The functions of the Marine Department grew; I obtained
sole charge of it — a new Department of Works being created
for the Engineer-in-Chief — and it approached a semblance of
what had been originally intended. The fleet of Customs
cruisers was placed under my control and the building of all
new craft; hydrographic work grew until we published our
own charts and the British Navy withdrew their surveying
vessels; harbour and river conservancy matters — except where
there were special organizations — fell into my hands; meteorological work in conjunction with Siccawei Observatory became
an affair of Far Eastern international importance in which we
took the lead. And this was in addition to the older functions
of administration of lights and other aids to navigation on the
coast; keeping track of changing channels and marking them;
issuing Notices to Mariners; pilotage, harbour control and
quarantine affairs; courts of inquiry and arbitration about
shipping accidents; and dealing with the Consuls and other
local authorities on terms of equality. Just ordinary administrative work? Quite so; but there were more technics in the
hands of one man than could be the case in any other country.
But, outside the duties pertaining to my post, circumstances
forced on me another set of activities. My previous service
with the Chinese Navy resulted in a continued connection with
it, sometimes as an informal adviser, sometimes with an official
appointment. Those were years of steadily increasing ferment
in Chinese affairs — the Boxer outbreak; the Russo-Japanese
War, fought mainly on Chinese soil and in Chinese waters;
the revolution which ousted the Manchu dynasty; Yuan Shihkai's attempt to make himself Emperor; the effect of the
Great War in which China, late in the day, became an ally; the
period — not yet for certain ended — of independent military
satraps. In all those affairs I acted as adviser to the Navy.
And there was something more.
My friend Ludwig Basse
became a trusted man to the three satraps at Tientsin, Tsinanfu
and Nanking, and so I got to know them, had the entrée to
their Yamens, and was given certain missions by them. Those
extra-Customs functions were a curious feature in my life.
Some were permitted rather than authorized by the Inspector-General; others were definitely authorized, and in most of them
I had the great advantage of my chief's advice and warnings.
My Customs work came first, — it was what I drew my pay for;
for the other work I got nothing except some decorations. Yet
what I have to say about my life in China is mostly about my
extra-Customs work. That is because it better lends itself to
telling; and so the greater part of what I have to say about my
Customs life will be concentrated in this single chapter.
The work of the Department was very interesting. It was
varied and pleasant — a few months in the office, then handing
over to my deputy and going on a trip in a large yacht-like
steamer, inspecting lights, perhaps, or starting a survey dealing
with a harbour question at a port, or something of the sort;
then Shanghai again.
My two deputies, Eldridge and Myhre, were my personal
friends, former shipmates and my own nominees. Both were
senior to me in the Service; it was just that war and opportunity
that made me be their chief; they were such splendid fellows,
so capable and so loyal. I should like to mention all the other
members of my staff, both foreigners and Chinese; of course
I must not, but I look back on them with strong feelings of
affectionate regard and gratitude.
Every year or so I made a visit to Peking and talked things
over with Sir Robert Hart, and later with his successor. I
have already told the story of that first interview with him, when
I was very crude and he resented it. That he did not score it
up against me is very plain. My other visits to him were
always a great pleasure — invariably I left gratified and pleased.
With many others whom he treated well or who have not
nursed a grievance I feel a reverence for his memory that tends
to prevent anything being said about him except in adulation.
That tendency is wrong, for to throw a decent light on the
human nature of a man of fame should be of interest.
I saw little of him, and yet I seem to know a fair amount
about him. A frequent contact is often not the closest. The
mask, which such a chieftainship as his demands, is more
likely to be lifted to the transient than to the more permanent;
besides, one hears of things, and some hear more than others;
and so, from this and that, I get an impression of his inner self.
He was a man of deep emotion that, however much controlled, demanded outlet; and one side of him was highly
spiritual. But the spiritual side in emotional natures has
often a reverse one that is very different, giving rise to those
incongruities of character that one hears of now and then.
And thus it was — in some degree — with Hart.
