[84-gun Battleship]


In March William was appointed in command of Calcutta the flagship of Rear Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, the new Commander-in-Chief of The East Indies and China Station.

Although it was a great compliment to William to move from one appointment to another without an intervening period of half pay, it must have been a severe disappointment to his wife Louise. In the past five years her husband had only been with her for three or four periods of several months and here he was, about to depart for another three years. She was now thirty and the mother of three young children. She had faced the trials of her married life with its financial worries and constant separation with fortitude. She had not been brought up to be poor, although at this stage she was not aware of the source of some of the wealth that had allowed her father to lead the life of one of Halifax's most respected and prosperous citizens.

Three weeks after Calcutta had sailed a terrible tragedy struck the family. William, their eldest son, aged 7, died of brain fever. It is not known whether his father heard the news when he arrived in Cape Town or whether it did not reach him until he arrived in Singapore. If he learnt of the tragedy in Cape Town [PAGE4110]  it is possible that this news might have had some connection with the events that occured on July 19th which are described below.

In the meantime Louise had sailed for Canada in a Cunard paddle mail steamer to join her parents. We are fortunate to have a detailed account of what this voyage would have been like. A William Walton from Birmingham has left a fascinating account of a passage that he and his wife and two chidren made in the RMS Canada only a month before Louise made her crossing of the Atlantic. [PAGE4120].

William and the Admiral joined the Calcutta in Plymouth on the 3rd March.

Calcutta had been built in Bombay in 1831 and was constructed of teak. She was the first ship that William had served in since Vindictive in 1847 which did not have any form of steam propulsion. Her draught was 24ft and her tonnage 2300 tons. Her armament consisted of 50 32 pdrs and 12 8 in, situated on two gun decks. She also had 16 carronade on the forecastle and quarterdeck. Calcutta was one of the last major war vessels without any form of steam propulsion to make the passage out to the Far East. Some readers may find details of the routes she took and the distances she covered on both her outward and return passage of some historical interest.[PAGE4130].

She had a crew of 720 officers and men. 38 officers; 69 petty officers; 403 seamen; 60 boys and 150 marines.


May 7th

Calcutta sailed from Plymouth on 7th May. For about 5 weeks the prevailing winds took her SSW to a position 500 miles off the coast of South America at the latitude of Rio de Janeiro. From there she turned east towards Cape Town where she arrived on the 15th July, the voyage having taken 70 days.

11 pm Half way between Scilly and Ushant.The period of three years is a long and dreary time to look forward to. Oh, that it may be shortened by Sir Michael getting his Vice Flag!

May 8th

Fighting against dullness. Half inclined to touch at Madeira to land letters and get water.

May 10th

Course about 150 miles from C. Finisterre. Busy day. . . . Later gratification and pride in reading my dear father's Journal written in 1805. One remark particularly struck me : 'Easter Sunday. Rose at 4 and prayed until 7.' I read it to Anderson who also was struck with the clear view he took of events.

May 19th

Lat. 23.25 N. Well inside the Tropics. Hot weather. 57 sick list, nothing serious. From the masthead observed 2 sails. Hoped they would come near enough to send our letters on board. Trade wind light and Southern Cross in sight. Progressing on the violin satisfactorily.

May 30th

For the last two days we have been becalmed. Yesterday we had tropical rain. In less than ten minutes all hands were luxuriating in a cool bath.

June 3rd

In the evening the Officer's dance, altho' the thermometer is 80. Great number of men come aft to see them and hear the band. On the upper deck singing goes on. Absence of lash so far makes me grateful.


Saturday 19th July

On getting on board found the ropes all coiled up, swinging booms out, and an evident feeling that we were not to sail until Monday. The surprise was great when other orders were given, which soon disabused their minds. My annoyance was still more when I observed the marked spirit of dissatisfaction and discontent manifested when weighing and making Sail. There was a light air from the NW sprang up on my arrival on board, but as the men had not had their supper, by the time this was finished the wind was quite gone and the probability of our getting out of the Bay that evening gone also. It was important for many reasons to make a start. First because I had said if possible we should sail. It was clear the Officers and Men had made up their minds we should not leave before Monday. The former of course would probably go on shore on Sunday. The applications from Petty Officers to go to see their sick messmates would also have been made and Sunday would have been a scene of drunkenness and disorder. Next, the calm lasts sometimes 3 days.

The noise at the capstan was continued in spite of repeated orders from Commander Rolland and myself. On making sail half the Maintopmen remained below. The topsails were barely hoisted, not even walked up, and orders were tacitly nullified. Yet no Officers picked out a single man as an example of not working.

We weighed, however, and kept under way for an hour and anchored about two cables length distant.

July 20th

Weighed soon after 8.30 am to a light S.E. wind. Ship's company as slack as before, and compelled me to lower the topsails 3 times before they would even walk them up. However, the point was carried, and by great perseverance we managed to get half way between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas by midnight.

July 21st

Breeze freshening steadily; at Noon we were 18 miles to the southward of Agulhas. During the forenoon I turned the hands up and read what follows from the Log Book [PAGE4140] which I told them the Lords of the Admiralty saw, as also did the Commander-in-Chief. I expressed my surprise at their behaviour, and my firm determination to stop it, explaining that I could lead them or drive them, but I never would coax them ...

My reading this had, I believe, a good effect, for it is so much the custom to smother up these acts that they appeared surprised I should make it so public. I trust it may do good. During the day the breeze freshened and barometer fell gradually until soon after midnight, when it grew so squally, it became necessary to reef. Never did my good Loui make a more true remark than saying we all punished the men for doing wrong, but they had no one to advise or teach them how to do right.


Having departed from Cape Town on the 20th July Calcutta arrived in Hong Kong on the 9th September, a passage of 53 days. She had arrived just in time to take part in what has become known as the Second Opium War.



Events which lead to the outbreak of the 2nd Opium War [PAGE4150] culminated in December  1856 with the Chinese attacking and burning the British factories.

William writes in his diary

December 24th 1856

It is difficult for any man not to feel on Xmas Eve when 'Angels announced to the Shepherds the birth of our blessed Saviour who would preach Peace on Earth and Good Will towards men,' that it was wretched work bursting Shell among them, people who individually had done us no harm. And in the middle of the night one of the Mandarin Junks, which I had set on fire in the afternoon, drifted down and caused the Dutch Folly [a river fort] to open fire with Guns and small Arms in various directions, which must have destroyed several people.



They have a mercenary Soldiery, called Braves, from 96 Villages, about 25,000. They receive 5 dollars a month, in addition to the rates paid to the Chinese and Tartar Troops. The people of Canton are fleeing to Fatshau, Yeh striving to stop them. The Rebels, or rather Freebooters, are also in the River and the Country is in a sad state. Can the man (Yeh) who has taken off 70,000 heads in a year ultimately prosper? Impossible.



December 26th.

Stirring events following each other so rapidly that it is almost an impossibility to note them at the time. However, the most important was the burning of the factory on December 14th, Sunday, 11 am. I was roused out of a deep sleep by 3 simultaneous occurrences, a bright red glare lighting the room, the Chinese Watchmen around beating the alarm of fire on their Gongs and Tom Toms, and the Sentry shouting out 'Fire, Fire.' Whilst I was dressing Sir Michael Seymour came down and we observed the blaze immediately in the rear of Dent's House, where we were living, one of the old ruined houses in the Factory Street commencing it. The fire spread rapidly; for some short time it was hoped that Dent's house would have been saved, but the wells were soon pumped dry and it extended in all directions. About 10 am a house adjoining the English Factory was blown up, or rather down, and it was hoped by great exertions that the British Factory would be saved. By about 3 pm the Bank in the rear caught and by 9 pm the whole of the houses in front were in flames with the exception of one.



