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Tea-makers from Fokien and Kiangse engaged for India — Ning-chow tea country — Formerly produced green teas — Now produces black — How this change took place — Difficulty in getting the men off — One of them arrested for debt — All on board at last and sent on to Calcutta — Coast infested with pirates — Ningpo missionaries robbed — Politeness of the pirates — Their rendezvous discovered — Attacked and destroyed by the 'Bittern' — A mandarin in difficulty — The English "don't fight fair" — Liberality of the Chinese and English merchants — Captain Vansittart's reward.
ON my arrival at Shanghae I found that the efforts I had been making in order to secure the services of some first-rate black-tea manufacturers for the Government Plantations in the Himalayas had been successful. Eight men, natives of Fokien, and well acquainted with the method of making the finest teas of Tsin-tsun and Tsong-gan — districts situated on the south side of the great Bohea mountains, famous for the superior quality of their black teas — had been engaged by Mr. Clark at Foo-chow-foo, and were now on their way to Hongkong and India. They had taken with them an ample supply of the implements in use in those districts for the purpose of manufacturing the leaves, and thus one of the chief objects I had in view in coming to China, after many delays and difficulties, had been successfully accomplished.
Mr. Brooke Robertson, Her Majesty's Consul at Shanghae, had also been unceasing in his efforts to assist me in procuring manufacturers for the Indian plantations. Through his influence nine men, natives of the province of Kiangse, were now induced to engage themselves to go to India. The tea districts in this province, which border the Poyang lake, have risen into great importance within the last fifty years. Moning and Ningchow1 teas are all produced in this part of the country, and are largely exported to Europe and America.
During the days of the East India Company's Charter all the best black teas were produced in the province of Fokien. The towns of Tsin-tsun and Tsong-gan in the vicinity of the far-famed Woo-e hills were then the chief marts for the best black teas exported by the Company. At that period the districts about Ning-chow, in the Kiangse province, were known only for their green teas. Now, however, and for many years past, although the Fokien black teas are, and have been, largely exported, those produced in the Ning-chow districts have risen in public estimation, and, I believe, generally fetch very high prices in the English market.
If there is any one now who still clings to the old idea that green teas can be made only from the plant called Thea virides, and black ones only from Thea bohea, he will find a difficulty in giving credit to the account I have to give of the manner in which the Ning-chow districts have changed their green teas into black. But, however difficult it may be to get rid of early prejudices, "facts are stubborn things," and the truth of what I have to state may be fully relied upon.
Many years ago a spirited Chinese merchant who, no doubt, saw well enough that black and green teas could be made easily enough from the same plant, had a crop of black teas made in the Ning-chow district and brought to Canton for sale. This tea was highly approved of by the foreign merchants at that port, and was bought, I believe, by the great house of Messrs. Dent and Company, and sent to England. When it got home it found a ready sale in the market, and at once established itself as a black tea of the first class. Year by year after this the demand for this tea steadily increased and was as regularly supplied by the Chinese. At the present time the Ning-chow districts produce black teas only, while in former days they produced only green. If proof were wanting, this would appear sufficient to show that black or green teas can be made from any variety of the tea plant, and that the change of colour in the manufactured article depends entirely upon the mode of manipulation.2
From the high character these Ning-chow teas had acquired in foreign markets I was well-pleased in being able to engage the services of manufacturers from that district. An engagement was drawn up in English and Chinese by Mr. Sinclair, interpreter to the Consulate, which was signed by the men and by myself; an advance of one hundred dollars was given to each man for the support of their families during their absence, and they were desired to hold themselves in readiness to sail by the first steamer. An old mandarin with a white button, a native of Kiangse, and head of the Kiangse hong in Shanghae, attended with the men at the Consulate, and became security for them at the time that each man received his advance of wages.
The steamer destined to convey these inland Chinamen from the shores of their native land was advertised to sail on the 10th of August 1855. I had given them timely notice of this, and desired them to meet me in front of Mr. Beale's house, at least two hours before the hour appointed for sailing, for I knew well how Chinese procrastinate, and anticipated some difficulty in getting them all on board in time. It was some time after the appointed hour before any of them made their appearance, and I began to fear they would draw back and object to embark at the last moment, even after they had had a liberal advance of wages and after their passage-money to Hongkong had been paid. At last, however, all except one made their appearance with their beds, trunks, and many other necessaries which they supposed would be required on the voyage. The old white-buttoned mandarin who had become security for them, accompanied them to see them safely away, and very anxious he seemed to be to get them off, and thus get rid of the responsibility which he had taken upon his shoulders, and for which he, no doubt, took care to be well paid.
