Today we have released online a new collection of 184 photographs, the vast majority documenting events during the 1911 Xinhai Revolution in Wuhan. The album of photographs was shared with us by the family of former British consular official Stanley Wyatt-Smith (1887-1958). Some of these images will be familiar to readers of Hanchao Lu’s book The Birth of a Republic: Francis Stafford’s Photographs of China’s 1911 Revolution and Beyond (2010), but many are certainly new to us. Wyatt-Smith, like Stafford, bought or otherwise acquired photographs, although unlike the latter, he does not seem to have taken any.
Many of the images in the Stanley Wyatt-Smith collection are quite dramatic, and some, we should warn you, also show in gory detail the aftermath of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary violence. They were all mounted in a single large-format album, somewhat the worse for wear, but here they now are, and we are grateful to the family for sharing them with us. As always, we would be pleased to hear from you if you can help us better annotate these photographs.
Following a recent visit to the Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum in Winchester, Dr Andrew Hillier discusses the rich resources that are available in such museums and their importance to the study of imperial history.
There are well over one hundred small museums in Britain dedicated to displaying the history of individual army regiments. These contain rich sources of material relating to the country’s colonial past. But regimental history and how to display it can be problematic, given the tension between the mission of such institutions to uphold the honour of the regiment and critical perspectives on imperial history that contest the values it was committed to enforce.[i] The dichotomy is exemplified by the 67th (South Hants) Regiment of Foot, which spent four years in China in the early 1860s, first fighting the Qing government during the Second Opium War and then supporting it against the Taiping rebels, events which are recorded in both its excellent museum display and in Historical Photographs of China. How should these events be remembered so as to do justice to those who took part in them whilst at the same time recognising their unacceptable features? In order to answer that question, it is first necessary to explore how they were understood and recorded at the time. The purpose of this blog is to show what a rich resource such regimental archives can constitute for this purpose, and how important it is that they continue to be valued and made accessible at a time when some have already closed and others are at risk.[ii]
Despatched from India after the British had suffered ‘a stinging humiliating defeat’ at the Taku (Dagu) forts in June 1859, the 67th distinguished itself the following year, when, along with the 99th, it stormed the North Taku Fort on 21 August 1860, an engagement which quickly led to the fall of Tianjin and the end of the Second Opium War.[iii] Of the six Victoria Crosses won that day, four were awarded to the regiment – to Lieutenant Edmund Lenon, Lieutenant Nathaniel Burslem and Private Thomas Lane, who, having swum the 18 foot wide ditch, broached the walls under intense fire, and to Ensign John Chaplin who was the first to plant the colours at the top of the defences. Their heroic deeds form a major part of the museum display, being commemorated in photographs, medals and citations, together with pictures and an account of the attack (plate 1).
To give further context, the display has summaries of their subsequent careers, the misfortune, which dogged Lenon and Chaplin, being reflected in the history of their medals: both were pawned and only recovered through the goodwill of the regiment and others.[iv] Whilst the commentary is well-judged, some might question the lack of any explanation relating to items looted from the Summer Palace (Yuanming yuan) – two silver cups and, hanging nearby, a fine five-clawed imperial dragon embroidery, albeit there is a label somewhat blandly stating that it was ‘taken from the Summer Palace by Colonel Bell Kingsley’.[v]
The display includes copies of photographs taken by Felice Beato, the Italian war photographer, who had already made his name in the Crimea and the aftermath of the Indian Uprising. Famously insisting that the corpses not be removed until he had completed the exercise and, at times, even adjusting their position for effect, this was the first time that dead soldiers had been photographed on the battlefield. Whilst there are originals of some of Beato’s pictures in the museum archive, their provenance is uncertain. Those in HPC come from the album of Captain George Thomas Atchison of the 67th , who took part in the attack and who may well have purchased them before Beato left China in November 1861 (plates 2 and 3).[vi]
The display is supplemented by the regimental archives – a rich assortment of photograph albums, scrapbooks of press cuttings, which include lithographs of Beato’s pictures, and other memorabilia, journals and correspondence. The letters from Ensign Lorenzo Mosse to his mother are of particular interest as they describe the prelude to the attack – a 5-hour march, often knee-deep in mud, with corpses strewn along the way and bivouacking in the open – and then the attack itself – ‘the slaughter was tremendous, there were 29 [Chinese] dead round one gun’.
