CHAPTER XXI. THE REGENCY
The increased intercourse with Europeans not merely led to greater diplomatic confidence and to the extension of trade, but it also induced many foreigners to offer their services and assistance to the Pekin government, during the embarrassment arising from internal dissension. At first these persons were, as has been seen, encouraged and employed more in consequence of local opinion in the treaty-ports than as a matter of State policy. But already the suggestion had been brought forward in more than one form for the employment of foreigners, with the view of increasing the resources of the government by calling in the assistance of the very agency which had reduced them. A precedent had been established for this at an earlier period - before, in fact, the commencement of hostilities - by the appointment of Mr. Horatio N. Lay to direct and assist the local authorities in the collection of customs in the Shanghai district. Mr. Lay's experience had proved most useful in drawing up the tariff of the Treaty of Tientsin, and his assistance had been suitably acknowledged. In 1862, when the advantages to be derived from the military experience of foreigners had been practically recognized by the appointment of Europeans to command a portion of the army of China, and in pursuance of a suggestion made by the present Sir Robert Hart in the previous year, it was thought desirable for many reasons that something should also be done to increase the naval resources of the empire, and Mr. Lay was intrusted with a commission for purchasing and collecting in Europe a fleet of gunboats of small draught, which could be usefully employed for all the purposes of the Pekin government on the rivers and shallow estuaries of the country. Mr. Lay, who undertook the commission, said, "This force was intended for the protection of the treaty-ports, for the suppression of piracy then rife, and for the relief of this country from the burden of 'policing' the Chinese waters"; but its first use in the eyes of Prince Kung was to be employed against the rebels and their European supporters of whom Burgevine was the most prominent. Captain Sherard Osborn, a distinguished English naval officer, was associated with Mr. Lay in the undertaking. An Order of Council was issued on August 30, 1862, empowering both of these officers to act in the matter as delegates of the Chinese. Captain Osborn and Mr. Lay came to England to collect the vessels of this fleet, and the former afterward returned with them to China in the capacity of their commodore. The transaction was not well managed from the very commencement. Mr. Lay wrote in August, 1862, to say that he had chosen as the national ensign of the Chinese navy "a green flag, bearing a yellow diagonal cross," and he wrote again to request that an official notification should appear in the "Gazette." Had his request been complied with, there would have been very strong reason for assuming that the English government was prepared to support and facilitate every scheme for forcing the Chinese to accept and submit to the exact method of progress approved of and desired by the European servants of their government, without their taking any part in the transaction save to ratify terms that might be harsh and exorbitant. Fortunately, the instinctive caution of our Foreign Office was not laid aside on this occasion. Mr. Lay was informed that no notice could appear in the "London Gazette" except after the approval of the Pekin authorities had been expressed; and Prince Kung wrote, on October 22, to say that the Chinese ensign would be of "yellow ground, and on it will be designed a dragon with his head toward the upper part of the flag." Mr. Lay preceded the vessels - seven gunboats and one store-ship - and arrived at Pekin in May, 1863.