Our first day at Singapore was marked by a sad termination. Emanuel Dewdney, one of our boys, a weakly lad and far too delicate for the rough life he had adopted, died of heat apoplexy in the afternoon.
Though Singapore lies so near the equator—within two degrees of it in fact—it enjoys a very healthy, though, of course, a very hot climate. The town itself is not very extensive. There is the usual native Malay division with its system of mud architecture, its dirt and smells; and that of the European residents—a marked contrast to the irregular jumble of the other. I don't know that there is particularly much to see in the island, except, perhaps, the Botanical Gardens, whose beauties will amply repay you for the rather long walk to reach them. You may take a coach if you like, but that will spoil the pleasure. In these gardens all the choicest and rarest flora, and much of the fauna, of the East Indies, are brought together and acclimatized. The most conspicuous amongst the former, and certainly the most lovely—and that is saying much where all excel—is a species of acacia, a large tree with great flaming scarlet and yellow flowers. Then there is that extremely interesting and singularly funny creeper, the sensitive plant, which, on the approach of anybody, has the power of doubling up its leaves as if in sudden fear. Birds in great variety—all scarlet, gold, and azure—inhabit spacious aviaries within the grounds. Lyre birds, argus pheasants, great eagles, and owls from Java, doves, pigeons, lories, and humming birds, the metallic lustre of whose plumage flashes in the light like the sheen of steel. One or two tigers—in a cage, of course—invite our curiosity. I was not, however, prepared to make quite so close an acquaintance with these lovely supple creatures, as one of the marines of our party, who, having indulged too freely in malt, possibly mistook the animals for cats, the result being he got so damaged about the bows as to be rendered unfit for divisions the following morning, and barely escaped with his eyesight. Drink makes a man do queer things.
The native men are very picturesquely apparelled in gaily coloured turbans and sarongs, whilst the women,—tall, graceful, and pretty—convey a small fortune about with them, in the shape of jewellery, in the cartilage of the nose, in the ears, and around the arms and legs. I saw one woman who had such heavy masses of gold in her ears that the lobes of those organs touched her shoulders.
November 1st.—At 9 a.m. the long-expected "Audacious" hove in sight, flying the flag of Admiral Hillyar at the main. How we already envy her fortunate crew!
November 8th, off to Penang. The pipe "up anchor" this morning was hailed with delight. Anything to change the dull monotony of the last few weeks. We started with an overcast and rainy sky, and by the next morning had reached Malacca, a small British settlement, essentially Malay, more a village than a town. It lies very low and close to the water's edge, the houses of the natives being all constructed on piles driven into the mud, and embowered in a dense framework of cocoa palms. In the distance rises the high cone-shaped peak of Ophir, now a lovely sight because of the misty covering which envelopes it to near its summit. Bananas are very plentiful; so, too, are monkeys and the canes so highly prized at home.
November 9th.—To-day, our own admiral came in, in the mail steamer, and glad are we that he has arrived, that we may be again on the move, for you know there are happier states and more comfortable, than a forcible detention in a red-hot ironclad.
Sunday, November 13th.—I see in my "journal" that I have noted what, under ordinary conditions, would call for no remark, that a lady was present at our service to-day. None but those who are banished the softening and refreshing influence of woman's society can form any idea how pleasant it is to see an English woman in this land of yellow bellies and sable skins.
November 15th.—Now we are really the Flag Ship, for this morning the "Audacious," with a parting cheer, bade us good-bye, and started for home.
November 21st.—By early morning we discovered the island of Din Ding right a-head.
Nothing can exceed the wonderful beauty of this tiny island. From the sea it has so much the appearance of the bosky slopes of Mount Edgcumbe, that, were it not for the characteristic palm, one could well imagine one's self looking at a bit of our own dear England.
A stretch of sandy beach, white and glistening as silver, with the graceful waving plumes of the cocoanut tree close to the water's edge, and behind, the pile dwellings of the Malays, nestling at the foot of a wooded eminence, capped to its very summit with a dense and varied growth; such is the picture viewed from the anchorage. Din Ding, or Ding Ding—as sailors, by a system of alliteration, very fashionable amongst themselves—render it, lies at the mouth of the Perak river.
On landing we struck at once into the jungle, under tall palms, with their great ripening fruit, and other tropic vegetation. Road, there was none; only a sort of bridle path, very heavy with mud, and overgrown with great hawser-like creepers, indicated a way along which we trudged. Now and then the fallen trunk of a great tree barred our further progress, or a chasm yawned before us, or mayhap, a great time-worn boulder stopped the way; insignificant objects all when matelots are on the war trail. Our object was to reach a certain house on yonder point, in which a most dastardly murder was recently perpetrated on the British resident, Colonel Lloyd, who, with his wife and sister, had made this their home. The house is now quite empty, but in one of the rooms we saw, or fancied we saw, spots of sanguine dye on the floor.
We hastened onward through a small hamlet of about a dozen miserable huts, resting on piles. Tubs of putrid fish, in all stages of decomposition, gave out a most horrid stench, whilst other carcasses strewed the ground in advanced rottenness. Is it not revolting, that amongst these people, fish in its pure state is rarely eaten, and if it be, it is always raw. But nature is ever lovely, though the human part of her does all it can to deface her; if she were not so what a spoiled world ours would be!
Holding our nostrils we ran for it, doubtful if we should ever get rid of the smell. Further on was a hut of rather larger pretensions, now used as a barrack for the police. One of these latter, who possessed a tolerable knowledge of English, struck up a conversation with us, and amongst indifferent topics we asked about the prisoners recently captured. He certainly took us by surprise, when he indicated they were within the building, alongside of which we were standing. Would we like to see them? We would. Yes, true enough, there on the floor were five Chinamen, lashed and bound so tight that the flesh stood out in great purple ridges on either side the rope.
To get back to our boat we had to repass the village of odours delectable. On this occasion the scantily clad and polished Malays, whom we had not seen on passing through, put in an appearance.
By 4 p.m. the anchor was aweigh, and we heading towards Penang, which was reached on the following day in the midst of thick, dirty weather.
The town is well built, and the cleanest I have yet seen since leaving Europe. The island is sometimes termed the "Garden of the East," and if it is always as now, I should say the name was justly bestowed. A little way out in the country is a fine waterfall, which all who call here, make a point of visiting. Jumping into a pony carriage, locally called a gharry, a comfortable, well ventilated vehicle, capable of seating four persons, we desire the turban driver to steer for the latter place. Along the very fine road to the fall, a profusion of palms and gigantic tree ferns, between thirty and forty feet high, up whose great stems gaily flowered creepers wind their hawser-like fronds, make a delicious and cooling shade. Yonder tree away there in the background, with delicate pea-green leaves, is an old friend of ours. Let your memories go back to your infancy. Cannot you recall many a wry face; cannot you remember how unpleasant the after sensations when stern, but kind mothers forced a nauseous decoction called "senna" down your widely-gaping throat? You smile. I felt certain you had all experienced it. Well that is the senna tree.
Large mansions lying back from the roadway, with gates and paths leading up to their entrances, and a smell of new mown hay, were most home-like and refreshing.
We should have fared much better had a more mutual understanding existed between us and our pony. That obtuse little beast, good enough at curves and tangents, after half an hour's canter, flatly refused to exert himself above a walk; nor, though frequently encouraged by the whip, did he accelerate his movements to the end of our drive.
At the fall we had a very refreshing shower bath under a thundering cascade of water tumbling over the edge of a gorge. Near at hand, and conveniently so, too, for the priesthood, is a small shrine sacred to the Hindoo god Brahin, a diminutive edition of whom stands on a little pedestal, amidst braziers, lamps, figures with elephants' heads and human bodies, and other monstrosities. You may be certain there was a mendicant priest in attendance on his godship.
On the return voyage our hack behaved even more ungentlemanly than before, for now he most emphatically refused to budge an inch, indicating his intention of becoming a fixture by planting his feet obliquely, like a stubborn jackass, into the ground. Human nature could scarcely be expected to tolerate such evidence of mutiny, so, jumping into the first passing carriage, we reached the town at a fairly creditable canter.
November 28th.—To-day our short stay at Penang comes to a conclusion, and a few days afterwards we are once more at Singapore.
"Merrily, merrily on we sail! The sailor's life is gay! His hopes are on the favouring gale, And whether it freshens, or whether it fail He recks not, cares not, no not he; For his hope is ever upon the sea."
December 5th.—At 4 p.m. the anchor was hove short for our voyage to Hong Kong, by way of Manilla. As we start some days sooner than we anticipated, we had made no provision for getting our washed clothes on board, and grave fears are entertained that we shall be compelled to sail without it, for as yet there is not so much as the ghost of a washerwoman in sight. Will they, can they by any fortuitous combination of circumstances, put in an appearance before we leave? Despair, we are off! But surely no, it can't be? Yes, by jove, there are boats pulling after us with all the might the rowers can command. We lie to, the proas come nearer. Hurrah! the clothes, some wholly washed, some half-washed, and some not washed at all. Piles of fair white linen are bundled up the gangway pell-mell, Malay washerwomen bundled out ditto, and for payment, the revolving screws settle that in a highly satisfactory manner.
