William King Hall - Second Opium War

William King Hall - Second Opium War
British Naval Commander William King Hall commenting on the Second Opium War
William King Hall - Second Opium War
British Naval Commander William King Hall commenting on the Second Opium War

William King Hall - Second Opium War


British Naval Commander William King Hall commenting on the Second Opium War, the American Navy and brewing Civil War, and the 1860 Treaty of Peace, Amity, and Commerce between the United States of America and China:

“As for all the lies and talk about Treachery on the part of the Chinese, it is absurd, they did their best for their Emperor and Country, and we did our best for ours...” 

WILLIAM KING HALL (1816-1886), British Admiral, Commander-in-Chief, The Nore (1877-81), who commanded the HMS Calcutta during the 2nd Opium War and took part in the first attack on Canton and in the assault on the Taku Forts in 1859. Autographed Letter Signed. 6 pages. Small 8vo. (approximately 4 ¼ by 7 inches), HMS Indus, Bermuda, March 5, 1860. To American naval commander and noted abolitionist Andrew Hull Foote (1806-1863). 

What an age since you wrote and I am owed a letter by each of my loved friends in the United States, DuPont and Mr. Reed. I hope however nothing but business has detained you and prevented my having the pleasure of hearing from you. And I sincerely hope that this may find Mrs. Foote, your family and yourself in good health... Will you give me a good long yarn [?] written either to Devonport where we are going I hope very soon or to my agents Messrs. Woodhead No. 1 James Street Adelphi. By the way just copy the address of the agents in case you should want to write. China affairs look bad, and I do congratulate you on Mr. Reed’s being the Treaty which has been ratified so punctually. We were much too high handed in our business making the Treaty and the Chinese have shown it is as easy to break a Treaty, as we found it to make it. I hope we shall have wiser councils and that not a shot may be fired. As for all the lies and talk about Treachery on the part of the Chinese, it is absurd, they did their best for their Emperor and Country, and we did the best for ours, to say nothing of the valuable life of so many fine fellows. Bruce’s appointment was the mistake. I read in your papers that there have been committees in your Dock Yards, and Naval OfficesPage 2Will you give a copy of what you are about [?] We expect a Retirement in our Navy. DuPont says all Admirals above 70 Captains above 60 years of age. I gave Mr. Reed, DuPont, and the Capt. of the Germantown Page a letter about your Navy and I hope in a small way it may contribute to let a greater consideration shown for my brother sailors, your officers for I have found a great respect for them. A cloud of anxiety to say the least if it has gathered over your country. And it is a great thing to feel if we can that an All Wise God that rules the world will do all things not only well [?] but for the best. At all ... I trust that whatever may happen angry and revengeful feelings will subside and the wise and cool heads will counterbalance all the enthusiasm and zeal without knowledge which so much make public without distinguishing the speaker. Not but what I think that sooner or later the States must divorce. For the fact is that if we should be spared to have a family of grand children, and then have their children, besides adopting Views ... and ... and views must differ. And with your country owning [?] many valuable naturalization you have self willed evil spirits to live in ... You will not be offended my dear Foote at my thus expressing my candid opinion or interchanging ideas with you, and shall not take it amiss if you show me how foolish my notions are. However that happiness, health and prosperity may by Gods blessing attend you and yours in the heartfelt writ of your sincere friend...

From 1856 to 1860, England was embroiled in the Second Opium War with China, a conflict over Chinese sovereignty and trade. At the root of the conflict was England’s desire to import opium into China, where the trade was illegal. France and, to a lesser extent, the United States also became embroiled in the conflict. 

 “In November 1857, William Reed [1806-1876], the new American Minister appointed by President James Buchanan, arrived in China aboard the huge steamship Minnesota… Reed [was] a close friend of President Buchanan and a professor emeritus of history at the University of Pennsylvania.” (The Opium Wars: The Addiction of one Empire and the Corruption of Another, Hanes and Sanello). Contrary to Britain’s objectives, Reed was charged with ensuring that “America would remain neutral in the inevitable coming conflict. Reed shared his boss’s repugnance for the opium trade, and he had orders not to get sucked into a war that could be interpreted as promoting or even countenancing the commerce in contraband. In a best of all possible diplomatic worlds, Buchanan would act as mediator between warring parties and avoid a war altogether.” (Ibid.)

