Philip John Pinel's journal 1874-1878

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The adventures of John Pinel 1849-1930 Part three

1874 - 1875

In the meantime, another child had been born to my father and mother, a girl, Lilian Mary, so that the household was somewhat augmented during my absence. Not having any intention of returning to London before returning back to China, I had taken my passage in the P&O mail steamer leaving Southampton at the end of the year. The company did not know what steamer would be on the berth so promised to send me to Jersey, a plan of the cabin accommodation with my berth marked. This arrived in due course and I found that the steamer was the Bokhara to leave Southampton on I think, 31st December. I had my Christmas at home and, owing to the steamers for Southampton only in winter running three times a week, I had to cross over a couple days before the Bokhara left and put up at Radley’s Hotel. It was cold weather with snow on the ground. I went to the docks and saw my ship coming to the conclusion that she was deep in the water and would be very wet in bad weather which proved to be the case. I bought a photograph of the ship and sent it home.

The mail steamer Bokhara

On the last day of the year 1874, I went on board the Bokhara in miserably dreary weather and found that my berth was in a four - berth cabin in which there were three other passengers; one a native Indian officer returning to his regiment. In the book of instructions issued by the P&O Company, it was stated that portmanteaux intended to be taken into cabins should not be more than 15 inches high, so that they could be pushed under the berths but in this particular ship, the berths are only 12 inches from the deck so our four portmanteaux were standing on the floor of the cabin and there was no standing room left; my berth was directly under a large square port.

Channel gale

On leaving Southampton, we ran into a strong Southeast gale and when I turned in shortly after 9 o’clock, I found this port was leaking and my bed was already beginning to get wet. Soon afterwards it got so bad that I had to get up and seek the steward. I asked him to find me another berth but this, he said he could not do until he saw the Purser the next morning. I then told him to make up a bed in the saloon which he did and there I passed the night.The wind and sea got worse and shortly after the lights in the passages were put out, the captain came down into the saloon and ordered them to be relight. I suppose in the event of seas being shipped, he did not want to be in the dark down below. We ploughed against this gale for five days and the conditions on board were extremely disagreeable. Skylight and companion ways were all battened down and the air in the saloon and cabins got very foul. The only place we could get on deck and into the fresh air was under the bridge. Very few appeared at meals, most of the passengers being in their bunks, seasick.

At last we got into fine weather off the coast of Portugal and the passengers began to come on deck to enjoy themselves. Owing to the rough weather and strong head wind, we were behind time and on arrival at Gibraltar after dark, we only remained long enough to land and take on board mails, and none of the passengers had a chance of going ashore. At Malta also, we only stayed during the evening and night. Some of our passengers went on shore for a few hours but I remained on board. I forgot to mention above that the morning after we left Southampton, I was given a berth in one of the saloon cabins which had been reserved for passengers that might join the ship at any of the Mediterranean ports and a Captain in the Army who had been in the same plight as myself was given a berth in the same room; we shared it until our arrival at the Canal when we shifted into the Bombay steamer.

The Suez Canal in 1874, five years after it opened

Suez Canal

We duly arrived at Port Said and passed through the Canal without incident. At Aden, as the other ports, we arrived in the evening and were to sail the next morning. A party of us went ashore and played billiard at the hotel till we got tired and then we were about to return on board when one of the party (we were eight in number) suggested that we should go to the Cantonment and try and get sight of the tanks. As the gates were shut at sunset, we did not think there was not much of a chance of getting in; however, we decided to try and charted two Gharneys to ride four on each; the horses were a motley lot and we doubted if they could take us there and back, but the Arab drivers thrashed them continuously and they took us at a gallop the whole way. On arrival at the Cantonment, we knocked at the gates and on their being opened, we explained to the Officer in charge that we were passengers by the mail steamer and would be leaving at daybreak and we requested permission to be allowed to enter and walk up to the tanks; this was granted and we walked up the deserted streets of the town and had a good view of the tanks by moonlight; they were nearly empty at the time. Above the tanks there was a small platform with seats round in the centre of which a few small trees were planted and kept watered.

All round there was not a single green leaf or blade of grass, nothing but cinders and lava. A most desolate spot and about the hottest on Earth but withal healthy, as there is no moisture in the air to keep the germs of disease alive. After we had seen all we wanted, we returned to Steamer Point and thence to the ship arriving on board about 4 am. Coaling had been going on all night and a shute went through my cabin so I shouldn’t have got much rest had I came on board earlier.