Many hairbreadth escapes took place and a merciful Providence watched over those who were quite unable to watch over themselves, for many men were drunk, and when it is considered that there were not only so many cellars open and inviting them to drink, as well as many places who were bribing them by giving it, to cause them to aid in removing their furniture, it is marvellous no more accidents took place. In the afternoon a portion of wall fell not far from the Admiral and crushed to death a very nice young fellow, Mr. Lane, a Consular Clerk. Never was death more sudden. A few seconds before he was the most active and cheerful member of the Party. The dear Gallant Chief, as cool and self-possessed as it was possible for man to be, was in the thick of the work. I was alarmed occasionally for the safety of his only eye, as the sparks flew in all directions very thick.

The Church and Boat House did not catch. Into the former were crammed valuables and furniture and into the latter and library, were the men worn out with hard work, want of rest and in many cases stupefied with drink.

On the following day we commenced our defence by throwing a ditch across the garden.

A sad scene to witness the wreck and ruin, but not a murmur escaped the lips of any of the Community, English or foreign. The Chinese were observed firing the houses on both sides of China Street and immediately in the rear of Seath's house oil was thrown on burning embers.



Saturday, 3rd January 1857

A look-out from the Coromandel's Masthead, with all our glasses from the Paddle Boxes, failed in discerning the sign of a single Mandarin Junk. The Sequel will show the facility with which we may be taken in, owing to the numerous Creeks, and the Chinese striking their Masts.

Sunday, January 4th

We all flattered ourselves that the reconnoitre made yesterday would give us a quiet Sunday. After 1 pm George Fowler [Admiral Seymour's Flag-Lieutenant] accompanied me on board the Coromandel, where our purpose was to spend a quiet afternoon and recall to our minds all who were so near and dear to us far away, and refresh our memories by looking over their last letters. As our dear wives are like sisters, I anticipated with pleasure 2 or 3 hours quiet and friendly communion with my old and true friend.

About ten minutes elapsed when I heard a voice calling out 'Is Captain Hall on board?' and found Eden breathless with anxiety and excitement, his men showing signs of their exertion in pulling against the tide. 'Mr. Alton has sent me, Sir, to say there are 50 or 60 heavy Junks full of men approaching to attack Fort Macao, with places at their Mast-heads for throwing Stink Pots.' Steam was got up, and in ten minutes the Coromandel was steaming out, having all the boats in company unmoored and prepared to move outside except the Encounter.


Our gallant chief came on board with his Barge. Jeans [his secretary] accompanied him, and we were soon outside steaming down towards Macao Fort. On arriving near it, we found our pinnace about a quarter of a mile in front of it, firing and gradually retreating from before a line of heavy Junks and Row boats. The Encounter made the signal that she was ashore, and firing her Stern Gun, showed plainly enough they were threatening in the other direction. I did not count their boats, but estimate the large and moderate - sized Junks at 100, with at least an equal number of Row boats of various sizes, some apparently pulling 60 oars and the whole crowded with men, whilst the large Junks, of which there were several, had large Crow's Nests, full of men with Stink Pots, at each Masthead, resembling the beacon of Southern Beacon.

The tide being ebb, their Junks and boats were all under management, stemming the tide, whilst it was with difficulty we could perceive our position.

Their Guns being of longer range, their Shot flew all round and over both the Coromandel and the Boats who were lying on their oars near us. Poor Pearn was struck by a round Shot a few minutes after I had spoken to the Boats to fall back. I gave orders for his boat to pull to Encounter with all speed, with this fine lad, full of Courage and life, lying in their Stern Sheets. His Boat's Crew stripped to their flannels and showed their anxiety and affection for their young gallant Commander, who had been under fire so often before.

Providentially the Coromandel backed straighter than I ever before saw her, and we retired until we were abreast of Fort Macao, over which their shot flew. In front of me was literally a mass of human beings covering the whole breadth of the River, steadily pulling towards us, led on by 2 heavily armed and manned Junks. Whatever may have been the feelings of any other person, I can honestly write my own, for I had never seen the Chinese as an attacking party, and to use a common expression 'my heart was in my mouth.' When I looked at the mass advancing and the multitude behind them coming on, it brought home to me the reward offered for our own heads, the handful of men when compared to them (for at least 7,000 or 8,000 men were in front of us), the inability of the Hornet coming in one direction, or Encounter in the other, the certainty that if one or two well directed shot struck us near the water, our machinery must have been hit, the great chance of grounding which would be a signal for a further advance, and the knowledge that Macao Fort had no heavy guns to reply. All this combined made me feel our helplessness, and for a short time I thought our lives were gone, and had they possessed common courage we must have been captured and destroyed, for if they had approached faster we must have backed astern faster. The water was dead low and so there was a greater chance of our grounding.

I was afraid they would throw on shore 1,000 or 2,000 men at Fort Macao and cut off every soul, and for a short time thought it wiser to withdraw them. Happy am I to think the Admiral thought better, so the boats were ordered in to strengthen it. We then withdrew farther back and their shot flew over and struck the Fort, which replied with rifles, for 2 or 3 were within 1,000 yards. Matters looked critical for half an hour when, to my delight, I saw them with the first of the flood, move back and gradually up the creek. As they retired we advanced. We threw rockets and some shot.

[Commanders] Bate and Rolland, who were on board, were surprised at the magnitude of their fleet, their firing and advancing. Both were out here during the last war.

I found that poor Pearn lingered for about an hour. He asked the surgeon of the Encounter if he were dying. When told he was, said .. 'Oh, my poor father. I died for my Queen and Country. God bless the Queen, long live the Queen.'

Calcutta sailed a few days later and arrived in Hong Kong harbour on the 9th January. After the events in Canton the Governor had become concerned at the restlessness of the native population and asked the Commander-in-Chief to return some of the naval forces to the Colony. (It must be remembered that at this date the British only had control of the island. What later became Kowloon and the New Territories were still part of China). The Admiral offered to recall Calcutta and the Governor appears to have been satisfied. Calcutta remained in Hong Kong for the next nine months.

After the destruction of the factories British forces had remained ashore for a while in the factory gardens. During January the Admiral withdrew his forces from the vicinity of the city and made Fort Macao, some 12 miles down the river, his forward post, while he waited for the British Government to decide what action should be taken next. In the meantime his naval forces kept the lower river open to traffic.

In May some valuable naval reinforcements arrived. A squadron of gunboats escorted by a frigate had made the long journey from Britain. Their arrival made it possible to launch an offensive against the war junks that previously been able to shelter in side creeks of the Canton river.


On February 2nd a letter from Lord Clarendon, the Foreign Secretary, dated 10th December was received in Hong Kong confirming the legality of British actions the previous October. Whether this information was a comfort to those concerned is not known, but the dates involved give the modern reader some idea of the degree of control that Whitehall had over events in distant parts of the world in the days before the telegraph, but after the introduction of the steamship.

Not everyone in England was as relaxed as the Foreign Secretary about what was happening in China. News of the events at Canton in the past few months had been received with mixed feelings. There were many who believed that that the treatment of the crew of the Arrow, whatever the exact legal position might be, was not sufficiently 'outrageous' to justify attacking the river forts and bombarding the city of Canton. They were not surprised that the Chinese had retaliated by burning down the factories.