With the "Lapwing" in tow, and the gentlest of breezes filling the lighter canvas, we shape our course eastward.
December 8th.—Late in the afternoon we brought up in the roadstead of Sarawak, on the northern coast of Borneo. The place is not at all enlivening; neither house, human being, nor boat, to indicate we are in habitable land. The town itself, the capital of a small rajahship governed by an Englishman, lies some twenty miles up a river, in the estuary of which we are anchored. The province was presented by the Sultan of Borneo, in 1843, to Sir James Brooke, uncle of the present proprietor, who, on the decease of Sir James, in 1868, succeeded to the territory.
Here the "Lapwing," after having taken the admiral up the river, parted company, whilst we continued our way along the Bornean shore.
December 12th.—We awoke to find ourselves in the midst of a labyrinth of isles most wonderful to behold, vaguely guessing which, out of so many, can be Labuan. The rattling of the chain through the hawse, decides it. A small settlement over which England's flag keeps guard, lies before us. This is the town of Victoria. This small island, previous to 1846, belonged to Borneo, but in that year the Sultan ceded it to Britain, as a convenient station for checking piracy on his sea-board. It lies off the north-eastern end of the great island of Borneo, and within view of its precipitous heights and mist-clad peaks.
December 14th.—Coaling is a long process at Labuan, first, because the ship lies so far from the shore, and next, because of the insufficiency of convenient boats, and the necessary coolie labour to put the coal on board, thus it took us two whole days to get in as many hundred tons. By the evening of the 14th however, we had cleared the islands, and shaped course for Manilla against a head wind.
December 19th.—It has taken us twelve hours to clear the intricate, and gusty approaches to Manilla Bay, the wind, occasionally meeting us with such force, accompanied by such a chopping sea, that we sometimes made no progress at all. On coming to anchor we were rather surprised to find the "Lapwing" had preceded us, and was lying close in shore.
Manilla, the capital of Luzon, the largest of the Philippine Islands, is a city of considerable magnitude, and has all the appearance of a Spanish town in Europe, these islands having belonged to Spain for over 300 years.
Though we arrived on a Sunday it was anticipated there would be no difficulty in procuring coal immediately. Had the British been in authority here we should have been privileged to do so with impunity. When this conclusion was arrived at, one potent factor had not been considered—"the Church"—and for once in a way we were thankful to the Church. The archbishop of Manilla and his subordinates hold more real sway over the minds and bodies of the natives—Indians, as they are called—than all the temporal power of the governor, backed by his guards, or even than the king himself.
Amidst all the Spanish jabber around, it is refreshing to hear ourselves hailed in genuine English, and soon the author of the sound grasps us by the hand and welcomes us to his house, a request we gladly comply with.
The houses are very like those of Gibraltar, and one's memory is rapidly borne back to the "Rock," especially as everything around is Spanish.
Perhaps the great feature of the place is its cathedrals; one in particular, a magnificent structure, so roomy and lofty that I should think half the devout of the city could find accommodation therein. In less than two years subsequent to our visit the whole of this grand pile was little better than a heap of ruins, from an earthquake wave which passed over these islands. This most terrible of natural phenomena is of frequent occurrence in this quarter of the world. In many parts of the city we observed whole streets and churches in ruins, as if from a recent bombardment.
Cock-fighting is the great national sport, amusement, or cruelty, which of the three you will, indulged in by the good people of Manilla. Everywhere along the streets you may meet Spanish boys and half castes, with each his bird tucked under his arm ready for the combat, should the chance passer-by make it worth their while.
The best place to witness this propensity for blood, which seems in-born in every Spaniard, is at the public arena in the heart of the city, where hundreds of cocks are generally engaged at once, the betting on a certain bird not unfrequently amounting to thousands of dollars. I will not trouble you with the sickening details of the scene I witnessed—to my shame I say it—I think few of those who are present at a first exhibition of this cruel and useless sport will be desirous of witnessing a second—except he be a man of a morbid inclination. One may be impelled by curiosity to satisfy a human weakness, but every rightly balanced mind will turn from the scene with feelings of repugnance and disgust.
December 23rd.—The last day of our stay, and the last opportunity we shall have for laying in stock for the 25th. In the afternoon the caterers of messes having been accorded the necessary permission, went on shore to make a general clearance in the Manilla markets. There was every prospect, when they left the ship, of the day continuing fine—a bright sun and a clear sky above, and a smooth sea below. Unfortunately for the success of the expedition, this happy meteoric combination did not continue. The heavens began to frown, and the sea—ever jealous of its sister's moods—put on a restless appearance. At sun-down the wind suddenly rose to half a gale, with a cross lumpy sea and drenching showers of rain. The accommodation for the men to return to the ship was degrees from being called even fair. They had hired a rickety steam launch, scarcely capable of holding her own in ordinary weather, and two smaller boats, or gigs, neither of which was in a seaworthy condition; and in these was to be found room for upwards of forty men, besides about a ton of provisions of all kinds. It was evident, or ought to have been, that it was madness to attempt leaving the shore whilst the present weather lasted. I have seen the offence of breaking leave justified for less boisterous weather. Orders, however, (especially sailing orders) are imperative; so the flotilla put off at 7 p.m. in tow of the launch. The following was the arrangement:—The launch, laden far below her bearings, took the lead; the second boat contained all the heaviest provisions—flour, pigs, poultry, potatoes, and such like; whilst far too many men had stowed themselves in the third boat, to give but the faintest idea of either comfort or safety.
When about half-way to the ship, the painter of the hindmost boat parted, and the launch, rounding to, to her assistance narrowly escaped swamping. The next mishap chanced to the second boat—the provision gig—whose stem piece was tugged completely out of her, and the two sides, having thus lost their mutual support, parted and went to the bottom, the onlookers having to endure the melancholy sight of witnessing all their good things going to fatten old Davy Jones, or to fill his lockers, or something of that sort. But the distress of these very distressed mariners was not yet complete; a strange fatality seemed to have embarked with them. It was now the launch's turn: first the third boat, next the second, and now the launch in proper, though fortunately not arithmetical progression. It was discovered that the supply of coal could not possibly last to the ship! What was to be done? "Opportunity," it is said, "makes the thief;" it may be also said, with equal truth, that opportunity makes the dormant abilities of some men to soar above their fellows, over-riding even destiny itself. The Spanish crew of the launch were unequal to the emergency, were worse than useless in fact; but an able substitute for the engineer was found in Andrews, one of our leading stokers; and for coxswain, who better than Law, the boatswain's mate? The former of these at once directed everybody to pull the inner wood work of the launch to pieces, and, as the bump of destructiveness has its full development in the sailor phrenology, he had not long to wait for his fuel; thus they managed to reach the ship full six hours after they had left the shore.
December 25th.—Christmas in merry England is one thing; Christmas in a gale in the China Sea another, and so distinct a thing as scarcely to be confounded with the former. But let us see if we can tell our friends something about it. Considering the shortcomings we had to put up with—bare tables, hungry bellies, and the lively movements of our ship, consequent on a rising malevolent sea—I think we managed to enjoy a fair amount of fun, whether it was genuine or not is another point, nor would I like to vouch for its being altogether devoid of irony. "Father Christmas" paid us his customary visit anyway, in his mantle of snow—fancy snow within fifteen degrees of the line!—which merry, rubicund, and very ancient man was ably personated by a gigantic marine, the necessary barrel-like proportions being conveyed by a feather pillow.
"A hungry man is an angry one;" so runs the legend, but, if true, and I have every reason to believe that it is, it held not on the lower deck of the "Iron Duke" this day, for no man was angry, and every man was hungry, not counting some who had their heads down the lee scuppers. Altogether the day passed very smoothly inboard, though outside a storm was hurrying on us with gigantic strides.
December 26th.—The overcast sky of last night was indeed a precursor of what was to follow. About midnight the wind freshened into a full gale, the first we have encountered since leaving England. It gave us a proper shaking down into our places. The sea became wild and mountainous, the wind shrieking and vicious, and as to hold our course we had to stem its full fury, it was found impossible to keep the ship head on except at a much greater consumption of coal than we were prepared to use. Crash! What's gone? The jib-boom and all its appurtenances. The wrecked spar falling athwart the ram remained there for hours, proving a most difficult obstacle to clear away in such a whirl as was going on in the neighbourhood of our bows.
