The Anglo-Japanese hostilities of 1863 - 1864 
The Anglo-Japanese hostilities of 1863 - 1864 

Royal NavyCampaigns  

W.L. Clowes on the Anglo-Japanese hostilities of 1863 - 1864

It is very difficult to understand the nature of the events which led to American and European interference in the affairs of Japan, without first glancing briefly at the ancient political condition of the island empire.

The old constitution of the land was a despotism, feudal, military, and hierarchical, under a Mikado. About the twelfth century of the Christian era there arose a "Mayor of the Palace" in the person of an officer known eventually as the Tycoon, or, more properly, as the Shogun - an officer who assumed the political and military management of the country, the Mikado retaining, as years passed, little more than the religious headship. The office of Shogun descended through three families and many vicissitudes; and its powers were gradually modified by the upgrowth of a very large class of Samurai, or retainers of great nobles - men of birth and education, but hereditary fighters - or, in peace time, hereditary idlers. The highest class of these, as head retainers of the Daimios, came to occupy with regard to their nominal masters much the same kind of relationship as was held by the Shogun to the Mikado; for both Mikado and Daimios, brought up apart from the people and surrounded with every indulgence, had temporarily lost the fire and energy of their ancestors. This condition of affairs was a fruitful source of discontent and intrigue.

The position of the Shoguns was a curious one. They steadily increased their power and importance in the state, yet, though actual rulers of the empire, professed a most abject deference to the person of the Mikado, and, moreover, were social inferiors of many of the Daimios. Indeed, a Shogun, unless by birth so entitled, was not allowed even to look upon the face of the Mikado; while, at the same time, such was his authority that he was able to compel the Daimios to spend every alternate year at his capital, Jeddo, and to override their views. The Daimios had a right of appeal to the Mikado, but seldom exercised it.

In the nineteenth century the Daimios had begun to chafe under this state of things; and those of them who came in contact with the Mikado, as periodical protectors of his person and palace, resenting the nonentity of their master, set on foot an agitation in favour of a return to a more natural system, with the Mikado as ruler, and the Shogun as commander-in-chief, and no more. When, in 1853, Commodore M.C. Perry first appeared in Japan with an American squadron, and demanded a treaty, threatening hostilities in the event of a refusal, matters were ripening for a change. The Shogun and his advisers, called Bakufu by the Japanese, were thrown into consternation, and having no precedent to guide them - a lack which is as puzzling to the Oriental mind as it is to the British Admiralty - were unable to act with decision. The opinions of the Daimios were asked, and ideas were welcomed from any one who was capable of giving them. The Americans, made aware of the perplexities of the situation and of the tumults which took place near Jeddo in consequence, withdrew, to return in the following year; and in the meantime the Shogun died, and was succeeded by his son, Jyesada, thirteenth of the Tokugawa dynasty.

In 1854 Perry returned; and hot debates ensued at Jeddo. Prince Mito, a powerful noble, objected to the opening up of the country; but the officials of the Shogun, better educated, pointed out the impossibility of excluding foreigners at that time, when Japan was unprepared for war, and urged that, while complying for the moment, the country might learn the drill and tactics of the strangers, purchase foreign ships and guns, and, when ready for action, unite and drive the interlopers into the sea, and perhaps even embark on a career of foreign conquest. The result was the signing of the convention with the United States in 1858, and the subsequent conclusion of similar engagements with other powers, Yokohama at the same time being opened for trade.

The Mikado and his counsellors at Kioto disapproved of the action of the Shogun, and unanimously declined to sanction the treaties. This course injured the prestige of the Shogun in the eyes of the people; and the Shogun, realising his weakness, selected a Regent to support him. The action of the Mikado encouraged the prevalent anti-foreign feeling. Of the idle and warlike Samurai, there were 30,000 in the country, and attacks on foreigners became inevitable.

In the autumn of 1858 the Shogun died, it is supposed by poison. Prince Mito nominated for the succession his own kinsman, Hitosubashi; but one Jyemochi, of the Kishiu family, obtained the office, whereupon a powerful clique of Daimios, headed by Mito, privately banded themselves together against the new Shogun, and memorialised the Mikado to expel the barbarians at once. The Regent, on his part, suspecting that Jyesada had met his death by foul play, ordered several of the Daimios to retire to their estates, and directed Prince Satsuma and others to confine themselves to their palaces in Jeddo. This policy led to fighting, the Regent having the best of it, but carrying things with so high a hand as to increase the exasperation of the growing anti-foreign party, and to bring about numerous murders of foreigners and their servants. In 1860 the Regent was assassinated by the followers of Mito, greatly to the loss of the party of the Shogun, which in consequence was obliged to temporise, and to isolate the foreigners as much as possible. The Shogun, indeed, who in 1858 had been strong enough to punish even nobles for opposing intercourse with the outer world, dared not in 1860 set the laws in motion against the murderers of Americans and Europeans. The Shogun tried to improve his position by inducing his friends to bring about a marriage between himself and the sister of the Mikado; and the marriage took place in 1861; but it did not mend matters. Prince Mito instigated an attack on the British Legation at Jeddo in the same year; and, as he had in his possession a secret document from the Mikado, commanding him to endeavour to reconcile the differences at Jeddo, and to induce the Shogun to exterminate the barbarians, he had authority for his action. The Shogun was then obliged to admit his inability to protect strangers. He made all kinds of efforts, which were not then understood, to persuade the Legations to remove from Jeddo to Yokohama, where they could be more easily defended. The people who had attacked the British Legation were, it is true, executed; but the government was so afraid of popular feeling that it had to announce that the culprits were punished, not for assaulting foreigners, but for highway robbery.