Indian Ocean

Across the Indian Ocean we had northerly winds and the passengers who had the option usually chose the port side for their cabins but in this ship, I who had mine on the starboard side had the best of it for the Bokhara was a very wet ship and every time a breeze sprung up she would fill all the cabins on the weather side. This happened once or twice and consequently, except in very calm weather, all the ports on the port side had to be kept closed while on my side, the ports were open all the time and I got the benefit also of the breeze that came through the saloon skylights.

Rickshaws were the main transport when Pinel passed through Ceylon

In due time, we arrived at Point de Galles and there transhipped into a smaller steamer for China, the Bokhara going to Calcutta with the Indian passengers. I was able to get ashore for a short time and had a drive into the country to see something of the tropical foliage of Ceylon. The rest of the voyage was uneventful and in due time, we arrived at Hong Kong having called at Singapore en route. On arrival at Hong Kong, I was ordered to go on to Shanghai so proceeded by the same steamer. While in Hong Kong, I dined one evening at Mr Albert Heard’s and there again met Mrs Heard who had been with us at Yokohama nearly two years previously. She seemed in low spirits evidently anticipating the trouble that was coming to the firm of which I at the time, had not the slightest inkling. On arrival at Shanghai, I found that a telegram had been received ordering me back to Hong-Kong so I took the passage by the German steamer “China” and left within a day or two.

Hong Kong in the late 19th century

Hong Kong

On arrival at Hong Kong, I found I was to take the place of the cashier, Mr N C Heyward who was returning to England. I started my new duties and had not been long at them before I found that thing were not going very well with the firm but for all that, when a crash came about six weeks afterwards, it took me by surprise. The partner in charge was a Mr C E Parker, an American, a shifty schemer in whom I had no confidence and although the firm was being reconstructed and starting again, I had no wish to serve under him. Mr Paterson, the Foochow representative of Jardine Matheson and Co happened to be in Hong Kong and I applied to him for a billet. He told me that Mr KerwicK, the senior partner, was in Shanghai and he (Mr Paterson) was going up there and would do his best to get the appointment of shipping clerk in his office for me. In the meantime, George Oliver arrived from England and it was arranged that he should take charge of Heard and Co’s Foochow branch. Oliver wanted me to go with him as his assistant and I was willing to do this, but I had already applied to Jardine Matheson and would rather have been with them, but I could not risk falling between two stools, so I went to see the Hong Kong partner to seek his advice. He told me he thought that the Foochow billet was already filled and advised me to take what was offered to me and I did so, only to find out when I got to Foochow that if I had waited a few days, I should have got what I wanted.


Oliver and I went up to Foochow and opened the new firm under the style of Heard and Co. We rented from the trustees the old premises of Augustine Heard and Co and the Chinese comprader of the old firm who remained with us found the money for us to buy the furniture and plant belonging to the old firm. We accepted this loan as a first liability to be paid off out of the commission we made. We had good orders for tea and this was soon done and we, the Foochow branch of Heard and Co, was soon out of debt.

It was arranged that, at the end of the tea season, George Oliver should go to London to arrange for orders for the following year but shortly after he started, I received a notice from headquarters of the firm that after three months, my services would not be required, the reason given that I was the most highly paid of their clerks and that they could not afford to keep me on. This irritated Oliver that they should dismiss his assistant without consulting him and on his arrival at Hong Kong, he resigned his position and went on to London to secure orders on his own account. The firm then wrote to me withdrawing their notice, asked me to stay on, but after consideration, I declined the offer and asked them to send up someone to relieve me when my time was up. I did this principally because I did not like or trust Parker, who was managing the business in China.

Now I was in a position that I had to find a new billet within about two months, after which I should be out of employment, a serious matter as I had not much money. I let my wants be known as widely as possible and made special application to Jardine Matheson and Co; however, the time went on and I began to get despondent as time went on with no satisfactory result. However, about three weeks before my notice expired, I received a letter from Mr W Keswick, the senior partner of Jardine Matheson and Co, making me a very satisfactory offer for their Shanghai office; I should have preferred to be in Foochow but was thankful for what I got and accepted at once.