Alas, America’s neutrality would not last. In 1858 Foote commanded the USS Portsmouth, charged with observing British actions in Canton, China. During this mission, the Portsmouth came under Chinese fire and, in the ensuing fight, seized and occupied Chinese forts on the Pearl River. Again, in 1859, after the Chinese refused to allow a military escort for the new British envoys, the Americans came to the aid of the British Navy in the midst of the battle with the Taku Forts on the Hai River, in which Hall was a participant. 

Foote returned to the U.S. to take command of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He went on to distinguish himself in the Civil War, commanding the Mississippi River Squadron. Foote was also an advocate of temperance, ending the policy of supplying grog to sailors, and an abolitionist, helping to suppress the slave trade off the African coast and authoring in 1854 Africa and the American Flag

As noted in our letter, Reed was successful in negotiating “The Treaty of Peace, Amity, and Commerce between the United States of America and China,” ratified on December 21, 1858, and proclaimed by President James Buchanan on January 26, 1860. The treaty was favorable to the United States, opening China to American trade, but the Civil War prevented the U.S. from taking full advantage of its terms. 

American Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont (1803-1865) was the nephew of Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, founder of the E.I. du Pont de Nemours Company, the gunpowder manufacturer which is still flourishing today. Du Pont distinguished himself during the Mexican-American War, capturing the city of San Diego and commanding the naval blockade of California. After the war, he did much to modernize the American Navy, including developing the curriculum for the new United States Naval Academy. An ardent reformer, he supported the 1855 Congressional Act to “Promote the Efficiency of the Navy” and, as part of the Naval Efficiency Board, removed more than 200 officers, an action for which he was criticized. In 1857 he was given command of the Minnesota and charged with conveying Reed to China. It was on that mission that he witnessed the French and English assault on Chinese forts in April 1858. The outbreak of the Civil War interfered with Du Pont’s plan to retire from his position at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. Instead, he took command of naval operations against the Confederacy, earning the title of Rear Admiral and a Congressional Commendation in the process. However, he was later blamed for the failure of an 1863 attack on Charleston, South Carolina. In 1882, his service to the Navy was posthumously commemorated with a bronze sculpture placed in what was renamed Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. 

Our letter also mentions the “mistake” of “Bruce’s appointment.” It is unclear whether this refers to James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin (1811-1863), who was appointed as High Commissioner to China in 1858, or his brother and secretary, Frederick Wright-Bruce (1814-1867), a seasoned diplomat in his own right. Both men were instrumental in conducting the military campaign that resulted in the June 1858 Treaties of Tianjin, which ended the first part of the Second Opium War. The Chinese viewed the treaties as another in a series of unequal treaties and, as a result, the ceasefire was temporary. In 1860, Frederick led renewed attacks against the Chinese, and his brother returned to China three months after our letter with English and French reinforcements. In October 1860, in an attempt to force a surrender, Lord Elgin ordered the destruction of the Old Summer Palace outside Peking. Ultimately, in October 1860, the Chinese capitulated, agreeing to the Convention of Peking. 

R.L. Page (?-?) was the Commander of the USS Germantown, a sloop-of-war attached to the American Navy’s East India Squadron from 1857 to 1860 and charged with protecting American interests in China and Japan. Decommissioned after returning to the U.S. in 1860, the Germantown was used by Confederate forces during the Civil War in the defense of Norfolk. 

Our interesting and friendly letter discusses the situation in China as well as the brewing Civil War in America. Written on a folded sheet plus a partial sheet of stationery blind-embossed in the upper left corner with the name of a stationer in Devonport. Folded with some light overall wear and faint remnants of an erased pencil identification on the first page. In very good condition. 

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