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A Journey to the Tea Countries of China
Arrive at Hong-kong — Excitement on the arrival of the mail — Centipede boats — Bay of Hong-kong by moonlight — Town of Victoria — Its trees and gardens — Mortality amongst the troops — Its cause — A remedy suggested — Sail for Shanghae — Its importance as a place of trade — New English town and shipping — The gardens of the foreign residents.
ON the 14th of August, 1848, the Peninsular and Oriental Company's steam-ship "Braganza," in which I was a passenger, dropped her anchor in the Bay of Hong-kong, at nine o'clock in the evening. In a few seconds our decks were crowded with the inhabitants of the place, all anxious to meet their friends, or to hear the news from home. As I did not intend to go on shore until the following morning, I had sufficient leisure to survey the busy and exciting scene around me.
Amongst the numerous boats which came off to us there were two which presented a most striking appearance. They were very long and narrow, and were each propelled by about fifty oars. They had been built by the English and American merchants to convey the news to Canton on the arrival of the mail. The moment these boats received their despatches they started on their journey, and, as they belonged to opposition parties, each did its best to outstrip the other; and, as it was often a matter of considerable importance to get the earliest news, a large sum of money was distributed amongst the crew of the winning boat.
The boatmen made a great noise; Chinamen like, all were talking, all were giving orders, for each had a stake in the winning of the race. At last the papers, letters, or whatever they had to take, were put on board, and off they started across the bay for the mouth of the Canton or "Pearl" river. They ploughed the water like two enormous centipedes, and, although they were going very fast, they were visible for some time in the clear moonlight. I watched them from the deck of the steamer until they were lost in the distance, but even then and for some time afterwards I could hear distinctly the quick splash of the oars and the noise of the boisterous crews. Steam has now invaded the quiet waters of the Pearl river, and these boats are numbered amongst the things that were.
The noise and excitement connected with the arrival of the mail gradually subsided; those of our visitors who had been lucky enough to get hold of a 'Straits Times,' 'Home News,' or 'Times,' returned on shore to peruse it, while others hastened home to communicate to their friends the news they had been able to pick up from the officers or passengers of the ship. By eleven o'clock at night all was perfectly quiet. Captain Potts and myself had our chairs taken up on deck, and we sat down to breathe the cool air and enjoy the scene by which we were surrounded.
It was a clear moonlight night; such a night as one sees only in the sunny lands of the East. Those who have anchored in the Bay of Hong-kong by moonlight will agree with me that the scene at such a time is one of the grandest and most beautiful which can be imagined. On this evening the landlocked bay was smooth as glass, scarcely a breath of air fanned the water, and as the clear moonbeams played upon its surface it seemed covered with glittering gems. Numerous vessels, from all parts of the world, lay dotted around us, their dark hulls and tall masts looming large in the distance. The view was bounded on all sides by rugged and barren hills, and it required no great stretch of fancy to imagine oneself on a highland lake.
The white town of Victoria was distinctly visible from where we lay, and very pretty it appeared in the moonlight. It is built along the southern shores of the bay, and in some places extends a considerable way up the side of the hill. The background of the picture consisted of a chain of rugged mountains, which are nearly two thousand feet above the level of the sea. Altogether the view was a charming one.
When I went on shore the following morning I found a great change had taken place since 1845; many parts of the town, then bare, were now densely covered with houses. Our merchant-princes had built themselves houses not inferior to those in the far-famed "City of Palaces;" and the barracks for the troops were equally handsome and expensive, although unfortunately not equally healthy. And, last of all, a pretty English church was rising slowly on the hill side.
An interest in gardening and planting had sprung up which promises to lead to most satisfactory results. When I was formerly in Hong-kong every one complained of the barren appearance of the island, and of the intense heat and glare of the sun. Officers in the army, and others who had been many years in the hotter parts of India, all agreed that there was a fierceness and oppressiveness in the sun's rays here which they had never experienced in any other part of the world. From 1843 to 1845 the mortality was very great; whole regiments were nearly swept away, and many of the Government officers and merchants shared the same fate. Various opinions were expressed regarding the cause which produced these great disasters; some said one thing and some another; almost all seemed to think that imperfect drainage had something to do with it, and a hue and cry was set up to have the island properly drained. But the island is a chain of mountains; there is very little flat ground anywhere upon it, and hence the water which flows from the sides of the hills gushes rapidly down towards the sea. Imperfect drainage, therefore, could have very little to do with its unhealthiness.
