My diary entries for the next few days are pretty run-of-the-mill. But rest assured, dear readers, the adventures are about to start! In the meantime, here’s some background information about my life before we set off to travel…
BACKSTORY. Part 3: Five Months on the Yang-tsze
“Deep in the mud and deluged with rain, Shanghai hardly presented on the 11th of February, 1861, an appearance to justify the appellation of “The Model Settlement”, which it, nevertheless, so well merits in the far East.” With this sentence, my great-uncle, the soldier, explorer and ornithologist Thomas Wright Blakiston, opened his account of his journey up the Yangtze, which he gave the cumbersome title Five Months on the Yang-tsze; with a Narrative of the Exploration of its Upper Waters, and Notices of the Present Rebellions in China.
Thomas was accompanied upriver by Lieutenant-Colonel H.A. Sarel, 17th Lancers, Dr. Alfred Barton, and the Reverend S. Schereschewsky, of the grandly-named American Episcopal Board of Foreign Missions. To Thomas and his friends, it was a lark, a bit of a jaunt upriver, looking for adventure and a bit of derring-do. It was also a trade mission of sorts. The Rev. was no doubt looking for souls to capture. The Colonel had an eye for military opportunities. And Thomas, the budding trader and merchant, had a notion that he could find a new trade route over the Himalayas to India.
One hundred and thirty years later, on Wednesday, October 5th, 1994, my wife, Linda and I entered China via the Khunjerab Pass from Northern Pakistan. It was our second time in China: we had made a short visit in 1992, travelling from Guangzhou (Canton) up to Guilin and back. This time we were going in at the deep end. Ahead of us lay two months of gruelling travel which would take us from the easternmost corner of the People’s Republic right out to Hong Kong. Along the way, we wanted to visit the Tibetan minorities at Lijiang, and re-visit the Kaast landscapes around Yangshou.
At the time I was unaware of Thomas Wright Blakiston. I had no idea that my ancestor had been one of the first Europeans to travel up the Yangtze, to map the river, and to write a book about his experiences which would remain the standard text to the Yangtze
for several decades. Writing now, it seems somehow incredible that our two strands of history, Thomas’s and mine, were drawing together, albeit in opposite directions. For the purpose of this narrative, I have combined my diary entries as we travelled east, with those of Thomas, travelling east up the Yangtze thirteen decades earlier. At Pingshan our stories collide and I join Blakiston sailing downriver and into the pages of history. My story begins with four of us crossing the Khunjerab Pass. My diary from that journey takes up the story.
Tuesday, October 5th – And Finally, the Khunjerab Pass. Rather than being a well-defined saddle or couloir, the Khunjerab is more of a wide valley, sloping downwards into China. It is hard to equate this high, lonely place with the teeming masses of the People’s Republic. A large herd of yaks graze the brown, boggy alpine pasture: a sort of international herd free to roam at will between the two countries.
At the very top of the pass the last Pakistani outpost stands windswept and cold. Workmen are busy repainting “A Tribute to Zhoe Enlai” carved on a concrete monument. The Khunjerab Glacier flows down the steep valley behind the border post. With its surrounding mountains shrouded in cloud, it looks vaguely threatening: a white maw within which hidden dangers might lurk.
There were four of us making the crossing of the Khunjerab that day. Linda and I were travelling with Blue Henderson and Kerry Graham, two friends from New Zealand whom we had met up with in Lahore. We celebrated our arrival at the summit, of one of
the highest road passes in the world, with cigarettes and hugs. At 15,000 feet the air was clean and cold. In front of us lay the Pamir Range and China; behind us lay the Karakorams and Pakistan.
A jeep-load of Pakistanis pulls up. The men are cheering, ecstatic to be getting out of what they call the “Evil Empire.” They take photographs of us and ask where we are going. When we tell them China they seem genuinely sorry for us. Back in our rented 4WD we descend from the summit of the pass to the first checkpoint in the P.R.O.C. The cheerful guards there harass our driver, Kamil, good-naturedly and ask us for coins from New Zealand. They are dressed in People’s Army green and have a cosy Porta-cabin to live in. After inspecting our passports we are allowed to move on down the road which follows the course of a small eastward-flowing stream.
Clusters of yurts and rough dwellings are scattered along the roadside and shaggy Bactrian camels glare disdainfully at us as we pass. The landscape is cold, bare and brown: an un-imaginably inhospitable place in which to live. Shepherds tend large flocks of sheep and goats but there doesn’t appear to be anything for the animals to eat. The summer pasture is gone, grazed down to the earth.
