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"Entrance into the City of Amoy" by Thomas Allom

Commentary by G.H. Wright

The sterility of the coast and country, in this part of Fo-kien, obliging the inhabitants to have recourse to commerce for subsistence and employment, they very early and very wisely selected the port and the Isle of Amoy as a site for its asylum. Here is a vast natural basin, where a thousand vessels may ride in safety, sheltered, by an intervening island, from the prevalent winds, and in water deep enough to float the largest ships. The excellence of this land-locked harbour soon brought hither the shipping of Siam and Cochin-China, and the English had a factory here, until the narrow policy of the empire obliged them to remove to Canton; in fact, it was then the centre of Chinese maritime interests. Being now a free port, with a good harbour, and the inhabitants of necessity mariners, foreign trade revived more rapidly here than even at Ning-po, although the communication with the interior of China from the latter is so easy as to become a great auxiliary to expanding trade. Public buildings are numerous and spacious, but inelegant; few city embellishments are in progress, and enterprise and commercial spirit seem to have been completely checked by the prohibition against all foreign intercourse and the removal of the British factory.

Entrance into the City of Amoy (Xiamen, Fujian)

The great gate of Amoy is rather massive than magnificent; the dragon constitutes the most prominent part of its sculptured ornaments; sentences from the ethics of Confucius, the most valuable. A boat-shaped finial that crowns the summit, supports two fish, emblems more rational and appropriate than the national symbol, because the deepwater fishery off this coast, in the channel of Formosa, is amazingly productive, and the whole population of Amoy may be deemed maritime. A garrison, cannon-foundry, and dock-yard, have been maintained here for many years; and, when our fleet appeared in the noble harbour of Emouy or Amoy, in 1841, they found the place strongly fortified, and defended by a considerable Tartar force.

On the 25th of August 1841, the second northern expedition against the Celestials appeared off Amoy, and was received by a few rounds from the battery of Que-moy, which the Modeste returned. On the following day, a mandarin, with a flag of truce, came from the city, to enquire the object of so formal a visit from so large a fleet, pretending to think that it must- have been " trade;" he concluded his nonsensical address, however, by ordering our admiral to leave the port without delay, as the only means of avoiding inevitable destruction: to this advice, Sir Henry Pottinger replied, that compassion alone would induce him to receive the immediate surrender of Amoy and its fortifications, and retain them until the conclusion of a treaty between the Queen of England and his Imperial Majesty. He consented also to the retirement of the Tartar officers and troops. The Tartars not unreasonably concluded that a stout resistance might be offered to our ships, from the great strength of their works and the number and calibre of their guns. One fort, twelve hundred yards in length, mounted ninety heavy guns; there were many detached batteries, and a second fort, on Red Point, mounting forty-two of the heaviest Chinese ordnance. On Ko-long-soo, the key to Amoy, were seventy-six pieces of artillery, and the embrasures were protected all along by sand-bags; another fort was constructed on Cansoo Island, raking the passage on that side, and Huan-tong-san, or the inner harbour, was guarded by several batteries commanding the front shore.

This apparently impregnable place was attacked with that deliberate gallantry which distinguishes the British navy; as if no opposition existed, danger seems never to be estimated by our officers, in calculating the mode of attacking an enemy. The Modeste, Blanche, Druid, with the rest of the fleet, stood in for the city, exchanging occasional shots with the batteries that lined the passage, but not deigning to anchor until they came within a few yards of the great fortifications of Ko-long-soo. After a few broadsides, the marines, under Captain Ellis, and a detachment of the 26th, led on by Major Johnston, effected a safe landing, and pouring some half-dozen volleys amongst the enemy, put the whole garrison to flight. The Modeste now ran into the inner harbour, where she silenced all the batteries, and captured twenty-six deserted war-junks, mounting altogether one hundred and twenty-eight guns. At the long battery, a brave but brief resistance was offered, by the Tartars, to the combined fire of five of our men of war, but a detachment of our men landing and falling on the enemy's rear, many were bayonetted at their guns; this gallant manoeuvre completed the panic that had commenced amongst the enemy, and nothing was to be seen but mounted mandarins and " brave Tartars' flying up the country, pursued by our marines and seamen.

"The loss of the Chinese was very great, that of the British naval force amounted to one killed and seven wounded; the loss of our troops was very slight." The Chinese naval commander threw himself into the sea, and a great mandarin, who was closely pursued by our men, drew his sword and plunged it into his heart. No Sycee silver was found here, but bullion, to the value of twenty thousand dollars, was secured.

"Amoy" is now known as the Special Economic Zone "Xiamen", in Fujian Province, which happens to be near my wife's hometown and where we were married. Small world, huh?
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