I have always thought that, although various causes may operate to render Hong-kong unhealthy, yet one of the principal reasons is the absence of trees and of the shade which they afford. In a communication which I had the honour to make to the Government here in 1844 I pointed out this circumstance, and strongly recommended them to preserve the wood then growing upon the island from the Chinese, who were in the habit of cutting it down annually, and at the same time to plant extensively, particularly on the sides of the roads and on the lower hills. I am happy to say that these recommendations have been carried out to a certain extent, although not so fully as I had wished. It is well known that a healthy vegetation, such as shrubs and trees, decomposes the carbonic acid of the atmosphere, and renders it fit for respiration; besides which there is a softness and coolness about trees, particularly in a hot climate, that is always agreeable.
Many of the inhabitants have taken up the matter with great spirit, and have planted all the ground near their houses. Some of them have really beautiful gardens. I may instance those of His Excellency the Governor at "Spring Gardens," of Messrs. Dent and Co. at "Green Bank," and of Messrs. Jardine and Matheson at "East Point." In order to give some idea of a Hong-kong garden I shall attempt to describe Messrs. Dent's, which was then in the possession and under the fostering care of Mr. Braine: —
This garden is situated on the sloping sides of a valley near the bottom of one of the numerous ravines which are seen on the sides of the Hong-kong hills. It is near the centre of the new town of Victoria, and is one of its greatest ornaments. On one side nothing is seen but rugged mountains and barren hills, but here the eye rests upon a rich and luxuriant vegetation, the beauty of which is greatly enhanced by the contrast.
Every one interested in Chinese plants has heard of the garden of the late Mr. Beale at Macao, a friend of Mr. Reeves, and like him an ardent botanical collector. Nearly the whole of the English residents left Macao and went to Hong-kong when that island was ceded to England, and all the plants in Mr. Beale's garden which could be moved with safety were brought over in 1845 and planted in the garden at "Green Bank."
On entering the garden at its lower side there is a wide chunamed walk leading in a winding manner up the side of the hill, in the direction of the house. On each side of this walk are arranged the trees and shrubs indigenous to the country, as well as many of the fruits, all of which grow most luxuriantly. Ficus nitida, the Chinese banyan, grows on the right-hand side, and promises soon to form a beautiful tree. This is one of the most valuable trees for ornamental purposes met with in the south of China. It grows rapidly with but little care, its foliage is of a glossy green colour, and it soon affords an agreeable shade from the fierce rays of the sun, which renders it peculiarly valuable in a place like Hong-kong. The India-rubber tree (Ficus elastica) also succeeds well in the same part of the garden, but it grows much slower than the species just noticed. On the other side of the main walk I observed several specimens of the Indian "neem" tree (Melia Azedarach), which grows with great vigour, but is rather liable to have its branches broken by high winds, owing to the brittle nature of the wood. This defect renders it of less value than it otherwise would be, particularly in a place so liable to high winds and typhoons. This same Melia seems to be found all round the world in tropical and temperate latitudes; I believe it exists in South America, and I have seen it in Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt, Aden, Ceylon, the Straits, and in the south and north of China, at least as far north as the 31st degree of north latitude. Amongst other plants worthy of notice in this part of the garden are the Chinese cinnamon, the pretty Aglaia odorata, and Murraya exotica, both of which are very sweet scented and much cultivated by the Chinese. Two specimens of the cocoa-nut palm imported from the Straits are promising well. Other fruits — such as the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), the Chinese gooseberry (Averrhoa Carambola), the wangpee (Cookia punctata), and the longan and leechee — are all succeeding as well as could be expected, considering the short time they have been planted. The Pinus sinensis, which is met with on the sides of every barren hill, both in the south and north of China, and which is generally badly used by the natives, who lop off its under branches for fuel, is here growing as it ought to do. The Chinese have been prevented, not without some difficulty, from cutting off the under branches, and the tree now shows itself in its natural beauty. It does not seem to grow large, but in a young state, with its fine green foliage reaching to the ground, it is not unhandsome.
As the main walk approaches the terrace on which the house stands it turns to the right, between two rows of beautiful yellow bamboos. This species of bamboo is a very striking one, and well worthy of some attention in England; the stems are straight, of a fine yellow colour, and beautifully striped with green, as if done by the hand of a first-rate artist. I sent a plant of it to the Horticultural Society in 1844.