According to this account, Chaplin was somewhat fortunate to win his VC, as ‘this lucky youngster happened to be next to’ the ensign carrying the colours, seized them when the ensign was ‘knocked over’, and ‘with the leading men, made a rush for the top of the Cavalier [vii] and succeeded in planting the Union Jack [sic]’. For Mosse, who did not have a good word for the French, the important point was that Chaplin got there ‘before they could get up with the tricolour which is about the size of a pocket handkerchief’ and it was this that earned Chaplin his VC. However, this does him less than justice, as, according to the regimental historian, C. T. Atkinson, having planted the colours, ‘thrice-wounded, he still pressed on, men of the 67th crowding after him’.[viii] Recorded in a somewhat gaudy oil-painting (plate 4), this was a defining moment for the regiment, not only for its own history but also for a wider public, as the events were the subject of at least five published eye-witness accounts, the titles of which tell their own story.[ix]
Moving north, the regiment was stationed on the outskirts of Beijing, where it participated in the looting of the Summer Palace, and then, as the war drew to a close, it returned to Tianjin. In addition to the group photographs in plates 5 and 6, the museum also has an album containing thirteen sheets of cartes de visite portraits of members of the 67th. These will have been exchanged between officers and provide an early example of what became an extremely popular medium and a further rich source for the regiment’s history. [x]
In April, 1862, some nine officers and 320 men from the 67th were transferred to Shanghai where they linked with other British forces, charged with enforcing a 30 mile exclusion area around the city and assisting the Qing against the Taiping rebels, alongside what became known as the Ever Victorious Army.[xi] They were joined in August the following year, by a young ensign, John Eyles Blundell, recently arrived after a four month voyage from England. He had already begun writing his journal and compiling an album of photographs, which would cover his time in China and subsequent military service in Japan, Burma and Afghanistan. Whilst the journal does not refer to the pictures, the consistency of many of the images suggests that at least some were taken by him. If this is correct, he should be seen as a significant and, hitherto unrecognised, photographer of a regiment in empire. [xii]
On arrival, as he recounts, he had difficulty locating the officers’ quarters: ‘Given a Chinese guide, set forth – a “short-cut” follows through Chinatown – stinks- almost unendurable- narrow and crowded streets – Cholera is rampant’. The headquarters turned out to be ‘a Joss House’.[xiii] Here, some distance from the foreign settlements, he and his fellow officers spent the next twelve months, stationed amongst the Chinese whom the regiment was there to protect (plates 7 and 8).[xiv]
Although he was not engaged in any combat, Blundell witnessed the three months’ siege of Suzhou by combined forces under the command of General Charles ‘Chinese’ Gordon. On at least two occasions Gordon came to dinner with Blundell and, at the end of the evening, ‘had out his artillery and shelled and fired rockets into the city – it looked very jolly by night’. In December, 1863, Blundell witnessed the storming of the city – ‘lost a great many officers and men … The slaughter inside the city was fearful. Two officers of the 99th went in after the place was taken – got plenty of loot and many valuable silks etc.’[xv]
Five months later, he returned to explore Suzhou, examining the walls where the final assault had been made and then climbing the nine-storied pagoda. There were ‘splendid views of the surrounding country’ but on the ground it was less savoury: the landscape ‘devastated on all sides by the Rebels – hundreds of people in a state of starvation, and dead bodies all around’.[xvi] By 1864, the rebellion was nearing its end and, in July, the regiment received orders to embark for Japan. Three companies, the Artillery and some sappers boarded an American steamer, the Takiary, – it was ‘fearfully hot’ and they were ‘packed like herrings – all the baggage, men’s packs and guns piled on deck’.[xvii]
They left behind comrades who had died both in the fighting and from cholera, but these three years of the regiment’s history have gone largely unrecorded. [xviii] Perhaps, this was because they lacked glamour but also because of a feeling that, in assisting a country which the regiment had so recently been fighting, the glory of the Taku fort engagement might be diluted. Yet, defending Shanghai and the half million Chinese who had fled to the foreign settlements in the city for shelter, was an important phase in both the regiment’s and Britain’s imperial story. As well as seeing active service, officers and men had had to contend with extremely trying conditions and to experience the strangeness of a country that they described in their journals and in their letters to their families and friends at home. It is a story worth remembering, even if there were no comparable acts of valour.[xix]
If the Taku engagement became enshrined in regimental memory, for Lieutenant-Colonel Lenon, as he became, it held little comfort. Retiring in 1869, he then suffered heavy losses from speculating on the stock exchange in the 1870s. Forced to pawn his VC and dying in penury, he was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in an unmarked grave. However, family and regimental pride combined to ensure that the medal was recovered and that, in 2007, a suitable gravestone was laid on his burial plot (plate 10).[xx]
How this history will continue to be remembered, however, is an open question, given the fact that, in 1992, the Royal Hampshire Regiment, which included the former 67th, became part of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.
