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D’Arc’s Marionettes caught up in the Boxer siege of Peking and Tientsin, China’s Ford of Heaven.

As mentioned in a previous article, it was in the second half of 1899 that George D’Arc with his wife Agnes and their marionette troupe, D’Arc’s Fantoches Françaises, arrived in Tientsin, the penultimate stop of their tour of the Far East that had included Bombay, Calcutta, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo. Their final stop, Peking, was to follow within a month. George had everything going for him. All along the way his show had been warmly received, but most especially so in Tokyo where the cheers and applause was still ringing in his ears. Tientsin had a considerable Japanese population and that augured well for his box office.

Even before his first performance in Tokyo he was agreeably surprised by the familiarity of the D’Arc name by the theatre going public. Furthermore, there were clear indications that Japanese puppetry had been influenced by the Western form of the art, and most particularly by his father Lambert D’Arc’s presentation and style.


D’Arc’s Marionettes had played in many strange places, but none as strange as Tientsin, where within walking distance of that ancient walled city stood five well established foreign settlements four of which, the Japanese, French, British, and German, boasted of their own municipal governments, their own courts of law, and their own garrisons and police. The fifth, the American, stopped short of instituting its own municipal government though it reserved the right to station troops in the area.

The settlements’ access to the outside world was either via the Hai Ho whose mouth was at Taku, forty miles to the south, or by rail from Taku’s adjacent town of Tangku. Either way there was no escaping the river’s shallow waters and the sand bar that stretched across the estuary. Even the smallest sea going vessel had to anchor on the ocean side of Taku Bar and transship its freight on to lighters with shallow enough draught that allowed them to go up river to Tientsin or cross over to the railhead at Tangku. George with his extensive transportation experience gained from his South African, Indian, and Australian tours was equal to the task of getting the show’s hundred puppets and their costumes and stage scenery and props from Tokyo to Tientsin without mishap. And so it was on July 19 that his Fantoches Françaises opened at the Bijou Theatre on Bruce Street in the British Settlement. The box office turning out even better than he had 2

hoped, he extended his Tientsin season until he could no longer postpone the call from Peking. The delay might have been for the good, for he was having problems arranging for a suitable show place in the Imperial Capital as can be seen from his letter to the editor of Peking & Tientsin Times.

It was not until the last week of August that he loaded his props and scenery and his hundred puppets on to flat cars for the five hour rail journey to Peking. And just as he had stated in his letter to the press, it was on September 7th that he opened his season there on a makeshift stage in the grounds of the Russian Postmaster. His houses were disappointing, and he soon learned the reason from Auguste Chamot who helped him locate a show place in Peking, and who was now the host of the hotel where he was staying. Since “Boxers” had emerged on the city’s streets, it was safer for foreigners to stay indoors. As to who the Boxers were, Chamot described them as crazy members of an anti-Manchu anti-foreign cult who believed that chanting Buddhist doggerel while engaging in weird forms of martial arts gained them immunity from fire and sword. They sometimes called their movement the Society for Justice and Harmony and sometimes the Clench Fists for Justice and Harmony. It was from the latter designation that they came to be called “Boxers”. To George they certainly fitted the bill of those “Mandarins and Buddhist priests” who had disrupted his attempt to set up a showpiece opposite the Peking Observatory. George pressed on with the show despite the poor box office until the third week of September when he received an invitation from Tientsin he could not refuse. It was to perform for most of the month of October at the prestigious Gordon Hall. What made the 3

offer even more compelling was that he had to be in Tientsin by the year’s end anyway to embark for the UK, his grand tour of the Far East having finally drawn to a close. His season at the Gordon Hall closed on the night of October 21 1899, but when in November his troupe of puppet manipulators, songsters, scene shifters, and costumers embarked for England, he was not with them. He had a new venture in mind, one which would take him and Agnes back to Peking. Family legend has it that he was commissioned by the Manchu Court to create a wax effigy of the Empress Dowager. We also know from notes, handwritten by his daughter, Grace, that he went to Peking to discuss with Mons Auguste Chamot how he might become involved in running hotel de pékin.