At the bottom of the terrace on which the house stands there is a long narrow bamboo avenue, which is called the "Orchid Walk." This always affords a cool retreat, even at mid-day, as the rays of the sun can only partially reach it, and then they are cooled by the dense foliage. Here are cultivated many of the Chinese orchids and other plants which require shade. Amongst them I observed Phaius grandifolius, Cymbidium sinense and aloifolium, Aerides odoratum, Vanda multiflora and teretifolia, Renanthera coccinea, Fernandezia ensifolia, Arundina sinensis, Habenaria SusannŠ, a species of Cypripedium, and Spathoglottis Fortuni. There are also some other plants, such as Chirita sinensis, the "man-neen-chung" (a dwarf species of Lycopodium, highly prized by the Chinese), and various other things which, taken all together, render this shaded "Orchid Walk" a spot of much interest.
Above the "Orchid Walk" is a green sloping bank, on which are growing some fine specimens of bamboos, Poinciana pulcherrima, myrtles, Gardenias, oleanders (which thrive admirably in China), Croton variegatum and pictum, Magnolia fuscata, Oka fragrans, DracŠna ferrea, and Buddlea Lindleyana. The latter was brought down from Chusan by me in 1844, and is now common in several gardens on the island, where it thrives well, and is almost always in bloom, although the flower-spikes are not so fine as they are in a colder climate. A large collection of plants in pots are arranged on each side of the broad terrace in front of the mansion. These consist of camellias, azaleas, roses, and such plants as are seen in the Fa-tee gardens at Canton; many of the pots are prettily painted in the Chinese style, and placed upon porcelain stands.
When it is remembered that six years before Hong-kong was but a barren island, with only a few huts upon it, inhabited by pirates or poor fishermen, it is surprising that in so short a time a large town should have risen upon the shores of the bay, containing many houses like palaces, and gardens, too, such as this, which enliven and beautify the whole, and add greatly to the recreation, comfort, and health of the inhabitants.
If we except the troops in the new barracks, the inhabitants generally — at least those who use common precaution — are now enjoying as good health as falls to the lot of our countrymen elsewhere in Eastern countries; but the state of the troops has been, until very lately, most melancholy and alarming. General D'Aguilar, when commander-in-chief in the colony, predicted the loss, in three years, of a number equal to the strength of one regiment, and his prediction has been almost verified. This sacrifice of human life is fearful to contemplate. The merchant may complain of the dulness of trade in the colony, the political economist may cry out about its expensiveness, but these matters sink into insignificance when compared with such loss of human life.
The question "Why do soldiers suffer more than other men?" naturally presents itself, and I humbly think it is not difficult to answer. They have not the same occupation for the mind as tradesmen, merchants, and others; of excitement they have little or none; day after day the same dull routine of duty has to be got through, and, in addition to this, they are often exposed to the night air. When some of them get an attack of fever, others who look on become nervous and predisposed to disease, and are soon laid up in hospital with their comrades. And add to all these things the effects of the Chinese spirit called "Samshoo," which drives men mad, and, as Captain Massie, of the "Cleopatra," so justly observed in the Supreme Court, "makes bad men of the best in the ship."
If these are the main causes of fever and death amongst the troops, it surely is not difficult to point out a remedy. The editor of the 'China Mail' justly remarks that "the climate was blamed for much that arose from a blind adherence to regulations as to diet, drill, discipline, and quarters, which, if tried on the civil community, would, in all probability, have produced similar disastrous effects." It is satisfactory to observe that now the system of treatment has been completely changed, and apparently with the most satisfactory results. The editor of the paper already quoted observes that General Jervois "has done much to improve the condition of the soldiers, by considering them as men, and not mere machines. They have more freedom, and, it is said, better food and more airy quarters. Something has been done also to relieve the ennui of idleness, by the introduction and encouragement of amusements."1 It is to be hoped that these measures will be crowned with entire success, and that the soldiers will soon be as healthy as the rest of the community.
