[ A Royal Navy officer in China during the Second Opium War. ] Four Autograph Letters Signed from Sub.-Lieut George Tate Medd to his family, describing incidents while serving on HMS Hornet. With ten drawings by Medd of Chinese heads.

Author: 
George Tate Medd (1837-1907), Royal Navy officer, later Vicar of Whitchurch [ The Second Opium War, 1856-1860; Second China War; Arrow War; HMS Hornet ]
Publication details: 
The four letters sent from China. The first from 18 July (Hong Kong) to 2 August ('Anchored off Shanghae') 1857. The other three from Canton: 4 and 18 May, and 3 July 1858.
£3,500.00
SKU: 19361

Although not yet twenty at the time of writing, Medd was already an experienced sailor, having enlisted at the age of twelve, and seen service in the Crimean War. The four letters present here are vivid, well-written, and informative. (Medd had been educated at Dr Burney's school at Gosport, and had had a letter on the Crimean War published in the Stockport Advertiser.) Medd describes the background to the letters as follows (in Item Two below): 'I served in HM Steam sloop “Hornet” in China from July 1857 to July 1859. And was at the storming and taking of Canton city December 29th. 1857, & in a heavy skirmish the night previous. Afterwards was employed in a great deal of boat service in the Canton River having laid at anchor in that River for nearly 14 months, where I suffered much from fever and ague - | G. Tate Medd | Acting Mate R.N. | August 1859 | R.N. College Portsmouth'. Elsewhere (in Item Three) he writes 'I was Sub. Lieut. Of H.M.S. “Hornet” and served in 3rd. Division of the Naval Brigade at taking of Canton.' Medd's ship, the 17-gun wooden-screw Cruizer-class sloop HMS Hornet (1854), is described by him (Item One) as 'a perfect model of beauty in a ship', and elsewhere as 'the pride of the China Station – and the admirals Pet'. The material in this collection is in fair condition, on aged and worn paper, a bifolium of one of the letters having central closed tears to each leaf. The following description is divided into four sections. ONE: Four Autograph Letters, three of them signed (two 'George Tate Medd', and one 'George'). The letters total 29pp., with an additional three pages written crosswise. The letters total 29pp., with an additional three pages written crosswise. The first letter is incomplete: it has twelve pages on three bifoliums numbered 1 (addressed to his father), 2 and 4 (both addressed to his mother), with no.3 lacking. The second letter is addressed to his mother, the third to both parents, and the fourth to his father. Also present is an envelope 'From China', via Marseilles, addressed by Medd to his father, John Medd of Mansion House, Stockport, Cheshire. In the first part ('No 1') of the first letter Medd describes his new ship and its officers: 'My dear Father | I joined this ship (The noted Hornet) yesterday afternoon. I am only sent here to see active service, the Sans Pareil draws too many feet of water that she is not much good to see active service in – Captain Key was kind enough to get permission from Adl. Seymour for me to come here for 3 months, so I shall return afgain to the Sans Pareil. This vessel is a perfect model of beauty in a ship. She carries 17 guns – and is 120 horse steam power. The Commander Charles Codringham Forsyth is a pompous little man – very corpulent and short and has a very bloated red fat face with small twinkling restless grey eyes – When he says a thing (so the officers tell me) he expects the junior to agree with him, else he gets very crusty, on the whole he is perfectly agreeable, though he barks he seldom bites.' He turns to some of the officers, beginning with 1st Lieut. Arthur M. Brock ('a very nice sort of man') and 2nd Lieut. William O. Butler 'a very jolly gentlemanly little man beloved by officers and men', before describing the 'nice quite comfortable little mess' ('in the old Sans-Pareil there were 24 besides me that was a good deal to[o] many'). He begins the second part of the letter ('No 2', 18 July) by informing his mother that 'We have just got the anchor up and are sailing along very nicely through what they call the “Lemon Passage” a narrow passage, land close to either side. The “Nimrod” a despatch gun boat is in company with us – we are going to have a look along the coast – Weather fine with light breezes.' He is now in charge of a watch, and finds that 'this ship has such good qualities in every way, that she is no trouble to the officer of the watch'. He finds that 'the captain is very fidgetty when