The road runs along the centre of the valley, past small side streams and tiny shimmering lakes. Snow-covered ranges overlook each side of the valley and away in the distance, lit by the afternoon sun, another range of taller mountains seem to block the valley off. We pass a small village where some kind of horseback tag is being played. Amid a cloud of dust stocky ponies ridden by wild-looking men race around on a dirt field. The tattered carcass of a dead goat is being fought over by two teams, each team vying to complete two circuits of the field while carrying the late lamented animal. Further on we stop to watch two donkeys fucking on the side of the road, causing great hilarity amongst the assembled locals.
The landscape whirls by outside. There are crystal streams, wild horses, camels, donkeys, dogs chasing the wheels of the Toyota, PSB officials in green uniforms with shiny buttons. At Pirali, a cold, wind-swept cluster of buildings with snow blowing up from the north, we stop for a passport check. Two American cyclists are there and they ask us for a ride to Tashkurgan. We are quite happy to let them sit on the back but our avaricious driver wants fifteen dollars each from them. We leave them pedalling forlornly into the headwind.
We arrive at Chinese Customs at 4.30pm local time. As all China is in the same time zone it is intriguing to imagine that it will also be 4.30 in Beijing even though it as a quarter of the world away. The immigration formalities are quick and perfunctory: Health Declaration, Entry Stamp, a walk through the deserted Customs Hall. “Welcome to China” a sign reads in English.
Later, in Tashkurgan we check into a decrepit dorm in the old wing of the Hotel Pamir. The wooden floor has holes in it; the toilets are stinking open pits piled up with shit. But the town is nice, possessing a kind of Wild West atmosphere reminiscent of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. Fierce Uigur men ride their stocky ponies along the poplar-lined main street. The air is dusty and cold. Beyond the edge of town, snowy mountains loom forbiddingly. Locals apparently warn visitors not to venture into these mountains but they sometimes do and they often disappear.
We eat in a dingy Uigur café where short, dark-skinned men with hazel eyes and strong hands noisily slurp noodles, smoke and drink tea. The food is delicious, especially after the bland offerings of our last few days in Pakistan. Further up the street, we buy a bottle of wine then sit at an outside café table eating dumplings dipped in chilli and drinking the wine. As we retire for the night a cold rain begins to fall from a black sky.
Such was our first day in China. We were four Kiwi kids a long way from home, submerged in a sea of foreign faces and customs. In his time it was the same for Blakiston.
“On leaving Shanghai,” he wrote, “we were four Europeans, four Sikhs, and four Chinese; but one of the latter falling sick was sent back to Hankow. The three remaining were a Chinese “writer”, or as often called a “teacher”, to the missionary gentleman of the party; and two “boys”, as servants are called in the Far East, Messrs. “Quei-quei” and “Bin-quei.” The Sikhs were Sepoys of H.M. 11th Punjab Infantry, Havildar Kumal Khan, and Privates Zuman Shah, Fuzil Deen, and Mahomed Buksh, with whom we had been allowed to augment out party by the Commander-in-Chief Sir Hope Grant.”
Blakiston’s expedition had been organized informally and its participants had had to come up with all the funding from their own pockets. Their reserve of cash for hiring porters, food and for the purchase or hire of craft in which to navigate the river, comprised Mexican silver dollars and small lumps of silver known as taels.
“Each of us carried 450 taels of silver in this form equal to about six hundred dollars, and, for fear of loss from shipwreck or other mishaps, we distributed the amount among our different packages. Mine was tied in old socks, and kept various company; one lot was in the next compartment of a box to my sextant; another lay snugly between two dangerous bedfellows, a bag of No. 1 shot and a tin of “Curtis and Harvey” [gunpowder]; while the remainder was distributed so as to equalize the weight of each box as nearly as possible, along with nautical almanacs, logarithm tables, flannel shirts, quinine, fish-hooks, and writing paper.”
A month after leaving Shanghai, Blakiston’s party, with its escort of Navy ships, reached Tung-ting Lake. The lake marked the end of foreign protection and it was here that the party’s naval attendants left them. From here on, Blakiston and his friends would be on their own.
“We had sent letters [with the returning ships] informing our friends that we had fairly started for Tibet, and that everything looked propitious; they were dated ‘Yo-Chow, entrance to Tung-ting Lake, 150 miles above Hankow, 16th March, 1861.’”
The expedition now shifted its focus to the demanding task of employing boatmen willing to take them upriver, through the Three Gorges and into the vast interior beyond.