Having nothing to detain me in Hong-kong, I took the earliest opportunity of going northwards to Shanghae. This town is the most northerly of the five ports at which foreigners are permitted to trade, and is situated nearly one thousand miles north-east from Hong-kong. In 1844 I published an account of it in the 'Athenaeum,' and in 1846 I described it more fully in my 'Wanderings.' In both these works I ventured to point it out as a place likely to become of great importance both to England and America as a port of trade easy of access from the sea. "Taking into consideration its proximity to the large towns of Hangchow, Souchow, and the ancient capital of Nanking; the large native trade; the convenience of inland transit by means of rivers and canals; the fact that teas can be brought here more readily than to Canton; and, lastly, viewing this place as an immense mart for our cotton manufactures, — there can be no doubt that in a few years it will not only rival Canton, but become a place of far greater importance."2
When these remarks were written the war had just been brought to a satisfactory termination, and the treaty of Nanking had been wrung from the Chinese. The first merchant-ship had entered the river, one or two English merchants had arrived, and we were living in wretched Chinese houses, eating with chop-sticks, half starved with cold, and sometimes drenched in bed with rain. When the weather happened to be frosty we not unfrequently found the floors of our rooms in the morning covered with snow. A great change has taken place since those days. I now found, myself (September, 1848), after having been in England for nearly three years, once more in a China boat sailing up the Shanghae river towards the city. The first object which met my view as I approached the town was a forest of masts, not of junks only, which had been so striking on former occasions, but of goodly foreign ships, chiefly from England and the United States of America. There were now twenty-six large vessels at anchor here, many of which had come loaded with the produce of our manufacturing districts, and were returning filled with silks and teas. But I was much more surprised with the appearance which the shore presented than with the shipping. I had heard that many English and American houses had been built, indeed one or two were being built before I left China; but a new town, of very considerable size, now occupied the place of wretched Chinese hovels, cotton-fields, and tombs. The Chinese were moving gradually backwards into the country, with their families, effects, and all that appertained unto them, reminding one of the aborigines of the West, with this important difference, that the Chinese generally left of their free will and were liberally remunerated for their property by the foreigners. Their chief care was to remove, with their other effects, the bodies of their deceased friends, which are commonly interred on private property near their houses. Hence it was no uncommon thing to meet several coffins being borne by coolies or friends to the westward. In many instances when the coffins were uncovered they were found totally decayed, and it was impossible to remove them. When this was the case, a Chinese might be seen holding a book in his hand, which contained a list of the bones, and directing others in their search after these the last remnants of mortality.
It is most amusing to see the groups of Chinese merchants who come from some distance inland on a visit to Shanghae. They wander about along the river side with wonder depicted in their countenances. The square-rigged vessels which crowd the river, the houses of the foreigners, their horses and their dogs, are all objects of wonder, even more so than the foreigners themselves. Mr. Beale, who has one of the finest houses here, has frequent applications from. respectable Chinese who are anxious to see the inside of an English dwelling. These applications are always complied with in the kindest manner, and the visitors depart highly delighted with the view. It is to be hoped that these peeps at our comforts and refinements may have a tendency to raise the "barbarian race" a step or two higher in the eyes of the "enlightened" Chinese.
A pretty English church forms one of the ornaments of the new town, and a small cemetery has been purchased from the Chinese; it is walled round, and has a little chapel in the centre. In the course of time we may perhaps take a lesson from the Chinese, and render this place a more pleasing object than it is at present. Were it properly laid out with good walks, and planted with weeping willows, cypresses, pines, and other trees of an ornamental and appropriate kind, it would tend to raise us in the eyes of a people who of all nations are most particular in their attention to the graves of the dead.
The gardens of the foreign residents in Shanghae are not unworthy of notice; they far excel those of the Chinese, both in the number of trees and shrubs which they contain, and also in the neat and tasteful manner in which they are laid out and arranged.
The late Mr. Hetherington3 was the first to attempt rearing vegetables on a large scale. He introduced asparagus, which now succeeds admirably at Shanghae, rhubarb, seakale, and all the vegetables common in English gardens. He also raised the strawberry from some seeds I sent him in 1846, and large quantities of this fine fruit were seen for the first time in Shanghae in the summer of 1850. The ground about the town is too low and wet for the growth of the potato, and hence no one has succeeded in rearing what would be called a good crop of this desirable vegetable. In the course of time, however, when the cultivation is attempted in the higher parts of the country, we may expect to get better potatoes here than at Macao, although the latter are usually most excellent.
The English consul, Mr. Alcock, has also a good vegetable garden on the grounds attached to the consulate. There is a noble plant of the Glycine sinensis in this garden, which flowers most profusely, and becomes covered with its long legumes, or pea-like fruit, which ripen to perfection.
