6 per bale of cotton to be carried to Whampoa, and $10 per ton for Chinese produce from Whampoa to the British ships. This depreciation of the British flag and the enhancement of the value of other flags went to such lengths that one British ship after the other was sold for nominal considerations, the American Consul especially giving his sanction to such transfers, offensive as they were to Captain Elliot. The total exclusion of British merchants from direct trade with China, which had been an accomplished fact for some time, was formally declared by an Imperial Edict published in Canton (November 26, 1839), to the effect that, whereas the English had been vacillating in their treatment of the opium question, it was no longer compatible with dignity to continue to permit their trade, and the English trade must therefore be entirely stopped from after December 6, 1839, and for ever. This state of things, continuing for twelve months longer to the great detriment of British commercial interests, formed eventually the most powerful cause resulting in a demand for the cession of Hongkong.
For the present, however, Elliot strained every nerve to induce Lin to accede to his wish that British trade should be re-established, in some form or other, at Macao, but Lin, though once more earnestly entreated by Elliot (December 16, 1839) to consent to some compromise in this direction, proved inexorable. Even the Portuguese Governor of Macao joined Lin in his obstructive policy, and when Captain Elliot (January 1, 1840) asked Governor Pinto, in the name of Her Britannic Majesty, to permit at least the storing of the remainder of British cargoes in the warehouses of Macao upon the payment of the duties fixed by the regulations of the place, he met with an equally decided rebuff. In this unfriendly line of conduct, the Portuguese Governor went even farther. At the beginning of February, 1840, it happened that atrocious proclamations against the English were again posted on the walls of Macao. Captain Smith, seeing the lives of British subjects residing at Macao endangered by those placards, ordered H.M.S. Hyacinth to enter the inner harbour of Macao (February 4, 1840), with a view to enable British subjects to take refuge on board. Thereupon both Governor Pinto and the Senate of Macao waxed wroth, declared their dignity offended, their neutrality violated and sternly ordered the ship to leave immediately. Captain Smith yielded and withdrew the Hyacinth on the following day. However the very lowest ebb of the honour and fortunes of British trade in China had now been reached, and a change was at hand.
In England public opinion was now at last fairly aroused, thanks to the keynote struck by the Queen's Speech from the Throne (January, 1840) in which Her Majesty identified her interests and the dignity of the Crown with the fate of Elliot and the British merchants in China. Whilst regretting or condemning the opium trade as a whole, the British public clearly perceived that British trade with China must be re-organized on an entirely new basis. Arrangements were quietly made by the Government to fit out an expedition to China. Lord Palmerston explained in the House of Commons (March 12, 1840) that the object of this expedition was not to commence hostilities but to open up communication with the Emperor of China. The good people of Great Britain did not want war with China and especially nob for the sake of the opium trade, but they were quite satisfied that, as an Order in Council (April 4, 1840) expressed it, satisfaction and reparation should be demanded from the Chinese Government on account of the late injurious proceedings of certain officers of the Emperor of China.
The Chinese Government was meanwhile kept tolerably well informed of what transpired in England. Commissioner Lin had a great passion for keeping spies among the employés of British merchants and officers, and his intelligence department kept him supplied with translations of newspaper cuttings. Lin accordingly was able to inform the Emperor, long before the expedition arrived, 'that Elliot had applied for troops to be sent to China; that the Queen had directed Parliament to deliberate upon the matter; that the official body, civil and military, were in favour of war, whilst the mercantile interest was for peace; that discussion went on for several days without any definite result; but that at last lots were drawn in the Lo Chan-sze Temple and three tickets were found in favour of war which was therefore resolved on; that Pak-mak (Bremer), the Queen's relative by marriage, was ordered to take a dozen or so of war-ships under his command, to which were added twenty or thirty guardships from India.' The Emperor replied, after reading this report, 'What can they do, if we quietly wait on the defensive and watch their movememts?' Soon after, when Lin was asked (June 1, 1840) by some American merchants in Canton to allow their ships to clear with their cargoes as quickly as possible because the British expedition would soon arrive and blockade the port, Lin sneered at the idea of the English being daring enough or able to effectively blockade the Canton River.