On arrival at Shanghai, I found that I was to keep the books of the China Coast Steam Navigation Company. The Company had four steamers running to Chefoo and Tsingtien, Taka, Appin, Hain-ing and Lin Nazing; one steamer to Foochow, the Europe and a small steamer of which I have forgotten the name to Wenchow. Jardine Matheson and Co were the largest shareholders; in fact they owned more than half the shares and they acted as Agents. In addition to keeping the books, I had to act as Secretary to the Board. I had not been long in Shanghai before I was called on to act as Correspondence Clerk, a position that should have given me a good chance of promotion had my health permitted and to retain it; but unfortunately, I got ill again and had to take a trip to Chefoo during the first summer; that set me up for the winter, but when the hot weather recommenced, I had to take another run by sea to Tsingtien; the first trip was made in the Haining and the second in the Taka.


These trips improved my health for a short time but the climate of Shanghai did not suit me and I was more or less out of health all the time I was there. In the summer of 1877, I made another effort to recover my health and arranged to go for a trip to Japan with my friend George Dodwell, an employee of the firm Adamson Bell and Co. We travelled in a Japanese steamer with European captain and officers, calling first at Nagasaki, where we stayed for about a day and paid a visit to the Takeime Coal Mine - a mine that is mostly under the sea, the entrance shaft being just above the high water mark; the mine had caught fire some years previously and it was flooded by letting the sea into it through a syphon. It produces a good quality of coal and it is largely used by the steamers of China and Japan. The scenery in the harbour and around Nagasaki is very beautiful, the coast line down to the water’s edge is clothed with verdene and the Su Wu Nada, a Japanese inland sea is probably the most beautiful sheet of water in the world, this owing to the warm current which flows northward along the West Coast of Japan. The China coast, on the other hand, is bare and rocky, and one has to go some distance inland before seeing much vegetation.

From Nagasaki, we went on in the steamer to Kobe and then landed while the vessel went on to Yokohama and back. We visited Osaka and Kyoto. At Osaka, the principal object of interest was the castle, a medieval fortress probably almost impregnable in the days before fire arms were invented; it stands on a hill and the walls are very massive, high up in them are huge stones about 16 foot long and seven or eight feet thick; how they were ever got into there position is a wonder; it would be a difficult task for our modern engineers. Undoubtedly, there were giants in those days. Passing through Osaka, we then went on to Kiotu, the ancient capital of Japan and the residence of the Mikado. We stopped at a tea house on the outskirts of the City and made excursions into the surrounding country.

Writing at this length of time, I cannot quite remember when we went but my recollection is that Japan is a very beautiful country, the scenery is the most beautiful in the world. I was there in 1877 and I am now writing this in 1928. Our voyage back to Shanghai was uneventful and it was not long after this, that I decided to leave China.

Leaving China

Mr Oliver knowing that my health was no good had, some time before, offered me a berth in London which at the time I refused and he then wrote saying that if I saw reason to change my mind before he left Foochow on his second trip to London and would let him know, he would open an office there and to be managed by me; he wanted an Agent in London to look up orders and settle accounts with clients. As my health grew rather worse than better, I wrote and accepted his offer and made my arrangements for leaving China at the end of the year. I had to ask my employers to let me break my three years’ engagement with them: This they could hardly refuse as I had the doctor’s orders to leave Shanghai; then in due course, I took my passage by the French Mail Steamer leaving Shanghai about a week before Christmas.

I found that an acquaintance of mine, Josure Sampson was going home by the same steamer, the “Djeurnah” and as we could speak French fluently, it was very convenient to have a travelling companion. As I was leaving China for good, there were of course, sundry things to be attended to - furniture and a shan in the Bowling Alley to be disposed of etc.

I have omitted to say that I was living with a friend, Devereau Glass, the firm’s bookkeeper in the rooms occupied by the old junior section - the furniture belong to me and I cannot remember after this lapse of time, how I disposed of it. When I was leaving Shanghai, a young friend, R P Hunter, rather officiously borrowed a steam launch to take me off to the steamer which was anchored in the stream opposite the French settlement. Three or four friends assembled to see me off; we waited and waited for this steam launch until I was afraid we should miss the steamer, and would wait no longer but got a Chinese sampan and rowed to the steamer and was only just in time to get on board before she started; had I missed her, it would have cost me twenty pounds to go to Hong Kong by next steamer and catch her there, and what would have hurt me more than the money loss, I should looked so foolish. The steam launch was wanted for another purpose and never came for me.

