War with China - 1856.
Several smaller expeditions were made with the like success. Still, the main fleet of the Chinese remaining in safety in Fatshan, the admiral resolved to lead against it an expedition he had organised of 11 gunboats and between 50 and 60 boats of the fleet, carrying 2000 men. Each division of boats was commanded by the captains of the ships to which they belonged. The fleet they were to attack consisted of 80 of the largest junks, manned by 6000 of the best Chinese sailors and warriors. It was drawn up under heavy batteries on either bank; across the stream 50 junks were found moored side by side, the large guns in their bows pointed down it. The admiral waited till dead low water, the most favourable time for making his attack, and he hoped that the junks would be unable to move till he got up to them, while should any of his own gunboats take the ground, they would soon again be afloat with the rising tide. The Chinese had further strengthened their position by sinking junks laden with stone, against one of which the Coromandel, carrying the admiral’s flag, grounded. He, on this, landing with a party of blue-jackets and marines, stormed one of the batteries, the garrison of which soon took to flight. Meantime, the Haughty, the leading gunboat, attacked the largest of the junks; her crew jumping overboard, the example was followed by those of the rest of the fleet, when the whole squadron was immediately set on fire. Commodore Keppel attacked and carried a second battery, and then sent his division of boats against another squadron of junks. These having been destroyed, he pushed on three miles till he saw before him the main body of the largest junks moored compactly across the stream with their heavy bow-guns pointing at him. These opened so tremendous a fire that in a few moments every boat was hit. The commodore’s coxswain was killed, and scarcely a man in the boat escaped. While Lieutenant Prince Victor of Hohenlohe was engaged in attending to a wounded man, a shot whizzed between him and the commodore, and had he not been bending down, he would have been killed. So full of water was the boat that Keppel had to jump on the after-thwart to keep his legs out of it, when another round-shot passed through both sides of the boat scarcely an inch below him. At length, as the boat was on the point of sinking, he and his companions, taking the wounded men, got into one of the Calcutta’s boats. The rest of the flotilla had suffered in the same way, and numerous officers and men had been killed or wounded. The commodore, seeing that there was little hope of success at that moment, ordered the boats to retire, and the deck of the Hong-Kong was soon covered with the wounded men brought on board. The fire of the Chinese still reaching her, several more men were killed on board. The admiral, however, hearing the firing, had sent up reinforcements, and Commodore Keppel, calling to the rest of the boats to follow, again dashed forward in the Raleigh’s cutter, in a style which so daunted the Chinese that, cutting their cables, they pulled away up the stream. The British seamen cheered and, opening fire from their big guns, were soon up to the sternmost junks. These were quickly captured, their crews in many instances leaping overboard. The rest were pursued for seven miles, till the British boats found themselves almost in the middle of the large city of Fatshan. Here the commodore landing put a considerable body of troops to flight, and would have captured and held the town had not the admiral considered the enterprise useless. He contented himself, therefore, with towing away five large junks, the only portion of the Chinese fleet which had escaped destruction. This success was purchased at the cost of 84 men killed and wounded. Chuenpee, further down the river, was next captured without difficulty, for though considerably strengthened, so disheartened were the Chinese that they did not attempt to defend it.