Lin, however, was too hot-tempered a man to wait quietly. Early in the year (January 16, 1840) he strengthened the defences of Tsimshatsui by building a new fort on the site of the present Water-police Station, and supplied the Bogue forts with some 200 new cannons of foreign construction, which he had no difficulty in buying in Canton from friendly foreign merchants. He was anxious to set foreigners to fight the English but could not manage it. He then purchased several foreign ships and had junks built in foreign style, fitted them up like men-of-war, and ordered their crews to be drilled in foreign fashion. But he was quick-witted enough to see, on witnessing some trial manoeuvres, that this plan would not work, and gave it up. So he turned all his attention to the plan he had commenced long before, in August, 1839, by starting a volunteer fleet, formed by engaging fishermen and pirates at $6 a month each, with $6 extra for each of their families, the funds being provided in the way common in China, viz. by compelling well-to-do people to give 'voluntary' subscriptions for public purposes. But this volunteer fleet, let loose to prey upon British shipping (since August, 1839) with war-junks and fire-ships, and to prevent disloyal Chinese traders from supplying the British ships with provisions, accomplished next to nothing. They burned, by mistake, the Spanish brig Bilbaino (September, 1839), captured here and there Chinese junks which supplied British ships with provisions, made sundry night attacks on British vessels by sending down upon them, with the tide, fire-ships chained together in couples, but they did not capture a single British ship or boat. Commissioner Lin then resorted to the usual Chinese appeal to sordid avarice and ordered the Magistrates of the neighbouring districts to issue proclamations offering rewards, not merely for the destruction of British men-of-war or merchant vessels, for which large sums of money were promised, but for the capture or assassination of individuals. Accordingly a price of $5,000 was put on Elliot's head, sums ranging from $5,000 to $500 were offered for any English officer, according to gradation of rank, made prisoner, and one third of the money in each case for any British officer killed, also a reward of $100 was offered for any British merchant made prisoner and $20 for any such merchant killed. But Lin's bounty and assassination schemes were nearly as fruitless as his volunteer scheme. No British officer was captured or murdered, and but few British civilians were made prisoners or assassinated, though secret ambushes were laid frequently and the poisoning of wells was a common practice.
In June 1840, the ships forming the expedition began to assemble in Hongkong harbour, and every day now brought some man-of-war or troopship or other from England or India. By the end of June there had arrived seventeen men-of-war among them three line-of-battle ships (the Melville, Wellesley and Blenheim), with four of the East India Company's armed steamers (the Queen, Atalanta, Madagascar and Enterprise, to which subsequently the Nemesis was added). There were also twenty-seven troopships, which brought three regiments (18th Royal Irish, 26th Cameronians and 49th Bengal Volunteers), a corps of Bengal Engineers, and a corps of Madras sappers and miners, about 4,000 fighting men in all. The expedition was under the command of Sir J. J. Gordon Bremer, subject to the orders of two Plenipotentiaries, viz. Rear Admiral, the Hon. George Elliot, and Captain Ch. Elliot, R.N., the former Chief Superintendent of Trade at Canton.
The instructions which the Cabinet had given to the two Plenipotentiaries were, (1) to obtain reparation for the insults and injuries offered to Her Majesty's Superintendent and to Her Majesty's subjects by the Chinese Government, (2) to obtain for British merchants trading with China an indemnification for the loss of their property incurred by the threats of violence offered by persons under the direction of the Government, and (3) to obtain a certain security that persons in future trading with China shall be protected from insult or injury, and that their trade and commerce be maintained upon a proper footing.
It will be observed from the tenor of these general instructions, that the object of the expedition was not to make war against China, but to communicate with the Chinese Government (at Peking), in order to obtain official redress and indemnity for the past and commercial immunities and securities for the future. The means and mode of procedure now prescribed were exactly what so many former Canton residents and notably Mr. James Matheson had recommended in 1836. An appeal against the doings of the Cantonese Authorities, was to be made to a misinformed and misguided Emperor and negotiations were to be instituted with the moral support of the presence of an expeditionary force ready for war in case pacific measures should prove fruitless. Apart from the indemnity for the opium extorted by Lin, the opium question was not included in the programme, and very justly so, for in the reckoning which England had now risen up to make with China, virtually for two centuries of ill-treatment accorded to her merchants, the opium question was a mere accidental extra. Finally, it will also be observed that, among the objects of the expedition, the cession of any portion of Chinese territory, or the formation of a British Colony in the East, was not included. This was no doubt agreeable to Captain Elliot who, as we have seen, was averse to the notion of appropriating Hongkong or any other island for the purposes of a Colony and merely looked for a safe trade station on the coast and preferably at Macao.