To me he lifted the screen but once. I had written a booklet
on Religion and the Fourth Dimension — a sort of transcendental
thesis.(1) Sir Robert Hart had seen it and now discussed it.
He had read it through without a stop, he said, and found it
intellectually very interesting; but he went on to say that from
the religious point of view it had no interest for him. The
intellectual and the spiritual were two quite different things.
1 — It seems worth noting that in that booklet, written in tool, I stated in
effect that, while we can think of the Fourth Dimension in terms of Time,
it cannot really be Time.
Then in his quiet and very simple way he spoke about his
certain faith and hope — the faith he had been brought up in,
modified but slightly by the facts of science. It was a most
illuminating thing to hear him talk in that esoteric language
of the Church, and I went away abashed.
He exercised autocratic power over a staff of several thousands for a period of very many years. In that respect his
position was unique. Such a power is apt to sap the finer
susceptibilities, and it may well be doubted if any man could
use it without grave lapses in the exercise of justice. It should
be remembered too that strength and greatness rarely march
with all the virtues. So there are some, including two or three
of high ability, who bitterly consider that their lives were spoilt
by him. But so, I think, it must always be.
I had suggested that he revert more to his original scheme
for the Marine Department and appoint me Marine Commissioner or Marine Secretary. The next day we were sitting
in his garden having tea. There was silence for a time, and
then I said: ` Sir Robert, have you ever noticed the difference
between a tree of that kind ' — I pointed to a juniper — ` and an
oak tree, which explains the difference in their size? ' His
sharp shrewd eyes met mine over the edge of his tea-cup. ` Tell
me what is in your mind.' ` Well, the juniper has a trunk and
twigs. The oak has trunk and boughs and twigs.' I paused
a bit and added, ` Won't you let me be a branch, sir? '
Could presumption have been greater ! But he took it, as I
knew he would, quite well. He smiled and said: ` So you
are returning to the charge ! I have thought that matter over.
It is now too late for me to make the change. You must tackle
Sir Robert's brother-in-law — the late Sir Robert Bredon — succeeded him for a time as Acting Inspector-General. He
had been deputy before with his office at Shanghai and was
very popular with the community — chairman of the race and
other clubs; a social notable. Clever and quick and with big
ideas, he seemed the very man to be a leader; yet when the
confirmation of his post was mooted, Shanghai rose up against
him — and he got a knighthood in exchange. An instructive
illustration, this, of the detriment of a certain kind of popularity.
There is not a doubt about it that reserve is a good asset to a
leader. He is human, and there must be facets of his nature
which, if known, would tend to make him cheap — ignorance
is to some extent involved in faith.
I was travelling with Bredon on a coaster, and we paced the
deck in silence. Then apropos of nothing Bredon said: ' What
do you consider are the factors making for a great success in
public life? ' I had thought of it before, so had my ,answer
ready: ` The gift of expression, for only thus can one justify
one's judgments and gain faith; absolute unselfishness, because one's cause is quite enough to think about; and a
measure of unscrupulousness exercised with great discretion
in emergencies.' — ` That is quite well put,' said Bredon, ` but
I don't agree about unselfishness. One must look first after
oneself in order to be there to do the work.' It was the
Chinese point of view so necessary for them, but so unsuitable
for us, and the answer was significant of Shanghai's attitude.
I have already told some stories about the work of the
Department when I was acting in Bisbee's place; and now I
will tell some of a later date. If there is any virtue in them, it is
in indicating how things were done in China, for stories of this
kind tend to be selected because I look back upon them with a
sense of satisfaction as exploits in a sense — though stunts is
nearer to my meaning: something that is lighter hearted and
less ambitious. I regret this fact. I should so much rather
have been a man of no affairs, who could tell the tales of what
he saw and heard; or — a more ambitious wish — a man of
great affairs who could sink himself in the story of the important
and interesting events with which he had to deal. But I was
neither. I was a man of comparatively small affairs, and
because of that my memory and vision tend to be dominated by
my little problems of the past. Yet it may be that these
personal accounts will throw some special light on conditions
as they were in China.