I spent the Christmas of 1877 in Hong Kong and left there homeward bound between Christmas and New Year. I was very sorry to leave China and I believe if I had a billet in Hong Kong, I would have stayed on and risked the danger of ill health from the climate. My friend Sampson and I each had a separate cabin in the middle of the ship and these we retained all the way to Marseilles. Sampson with his knowledge of the French language was able to chum up and talk to the Chief Steward who has much to do with the berthing of the passengers, and so on, by making friends with the powers-that-be, we were not doubled up when the Indian passengers came on board at Colombo and I believe we were the only passengers that we were so privileged.

19th century Saigon


Our first port of call was the French settlement of Saigon, a miserable unhealthy place amongst the swamps and forest of Cochin China. We spent a night there and were very thankful to get away. The French cannot keep troops there long; there is so much sickness among them; practically every European gets fever before he has been long in Saigon. From there, our next port of call was Singapore where we stopped one night. I and several other passengers spent the evening and slept at the hotel rejoining our ship the next day. Singapore is a place when it is al-ways summer without any exhausting heat and the vegetation is most luxuriant. Thence we sailed (or we should say steamed) to Colombo when we took on board the Indian passengers; we only lay at anchor for a few hours and no one had the opportunity of going ashore. Thence we travelled to Aden arriving there at dusk at dusk one evening and as we were to leave at daylight the next morning, I, with other passengers went ashore and drove to the Cantonment and had a look at the tanks as I had done on a previous occasion. Going up the red Sea, the weather was very hot but on entering the Gulf of Lucy, a cold northerly wind sprang up and from intense heat, it turned to excessively cold weather and we all had to look out for our warmest wraps. After pas-sing through the Suez Canal, we stopped at Port Said and had a run on shore and looked at the town which was decidedly French in character. Leaving Port Said, we ran into bad weather of the Island of Candia and had two days of discomfort battling against a heavy gale. Our next port of call was Naples where we remained long enough to have a run ashore and see something of the City. Thence to Marseilles arriving in the morning and, after spending the day there, we left by the night train for Paris arriving at that City early the next morning.

I wandered around and saw something of the city; any recollections of it are very hazy; we took up our quarters at the Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix for the 24 hours we were in Paris and left the following day for London via Boulogne and Folkstone and arriving at Charing Cross station in the evening.Mr Oliver met me there and took me with him to the hotel where he was staying - Cox’s Hotel in Jermyn Street, one of the old-fashioned private hotel where country gentle-men were wont to meet up when they come to town; the next day I was initiated into the office which Oliver had taken in Gracechurch Street - it consisted of two rooms, main upper floor and did not at first sight specially appeal to me.


The first week Oliver remained with me in London to initiate me into my duties. In the meantime, I was looking out for a lodging that would be within my means for the hotel would be too expensive for a long stay. I searched the several streets between the strand and the river but found very high rents asked. At last I settled on a house on one of those streets and engaged two rooms, a bedroom on the first floor and a small sitting room on the floor above; the bedroom was a fair size with oak panelling and was gloomy of aspects and the sitting room was dingy with old oil paintings of, I presume, the proprietor’s ancestors. I moved into these rooms on the Saturday after-noon and on Sunday morning, when I went upstairs to have my breakfast, I was struck with the dreariness of my surroundings and found that I could not endure them and if possible, have a change.

I made up my mind to make a call to an old friend of mine, Edmund Penn, whose address I had obtained, and found him living with a friend in nice cheerful rooms in a street near the British Museum; they were on the second floor and I found that the drawing room was vacant. I interviewed the landlady and agreed to rent it from the following Saturday. The rent was more than I could afford to pay but I felt that, at all costs, I must get out of my present lodgings. I went back to my rooms that evening and the next morning gave my landlady a weeks notice. Of course I had to pay two weeks rent, although I only stayed a single week in the rooms.