But now another difficulty presented itself in the shape of a creditor who came down and seized one of the men for debt. In the noise which accompanied and succeeded this seizure it was quite impossible to understand the nature of the case, and to interfere in the matter would only have made things worse. There was nothing to be done except to wait as patiently as possible and allow the contending parties to settle the matter themselves. The business was arranged in some way at last, and as a boat was alongside the jetty, we got them into it and sculled off to the steamer, which was lying in the middle of the river with her steam up and ready for sea.
As the ninth man did not make his appearance, I told the old mandarin with the white button that he would have to return me the hundred dollars I had advanced and the amount of the man's passage-money, should it not be refunded by the agents of the Peninsular and Oriental Company. This he acknowledged was perfectly just, but at this moment another man came on board and offered to go as a substitute for the runaway. On inquiry I ascertained this man was also a black-tea maker from Kiangse, and as all the others affirmed him to be a first-rate workman, I consented to accept him in lieu of the other. By the time we had concluded this arrangement the vessel's anchor was at the bows, and we steamed away rapidly down the river and out to sea.
My difficulties, in so far as these men were concerned, were now over, and I was heartily glad that my efforts had thus been crowned with complete success. As all these men were from a district several hundred miles inland, and had never been to sea in their lives, I was most anxious that nothing should happen to make them disgusted with the voyage, and took measures to have them kindly treated while at sea. When we reached Hongkong, Mr. Pereira, of Messrs. Dent and Company, was good enough to get his compradore to give them quarters and feed them until an opportunity arrived of sending them on to India.
In a few days the two sets of men — those from Fokien as well as those from Kiangse — were shipped in the steamer "Chusan" for Calcutta, and, after having numerous adventures, which they related to me afterwards with great glee, they all arrived in safety and good health at their destination in the Himalayas.
It was now necessary for me to return once more to the north, in order to settle my accounts with the Chinese in various parts of the tea districts, and to inform them that I would not require their assistance any longer in making collections of seeds and plants. On our way up the coast, when a few miles south of the Chusan islands, we fell in with Her Majesty's brig "Bittern," Captain Vansittart, at this time busily employed in putting down the hordes of pirates that infested the whole line of coast from Hongkong to the Gulf of Peeche-lee. A stoppage had almost been put to the native coasting trade by these marauders, and foreign vessels had also been attacked on various occasions. A few weeks before the Rev. Mr. Russell, of the Church Missionary Society at Ningpo, and some other friends, were plundered on their way from that place to the island of Poo-to. While at anchor at a place called Sing-kei-mun, on the south-east end of Chusan, waiting for the tide, their boat was attacked by a number of armed men, and stripped of everything of the slightest value; some of their clothes even were taken away from them. It was useless to resist a force of this kind, and no resistance was offered.
These Chinese pirates when unresisted are not generally cruel or bloodthirsty. In some instances they are extremely polite, and even kind, and quite rival our highwaymen of Hampstead Heath and Hounslow in bygone times. In the present instance they expressed great delight with Mr. Russell's watch, which, they said, would be highly appreciated by their commodore. In the course of the evening one of them brought it back, not for the purpose of returning it to the owner, but to take lessons from him in winding it up! Having kept the missionaries close prisoners all night, they put them into a small boat next morning and sent them away; but before this a box of tea was sent to them as a present from the leader of the band! For all this kindness and politeness a heavy recompense was awaiting them.
It soon became known that the rendezvous of the pirate fleet was at a place called Shie-poo, a few miles south from Chusan; and in this place the "Bittern" found them a few days after the robbery of the missionaries. The brig was accompanied by the steamer "Paou-shan," a vessel bought by some Chinese merchants for the protection of their junks a short time before. The pirates, who had watches on every headland, and runners all along the coast, were fully aware of the intentions of our men-of-war. But they had upwards of twenty vessels, all heavily manned and armed, and, as the entrance to the bay in which they were at anchor was extremely narrow, it appeared to them impossible for a vessel like the "Bittern" to attack them with the slightest chance of success. Their own authorities on shore were treated with supreme contempt, and the people in the towns and villages adjoining were told of the fate which awaited the foreign ship of war, should her commander be foolhardy enough to make an attack upon them. And certainly, looking at the number and size of their junks, their heavy armament, and the position they occupied, there seemed little chance for a ten-gun brig. The first broadside from the junks, properly directed, would have disabled or sunk her and rendered all future efforts of her crew of no avail. But Captain Vansittart and his brave officers and crew were not alarmed by the apparent strength of the enemy. With consummate skill the "Bittern" was towed by the steamer into position, and so near the junks that the shower of shot with which she was received mostly passed over her hull and through her rigging. The steamer after performing this service was directed to fall back out of range, in order to be ready for any emergency which might happen.