The subject of improving the waterway to Shanghai had
long been agitated. Mr. Hewett, the P. & O. Agent, a man
prolific of ideas, drew up a scheme in about '98 and tried to get
me to support it. But it was teeming with defects; it took
away from China the sovereignty of the river; it required
China to pay half the cost, and the only representation given
to her on a board of nine was the Customs Commissioner — a
foreigner. Hewett was stubborn; it was his pet creation and
he would not modify it. The Chamber of Commerce, attaching no importance to the details, which they believed would
be amended later if the application came to anything, gave it
their approval and sent it to the Legations at Peking. The
Legations also put their imprimatur on this hopelessly impracticable scheme; then filed it in a pigeon-hole.
In 1901 there carne the framing of the Boxer peace protocol,
and some one took that scheme of Hewett's from its hole and
made it Annex No. 17. I find this entry in my diary: ` 11th
September 1901. Called on some of the Chamber of Commerce Committee about the Conservancy Annex. They all
express regret for having put forward such a rotten scheme.'
It was A. E. Hippisley — one of the Customs Commissioners
assisting the Chinese plenipotentiaries in the framing of the
new commercial treaty — who made a suggestion for a change,
and, as a result, China agreed to pay the whole cost based on
the other scheme's estimate, the work being conducted under
the direction of the Chinese Taotai and the Customs Commissioner; but this scheme — the best that could at the time
be arranged — also had grave defects. There could be no
certainty of what the work would cost, and a fixed sum had, in
effect, been provided, and nothing for later maintenance.
The Engineer appointed was de Rijke, a distinguished Dutch
expert and a personal friend of mine. He had enough to do
with the difficult technicalities of his task; finance and looking
to the future was not his job. The Taotai, of course, was a
figurehead; and the third was Hobson, the Shanghai Commissioner, and what he thought about the future I never knew.
After four years' strenuous work the notorious Woosung Inner
Bar no more existed. The work was a notable and creditable
performance; but of course other operations were now needed,
to say nothing of maintenance; and the funds were nearly
spent ... A further eight million dollars were asked for from the
Government — something like twice as much as the original
grant. The Chinese Government was quite naturally very
angry at this unexpected situation and refused to renew the
contract of de Rijke, which expired about this time.(1)
1 — Mr. H. von Heidenstam, a Swede, was then appointed by the Nanking
Viceroy. The choice — as it happened — was very good.
A farewell dinner was given to de Rijke, and a group of leading
Consuls-General and of leading business men attended. There
were speeches at that dinner which I did not hear; but de
Rijke spoke of the perils impending over the situation and
advised that faith be placed in me.
And now I have a story about a sudden opportunity and the
grasping of it. I had attended that dinner merely as a social
function. Shanghai conservancy affairs should have been,
but had not been, my business; I had always had — as an
onlooker — an anxiety about it, but I had never even turned over
in my mind a constructive scheme. But after dinner when we
were standing about in groups and I had been silent, some one
said: ` WeII, Tyler, haven't you any ideas about it? ' And
an inner prompting came to me. ' Yes, I have ideas; would
you really like to hear them? ' and the group increased
' For years Shanghai has talked a lot about conservancy and
complained and criticized, but never yet has it put forward a
practicable scheme. Do it now. A more suitable management is needed for one thing — that can easily be arranged; but
the dominant matter is the provision of money. The Chinese
will not give it; it is not desirable that they should; the
obvious thing to do is to find the funds yourselves. Why not?
A tax on trade that would meet all needs would not be felt; it
would be incident not on Shanghai but on the millions that
Shanghai trade supplies.' This expression of opinion and its
practical acceptance took about five minutes. It was arranged
that on the morrow I should discuss the matter further
with Warren, the British Consul-General, and Landale of
I got up early in the morning and drafted out my scheme.