But there were no signs of the gale moderating, and the admiral deeming, I suppose, the present state of things far from satisfactory determined on putting back to Manilla. The ship was brought around, or "wore" as nautical men term it, an evolution which, though not of difficult accomplishment, at a certain moment in its progress leaves the vessel completely helpless in the trough of the sea, a fact you all know far better than myself, I only touch upon it to hint what the result must be to such a cumbersome mass as our iron hull. As we broached to, it became a matter of holding on to everything, and by everything—eyebrows and all—especially between decks. Delightful times these for ditty boxes, crockery, bread barges, and slush tubs; 'tis their only chance for enjoyment and they make the most of it. Such revelry generally winds up with a grand crash somewhere in the vicinity of the iron combings to the hatchways. Any plates left, any basins? Nay, that would be to ask too much of the potter's art. At length we are put round, and running back to Manilla under all the canvas we dare shew.
December 31st.—Completed with coal and left on a fresh attempt to reach Hong Kong, the black and lowering sky suggesting either the continuation of, or the sequel to, the late stormy weather. Being New Year's Eve the usual attempt at a tin-pot band was made to make the night hideous. Setting aside the annoyance of this species of rowdyism to the less exuberant spirits amongst us, the noise would be most unseemly with the commander-in-chief on board, and it says much for the would-be musicians that they saw it in this light.
We reached the northern point of Luzon without mishap, and stood away with a heavy cross-sea for Hong Kong, arriving on January 4th, 1879.
"Then Kublai Khan gave the word of command And they all poured into the Central Land."
HONG KONG.—SOME CHINESE MANNERS AND CUSTOMS.
I suppose there are few amongst us, sailors though we are, who, as boys at school when reading of China, have never expressed a wish to see that land for themselves, to say nothing of making the acquaintance of its quaint old-world people in their very own homes. In my imagination I had covered its goodly soil with wondrous palaces, all sparkling with splendour and embellished with all that art could furnish or riches command. I had peopled its broad plains with bright beautiful forms in silken attire, amongst whom a love of the elegant and the beautiful pervaded all classes of the community, and who in long ages ago had attained to arts and learning which it has taken us centuries of careful study and elaborate research to acquire. Yea, it was always a wonderland to me, even down to the present year; such is the power which the associations formed by the child exercise over the mind of the man. Yet were we prepared to meet a people who should, in almost all things, differ from almost all other peoples. In the last particular we are not deceived; in all else, yes. But I wont anticipate.
In this little book I shall not be able to tell you a tithe of what may be told of this land did I feel competent to do so. Volumes have been written on the subject, and still the half has not been said. I purpose, therefore, henceforward to intersperse with the narrative of our own doings, just so much of the manners and customs of the Chinese and Japanese, as every sailor possessed of the ordinary powers of vision may see for himself.
January 4th.—The harbour of Hong Kong is reached from the sea by means of a rather long and tortuous passage, with bleak barren heights on either hand,—the channel being in some parts so narrow that there is scarce room for the ship to turn.
The island itself—rendered either "red harbour" or "fragrant streams," which you prefer, though neither seems applicable, certainly not the latter if by fragrance is meant what we mean by it—lies on the southern seaboard of China. It became British in 1842, on the conclusion of the first Chinese war. The city of Victoria is situated on its northern side, and stands on a beautiful land-locked harbour, formed by the island on the one hand and the peninsula of Kowloon (also British) on the other a sheet of water which always presents a gay and animated appearance, from the thousands of vessels and boats which cover its surface like a mosaic.
It is not without some difficulty that we push our way through the thronging craft, principally little boats termed "sampans," to our moorings abreast of the Dockyard. Curious craft withal, and serving a double purpose; for besides their legitimate one, whole families live and move, are born, and die in them; the necessary accommodation being furnished by an ingenious arrangement of hatches, floors, and partitions, and, as it seems highly fashionable that the Chinese mammas should be making constant additions to the population, the squalling of the young celestials betrays a healthiness of lung, and a knowledge of its capabilities, scarcely to be credited of such small humanity.
The earlier fate of these infantile members of the boat population is sad. They are exposed to a "rough-and-tumble" existence as soon as they are ushered into the world, especially should the poor innocent have the misfortune to be born a girl baby, for in that case she has simply to shift for herself, the inhuman parents considering themselves fortunate if they lose a girl or two overboard. The boys, or "bull" children, as they are termed, meet with rather more care relatively speaking. As, from the nature of their occupation, but little time can be devoted to nursing—the mother being compelled to constant labour at the oar—the child is slung on to her back, and, as she moves to and fro with the stroke of the oar, the babe's soft face bobs in unison against its mother's back, a fact which will perhaps explain how it is that the lower class Chinese wear their noses flattened out on their two cheeks rather than in the prominent position usually selected by that organ.
It is amazing how wonderfully quick the Chinese pick up a colloquial foreign tongue; the same tailor for instance experiencing no difficulty in making himself understood in English, French, Russian, or Spanish; English, though, is the language par excellence along all the China seaboard. So universal is it that a foreigner must needs know something of our tongue to make himself intelligible to the ordinary Chinaman; and, more remarkable still, there is such a vast difference between the spoken dialects of north and south China—nay, even between any two provinces in the "Flowery Land"—that I have known some of our native domestics from the Canton district, when talking with their countrymen of Chefoo, communicate their ideas and wants in English, because their own medium failed them; the difference between the native dialects being as broad as that between English and Dutch.
Though such a diversity exists orally, the written character is common, and expresses exactly the same idea all over the empire, and beyond it in Japan, Corea, and the Loo Choo islands.
The Chinese are splendid workmen, providing you can furnish them with a model or copy, for there is very little genius, properly so-called, attached to John Chinaman.
Their imitative faculty and powers of memory are really wonderful; as an instance of the former perhaps the following may not be amiss:—
"In the earlier days of the first occupation, the English residents of Hong Kong were often placed in difficulties about their clothing, Chinamen not having attained to that perfection in the tailors' art which they now have acquired. On one occasion an old coat was supplied to a native tailor as a guide to the construction of a new one; it so happened the old garment had a carefully mended rent in its sleeve—a circumstance the man was prompt to notice—setting to at once, with infinite pains, to make a tear of a similar size and shape in the new coat, and to re-sew it with the exact number of stitches as in the original."
The old stories we have heard at home about a Chinaman's tail being designed that by it he may be hoisted to heaven, and that if he lose it he may never hope to reach that desirable altitude, have really no foundation in fact, nor is it a fact, as sailors are apt to believe, that it is nurtured for their special benefit as a convenient handle for playing off practical jokes on the luckless possessors; the truth being that the "queue," now so universally prized amongst them, is a symbol of conquest forced upon them by their hated Tartar-masters. Previous to the seventeenth century the inhabitants of the middle kingdom wore their hair much after the style of the people of Corea, but after the Manchu conquest they were compelled to adopt the present mode.
The city of Victoria is very prettily situated on the slopes of an eminence which culminates in a peak at an altitude of 1300 feet, and from which a most charming and cheerful view of the sea on the one side, and the harbour and the yellow sand-stone hills of China on the other.
It is allowed to be the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Representatives of races far in excess of the Pentecostal catalogue, may be encountered in its streets in any hour's walk; men of all shades of colour and of every religious creed live here side by side in apparent perfect harmony. The Chinese who form the bulk of the population live entirely apart from the "Ung-moh" (red hair devils) as they flatteringly term us. English manners and customs do not seem to have influenced the native mind in the smallest degree, in spite of our charities and schools—a fact we cannot wonder at, taking into account our diabolical origin.
The town—by which I mean the European part of it—possesses many public and private buildings of almost palatial grandeur. Of these, Government house, the City hall—including the museum and reading room, the cathedral and college, the various banks, and the residences of the great merchants may be cited as examples. There is also a fine botanical garden, not nearly so large as that at Singapore, but perhaps scarcely less beautiful, and an extensive recreation and drill ground, where one may see curious sights! pigtailed, loose-robed Chinamen wielding the cricket-bat, and dealing the ball some creditable raps too.
There is perhaps only one good street in the colony, Victoria street or Queen's road; this traverses the city from end to end, and constitutes the great business thoroughfare of the place. After about an hour's walk along it, for the first part under an arcade of trees, we find ourselves in the filthy, unsavoury Chinese quarter, as the nose is careful to remind you if there be any doubt about it. They are certainly a very dirty race, these Chinamen; the dirtiest on earth, I should be inclined to say, considering their boasted civilization and vaunted morals; and, though compelled by our sanitary laws to live somewhat more cleanly than their enthralled brethren on the continent, still they are dirty, and I'll hazard to say a sight of the Chinese of this town would soon dispel any illusions one might have nourished to the contrary. A subsequent visit to the native city of Shanghai shewed us to what disgusting depths humanity can descend in this particular.
This enterprising people possess some very fine shops, where you can purchase every known European commodity at cheaper rates than of the European firms. Every shop has a huge sign-board depending from the top of the house to the bottom, whereon is recorded in vermillion and gold characters, not so much the name as the virtues of the man within, sometimes, too, his genealogical tree is appended. Such expressions as "no cheating here" or "I cannot deceive," are common, but, in nearly every case, belie the character of the proprietor, who is a living libel on the word honesty. Honesty! old Shylock even would blush for them.
