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Australia in The Boxer Rebellion

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Contents

Australia's involvement in the The Boxer Rebellion

June 1900 to March 1901

Background

During the nineteenth century the major European powers compelled the reluctant Chinese Empire to start trading with them. There was little the Chinese government wanted from the West at the time but there was a strong demand for opium among the population. In the Opium Wars of the 1860s the British forced the Chinese to accept the import of opium in return for Chinese goods, and trading centres were established at major ports. The largest of these was Shanghai, where French, German, British, and American merchants demanded large tracts of land in which they asserted 'extra-territorial' rights, meaning they were subject to the laws of their own country not China. The Chinese government's failure to resist inroads on its sovereignty and withstand further demands from the Europeans, such as the right to build railways and other concessions, caused much resentment among large sections of the population. This eventually led to the Chinese revolution of 1911 which toppled the imperial dynasty. [1]

Uprising

By the end of the nineteenth century the balance of the lucrative trade between China and merchants from America and Europe, particularly Britain, lay almost entirely in the West's favour. As Western influence increased, anti-European secret societies began to form. Among the most violent and popular was the I-ho-ch'uan (the Righteous and Harmonious Fists). Dubbed the 'Boxers' by western correspondents, the society gave the Boxer Uprising, or Rebellion, its name. Throughout 1899 the I-ho-ch'uan and other militant societies combined in a campaign against westerners and westernised Chinese. Missionaries and other civilians were killed, women were raped, and European property was destroyed. By March 1900 the uprising spread beyond the secret societies and Western powers decided to intervene, partly to protect their nationals but mainly to counter the threat to their territorial and trade ambitions. By the end of May 1900 Britain, Italy, and the United States had warships anchored off the Chinese coast at Taku, the nearest port to Peking (Beijing). Armed contingents from France, Germany, Austria, Russia, and Japan were on their way. In June, as a Western force marched on Peking, the Dowager Empress T'zu-hsi sent imperial troops to support the Boxers. Further Western reinforcements were dispatched to China as the conflict widened. [1]

Australia into the fray

Australian colonies (the commonwealth of Australia did not come into being into 1st January 1901) were keen to offer material support to Britain. With the bulk of their military forces engaged in the Second Boer War in South Africa, they looked to their naval contingents to provide a pool of professional, full-time crews, as well as reservist-volunteers, including many ex-naval men. The reservists were mustered into naval brigades, in which the training was geared towards coastal defence by sailors capable of ship handling and fighting as soldiers. When the first Australian contingents, mostly from New South Wales (under Captain Alexander Gillespie [2] and Commander Edward Connor) [3][4] and Victoria (under Commander Frederick Tickell), sailed on 8th August 1900 aboard the SS Salamis and the South Australian gunboat HMCS Protector (commanded by Captain (later Vice Admiral Sir) William Rooke Creswell), troops from eight other nations were already engaged in China. On arrival they were quartered in Tientsin and immediately ordered to provide 300 men, under British command, to help capture the Chinese forts at Pei Tang overlooking the inland rail route. The Australians travelled apart from the main body of troops and by the time they arrived at Pei Tang the battle was already over. The next action in which Australians, Victorians troops this time, were involved was against the Boxer fortress at Pao-ting Fu. The Victorians joined a force of 7,500 on the ten-day march to the fort, only to find the town had already surrendered; the closest enemy contact was guarding prisoners. Simultaneously, the NSW contingent was undertaking garrison duties in Peking. They arrived on 22nd October, after a twelve-day march. They remained in Tientsin and Peking over winter, performing police and guard duties and sometimes working as railwaymen and firefighters. Although they saw little combat, the Australian forces helped to restore civil order. [1]

The Staff Surgeons were John James Steel (New South Wales), who travelled aboard the SS Salamis, and Bedlington Howell Morris (Victoria), who travelled aboard the HMCS Protector.