Whilst those transferring from the Royal Hants’ have continued to identify themselves with the old regiment, recruits to the Princess of Wales’ have no reason to do so. Inevitably, there is a risk that interest in its distinguished history may fade. Leasing a suite of rooms in the elegant Georgian building that used to be its Lower Barracks, the museum and archive are currently in safe hands but their long-term future is not guaranteed.[xxi] They constitute an invaluable source not only for those connected with the regiment but also, more widely, for anyone interested in Britain’s imperial past, whatever their political hue. The importance of such records, some of which have already ceased to be readily available, needs to be recognised. As a move towards making them more accessible, the museum has kindly agreed to permit the Historical Photographs of China project to digitise its China campaign photographs. With these sort of collaborative initiatives, there is plenty of cause for optimism in the future of these museums.
[i] Cf. John M. Mackenzie, Museums and Empire: Natural History, Human Cultures and Colonial Identities (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009), p. 13.
[ii] During my visit to the museum, I was greatly assisted by Lt Col. Colin Bulleid, Secretary of the Royal Hampshire Regiment Trust, who, despite a busy schedule, guided me through the archives and answered my many queries. For the museum web-site, see www.royalhampshireregiment.org.
[iii] Robert Bickers, The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914 (London: Allen Lane, 2011), pp.141-150 and James Hevia, English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-century China (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003), pp. 31-48.
[iv] The display includes Lenon’s pawn-ticket showing he received 10 shillings in return. An original Victoria Cross today fetches well over £100,000. The originals are safe under lock and key and only replicas are shown.
[v] For the looting of the Summer Palace, see Hevia, English Lessons, pp. 74-102; for similar instances of China loot being displayed in regimental museums, see P. Bruce, ‘Relics of Hong Kong and China in British Army and Regimental Museums’, Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1 January 1983, Vol.23, pp.196-201 and Katrina Hill, ‘Collecting on Campaign: British Soldiers in China during the Opium Wars, Journal of Historical Collections (2013) 25 (2): 227-252.
[vi] For a description and the definitive catalogue of Beato’s work in China, see David Harris, Of Battle and Beauty: Felice Beato’s Photographs of China (Santa Barbara, CA: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1999), pp.24-34.
[vii] A military term for the top of a fortification.
[viii] Letters, Lorenzo W. Mosse to his mother, 6, 17 and 25 August 1860 (M1776); see also C.T. Atkinson, Regimental History: The Royal Hampshire Regiment (Robert Maclehose & Company Limited, University Press, Glasgow, 1950), pp.309-313 and http://www.royalhampshireregiment.org/about-the-museum/timeline/67th-regt-assault-taku-forts-china/, accessed March 2017.
[ix] J.H. Dunne, From Calcutta to Pekin: being notes taken from the journal of an officer between those places (London: S. Low, 1861), re-published by the Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum, Salisbury, (2002 and 2011), Robert Swinhoe, Narrative of the North China Campaign of 1860; containing personal experiences of Chinese character, and of the moral and social condition of the country etc. (London, Smith Elder and co. 1861), G.J. Wolseley, Narrative of the war with China in 1860 (London: Longman, Green and Roberts, 1862), David Field Rennie, The British Arms in North China and Japan: Peking 1860; Kagoshima 1862 (London: John Murray, 1864). They also differ as to what colurs Chaplin did plant. Captain Dunne, 99th, in his account, asserts that he, Dunne, was the first to plant the Union Jack, pp.38-39. According to the museum web-site, it was the Queen’s Colour which Chaplin planted.