The Indian Government suggested to the Plenipotentiaries that, immediately upon the arrival of the expedition in China, the Bogue forts should be razed to the ground, and the Island of Lantao (V. of Hongkong) occupied as a commissariat depot, with might at some future time answer as a trade station. But, as the first object of the expedition was peaceful communication with Peking rather than war at Canton, the two Plenipotentiaries agreed to abstain from any demonstration involving bloodshed as long as possible. However, to prevent any misunderstanding at Canton, Commodore Bremer was directed to give notice (June 21, 1840) that a blockade of the port of Canton, by all its entrances, would commence on June 28, and further, in order to have a point d'appui for the expected negotiations in the North, Commodore Bremer proceeded at once with an advanced force to take possession of the Island of Chusan, which was accordingly done (July 5, 1840) by the occupation of Tinghai.
Admiral Elliot and Captain Elliot, following (June 30, 1840) in the wake of Commodore Bremer with the remainder of the expedition, endeavoured first to induce the Authorities of Chehkiang (the province to which Chusan belongs) to forward to Peking a dispatch signed by Lord Palmerston and addressed ito the Imperial Authorities at Peking, but eventually they proceeded, to Tientsin where the dispatch was delivered to the Viceroy of Chihli, called Kishen. According to Chinese history, Lord Palmerston's dispatch, after making certain statements intended to enlighten the Emperor as to the doings of the Cantonese Authorities, made the following demands, viz. (1) payment of an indemnity for the value of the opium extorted by Lin, (2) the opening of five treaty ports (Canton, Amoy, Foochow, Tinghai and Shanghai), (3) terms of official communication on the basis of international equality, (4) payment of the costs of the expedition, (5) a guarantee that one set of merchants, should not be held responsible for the doings of another, and (6) the abolition of the Hong Merchants' monopoly.
It will be observed that here also neither the cession of Hongkong, nor the establishment of a Colony anywhere else, was included in the programme. But as the Governor General of India had referred to Lantao, and as the Plenipotentiaries, immediately after the capture of Tinghai, organized a complete civil, judicial and fiscal administration for the whole Island of Chusan, as if it was to be a British Colony, the chances of Hongkong now seemed even farther removed than ever.
The Emperor's eyes were opened at last when he perused Lord Palmerston's dispatch, and seeing that he had either to concede the British demands or go to war, he is said to have observed, as he laid down the dispatch, that 'Lin caused the war by his excessive zeal and killed people in order to close their mouths.' Lin's enemies at Court now poured into the Imperial ear all sorts of whispers, in consequence of which both Lin and Tang (the former Viceroy of Canton, now Viceroy of Fohkien) were degraded. Kishen was appointed Imperial Commissioner to arrange the Canton affairs, but he was hampered by the direction to consult Lin and Tang as to the measures to be taken. Eleepoo, the Viceroy of Nanking, was also appointed Imperial Commissioner and directed to proceed to Ningpo (opposite Chusan) to settle the Chusan affairs. After various negotiations with Eleepoo, Her Majesty's Plenipotentiaries concluded at Chusan a truce (November 6, 1840) on an undefined general understanding that the peaceful negotiations, which had commenced, should be continued and concluded at Canton by Kishen, and that meanwhile the English would hold Chusan; as a guarantee.
Whilst the Plenipotentiaries were occupied in the North, Commissioner Lin, though chafing under the blockade of the Canton River, continued at first his former course of egging on the scum of the people to acts of violence against the English and placarded the walls of Macao again with inflammatory denunciations directed against the English residents at that place. The Rev. V. Stanton, officiating as British Chaplain at Macao, was kidnapped on the shore (August 5, 1840) and kept under close confinement in a common prison in Canton, until he was released by Kishen (December 12, 1840). Owing to Lin's interference with the supply of provisions at Macao, four British gunboats shelled and captured the Chinese barrier fort near Macao (August 19, 1840); otherwise no serious movement of any importance took place near Canton until the conclusion of the truce.