In Parliament opposition to Government policy came from both the main opposition party, the Conservatives led by Lord Derby, and the Radicals, of whom Cobden was a leading member.

On February 26th this unlikely alliance combined to support a motion by Cobden and defeated the Government by 16 votes. An unusual feature of this debate was that it must have been one of the few occasions that Gladstone and Disraeli voted on the same side.

Rather than accept this decision Palmerston decided to 'go to the country'. In the ensuing General Election he was returned with an increased majority. The British public may not have understood the finer points of the Arrow affair, but they liked the way that Palmerston looked after British interests.

Before his defeat in the House of Commons Palmerston had decided that the Chinese needed to be taught a lesson and one of the steps he had taken was to select Lord Elgin to go out to China with the necessary authority to finally sort out Anglo-Chinese relations. After the election Lord Elgin's appointment as Commissioner and Plenipotentiary in China was confirmed and he left England in late April, travelling to Singapore by way of Marseilles and Egypt.

He arrived in Ceylon in late May where he heard the grave news of the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny at Meerut on May 11th. Accompanied by his military commander, General Ashburnham, he proceeded to Singapore where he planned to meet the military and naval reinforcements that had been sent round the Cape. While waiting for these forces he received urgent dispatches from Lord Canning, the Governor General of India asking that the troops destined for China should be diverted to India. Lord Elgin agreed and by this bold and generous decision may well have saved British rule in India. The troops he diverted took part in both the reliefs of Lucknow and Cawnpore.

Lord Elgin arrived in Hong Kong on 2nd July, but finding that there was little he could do there decided to sail in Shannon to Calcutta where he would be in closer touch with England and in a better position to judge when his troop would be released for operations against Canton.

In the meantime the situation in India was so serious that Hong Kong was being asked to send some of the few troops that were there, to help suppress the Mutiny.


August 6th

The news from Calcutta is very bad. The only cheering thing is that the mutineers are running short of their percussion caps and turning their Rifles into Matchlocks. General Barnard was still before Delhi and had just been reinforced by Neville Chamberlain with 4,000. But every white face who can handle a musket is worth his weight of gold. Lord Canning wrote strongly on the subject to General Ashburnham here - I had an opportunity of seeing the letter wherein he begged him to send every man he could spare. And especially Artillery, for nearly all the Bengal Native Artillery had mutinied.

The result shall be shewn hereafter of this urgent application. The news had not reached England yet, so that we may imagine the Electrical shock they will feel, when they hear it.

Sunday 9th August

About 8 pm the Sampson anchored near us, and when her Skipper came on board he impressed those, who heard his remarks, that he was not over zealous in so good a cause. It struck me most forcibly the job was not to his liking. However, he was told to see the General on the following morning and make his arrangements. He went away declaring he could never take 250 men. So I felt pretty well that our scheme of the Sampson's departure on the following day was all up, and the cheering sight to our hard pressed Countrymen in Calcutta of 300 Artillery delayed for a time.

In the meanwhile an offer came from Jardines to convey them in Fiery Cup, for 12,000 dollars. I was at once dispatched to the General's, and it was settled that the Staff would be on board the said craft at 6 pm there to meet the Admiral and decide. Upon our going on board we found the main body of Staff on board - including the Col. of Artillery named .... The Depty Q.M.G. Major Crealock with his measuring tape and note book, ascertaining how many Cubic feet and inches there were below. And taking as much pains as tho' they were going a long passage at a cold Season of the year with no Indian Empire in danger. And no fast spreading rebellion to crush!

They pointed out her after Steerage where they said 18 men might go. It was certainly large enough for 80 in 3 watches. But they were right in Saying it was warm and no ventilation from the side. In fact, after a great many objections the General agreed to allow half a Company to go to Calcutta in her. I could not help remarking that with an Empire at stake every exertion should be made and that the Fiery Cup as the Captain said, would carry the whole with ease and safety. I remarked that as for ventilation, the ship had great space on the upper deck and with double awnings every man would live on deck. But I found myself losing my temper, especially when I told them the Hermes, a vessel of 800 Tons, brought 700 men from Mauritius to the Cape Colony during the Kaffir war. The Colonel of Artillery replied, "Well, if a foolish thing was done once, it is no reason why it should be committed a second time;" My answer was, that before he said it was foolish, he should have heard whether those Colonists whose throats were kept from being cut called it foolish! However I could not help regretting that the Tape measure was put in force when every man with a white face that can carry a musket, and every moment is of the utmost importance.

At all events the Adm., was as much disgusted with their proceedings as myself, and as for the oft-repeated supposition that should the cholera break out and they were crowded much loss of life would ensue, I believe that the fact of their going in a very fast vessel with a Captain whose local knowledge was great would more than counteract any dangers that might be anticipated from their numbers, for it is probable this Ship will make the Passage in 16 days, stopping at Singapore on the road for a supply of coal and Fresh Provisions.

Tuesday 11th August

At 9.30 am The Admiral met by Appt. the General and Staff on board Sampson, and on his return on board I was told that they had agreed that Sampson could take 160. The thing was absurd! [Captain] Hand with £4,800 and Fiery Cup with her 12,000 dollars could not convey 250 soldiers! On an emergency like this, instead of measuring cubic feet they should have been shifting over, and this day started, and a Corporal making a seat for a Sergeant - and vice versa. But with the exception of the Admiral, I could not discover that the anxiety so desirable, was manifested by either soldiers, or sailors on board Sampson. I should never want a man to do more than I would do myself - and for this Trip I should have taken 500 had I commanded Sampson, had it been at my option, and landed them by God's blessing.

The following means I would have adopted: Holds full of Baggage, double Awnings formed by sails-spread and sloped - Made all the Soldiers comfortable. Filled the Pinnace with Water for them to wash in, etc., etc., etc. However, the Adml. determined to send for Sans Pareil. So at 2 pm Sampson went to Macao to tow Nankin to relieve Sans Pareil at Chuenpee Fort and then return to watch Raleigh's wreck. Coromandel sent for Sans Pareil forthwith.

Wednesday 12th August

7 pm Arrived Sans Pareil and Coromandel and nothing worthy of remark occurred until Sunday 16th, when Sans Pareil and Sampson, which had been previously sent for, proceeded in company on a fine calm day and every prospect of a good start. The Sampson will tow Sans Pareil until she (Sampson) has just sufficient Coal to return here. And I have no doubt that Sans Pareil will make the Passage to Singapore in 15 days. Several of the Artillery Officers have gone in Fiery Cup. The difficulties which arose were, I cannot help feeling, discreditable. In the first place the Officers of the Sans Pareil stated they had no Mess Traps and talked of applying for Table Cloths to be purchased. It vexed me! Then the soldiers were by no means desirous of roughing it. Now consider, our best blood being sacrificed, brutally massacred. Should not the men have been glad to have felt they were sent, instead of doomed to inactivity here? Might not the Ward-Room have sent on shore and purchased a few plates if necessary, or only had 2 meals? In fact all parties on such an occasion should have been content to have taken their meals with discomfort, tin Pot and spoon, and spread their beds inside a main deck screen on a good wholesome well ventilated deck, rather than separate from their men and costing Govt. a large sum with their servants. The details of this I shall note in another Book. However they are off, and may they land in health speedily.