The same board as before with the addition of either myself
or the Customs Engineer-in-Chief; but now there would be
a consultative committee of commercial interests. At eleven
I started for the British Consulate; but on the way I got a
brain wave. The crux of the matter lay with the German
Consul-General. He had not been present at that dinner; he
had always been in opposition to the Board; he had got out a
German river expert to criticize de Rijke in the hope of getting
the work in German hands. Unanimity among the Legations
in Peking was necessary for success; the Germans, if they
liked, could block it; so I changed my course, crossed the
Soochow Bridge and called on Dr. Knappe, the German
I told him exactly what had happened, including the brain
wave that made me visit him before seeing Warren; that if I
could not get him on my side I would give the matter up, for
otherwise it would be useless. He read my draft, and then
with some impatience said: ` Can you not see the difficulty I
have in agreeing to this? The Commissioner may be of any
nationality, but you and the Engineer-in-Chief are British and
you are never changed; and, of course, you will use your
position to further your nationals' interests. I cannot blame
you for it; it is natural; but it is very disadvantageous for
us.' To this I replied with genuine deep feeling: ' Dr. Knappe,
really and truly you are wrong. So far as I'm concerned my
only fear would be that, to avoid a suspicion that I might be
favouring my co-nationals, I might act unjustly to them.'
Then Knappe got up from his chair and moved about the
room with his fingers in his hair and used quite unintentionally
a curiously biblical expression: ` Almost you persuade me !
But it is incredible ! It is impossible ! '
In my other dealings with Knappe I had always found him
eminently reasonable, and now he calmed down and agreed
that some such scheme as mine was the only practicable one.
He would tell the German Chamber, and I could go ahead at
once. At the time I took the credit of persuading him to
myself; but later I had some reason to believe that a German
— I think a member of his staff — had made about the same
Within a week the scheme was sent to the Legations with
the unanimous approval of all those locally concerned. It was
some years before it was put into operation. It is in force
to-day, and believing, as I do, that in due course Shanghai will
handle a larger trade than that of any other port in all the
world and will require the greatest river engineering works
to do it, I can look back with some complacence on the part
I took in its creation.(1)
1 — This organization was preceded, as has been stated, by Hippisley's
scheme. The genesis of that one was also curious, and, if not recorded here,
is likely to be lost for ever.
Hippisley was a Treaty Commissioner and as such was in touch with
Liu Kung-yi, the Nanking Viceroy. Old Liu was sick and very feeble —
he died soon after; but his mind was sharp as needles, and he was furious
at the imposition of that annex, and not only on account of its perniciousness,
but because, on a matter within his jurisdiction, he had not been consulted.
So he begged Hippisley to do all he could to get the monstrosity removed
and replaced by something else. Hippisley did his best, pulled all the
strings he knew, and failed — the protocol was the price that China had to
pay for peace. But later there came an incident that turned defeat to
victory. It was found that, under the complicated taxation clauses of
Hewett's scheme, certain properties would be taxed twice over, and to
remedy this injustice the foreign ministers decided that those clauses should
be interpreted in such and such a manner. Then Hippisley with fine
perception saw the opportunity. He notified the Viceroy that, as an instrument of the peace protocol, the annex could not be amended; it could
only be amended by ordinary negotiation on equal terms. That argument
was irresistible, and so Hewett's scheme was scrapped.
In 1902 — as an offshoot of the Boxer peace protocol — came
the revision of the commercial treaties with Great Britain
under the leadership of Sir James Mackay, now Lord Inchcape;
there was a mass of stuff about Customs duties and other matters;
and there was a searching for odds and ends of claims to be
inserted — such an opportunity might never come again. I was
in close touch with A. E. Hippisley at this time — a man of
wisdom and great breadth of vision; and by him I was kept
informed of what was going on. In the draft convention I
read that China undertook to remove the rocks that obstructed
the approaches to Canton, as well as the artificial barriers which
had been placed during the French and Japanese hostilities.