he gets in amongst any islands – and he keeps the officer of the watch well at work': 'Every minute the old Captain was calling out to me, Mr. Medd trim sails – I would answer him and call out Boatswain's Mate “Trim sails” he would pipe it – and then I would give the order weather Braces, haul well taut – round in – then it would be alter course again and then I should have to get the Sea Braces hauled in – you know the Braces pull the yards about'. He reports that the ship is 'anchored under the north side of “Matson” a large Chinese fishing village on the coast. We have been sailing so fast – that we have left our companion – the Nimrod far astern'. At 2pm on the same day he describes going ashore with three others: 'Every where we went we had 200 or 300 Chinese following us. We all were armed with Colts revolver but they were very friendly. Purchased some fowls and eggs. [...] Saw nothing but wretched wooden houses – very bare and dirty streets and a miserable lot of beings called Chinese – some of them that followed us had a most villainous face – but our revolvers kept the a decent distance of[f], they looked at them in great wonder but did not like to touch them.' He is sent 'with Mr. Williams (the signal cadet) and a corporal of Marines with a Union Jack' to 'the top of the highest hill', to look for the Nimrod, without success. In the fourth part of the letter he reports that 'The Captain has gone up to “Ningpo” in one of the Cutters to see how things are going on, and to take specie to some merchants there'. On 31 July the Hornet is 'sailing up through the islands going up the Yang-tse-Krang River'. On 1 August she is 'off the city of Shanghae, found here HMS “Pique” of Captain Sir Fredk. Nicholson'. Two days later the ship is 'Anchored off Shanghai', and going to 'remain here for some time, as everything at present is at a stand still, till Lord Elgin has seen into affairs. - all say Canton must be taken, I was at the fall of Sebastopol I hope I may be at the storming of Canton'. He has been onshore again, walking 'round the Merchants Race Course', where he sees 'all the swells of Shanghae riding and driving about – Some cut no end of a dash'. He turns to family matters before admitting: 'If I could begin the world again – the Navy would not be my choice. Thank God I am happy enough here and we are all very jolly together – but there is no real enjoyment in a sea life at the best of times. I have had plenty of experience that tells me so.' (Medd had been in the navy since the age of twelve.) With the second letter, from Canton, 18 May 1858, Medd is 'still at anchor in the old spot and heartily tired we are of it, every thing is so dull [...] penned up in a small place with no change, all of us pray for the orders to go to England to come out soon. We expect our orders to go home every mail, as this ship has been in Commission early 4 years and a half. When it is fine, I with one or two of my messmates go on shore for a walk, but there is nothing to be seen but dirty narrow streets, with miserable diseased Chinese laying about in all directions -and I have met often and often, a whole street full of blind people, all in a string leading each other – I have to walk through the city to get to Jongh's Hill where I visit a friend of mine a lieutenant of Marines, we have a quiet yarn and a cruise about -which is a bit of a change for me – I know all the ins and outs of the different streets and places in Canton as well as I do dear old Stockport – the Chinese are always very civil, but we always go well armed and three or four together, it is not deemed quite safe for one person.' The letter continues with news of naval affairs and promotions. A supplement, dated 18 May 1858, describes a trip on shore, 'and when I landed the streets were flooded. I was just turning back, when a marine an old ship mate of mine, called out “I beg your pardon sir” but is not that Mr. Medd I said yes, and I recognised the man at once – he called some Chinese who got a flat bottomed boart, and away I went down 2 streets in a boat for the first time in my life, I quite enjoyed it and the Chinese laughed most heartily [...] and the Chinamen kept “chin chinning” me'. With the third letter, 4 May 1858, everything is still 'at a stand still [...] Lord Elgin is busy to the North, going ahead like a steamer and wont receive any evasive answers from the Celestial rascal, nearly all the gun boats are with him and several ships; only waiting for troops to take Pekin [...] The people on shore are expecting an attack every