The two most beautiful ornamental gardens are those of Mr. Beale and the Messrs. Mackenzie. Mr. Beale's house, a fine square building of two stories, is placed in the centre of the garden. In front is a fine grass lawn, which extends from the house to the boundary-wall near the river. Behind the house there is another lawn surrounded with a dwarf ornamental wall. A wide gravel walk, leading from the entrance to the back part of the garden, divides the house from the business part of the premises. This garden is rich in plants indigenous to China, and also contains many which have been introduced from other parts of the world. On entering the gate the first thing which strikes a botanist is a fine specimen of the new funereal cypress, nearly six feet high, and just beginning to show its beautiful weeping habit. This has been obtained from the interior, as it is not found in the neighbourhood of Shanghae. Mr. Beale intends to plant another on the opposite side of the gate, and, when the two grow up, a very striking and pretty effect will be produced. In the same border there are fine specimens of Weigela rosea, Forsythia viridissima, Chimonanthus, Moutans, Lagerstrœmias, roses, &c., and of nearly all the new plants sent home to the Horticultural Society from 1843 to 1846. In this part of the garden there is also a fine plant of the new Berberis japonica, lately obtained from the interior.
The American Magnolia grandiflora has been introduced here, and promises to be a very ornamental tree; its fine green leaves and noble flowers are much admired by the northern Chinese. Several plants of Cryptomeria japonica are succeeding admirably, and will soon be much more beautiful than any in this part of the country. The garden has been raised with a large quantity of fresh soil considerably above the level of the surrounding ground, so that all the family of the pines succeed much better than in those places where they are usually planted by the Chinese; besides, the latter generally spoil all the trees belonging to this family by lopping off the lower branches for firewood.
Large quantities of the Olea fragrans, the Qui Wha, are planted in different parts of the garden. These succeed much better here than in the south of China. In the autumn, when they are in bloom, the air is perfumed with the most delicious fragrance. Another most fragrant plant is the new Gardenia (G. Fortuniana), now common in English gardens, to which it was introduced by the Horticultural Society in 1845. In Mr. Beale's garden many of the bushes of this charming species are ten or twelve feet in circumference, and in the season are covered with fine double white flowers, as large as a camellia, and highly fragrant. Altogether this is a most interesting garden, and promises to be to Shanghae what the well-known garden of Mr. Beale's father was to Macao.
The Messrs. Mackenzie's garden here is also well worthy of notice. It resembles some of those attached to the neat suburban residences near London. The shrubs are arranged with great taste in groups and single specimens on the lawn, and consist of all the species and varieties common in this part of China. The collection of Azaleas is particularly fine. During the summer time, when these plants are in bloom, they are placed on a stage, and protected from the sun and rain. They flower in great profusion; the individual flowers are larger, and the colours are more brilliant, than they are in England. Here, too, are gorgeous specimens of the new Viburnums (V. plicatum and V. macrocephalum) sent to Chiswick in 1845. The first English apple-tree fruited in this garden about a year ago.
The gentlemen connected with the London Missionary Society have a village of their own about a quarter of a mile back from the English town. Each house has a good garden in front of it, full of interesting Chinese shrubs and trees. Dr. Lockhart has the finest collection.
These short statements are sufficient to show what has been done since the last war. Chinese plants have not only been introduced to Europe and America, to enliven and beautify our parks and gardens, but we have also enriched those of the Celestial Empire with the productions of the West. Nothing, I believe, can give the Chinese a higher idea of our civilisation and attainments than our love for flowers, or tend more to create a kindly feeling between us and them.
Before all these gardens could be stocked the demand for shrubs and trees was necessarily great, and varieties which in former days were comparatively rare about Shanghae have been brought down in boat-loads and sold at very low prices. Good young plants of Cryptomeria, three to four feet in height, are now sold for thirty cash each, about a penny of our money; a hundred fine bushy plants of the new Gardenia just noticed have frequently been bought for a dollar. It is amusing to see the boatloads of plants ranged along the river banks to tempt the eye of the English planter. They are chiefly brought from the large towns of Soo-chow and Hang-chow, the former fifty miles distant, and the latter about a hundred.
1 Overland China Mail, June, 1851.
2 Three Years' Wanderings in China.
3 Mr. Hetherington fell a victim to a fever of a very fatal kind which prevailed in the autumn of 1848. He was a true specimen of the old English gentleman, and was deeply regretted by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.