The strength of popular feeling showed itself again in January, 1862, when, although Mito, the great anti-foreigner, had died in the previous September, Ando Tsushima, one of the Shogun's council, and a protector of foreigners, was nearly murdered in the street, and upon his recovery was made to retire into private life, thanks to the influence of the Mikado's party. Up to that time, however, no Daimio had openly declared himself against the Shogun, although many retainers of Daimios had voluntarily outlawed themselves in order to gain freedom of action against the foreigners.

In the spring of 1862 a new force appeared upon the scene, in the person of Shimadzu Sabura, uncle of the then Prince of Satsuma. While on his way to obtain an amnesty for the political prisoners who had been sentenced by the Regent in 1860, he was met by a large body of the outlaws, or Ronins, who begged him to memorialise the Mikado to go forth in person against the barbarians, to abolish the Shogunate, and to punish the Shogun's council. Shimadzu Sabura presented the petitions, and soon afterwards an amnesty was granted to the political prisoners. Choshiu, Prince of Nagato, was in Kioto at about the same time; and to him and Shimadzu Sabura was entrusted the somewhat difficult task of keeping the Ronins quiet. Thus the great clans of Satsuma and Choshiu became for a time associated in a combination against the Jeddo government, and in an opposition which had the Mikado at its back.

Another attack on the British Legation occurred in June, 1862. The Shogun's council was too feeble to take active measures against the culprits, and, in face of the attitude of the surrounders of the Mikado, was unable either to satisfy the foreign representatives or to appease the enmity of its political opponents. In June, 1862, the Mikado ordered the Shogun to expel the foreigners, and to appear at Kioto to consult with the Court, leaving proper persons at Jeddo to carry out his functions there. The chief of the persons so left was the same Hitosubashi who had been Mito's nominee for the Shogunate. There could have been no more conclusive evidence of the decadence of the once great authority of the Shogun. In September, 1862, Shimadzu Sabura was greatly incensed at the scant courtesy shown to him by the ministers of the Shogun, and, it is probable, was only too ready to countenance the outrage (committed on Sept. 14th, 1862) which led, in 1863, to hostilities between Great Britain and Japan.

The Euryalus, flagship of Vice-Admiral Kuper, arrived at Yokohama on the day of the outrage, the nature of which will be explained later. Upon representations being made, the Shogun's council expressed its regret, but frankly admitted its inability to force so powerful a Daimio as Satsuma to surrender the guilty parties. In the meantime Shimadzu Sabura had received the thanks of the Mikado for his services, and Prince Tosa had arrived at Kioto and joined Satsuma and Choshiu in the policy of opposition to foreigners. This seems to have stimulated the Mikado's advisers to order the Shogun, who had not yet left Jeddo, to take command of the clans in the spring of 1863, when he was due at Kioto, and drive the foreigners into the sea. The unfortunate Shogun, continuing to temporise, agreed to obey the commands of the Mikado, and, at the same time, while keeping peace with the foreigners, tried, by making their position intolerable, to induce them to leave the country. The foreign representatives, on the other hand, were daily becoming more and more convinced that the Shogun had little real power, and no authority to sign treaties.

Strengthened by the arrival of numerous Daimios, the Mikado called a meeting at Kioto on April 8th, 1863, a fortnight before the appearance of the Shogun, and, ordering the expulsion of foreigners from Japan, directed that his will should be conveyed to the Samurai. Strangers were, in consequence, liable from that moment to be murdered, and were deprived of all protection and all redress, save what might be obtained by the exercise of force.

The Legations were, one by one, driven from Jeddo; and the cordon round Yokohama, where they took refuge, was gradually narrowed in preparation for their final expulsion. A large force of European ships was kept close at hand; seamen and marines were landed to protect the settlement; and, off each of the other ports in which there were Europeans, a man-of-war lay with banked fires, ready, at an instant's notice, to embark the fugitives. The old custom, in virtue of which the Daimios had spent every alternate year in Jeddo, and had always left their wives and families there, had been abrogated at the end of 1862; so that a wholesome restraint upon the conduct of the malcontent princes, and a formidable instrument of power in the hands of the Shogun, had disappeared.

