Maria's Diary 29
When the sun of bliss is beaming
Light and love upon my way
From the cross the radiance streaming
Adds most lustre to the day.
I lost my diary overboard when our ship, the Alma, was wrecked in the Red Sea when Papa and I were coming home from Hong Kong. I need to write up that story, but what I must do first, is try to give an honest impression of what happened that I recorded in my diary during those five years. I find it very hard to pretend to be ignorant of situations that were going to unfold, as I write, and of course, Papa’s writing was destroyed too, so he is doing the same sort of thing as I am. He suggested I try to write about the happy things that happened, and leave writing about the politics to him. I will do that, although some politics needs to come into it for the story I am writing to be given some context.
Except for Papa, who was a seasoned traveller, we found the journey hard work. We were sick from the first day and although Edith and I found our sea legs by the third day, Moma was never very well, during the whole two month journey.
Others travelling with us on the ship included a Church of England clergyman and wife; a jolly, red-faced young Yorkshire squire; an Anglo-Indian army captain and his wife; and another lady and gentleman.
We had fine weather for only three full days and then it changed, and we had wind and gale. Rain and fog came pouring into the saloon. Mr. Moloney sang songs.” The next morning was fine again, but a terrific gale burst on us in the afternoon, and the Captain was telling fearful stories of shipwreck and drowning the whole evening. Mrs. Wise and Mr. Irving were frightened out of their wits. After that the storm-fiends pursued us. Then followed a train of days and nights of boredom, turmoil, and distress. By night, we were tossed about like a shuttlecock between battledores. By day, the hours hung so heavily as to seem whole days each.
The next day the weather broke and we had an azure sky and a sapphire sea. The air was balmy and spring-like, and we bedraggled passengers crawled out to bask in the brightness of the day.
During the trip, we asked Papa to give us a short history of what the situation was in China up until now.
Up until 1842, China was not really open to foreigners at all. All foreign trade was done through the one city, Canton, and only from October to January each year, the trading season. The European traders were not allowed to have their wives and families with them in Canton, so most of them made their homes in the Portugeuese island of Macoa. They only allowed 13 hongs, which is what they called trading companies, and all buying and selling was done through Chinese merchants (cohong). The foreigners were even forbidden to learn Chinese.
Britain wanted to open up trade with China, but the problem was that we wanted their tea, silk and porcelain, but they didn’t want any of our goods, so we had to pay for these things in silver. A vast amount of silver flowed into China.
Then in 1773, the East Indian Company who had acquired opium from India, sold it to the British merchants in China. At first they had 200 chests each with 160 lbs of opium, but by 1800, this had risen to 2000 chests. The Emperor barred trade, but neither the British nor the Canton merchants were willing to give it up. So smuggling gangs were set up, and ships unloaded the opium into floating stores before they went into customs, and the opium would be retrieved from these stores and distributed later.
Between 1810 and 1830 opium’s use was widespread, and the Chinese officials were determined to stop it. So they punished the hongs by stopping sending them food supplies for six weeks. And then they dumped 20,000 chests of opium into trenches where it was mixed with lime, and then washed out to sea.
The British were not happy about this, so in 1839 they sent warships to blow up four Chinese junks and from June 1840 they had a British force of 4000 blockading the port of Canton. They occupied the forts and 600 Chinese soldiers were killed.
So the Chinese felt they had to agree to a treaty, and this was done in 1841, first of all, and Hong Kong was annexed to Britain at that time. But it was only an almost empty rock in those days, so many thought we weren’t getting much of a deal.
But in 1842, the proper treaty of Nanking made China open five of their ports to trade, and they also had to pay 21 million ounces of silver to compensate the British for the opium they had dumped.
But now I shall move on to our arrival. I find that without my diary to prompt me, I have forgotten so many things.
The harbour of Hong Kong was dark when we sailed into it on the 17th of April. But the view of the lights twinkling in the dark over the city made it look very magical.
We had to wait till the next morning to disembark. We were so pleased the trip was over and we would again have dry land to walk on. There was a reception fitting for Papa’s rank, with a salute from the battery which was repeated by the men-of-war, both British and American. The first thing to happen, at noon, Papa was sworn into his role of Governor and Vice Admiral of Hong Kong and Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China.