The picture frame and partial picture frame above are from George D’Arc’s 1900 photo album. The photo contained in the full frame is of two gentlemen, two ladies, and three children. Written on the frame above the gentleman on the right is the name clearly identifying him as Monsieur Chamot. Perhaps the lady next to him is his wife Annie. In the partial frame the identities written by the same hand are given as M.Chamot, Mrs D’Arc, Mr D’Arc, and a Mr Moore. Regrettably the photograph itself is missing. Throughout this article, any photographs reproduced from George D’Arc’s album will be referenced as D/Album plus the item number. The above photo and space for the missing photo are referenced as D/Album 47 and D/Album 48.


We know that from the winter of 1899 to the spring of 1900 George and Agnes were back in Peking, but what a time to be there. Hotel de pékin guests were on tenterhooks as were much of Peking’s foreign population. The Boxers who had spilled over from Shantung Province were joined by supporters from towns and cities across the north. Hardly a day went by without some outrageous incident being reported in the local press. At Peitang Cathedral, where George and Agnes worshipped, they heard the warnings of a white bearded prelate concerning the mortal danger facing them all. That explained the sandbag defences the couple saw being erected all around the Cathedral structure. The man’s warnings were borne out when every foreign language newspaper in Peking reported the brutal massacre of Catholic Christian converts, man woman and child, in three local villages set up under the auspices of Monsignor Alphonse-Pierre Favier, Vicar Apostolic of Peking (George and Agnes’s white bearded prelate). It was when the telegraph lines to Tientsin were cut that the French Minister Pichon called for volunteers to take the train there to warn the French military authority of the danger facing Peking’s foreign residents. George, familiar with the crossing, having made it six times, felt obliged to volunteer. He and Agnes had hardly ever been apart since their marriage six years back, but it was a relief to know that he would be back with her in just two days. It was on May 26 that he and three fellow volunteers were at the station situated beneath the city’s towering Chienmen to board the morning train. 5

GEORGE The train arrived at its first stop, Fengtai, without incident. But there it stayed motionless for ten minutes, twenty minutes, an hour. One of his companions asked a guard what was happening. He got no answer. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, the train began creeping forward. Soon their carriage was swaying and vibrating as the engine settled into

a barking rhythm. At Langfang, mobs of peasants who tried to storm into the carriages were viciously beaten back by troops of the Imperial army. As the train crept into Yangtsun it was met with a deafening fusillade of small arms fire, and black smoke billowed from torched buildings. The door burst open and a priest shouted at them: “Run for it, Boxers on the rampage.” They made straight for the sorghum fields, not yet at their full seven foot harvesting height, but high enough and thick enough to give them cover. Hiding by day and moving by night, they headed in the general direction of Tientsin. At dawn on the third day a mounted Sikh patrol came upon them. On May 30 the four stood before Tientsin’s French Commandant. On delivering the message from Pichon, they were thanked and dismissed with a wave of the hand. But George held his ground. With all respect would the Commandant pass on the warning to the British authority. The British needed no warning the man shot back. They were well aware that the Boxers had burned down Fengtai rail station and were threatening the Legations. Stunned by the news, George declared that he had to return there immediately. Impossible was the rejoinder. He should know that foreign civilians were forbidden to travel on the line to Peking. What’s more, even foreign military had to have permission before they could board any train heading there. It had taken some hard negotiating before the Chinese agreed to let four hundred sailors and marines from seven nations travel 6

to Peking to reinforce the Legation guards there. And the total number of four hundred was to be strictly enforced. For the French Commandant that was the end of the matter. For George, it was far from it. He stood at the edge of Victoria Road as the contingent of Royal Marines, selected to be part of the four hundred, marched ceremoniously to the station behind a Chinese brass band. With all those bystanders attracted to the spectacle there was little chance of his tagging along unobserved.

And at the Bund where the US Marines were crossing over to the railway station his chances were even less of attaching himself unseen to the end of their column.


All told, it took five trains to transport the four hundred marines, sailors, and soldiers to Peking. Even as the last train was steamed out of the station, a rumour was spreading throughout the settlements that the British Admiral Seymour was putting in place a powerful multinational force to fight its way to Peking. George was jubilant. With his knowledge of the line, Seymour would jump at the chance of recruiting him.

Camping at the station where the reinforcements would be arriving, he witnessed the arrival of the US naval landing party on a train from Tangku. And he was all smiles at the novel Russian method of travel when a trainload of Russians pulled in. They had ridden all the way from Tangku on the roofs of coaches carrying an American circus that had made the bizarre decision to play in Tientsin at this dangerous time. Warren’s Circus by golly! He knew them. He had crossed paths with them in Bombay and Singapore. He remembered them well: the trapeze artists, the daredevil horseback rider, and the clown, the funniest clown he had ever seen.

