My life in China and America/14 My Mission to America to Buy Machinery



A week after my last interview with the Viceroy and after I had been told that I was to be entrusted with the execution of the order, my commission was made out and issued to me. In addition to the commission, the fifth official rank was conferred on me. It was a nominal civil rank, with the privilege of wearing the blue feather, as was customary only in war time and limited to those connected with the military service, but discarded in the civil service, where the peacock's feather is conferred only by imperial sanction. Two official despatches were also made out, directing me where to receive the Tls. 68,000, the entire amount for the purchase of the machinery. One-half of the amount was to be paid by the Taotai of Shanghai, and the other half by the Treasurer of Canton. After all the preliminary preparations had been completed, I bade farewell to the Viceroy and my Shanghai friends and started on my journey.

On my arrival in Shanghai in October, 1863, I had the good fortune to meet Mr. John Haskins, an American mechanical engineer, who came out to China with machinery for Messrs. Russell & Co. He had finished his business with that firm and was expecting soon to return to the States with his family — a wife and a little daughter. He was just the man I wanted. It did not take us long to get acquainted and as the time was short, we soon came to an understanding. We took the overland route from Hong Kong to London, via the Isthmus of Suez. Haskins and his family took passage on the French Messagerie Imperial line, while I engaged mine on board of one of the Peninsular & Oriental steamers. In my route to London, I touched at Singapore, crossed the Indian Ocean, and landed at Ceylon, where I changed steamers for Bengal up the Red Sea and landed at Cairo, where I had to cross the Isthmus by rail. The Suez Canal was not finished; the work of excavating was still going on. Arriving at Alexandria, I took passage from there to Marseilles, the southern port of France, while Haskins and his family took a steamer direct for Southampton. From Marseilles I went to Paris by rail. I was there about ten days, long enough to give me a general idea of the city, its public buildings, churches, gardens, and of Parisian gaiety. I crossed the English channel from Calais to Dover and went thence by rail to London — the first time in my life to touch English soil, and my first visit to the famous metropolis. While in London, I visited Whitworth's machine shop, and had the pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with Thomas Christy, whom I knew in China in the '50's. I was about a month in England, and then crossed the Atlantic in one of the Cunard steamers and landed in New York in the early spring of 1864, just ten years after my graduation from Yale and in ample time to be present at the decennial meeting of my class in July. Haskins and his family had preceded me in another steamer for New York, in order that he might get to work on the drawings and specifications of the shop and machinery and get them completed as soon as possible. In 1864, the last year of the great Civil War, nearly all the machine shops in the country, especially in New England, were preoccupied and busy in executing government orders, and it was very difficult to have my machinery taken up. Finally Haskins succeeded in getting the Putnam Machine Co., Fitchburg, Mass., to fill the order.

While Haskins was given sole charge of superintending the execution of the order, which required at least six months before the machinery could be completed for shipment to China, I took advantage of the interim to run down to New Haven and attend the decennial meeting of my class. It was to me a joyous event and I congratulated myself that I had the good luck to be present at our first re-union. Of course, the event that brought me back to the country was altogether unpretentious and had attracted little or no public attention at the time, because the whole country was completely engrossed in the last year of the great Civil War, yet I personally regarded my commission as an inevitable and preliminary step that would ultimately lead to the realization of my educational scheme, which had never for a moment escaped my mind. But at the meeting of my class, this subject of my life plan was not brought up. We had a most enjoyable time and parted with nearly the same fraternal feeling that characterized our parting at graduation. After the decennial meeting, I returned to Fitchburg and told Haskins that I was going down to Washington to offer my services to the government as a volunteer for the short period of six months, and that in case anything happened to me during the six months so that I could not come back to attend to the shipping of the machinery to Shanghai, he should attend to it. I left him all the papers — the cost and description of the machinery, the bills of lading, insurance, and freight, and directed him to send everything to the Viceroy's agent in Shanghai. This precautionary step having been taken, I slipped down to Washington.

Brigadier-General Barnes of Springfield, Mass., happened to be the general in charge of the Volunteer Department. His headquarters were at Willard's Hotel. I called on him and made known to him my object, that I felt as a naturalized citizen of the United States, it was my bounden duty to offer my services as a volunteer courier to carry despatches between Washington and the nearest Federal camp for at least six months, simply to show my loyalty and patriotism to my adopted country, and that I would furnish my own equipments. He said that he remembered me well, having met me in the Yale Library in New Haven, in 1853, on a visit to his son, William Barnes, who was in the college at the time I was, and who afterwards became a prominent lawyer in San Francisco. General Barnes asked what business I was engaged in. I told him that since my graduation in 1854 I had been in China and had recently returned with an order to purchase machinery for a machine shop ordered by Viceroy and Generalissimo Tsang Kwoh Fan. I told him the machinery was being made to order in Fitchburg, Mass., under the supervision of an American mechanical engineer, and as it would take at least six months before the same could be completed, I was anxious to offer my services to the government in the meantime as an evidence of my loyalty and patriotism to my adopted country. He was quite interested and pleased with what I said.

“Well, my young friend,” said he, “I thank you very much for your offer, but since you are charged with a responsible trust to execute for the Chinese government, you had better return to Fitchburg to attend to it. We have plenty of men to serve, both as couriers and as fighting men to go to the front.” Against this peremptory decision, I could urge nothing further, but I felt that I had at least fulfilled my duty to my adopted country.