[x] Wellesley Thomas album (M1503).
[xi] Bickers, Scramble for China, pp. 178-179.
[xii] For other examples of photographs taken by military personnel during the war, principally around Canton, see the National Army Museum Collection (1964-10-121).
[xiii] The term used for a Confucian temple, joss meaning a Chinese god or idol.
[xiv] Ensign John Eyles Blundell, HM’s 67th Regiment, Part 1, January 1863- July 1864, entry, 21 August 1863. This is a semi- verbatim transcript of the manuscript original (M2788).
[xv] Blundell, entries, 28 September and 9 -10 December, 1863.
[xvi] Blundell, entry, 29 May 1864.
[xvii] Blundell, entry, 22 July 1864.
[xviii] They are briefly mentioned by Atkinson in his Regimental History, pp.316-318 but not by Alan Wykes, The Royal Hampshire Regiment(37/67th Regiments of Foot) (London: Hamilton, 1968), cf. pp. 75-82.
[xix] I will discuss the memorialisation of those who died in China in a future blog.
[xx] A presentation booklet was prepared for the occasion (M3929).
[xxi] The premises are currently leased from Hampshire County Council who, I understand, are very keen to support the museum’s future.
Dr Gregory Adam Scott is currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, and from September 2017 will take up the post of Lecturer in Chinese Cultural History at the University of Manchester.
For the most part, Western visitors to China in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries regarded Chinese temples, monasteries, shrines, and other religious spaces with a mix of fascination and horror. [i]
Fascination stemmed from the fact that these spaces were often ornately decorated and situated in majestic landscapes, the power of which was palpable and unmediated by barriers or language or culture. Horror was produced because the depiction of deities in a concrete form, especially when the observer was largely ignorant of their identity and symbolism, was extremely alien to the religious sensibilities of many foreign visitors. In spite of this, the photographic and textual archive that they helped create is filled with depictions of Chinese religion. Until quite recently, these types of sites were only rarely photographed, and thus any photograph of a Chinese sacred site from this period is of great value to historians interested in the layout, construction, and artistry of these spaces. Mission archives have proved to be especially rich in this regard, likely because missionaries were professionally interested in religion, and thus paid particular attention to Chinese Buddhism, Daoism, popular religions, and so on.
The Historical Photographs of China collections include images of temple grounds, religious structures, religious images, and religious professionals. The religious spaces depicted therein range from temples for Imperial sacrifice to Buddhist monasteries, from ancestral shrines to a temple converted into a church, and reflect the great range of religious diversity in China, as true today as it was in the period of the photographic record. [ii]
Of the numerous images in the collections that depict Chinese religious spaces, a few in particular stand out:
The Hall of the Four Heavenly Kings at Tien-dong (Heavenly Child Temple), near Ningpo
The founding of Tiantong Monastery 天童寺 near Ningbo 寧波 dates back to as early as the fourth century CE, but it was completely destroyed as a result of fighting during the Taiping Civil War (1850 – 1864). This photograph depicts the hall of the Four Heavenly Kings (sida tianwang 四大天王), a building normally located just inside the main gate of a Chinese Buddhist monastery, in front of the main Dharma hall. If the date range of this image is accurate (ca. 1870), it depicts the first generation of reconstruction following the Taiping war. Since the temple was again destroyed by fire and reconstructed in the early 1930s, it provides a glimpse of the monastery’s history not visible today.
Qiniandian, Temple of Heaven, Peking
Qiniandian, Temple of Heaven, Peking
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qinian dian 祈年殿) is one of the most striking, and likely one of the most photographed, structures in the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. At the time of this photograph (1911-1912) the ceremonies normally conducted there by the Emperor would have been suspended due to the Republican Revolution, and the site was briefly open to the public until the short-lived attempt by Yuan Shikai to assume the imperial role. The overgrown grounds are testiment to its having been briefly abandoned as a ritual site.
Lingyin Temple, Hangchow
Like Tiantong Temple, Lingyin Monastery 靈隱寺 in Hangzhou 杭州 was destroyed during the Taiping Civil War. It was not rebuilt until the final decades of the Qing, and the main hall, pictured here, would have just recently been completed when this photograph was taken in 1911. The timbers used to rebuild the temple were imported from America and had originally been intended for use in repairing the Summer Palace near Beijing. These buildings were later damaged during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), and further reconstruction work occurred in the 1950s under the new People’s Republic of China.