day, from no end of Braves outside the Walls'. The officers toast the promotion of Captain Dowell in 'first rate champagne' on the quarterdeck, at which Dowell says “I am very sorry Medd you are not, in fact I am quite astonished. Never mind I will do all I can for you, by representing to their Lordships your services in the Russian War – and when on shore with me at Canton'. He describes the Hornet as 'the pride of the China Station – and the admirals Pet', adding that he goes 'away every other night in an armed boat (at 11 P.M.) to row guard, as a lookout against the Chinese bringing any arms over from the different places to Canton, I have my trusty revolver (6 barrels loaded), I look over every suspicious junk and the China men cry out “Ya ya ga,” and are in a great state of fright. I go away at night at 11. in our Pinnace with 15 men armed and a gun in the bows of the boat, so I am well prepared in case of an attack of junks – if I even happen to get attacked I have orders from Dowell to burn 2 Blue lights and assistance will soon arrive'. The fourth letter begins, 3 July 1858: 'We received news from the Admiral last night, and there is “Peace to the north. - all is settled amicably at Pekin with his Celestial Majesty, but here it is War to the Knife, when we received the news, two of our large frigates and 5 gun boats, were bombarding a village near Whampon infested with “Braves.”' He explains the reason as an attack on 'Captain Jenkins' and twenty of his men 'by a large number of Chinese Braves laying in ambuscade': 'Captain Jenkins was obliged to retreat with 6 small shot in his body and one man recd. As many as 28 small bullets in him and is now dying. So that is the reason we blew the Village down. Our Ambassador and the French live in very comfortable houses on the banks of the P<?> about 10 miles from Pekin – the Celestial King and his Court, soon, gave in to our demands when they saw us in earnest near their capital.' He follows with news of a 'Theatrical Performance' and the drowning of 'the Assistant Surgeon of the “Camilla”' ('he had more liquor in him than needful'). He ends by apologising for borrowing money on his father's account, following a trip to Hong Kong 'for a change of air'. In a postscript he urges his parents not to 'write to Lord Gifford (our Com[mande]r.) on money matters, as I am a Commissioned officer, and we let our Comr. Know our Private Affairs!' TWO: Three leaves of 8vo grey paper, torn from an album, on which are laid down ten coloured drawings of Chinese heads. Ranging in size from 15 x 9.5 cm to 5 x 3 cm. Excellent likenesses, no doubt done by Medd himself, who was a capable artist. All are captioned, as for example: 'Sheesung of East Street Canton, China Feby 27. 1858 This Chinese sells good cheese cakes & other confectionary' and 'Whampon's Cousin a great merchant at Singapore E. Indies June 1857'. From the dating most appear to have been done from life, with this exception: 'A likeness of a celebrated Executioner lived in the time of the Chinese Commissioner “Sia” 1841 – Governor of the Kwantung Province seat of Govt. At Canton China'. On the reverse of one of the three leaves is the note by Medd quoted above. THREE: Cuttings of long newspaper article on the 'Bombardment of Canton', reprinting anonymously a letter written by Medd and sent from 'off Canton', 14 January 1858. With autograph note by Medd: 'Cut out of the “Stockport Advertiser”'. In envelope with ANS: 'Forward | Published by Mr. Lomax in “The Stockport Advertiser” | A letter I wrote home after taking of Canton China – Decr. 1857. | I was Sub. Lieut. Of H.M.S. “Hornet” and served in 3rd. Division of the Naval Brigade at taking of Canton. | G: Tate. Medd.' FOUR: Envelope, bearing a small ink sketch of a three-masted ship (the Hornet?), with autograph note by Medd: 'Ready, aye, Ready | Steady boys steady | a letter from | George Tate Medd | Sub. Lieut. R.N. | aboard HMS “Hornet” | anchored nr. the Dutch Folly | Canton River | China | May 18: 1858'. George Tate Medd enlisted as a naval cadet, in his own words, 'at the age of 12¾ years', on 11 June 1850, and saw service in the Crimea and the China War, 1857-58 (medals with 2 clasps). He retired in 1861 invalided with the rank of Lieutenant. Turning to the church he was made a deacon in 1868 and a priest in 1870. He was Curate of Rotherfield, Sussex, 1868-70; Curate of Harrietsham, Kent, 1870-76; and Vicar of Whitchurch, near Aylesbury, from 1876 to his death. Other material from his papers, including his log books, is offered separately.'t?>