Here, where there is protection for life and property, a shopkeeper surprises you at the rich and grand display of his wares. In China proper, a dealer dare not show all he is worth for fear of the mandarins, who, should one chance to pass that way, would in all probability, cast his covetous eyes on the poor man's property, and demand whatever had taken his fancy. Nor may a poor man be in possession of an article inconsistent with his position in the social scale—he may not be the owner of a tiger's skin, for instance, as none but mandarins and people of similar position, are permitted such luxuries. This reminds one of the time, not so very remote, when similar restrictions were placed on dress in England.
This system of mulcting is known all over China as "cum-shaw," a system, too, which I would advise all sailors to adopt in their dealings with the slippery race if they would not be robbed. The vendor dare not say nay to a mandarin; and, though it is a point of etiquette on the part of the big man to offer payment, it is equally a point of etiquette for the tradesman to refuse: a fact, it is said, the mandarin always calculates on.
In addition to the orthodox shop, the streets are lined with itinerants, orange stalls, betel-nut tables, heaps of rags, and sundries, baskets of vegetables of very strange appearance and strong penetrating odours, half-cooked roots and leaves—for the people never eat a well-cooked root or vegetable; it is from these principally that the intolerable stench is proceeding.
What the Chinese eat is a mystery, and such queer compounds enter into their menu that I would give everybody who dines with a Chinaman this advice—don't enquire too minutely into what is placed before you, or you will eat nothing, and so offend your host; bolt it and fancy it is something nice—and fancy goes for something at times, I can assure you. That it requires a tremendous effort on the part of the human stomach, the subjoined "Bill of Fare" of a dinner given to Governor Hennessey by one of the Chinese guilds will, perhaps, serve to shew:
Birds' Nest Soup.
Pigeons' Egg Soup.
* * *
Fried Sharks' Fins.
Beche-de-mer and Wild Duck.
Stewed Chicken and Sharks' Fins.
* * *
Ham and Capon.
Meat Ball and Fungus.
Boiled Shell Fish.
Pig's Throat, stewed.
Minced Shell Fish with Greens.
Chicken Gruel Salad.
Pig's Leg, stewed.
* * *
Roast Capon. Roast Mutton.
Roast Pig. Roast Goose.
* * *
Fruits. Melon Seeds.
[Footnote 1: The Holothuria of naturalists—a species of sea-slug or sea-cucumber found on the shores of Borneo and on most of the islands of the Pacific, and which being dried in the sun is considered a dainty by Chinese epicures.]
Cats, too, are entertained as food, though I believe only by the extremely poor, to whom nothing seems to come amiss. One may frequently meet in the streets vendors of poor puss, easily recognisable by their suggestive cry, "mow (miow?) youk"—cat-meat!
One is struck with astonishment at the vast crowds which always throng the streets, each unit of which seems intent on some most important business, and looks as though its accomplishment absorbed his whole being. Perhaps it is only a few ounces of fish which he carries suspended from his ringer by a cord; but if it were the emperor's diamonds he could not conduct himself with more importance.
The ordinary means of conveyance in China is by the sedan chair, a sort of box of cane-work supported on poles for the convenience of the bearers, of whom there are generally two, but frequently as many as six. The riding is comfortable enough, and the springy motion imparted by the rider's weight is one of the pleasantest sensations I know of. Of course our tars, immediately they come on shore and see something new, want to find out all about it: hence sedan chairs are all the go, and a bad time the poor coolies have of it, too; for "Jack" is all motion, especially if he be in that semi-apathetic state known as "east half south," as it not unfrequently happens that he is. He compels his bearers to tax their powers of endurance to the utmost, urging them by all the endearing epithets in the nautical vocabulary to unheard-of exertions, regardless of the luckless pedestrians in the way.
Whilst we are on the return voyage through Queen's road, I must just say a word or two about the people's costume, which, as we observe, is nearly the same for both sexes; for if there be any difference, it is but slight in detail. Their dress is the most unbecoming and ungraceful it is possible to conceive, and yet, we are bound to admit, most refined. Had the women the redeeming quality of beauty, or the charm of a pretty face, possibly even this dress might appear to better advantage. A coarse-looking black or blue blouse, of that material known to us as "nankeen," a tiny apron confined to the waist by a slender scarlet cord—their only bit of bright color—short wide trousers, almost as broad at the bottoms as they are long, bare legs and feet—such is a vision of the Chinese woman of the working classes. The dress of a lady differs from this only in the nature of the material of which the garments are made—in their case, silk as a rule—stockinged feet, and silk shoes with thick while, though extremely light, soles. Nations, like individuals, have their fopperies; the celestials display this quality, particularly in the coverings for the feet. The shoe, especially of the females, is, beyond question, the most tasteful article in their costume. It is, as I have said before, made of silk, generally of a lavender, salmon, or rose color, embroidered in beautiful and artistic patterns of leaves, flowers, and insects. The soles are of the whitest doeskin; and so particular are they that they shall retain their unsullied appearance, that, like the cats, they seldom walk through a wet or muddy street.
The system of binding the feet of the women is by no means so universal as we have been led to believe, and we must confess to having been deceived in this matter; we all thought, probably, to have seen all the women with that useful member reduced to the dimensions of a baby's foot—instead of which, what do we really see? scarce one deformed woman in all our walks. Yet this nation considers this cramped, tortured lump (it has lost all semblance to a foot) an index of beauty.
Their hair is by far their finest possession, which, with their large almond-shaped eyes, is invariably of a black color. I once saw a Chinaman with red hair, and you cannot think how ludicrous his queue looked beside the sable tails of his brethren. The manner in which the women dress their hair is most wonderful, and materially helps to give them their uninviting appearance. They have a fashion of sticking it out around the head in the shape of a teapot, stiffened with grease and slips of bamboo. That this style of head-dress enhances their ugliness very few Europeans I think will deny; for some women whom we have seen, with their hair combed neatly back over their heads and coiled up in a trace behind, looked not altogether uncomely.
The head is dressed but once in ten days; and as the people sleep in their day clothes, the possibility is they entertain about their persons a private menagerie of those interesting creatures whose name looks so vulgar in print. It is one of the commonest scenes in the streets to see a Chinaman squat on the kerb-stone and turn up a fold or two of his trousers to manipulate these little pests; and even the high officials and well-to-do people look upon it as no outrage to the proprieties, to be seen removing one of "China's millions" from the garment of a friend or guest.
——"All the deep Is restless change." * * *
PREPARATIONS FOR THE NORTH.—AMOY.—WUSUNG, AND WHAT BEFELL US THERE.
Whatever pretensions to beauty our ship may have possessed on leaving England—and that she possessed some it is but fair to add—have been greatly marred by the late voyage, and especially by the washing down we encountered on the trip from Manilla. The effect has been to reduce our once fairy and glistening hull to a jaundiced mass of rust and stains. Therefore are we to go into "weeds." Black certainly gives an iron-clad a more man-of-war look, and a more war-like effect, to say nothing of the superior ease with which it can be kept clean.
January 22nd.—The Chinese new-year's day.—I should consider even such a poor account of the Chinese as this professes to be very incomplete, did it not contain something as to the manner the people observe the festival of the new year. And just a word before I start. It must not be supposed that I gained the information, if it be worthy to be classed as such, on a first visit to Hong Kong. This part of my "journal," including the previous chapter, has received the corrections and additions of nearly four years' experience.
The Chinese new year—a movable feast—depending, like all their chronological measurements, on the motions of the moon, may occur as early as it does this year, or it may fall as late as the middle of February. It is to the celestials what Christmas day is to us, and is observed by every true Chinaman most religiously: not, be it understood, religiously in our and the common acceptation of the term—for China has no religion—it possesses a gigantic superstition; but between a superstition and a religion, I need scarcely add, a vast difference exists. To the practical mind of John Chinaman, religious observances are made to subordinate themselves to worldly interests.
During the time we have been on the station the Shanghai district was once suffering from extreme drought. The rain-god was appealed to—still no rain came. Well, what was to be done? This. The god was admonished, that if rain came not within a certain period something terrible would happen to him. Still no rain. The exasperated priests and people then took measures to execute their threat. Putting a rope around the idol, the people, with their united efforts, pulled him to the ground to suffer further outrages at the hands of an ungrateful mob. Thus much for their religion. But to continue.
The last month in the old year is spent in elaborate preparation for the coming one. All arrears of business are made up, all accounts closed and punctually discharged, whilst everyone works his hardest to increase his stock of money.
