INVADING THE MIDDLE KINGDOM
see "Handy Men"
One of Australia's most unusual
military expeditions occurred in 1900-1 when a task force was sent into
China to help the British crush the Boxer Rebellion. The whole incident
lasted less than a year and involved fewer than 1000 Australians, yet it
was to have a distinct effect on the development of the Australian navy.
Early in 1900 when the
Boer War was at its height, news reached Australia of a terrible
rebellion in China. Sickened by years of exploitation by various foreign
powers, a large group of Chinese began efforts forcefully to expel all
foreigners from the country. Leading this uprising was a party known as
the 'Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists' whose members became
known to the Europeans as Boxers.
One of the first acts of the Boxers
was attack various foreign embassies situated the imperial capital of
Peking. The British French, German, American, Russian a Japanese
ambassadors found themselves under siege and in a rare display of unity
pooled their meagre resources until a relief party arrived. When they
heard that their embassies we under attack, the respective foreign
governments began to raise forces to go to their aid.
||Since Australia was relatively
close to the action, the British government asked the various colonies
if it could detach three ships of the Royal Navy's 'Australian' squadron
to use in its Chinese expeditionary force.
Not only did the colonies
agree to this request, but they also offered their own small naval
forces for use in the Empire's cause.
Britain accepted 200 men from the
Victorian Navy, 262 from the New South Wales Navy and the South
Australian gunboat Protector with its complement of 96 officers and men.
<<< G F Jeffery, a
rating on the South Australian gunboat, Protector.1900.
The New South Welshmen and
Victorians arrived in China at the mouth of the Pei-Ho River on 9
September 1900. From there they marched to the key city of Tientsin
which the Victorian brigade was left to garrison. Meanwhile the New
South Wales brigade, integrated with other British forces, stormed into
Peking to the sound of a pipe band on 20 October. Having relieved the
foreign legations, the New South Wales unit remained = Peking for five
months performing the 7win roles of fire brigade and police force.
Armourer G. Prideaux, of the
Victorian contingent, described the devastation the fighting had caused
in Peking. Of the British Legation building he wrote: 'the place was considerably
knocked about. A great wall surrounded all the buildings. The Legation
people owe a lot of their safety to that. The bodies of those who fell
and died are buried in a corner, some with no coffins, a cross and a
name being all that mark the spot.
One house was perfectly riddled
by shell and spattered by bullet marks ... An iron bedstead in one of
the rooms was completely wrecked and the upright bed posts of iron about
1 and a half inches in diameter were even riddled by rifle fire.'
Too Late to See Action
September 1900, 300 men from
both Contingents were sent to take part in the attack on the Pehtang
forts 10 kilometres north of Tientsin. The Australians were keen to see
action but by the time they arrived the position had been captured by an
allied army. The Victorians were then detailed to attack the Boxer
defences at Pao-ting-fu, which lay 130 kilometres away to the west. Once
again, however, due to bad directions the Australians arrived too late
to see any fighting.
While the Victorians had been
trying to come to grips with the enemy, the New South Welshmen had not
been idle. In January 1901 they were dispatched to the Boxer stronghold
of Kao-li-ying where they successfully collected a punitive fine and
burnt down a temple.
Finally on 26 and 27 March 1901
both contingents were sent back to Australia, their work done.
Prideaux wrote: 'General Lorne Campbell addressed us and spoke in high
terms of our discipline. He said that although we had not done much
fighting, he had done his best to get us some; but whenever a man was
wanted for a special job, we always had that particular man, and he was
very sorry to part with us.' The whole incident had cost the lives of 5
New South Welshmen and 1 Victorian.
c. 1900. Chinese prisoners, perhaps
Boxers or criminals, with written tags attached to declare their
crime. They are stood on a pile of stones, one stone removed daily
gradually increasing pressure on the throat until strangulation
takes place. Death takes several days.
- This was not done by
Australians; it was a local punishment.
The men arrived back in
Australia on 25 April but quarantine restrictions prevented them from
landing until 3 May when they received a tumultuous reception from the
citizens of Sydney. The South Australian warship Protector arrived at
Hong Kong from Adelaide in September 1900. Here she was transferred to
the Royal Navy and on 19 September sailed for Shanghai to perform
surveyor and courier duties in the Gulf of Pechili. After receiving a
commendation from Captain Jellicoe, the Protector returned to Australia
in January 1901.
The Chinese expedition of
1900-1 does not rank among Australia's greatest military exploits, but
it did mark our first military involvement in Asian affairs. Perhaps,
however, the most enduring result of Australia's involvement in the
Boxer Rebellion was the "acquisition" of a number of Chinese works of
art which have graced Australian galleries ever since.
see "Handy Men"