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ENCOURAGED by the
by the highly favourable reception accorded to his first volume, both by the Press and by his friends, the Author of “At School and at Sea" invites the reader to accompany him in his further experiences in other parts of the world.
This volume is a record, though, of course, only partially so, of the long, interesting, and eventful commission on the China and Pacific Stations, from 1856 to 1860, of H.M.S. Tribune, of 31 guns, 1570 tons, and 300 h.-p., a typical wooden screw steamfrigate of the transitional period of our navy, in which both the outgoing reign of sail and the incoming reign of steam were represented. That period, though short, not lasting much longer than ten years, from 1853 or thereabouts, was an important one, as besides constituting an epoch in naval history, it was productive of some of the most beautiful specimens of naval architecture that ever " walked the waters like things of life,” from the famous Agamemnon, of Sebastopol fame, onwards.
The Tribune was fitted out by Captain Harry Edmund Edgell (afterwards Commodore and C.B.) for the Pacific, of which, however, she was not destined to see much, as not long after her arrival, owing to the outbreak of the Chinese war, she was ordered to make the long, and, in those days, rarely performed voyage from the west coast of South America to China.
The passage through Magellan's Straits ; the observations there of the early Chilian settlement; of the Patagonians, Fuegians, and missionary dealings with the latter ; of the curious steamer-duck (of which an engraving is given); of revolutionary outbreaks on the Peruvian coast ; and, more than all, of experiences at the Chincha Islands, with their now extinct, but then extremely valuable and important guano industry, will, it is hoped, repay perusal.
The chapters on China cover a period of about nineteen months, during the war of 1856-58 (including the occupation of Canton), which immediately resulted from the “Lorcha Arrow Incident," and was finally concluded by the treaty ratified at Pekin in 1860, when a new era in the history of the Celestial Empire was initiated ; they are, therefore, comparatively “ancient history,” yet may claim attention as dealing with a specially important and critical epoch in Anglo-Chinese relations, and furnishing information and a retrospect, which, as will be seen, are not altogether pleasant reading for British subjects.
Life in the Canton River has so often been described that it may be thought that there is nothing new to be said about it, yet in so original and wonderful a country as China, features of interest are always to be found within the range of an observant eye, especially under the circumstances in which the Author was placed ; while as regards more warlike events, he believes that the wound which he received during one of the boat-actions which he describes to be one of the most curious on record.
During the latter half of her commission Captain Geoffrey Phipps Hornby reigned in the Tribune ; indeed she may almost be said to have “discovered " that celebrated officer, for when he joined he was very young and unknown to fame, never having held independent command before. The Author's early impressions and experiences of the famous Sir Geoffrey, who so quickly and decidedly gave promise of that professional pre-eminence which so distinguished him in later years, cannot fail to interest a large circle of naval readers, as well as many beyond it.
The present volume is of rather different character to that of its predecessor ; but it must be remembered that it is the record of a later age, when the midshipman's berth had been left behind, and professional life, with its duties and responsibilities, had assumed a more serious aspect. It differs, at all events, in this respect -that, with scarcely an exception, the dramatis persone appear under their real names.
A visit to Manila and its famous cigar factories, and one to Japan before it was "opened to the public,” are described, as well as, during the voyage homeward, a remarkable rescue of the crew of a sinking guano-ship.
The last part of the book consists of a year's reminiscences of Vancouver's Island in 1859–60, during its early history, when its importance, especially as a naval station, was yet in embryo, when Victoria was still called “ The Fort,” and its American flavour was predominant, when railways were unknown, and when ships' masts, being still of wood, could, if defective, be replaced on the spot, as the Tribune's mainmast was.
The joint occupation of the island of San Juan by Great Britain and the United States, in which the Tribune took a leading part, occurred during the abovenamed period, when, as the narrative shows, but for a most fortunate and timely occurrence, a rupture with the United States would almost certainly have resulted. These details have not appeared before.
In conclusion, the Author expresses his warmest thanks to Miss Edgell of Chichester, for so kindly allowing him free access to her late talented father's portfolio, the larger number of the illustrations being taken from his original paintings done on the spot. He has also to thank Mr. Goodchild, F.G.S., of the Geological Survey, for an excellent copy of the steamer duck from Oustalet's “Voyage to Cape Horn”; and Dr. W. Bertie Mackay of Berwick-on-Tweed, for kind assistance from his facile pencil.
BERWICK-UPON-TWEED, April 1902.