At midnight on the last of the old year a bell is heard to toll, at which signal everybody rushes into the streets, armed with squibs, crackers, Catherine wheels, and other blatant pyrotechnical compositions; and as each tries to outdo his neighbour in the din he creates, the noise accompanying their discharge is the most satisfactory possible. The temples and pagodas are brilliantly lighted with colored lamps and colored candles, whilst similar candles and "joss-sticks," and gold and silver paper, illumine the interiors of their, at other times, grimy and dingy abodes. When morning arrives, the streets present a curious spectacle—everybody seems to be shaking hands with himself. A Chinaman, on meeting and saluting a friend, instead of seizing his hand, as we should, clasps his own hands together, the right hand grasping the left, which he sways up and down in front of his body.
Each person, too, is dressed in the newest and costliest dress he can afford; and as there is but one universal fashion of garment in China, everybody tries to surpass everybody else in the richness of the material of which his clothes are made. The children, in particular, come out well, the girls especially, with highly-rouged and powdered cheeks and necks, gaudily decorated "queue" (for that appendix is not confined to the one sex), and silk dresses of the most beautiful colors. The whole scene has a very stage-like and brilliant effect.
It is worthy of remark, as shewing another trait in this truly remarkable race, that though they manufacture a very fiery liquor (called "samshaw") from rice, yet you will rarely see a drunken Chinaman in the streets. As far as I can remember I have met with only one such, and he a servant on board our ship, who had adopted a liking for rum because, I suppose, it is the custom for a sailor to drink what is issued to him.
The harbour, too, has its distinctive features on this gay and festive occasion. Every junk is covered with great pennons of silk in the most startling colors, whilst from every available space small oblong pieces of paper, with characters written on them, flutter to the breeze. These are "joss-papers," and contain prayers for wealth, prosperity, and (if they have not one already) an heir, "joss" is the generic name they give to their idols, and the whole ritual they call "joss pidgin." The priests they name "joss-men," an appellation, too, they somewhat irreverently bestow on our naval chaplains. One of the largest junks, with a priest on board, and containing all the vessels and objects pertaining to their ritual, makes the circuit of the harbour—the priest meanwhile burning prayers and setting off crackers for a blessing on the supply of fish for the ensuing year.
January 29th.—This evening the officers gave their first theatrical entertainment on board, the acting of some of the characters being pronounced above the average; one or two of the younger midshipmen, to whom the parts fell, made very tempting and graceful ladies.
February 14th.—This day finds us at the back of the island preparing for target practice. In one of the bays here is an admirable natural target: a solitary rock rising perpendicularly from the sea, with a mark painted on it, is a most interesting thing to fire at, for you can observe the effect of your shot. Behind this rock sloped a hill, on which were seated, though unknown to us, two Chinamen; the first half-a-dozen rounds were so true that the unseen watchers had no suspicion they were in dangerous quarters, or that it was possible that even the Duke's marksmen were fallible; the seventh round disillusioned them, for, from a slight fault in the elevation, the shot over-reached the target and pitched so close to the Chinamen that stones and rubbish came rattling down from everywhere about their ears; fear lent them wings, and they scampered off like the wind. They may be running now for aught I know, as when we last saw them the horizon seemed to be the goal they were aiming at.
March 10th.—We were to have put to sea to-day had not a melancholy and fatal accident changed the whole course of events. Richard Darcy, a young seaman, whilst engaged on the crosstrees fell to the deck, striking the rail on the topgallant forecastle in his fall. His body was frightfully mangled and torn, his scull fractured, and all his limbs broken. Mercifully he never regained consciousness. Next day we buried him in the beautiful cemetery of Happy Valley, than which there are few more picturesque spots in China; 'twas surely a poetic fancy which inspired the Chinese with the term "happy" when naming this sylvian vale.
In the afternoon we slipped from the buoy and steamed seaward for tactics, returning the following day to prepare for going in dock.
March 26th.—The last day for our stay in Aberdeen. A special steam launch had arrived from Hong Kong during the forenoon with all the elite of the city to see the floating of our ship. However, they were doomed to disappointment, for, on the tide reaching its highest, it was found the ship refused to move, nor would she start, though every effort was made to coax her. It was not until the next tide, assisted by a strong breeze, that the ship once more rested in deep water.
With characteristic expedition and commendable zeal, our captain had the ship ready for sea, and awaiting orders in the briefest possible time.
April 21st.—Early this morning that pleasant sound, the cable rattling through the hawse, told us that we had bid good-bye to Victoria, for a few months at least. A rather stiff breeze was blowing at the time—a sufficient hint that we might possibly meet with something rash outside; nor was the hint to be disregarded, for, scarcely had we cleared the mouth of the harbour, when, what sailors call a "sneezer," accompanied by a green sea in all our weather ports, met us as an introduction to our northern cruise. So threatening was the look of the sky, and remembering that in these seas old Boreas often indulges his fancy in a gentle zephyr called a typhoon, it was deemed expedient to seek shelter for the night.
On the third day out we reached Amoy, or rather the outside anchorage of that harbour, to await daylight for the passage up to the town.
So far as the little island settlement forming the foreign concession can make it so, Amoy is a pretty enough place; otherwise it is like all other Chinese towns, and wont bear too close a scrutiny. It is built on an island of the same name, and is walled in by several miles of embrasured masonry; a fort or barracks on the beach, gay with pennons, imparting a semi-military look to the place. Flags seem to play a most important part in the usages of war amongst this nation, for, in addition to the great banners of the mandarins and their subordinates, every soldier bears one in the muzzle of his rifle, or stuck in a bamboo over his shoulder.
Resuming our course, after a stay of about forty-eight hours, we next touched at the island of White Dogs, off the port of Foo-Choo, the great naval depot and arsenal of China. The "Vigilant" had preceded us here to embark the admiral for Foo-Choo, whilst we put to sea again.
April 30th.—At daylight we found ourselves amongst an archipelago of picturesque and richly cultivated islands, one mass of greenery from base to summit. The effect produced by the different tints of the foliage was very fine indeed. Beyond a doubt the Chinese exhibit great skill and economy in the gardener's art.
This was the approach to Chusan, the largest island of the group, at which we anchored at noon. The place fell under a British attack in 1841, remaining in our possession until the more convenient and more valuable island of Hong Kong was ceded to us in exchange. Before us lies a considerable town called Tinghae, where are buried many of our poor fellow countrymen and their families who fell victims to fever and the attacks of a cruel enemy during the occupation. We found their graves in a very neglected condition, many of the tombstones having been appropriated by the inhabitants to prop up those architectural abominations which it would be a libel to term houses. Admiral Coote subsequently sent the "Modeste" down with orders to repair the burial ground; the misappropriated stones were speedily restored to their places by the blue-jackets, who dealt with the natives in a very summary manner by wrecking their houses about their ears.
It was not long before a sleek old Chinaman, rejoicing in the imposing Chin-English name of "Chin-Chang-Jim-Crow," came on board and introduced himself as "me de bumboat"; he further explained that it was so long since a man-of-war had been in that neighbourhood, that probably he would experience some difficulty in procuring "Chow."
In the course of a day or so the admiral arrived from Ningpo, which was the signal for our at once heaving up anchor and continuing our voyage.
We are now in the estuary of one of the noblest rivers of the world, and the largest in China. It is estimated that this river, the Yang-tsze-Kiang, "Son of the Ocean," brings seaward, annually, as much solid matter as would make an island as large as Ireland! The navigation of its mouth is extremely dangerous, on account of the constantly-shifting sandbanks and consequent alteration of the channel. Fortunately, the European pilots are very skilful in detecting these changes. It is usual for large ships to drop anchor on this mud, locally termed the "flats," until boarded by a pilot, who takes you either to Wosung or Shanghai, according to your draught of water.
Wosung scarcely merits the name of town; perhaps with more accuracy it might be termed a village. It is nevertheless, the head quarters of a large junk fleet, and has one of the finest and strongest forts in China to protect it from seaward. The place is interesting to us in one sense, because in 1875 an English company obtained permission to construct a line of rail from here to Shanghai.
China, with its four thousand years of existence, looked on this innovation with a jealous eye, and would have pitched the whole concern into the river, had she dared; unfortunately the line was carried near a burying ground, and thus a ready excuse for stopping the work presented itself. It was alleged that the noise would disturb the spirits of the dead, of whom the Chinese are in ghostly fear. An almost similar difficulty was met when the arsenal was built at Foo-Choo, and a magnificent temple was actually erected in that city for the accommodation of the refugee spirits.
To bring matters to a climax a man was run over by one of the trucks and killed. The mandarins could no longer hold out against the popular voice, and the whole plant was bought up by the Government for twice the sum the projectors had spent about it.
This is the brief history of the first and, up to now, the only attempt to introduce railways into China; but the late Kuldja difficulty, and the ease with which the Russians had brought an army to their Siberian frontier, have caused the Chinese to open their eyes to the advantage of railways for strategic, if for no other purpose, and I believe a line is already in contemplation between Tien-tsin and the capital.