On May 31 George was there, ready and available, when Admiral Seymour arrived at the station to board his two thousand fighting men. 8

He hailed a team of Royal Marines loading their equipment. They ignored him. He waved wildly at a squad of Austrian marines, but again he got nowhere.

Then he came upon a detachment from HMS Barfleur mustering for embarkation. He called out to an officer “Can I join you? I know every stop on the way.” The officer waved him off.

Next day, his luck was in. There was an empty carriage on the train leaving for Peking. He stepped aboard and grabbed a seat. 9

AGNES If George agonized over Agnes’s safety every day and night since he left her at the hotel, so did Agnes over him. He was to have returned in two days, that is by May 28th the latest, but not a sign of him. Worse still, on the evening of the 28th came word of Fengtai rail junction being overrun by the Boxers, the buildings torched, and the track to Paotingfu torn up. And with every passing day came further news of the Boxers’ acts of terrorism. George had placed her under Mons Chamot’s care, but now the man was gone, and his American wife Annie too. The two had made the daredevil decision to ride out to a village close to Fengtai to rescue Belgian engineers and their families who had fled the carnage at Fengtai.

News spread like wildfire that the rescue party had succeeded in its death defying mission, and was heading back to Peking with its charges: thirteen Belgians, their nine wives, and seven children.


Agnes had at last something to cheer about. If Mons Chamot could get through Boxer lines then so could George. There was every chance he was safe in Tientsin. And now at hotel de pékin the welcoming hurrahs had hardly died down for Chamot and his wife when Agnes’s hopes were given another boost. Word spread that trainloads of legation guard reinforcements from several nations were arriving at the railway station. She held up a silver coin to the nearest rickshaw coolie to speed her there. She successfully fought her way through the jam of glum and silent Chinese onlookers, but she had less success evoking an answer from the assembling marines. None had ever heard of George D’Arc. A Royal Navy officer added that the Chinese officials who had given permission for the five trainloads of guards to proceed to Peking were there to enforce the number allowed to entrain. The British had to reduce their number by twenty-five. Not a single civilian was allowed to board.

For Peking’s foreign residents the arrival of the reinforcements could not have been more timely. Boxers were drilling openly in the Chinese City. Their posters, everywhere to be seen, promised the elimination of the hated foreign devils. And this was no vain boast. Peking & Tientsin Times reported the brutal torture and execution of the English missionaries Robinson and Norman and most of their Chinese flock - men, women, children. When on June 10 the Paomachang racecourse grandstand was burnt to ground, and a day later the Chancellor of the Japanese Legation was pulled from his carriage and hacked to pieces by Boxer broadswords, foreigners needed no further warning. They packed up what they could and headed for the refuge in the Legation quarter. Protestant missionaries in and around Peking brought with them their thousand Christian converts. 11

At midnight on June 12th, a night Agnes was never to forget, she was snapped awake by a bedlam of roaring and screaming. Her door burst open and a servant shouted: “Ch’i lai Ch’i lai - Get up Get up.” In the lobby fast filling with guests she heard that a band of Boxers had broken through the Hatamen fortress gate and were slaughtering any Chinese shopkeepers and their families they could lay their hands on. And now over the blood curdling blasts of trumpets and horns she heard the terrifying chant: “Sha Sha - Kill Kill.” The clamour intensified as the Boxers swept past the hotel on Legation Street in pursuit of terrified shopkeepers and their families. At first light, drugged from lack of sleep, she and three other guests followed Mons Chamot across silent deserted Legation Street to the Chinese stores opposite the hotel. He beckoned them into a cloth shop and ordered them to scavenge as many rolls as they could carry of silk, satin, linen, even brocade and hurry back with their loads. And there on the hotel’s kitchen tables where the fabric was unrolled, they followed a sewing amah’s instructions on how to use Chinese scissors to cut the fabric into lengths for sewing into sandbags. Busy with needle and thread, Agnes was able to ignore the desultory rifle shots that sounded most of the day. But at night she was out of bed in a flash when tremendous bursts of machine gun fire sounded as if they were coming from next door. Not from next door, she learned from the desk clerk, but from the Austrian guards’ Maxim that had wiped out the Boxer braves testing the Legation defences.