When the news of the Chusan truce reached Macao, disappointment, doubt and anxiety prevailed among the British community. As soon as the two Plenipotentiaries arrived, five British firms (Dent, Bell, Mcvicar, Gribble Hughes and Dirom) sent a joint address to Captain Elliot, inquiring, whether the truce of Chusan implied a suspension of the Canton blockade, whether it had been determined that British trade should in future be carried on outside the Bogue, or whether it be contemplated that English ships should enter the Bogue and trade be carried on, temporarily, at Macao. To this inquiry Captain Elliot replied from Tungku (November 27, 1840), declining to answer these questions on the ground that he was ignorant of the intentions of the Chinese Government. But, as Admiral Elliot, suffering under a severe illness, had to resign his post and to return to England (December 1, 1840), leaving to Captain Elliot the conduct of the negotiations as sole Plenipotentiary, it was generally assumed that Elliot would press for British trade to be conducted thenceforth outside the Bogue, business being conducted exclusively at Macao. Sir H. S. Fleming Senhouse partially succeeded Admiral Elliot in the command of the fleet, the command of the whole expedition remaining in the hands of Sir J. J. Gordon Bremer.
At Canton, the Chinese officials and people were in a similar state of uncertainty and misgiving, until Kishen's arrival (November 29, 1840). When Elliot sent the steamer Queen, under a flag of truce, to the Bogue (November 20, 1840), to announce his arrival and to deliver a dispatch by Eleepoo addressed to Kishen, she was fired upon by the Bogue forts, and the solid shot which the Queen dropped into the forts in return for the discourtesy were presented to Lin in great triumph, but an apology was tendered subsequently. In sending this apology the Chinese officials, for the first time, addressed Elliot in terms of proper respect. As soon as Kishen arrived in Canton, he was entreated by the officials, literati and gentry of Canton, not to give up a stone of their fortresses nor an inch of their territory, but to resume hostile operations at once. Kishen, however, had formed a better estimate of the power of foreign arms, strategy and discipline, and was honestly determined to make peace, yielding, however, as little as possible. But as he by this policy ran counter to popular feeling and lost the confidence and hearty co-operation of all his local subordinates, his position was extremely difficult. Negotiations were accordingly protracted from day to day and from week to week without any ground being gained. Elliot having asked for a port outside the Bogue, where British ships might load and unload their cargoes, Kishen thought of offering to Elliot either Amoy or Hongkong. But having been directed to consult Lin and Tang, the latter, a man of keen statesman-like foresight, urged 'that Amoy was the key of Fohkien, and that Hongkong, occupying a central position in Cantonese waters, would be a perpetual menace to the Cantonese Authorities if the English were to fortify the Island of Kwantailou (Hongkong) and the peninsula of Kowloon.' Thus Kishen found himself hemmed in at every step. Lin and Tang secretly counteracted his policy by their influence upon Kishen's local subordinates and Kishen noticed a mutinous spirit all around himself. Lin's intelligence department also would not serve Kishen with a good will and the latter was driven to confide all interpretation work to a man, Pao Pang, who was looked upon by the Chinese as a traitor and by Elliot as a menial, having been formerly Mr. Dent's favourite butler in the old factory days.
At the beginning of January, 1841, Elliot found himself, after six weeks of negotiations, no nearer a settlement than he had been before. He determined, therefore, to bring matters to a crisis and sent to Kishen an ultimatum (January 6, 1841) to the effect that, unless some definite basis for an agreement was proposed by Kishen by 8 a.m. on the following day, the Bogue forts would be taken possession of forthwith. No answer having been received next morning, the action, thenceforth to be known as the Second Battle of Chuenpi, commenced, at 9.30 a.m. on January 7, 1841, when the fleet attacked the two Bogue forts, Chuenpi (also called Shakok) on the East and Taikok on the AVest of the Bogue, whilst the troops (1,461 men all told) were landed in the rear of the forts and took them by assault. Within an hour and a half, eighteen Chinese war-junks were destroyed, some 500 Chinese soldiers were killed, some 300 more wounded, while the loss on the English side was 38 men wounded (mostly by explosions in blowing up Chinese powder magazines), and none killed. At 11 o'clock the action was over and the British flag fluttered lustily in the breeze over the smouldering ruins of the Bogue forts.