Owing to a blunder on the part of the pilot, so some said, and some others, in consequence of someone else's blunder, our anchor was dropped too near a mud bank, with the result that when the ship swung to a firm knot current, up she went high and dry. Means were at once taken to get her off, but by the time all the necessary arrangements were completed—and there was no time lost either—the tide had ebbed considerably.
In the middle watch of this, the "Iron Duke's" first night on the Chinese territory, the steel hawser was brought to the capstan, but a piece of yarn would have been equally efficacious; for, under the immense strain, it snapped like a bow string, and, as there was now nothing to keep the stern in check, away she went broadside on to the difficulty.
Meantime a telegram had been wired to the admiral at Shanghai, and next day all the available help at that port came down the river to our assistance; besides the "Vigilant," "Eyera," "Midge," and "Growler," there were two American war vessels, the "Monocasy" and "Palos," also a Chinese paddle steamer.
On the third night a combined attempt was made to either haul us off or to pull us to pieces. With all their tugging they effected neither the one nor the other, and, had not nature "lent us a fin"—in the shape of a breeze of wind—we might have been lying there to this day; a few pulls on our hawsers and we had the satisfaction of feeling that the dear old craft was once more on her proper element. The commander of one of the American ships afterwards commenting on the difficulty experienced in removing us, hailed our captain with "Guess, Cap'n, that piece of machinery of yours is lumpy!" "Rather, Jonothan, I calculate."
Had we not floated to-day the alternative was rather consoling; nothing less than the removal of all our heavy guns and spars.
Before our departure Shanghai was all astir at the visit of General Grant of the United States. Ostensibly, the general is travelling incog., but really as the representative of the United States, for he flies the "stars and stripes" at the main, and gets a salute of twenty-one guns wherever he goes. For some reason or other we did not salute as he passed up the river.
May 22nd saw us clearing out of the dangerous precincts of the Shanghai river and shaping our course across the turbid waters of the Yellow Sea for pastures new—that is to say—for Japan. Under double-reefed canvas and a nine knot breeze we sighted land in the vicinity of Nagasaki on the 25th, and by evening our anchor "kissed the mud" in as lovely a spot as ever mortal set eyes on. But I will reserve my eulogies for another chapter.
"It was a fresh and glorious world, A banner bright that shone unfurled Before me suddenly."
ARRIVAL AT NAGASAKI.—SOMETHING ABOUT JAPAN.—A RUN THROUGH THE TOWN.—VISIT TO A SINTOR TEMPLE.
I know not if the author of the above lines had ever been to Japan. I should think it very unlikely; and possibly the poet is but describing the scenery of his Cumberland home. In no disparagement of the beauteous country of the lake and mountain, yet we must confess that nothing there can compare with Japan's natural magnificence.
All who have ever written of Japan, or who have ever visited its shores, are unanimous in the praise they bestow on its charms of landscape. Even rollicking and light-hearted tars, who, as a rule, are not very sensible to the beauties of nature, are bound to use "unqualified expressions of delight," when that "bright banner" lies unfurled under their gaze. And of all this beauteous land no part of it is more beautiful than the bay of Ommura, in the month of May.
Coming towards Nagasaki, from the westward, is like sailing on to a line of high, rigid, impenetrable rocks, for, apparently, we are heading blindly on to land which discloses not the slightest indication of an opening; but, relying on the accuracy of our charts, and the skill of our officers, we assume we are on the right course. By-and-bye the land, as if by some magic power, seems to rend asunder, and we find ourselves in a narrow channel, with well-wooded eminences on either hand, clothed with handsome fir trees. Right in front of us, and hiding the view of the town, is a small cone-shaped island of great beauty. English is a weak language in which to express clearly its surpassing loveliness. This is Takabuko, or more familiarly, Papenberg, a spot with a sad and bloody history, for it was here that the remnant of the persecuted Christians, who escaped the general massacre in 1838,—when 30,000 perished—made a last ineffectual stand for their lives and faith. But to no purpose, for pressed to extremities by the swords of their relentless persecutors, they threw themselves over the heights, and perished in the sea.
The people are not altogether to blame for this barbarous and cruel persecution. Had the Jesuits been satisfied with their spiritual conquests, and not sought to subvert the government of the country, all might have gone well, and Japan, ere now, been a Christian country. But no; true to themselves and to their Order, they came not to bring peace, but literally a sword, and the innocent were made to suffer for the ambitions of a few designing priests.
The island passed, what a view presents itself! The long perspective of the bay, the densely wooded hills and lower slopes teeming with agricultural produce, rich corn-fields, ripe for the sickle; picturesque dwellings, hid in shadowy foliage, and flowers and fruit trees, to which the purity and rarity of the atmosphere lend a brilliancy of colouring and distinctness of outline, impossible to describe; the clear blue water, with here and there a quaint and curious-looking junk, resting on its glassy and reflecting surface; the town, sweeping around the shores of the bay; and, afar, the majesty of hill and vale; such, dear reader, is a weak and very imperfect word picture of the charming bay of Omura.
Recent events in Japan have taken such a remarkable turn, that history, neither ancient nor modern, presents no parallel with it. That we may have a more adequate conception of the Japan of to-day, it is absolutely necessary that we make some acquaintance with the Japan of the past.
Of the origin of the people we can gleam very little, except from the questionable source of tradition. Several theories are advanced to account for their existence here. One authority discovers in them the long-lost "lost tribes of Israel;" according to another, they are a branch of the great American-Indian family; both of which statements we had better accept with caution. Their own theory—or rather that of the aborigines, the Ainos of Yeso,—a race whom the indefatigable Miss Bird has recently brought prominently before the world—states that the goddess of the celestial universe, a woman of incomparable beauty and great accomplishments, came eastward to seek out the most beautiful spot for a terrestrial residence, and at length chose Japan, where she spent her time in cultivating the silkworm, and in the Diana-like pursuits of the chase; until one day, as she stood beside a beautiful stream, admiring her fair form in its reflecting surface, she was startled by the sudden appearance of a large dog. Tremblingly she hid herself, but the dog sought her out, and, to her surprise, entered into conversation with her, and finally into a more intimate alliance. From the union of these two opposite natures—according to this account—the Ainos are descended.
One other tradition I will mention—the Chinese—which perhaps has something of the truth in it. According to it, a certain emperor of China, ruminating on the brevity of human life, and of his own in particular, thought it possible to find a means whereby his pleasant existence might be indefinitely prolonged. To this end he summoned all the physicians in his kingdom, and ordered them, on pain of forfeiting their heads, to discover this remedy. After much deliberation, one at last hit upon a plan which, if successful, would be the means of saving, at least, his own head. He informed the emperor that in a land to the eastward, across the Yellow Sea, was the panacea he sought; but that, in order to obtain it, it was necessary to fit out a ship, with a certain number of young virgins, and an equal number of young men of pure lives, as a propitiatory offering to the stern guardian of the "elixir of life." The ship sailed, freighted as desired, and after a few days reached the western shores of Japan, from whence, you will readily imagine, the wily sage never returned. These young men and maidens became the ancestors of the Japanese race.
Their form of government was despotic in its character, and feudal in its system. The country was governed by a powerful ruler with the title of mikado—"son of the sun"—who was supported in his despotism by tributary princes, or daimios. Of them the mikado demanded military service in time of war, and also compelled them to reside a part of each year in his capital, where quarters were provided for them and their numerous retainers in the neighbourhood of the palace. The visitor may still see whole streets in Tokio without a single inhabitant, the former residences of the daimios' followers, and the aspect is dreary in the extreme.
In addition to his temporal functions, the mikado has always been the great high priest of the Sintor faith. On the breaking out of a war with China, it was found that his attendance with the army would deprive the religion of its spiritual head, and so indispensable was his presence in the great temple, that such a deprivation would be little short of a calamity. In this dilemma, he called to his aid the general of his forces, an able warrior and a shrewd designing man, conferred on him the hereditary title of shio-goon, or tycoon, and despatched him at the head of the army to carry fire and sword into the coasts of China. This prince's name was Tycosama, a name great in Japan's history, and destined to become terrible to the Christians. As generally happens, when a clever soldier with a devoted army at his back is placed in such a position, he finds it but a step to supreme dominion, the army being a pretty conclusive argument in his favor. His first act was the removal of the mikado to the holy city, Kioto, where henceforth he was kept secluded, and hemmed in by so much mystery, that the people began to look upon their ancient ruler as little less than a god.
It will be readily imagined that the tycoons, by their arrogant assumption to the imperial dignity, made for themselves many enemies amongst the powerful daimios. The disaffected united to form a party of reaction which, in the end, overthrew the tycoon, restored the mikado to his ancient splendour, and gave Japan to the world. In 1853, an American squadron, under Commodore Perry, came to Yokohama, and demanded a trade treaty with the United States. After much circumlocution he obtained one, thus pioneering a way for the Europeans. England demanded one the following year, and got it; then followed the other maritime nations of Europe, but these treaties proved to be of as little value as the paper on which they were drawn up.