Great arcs of flames lit up the sky above the Chinese city to the south. “Look,” someone cried out, and there in clear view was the magnificent hundred foot high Ming tower of the Chien Men fortress gate being consumed by fire. The calm steady voice of Mons Auguste Chamot sounded. “Tomorrow first thing you will all be moved to the British Legation. We are under siege.”


GEORGE Rebuffed by HMS Barfleur’s officers, and that was on May 31, George was now aboard a train in a carriage all to himself. After only a short delay, loud retorts of exploding steam sounded from the engine ahead and the train creaked into motion. Even as it was moving the carriage door slammed open and three Cossack officers entered. George raised himself expecting to be sent packing, but they broke into smiles and waved him down. The train chugged slowly past blackened shell-torn villages before it pulled to a halt at a station platform. Not a Chinese to be seen, only Royal Marine and US Marine stretcher bearers. George hailed one. “Are we not headed for Peking?” The man stared at him in astonishment. “No sir, we’re not. This is Peitsang. We’re on our way back to Tientsin. There was fierce fighting at Yangtsun, many casualties. We’re taking the wounded to Tientsin. Who are you anyway?” When George told him he was at once commandeered to carry a stretcher on to the train. Back at Tientsin where the wounded were being unloaded, a voice sounded through a megaphone “Heads down. We’re under fire.” And sure enough, every now and then there would be a loud crack of a rifle shot followed by a thud as the bullet hit the station building. While Russian and Japanese wounded continued to be carried off somewhere, George kept close behind a mule-drawn ambulance as it crossed the bridge leading to the settlements. In the lobby of Customs House on Victoria Road, now a temporary hospital, an English nurse confronted him. “Why are you not in the Volunteers? You should join the Volunteers.” When he learned from the Volunteers’ recruiting officer that as an infantryman he would be staying put manning the settlement’s defences, but in the mounted unit, otherwise known as the Frontier Rifles, there was a good chance he would be joining the relief force when it headed out for Peking. To qualify one must have a horse. Did he have a horse? His mind raced to his friends at Warren’s Circus. They had a good stable of wagon horses. He gave the officer a nod. The very next day, June 13th, never mind horses, all units of the Volunteer Corps were shoulder to shoulder at the western defence line firing their 45 calibre Martini-Henry rifles into swarms of attacking Boxers. Even if that were not nerve-racking enough, shrieking shells began bursting thunderously all about the settlements. Word passed round. “Get ready to pull back. We must shorten the line.” An hour passed, two hours, the shelling continued, and there was no order to pull back. It was now common knowledge that the shells were being fired by modern Ger13

man Krupps howitzers of the Chinese Imperial Army. There could be no doubt that they had joined in with the Boxers and were making an all out attack on Tientsin station. Once the railway was in their hands, the settlements were doomed. But now came wonderful news. At the critical moment 1,500 Russian troops from Taku poured on to the station. They were a week late joining Seymour’s relief expedition, but in the nick of time to save the settlements. Supported by the deadly accurate fire from their field guns, the Russian infantry threw the Chinese back into the native city. They might have been sent reeling, but from the protection of their walled city the Chinese continued with their bombardment of the settlements, the French suffering worst, nearly all their buildings flattened and burned to embers. Worse still, Boxers and Imperial sharpshooters had infiltrated the thinly held lines and were taking a deadly toll of the residents and their military personnel.

A French officer was shot dead on rue de France and an Englishman killed as he came out of his cellar on Meadows Road. Outside Hsiao Pai Lou, the heart of the American Settlement, two Americans were shot down. But it hit more at home when George heard that George Peters, manager of Warrens Circus, was killed by a sniper’s bullet. On June 17 the Volunteers were relieved from their front line duties. And that could not have been more welcome for George and his fellow troopers. The unit of Royal Marines that took over had done so twice before. A hardened bunch they were, veterans of South Africa, not given to joking or hilarity. But on this day they were all smiles. They’d received the good news that the detachment of theirs with Seymour’s Peking Relief Expedition which had been soundly defeated at Yangtsun by the massed forces of China’ Kansu Muslim Army, had fought its way to Hsi Ku Arsenal only eight miles from Tientsin and was holding out there with Seymour and the remnants of his force. Good news for the marines, but chilling for George. If the Chinese army was powerful enough to send Seymour’s men packing, what hope was there for the meagre force of guards protecting Peking’s legations! What hope was there for Agnes! 14

