Letter

Scope and Content

From the Hankow Wesleyan Mission. Reference is made to H B R coming for tiffin.

Last week was simply dreadful and Emily feels that she is years older now that it is over. On Monday and Tuesday things seemed much more hopeful and on Wednesday morning there was high spirits over breakfast. The news was good with several places reported as going over to the rebels and they seemed to be holding their own in Hankow despite the 'superior advantages of the Imperialists'. H B R and Emily, who are particularly devoted to the rebel cause - at least they express their approval in more bloodthirsty terms, rejoiced together. After breakfast the others went out 'foraging' while Bell and Emily settled down to wind more bandages. They had barely begun when Dr Booth and H B R came in, looking as if they had received the worst possible news and this indeed proved to be the case. The Imperial forces had determined to take Hankow and had started to fire explosive shells right into the city. Fires were raging all over the place and it was estimated that the whole city would soon be ablaze. The Mission compound is at the far end of the native city and it was full of people - nearly sixty blind boys and girls in the Blind School, one hundred and fifty wounded and sick people in the Men's Hospital together with the staff. There were also several people in the Women's Hospital, four of the girl nurses whose homes are a considerable distance away, Miss Booth's adopted little girl commonly known as Judy, together with servants etc. There were also of course missionaries, teachers and all their respective families.

Dr Booth went at once to the Imperialist general who promised to cease firing for three hours while a party went to the compound and evacuated the residents. A launch was therefore acquired and H B R, Dr Booth and some other men volunteered to help. They had fifty Chinese Red Cross Ambulance men with them to carry stretcher cases to the river, which is about two minutes away. All went well until the launch turned into the Han River. There despite flying the Red Cross flag and despite all the guarantees they had been given, the vessel was fired upon from both sides. Still they continued and had almost reached the Wu Sheng Miao where the compound is situated, when the firing got very heavy. Moreover the raging fires had crossed the Han River and when they tried to get alongside the bank the vessel almost caught light. The Chinese were refusing to work the engines and with shells and bullets falling all around, they had no option but to turn back - the launch almost caught fast while they were turning. Dr Booth said that he and H B R would have been willing to go on, but that it was unfair to risk the lives of the crew and Red Cross personnel. Moreover there was a wall of flame between the rescue party and the compound. Emily will never forget seeing Booth upon his return - he was 'utterly broken down'. All the mission staff were upset although it was worse for the others because several of them had come from Wu Sheng Miao.

They watched the fire at intervals during the day. At about 4pm the wind parted the smoke a little and they were able through the binoculars to see the Red Cross flag waving on the top of the Men's Hospital. They were unable to see the buildings but felt more optimistic at the sight of the flag still flying. As night fell, the spectacle was awful. Hankow is a city of 800,000 people and fully two thirds of it was destroyed that night. For three miles there was an unbroken wall of flame, which was continually rising higher and higher. The fire hung like a huge red cloud over the city and was continually taking fresh shapes as new areas were consumed by the flames. There was a break in the fire just about where the compound is, so they are hopeful, although it would be incredible if the buildings escaped.

The fire died down a little towards morning and another rescue party set off at about 10am - this time by road. None of the women were allowed to go. It was with enormous relief, that the scholars from the Blind School came into sight at about 12 noon. They were soon followed by other people and for the rest of the day the house was in a state of pandemonium as they gradually got the new arrivals sorted. 'Of course, the men made all the arrangements, but we chipped in, & helped when we could'. Nora, Emily and Dr Booth took the Blind School pupils over to the [London Missionary Society] Hospital which is just by the British Concession. 'We made a weird procession, & Mr Clayton cannily led us along the Bund, where the foreigners do congregate. Nora & I were both hatless; I had on a pair of old slippers which slopped horribly, & my hair was untidy, & Nora's was worse...I was leading three blind girls by one hand, & had a huge bundle of bedding under the other arm, so you may imagine the picture I cut...'.

It was wonderful - only one old woman was missing from the compound and she is probably safe. The fire burned right up to the compound and had even caught the kitchens of Clayton's house, but there were no casualties and no other buildings were touched. On Friday another relief party went and collected rice and blankets etc. They had a rough return journey and were fired on, whether by accident or design is not known. In the end everyone got back safely.