The adherents of the tycoon displayed a bitter animosity against the foreigner, and especially a most powerful daimio, the prince of Satsuma, who nourished a detestable hatred to Europeans. Through the machinations of this party, murders of foreigners, resident in Yokohama, were of almost daily occurrence, till at last the British consul fell a victim to their hatred. This brought matters to a head. In 1863, England declared war against Japan; blockaded the Inland Seas with a combined squadron of English, French, Dutch, and American ships, acting under the orders of Admiral Keuper, stormed and captured Simonoseki, and burnt Kagosima, the capital of the prince of Satsuma. Having brought the Japanese to their senses, we demanded of them a war indemnity, half of which was to be paid by Satsuma.
Five years passed. The mikado meanwhile had placed himself at the head of the reactionary party, pensioned the tycoon, and made rapid advancement in European manners and customs. In 1868, Satsuma and his party broke out into open rebellion against the mikado. But the prince's levies were no match for the imperial troops, armed with the snider, and the result was the rebellion, after some sanguinary battles, was put down, the estates of the rebels confiscated, and the chief actors in the drama banished to distant parts of the empire.
There, dear reader, I am as glad as you that I have finished spinning that yarn. Now for the legitimate narrative.
Nagasaki, or more correctly Nangasaki, is a town of considerable magnitude, skirting the shores of the bay, and built in the form of an amphitheatre. On the terraces above the town, several large temples with graceful, fluted, tent-like roofs, embowered in sombre and tranquil pine groves, shew out distinctly against the dark background, whilst the thousands of little granite monumental columns of the burying grounds, stud the hills on every side, giving to Nagasaki almost a distinct feature.
Immediately ahead of the anchorage is the small island of Desima, the most interesting portion of the city to Europeans. Previous to 1859 it was the only part of Japan open to foreigners, and even then only to the Dutch, who, for upwards of 200 years, had never been allowed to set foot outside the limits of the island,—a space 600 feet long by 150 feet broad—separated from the main land by the narrowest of canals.
Japanese towns are laid out in regular streets, much after the fashion obtaining in Europe. The system of drainage is abominable, though personally, the people are the cleanest on earth, if constant bathing is to be taken as an index to cleanliness. The streets have no footpaths, and access to the houses is obtained by three or four loose planks stretching across the open festering gutters. As a natural result, small pox and cholera commit yearly ravages amongst the populace. Another great evil against good sanitation, exists in the shallowness of their graves. The Japanese have also a penchant for unripe fruits.
A native house is a perfect model of neatness and simplicity. A simple framework, of a rich dark coloured wood, is thrown up, and roofed over with rice straw. There is but one story, the requisite number of apartments being made by means of sliding wooden frames, covered with snow-white rice paper. The floor is raised off the ground about eighteen inches, and is covered with beautiful and delicately wrought straw mattresses, on which the inmates sit, recline, take their meals, and sleep at night. These habitations possess nothing in the shape of furniture; no fireplace even, because the Japanese—like Chinese—never use fire to warm themselves, the requisite degree of warmth being obtained by the addition of more and heavier garments. These abodes present a marked contrast to the Chinese dwellings, which, as we saw, were foul and grimy, whilst here all is cheerful and airy.
No house is complete without its tiny garden of dwarf trees, its model lakes, in which that curiosity of fish-culture, the many tailed gold and silver fish, are to be seen disporting themselves; its rockeries spanned by bridges; its boats and junks floating about on the surface of the lakes, in fact a Japanese landscape in miniature.
It seems the privilege of a people, who live in a land where nature surrounds them with bright and beautiful forms, to, in some manner, reflect these beauties in their lives. This people possess these qualities in an eminent degree, for a happier, healthier, more cheerful race, one will rarely see. Their children—ridiculously like their seniors from wearing the same style of garment—are the roundest, rosiest, chubbiest little pieces of humanity ever born. Everybody has a fresh, wholesome look, due to repeated ablutions. The bath amongst the Japanese, as amongst the ancient Romans, is a public institution; in fact, we think too public, for both sexes mix promiscuously together in the same bath, almost in the full light of day; whilst hired wipers go about their business in a most matter-of-fact manner. This is a feature of the people we cannot understand, but they themselves consider it no impropriety. A writer on Japan, speaking of this says:—"We cannot, with justice, tax with immodesty the individual who, in his own country, wounds none of the social proprieties in the midst of which he has been brought up." These bath-houses are perfectly open to the public gaze, no one evincing the slightest curiosity to look within, except, perhaps, the diffident sailor. It is very evident that Mrs. Grundy has not yet put in her censorious appearance in Japan, nor have our western conventionalities set their seal on what, after all, is but a single act of personal cleanliness. "Honi soit qui mal y pense."
Their mode of dress is an embodiment of simplicity and elegance. Both sexes wear a sort of loose dressing gown, sometimes of silk—mostly so in the case of the fair sex—crossed over the front of their bodies, allowing the knee perfect liberty to protrude itself, if it is so minded, and confined to the waist by a band. But it is more particularly of the dress of the ladies I wish to speak. The band circling the waist, and known as the "obe," is very broad, and composed of magnificent folds of rich silk, and tied up in a large quaint bow behind. A Japanese lady lavishes all her taste on the selection of the material and in the choice of colour, of which these bands are composed, and which are to them what jewellery is to the more refined Europeans. No ornament of the precious metal is ever seen about their persons. Their taste in the matter of hues is faultless; no people, I will venture to say, have such a perception of the harmonies of colour. Their tints are of the most delicate and charming shades the artist's fancy or the dyer's art can furnish, and often wrought in rich and elegant patterns. They are passionately fond of flowers, the dark and abundant tresses of their hair being always decorated with them, either real or artificial. Their only other adornments are a tortoise-shell comb of delicate workmanship, and a long steel pin with a ball of red coral in the end, passing through their rich raven hair. They use powder about their necks and shoulders pretty freely, and sometimes colour the under lip a deep carmine, or even gold, a process which does not add to their personal attractions. They wear no linen; a very thin chemise of silk crepe, in addition to the loose outer garment, is all their covering. But it must be remembered that the great aim of this people seems to be simplicity, therefore we wont too minutely scrutinize their deficiencies of costume; there is much to be said in its favour, it is neither immodest nor suggestive. The feet are clothed in a short sock, with a division at the great toe for the passage of the sandal strap. These sandals or clogs are the most ungainly articles in their wardrobe. A simple lump of wood, the length and breadth of the foot, about two or three inches in altitude, and lacquered at the sides, is their substitute for our boot. Their walk is a shuffling gait, the knee bent and always in advance of the body.
The married women have a curious custom—now fast dying out—of blacking their teeth and plucking out their eye-brows to prevent, as their husbands say, other men casting "sheep's eyes" at them.
The males of the coolie class are very scantily clad, for all that they wear is the narrowest possible fold of linen around the loins; but, as if to compensate for this scarcity of rigging, they are frequently most elaborately tattooed from head to foot.
A Japanese husband does not make a slave of his wife, as is too often the case amongst orientals; she is allowed perfect liberty of action, and to indulge her fancy in innocent pleasures to an unlimited extent. Her lord is not ashamed to be seen walking beside her, nor does he think it too much beneath him to fondle and carry the baby in public. They are excessively fond of their children; the hundreds of toy shops and confection stalls about the streets bearing testimony to this.
The old custom of dressing the hair, which some of the men still affect, is rather peculiar. A broad gutter is shaved from the crown of the head forward, whilst the remaining hair, which is permitted to grow long, is gathered and combed upwards, where the ends are tied, marled down, and served over (as we should say in nautical phraseology) and brought forward over the shaven gangway.
One other custom I must mention, the strangest one of all: they have a legalized form of that vice which, in other countries, by tacit consent, is banned, but which even the most refined people must tolerate. But what makes it more strange still is, that no inconsiderable portion of the public revenue is derived from this source. The government sets aside a certain quarter in every city and town for its accommodation, gives it a distinct and characteristic name, and appoints officers over it for the collection of the revenues. I thought it not a little significant on landing for the first time in Japan to find myself and "rick-sha" wheeled, by the accommodating coolie, right into the heart of this quarter. The advances of the fair sex are likely to prove embarrassing to the stranger, for, before they are married, they are at liberty to do as they please, and do not, by such acts, lose caste or forfeit the respect of their friends and neighbours.
Here, as in the Indian Seas, our laundresses are men, the cleanest and quickest washers we have encountered in the voyage. As an instance of their despatch, they will take your bedding ashore in the morning, and by tea-time you will receive it ready for turning in, the blanket washed and dried, the hair teazed and made so soft that you would scarcely fancy it was the same old "doss" again.