It seems odd that the origins of Blakiston’s Yangtze explorations should lie in something as innocuous as tea but, nevertheless, it was this simple beverage, brewed from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, that would ultimately open up the hitherto unexplored inner regions of China and allow men like Blakiston free access to the country. The tea plant itself is a native of Southeast Asia and tea brewed from its dried leaves has been drunk in China since perhaps the 28th century BC and certainly since the 10th century BC, from which time written records of its use survive. It was first brought to Europe by the Dutch in the early 17th century. After the introduction of tea there in 1657, England became the only European country of tea drinkers rather than coffee drinkers. Tea is drunk by about half of the world’s population; China, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Japan are the main producers.
Tea was the root cause of the trading conflicts between China and Britain known as the Opium Wars (1839-1842). The tea grown in China had become such a popular drink in Great Britain that the Chinese rulers were making vast profits by selling it. But the Chinese Government, fearing an uprising if Western ideas about democracy and modernization took hold, were unwilling to allow the Chinese people to buy products they wanted from the British. China would have rather not traded with the British at all, but they were willing to sell the British tea only if they used the port in Canton.
The British decided that in order to balance their trade they had to buy and sell to China, not just buy. They decided to sell opium, a drug grown widely in India over which Britain had complete suzerainty. Tons of opium was exported into China and before long a large portion of the community was hooked on the drug.
Eventually, the Chinese government outlawed the import of opium, not only because of the debilitating effects of the drug but because of the silver leaving China to pay for it. In 1838, the Chinese government ruled that anyone dealing in opium would be put to death. Government officials were ordered to confiscate and destroy the opium held by foreign firms and refused to pay compensation.
The British, miffed that their little scheme had been scuppered, sent a flotilla to blockade Chinese ports and to destroy the hopelessly outgunned Chinese navy. The conflicts continued until 1842 when the Treaty of Nanking was signed. The treaty stated that China would pay the British an indemnity, gave British control over Hong Kong, and to establish a fair tariff. It also allowed the British merchants to trade in five ports instead of just one.
A year later, Britain added a supplement which was called the British Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue. This supplement allowed British citizens in China to control their own land without being subjected to Chinese laws. It also guaranteed the British any other privileges China bestowed on any other nation.
Then in 1844, China signed the Treaty of Wanghia with the United States and the Treaty of Whampoa with France. Both of these treaties expanded the extraterritorial rights and allowed these nations to maintain a separate legal, judicial, police, and tax system in the treaty ports.
In 1858, after the second Opium War, the Treaty of Tientsin was signed. This new supplement allowed the foreign diplomats to live in Peking, allowed foreigners to travel through China, opened China’s major rivers to foreign navigation, allowed Christian missionaries to promote the Christian faith, legalized opium, and 10 more ports to foreign trade and residence. It was the caveat of free travel anywhere in the country that allowed Blakiston and his companions to sail up the Yangtze.
Concurrent with Blakiston’s adventures was one of the most tumultuous periods of recent Chinese history, the Taiping Rebellion. During the mid-nineteenth century, China’s problems were compounded by natural calamities of unprecedented proportions, including droughts, famines, and floods. Government neglect of public works was in part responsible for this and other disasters, and the administration of the ruling Qing Dynasty did little to relieve the widespread misery caused by them. Economic tensions, the military defeats of the Opium Wars, and anti-Manchu sentiments all combined to produce widespread unrest, especially in the south. South China had been the last area to yield to the Qing conquerors and the first to be exposed to Western influence. It provided a likely setting for the Taiping Rebellion to begin.
The Taiping rebels were led by Hong Xiuquan ( 1814-1864), a village teacher and unsuccessful imperial examination candidate. Believing himself to be the son of God, and Jesus’ older brother, Hong formulated an eclectic ideology combining the ideals of pre-Confucian utopianism with Protestant beliefs. He soon had a following in the thousands who were heavily anti-Manchu and anti-establishment. Hong’s followers formed a military organization to protect themselves against bandits and recruited troops not only among believers but also from among other armed peasant groups and secret societies.
In 1851 Hong Xiuquan and others launched an uprising in Guizhou Province. Hong proclaimed the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace, or Taiping Tianguo, with himself as king. The new order was to reconstitute a legendary ancient state in which the peasantry owned and tilled the land in common; slavery, concubinage, arranged marriage, opium smoking, foot-binding, judicial torture, and the worship of idols were all to be eliminated.