The Chinese historian gives the following account of the Second Battle of Chuenpi. 'Whilst the guns of the English fleet bombarded the two forts in front, a force of about 2,000 Chinese traitors scaled the hills and attacked them in the rear. A hundred or more of these were blown up by exploded mines, but the rest, far out-numbering the garrison of 600 men, came swarming up notwithstanding. Two or three hundred more were killed by our gingalls, but at last our powder was exhausted, and the steam-boats got round the forts and burned our fleet. The other three forts, farther up the river, commanded by Admiral Kwan, Rear-Admiral Li and Captain Ma respectively, had only a few hundred men in them, who could do nothing but regard each other with weeping eyes. Admiral Kwan sent Li to Canton to apply for more troops, but Kishen was obdurate and simply spent the night in writing out further peace proposals which he sent by Pao Pang to Elliot. Hongkong was now offered, by Kishen, in addition to the opium indemnity and the Chehkiang prisoners were exchanged for Tinghai.'
The last sentence of this Chinese account of the Second Battle of Chuenpi is of special importance, as it fixes the source from which the proposal to cede the Island of Hongkong; to the British Crown emanated. It was Kishen and not Elliot who proposed the cession. As to the 'Chehkiang prisoners' here referred to, there is some mistake here. Kishen's proposal was to cede Hongkong as a trade station (like Whampoa) and in exchange for the Bogue forts and Chusan (Tinghai). Sul)sequently, 'the Chehkiang prisoners,' that is to say, the crew and passengers of the troopship Kite, which stranded (February 15, 1841) by accident on a shoal near Tinghai and fell into Chinese hands, were naturally surrendered by the Chinese when Tinghai was evacuated.
After the capture of the Bogue forts, Admiral Kwan came with a flag of truce, begging for an armistice, in order to give the High Commissioner time to consider certain propositions he intended offering for Elliot's acceptance. The armistice was granted and shuffling negotiations recommenced. At last, on January 20, 1841, was concluded the Treaty of Chuenpi.
By this Treaty, four preliminary propositions were agreed to by the Chinese and British Plenipotentiaries, to the effect, (1) that the island and harbour of Hongkong (not including Kowloon peninsula) should be ceded for ever to the British Crown, and the Chinese batteries on Tsimshatui dismantled in return for the demolished Bogue forts, (2) that an indemnity of six million dollars should be paid to the British Government in six annual instalments, the first being paid at once, (3) that direct official intercourse between the two countries should be conducted on a footing of international equality, and (4) that the trade of the port of Canton should be opened within ten days after the Chinese new year (therefore on February 1, 1841) and be carried on at Whampoa, until further arrangements should be practicable at Hongkong. All other details were to stand over for further negotiation. It must be added, however, that the first of the foregoing preliminaries of peace was coupled with a proviso, subsequently disapproved by the British Government, to the effect that 'all just charges and duties to the Empire of China, upon the commerce carried on at Hongkong, should be paid as if the trade were conducted at Whampoa.' These words indicate that the understanding which Kishen and Elliot, by a mutual compromise, attached to the cession of Hongkong at that time was, that Hongkong should be a hybrid cross between a treaty port of China and a British Colony, the soil being owned by Great Britain but trade charges levied by Chinese officials. Such a mixed constitution would have proved a source of endless friction between the two Governments, besides being a negation of the free traders' desire of a free port.
In notifying Her Majesty's subjects of the successful conclusion of the Chuenpi Treaty (January 20, 1890), Captain Elliot informed them that, pending Her Majesty's further pleasure, there would be no port or other charges to the British Government at Hongkong. Elliot, at the same time, offered the protection of the British flag to the subjects, citizens and ships of foreign Powers, that might resort to Her Majesty's possessions at Hongkong. He also exhorted British merchants to adopt a conciliatory treatment of the Chinese people and to show becoming deference for the country upon the threshold of which they were about to be established, and finally he expressed his gratitude to the officers and men of the expeditionary force, to whose bravery the result now accomplished was largely due.
Immediately after the conclusion of the Treaty of Chuenpi, the British squadron withdrew from the Bogue and moved down to the S. W. Bay of Lantao, leaving behind H.M.S. Samarang, whose commander (Captain Scott), thenceforth known as Governor of Chuenpi, was instructed to hand over to the Chinese Authorities the demolished forts of Chuenpi and Taikok. At the same time, H.M.S. Columbine was dispatched to Chusan, to recall thence the remainder of the expedition.
