On 28 March 1860 the Chinese rejected an ultimatum from the British and French to allow safe passage through their ports as agreed in a trade treaty signed in 1858. Among other things, this would have allowed the British to continue the opium trade in China. Consequently, the British government ordered an attack on the Taku Forts.
The 67th (South Hampshire) Regiment who had been called in as reinforcements for the assault on the Taku Forts from behind, to avoid a defeat as had been seen the previous year, were sorted in to the second division and were under Brigadier General Reeves and with the French in support. They landed at Peh-Tang that was just a few miles up the coast.
After wading through miles of mud to reach the village that was near the Forts, on 21 August the second division was bought forward to attack the Forts. Several obstacles now faced them, mass ditches full of mud and water needed to be crossed and staked pieces of timber jutted out at the bottom of a 30ft high wall protecting the forts.
The division waded through the marshes and when they reached the wall they broke down the stakes. However, the enemy threw heavy fire and thwarted attempts that were made to overcome the wall.
Lieutenant Burslem and Private Lane of the 67th created an opening in the wall and though they were thrust back and wounded, they managed to get through along with Ensign Chaplin who was carrying the Queen’s Colour. More men made their way through the opening and they were able to scramble up to the parapet. Ensign Chaplin, who had already been wounded three times, made his way forward surrounded by his comrades. The fighting was fierce but the enemy was finding escape difficult and finally the resistance was over.
The 67th then moved towards the lower forts, but as they did so white flags began to emerge. It seemed that the taking of the upper fort had been enough. The Queen’s Colour was planted on the breached fort. By the end of the day the casualty figures for 67th were six killed and 63 wounded. Burslem, Chaplin, Lennon and Lane were all awarded the Victoria Cross.
Dr Andrew Hillier at Bristol University has recently being doing a considerable amount of work about 19th Century China and his blog and further information on the subject can be found here.