Hippisley had done his best to get these impracticable clauses
taken out, but without success. I was personally concerned
because the onus of the work would most likely fall on me, so
I approached Sir James directly, and in the end I struck a
bargain with him. I would tell him of a port to open if he
would delete the clause about the Canton rocks; and that was
how Wanhsien was opened. So the clause about the rocks
was taken out, but about the barriers — massive structures of
blocks of stone and steel screw piles — Sir James stood firm.
Two years later I got brief instructions to consider what had
best be done to meet the treaty stipulation. To remove the
barriers would cost many million taels; it would upset the
regimen of the channels, and instead of helping navigation would
seriously embarrass it. The interest in the matter was chiefly
that of Hongkong shipping, so I called upon the Governor, Sir
Mathew Nathan, and explained the situation about that silly
clause. I suggested that I should widen the entrances through
the two barriers, and with that done the question of the treaty
clause should without formality be allowed to drop. In this
and other matters I found the Governor most approachable
and reasonable; he had a clear vision of the matter and
For that work I needed divers, and I had not any; so
I called on Admiral Noel at his office at the Naval Yard.
He was in plain clothes, and he looked much more like a
country squire than an admiral. Across the desk I told the
story of my job and how I needed divers. He spoke, but not
to me; he spoke to himself and quite loudly: ` Ah! — an
Englishman — and he comes to me for help — important operation — for a foreign Government too — and an Englishman to do
it — a sailor too — h'm, h'm — yes, he deserves assistance.' And
then he let out a yell, which could have been heard half-way
across the harbour; it was for the signalman who was just
outside the door. ` General Signal: Volunteer divers required
for service under the Chinese Government.' The Admiral now looked me in the face with a smile of wide benevolence
and held out his hand to end the interview; and all the time
he never said a word to me.
While that work on the barriers was being done — it took a
year or so — I interested myself in the bunding of the Canton
frontage. Something had already been begun in haphazard
fashion, but now I got it systematized and laid down lines of
clean curved bund 'walls of several miles in length. There was a
curious feature in this undertaking which, much more than the
work itself, deserves recording.
In about 1370 the conquering
Ming dynasty ordered that the soldiers of the previous Mongol
garrisons — the descendants of the famous hordes of Ghengis
Khan — and their families should be slaughtered. At Canton
there had been intermarriage and absorption in a century of
Mongol rule, and enmity was dead, so there was reluctance to
fulfil this drastic order; consequently it was reported to the
capital that they had been driven into the river, and by inference
drowned. They were not drowned; they were allowed to
live in boats and in piled shacks below high-water line. And
so they had lived and bred and grown for five hundred years
and more, and it was no one's business to institute a change.
These were the Tankas; fine-looking men and pretty girls,
from the latter of whom the famous flower boats drew their
staff. Now, when I dealt with that matter of the bund, I found
great areas of foreshore, the value of which reclaimed was
needed for the project; but these areas were studded thick
with Tanka squatters. So I approached the high officials and
pointed out that the time had come to remove the ban from
these hard-treated and deserving people; and it was done.
There was money in the business, so that was why.
It is only the older generation who remember when in
England there was railway time — which was Greenwich time
— and local time, which differed in each town and village.
Now in China we had local time, and it was Father Froc, the
eminent Director of Siccawei Observatory, who made the
suggestion that I attempt to get standard time adopted — a
seven hours' difference from Greenwich for the coast, and six,
five and four hours' differences for the interior.
It seems some undertaking, does it not? It would really
be so in any other country and would require at least an act of
Parliament. But in China, in those days, — well, let us see
how it was done.
I wrote to the Inspector-General on the subject and explained how, if he approved and later would give the necessary
instructions to the Service, I could arrange the whole affair
informally, quietly and without publicity.
The Inspectorate approved. Over a cocktail at the Shanghai
Club I discussed the matter with the foreign adviser of the
Chinese telegraphs. Quite a sound idea, he thought; he
would do his part and a week's notice would suffice. Then a
visit to Tientsin to see the manager of the Peking railway —
the only railway in the country at the time; and he concurred.