We each got into a bamboo chair, (Papa’s was very ornate and his four bearers were in scarlet uniforms) with two long poles which rested on the shoulders of two lean coolies, who carried us to our destination at a swinging pace through the steep streets. The streets were choked up with household goods and the costly contents of shops, treasured books and nick-nacks lying on the dusty pavements, with beds, pictures, clothing, mirrors, goods of all sorts. Chinamen dragged their possessions to the hills; Chinawomen, some of them with hoofs rather than feet, carried their children on their backs and under their arms. Parties of troops marching as steadily as on parade, or keeping guard in perilous places. It made a scene of intense excitement; while utterly unmoved, in grand Oriental calm, with the waves of tumult breaking round their feet, stood Sikh sentries, majestic men, with swarthy faces and great, crimson turbans. Through the encumbered streets and up grand flights of stairs our bearers brought us to our castle on the hill.
Let me tell a bit about my first impression of the Governor’s residence which was to be home for us for the next five years.
It took about three hours to make the trip, and we stopped often for the bearers to have a rest and a drink. People would want to stop us to have a chat to Papa. Our house was almost at the top of the hill, and overlooked Victoria Peak, from the front of the house which faces south. To the north, you could see the central government offices. It was newly built so we were the first family to live in it.
There was a huge rock with “Governor’s Residence” carved into it by the gates. There were houses on either side of the gates where we were told the house guards lived. These were from the British army, and their job was to protect us in any way they could.
There is an open veranda around the entrance with large arched open windows outlining the whole area. I was told it was built in colonial renaissance style, but also some said it was in Georgian style. There are large lawns to front and back, covered with wonderful bright flowers of every description and quite a sight to behold.
The main rooms are those for the public offices - the ballroom which was huge and used for hosting banquets for guests, a venue for conferring honours and for award ceremonies. It also housed the legislative council of Hong Kong.
The dining room hosted banquets for smaller groups.
The drawing room was used for greeting guests and holding meetings, and the eye was immediately drawn to the exquisite plaster mouldings on the ceilings.
The parlour again had a beautifully decorated ceiling, and all the main rooms had huge glittering chandeliers.
It is a vast building, so we each had our own bedroom with private facilities, and there were also another 10 guest rooms in another wing.
We were introduced to a dozen or so servants - and there was one who was the most important, the compadore, who does all the hiring and firing of servants, and decides what is bought for food and so on. Moma was very annoyed as it would be for her just like living with Grandpa and the aunts - she won’t be able to make any decisions. The servants speak a sort of pigeon English, and Papa seems to understand them. I expect we all will in time.
There is a mandarin language, which all officials understand, and, more or less, all the intelligent men of China. The common mode of communication here between the foreigner and the Chinaman is, in "Pidgen" (not Pigeon) English the word "Pidgen" being the Chinese understanding of the English word "Business." This Pidgen English is now the universal dialect between foreigners and the Chinese. Papa says that the "Compradore," that is, the Chinese head business man of all foreign houses, who stands between the foreign merchant and the Chinese merchant in all matters of trade, always speaks Pidgen English.
We were told that the Cantonese servants make the best servants in the world. They do the work of women as well as of men. They are most excellent cooks and the best of waiters. A coolie (drudge man about the house) will not wait. "It is not his 'pidgen.' A waiter will not do coolie work, none of it, not in the least. The Cook only cooks, but cooks as well as a Frenchman, and that is saying much in his favour. The compardore who is the universal genius of the house, and who has the capacity to do almost anything, if he will, who acts as translator and supervisor of all the establishment, and whose "pidgen" it is to see and to keep everything in order. These often have little "larn pidgens" under them that is, boys learning to speak in pidgen English, and to do what we call chores.
A Chinese kitchen, from which such good things are turned out for the table, is a wonder in its way. There is nothing in it but a cooking-stove or two, with a few stew-pans, and many chop-sticks, from which few things come the many courses for the table, all well-cooked and garnished. So we sat down to our meal, served with great attention, while other servants unpacked our bags.
The next day Papa had to deal with his work, but Moma and Edith and I decided we would go into the town and see if we could meet up with John Charles. His house is very close to his work - the Jardine House at 20 Pedlar Street. He was so pleased to see us, and took us on a tour straight away. The temperature was high and the humidity almost unbearable.
Just to add in a note here. We received all the newspapers, and it was my job to find any articles that related in any way to Papa and cut them up and file them. In one of the Chinese papers, just after the notice of our arrival, there was another article, which made me wonder how welcome we really were. It went something like this: “The Colonial Secretary Mr. William Caine was also sworn in. We have heard that he would make a good governor, but he can only have that role in the absence of the governor. But we assume he will continue to administer the affairs of the colony, and in which Sir John Bowring will not interfere unless his supreme authority is indispensable.” Apparently Mr. Caine was also the head of the police in Hong Kong before.