The paymaster was John Norton [5] and assistant paymaster was Ernest Claude Norton, [6] who were both of the Victorian Contingent and travelled aboard the HMCS Protector. When they returned to Australia in the January, they were relieved by Alfred Treacey of the Victorian Contingent, [7] and his assistants, John Ross Wallace of the NSW Contingent [8] and George Watkin Wynne of the NSW Contingent, [9] who all returned in April aboard the SS Chingtu.

The entire naval brigade left China between January and March 1901 aboard the HMCS Protector, SS Changsha, and SS Chingtu, the last arriving back in Australia on 25th April 1901. Of 569 servicemen, six Australians died of sickness and injury; none were killed as a result of enemy action. [1]

Died

  1. Private Thomas Joseph Rogers, Royal Marines (serial no. 28), of the New South Wales Naval Contingent died of influenza at Tientsin on 6th October 1900. [10]
  2. Able Seaman Albert Arthur Gibbs of the Victorian Naval Contingent died of fever at sea on board the Hospital Ship Carthage on 18th October 1900. [11]
  3. Able Seaman J Hamilton of the New South Wales Naval Contingent died of exhaustion brought on by dysentry at Tung Chao on 6th November 1900. [12]
  4. Staff Surgeon John James Steel of the New South Wales Naval Contingent died of exhaustion at Taku on 10th November 1900. [13]
  5. Able Seaman Elijah Rose of the New South Wales Naval Contingent died of pleurisy at Peking (Beijing) on 6th January 1901. [14]
  6. Petty Officer Second Class Arthur James Bennett aka Albert John Bennett of the New South Wales Naval Contingent died of gunshot wounds in Peking (Beijing) on 10th March 1901. [15]

Invalided home

Fifteen members were invalided home throughout the campaign:
October 1900

  • James Hurley (Able Seaman) of the New South Wales Naval Contingent. [16]
  • R S McGowan (Able Seaman) of the New South Wales Naval Contingent. [17]
  • Charles E Whiteley or Whitely (Able Seaman) of the New South Wales Naval Contingent. [18]

November 1900

  • R Conochie or Donachie (Able Seaman) of the New South Wales Naval Contingent.
  • A Oliver (Able Seaman) of the New South Wales Naval Contingent. [19] Not to be confused with Royal Marine Able Seaman Arthur Wellesley Oliver. [20]
  • T Conwell (Able Seaman) of the New South Wales Naval Contingent. [21]
  • W H Vine (Domestic Steward First Class) of the New South Wales Naval Contingent. [22]

December 1900

  • Charles William Gordon (166 Able Seaman) of the Victorian Naval Contingent with dysentry. [23]
  • F Leheman (Ship's Cook) of the New South Wales Naval Contingent. [24]
  • W C Milton (Able Seaman) of the New South Wales Naval Contingent. [25]
  • Mark Pope (29 Able Seaman) of the Victorian Naval Contingent with illness. [26]

March 1901

  • James Frederick Andrew (89 Able Seaman) of the Victorian Naval Contingent. [27]
  • William Henry Bates (91 Able Seaman) of the Victorian Naval Contingent. [28]
  • John Silvester (164 Able Seaman) of the Victorian Naval Contingent with illness. [29]

April 1901

  • Charles Walter Smart (Royal Marine Private) of the New South Wales Naval Contingent returned to Australia aboard SS Salamis with the NSW contingent on 25th April 1901 but died of smallpox on 20th May 1901. [30]

Left to recuperate before coming home

Four members, two from New South Wales and two from Victoria, were left in hospital when the final contingent returned to Australia. All recuperated and returned home later:

  • Able Seaman Andrew Charles Anderson (serial no. 131) of the Victorian Naval Contingent was left in hospital at Hong Kong.
  • Able Seaman Thomas William Arnsby of the New South Wales Naval Contingent was left in hospital at Peking (Beijing) with enteric fever.
  • Private John Henry Ferns (Royal Marines) of the New South Wales Naval Contingent was left in hospital at Tientsin with German measles.
  • Able Seaman George John Harding (serial no. 147) of the Victorian Naval Contingent was left in hospital with sword/sabre wounds acquired during a disturbance with some Germans. [31] He may have been 'cut up' to see the ship depart without him.