August 25th

Our Boards of Admiralty are most absurdly constituted. Here is Mr. T. Baring [afterwards Lord Northbrook] who was Private Secretary to Sir C. Moore Walker, as one of the Lords; then the report is that either Lord John Hay or Lord Clarence Paget will probably become members because they are in Parliament. It is a joke and should be exposed that our Rulers are made of such material. Take either of them - a pair of Lords, and 'Good fellows.' But they know little of the Service, have no experience, and in the profession have rushed through the lower grades of apprenticeship. Both with handles to their names, and both to whom the salary would be the most important thing. Of course, they are chosen by the 1st Lord, and become his tools, and the Civilian [Sir Charles] Wood, makes the others sign whatever he chooses. I am surprised that the Naval Members did not resign rather than see the Country and Service endangered by these wholesale reductions and unjust acts, and taking away the gratuities of Petty Officers. I am ashamed of the Naval Lords.

September 18th.

Was glad to have made the acquaintance of General Barrett, a good warm-hearted gallant soldier, with plenty of decision and nerve. He goes to India to-morrow. I was much struck with his answer when I enquired whether he would have a Division or not? He said, "Well, Hall, thro' my life I have always been a waiter on Providence, and have found things all come out right at last. I shall say to Sir Colin Campbell 'Here I am' and he will say 'There you go, and away I shall go." Now there is a whole practical sermon contained in those few words.

Lord Elgin returned to Hong Kong from India on the 20th September.

September 21st

Paid Lord Elgin a visit. Had a long conversation with Mr. Bruce, and as I shall be glad to see hereafter how wrong my surmises and opinions have been, or how right, I will write down a few leading points.

I assume and believe the Rebels are in great force about 80 miles north of Canton, also that in the City there are many of them.

I believe that these Rebels, from what I can learn, are holding back until we approach Canton, and then will close it. A blockade right round the City by water on our part will cause the Rebels to advance, both by water and land, to the north of us. The inhabitants of the villages will flock towards the City. The Braves of the villages will at first leave Canton to attempt to defend their Cities. Food must be short and great distress exist. Should the Braves leave the City, the panic will be great in the City, and they will dread our assaulting. Then I think they will offer to throw open the City, pay our demands and settle our claims. In that case we should insist on occupying the defences of the City to humble their arrogance, and convince them of our power, notifying that the Rebels should not approach the City, that we should receive it intact until the New Treaty was signed, that they should open the River and allow trade to be resumed. This would allow the village Braves to devote all their energies to disperse the Rebels. Much distress would at once be removed by the water communications being free, and thousands and tens of thousands, poor Souls, would resume their usual occupation and livelihood on the Canton river.

If they are obstinate and we are compelled to storm and bombard it, the moment we begin we may expect to see the Rebels advancing towards it, and as they approach the place, their adherents inside will arise and much bloodshed take place; it will be unavoidable after it once commences, for we cannot engage to stop the Rebels or we should have more on our hands than we could manage. Under these circumstances, should not Lord Elgin point out on the score of humanity these probabilities to the Court of Pekin, as he is about to write? I think decidedly he should, and give them the chance of ordering Yeh back and Pekin the chance to give our terms. But 30,000 or 40,000 Chinese lives may be saved at least by doing so, or at all events, we shall have the satisfaction of feeling and the world of knowing, our policy has been a just and merciful one.

Mr. Oliphant says 'that with 500 Troops he would march to Pekin, or right thro' China.' Courageous Oily!

After this conversation with Mr. Bruce, William also wrote in his Diaries

...that bloodshed would have been avoided by a firm but pacific attitude on the part of the British, if at the commencement of operations the city of Canton had been blockaded by water, and an immediate note sent to the Court of Pekin, enlisting their help against the rebel leader Yeh.

September 27th.

I must relate a strange renewal of acquaintance. The evening before Fowler left I called with him on Mrs. MacLeod to take leave. Whilst there I was told by this lady that she had a friend stopping with her who was most desirous to know whether I recollected her at Lisbon when she was a child. Her name was McAndrew, having married last May at Macao. On enquiring her name as a maiden, I found that it was Mary Ann Watson, whose sister Harriet I was particularly sweet on, and went out with the idea of proposing to at Cintra 16 years since. I found that Harriet was still Harriet Watson, living with her eldest sister at Paris. That Elizabeth, whom I was up to the eyelashes in love with, was married in Cheshire. Down Elizabeth's back I dropped the iron key of a park gate to stop her nose bleedmg; it slipped thro' my fingers.

I found out that Miss Harriet has had several offers, as I imagined. She is right to remain single if she cannot find the being on whom she can place her affections. Strange is life.

October 5th

12 Marines and 10 Bluejackets went on board Ava as a guard and boat crew to Lord Elgin, for it was scarcely creditable to see 'His Lordship' pulled about by Chinese or Malays, and his bodyguard some natives disbanded from the 20th Regt. who murdered or tried to murder their officers. A gangway sentry, a black man, without shoes, and a broomstick for his side arms.

October 16th

Dined on board Ava in the evening, a large party on board. Band in attendance from this ship. Dined on deck. Band much admired, and had the order given by myself for them to leave by 9.0 pm been adhered to, all would have ended well. Result of an hour's delay a solo on the Horn playing Love Not, a lick on the lip from another man to the Leader, the Drummer lying like a hog sprawling on the quarter-deck, and the only words clearly uttered and frequently repeated 'I'm a man. I'm a man'.

October 21st

William noted his diary...that Sir Michael Seymour had just returned on board from an interview with Lord Elgin. The latter had remarked that we had no hope of getting a new Treaty, except at the point of the bayonet, and in reply to a remark of the Admiral's as to the possibility of Yeh's yielding, he had said 'That is the very thing I do not want.' William added that there was still time for diplomacy to avert further hostilities, and, 'I sincerely trust that not a shot or shell may be fired which will disappoint many fire-eaters, who cannot be satisfied unless great destruction of Chinese life takes place.'


Canton was bombarded and captured on December 28, 1857. The city was taken by escalade, and an ultimatum given to Yeh, which was to be answered in forty-eight hours. The time should have expired on Sunday 27th, but as William rather naively remarked, it was decided to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest and 'commence the week's work' on Monday 28th . He had landed on Christmas Day with Mr. Parkes, the Consul, and assisted him to paste up handbills, warning peaceable inhabitants to move out of the line of fire, which would be opened on Monday. He wondered uneasily where the poor creatures are to move to? 'To starvation and murder amongst those scoundrels, the village Braves.



On the 28th, the British were under the walls of the city and, in William's words.

December 28th

We commenced our necessary destruction and it would have been pitiable had there been time to think of it, to witness calling people out of their houses, breaking open the doors . . . and then setting fire to them. One poor deaf and dumb creature dragged out. . . . In an hour about 100 houses were on fire.

December 29th

The walls were scaled, and a few days afterwards Yeh, who was in hiding in Canton, was taken prisoner. Our losses were about one hundred and thirty killed and wounded, more than one half of which were of the Naval Brigade.


Admiral Sir Michael Seymour’s dispatch describing the capture of Canton was published as a Supplement to The London Gazette of February 26th, 1858. Extracts from this Dispatch will give the reader some idea of the part William King-Hall played in this operation [PAGE4160].


20th February

An old promise of mine to shew my friend, Mrs. MacLeod, the Ex-Viceroy Yeh, who has been kept in strict seclusion, prevented my attending the Races. So at 1.30 pm I went on board Inflexible with the MacLeods, and going through the form of asking Yeh's permission, we went down into the cabin. He at once turned his eyes away from my good little friend and kept them steadily upon the deck. His garments were of the dirtiest description, which he had worn for 10 years, and the odour proceeding from them, from the cabin and his pipe rendered a short stay by far the most pleasant. Several commonplace questions were asked him, and on our taking our departure, he was asked whether he would shake hands with MacLeod and myself to which he gave a ready assent. Upon the same request being made for Mrs. MacLeod, he shook his head vehemently and with clasped hands said it was against his religion; he dare not look on a woman.