AGNES Riding in Peking carts, wheelbarrows, rickshaws, it took two days for the guests of hotel de pékin to move themselves and their luggage to a pavilion in the British Legation grounds. Agnes who considered herself staff and not a guest excluded herself from the exodus. Auguste Chamot did not object. Being under his charge he could keep a better eye on her in the hotel. Besides, there was much work to do, cutting various fabrics and sewing them into sandbags, cutting and rolling gauze for bandages. Chamot’s American wife, Annie, was perfectly capable of performing these duties, but she chose to participate in the preparation of the hotel’s defences. Dressed in a French colonial army field jacket and English jodhpurs, and with her rifle always near at hand, she went busily to work positioning sandbags so that the loopholes provided the best arc of fire.

The only guests Agnes saw now were military officers and embassy brass from various legations. Sometimes there were two of three of them at a coffee table, sometimes they occupied most of the seats in the banquet room. Much of their talk went over her head, but it was plain as day to her when they discussed with Chamot the number of bread loaves his bakery could produce in a day and how might they be dispersed to the legations. An American marine passed a note to his commanding officer at the table. The officer rose to his feet. “Von Kettler shot dead,” he let out. And when it transpired that the German Minister Baron von Kettler had been assassinated while on his way to a meeting at the Tsung li Yamen requested by the Celestial Empire’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, it could only mean war. 15

And that war was only an hour in coming. Sudden ear shattering fusillades of musket and rifle fire and flights of fiery torches slammed against the French Legation’s outposts and Embassy building. Agnes stood petrified by the stunning blasts, the screams and yells of soldiers in battle, the eerie deep rumbles of Buddhist horns. Mons Chamot grabbed her hand. “Come with he,” and he led her down into the hotel bakery. Even in the bakery there was no escaping the horror. Three French marines and an Italian, were brought in, their uniforms soaked with blood. A man wearing a Red Cross armband

called out “Bandez!” Agnes held up a gauze roll. He nodded. And while he pressed swabs on the hideous wounds, she did her best to wind the rolls around them. Some time in the night, the door pounded and Chamot shouted into her ear, “Get on your feet. We are retreating to the British Legation.” She heard him banging on other doors. She did not know how long she stood in the hall as if in a drunken stupour before he was back. “Plans changed. We are not moving.” She sat back on the bed. If only George were here. There was so much to tell him. She must tell him that the hotel was bearing the brunt of the Boxer attack, that there was no avoiding the sounds and smoke of battle, that there was no avoiding the horrific sight of torn and mutilated limbs. In the morning Mons Chamot was here there everywhere, issuing orders, gesticulating. He stood before her. “You can do your part by supervising the distribution of the bread. It looks like we’ll produce 300 loaves today. We’ll keep 30 and send the rest to the British Legation for further distribution. Tomorrow the numbers might be different.” So in the ensuing days there was always something more to tell George. She must tell him of the responsibility thrust upon her to supervise the allocation of bread to the different Legations still holding out, that on two occasions she had ridden the Peking cart carrying the bread to the British Legation, and how it had infuriated Mons Chamot when 16

he heard about it. Was she not aware that the bridge over the drainage canal was in clear view of snipers, that three drivers had already been shot dead? For sure she must tell George that through marvellous luck or divine intervention she happened not to be in that part of the hotel when shells smashed into it. Twice the hotel caught fire, and twice she joined the bucket brigade that worked feverishly to extinguish the flames.

And yes, she must remember to tell him that she had come face to face with the wife of the Austrian diplomat they met when they first arrived in Peking. The lady informed her that she and her husband had forsaken the safety of the British Legation and booked in at the hotel. But they were not to renew their friendship. On July 14, Bastille Day, a day for celebration, two tremendous explosions rocked every pavilion, shed, and hut in the French Legation. The mines the Boxers had detonated under the French positions buried alive many of its defenders. Among the few survivors who were dug out of the rubble was the badly wounded Austrian diplomat. As the screeching battle cries of the Boxers signalled their ground attack, so French bugles sounded and the last reserves of French, Austrians, and Italians rose to meet the enemy head on. Performing incredible feats of courage, they recaptured the deep trench that had been dug to serve as the legation’s last ditch defence.