On January 24, 1841, Commodore Bremer, having arrived at Lantao from Macao, directed Captain Belcher, in command of H.M.S. Sulphur (which has given her name to the Sulphur Channel) to proceed forthwith to Hongkong and commence its survey. Sir E. Belcher, accordingly, landed on Monday, January 25, 1841, at fifteen minutes past 8 a.m., at the foot of Taipingshan, and on the hill, now occupied by the Chinese recreation ground. Captain Belcher and his officers, considering themselves the bona fide first British possessors, drank Her Majesty's health with three cheers, the spot being thenceforth known as Possession Point. This was done unofficially and as an arbitrary preliminary to the survey of the Island. But the next day (January 26, 1841), when the whole squadron had arrived in Hongkong harbour, possession was taken of Hongkong more formally and officially by Commodore Bremer. On Tuesday, January 26, 1841, the marines from all the ships were landed at the same place as the day before and official possession was taken of the Island by Sir J. J. Gordon Bremer in the name of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Commodore Bremer was accompanied by his officers, and at the moment when the British flag was hoisted on Possession Point, the marines on the spot fired a feu-de-joie, whilst all the ships-of-war in the harbour made the hills re-echo with the thunders of the first Royal Salute ever fired in Hongkong. Sir E. Belcher took the true position of Hongkong on a hillock, within a stone's throw of the houses on Morrison Hill, as being in 22° 16′ 30″ N. Lat. and 114° 08′ 30″ E. Long. He also determined the names and height of the principal peaks as follow, Victoria Peak (1,825 feet), High West (1,774 feet), Mount Gough (1,575 feet), Mount Kellett (1,131 feet), Mount Parker (1,711 feet) and subsequently Pottinger Peak (1,010 feet).
It is obvious from the foregoing account of the acquisition of Hongkong, that the actual cession was a surprise to all concerned. Kishen had, at the last moment, reluctantly offered to cede Hongkong, and Elliot, though accepting it, because at the moment he could hardly do otherwise, took it unwillingly. To the British merchants, the leaders of whom in later years stated in a joint memorial to Lord Stanley (August 13, 1845) that 'such a settlement as Hongkong was never actually required by the British merchants,' this sudden establishment of a Colony was as unexpected as the birth of a child into a family generally is to the rest of the children. They could only yonder how it had all come about, but they could not undo the fact. They had not been consulted about it. There it was: the newborn Colony of Hongkong. And as to the people of England—'What will they say about it at home?' was the anxious thought of both Elliot and the merchants, and none could foretell with certainty whether the new-fledged Colony would ever live to celebrate its jubilee or indeed outlast the year of its birth.
On February 3, 1841, ignorant as yet of the cession as a fait accompli, the Foreign Office dispatched instructions to Captain Elliot which seemed to him to furnish good cause for the expectation that the establishment of a trade station at Hongkong might eventually meet with the approval of Her Majesty's Government. This dispatch contained the following prophetic caution: 'You are authorized to propose a condition that, if there be ceded to the British Crown an island off the Eastern Coast of China to serve as a commercial station for British subjects, the Chinese merchants and inhabitants of all the towns and cities on the Coast of China shall be permitted by the Chinese Government to come freely and without the least hindrance and molestation to that Island for the purpose of trading with the British subjects there established.' Unfortunately for Hongkong, the injunction here wisely coupled with its probable cession was entirely neglected for years after the cession had been accomplished. Kishen offered Hongkong as a residence for foreigners but he did not intend it to become the Alsatia of China.
Difficult as it may be to say, with prefect accuracy and in a few words, how Hongkong came to be ceded to the British Crown, this much will be clearly established by the above narrative, viz. that the ordinarily current accounts of the cession of Hongkong are inaccurate. It is evidently unjust to say, what is commonly found stated in Continental and American histories of British intercourse with the Far East, that 'the English wanted Hongkong and they took it by force of arms.' But that is also an unwarranted inference which the compiler of the Colonial Year Book (1890) has drawn from his view of the cession, by the allegation that 'the annexation of Hongkong affords a remarkable example of the aptitude of the English for grasping the requirements of any given condition of circumstances and meeting them accordingly.' It is to be feared, with all respect for British quickness of perception generally, that in the present case the lesson of the above chapter points rather in the opposite direction.