The Taiping tolerance of the esoteric rituals and quasi-religious societies of south China – themselves a threat to Qing stability – and their relentless attacks on Confucianism, which was still widely accepted as the moral foundation of Chinese behaviour, contributed to the ultimate defeat of the rebellion. Its advocacy of radical social reforms alienated the Han Chinese scholar-gentry class.
Having captured Nanjing and driven as far north as Tianjin, the Taiping armies failed to establish stable base areas. The movement’s leaders found themselves in a net of internal feuds, defections, and corruption. Additionally, British and French forces, being more willing to deal with the weak Qing administration than contend with the uncertainties of a Taiping regime, came to the assistance of the imperial army. Before the Chinese army succeeded in crushing the revolt, however, 14 years had passed, and well over 30 million people were reported killed.
By 1861 the Taipings were on the run, harried on all sides by the Imperial Qing forces, aided by their foreign allies. On their voyage upriver so far, Blakiston’s party had passed unmolested through a large part of Taiping-controlled China. As they entered the province of Sichuan they began encountering junk-loads of Imperial troops bound for various battle-zones. They also began meeting groups of rebels unconnected with the Taipings, whom Blakiston described as “rather than being insurrectionists with any fixed object in view, we should be inclined to call them unconnected bands of robbers.”
As they sailed further upriver, the current strengthened and rapids began to appear. The explorers hired gangs of “coolies” to haul their boat upstream.
“Some five and twenty naked and half-naked are dragging us along at a smart rate by a long plaited bamboo line…See how they have to scramble along the precipitous rocky shore! Sometimes on their hands and knees, at others with foothold only for their toes, or on sloping smooth rock where their grass sandals only keep them from slipping into the foaming current below. Now we see them high above us, running along on the verge of a precipice, and shouting like a lot of madmen; then they are down again and clambering round a point of rock which projects out into the river, and where some little cautiousness, which they seem to have among them, causes the leaders to get past the impediment first without the line, and than, it being thrown to them they run on again with it, and leave the others to get round as best they can; then they all come up, and, hitching on the cords of their breast-straps to the towing line, away they go again like a pack of hounds in full cry.”
Blakiston gives away very little of himself or his emotions in his writings. It’s safe to assume that he would have been the same in life. The English are notoriously un-emotional and the Victorian Englishman kept his emotions so fully in check it’s hard to believe they were capable of any emotional outburst greater than a loud “hurrumph” in agreement to a point raised in debate.
However, in Chapter Five of Five Months on the Yang-tze, Blakiston lets slip a paragraph on his belief in God and his preference for the open, unexplored places as opposed to what he calls “the busy haunts of mammon.”
“On Sunday the 7th of April, having been hauled up the Kwa-dung rapid in the morning, where a small island of rock stands in mid-stream, we continued on for a few miles up a rocky portion of the river. The weather was dull and rainy, and lowering clouds hung in heavy masses below the mountain peaks, veiling much of the scenery in that uncertainty which leaves scope for the imagination to picture forms and features to suit his own taste, often more grand and beautiful than the original.
“Divine service was performed in the afternoon; and one could not but feel that we were in a situation, and under circumstances, where the word of our Maker had full force; and I have ever felt, when amid the wild solitude of Nature, that I have been more inclined to center my thoughts on religion, and to give expression to supplications for mercy at the hands of the Great Author, than when cooped-up in closely crammed churches among the busy haunts of Mammon. And I will even go so far as to say that divine service performed in camp by a plain chaplain, in the open air, surrounded by men whose profession is that of blood and strife, has more effect on me than the most impressive of our cathedral services.”
In 1994, our little party of four travelled for weeks to reach Chongqing. Our route took us from Tashkurgan to Kashgar – where we attended the Sunday Market, reputed to be the largest one-day market in Asia – and on to the city of Urumchi. From there we rode trains east across the desert to Lanzhou then south to Chongqing. It was here, in this smoky concrete city on the banks of the Yangtze that our paths intersected with that of Blakiston’s, albeit thirteen decades apart. On Sunday the 28th of April, 1861, his expedition anchored off the city’s Taiping Gate. And although the name meant “Gate of Peace” Blakiston wrote “there was no peace for us.”