Three mornings later, she woke with a start. She tensed. Silence, eerie silence permeated the hotel. She got down to the lobby as fast as she could. “Truce,” someone said. “There’s been a truce.” It was too incredible for Agnes to accept. She believed it later in the morning when she heard that four cartloads of melons, cucumbers, and cabbages had arrived at the American Legation gate. Each cart had a sign written in Chinese which translated: “With the compliments of her Imperial Majesty.” Days of waiting, but none of the eagerly awaited fresh vegetables reached the occupants of hotel de pékin, Finally, a basket of eggs was delivered there by the British Legation. Agnes rejoiced over the two, nicely soft boiled for her by the hotel under chef. She was still under Mons Chamot’s orders not leave the hotel under any circumstances, so obviously he had little faith in the cease fire, but she felt safe enough to remove the cotton wool plugs from her ears. And where she had stooped low whenever she passed a window, she now raised her head above its sandbag parapet to steal a glimpse at the goings on outside. She saw a French marine treading his way through the rubble of bricks on Legation Street. She saw an Austrian in conversation with a Manchu brave. Both broke into smiles. What further proof was needed that the killing had stopped for once and for all ?

Her hopes along with the hopes of close on five hundred foreign civilians and over two thousand servants and refugees and four hundred heroic legation guards were shattered when the besieging army ended the armistice with a barrage that dwarfed any other it had previously fired. And while their shells were still falling, their shouting screaming swordsmen, pikemen, riflemen swarmed in on the attack from every direction. Their numbers were overwhelming. The defenders fell back. Those in the French Legation’s deep trench barely made it back into the hotel. “Dites vos prières,” someone called to Agnes. “La fin est proche.” When she stared around her and shook her head, another voice called: “Say your prayers, the end is near.” It was August 13. 18

GEORGE When last we left George, and that was on June 17th, he had just been given the good news by bluejackets that Admiral Seymour’s force though badly mauled was holding out at Hsi Ku Arsenal. The bluejackets knew nothing of the fate of Peking’s foreign residents. It was now while the Volunteers were back on their watch that the sounds of battle, faint at first grew more intense by the minute. Some daredevil volunteers who stuck their heads above the parapet reported no man’s land to be totally deserted. All that rattle of rifle and machine gun fire and detonation of grenades and mortars and shell bursts seemed to be coming from the southern front. And so it was. Hurrahs and shouts began sounding all along the line. “Yanks have broken through at Taku Road!” And within half an hour US Marines were in the settlement with a British naval landing party alongside them hauling their artillery pieces. And now from the race course Italian marines came charging through the barriers with standards raised and trumpets blaring. And that was just the start. The floodgates opened and an endless stream of khaki clad Americans and white jacketed British and their mule carts and gun carriages poured into the settlement. One moment George and his colleagues-in-arms were cheering waving spectators, and next they were flat down on their faces as the screeching whzzzz was followed instantly by the stupendous burst of a shell. Then another burst and yet another as salvoes from the Chinese army’s modern German artillery continued without stop.

Next morning, the news had hardly passed around the Volunteers that powerful Russian and Japanese forces on the east side of the Hai Ho had broken the stubborn resistance of the Imperial Chinese Army, when the Chinese field batteries safe behind the city’s 19

fortress walls opened up again. And the pounding continued for another six straight days before it came suddenly to a close. It was only when George clambered out of the deep shelter that he learned why the guns had fallen silent. American, British, Japanese, French, and Russian forces had stormed the ramparts and taken the city. But at what terrible cost. Among the piles of dead was hero of Gettysburg, Colonel Emerson Liscum, who at the height of the battle had led a bayonet charge against the Chinese line.

Tientsin City fell to the Allied forces on July 14th, and when a week went by, two weeks, and no move was made to march on to Peking, George was beside himself. And he was not alone. Protests rose from every quarter. Even the world’s press demanded action of Commander-in-Chief General “Wait and See” Gaselee. And still he made no move. Left to kick his heels, George wandered on to the Recreation Grounds where troops from the United Kingdom were camped. He immediately recognized their talk. It was Taffy, pure unadulterated Taffy. “What regiment?” He asked. “Royal Welch Fusiliers, Second Battalion.” (Welch was the regiment’s preferred spelling). A stroke of luck indeed! All he need do was play his Cardiff card. And he must have done so for all it was worth – D’Arc’s Waxworks on St Mary Street – Chamber of Horrors – Oliver Cromwell’s Head, the lot, for he came away with permission to accompany the battalion’s mule pack when General Gaselee gave the order, expected any day now, to march on Peking. But Gaselee continued to hold off giving the order. It wasn’t until August 04, which for George was another week of crushing anxiety, before the Allied force of some twenty thousand strong, finally started off on its way. Squadrons of Cossacks, Bengal Lancers, and Japanese cavalry scouted ahead, feeling the way. Foot infantry followed. And at the 20