March 18th

Piracy is, has been and I suppose ever will be in existence among the Chinese. As they say, 'if one piecy boat have three piecy men and catch one piecy boat with two piecy men. He catch he!'

After Canton was taken and Yeh captured by the British, he was degraded by Imperial edict, 'for not soothing the barbarians,' and another Commissioner was appointed. William wrote in March 1858, that: 'This will, I hope, dispel at once all prospects of further war.' He was convinced that, 'while sterner measures should be employed in individual cases (he complained of the atrocities perpetrated on Europeans after the capture of Canton while the flags of the two powerful nations fly over the City) a skilful diplomacy should be used instead of force'.

After the capture of Yeh, the British and French Ambassadors, supported by the Russian and American Ministers, sent a request to the Emperor that he should dispatch a plenipotentiary to Shanghai to conclude peace and to meet Lord Elgin.

No Chinese ambassador being forthcoming (the Emperor was quite indifferent as to what befell the cities of the coast line), Lord Elgin decided to renew hostilities in the north in the approaches to Pekin.

William wrote 'that a little more patience would have averted this move, that though the Forts would be certainly successfully taken (as they were), they would be as certainly re-armed again by the Chinese, and thus further wars would be inevitable.'


On 29th March Calcutta sailed from Hong Kong. She arrived at the mouth of the Peiho (Pai Ho) river at the head Gulf of Chihli (Po Hai) on the 24th April.

After some delay the Emperor finally sent a Commissioner named Tan to Taku, a town at the mouth of the river, to meet Lord Elgin, who sent in his demands. They were avoided, and on May 6th, Tan was given an ultimatum. Six days elapsed, bringing no reply from Tan, and on May 19th, the Ambassadors handed over matters to the Navy.

April 24th

The Russian told the Admiral that his orders were distinctly not to engage in hostilities. The American has the same views, so it comes to this - four powers make a demand - the answer is unsatisfactory. Two of the powers are against war, but the other two virtually commence a serious war with China, with all the miseries attendant on it. Because we are strong, ought we to have a war to force them to give us a new Treaty? No.

The trouble is that England is in too settled a state of safety. Six days will show us whether we have a Chinese war thro' blundering or not.

It will be unjust, and every sacrifice of life the English Ambassador must place to his own account, for he leads the French.

Captain Osborn (of the Furious) came on board, and we had a talk about the capture of the Forts. When I mentioned the advantage of giving the Chinese a way of escape, he did not agree, and said also "that he had no wish to make prisoners."

May 18th

All arrangements made for an attack on the Forts in consequence of the Ambassadors of France and England taking upon themselves the responsibility and calling upon their Admirals to take action.

The Ambassadors' piratical act relieves the Admirals from declaring war.

Drums beating, flags flying and all the rest of it! As if men were as easily brought to life, as killing, or as if it were heroic, shooting and shelling Chinese for diplomatic blunders!

May 19th

The French Adml. and Flag Captain, also Captains Leveque, Nicolson, Osborn and myself were confronted, and the mode of the attack explained, etc.; as it was open to discussion. I expressed my most decided opinion that it was wrong. There were 3 forts on the South Shore, and one on the North. The former was to be taken by the Division under the Command of Capt. Reynaud and myself. His division was to be towed and carried up by the Leven, Gunboat, mine by the Firm. The Staunch and Bustard were to tow up and carry in Sir Frederick Nicolson's division, he being in the Staunch with [his men from the] Pique; Osborn in the Furious, whilst Capt. Leveque had the Opossum for his service.

The orders were to attack the North fort first, acting on the supposition that the Chinese would not fire first, and that these Boats would get into position to effect a landing and storm (after the larger Gun vessels had silenced the forts, which Gun vessels were to steam up slightly astern of them).

I observed, that to send Gunboats laden with men in front would to be to court a loss, while if they only discharged their guns close and bolted, many lives would be lost; but that the Gunboats and landing parties should remain out of fire until the bombarding parties of the Force had done their work, then push on with the others, cease firing and land. Capt. Reynaud agreed with me. Not so the others. It was not brilliant enough for them.

'The Chinese would bolt after the first shot!' 'They would not give you the chance of firing a second time.' All spoke against my proposal. I concluded by saying that if I thought I could save the limb of a 2nd Class boy I should deem it my duty to do so.

This consultation ended by what I called, sending the Storming Party before a Breach was made.

Wednesday, 19th May

Woke the night before last and remained awake fighting against the idea that I should either be killed, or be severely wounded on taking these Forts. Fought against it, and prayed for Faith to Trust in God, which I could not say I received then. But this day I awoke after a most refreshing rest, and commenced making all the arrangements with a bold and calm heart. After dinner got Slaney alongside and moved all our Party into her. Firm taking those of the Fury - we then picked up the French Admiral and when we left the French Flagship's stern, her Band struck up God Save the Queen, which was acknowledged by the hearty cheers of our Division on board Slaney. The cheering was then taken up by the other French ships and returned in a similar manner. Opposite the Furious the Admiral stopped, and paid a visit to Lord Elgin, receiving a letter which had been written by the Synalogues (Interpreters) of the Embassy, calling on Tan to give up the Forts to the Commander-in-Chief; which were to be held until existing difficulties had been removed, and granting 2 hours for an answer. This letter was to be delivered at that time which would, when the 2 hours had expired, prove the most favourable for the attack to commence. We anchored near the Coromandel, close to the Russian Steamer America, and on board the former vessel the Captains assembled. And the first remark made by Captns. Sir F. Nicolson and Osborn, on their reaching the quarterdeck was: "I hope, Sir, your original plan of attack will not be changed." This said so pointedly before me, of course I could not but feel.

But now the two Admirals had determined to be guided by the opinions of Capts. Dew and Tryon, who had been lying there for some time, and these latter unhesitatingly recommended that the forts should be first bombarded and a few broadsides fired, and then the Landing Parties to land. At the last moment this plan was adopted, and I received most emphatic injunctions from my brother Flag Captain, that we were to land in the same boat and our respective Marines were to form and advance together, and in fact a very precise military movement. I assured him it would be impossible to restrain the Bluejackets whilst the Marines were forming - nor did I think it advisable. The extract from the Journal des Debats, in which it is stated they were waiting 2 hours for us in the Canton attack, was still remembered by many of our force with no pleasant feelings. At last all was said that had to be said - and I laid me down and slept peacefully.

At 8 am of May 20th William and the French Flag Captain, Captain Reynaud of the Nemesis, landed, bearing a demand for the surrender of the Forts within two hours.

May 20th

The first thing, I proceeded to Cormorant and saw the Chinese were quite prepared. Moved the Firm closer to Coromandel out of the line and range of shot - as she would have to move up my Division. Gave a message to Sir F. Nicolson with respect to his Gunboats dropping down; he said they had dropped, and were all clear - the most absurd thing to see them remain within range like Targets. It makes one uncharitable enough to think that a long list of Casualties was desired to add to their renown, for it was cruel and unnecessary; they were lying with their heads to the Ebb, fronting the batteries.