Since then, there has not been a great deal of excitement. The Imperial forces have practically taken possession of Hankow although there are still rebel detachments hiding out in various places. There is a lot of rifle fire at night and last night the forts at Wuchang were shelling a large warehouse at the end of the Bund where a great many Imperial soldiers are settled. It had been hoped that the Imperials would be beaten. Stray shells are still hitting the Bund and several Chinese have been hit. It is a miracle that foreigners have escaped so far.

On Saturday they all went to the Imperial Post Office to help sort the mail. It was fun and most enjoyable. All the Chinese assistants had fled, so the foreigners who head the operation were glad of the help. Sunday was quiet. They went to the service at the American Church in the morning and the [London Missionary Society] chapel at night. She forgot to say that on Saturday, Nora made gingerbread and sticky toffee ready for November 5 [Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night celebrations].

Emily bought a black felt hat on Monday for winter wear. There are two drapers shops here and she was able to get a bargain - for China anyway. Sister trimmed it for her. The hat has black ribbon around it and a bow at the side - it is quite fashionable but is also very proper.

She stayed in bed on Tuesday as she felt rather under the weather, suffering from Neuralgia etc. She was more or less back to normal on Wednesday. She went with Bell in the morning to the old cemetery in the French Concession, where they visited the graves of David Hill and Margaret Bennett.

Yesterday was fairly exciting. The Imperial forces again announced their intention of bombarding Wuchang and placed their guns in position at the rear of the British Concession. In the event all that happened, was that there was heavy fire from Wuchang aimed at person or persons unknown. Their doors and windows were somewhat shaken.

All of Emily's possessions are in Wuchang - books, pictures and photographs etc. She does not really expect to see them again, but she has much to be thankful for so she must not grumble. At present it is impossible to get into the city, although H B R will try to rescue some of her more precious items such as photographs if he gets the chance.

While they were at tiffin yesterday, a man was shot just opposite the house. He was in a boat - Dr Booth went to his assistance and was able to get him to a hospital.

Emily is trying to get some studying done during the lull in the fighting. The rebels' cause looks hopeful and Yuan Shih Kiai is talking peace, but General Li is too wary to be taken in by empty promises. It would be splendid if the Revolution were to succeed and China at last gets decent government.

Notes

  • David Hill (1840-96) was born at York, the son of wealthy Methodist parents. He became a local preacher at an early age and trained at Richmond for the Wesleyan ministry. After ordination in 1864, he was appointed to the China Mission where he was to spend the rest of his life. Hill was a charismatic and much-loved figure. He spent much of his own wealth in supporting the Missionary Society and the example which he set, prompted many young men to volunteer for overseas service. In 1885 he became Chairman of the Wuchang District and six years later he was unanimously elected President of the Missionary Conference in Shanghai. Held in high esteem by all sections of the community, Hill was appointed by the British Consul to be his official deputy in connexion with the investigation of a fatal riot in 1891. A devoted ecumenist he worked closely with other Christian denominations and was particularly associated with the great Baptist missionary Timothy Richard. Hill was active in broadening Methodist activities in his district. Among his innovations were the Prayer Union Letter, an Old Peoples' Home, the Hankow Blind School and the Central China Lay Mission. He died of typhoid on April 18 1896 and was buried in Hankow. Source: Minutes of Conference 1896 and Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974) .

Note

Notes

  • David Hill (1840-96) was born at York, the son of wealthy Methodist parents. He became a local preacher at an early age and trained at Richmond for the Wesleyan ministry. After ordination in 1864, he was appointed to the China Mission where he was to spend the rest of his life. Hill was a charismatic and much-loved figure. He spent much of his own wealth in supporting the Missionary Society and the example which he set, prompted many young men to volunteer for overseas service. In 1885 he became Chairman of the Wuchang District and six years later he was unanimously elected President of the Missionary Conference in Shanghai. Held in high esteem by all sections of the community, Hill was appointed by the British Consul to be his official deputy in connexion with the investigation of a fatal riot in 1891. A devoted ecumenist he worked closely with other Christian denominations and was particularly associated with the great Baptist missionary Timothy Richard. Hill was active in broadening Methodist activities in his district. Among his innovations were the Prayer Union Letter, an Old Peoples' Home, the Hankow Blind School and the Central China Lay Mission. He died of typhoid on April 18 1896 and was buried in Hankow. Source: Minutes of Conference 1896 and Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974) .