I got into my new rooms, which were a great improvement on those near the Strand. I had a nice, brightly furnished sitting room and a smaller but nice bedroom in the same house, the only drawback was that the rent - one pound five shillings - per week was more than I felt I ought to pay. Thomas Arnold who was formally accountant for Augustine Heard & Co, came home to England for a trip about this time and had lodgings in the same district - two rooms for which he paid 16 shillings per week. As this was considerable less than I was paying, I arranged to take on his rooms when he left London, and in due course, moved into them, but I did not like the change at all; the rooms were poor and dingy after those I had been occupying, and the cooking poor. After I had been there a day or two, I went to see Edmund Penn and there I met my former landlady, Mrs Waters; her rooms were still unoccupied and she told me that if I had only spoken to her before I took the other rooms, she would have reduced the rent. After some talk, she offered to let me have my old rooms at 21 shillings per week and I agreed to this and to come back to her house, so I soon found myself again established at No 3 Grenville Street, Brunswick Square. Soon after, I made a further arrangement to dine in the evening with her and her husband. I had my breakfast in my own room; my lunch in the City, and my dinner with them; this suited me very well. Mr Waters had been on the Stock Exchange, but was an easy good-natured man; probably also had neglected his business and had failed. He was by birth and education a gentleman, the son of a Church of England clergyman and although at the time I knew him he was more or less a loafer, and he spent a good deal of his time in the public house at the corner of our street yarning with the cabman and others who frequented it, He never ceased to be a gentleman, and I never once saw him the worse for liquor.

He was good company and I spent many pleasant evenings with him and his wife; she was a very nice person but had not been brought up in the same class of society as he was. Mr Waters was very fond of high-class music while his wife liked comic opera. He and I went some-time to the Foundling Chapel where we heard Handel’s music or the Temple Church where we listened to some of the best revered music, and take it all round the year I spent with Mr & Mrs Waters was a very pleasant one.

In the City, Mr Oliver was getting orders and making arrangements for the Tea person. My business was to keep in touch with our clients; accounts were to be rendered to me and I was to receive profits and pay losses as they came along. Oliver took orders from London merchants to buy tea in Foochow and ship them in London; he took one-third interest in the shipments and full com-mission and charges were made both in China and London. As the China commission for buying and other charges on the shipments showed fully five per cent profit, the Tea had to lose fully fifteen per cent before Oliver was out of pocket, and such a loss as this was very unlikely to average through the season. Even in a bad season, such a business as ours was almost sure to pay fairly well to us.


Before Oliver left for China, I took a trip to Jersey to see my father and my family. He had now three children - two boys and a girl - the eldest one was named Arthur; the girl Lilian and the youngest boy Ernest who was still quite an infant. they were living in the country at Grenville near Garey in a house my father had bought in an unfinished state and completed. He had a fair bit of ground round it particularly an orchard. On my return to London and when Oliver had left for China, I began to look up old friends whom I had known in my childhood - particularly Mr G F Cremer and his family and Mr & Mrs Hawley and there daughter. Mr Cremer lived at Lower Norwood in Lancaster Road; he had a large family and had lately moved into a larger home which was nicely furnished and about which there was a an aspect of prosperity, not justified as I found out later by his means. I was made welcome at both houses and at Mr Cremer’s, often spent a day or two at a time.

My first Tea season in London was a disappointing one; nearly every ship lost money for our constituent; as for ourselves, China commissions more than covered our one-third, and George Oliver must have made a profit of 1,000 pounds to 2,000 pounds on the season’s tradings. Mr Oliver came home at the end of 1878 with the view of arranging for 1879 orders; this was not too easy a task as nearly all our constituents had lost more or less money during the past season. However we got a fair number of orders and Oliver started out for China again. Then I took my annual holiday to Jersey and as My Cremin and his family had been very kind and hospitable to me, and he had not been well lately, I took him over with me, a thing I would not be likely to repeat as my father did not like him and I had felt that I had made a mistake in taking anyone to my father’s house without an invitation. However, we went across and we broke the journey at Guernsey where we stayed two or three days at Gardiner’s Hotel and had some drives round the island. We then went on to Jersey; My father of course received Mr Cremin pleasantly but I saw from the first that he was an unwelcome guest and was mad with myself for bringing him over.

It so happened that my father’s youngest child got a bad attack of bronchitis and Mr Cremin, who had a large family and had some experience of sickness, was able to make some useful suggestions as to the treatment of the child who was well on the mend before we left Jersey and my stepmother always said that it was Mr Cremin saved the child’s life. My father drove us round the country and we visited all his relations; our trip lasted about a fortnight, then we returned to London.

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