Though the women do not wash our clothes, they do what is far harder work, i.e. coal our ship. We were surprised, beyond measure, to see women toiling away at this dirty, laborious calling. And the Japanese women are such little creatures, too! There was, however, one exception, a woman of herculean strength and limb, looking like a giantess amongst her puny sisters, and fully conscious of her superior muscular power. This lady, stripped to the waist as she was, would, I am sure, intimidate the boldest mariner from a too close acquaintance with her embrace. They belong to the coolie class, a distinct caste in Japan, wear a distinguishing badge on their clothing, form a community amongst themselves, and rarely marry out of their own calling.
At noon these grimy Hebes, Hercules as well, all tripped on board to dine, the upper battery offering them all the accommodation they required; each carried with her a little lacquered box, with three sliding drawers, in which was neatly and cleanly stowed her dinner—rice, fish, and vegetables; taking out all the drawers, and laying them on her lap, with a pair of chop-sticks, she soon demolished her frugal meal. After a whiff or two at a pipe, whose bowl just contained enough tobacco for two draws, she was ready to resume her work.
The European concession occupies the most picturesque position in Nagasaki, from which city it is separated by a creek, well known to our blue-jackets, spanned by two or three bridges. On either side of this strip of water a perfect cosmopolitan colony of beer-house keepers have assembled, with the sole intention of "bleeding" the sailor, and upon whose well-known devotion, to the shrine of Bass and Allsop, they manage to amass considerable fortunes.
Before leaving Nagasaki I would ask you to accompany me to one of the temples, that known as the Temple of the Horse, being, perhaps, the best. It is rather a long distance by foot, but Englishmen, at least according to Japanese ideas, have too much money to walk when they can ride, so to keep up the national conceit, but more for our own convenience, we jump into an elegant little carriage, or "jin-riki-sha," literally "man-power-carriage," but in sailor phrase "johnny-ring-shaw," or short "ring shaw." Away we go, a dozen or more in a line, over the creek bridge, past Desima, which we leave on our left hand, and soon we are in the heart of the native city, and traversing what is popularly known as "curio" street. At this point we request our human horses to trot, instead of going at the mad speed usual to them, in order that we make notes of Japanese life by the way. We pass many shops devoted to the sale of lacquer ware, for which the Japanese are so justly famed, catch glimpses of unequalled egg shell, and Satsuma china, made of a clay, formed only in this neighbourhood, and which, thanks to the European mania for collecting, fetch the most fancy prices; get a view of silk shops, full of rich stuffs and embroideries. Here an artist tinting a fan or a silk lantern; there a woman weaving cloth for the use of her household and everywhere people plying their various callings on the elevated floors of their houses. I should say needle making amongst these people is a rather laborious undertaking, and one which requires more than an ordinary amount of patience. The wire has first to be cut the desired length, then filed to a point at one end and the other flattened ready for the eye to be drilled, and finally the whole has to be filed up and smoothed off, and all by one man. The Japanese are but indifferent sewers, all their seams exhibiting numerous "holidays." Pretty children, with their hair clipped around their heads like a priest's tonsure, sport around us, but are not intrusive. Each child has a little pouch attached to his girdle, which, we are informed, contains the address of the child's parents, and also an invocation to the little one's protecting god, in case of his straying from home. We meet with cheerful looks and pleasant greetings everywhere. The gentle and musical "o-hi-o," "good day," with its softly accented second syllable, and as we pass the earnest "sayonara," the "au revoir" of the French, tell us very plainly we are no unwelcome visitors, whilst their bows are the most graceful, because natural, and therefore unaffected, actions it is possible to conceive.
We notice, too, that numbers of the males are in full European costume, which generally hangs about them in a most awkward manner, reminding one of a broom-handle dressed in a frock coat. Others, again, don't discard the national dress altogether, but compromise matters by putting on, in addition to their long gown, a European hat and shoes, which, if anything, looks worse still. The ladies have not yet adopted the European style which, perhaps, they have sense enough to see, is far more complex and inconvenient than their own. Of this much I am certain that no mysterious production of Worth would be more becoming, or suit them better than their own graceful, national dress.
At our imperative "chop, chop," jack's sole stock-in-trade of that intellectual puzzle, the Chinese language, and which he finds equally serviceable this side the water, our Jehus start off like an arrow shot from a bow. What endurance these men possess, and what limbs!
After a pleasant half-an-hour's ride, a sudden jolt indicates we are at our destination.
We alight at the base of a flight of broad stone stairs leading to the temple, and which we can just discern at a considerable altitude above us, peeping out of the dark shadow of a grove of firs. Arches of a curious and simple design, under which it is necessary to pass, are the distinguishing features of a kami or sintoo temple, and perhaps of Japan itself, as the pyramids are characteristic of ancient Egypt.
Two uprights of bronze, stone, or wood, inclined to each other at the summits, and held in position by a transverse beam piercing the pillars at about three feet from their tops. Over this again is another beam with horn-like curves at the ends, and turned upward, and simply laid on the tops of the shafts. The approaches to some of these temples are spanned by hundreds of such structures, which, when made of wood and lacquered bright vermillion, look altogether curious.
On the topmost stair, as if guarding the main entrance to the sanctuary, are two seated idols of the "god of war," in complete armour, each with bow in hand and a quiver full of arrows over his shoulder, and protected by a cage work of wire. What certainly gives us matter for speculation, and causes us no little surprise, is to see the golden scales of their splendid armour, and even their ruddy lacquered faces, bespattered with pellets of chewed paper after the manner familiar to us as school boys; when not satisfied with the correctness of the geographers, we used to chew blotting paper to fling in recent discoveries on the wall maps. Do these people desecrate their idols thus? There is no desecration here. These little lumps of pulp are simply prayers, pieces of paper on which the priests have traced some mystic characters for the use of the devout, and which, because of their inability to reach the idol to paste the strips on, they shoot through the wire in this manner.
We now pass under the last arch, with its monstrous swinging paper lantern, into the courtyard of the temple. The first object which claims our attention is a bronze horse, from which the temple takes its name. The work of art—for so it is reckoned—would be more like a horse, if its tail were less suggestive of a pump handle. Near is a bronze trough filled with holy water, to be applied internally; and around three sides of the square numerous empty houses, which, on high days and holidays, are used as shops for the sale of sacred and fancy articles. Up a few more steps and suddenly we are on the polished floor of the temple, and standing amidst a throng of kneeling worshippers, with heads bowed and hands pressed together in prayer.
Their mode of procedure at these shrines seems something after the following: the worshipper first seizes a straw rope depending from the edge of the roof of the temple, to which is attached a bell, of that shape worn by ferrets at home, only of course on a much more gigantic scale; this is to apprise the slumbering god of the applicant's presence. He then commences his petition or confession; places an offering of money in a large trough-like receptacle for the purpose; takes a drink at the holy water font, and departs to his home chatting gaily to his neighbours as he descends the steps. The whole business occupies about five minutes.
Sintoo temples have but little interior or body. All the worshipping is done outside on the beautifully kept polished floor. A notice in English reminds us vandals that we must remove our shoes if we would tread this sacred spot.
Within, is simplicity itself; a mirror and a crystal ball is all one sees; the former typical of the ease with which the Almighty can read our hearts; the second an emblem of purity. They worship the Supreme Being under the threefold title, which, strangely enough, we find in the Book of Daniel, by which we may infer they have no inadequate conception of the true God.
We leave the temple court by a different outlet to that by which we entered, and come out on a charmingly laid out garden and fish ponds, where are seats and tea houses for the accommodation of visitors. Each tea house has its bevy of dark-eyed houris, who use every wile and charm known to the sex, to induce you to patronise their several houses. To do the proper thing, and perhaps influenced by the bright eyes raised so beseechingly to ours, we adjourn to one of these restaurants. Removing our shoes—a proceeding you are bound to comply with before entering a Japanese house—we seat ourselves cross-legged, tailor fashion, on the straw mattresses I have previously mentioned, whilst an attendant damsel, with deft fingers, makes the tea in a little terra-cotta teapot, the contents of which she poured into a number of doll's cups, without handles, on a lacquered tray. Other girls handed us each a cup, in which was a liquid not unlike saffron water in colour and in taste.
They use neither milk nor sugar, and the cups are so provokingly small, that it is only by keeping our attendant syrens under the most active employment, that we are at last able to say we have tasted it. With our tea we get some excellent sponge cake called "casutira," a corruption of the Spanish word "castile," said to be, until very recently, the only word of European etymology in the language. The Jesuits first introduced the cake from Spain, and taught the people how to make it. Whatever its origin, it is very good. You get chop-sticks handed you too, which, after a few ineffectual and laughable attempts to manipulate in the approved fashion, you throw on one side. After the decks are cleared the young ladies bring out their sam-sins, and whilst we smoke Japanese pipes, they delight our ears with an overture, which we pronounce excruciating in English, though with our eyes we say "divine as Patti."