The following day, Blakiston and his party were invited to dine with Monsieur Vincot, a French missionary living in Chung-king. During the day, however, an incident occurred which put the lives of the expedition in grave danger. A group of soldiers from the local militia invited themselves aboard one of the expedition junks. Perhaps they were merely curious about the foreigners; perhaps they had a more sinister intent. In any case, when asked to leave, the soldiers refused. Blakiston takes up the story:
“…one of them strongly objected, and seemed to argue that, China being a free country, and braves [militia] being used to roam about and do pretty much as they chose, he did not exactly see why he should not remain on board. As he had refused the polite invitation to “pass over the side” [disembark] in a proper manner, the Doctor quietly took him up and dropped him into the river, to the no small amusement of the bystanders, who, as he mounted the bank wet and dripping, reviled him with all sorts of choice epithets and slang…”
Though amusing at the time, the incident sparked a good deal of resentment among the militia and word was passed to the party that, should they attempt to visit M. Vincot that evening they would all be killed. It was decided that defensive precautions should be taken. The two junks were lashed together, the gangplanks withdrawn and a red ensign hoisted. Armed to the teeth with rifles, pistols and swords the party prepared “to give soldiers, townspeople, braves or whoever might be our enemies a warm reception.”
In the end, no attack was forthcoming. Blakiston sent word to the local Mandarin to provide sedan chairs to carry the party into the city for a parlay. None were forthcoming. With typical British arrogance, Blakiston considered it “beneath our dignity” to walk into the city for a meeting so they decided, instead to set sail upriver once more.
At Chongqing in 1994, we also set sail, but we headed downriver…
Monday, October 30th We were awakened by a succession of attendants trying to evict us from the second class room we had mistakenly been put in the previous evening when we had boarded to boat. We refused to budge –perhaps we too behaved like arrogant Europeans – until the captain guaranteed us beds in 4th class which, by now, was full.
With the assistance of an interpreter, we thrashed out a deal whereby we could have unlimited access to the second class lounge (there is no First Class in egalitarian China) during the day, free meals, and beds near the door of the fourth class cabin. It was a shameless bit of Western cheekiness: we had, after all, only paid for 4th class bunks, the same as everyone else down there. But as the boat sailed we reclined in the comfy chairs of the lounge feeling pretty smug.
Tuesday, October 31st Linda and I were awake early, helped in no small part by the squawking of the “sound system” which began playing martial music at 6am. Outside, it was cold and grey but we had entered Qu-Tang Gorge, the first of the famous Three Gorges so we got up and went out onto the deck at the bow of the boat to watch the spectacular scenery on both sides of the river.
The river flowed fast and sullenly beneath sheer cliffs of grey stone. A biting wind blew up the river but after a while, a few rays of warming sunlight began penetrating the gloomy depths of the gorge and the wind died down. The gorge stretched ahead of us into the blue haze, cloaked in scrubby vegetation above the water then rearing up in sheer cliffs of broken, naked rock.
As the day progressed the gorge widened, then narrowed into the second gorge, Wu Gorge, then widened again into the broad lake formed behind the Gezhouba Dam. The boat entered a gigantic lock, big enough to hold four ships the same size as the rust-bucket ferry we were aboard, and, after about 20 minutes the water level began to fall until we were fifty metres lower. The lock’s huge steel doors swung ponderously open, like theatrical curtains drawing back to reveal the second act, and we sailed out onto the lower reaches of the Yangtze.
Once clear of the dam, the river widened into what seemed like a vast lake. Large, poisonous-looking factories along the riverbank spewed out a miasma of smoke, juxtaposing curiously with yellow patchworks of rape fields. The air once again became thick with the same blue haze we had seen all over China.
We spent all evening playing cards in the 2nd Class lounge and a comfortable night in our 4th Class bunks. Sometime during the dark hours before dawn, we passed through the last of the Three Gorges: Xiling Gorge.
Wednesday, November 1st A steward woke us at 6am –the martial music was strangely absent – and we stepped out into a blue/grey dawn. The river was a sheet of polished glass and the air was cold and fresh. Mist wreathed the water and through it, on the riverbanks, we caught occasional glimpses of poplars and people. Sky, land a water seamlessly merged into one until the orange disc of the sun showed through the mist beyond the trees, throwing shafts of golden light across the water.
We docked at the dirty town of Yangshuo, where factories were tirelessly spitting out toxic clouds of grey and black and the river was a noxious soup of rubbish and waste. By 10am we were on a bus headed south towards the karst landscapes of Guilin. Our Yangtze voyage was over. But for Blakiston and his party, their adventures had just begun.
Sichuan Province, during the time of Blakiston’s expedition, was a stronghold of the Taipings. As the party sailed further inland they became increasingly aware of their tenuous position, far from any outside assistance and vulnerable to attack from not only the Taipings but from other rebel groups operating in the region.