At 8.30 Captain Reynaud and myself, accompanied by the Synalogues, landed and walked up to the old Blue Tent, where were Sweetmeats, Tea, etc., which we were pressed to partake of. My eyes were much more gratified however by observing that behind the long line of Sandbag Parapet there was no ditch inside nor any flanking Gun, and I had a most quiet survey of the spot. For Chinese, they had done well in their construction, for large piles of timber had been driven into the mud at Low Water Mark - so close no Boat could get inside them. They calculated on our landing at High Water. This effectually prevented it, for the men wd. have been up to their necks, and at Low Water up to their knees in soft, although most tenacious mud. But they had not piled beyond the immediate front, and our point of landing was on the flank nearest up the River.

Breakfasted, and went on board Firm, with my Division; ordered the Marines out of the Paddle Box Boats. Leven received my colleague's Division and lay astern. Commanders-in-Chief hoisted their Flags on board Slaney. The Russians on board the America, and Americans on board the Antelope, in their rigging and tops, were most anxious to see the ball open. At half past 10 the 2 hours had expired. Orders had been given that should the Chinese open fire it was not to be returned until the signal was made. This was done to prevent our Ships firing first, and that it might unmistakably prove the enemy commenced, as well as enable our Gunboats to get better into their berths. At the appointed time the Signal was made to proceed and the Cormorant started off like a Greyhound. I never saw a finer sight, with her Raking Masts, her symmetrical shape, and great speed.


The Forts waited a minute or two, when they all opened on her, and the old saying 'Fortune favours the Brave,' was proved in her case. Gallantly she steamed on, as though treating their attempts to arrest her progress with disdain, and not a shot was returned - one (or two) came brushing along to where we lay, dropping or rather finishing their range close to the Russian Steamer. For many minutes she was quite unsupported. The Signal was made to fire, when she opened, and being in position, completely enfiladed the North Fort, and as completely silenced it in 5 or 10 minutes.

The French were long moving up to support. This I fancy was not so much from want of steam as having neglected breaking their anchors out before the Signal, and it delayed them. I think Cormorant was alone about 18 minutes.

At last the Mitrailie and Firm moved up, Nimrod having previously advanced on her side. The Forts really worked well, and had they possessed our modern appliances, no more formidable enemy would be found behind the Wall of a Battery. The Gun Boats moved up. I landed on the South Shore with my Division, and the French had not to wait - Now if I once began to say I did this or that, I should be doing harm. So I will conclude all by saying. "I did my duty."

The Forts fell. The Powder Magazine of the one occupied by the French blew up and several were killed and wounded. The Chinese fled towards Taku and beyond it. The Bustard, Opossum and Staunch gallantly led up to the attack of a heavy Battery in advance, the Bustard leading. I then went in to Taku in Firm - met Slaney with the Commanders-in-Chief; landed and took 9 Brass Field Pieces - searched Tan's House and close to it saw a poor fellow lying with his head clean off alongside him, his hands tied behind his back, and we were informed it was for cowardice. The Troops had all bolted 8 miles further on, and Wade said that they were picked battalions from Pekin. Sir F. Nicolson and his Party took charge. We returned to Coromandel. Belleisle, Hospl. Ship, just anchoring. Sent wounded off. I never believed we had right on or side.

William's coxswain, by name Quick, wrote the following account of the storming of the Peiho Forts:

Captain Hall went on board the Firm, and ordered the Marines out of the Paddle Box Boats, seeing the danger of having them in the Boats. Not three minutes afterwards, they were smashed to pieces by the enemy's shot.

When Captain Hall landed in his Galley, his Boat was the first in, and he pushed straight up to the Forts with his Boat's crew, and the Division followed close on his heels through mud up to the knees. He and his men jumping down into the trench climbed the parapet over the other side into the Fort amongst the Chinese. There was a large number of them who fled after a hot fight. [PAGE4170

On the 22nd the Admiral and William, on board Coromandel, proceeded up the Peiho river to Tientsin, a distance of about 40 miles. According to the Admiral in his report to the Admiralty 'the locals were friendly offering fruit and vegetables and crowds gathered in thousands to look at the first foreign ships to be seen'.


May 26th

Anchored off Tientsin the proximity of which was announced to us by many salt depots on the banks. We anchored in a species of gutter, 3 or 4 fms. of water within 10 yards of either shore. Hundreds of Chinese came down, some swimming, all with small birds on their heads to offer as peace offerings; others pushing baskets with eggs before them.

Town people came to offer bullocks, sheep, etc., as a present, whilst every other man on board was to be seen with a fine large radish in his hand or mouth.

The first report was the authorities had fled. A report also that other Commissioners, a Prince of the Blood being one, had been nominated.

May 27th

Moved up and moored in the junction or outlet of the Grand Canal.

May 28th

Started with Cormorant at 6. Astonished to find her skipper's cabin choking full of mandarin's dresses, and had some forced upon me. I scrupled to take them, and still deem it wrong, but the only excuse was I had accepted them, and Saumarez was most averse to my returning them. He amused me very much by his telling me the Frenchmen came on the same mission, so he pointed out a locality for them, and stuck to his own preserve. Whether there is anything in the air of China, or because the Chinese are such looters themselves, it is surprising the systematic manner and apparent right everyone feels to 'put his hands to looting,' and I have found in China how hard it is to keep from breaking the Commandment, when you know there is no policeman near you.

William comments on Russian and United States representatives at the treaty negotiations.

The Russian is a regular hard-weather-looking seaman, clear-headed he has proved himself to us, and clever he must have proved himself at home to have been A.D.C. to the Emperor, and Chief of the Staff to Prince Menshikoff to defend Kronstadt against our anticipated attack in 1856. He has failed in his Mission to Pekin and hopes, as he tell me, to see the Gunboats going up the Pei-Ho to Tientsin as the only chance of obtaining a new Treaty.

Mr. Reed is a Philadelphia Lawyer, not brought up as a Statesman, but eminent in his State - carrying great weight with him. I think an honest upright man, who told me the day the Mail arrived he was more interested in the news of his first grandchild being born and his daughter becoming a mother than all other affairs. He said it was their business to remain quiet, and I presented him with Saml.Taylor Coleridge's work, wherein he says, 'The way to make a man a foolish Ambassador is to bring him up for one.' And that 'a love of Country, an honest heart and knowledge of the Ten Commandments form all the requisites for a Diplomatist.'

Lord Elgin arrived at Tientsin on the 30th May to meet the new plenipotentiaries that had been appointed by the Emperor and 26th June the Treaty of Tientsin was signed by China and the allies England, France, Russia, and the United States. Under its terms Britain obtained:

  1. Sanction of a Resident British Ambassador at Pekin..

  2. British subjects were secured a right of travelling over every part of China..

  3. The right to sell Opium.

  4. The transfer of the south part of Kowloon peninsula [up to Boundary Street] to the colony.



William, writing about this Treaty, said: 'We forced a Treaty out of a weak and divided nation, which Treaty will be delayed and evaded when they can do so with safety. The Treaty was conceived by vanity and ambition, and obtained from them by mighty wrong and piracy. The Treaty was forced from them by necessity, the land being overrun by rebels. The misrule since Lord Elgin's advent is sad. We have spared when we should have struck, and struck unjustly without a cause except the power of doing so. We have forced a Treaty from a nation at peace with us. We commenced wars and piratical acts in the North, and in the South were bullied by the Braves. A year ago they ought to have been well licked'.


From his diaries William appears to have been very critical of Lord Elgin. He disapproved of his policy towards the Chinese and also seems have taken a strong personal dislike to him. It is not the purpose of this website to make historical judgements but for the sake of fairness to the good name of Lord Elgin the editor believes that the reader should treat with caution some of William's remarks about this distinguished public servant.

