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The Capture of Pekin.


January/February 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Tuesday, January 1, 1861.

The Capture of Pekin.

Our foreign files contain some interesting details of the recent warlike events in China.  From the North China (Shanghai) Herald of Oct 20th, we take the following account of the Emperor’s palace and its pillage:

“On the following day, no signs of the French being visible, the English fired twenty-one guns to attract attention, and later in the morning the commander in chief learned where they were.  Lord Elgin, Mr. Wade, Sir H. Grant, Sir R. Napier and their respective staffs, proceeded to the palace, and found the French had been comfortably established there, and that a great portion of the more valuable movables had been already taken away, leaving the heavy but valuable articles for the English; or, at least, what things the French could not carry they left for us.

“No description can give an idea of the splendor of this residence.  The entrance or reception hall is paved with marble and painted with gold, azure and scarlet, in the most gorgeous style.  The throne of the Emperor is of beautifully carved dark wood, and the cushions, embroidered with gold dragons, attracted general admiration; we likewise observed the gold crutch, supposed to have been used by the Emperor; every inner chamber and saloon were very handsomely fitted up, and the rolls of silk, satin and crape, all of splendid workmanship, speedily furnished cummerbunds and puggerees for the French soldiers, who appear to have adopted on custom in this respect.  The jade stone and China were of great value, and some Sevres China of Louis Quatorze would have delighted the eyes of many a curio fancier, and a presentation sword with the English coat of arms studded with gems, and evidently of antiquity, gave rise to some speculation.

“The last treaty of Tientsin was also found, and the immense quantity of loot of all kinds made it almost impossible to know what to take away.  Some idea of the quantity of silk may be given by the fact that fowls, old pots, &c., were wrapped in the most costly silks and satins.  All the ladies had disappeared, but their little Japanese dogs, something resembling a King Charles spaniel, were running about in a distracted state.  Mr. Wade secured some valuable books and papers, some, we believe, for the British Museum.  The Emperor had left the day before, but h is destination is, I believe, unknown.  It is said that a panic took place amongst the French, and that they evacuated the Palace, returning, however, when the alarm subsided.  One thing is certain:  our allies took care of themselves.”

A letter published in the London Times gives the following account of an interview of the English prisoners with the renowned San-ko-lin-sin:

“Passing on they came to a small canal, on the opposite side of which sat an officer on horseback, who beckoned to them to come over.  They were preparing to obey when they saw a number of persons, evidently of high rank coming toward them.  Parkes soon discovered from the way in which he was addressed, that one of these was San-ko-lin-sin himself, and he was rushing forward to make his way up to him when both he and Loch were violently seized, pushed forward, and forced down on their knees before him.  Parkes was beginning to protest against such treatment, and to explain the circumstances which had led to their being there, when he was interrupted by San-ko-lin-sin, and asked their names and positions.  On Parkes mentioning his own name, the Mongolian Prince, whom he describes as a stern, somewhat sinister looking man, with strongly marked features, indicating considerable talent and much firmness, broke out into the most violent abuse of him, saying among other things, that he attributed much of what was then occurring to an evil influence, that he was responsible for the fighting and consequent misery which had taken place, and that, now that he had got him, he would make him suffer for it.  He was proceeding in this strain when a messenger galloped up, apparently with some important news, for he immediately rode off toward the front, accompanied by the greater number of his officers, while Parks, Lock and the Sikh orderly were taken into a tent, where their arms and feet were bound, the latter being brought behind their backs, and strongly tied together with ropes at the elbows and wrist.  During the time San-ko-lin-sin was abusing poor Parkes, the standers by emphasized his remarks and prevented any answer being made by cuffing the latter on the head whenever he attempted to make one, each blow being apparently a signal to those who surrounded Loch, who on these occasions fared even worse than his companion—his beard and hair being seized by these ruffians, and his head pulled down and rubbed in the dust at the feet of San-ko-lin-sin’s pony.”

The Times of the 15th thus speculates with regard to the fate of the two remaining prisoners, one of them being its own correspondent:

“The only danger is lest our friends should have perished under the mere ordinary brutality with which a Chinaman treats a prisoner whom he at once hates and fears.  If they are in the hands of the Chinese, they will be delivered up under the same system of persuasion which has produced the others.  The most hopeful circumstance of all, however, is that the prisoners captured at that ambuscade laid for Lord Elgin and all his staff, were not conveyed away in a body to Pekin, but were led off in various directions.  While Mr. Parkes and Captain Loch were conveyed to Pekin, nine of the Sikh cavalry were taken to a town thirty or forty miles off.  There is no reason to be given why it may not have happened that Mr. Bowlby and Capt. Brabason were conveyed to some other town, perhaps still more distant, and that they may yet come home in reply to demands reiterated with the energy already shown.”