Blakiston’s original objective had been to sail upriver as far as possible then to travel overland via Tibet to India. The party arrived at Pingshan on the 25th of May, 17 weeks after leaving the coast. The captains of the junks now refused to go any further. The expedition, it seemed, had gone as far as it could.
Blakiston tried in vain to procure horses to carry them over the mountains but there were none available. There were now two choices: to carry on inland on foot or to return to the coast. But while the expedition debated the pros and cons of each option, events transpired to force their decision.
“The skippers had been previously threatened by the townspeople, that unless they took us away they would lose their heads. The south-east angle of the city was in easy rifle-range of our boats and we had observed soldiers gradually collecting at that point all that morning. We now received a polite message from the city that the gallant defenders would forthwith open fire on our junks.
“After a long while the first gun was fired, and then commenced a regular cannonade of gingalls and matchlocks in our direction. Going aft…I found the captain and our China boys huddled together in the Captain’s cabin in great alarm. We were ourselves all ready to reply to the fire and pick a few fellows off the walls which would no doubt have decided the battle in our favour immediately; but we waited, before doing so, to allow of a shot or two striking the boats. This, however, did not take place; and although the firing, and an immense amount of noise, were kept up for an hour and a half, not one shot was observed to strike near us, and we did not hear the whiz of a single bullet. When the firing ceased, we were left under the impression that during the whole time there had been nothing more dangerous than powder expended; but, as our ensign was flying, it was in any way a gross insult to the British flag.
You pompous git! “A gross insult to the British flag”? How typical of these men, so far from their own country, to be outraged that someone would take a pot-shot at their flag. It was OK for the country represented by that flag to engage in shameful acts such as addicting the population of a country to opium in order to stimulate trade. But if the people of the same country should have the temerity to fire across the bows of a boat flying a tiny red rag, well…the scoundrels!
According to Blakiston, a strongly-worded message was sent to the Prefect of Pingshan demanding an apology but by then the die was cast. The locals had seen enough of the expedition and, on the evening of March 28th, a large crowd of locals descended on the riverbank, intent on murdering the entire party.
“Our first impression was that the whole population of the city were sallying forth en masse on our boats. The Doctor, who was on board the large junk, rushed ashore to reach his own vessel, but he found that the hawsers, having been cut, it was already clear of the bank, and he only just managed to get on board by springing off the stern of the larger junk.
“Now was a scene of confusion on our junk. We all rushed to the gangway, rifles in hand, and one of our party was on the point of shooting the fellows who were helping get the gangplank in, taking them for some of the attacking party; sepoys covered the gunwales with their fingers on both triggers of double-barrelled guns; the captain, white as a sheet, was rushing about distractedly with his hands over his head, blowing out lights, and upsetting everything in his way, until he was finally upset himself by a cuff on the head from one of us, and retired into a corner to ruminate on the chance of losing his head. Hubbub and confusion reigned supreme from the old captain to the one-eyed cook.”
Under fire, Blakiston’s men managed to get their junk away from shore and out into the river. The other, smaller, junk with the Doctor and a Sikh sepoy aboard also managed to sail out of harm’s way. But in the confusion one member of the party, Mr Schereschewsky, had become separated from them. Blakiston ordered the junk to be moored on the farther shore – this order was not obeyed until a pistol had been pointed at the steersman’s head – and resolved to return to rescue his comrade at dawn.
At first light, Blakiston, armed with a revolver and sword, and one of the Sikhs, armed with a pistol and rifle, set off in search of Mr Schereschewsky. After a two-hour walk along the river bank, they encountered Doctor Barton along with his Sikh and the missing Schereschewsky.
After such a narrow squeak, the party decided to let discretion be the better part of valour and retreat. For their part, the boatmen were happy to head back downstream and set about making the voyage as rapid as possible. And so it was, that on the 30th of June, 1861, Blakiston and his party reached the mouth of the Yangtze and Shanghai.
“Thus ended our cruise of “Five Months on the Yang-tsze.” Blakiston wrote at the conclusion of his book. “We all felt sincerely how much cause we had to thank God, who of His merciful goodness had preserved us in our far wanderings, and had carried us through the difficulties and dangers which had beset our path. And if under His guidance our journey shall have been the means of adding to the knowledge possessed by Europeans of this portion of China, and of thereby advancing the future progress of Civilization and True Religion, I, for my part, shall feel that we have been well repaid for any little privations and difficulties, and that we have not laboured in vain.”