Cree Journals: Voyages of Edward H.Cree, Surgeon R.N, as Related in His Private Journals, 1837-56 Hardcover – 21 Oct 1981
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The Cree Journals: the voyages of Edward H.Cree, Surgeon R.N., as related in his private journals, 1837-56
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He was also an accomplished artist, his work appearing nowadays in published collections of China coast art. The diary contains a vast selection of his illustrations, of everything from seascapes to battle scenes of dead and wounded. While some of his paintings are naiive, possibly lacking a depth of perspective, others are well executed and memorable. His water-colour medium lent itself to bright, airy illustrations, conveying the sunlight and heat that proved fatal to many British personnel.
His diary tells afresh facts about China that you may have read elsewhere - that the Opium wars always entailed British occupation of the island of Chusan, a place we never hear of now; that Tartar (Manchu) soldiers fought resolutely throughout and often to the last man, which again we hear nothing of, and that casualties in the Opium War and the opening of Hong Kong were as much caused by climate and insects as by gunfire.
His experiences of the China coast are graphic and immediate. When you sail up the Pearl River to Canton today, you can still see the remains of the Chinese forts at Bocca Tigris. When Cree first sails past the forts, the Pearl River is full of dead bodies, the masts of sunken vessels are sticking up out of the water, and the Anunghoy fort suddenly explodes as he's looking at it, blown up by British engineers dismantling the Chinese defences.
The Victorian nature of the war is tangible: the attack on Canton happens to be on Queen Victoria's birthday, so the bombardment of the city is preceded by a 21-gun salute from all British ships. Cree witnesses the battle at Chinkiang, which involves bombardment, storming of the city, British advances, hand-to-hand fighting, a last stand by the Tartar garrison, eventual victory, and discovery that the Tartars have killed their wives and children before their final stand. And then more British troops die of sunstroke after the battle than were killed during the fighting,
Lest we believe that the first Opium War was an easy walkover, Cree's diary delivers a list of British deaths, especially among the officers, so continous that death becomes commonplace. Numbers of sick among ships' companies are staggering - 199 out of 280 sick on HMS Blonde; 110 out of 250 on Bellisle; 47 out of 50 on Sapphire, sick meaning dying, and nearly all due to mosquitoes.
Cree witnesses most of the salient events of the war - the army's return to Chusan for several months' recuperation, the advance on Nanking, the peace negotiations, and the signing of the peace treaty on HMS Cornwallis. He also sees such Opium War personalities as Gutzlaff, Morrison, Sir Henry Pottinger, and Elliot.
He later is posted to another ship, sails around ports further east, in what are now Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, and visits Ningpo and Shanghai, Shanghai back then being only the native city. Surprisingly, his description of the native city reads just like later tourist descriptions, with the same curios for sale and the same jugglers and beggars, and YuYuen Garden and Loong Hwa Pagoda are recognisable.
After more medical training in Edinburgh for a year, Cree is back in Chinese waters, taking part in long and arduous hunts for pirate fleets, with visits to Java, Ceylon and India, before returning to Britain in 1852 to be married. The Crimean War sees Cree in the Baltic, then the Dardanelles and the Bosphorous, at Sebastopol, with more bombardments, more pitched battles, and another day-to-day catalogue of deaths. Then Cree is leaving safely, back to England; miraculously he has survived.
Cree does not take part in the Second Opium War of 1857, so the diary ends with his leaving the Crimea. Sleeve notes tell us that he lived a full life to 1901 and the age of 87, but you suspect that he was never so much alive as when he was in the presence of death in China.