For instance there is evidence that Lord Elgin had very similar doubts to those that William had, about the justice of the British case against the Chinese. Before the assault on Canton at the end of 1857 he remarked to a senior naval officer 'I feel I am earning myself a place in the Litany after 'plague, pestilence and famine' and after the assault he wrote to his wife saying 'that he had never felt so ashamed of himself.' However whatever his reservations he had accepted the task and carried it out to the best of his ability. In this respect he and William acted in the same way. Whatever his reservations William did not hold back when it came fighting the enemy.

One cannot know what caused William's personal dislike of Lord Elgin. No doubt their different social backgrounds did not help. Lord Elgin was the 8th Earl and a Whig grandee. William was the grandson of a Spitalfields weaver. This gap could have exacerbated the inevitable tensions that existed between the military and the politician, although from the correspondence that has been seen, Lord Elgin's letters to Admiral Seymour were both courteous and understanding.

Calcutta sailed from the vicinity of the mouth of the Pei Ho River on the 11th July and anchored off the Rugged Islands (off the mouth of the Yangtse Kiang) on the 30th.

After the signing of the Treaty of Tientsin Lord Elgin set off for Japan where he hoped to sign a trade agreement. It had been the Admiral's original intention to accompany Lord Elgin and at the same time present a steam yacht to the Emperor, which was being given to him by Queen Victoria. However on arriving at the Rugged Islands he heard that the situation in Canton was deteriorating and decided to cut short his Japanese visit.

In early August Calcutta visited Nagasaki where she stayed for one week. She was the first ship-of-the-line to visit Japan and created a great deal of interest. On the 11th Calcutta sailed for Hong Kong where she arrived on the 20th August.

Calcutta remained at Hong Kong for the next seven months.


July 20th

We have been drifting about with light variable winds, and are now 200 miles off the Rugged Islands, (but last night got her steam up). The wretchedness of a sailing vessel most apparent.

August 4th

Taken in tow by the Inflexible. Before doing so however, lost my temper most forcibly and unnecessarily with Lt. Walker attending on the lower deck. A serious accident very nearly occurred, thro' want of judgement by himself or those under his orders, and instead of being thankful to God that no lives were lost, I got in a great passion and called him a 'lubber'. The following day he wrote a letter. It went to the Admiral. The Devil, who had me well in hand, still made my conduct more foolish and wrong. Again lost my temper, and eventually on Saturday I came to my senses, and expressed regret to Walker at having said anything to hurt his feelings and also to the Admiral who has been kindness itself to me.

September 1st

I gave away my portrait of Yeh and plan of the 96 villages, with their statistical information. I have thus been enabled to get rid of a present (which I should not have accepted) of loot. The other silver ornaments I pitched overboard at sea. A difficult thing to keep from thieving when there is no risk in procuring it, and no policeman within 15,000 miles. This looting is considered by most fair game, which I differ from. It is most demoralizing.

September 5th

Trade at Canton stagnant and much mistrust prevails on the part of the Chinese. It is thought Tea in moderate quantities is near at hand. But they cannot understand if all the bobbery is finished, why 'them Sodger man' remain. The Commission cannot be abolished except by Lord Elgin. And the Consul, Mr. Alcock, does not feel himself in a position to commence his Consular duties whilst the Military occupation and Government last.

Lord Elgin has returned from Japan, having made a Treaty there. But Mr. Harris, the American, had forestalled him. The American Consul-General was landed with his portmanteau, and left to his own resources; without bullying Naval force, or pomp, procured voluntarily an admirable Treaty. This is diplomacy; knocking a fellow over the head with his hands in irons, is not.

The Russian has a large slice of Territory. The Count stated nothing but truth to me when on more than on one occasion he said, 'Sir, I find these poor men most reasonable - most reasonable, and kind in every way, and always quite ready, sir, to yield all they can. But they can't yield everything, it is impossible.'

Another remark is worthy. In the Treaty the word signifying Barbarian was never more to be used. In the last Pekin Gazette we are called Barbarians. The fact is the Treaty has not half the importance attached to it - the most valuable part is the opening of the Ports, which I believe we should have got by Lord Elgin settling all at Canton.

The gammon about not building houses in Pekin higher than the palace is dust thrown in our eyes. In fact I pity the poor fellow who has to carry out the Treaty, and hope we shall be in Old England. The remark made by the Chinese Commissioners when protesting against the admission of Ambassadors at Pekin was most correct. "They will only bring trouble because sometimes you send fools, and they fight with each other."

September 25th

Tortosa day. Two of the crew, old Benbows, who were employed in her boats, dined together, and it gave me great pleasure to give them a bottle of ale each. 18 years have made us all feel old and look it.

October 15th

Heard also by the last Mail from Admiral Austen and little Florence Shaw. How it recalls old scenes and happy bygone days to hear from one whom you had nursed as a baby - How much it reminds one of the quick voyage of life, the young ones saying, like a policeman 'Move on.'

October 31st

MacLeod was met by his Chinese boy saying, "One small piecey Baby come at 1 o'clock" which was the case. His wife gave birth to a daughter. I am to be the God-papa to Fanny Maud MacLeod.


Marine Kain had been tried by an army Court Martial while serving at Canton. He was sent back to Hong Kong to serve his sentence of one year's imprisonment. On the passage down the river, Kain had managed to obtain the musket of one of his escorts. At about 6 pm on the 26th October, seeing the figure of Mr Saye, the ship's engineer, through the hatch above his prison cell, he had shot him, assuming he was one of his guards. Mr Saye died five hours later.

On arriving at Hong Kong Kain was tried again, this time by a naval Court Martial. William was one of the nine members. Kain was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Wednesday, 10th November

6 am. A most lovely morning, the Eastern sky so soft and peaceful, and the sun about to rise, for the last time, on the Marine who murdered Mr. Saye, Engineer of the Hesper. We are about to assemble to witness this spectacle. How hard and impossible it is to realise that to this man - in sound health and vigour, in full possession of his faculties - in two hours this world and all its concerns will have ceased to be.

At 8 am the gun fired on board the Hesper, and the prisoner was run up to the Foreyard arm. I never heard or read of more determined nerve than this unhappy man has shewn. Without any bravado, and moulded in a better mind, he would have been a fine character.

The evening before his execution he remarked to the Master-at-Arms,  “Well, I do not think there is much need of thought about whether a man is a Catholic, Protestant, Calvinist” (or other sects, mentioning them all)  “but if a man asks forgiveness of God from his heart, he will receive it.” “But the sect” he said, “I do not understand are the Mormons,” talking as coolly as possible.

He also expressed a wish that a man named Will should be sent to hang him, (he had known him in prison), for it would get him his freedom.

To Will, the man, with whom he shook hands when about to place the noose, he said, “I hope this will get you your pardon.” Will replied that it would, and hoped he would not think ill of him for doing it. “Certainly not,” he replied. He also said to the Marine Guard, “Good-bye, boys.” Asked forgiveness of the crew. Said he hoped all would forgive him, as he forgave everyone, and hoped he might be prayed for. The poor soul walked up boldly, and went up without a struggle.

The Hesper was moored out 2 miles. Coromandel and gunboats took the ship’s crew out, as did Niger. The boatmen of each boat went on board to man the ... This is the first, may it be the last, execution I may have to witness.

December 9th.

 The Party (at the Club, Hong Kong) was very pleasantly sustained. But I certainly, without being strait-laced, should not desire to see my wife or daughter or in fact any for whom I entertained respect, or regard, hugged in the embraces of a Polka or Waltz. I cannot imagine anything to be more likely to inflame the passions of the Partners, whilst I do not say that this is generally the case. But it gives any ill-principled designing fellow opportunities of making an acquaintance of one hour’s knowledge, ripen into uncommonly friendly familiarity - I think the Queen was right in not allowing it, as I have heard was the case at the Palace.