tail end the Service Corps units, with George, who never did get himself a horse, attached to the Welsh mule pack. At Peitsang, a mere twenty miles from Tientsin, blasts of cannon fire stopped the column in its tracks. Under a hail of rifle fire and choking in the black smoke and yellow dust, the Welsh drivers turned their pack train into a gully. And there, tormented by mosquitoes, mole crickets, and horse flies it stayed all night. At dawn when George joined the section of mules delivering water to the battalion, he was astonished to hear that the Japanese after a bloody but victorious battle against Tung Fu Hsiang’s Kansu warriors were in possession of the town.

The retreating Chinese quickly proved they had not lost the war. Only forty-eight hours later from fortified positions round the rail town of Yangtsun they opened up on the column with withering volleys of rifle and cannon fire. Once again the mule pack took cover in a hollow. Before long, stretcher bearers appearing with their gruesome burdens told of the heavy price the American, Welsh, and Sikhs had paid. But at least there was something to show for their sacrifice. The Stars and Stripes went up over the town’s west wall and the Union Jack over the east. But no resting on laurels. Bugles sounded up and down the column. ‘Wait and See’ Gaselee had changed his tune. Never mind the intense heat wave that blanketed the whole north China plain, the battle weary Welch Fusiliers reached the village of Hosiwu on August 9th, and three days later they stood by as the Japanese stormed the city of Tungchow, only thirteen miles from Peking. That night a squadron of Cossacks swept out of Tungchow and were at Peking’s huge city wall without a single shot being fired at them. When news of this reached the column the plans for coordinated attacks on the city’s fortress gates were thrown out of the window. The race was on for the glory of being first to reach the Legations. 21

By moonlight, Rajputs, Sikhs, and Welch Fusiliers skirted their way round the Japanese storming Chih Homen and the Russians firing their artillery at point blank range at Tung Pienmen. At dawn, George was one of the thousand Sikhs, Rajputs, and Welshmen gazing up at the lone legation defender in plain view atop the Tartar Wall flashing his semaphore flags. Shouts of command and the Welsh and Sikhs deployed to cover the Rajputs as they advanced double file into the Legation Quarter through a small sluice gate forty feet below the signaller. The hour it took for the Rajputs to get through was the longest and most torturous in George’s life. Finally it was the turn of the Welsh to proceed through the wall. George’s heart was in his mouth as he waded through the knee deep black slime that channeled through the Tartar Wall. On reaching firm ground, scenes of devastation greeted him on every side: great mounds of gray brick, shells of buildings, charred beams, tiled roofs spread-eagled over the ground. A sudden crackle of rifle shots and he ducked. When he looked up again, there before him stood an apparition, a South African campaign hat over a bronzed face, grimy khaki shirt, leather bandolier, jodhpurs. George pointed to the multi-tiered curved roof of a temple-like structure that dominated the skyline. “Isn’t that Chienmen?” . . . “No, that’s Hatamen. Chienmen was destroyed. Those rifle shots you heard moments ago came from its ruins. Boxers are still holed up there.” . . . “Then we are not far from hotel de pékin? . . . “Correct, but you can’t get there from here. All those barricades on Legation Street. But you can get there from the British Legation. Anyway why do you want to go to the hotel? It was badly shelled, many of the staff killed. It’s not open for business.” George swallowed hard as he allowed himself to be led by his mule twisting and turning its way across Legation Street. Where he remembered the street to be straight as a die 22

along its entire length it was now blocked off every fifty feet or so by barricades of stone blocks, loose brick, garden gates, window frames. Standing in the Russian Legation he lost his bearings. Could that mound of rubble be all that was left of the pavilion which Postmaster Nicolai Gomloyeff made available to him for his marionette show only nine months earlier? In the British Legation it was like a garden fête, flags and bunting hanging from eaves, smiling faces, joyful shouts of greeting. Standing out in the milling crowd were military uniforms of every colour, but with scarlet predominating. Some ladies were attired in white as if for the Ascot, broad brimmed hats, dainty parasols, ankle length gowns. Others not in quite such finery, but surely in their Sunday best, their hats in style and hems touching the ground. One such lady turned to face him. He stood transfixed. He choked out: “Agnes!” She raised a hand and gasped: “George, it’s you!” This must have been the most dramatic moment of their married life yet their simple greeting was all we were ever told about it. Fortunately, we have a letter written only six weeks after the event by their Hong Kong contact, William Farmer, to a mutual friend, a Mrs Fanning, which captures something of the magic of the moment. We show that letter below.


