Taku Forts – 21st August 1860 – 2nd China War

This medal is the 2nd China War Medal from 1860. It’s silver, and has been made into a menu holder which was then presented to the Regiment in 1899 by Lt. Savage. The medal should have the Queen’s head facing outwards on the front. 

The 2nd China War (formerly known as the Opium War) is one of the campaigns of the Victorian Army that is lesser known. However, for the Royal Hampshire Regiment, it was one of our most famous battles and led to the award of four Victoria Crosses to the Regiment at Taku Forts on 21st August 1860.

Following a dispute over trade routes between China and Great Britain, it was agreed that a peace treaty would be signed between the two nations at Pekin (now Beijing). Unfortunately when Sir Frederick Bruce attempted to sail up the Pei-ho River to Pekin for the negotiations, three of his gun ships were sunk by fire from the Taku Forts.

Subsequently the Chinese Expeditionary Force of 16000 men was raised, in which the 67th Regiment was part, and sailed from India and landed at Talien Bay (now Dalian Wan) to the north of the Pei-ho River in early June 1860. It was realised that although the forts protected the river mouth, and were heavily defended, it would be possible to land troops further along the coast, so they could approach the forts from behind, and hopefully enjoy an element of surprise.

The 67th landed carrying 3 days’ rations, 56 rounds of ammunition in their pouches – together with the ammunition belts these rounds weighed 11 pounds, and their great coats. They had ‘wicker helmets’ and ‘summer frocks’ – a lightweight red shirt which had replaced the heavy and tight fitting tunics a few years previously. It took 10 days to land the horses, guns and other supplies, during which time a safe route had been planned through the marshes.

Progress to the forts was slow due to thick mud and the need to build causeways, but by early August preparatory artillery actions were taking place. There were 3 forts at Taku, by capturing the southern one, it was thought the others could be taken.

On the 21st August 1860 the forts were carried by storm by Major General Sir Robert Napier’s 2nd Division with the Colours of the 44th and 67th being simultaneously placed onto the ramparts. The attackers had had to swim the ditches, and use scaling ladders, all the while under fire from the Chinese defenders. The walls of the fort had been badly damaged by the bombardment and Lieutenant Burslem and Private Lane succeeded in widening a hole and forcing their way through.

Much gallantry was shown and seven Victoria Crosses were won, four by the 67th, two by the 44th and one by the India Medical Service. The 67th casualties were 8 officers wounded and 6 men killed, with a further 63 wounded.

The Victoria Crosses awarded on this day are on display in the museum, and there is an interesting blog post from the University of Bristol on the campaign here:

Andrew Hillier on Images of War and Regimental Memory