The quadrille has quite action enough and opportunity enough to enable the parties to show their figures, and attitudes, and the light fantastic toe, if they choose to do so.

December 21st

Dined at Col. Caine’s, meeting our French friends at dinner and I was seated next to Baron Chaperon who talked much, and was very amusing, and altho’ there may be almost a breach of confidence in appearance, it is not really so, speaking of so public a character as the Emperor of France. He said the only time he ever saw the Emperor display any emotion was during the birth of his child. The Empress suffered great agony and for 12 hours and more. The Baron with many other High Officers of State were in the adjoining room compelled to listen to her fearful and terrible cries of anguish and pain. At one time they were more loud and piercing, and the Emperor deadly pale, rushed to the door exclaiming, “What are they doing to her?” The Prince Murat who is a very large man - stood with his back against the door - put his arms out and said, “Sire, I am a bigger man than you, you cannot pass me.” And prevented him.

As soon as the Child was born they were called in to witness it and the umbilical cord just then cut. I asked after Thiers. He said he was in Paris, and ready to take office. But the Emperor would not employ him yet, but alluded to him when he opened the Chambers in terms such as “an Author who writes as conscientiously as he does ably”. He said if the Empress has another child her life will be in danger. Chaperon was at School with the French Princes and told me Joinville was a great radical, had written one or two Pamphlets. Adm. Lalande had said to him - “Prince, this Pamphlet will do harm-it will not matter to me, for I shall be in my grave, nor to my sons, for they will not be old enough - But it will do you harm, and your family for the Principles will be obeyed - by the People.”

Chaperon in his amusing manner informed me his wife’s sister was to be married to a Prince of Hesse - Cassel, a vulgar, fat drinking fellow - He said the Emperor announced it to him, and he said,  “Yes, Sire, I am sorry for it.” said Napoleon, “you will have good shooting.”



 March 19th

At 10 am started under sail. Saluting and cheering. Our departure must have looked very pretty from the shore. We have 71 invalids, including 10 Frenchmen, and a little lad of five and a half, Henry Hance, and also passengers. Farewell to Hong Kong and China. Many anxious and many happy days have I spent there. My last act was to drop Joseph Jardine a line, asking a favour, viz  that MacLeod should accompany his wife home. I think he may grant it.

On leaving China, William was publicly thanked by the British colony for his services. The Calcutta arrived at Singapore on March 29, 1859, where William said good-bye to Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, who hoisted his flag in the Esk.

William was fortunate to miss the last phase of the 2nd Opium War. The war was to go on for another eighteen months during which the British and French forces were to suffer a serious defeat. Lord Elgin left for England in March and his place was taken by his brother James Bruce, who had returned to England the previous year.

In May, Bruce with his French colleague, set off for Peking with a small naval force to arrange for the ratification of the Treaty of Tientsin, but on arrival off the mouth of the Peiho they found that the defences of the Taku forts and the barrier across the river had been strengthened. After some unsatisfactory negotiations it was decided to force their way through these new defences. Admiral Hope, who had relieved Admiral Seymour, personally led a brave but foolhardy attack against these new defences. The result was a disaster. By the time the attack was called off four gunboats had been sunk or disabled and 434 British soldiers had been killed and wounded out of a force of just over 1000. The British force retired to Shanghai.

In the autumn Palmerston, who had been out of power for a period returned as Prime Minister. He decided this defeat must be avenged and during the winter a new expeditionary force of over 10,000 men was organised. As a further measure, Lord Elgin was sent out to take over from his brother. This force finally arrived off the mouth of Peiho in July, but this time did not make a frontal assault on the Taku forts. Instead they made an unopposed landing 10 miles north. After various adventures, which included the taking of the Taku forts, the looting of the Imperial summer palace and the murder of the Times correspondent, the allied force arrived outside Peking in October. However, as with Nanking, a final assault was not necessary. The Emperor, having  left his capitol, agreed to negotiate. Lord Elgin, his officials and an impressive military procession entered Peking on 24th March when the Convention Peking was signed. This convention and the preceding treaties, which formally established diplomatic relations and freedom of trade governed relations between the two countries for the rest of the century.

The next time a King-Hall had dealings with China was in 1899, when William’s eldest son, George King-Hall, as Captain of Narcissus was appointed First Commissioner of Wei-Hai-Wei, the newly acquired naval base at the mouth of the Gulf of Pechili.


April 1st

 During the afternoon my kind Admiral gave me a highly complimentary letter thanking me in the kindest way for my work since I had been his Flag Captain. I am, as I should be, very proud of this document, more especially when I reflect what an out and out Radical I have been, and I fear my hot temper has often betrayed me into expressing my opinion on many matters with a freedom sometimes wanting in respect to so good and kind a Chief.

About 5.30, the Admiral made a most appropriate speech on the Quarterdeck to the Officers and men, just saying as much as he should say and all to the point. There was an inclination at once to cheer him the moment he had concluded, but I gave the orders to man Yards, and from there he was cheered 3 times 3 and one over - such hearty cheering, real, unmistakable English cheering, I never before heard. Officers and men alike. The Band were most zealously blowing their lungs out to the tune of’ Auld Lang Syne,  but scarcely a note could be heard, so completely drowned were the notes by the Hip Hip Hurrah. The men were hanging like bees about the Rigging. The Admiral hoisted his Flag on board the Esk and shortly after I followed him, meeting him at dinner, as also Commodore Tatnall, U.S.N., his Captain, the Judge, and Captains Vansittart and Browker. We had a capital dinner on Deck and at 9.30 I landed the Admiral and Jeans and at 10.30 took leave of my kind Admiral and Jeans. A more efficient painstaking Officer than the latter cannot be found. I volunteered my services to the Admiral and assured him I should be ready to sail with him if he ever wished me, and of my readiness to give up any other berth to sail with him. I think gratitude should compel me to do this, his having taken me when he had so many volunteers to select from. This should not be forgotten.


Calcutta sailed from Singapore on the 2nd April and after passing through the Sunda Straits and calling at Port Elizabeth, arrived at Simons Town on the 16th May, a passage of 44 days. After a five day visit she sailed for home on the 21st and arrived in Plymouth on the 30th July, 10 weeks later.

April 4th

 When daylight did appear, our bearings placed us as near a rock called the Cornelius Rock, as we could be without being on it. These Strait directions and Charts are a disgrace to our Nation.

May 3rd

 For upwards of 3000 miles we have met no sail, nor even a shark to enliven us.

July 10th

 We were thirty-six hours perfectly becalmed last night, when people’s spirits were at zero; a light air sprung up and still continues, for we were in the belt of Calm called the Home Latitudes, and I yesterday took stock of water and found by personal inspection we had 55 days water at our present rate of consumption. Now we are all brighter, for 1900 miles to England is no distance, and I pray the breeze may continue.


Having reached England on July 30th, William was amazed to find a letter from Louisa informing him that she was not coming home from Halifax, as he had been appointed to command H.M.S. Indus, as Flag-Captain to Sir Houston Stewart, C.-in-C. on the North America and West Indies Station.

 William sent telegrams off to Sir Baldwin Walker, asking whether he had been appointed to the Indus. On receiving confirmation that this was so, and having paid a quick visit to his father and his stepmother, on the 14th August he sailed for Halifax on board the America. He was accompanied by his coxswain Quick who had served with him in six ships.