The Man Who Saved The Day At Pekin
( Originally Published 1902 )
TRAGIC events bring forth worthy leaders ; often they call up an unexpected hero, one not in the eye or on the lip of the public. One would little have thought, at the beginning of the siege of Pekin, that the greatest hero of that terrible occurrence would in the end prove to be a modest preacher. Such, however, was the case. Rev. Francis D. Gamewell, of the American Methodist Mission, was appointed by Sir Claude MacDonald chief of staff on fortifications of the British legation, and it was largely through his wisdom and energy that the besieged were saved. There is abundant evidence of that fact.
Mr. Gamewell took a more serious view than most foreigners of the de-position of the Emperor by the Empress Dowager, and feared her insincere ruling. As matters went from bad to worse, he began to put his house in order for an attack. Though a preacher and teacher, his engineering instinct, inherited from his father, and his technical learning arranged themselves to defend the Methodist compound. He dug trenches, threw up earthworks, made barbed-wire fences. He did his work so thoroughly that, when the situation became extremely critical and the foreigners were seeking safety in the several legations, Minister Conger suggested that all the Protestant missionaries, and the native Christians under their charge, should go into the Methodist compound for protection. This they did, and twenty-two American marines were detailed to aid in defending them. The splendid church was trans-formed into a fort, and guards stood upon its roof. The Boxers said that the reason that compound made such a strong resistance, was that a divine being from America had descended on the church, and had neutralized their power.
On the morning of June 2o, 1900, Mr. Gamewell found a man on the floor of the hallway of his residence, faint from a bullet wound. He was Mr. Cordes, the secretary of the German legation. He told Mr. Gamewell that, as Baron von Ketteler and he were on their way to the Foreign Office, a white-buttoned mandarin, with a peacock feather in his hat, had shot the baron, who was being carried in a chair. Mr. Cordes had been wounded, and had crawled along the narrow street to Mr. Gamewell's house, for shelter. Mr. Gamewell then knew that the Chinese Government was behind the " Boxers," and that the compound could not hold out against the Imperial troops. Two hours later, he had under his protection seventy missionaries and seven hundred native Christians, many of them children of the schools on their way to the British legation, and the palace opposite. That morning, Professor James, of the Imperial University, and Dr. Morrison, secured the consent of Prince Su, that a portion of his palace opposite the British legation should be occupied by the native Christians. Then Mr. Gamewell took the Chinese Christians from his compound to the palace. At three o'clock that afternoon, Mr. Gamewell went over to the palace, and, meeting Professor James, was informed that Prince Su had given assurance that the Imperial troops would not fire on the foreigners. Professor James, returning to the British legation, was killed by Chinese soldiers. After saving the lives of three thousand native Christians, he gave his own life as a sacrifice.
Mr. Gamewell had defended the Methodist compound so scientifically and splendidly that Sir Claude MacDonald placed him in charge of the fortifications of the British legation. So complete was his work that, although a number of men among the allies who exposed themselves to fight were stricken down, not a single woman or child within the bounds of the legation was killed during the siege. It is said that Mr. Gamewell took his first lesson in sand-bag defense, when he saw the Confederate soldiers fortifying his native town. Whether this be true or not, he made extensive use of this means of defense. He stacked up over fifty thousand bags, which women made and helped to fill with sand.
Professor Gamewell has proved, beyond a doubt, the complicity of the Imperial Government with the " Boxer " attack on the allies. After the siege, he was looking for a place where five hundred native converts could be sheltered. He secured a vacant house that had been occupied by Chinese officials, and, in a drawer of a table in the building, he found a placard, and a block from which the circulars had been printed. The circulars were yellow, with a stain of red. Yellow is the Imperial color. When the Emperor wishes to issue an Imperial decree, he writes in vermilion. On the placard was printed : " Let the Boxers and military at Pekin have the victory. Exalt the Manchu dynasty, and drive out foreigners."
I have heard Mr. Gamewell read from the oldest newspaper in the world, the Pekin Gazette, of July 24, an edict of the Empress Dowager, ordering the princes to lead the Boxers, and to distribute rations of rice to them. The American representatives, soldiers, sailors, and missionaries, acted heroically during the siege. It is a matter of national pride that the greatest of all the heroes of the siege was the humble, able, consecrated American missionary and man, Francis D. Gamewell.
In his report to the United States Government, dated August 17, 1900, three days after the allied forces entered the city, Hon. E. H. Conger, then American minister to China, said:
"All were industrious and helpful, but everyone will agree that to no one is done any injustice if Rev. F. D. Gamewell is mentioned as the man to whose practical intelligence, quick perception, executive ability, untiring energy, and sleepless activity, more than to any other's, is due our successful and safe resistance."
Official notice was taken of Mr. Gamewell's signal services by the British Government, and by our own, in the following communication :
" LEGATION OP THE UNITED STATES Or AMERICA,
" Pekin, China, February 18, 1901.
"DEAR MR. GAMEWELL: It is with great pleasure that I have received, from the Department of State, and hand you herewith, a copy of a note from the British Ambassador in Washington, expressing his government's appreciation of the eminent services rendered by you during the attacks on the legations in Pekin, and for the invaluable assistance rendered by you both to Sir Claude MacDonald, personally, and to the defense in general.
" I am instructed to inform you that the Department of State is much gratified at the tribute to your skill and heroism, in which sentiment I most heartily join. Yours very truly, E. H. CONGER."
Mr. Gamewell was born in Camden, South Carolina. He inherited marked originality and a scientific instinct from his father, the late John N. Gamewell, the inventor of the Gamewell fire alarm and police telegraph. He naturally turned to civil engineering, and, in 1875, entered the Polytechnic Institute at Troy, New York, where he remained two years. He then went to Cornell University, but a severe attack of illness cut short his course there. In 1881, he was graduated from Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A few months afterwards, he went to China as a missionary, and was stationed at Pekin. Three years later, he was made superintendent of the West China Mission. His recent experience was not his first with the Boxers. In 1886, they drove him and his little band of workers out of Pekin. He escaped from them, barely saving his life. On the last occasion he did not run ; but, with adamantine purpose, he held at arm's length an empire of four hundred millions for fifty-six days.
Professor Gamewell, like most real heroes, is as simple and modest as a child. In his public discourses he makes only the most humble references to his own personal relation to the tragedy. On several occasions I have heard him express his gratitude to God, for the providence which was so, manifested in the relief of the besieged. Mr. Gamewell is of the opinion that the last " Boxer " uprising will be of untold spiritual value to the Chinese Empire ; that it will increase the security of the missionaries and multiply their usefulness in the realm. He has a very high estimate of the average Chinaman, and believes that there are incalculable religious possibilities for him in the near future.
There were many heroes in Pekin during the siege, but Americans, and Christians throughout the world, will be glad to know that there was no one among them greater than Francis D. Gamewell, the humble missionary of the Cross.