We are also fortunate enough in having the bottom half of a letter that had been written on both sides of a single sheet of notepaper. The sheet had come apart at the horizontal centre fold and the top half is missing. The letter’s author was Sir Claude MacDonald, and the recipient, George D’Arc. On the face side of the half sheet, Sir Claude suggests that Agnes was much more comfortable and certainly had better food than he or his staff during the siege. He was probably right with regard to the food available to Agnes, for it was at hotel de pékin where much of it was produced for the whole legation quarter. Moreover, the hotel’s reserve of canned goods and wine never ran dry. But as Commander of the legations’ defence forces he well knew that whereas his quarters were set back some distance from the front line, hotel de pékin was the front line under constant fire throughout the siege. So whose locatioin was the more comfortable? On the reverse side of the half sheet, Sir Claude lauds Mrs D’Arc for having acted with “courage and devotion above all praise.” He states, furthermore, that he has strongly recommended her for the medal being awarded by Her Majesty’s Government to all who served with distinction during the siege.

And Agnes duly received her medal. (now in the author’s possession.)


Widowed in 1924, heroic Agnes left China for England in 1927 where she retired in Hove, Sussex. When her grandson, Desmond Power, author of this article, arrived there in 1946, he spent a month with her. Here they are on Brighton Pier. Her memory sharp, she regaled him with colourful stories of her time in Peking and Tientsin. To this day he kicks himself for failing to ask her what happened to George’s marionettes in 1900. Were they looted or destroyed as the late John Phillips has it in his research, or were they taken out by the show’s workers just before the Boxers began their attack on the foreign settlements? Perhaps one day, the answer will come to light.


I wish to record here my appreciation for the courtesy and generous use of their time and material of all those who provided me with information on the D’Arcs. And I earnestly hope that I have not through inadvertence omitted anyone. If so, I offer my sincere apologies. John M Blundall of Glasgow, Lanarkshire, puppet master of high repute for giving his gracious permission to use the Japanese woodblock prints contained in his collection of rare marionette artifacts. On Page 1 of this article, the print on the left, crafted by the artist Tsukioka Kogyo, shows a D’Arc’s theatre stage on which a drunken Pierrot performs on stilts. And the one on the right is of the celebrated actor, Onoe Kikugoro V, playing the role of the drunken stilt walking Pierrot in direct imitation of one of D’Arc’s most popular acts. My thanks go also to John Blundall’s colleague Stephen Foster, leading studio craftsman and puppet designer, for processing and emailing the woodblock prints for my use. Frank Bren of Melbourne, VIC, noted researcher of stage and cinema, co-author (with Law Kar and Sam Ho) of Hong Kong Cinema - A Cross Cultural View (Scarecrow Press, US 2004) and to John D Simmonds of Turner, ACT, Old China Hand from Tientsin, soldier of fortune and author of the historical novel Luddite, for their discovery of George Lambert D’Arc’s 1899 letter to the Editor of Peking & Tientsin Times, which is printed on Page 3 of the foregoing article. Richard Bradshaw of Bowral, NSW, master puppeteer, actively engaged in presenting puppets in Europe and Asia, and who is an author of published works such as D’Arc’s Marionettes in Australia, and Mark St Leon of Penshurst, NSW, circus historian and researcher who provided me with invaluable information on Warren’s Circus in Tientsin. Australian War Memorial Collection for permission to show their photograph, which appears on Page 17, of the hotel de pékin bedroom destroyed by shell fire. Keystone Press Agency for permission to show their photographs which appear on Pages 20 and 21 of Allied troops at the time of the battle for Tientsin in 1900. Joyce Larson Blessinger of Lacey, WA, for her donation of the photographs that appear on Pages 14 and 29 showing the destruction of the Tientsin settlements by Chinese artillery.