Large bell on the site of a temple
While the location of this photograph is not identified, I find it striking as a depiction of the aftermath of the destruction of a sacred site. Thousands of such sites were threatened with destruction in the late Qing and early Republican eras, as a result of warfare, natural disaster, or even anti-religious campaigns. The wood and tiles of this particular religious institution have long since disappeared, leaving only this freestanding bronze bell as evidence that a sacred site used to stand here.
Monks at Silver Island Temple, Ching-Kiang
Jiaoshan 焦山 in Zhenjiang 鎮江, known as “Silver Island” in English-language sources, was one of three important Buddhist mountain sites in Zhenjiang, the others being Beigu shan 北固山 and Jinshan 金山 or “Golden Island.” While the temples on Jinshan were destroyed several times during the Opium War and the Taiping Civil War, Jiaoshan largely escaped damage. According to one account, the Buddhist monk Liaochan 了禪 and his disciple Wuchun 悟春 steadfastly refused to leave Jiaoshan even when Taiping forces approached. Their bravery so impressed the Taiping military leader that Jiaoshan was spared the destruction of its monasteries. [iii]
Pagoda, Longxing temple, near Chengdu, Sichuan
This temple, located in Pengzhou, Sichuan, dates back to the fourth century. The stone stupa pictured here in ca. 1905-1915 had evidently been badly damaged for some time, but present-day photographs show that it has since been repaired. The contrast between the bustling, blurry crowd of people, who seem to only be barely held back from the photographer’s line of sight, and the ancient stone structure make this image quite striking.
Group on Temple Steps
This photograph, perhaps taken around 1910, is an especially evocative depiction of one important aspect of the relationship between Western visitors and Chinese sacred spaces during this period. A group of five men, who were likely members of the Shanghai Municipal Police force based on the collection of which is image is a part, sit or lie supine on the stone steps of a temple building. A Buddhist religious image has been brought out onto the edge of the top step, and the Stetson-style hat belonging to one of the men has been placed on its head. Most of the men are smiling, and a camera and a bag can be seen.
On the face of it, this image depicts an extremely irreverent act on the part of visitors to the temple, one that the men clearly believe has made for an amusing souvenir photograph. It reflects the widespread lack of respect for local customs that caused a great deal of social friction during the Western presence in China. We do not, however, know what role the temple caretakers played in staging this photograph. Perhaps they agreed to help the tourists to set up this image in exchange for a donation, or were happy to help the odd request of visitors in order to be hospitable. Foreign groups regularly arranged with temples to hold events such as picnics or retreats there, and foreign visitors were welcomed at many temples under the same terms as lay Chinese visitors. [iv]
I do not wish to downplay the serious lack of respect for local religion evidenced in this photograph; indeed this image would be an excellent example to use in a classroom discussion about issues of power, representation, and intercultural (mis)understandings in modern China. Another photograph (HR01-069) from the early 1910s, “Idols inside temple, Canton”, depicts two ‘idols’ in a temple in Guangzhou, and the temple wall behind them is covered with Latin-character graffiti. Yet we will likely never know the whole story behind the creation of this image, and it is important to remember that Westerners were often welcomed as visitors to Chinese sacred spaces, and normally conducted themselves somewhat better than is depicted here.
[i] Gregory Adam Scott, “The Dharma Through a Glass Darkly: On the Study of Modern Chinese Buddhism through Protestant Missionary Sources 彷彿對著鏡子觀看的佛法：藉由基督教傳教士的史料研究現代中國佛教,” Shengyan yanjiu 聖嚴研究 (Sheng Yen Studies), Vol. 2 (July, 2011): 47-73.
[ii] See the 2014 Pew Research Center on religious diversity around the world: http://www.pewforum.org/2014/04/04/global-religious-diversity/
[iii] Jiang Weiqiao 蔣維喬, Zhongguo Fojiao shi 中國佛教史 (Shanghai: The Commercial Press, 1933), fasc. 4, p. 38a.
[iv] See for example the account of a visit to Tiantong Temple in the 1840s or 1850s in W. Tyrone Power, Recollections of a Three Years’ Residence in China (London: R. Bentley, 1853), chapter 25.