It was now the "Bittern's" turn, and her first broadside must have astonished the pirates. Every shot told upon the unfortunate fleet with fearful precision; junk after junk was disabled or sunk; the men panic-stricken rushed into the water or to their boats and fled to the shore, and hundreds were killed on board or drowned in an attempt to escape. In a very short space of time there was scarcely a junk in all the fleet — apparently so powerful and confident a few hours before — but what was sunk or disabled.
Every hill and headland on the shore, from which a view of the action could be had, was crowded with people, who must have been surprised with the extraordinary results which they witnessed. Some of these persons were no doubt pirates themselves or friends of those who were on board of the fleet, which had just been dispersed, but the greater part were respectable inhabitants who were thankful their coasts had thus been rid of a most intolerable nuisance.
About two or three hundred of the pirates who had escaped to the shore kept together for their safety and protection. Had they not done so the authorities and people would soon have fallen upon them and destroyed them. These infatuated men fled to an enclosed piece of ground on the side of a hill, and dragging up some guns with them endeavoured to place them in position for their defence.
When the mandarin on shore saw the turn things had taken he pretended to be greatly alarmed, and informed Captain Vansittart that in so far as he, the mandarin, was concerned matters were now worse than before. "For," said he, "the pirates were then at sea, and would have left us in a short time, but now you have driven them on shore where they will commit all kinds of atrocities, and I am unable to control them." But it was not the intention of the English commander to leave things in this state. As soon, therefore, as the piratical fleet had been taken, orders were given to land a sufficient number of men to attack the stronghold on shore.
The Chinese do not understand the art of war — either at sea or on shore. They like what they call fair fighting, that is, for the attacking party to come manfully up in front and receive a broadside from guns which are all ready loaded to receive them. Before Chusan was taken the second time, during the last year, the Chinese had a strong battery thrown up, which commanded the whole of the harbour. They naturally thought that our ships would come quietly into this place, one by one, and be sunk without much resistance. But the commanders of the expedition did not view things in this light, and, although brave enough, did not see the necessity of exposing the lives of their men unnecessarily. Orders were, therefore, given to land the troops in a bay to the westward and march them over a hill there, which thus brought them in the rear of the enemy instead of in his front. The immense battery of the Chinese was thus rendered useless, and the troops behind it were thrown into confusion at once, and fled from the field. In aftertimes, when we were at peace with China, the natives used often to tell me about this manoeuvre; and although they laughed heartily at it, yet they shook their heads, and said it was not fair to fight in that way.
The Shiepoo pirates, as ignorant of the art of war as the Chusan mandarins, appear to have expected that the crew of the "Bittern" would be foolish enough to attack them in front, and placed all their guns accordingly. As soon as this arrangement was observed orders were given to avoid attacking in front. The men therefore scrambled up the hill-side, and thus were enabled to gain a position where the guns of the pirates could not be brought to bear upon them. This manoeuvre was perfectly successful, the pirates fled from their stronghold in confusion, many of them were shot by our seamen and marines, while those who escaped from them were captured by the natives and the mandarins. And thus ended one of the boldest and best-managed expeditions against pirates on the Chinese coast. In an attack of this kind it could scarcely be expected that the "Bittern" could come out without some disaster. The master, an excellent officer, was killed while on the bridge of the steamer engaged in towing the. brig into position, and three of the crew who were working a gun were severely wounded by a shot which had been better aimed than the rest, and struck the bulwarks.
In coming up the coast in one of the Peninsular and Oriental Company's steamers we met the "Bittern" with the steamer "Paou-shun" and a captured junk coming out of the Shiepoo Bay. The brig hoisted signals, and inquired whether we would take the wounded men on board and convey them to Shanghae, to which we were bound direct. Captain Jamieson, the master of the steamer, readily agreed to do what he was requested by Captain Vansittart; the poor fellows were brought on board in charge of Dr. Gordon, the surgeon of the brig, and we conveyed them tenderly and safely to our destination.
But little more of this story remains to be told. The Ningpo missionaries got back their boat and a portion of the property which had been stolen from them by the pirates. The guild of Chinese merchants at that place — to their honour be it recorded — subscribed a handsome sum for the support of the relatives of the master of the "Bittern" who fell in action, as well as for those who had been wounded.
Nor were the English merchants behind their Chinese
brethren in showing how highly they appreciated the conduct of Captain Vansittart
on this occasion. A handsome subscription was raised to be presented to him in
the manner most agreeable to his feelings. The generous-hearted sailor,
although he appreciated highly the kindness thus shown to him, wanted nothing
for himself, but suggested that the sum might be expended in the erection of an
ornamental stained-glass window in the church of his native village.
1 Names of districts well known to merchants engaged in the tea trade with China.
2 A full description of this will he found in my 'Journey to the Tea Countries,' to which I beg to refer those interested in the matter.