Now came the question of Hongkong, with Canton sixty miles
away; and there lay the only snag.
If coast time was established, Hongkong would sooner
or later have to fall in line; but unless she did so willingly
and concurrently there would he a lot of fuss and the undesired
publicity, and the Peking Government would be incensed at
the Customs undertaking such a matter. So I called on the
Honourable the Harbour Master, a member of the Legislative
Council, and on the Astronomer Royal — it is a fact that little
Hongkong has one — as these would be the two that the
Governor would look upon as experts on the subject; but I
failed entirely to bring them to my side. The sailor-man an Irishman and as stubborn as they make them — knew me
well enough to say that he would see me go to hell before he
would agree that a British colony should take a lead from China.
The Astronomer — an old, old man — said that the change
would affect the sequence, and thus the value of his twenty
years' collection of observations of temperature and humidity.
He was sorry but he could not possibly concur. It was an
example in miniature of how big affairs are often dealt with.
I was disappointed but not downhearted. These two
were the expert factors; the factor of common sense lay with
the Chamber of Commerce, and would be reflected by the
unofficial members of the Council. The problem was now
to get them prompted with the facts.
My friend Hewett, the P. & O. agent, who had originated
that detrimental scheme for the conservancy of the Whangpu
river, was now stationed at Hongkong. I knew well the active
nature of his mind, his imperviousness to reason, his love of
leading in some new idea and his fondness for a speech. So
I had him to dinner at the Club. I told him of my aim, of the
facts about it, of the Astronomer and the Harbour Master;
and I showed some measure of despondency. I did not ask
for his assistance, nor mention the Chamber of Commerce or
the unofficial members of the Council; but I filled him up
with the technics of the matter — about zones of longitude and
the rather complicated benefits that would result to typhoon
warnings. I spoke of the history of the movement in the
world; what America had done; the fact that distant Kashgar
would be affected and that other states would follow suit. And
so I left my seed in the fertile soil of Hewett's brain; and it was
the last I ever saw of my active-minded friend.
I was working on the Canton barrier business at this time,
and when I next paid a visit to Hongkong a friend said at the
Club: ` That scheme of yours came up last week before the
Chamber. Hewett made a perfectly marvellous speech about
it. Where he manages to get his detailed facts, God only
So things had gone exactly as I planned — a rather snivvy
business, but quite successful.
A few weeks later an I.G. Circular was issued ordering that
on a certain date the clocks at customs houses should be
altered in such and such a way. So as regards the coast the
thing was done, and, as far as I remember, no reference to the
fact was made in any paper. Subsequently the other zones
were instituted; and daily from Shanghai was tapped out
standard time to every telegraph station in the Empire.
Whether Japan was ahead of us in this I have forgotten; but
the Malay Settlements and India followed suit. The Siamese
Government, which I approached informally, declined to join
the movement. To round off my ambition in this matter
Siberia and Russia should have copied us; but they did not,
either then or later.
Is that the end of progress in the matter? No. There
must be one step more, but only one. You know that a cable
sent from England will reach America at a date some hours
before the sending of it. Well, it will not be in our time that
we can fly the Atlantic at such a speed as to arrive before we
left — as shown by standard time. But unquestionably this
generation will make that journey at such a speed that time, as
measured by the sun, will be nearly stationary; and in a flight
to China, a day — as measured by the sun — will be but little more
than half a normal day. Thus for travellers' time-tables our
present standard time will be a useless thing. It will be
discarded for that purpose, and Universal or Greenwich Time
will be used instead; and later Universal Time will be in
general use for all purposes except those which depend on
light and darkness, such as hours of work and feeding and
amusements. To meet those purposes the clocks will have a
second hour hand, painted red perhaps, to indicate a Routine
Time. With that extra hand each country, county, town or
even village will be able to play about to its heart's content
in saving daylight, and then will cease that cruel prostitution
of real time, which now takes place.