Remained in China

Seventeen members of the New South Wales Contingent remained in China, employed by the railway company:

  • K R Bain (Able Seaman)
  • C Boutell (Able Seaman)
  • Edward Archibald Chambers (Able Seaman)
  • A Denny (Able Seaman)
  • W S Graham (Able Seaman)
  • Arthur J Harnett (Royal Marine Private)
  • George Henry Johnston (Royal Marine Private)
  • S Miller (Able Seaman)
  • Herbert Garonne Nixon (Royal Marine Private)
  • A E Reed (Leading Seaman)
  • Frederick Roberts (Royal Marine Private)
  • Edwin Ross (Able Seaman)
  • W Thomas (Able Seaman)
  • W Watts (Able Seaman)
  • W Whiting (Able Seaman)
  • W H Williams (Able Seaman)
  • W J Woods (Able Seaman)

One member of the Victoria Naval Contingent took his discharge in China, gaining employment with the Taku Tug and Lighterage Company:

  • Signalman Christian Marius Rasmussen [32]

Sources

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Australian War Memorial: China (Boxer Rebellion), 1900–01; accessed 13 May 2020
  2. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Captain Alexander Gillespie; accessed 28 May 2020
  3. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Commander Edward Richard Connor; accessed 28 May 2020
  4. VWM New South Wales Boxer Rebellion; accessed 28 May 2020
  5. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Paymaster John Norton; accessed 28 May 2020
  6. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Assistant Paymaster Ernest Claude Norton; accessed 28 May 2020
  7. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: 189 Paymaster Alfred Martin Treacy; accessed 28 May 2020
  8. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Assistant Paymaster John Ross Wallace; accessed 28 May 2020
  9. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Assistant Paymaster George Watkin Wynne; accessed 28 May 2020
  10. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Private Thomas Joseph Rogers; accessed 28 May 2020
  11. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: 48 Able Seaman Albert Arthur Gibbs; accessed 28 May 2020
  12. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman J Hamilton; accessed 28 May 2020
  13. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Staff Surgeon John James Steel; accessed 28 May 2020
  14. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman Elijah Rose; accessed 28 May 2020
  15. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Petty Officer Second Class Arthur James Bennett; accessed 28 May 2020
  16. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman James Hurley; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  17. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman R S McGowan; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  18. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman Charles Whiteley; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  19. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman A Oliver; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  20. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman Arther Wellesley Oliver RM; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  21. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman T Conwell; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  22. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Domestic Steward First Class W H Vine; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  23. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman Charles William Gordon; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  24. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Ship's Cook F Leheman; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  25. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman W C Milton; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  26. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman Mark Pope; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  27. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman James Frederick Andrew; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  28. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman William Henry Bates; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  29. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Able Seaman John Silvester; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  30. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: Private Charles Walter Smart; accessed 5 Mar 2023
  31. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: 147 Able Seaman George John Harding; accessed 9 Dec 2022
  32. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: 54 Signalman Christian Marius Rasmussen; accessed 28 May 2020

Further reading

  • Atkinson, James. Australian Contingents to the China Field Force, 1900-1901. New South Wales Military Historical Society, Ryde NSW, 1976.
  • Dennis, P; Grey, J; Morris, E; Prior, R; and Connor, J. The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1995.
  • Denton, Kit. For Queen and Commonwealth: Australians at War, Vol. 5. Time-Life Books Australia, Sydney, 1987.
  • Nicholls, Bob. Bluejackets and Boxers: Australia's Naval Expedition to the Boxer Uprising. Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1986.




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