On June 5th, 1863, at the instigation of Shimadzu Sabura, the 25th of the same month was fixed as the day on which the complete expulsion of the foreigners was to be effected; and it then became necessary for the Shogun to make up his mind whether he would carry out the behests of the Mikado, or would join hands with the foreigners, bolster up his own power, and try to overthrow his opponents. In his perplexity, he asked for permission to return to Jeddo. It was refused, and his rival, Prince Mito, was sent thither instead of him.

Since April the Shogun's council had tried to procrastinate in its replies to the demands for satisfaction on account of the outrage of the previous September. It had at last promised to pay the indemnity on June 18th; but as soon as Prince Mito reached Jeddo, a refusal to pay was announced. On June 24th, moreover, a decree was promulgated by the Shogun, who was stated to have received "orders" to that effect from the Mikado, "to close the open ports and remove the subjects of the treaty powers." The indemnity was, however, handed over when the Council learnt that the settlement of the business had been placed in the hands of Vice-Admiral Kuper. A little later the Council secretly approached the treaty powers with a request for assistance in overthrowing the Mikado and his party. This was refused; but while the answer of the foreigners was still unknown, the Council, through Hitosubashi, reported that the orders of the Mikado could not be carried out.

The apparent lack of patriotism displayed by the Shogun's party proportionably increased the fanaticism of the Kioto faction, the result being that on June 25th Choshiu opened fire on some French, American, and Dutch vessels at Simonoseki. At this crisis the Shogun behaved very well. He might have made capital by joining the popular movement, and encouraging a general massacre of foreigners; and, as he was at Kioto, he might have pleaded duress. His council, too, at Jeddo, though playing a double game, succeeded in causing the defence of Yokohama to be handed over to the foreign executive authorities. Choshiu, for his part, received the approval of the Mikado; and although, on July 20th, the French Rear-Admiral Jaurès, with a couple of ships, bombarded the Simonoseki batteries, and, landing, spiked some of their guns, the United States corvette Wyoming, which tried single-handed to punish Choshiu in the same manner, ran aground under the forts, and did not get off until she had been rather roughly handled.

I may now revert to the outrage of September, 1862, and describe the hostilities which resulted from it.

The cause of the quarrel is sufficiently explained in a letter addressed on August 1st, 1863, by Lieut.-Colonel Edward St. John Neale, Her Majesty's Charge d'Affaires in Japan, to the Prince of Satsuma. The important part of this communication is as follows:

"YOUR HIGHNESS,- It is well known to you that a barbarous murder of an unarmed and unoffending British subject and merchant was perpetrated on the 14th of the month of September last ... upon the Tokaido, near Kanagawa, by persons attending the procession, and surrounding the norimon of, Shimadzu Sabbura, who, I am informed, is the father" (apparently he was uncle) "of your Highness. It is equally known to you that a murderous assault was made at the same time by the same retinue upon a lady and two other gentlemen, British subjects, by whom he was accompanied, the two gentlemen having been severely and seriously wounded, and the lady escaping by a miracle. The names of the British subjects here referred to are as follows:- Mr. Charles Lenox Richardson, murdered; Mrs. Borradaile; Mr. William Clarke, severely wounded; Mr. William Marshal, severely wounded... . Ten months have now elapsed since the perpetration of this unprovoked outrage ... but I have had occasion to report to my Government that, removed in your distant domain from the direct influence of the supreme Government, and shielded also by certain privileges and immunities ... you had utterly disregarded all orders or decrees of the Japanese Government calling upon you to afford justice by sending the real criminals to Yeddo. ... In the meantime, I have received the explicit instructions of my own Government how to act in this matter... . When British subjects are the victims of those acts, Japan, as a nation, must, through its Government, pay a penalty, and disavow the deeds of its subjects, to whatever rank they may belong. ... I demanded from the Tycoon's Government an apology and the payment of a considerable penalty... . Both these demands have been acceded to. But the British Government has also decided that those circumstances constitute no reason why the real delinquents and actual murderers should be shielded by your Highness, or by any means escape the condign punishment which they merit. ... I am instructed to demand of your Highness as follows:- First. The immediate trial and execution, in the presence of one or more of Her Majesty's naval officers, of the chief perpetrators of the murder of Mr. Richardson, and of the murderous assault upon the lady and gentlemen who accompanied him. Secondly, the payment of £25,000 sterling, to be distributed to the relations of the murdered man, and to those who escaped with their lives the swords of the assassins on that occasion. These demands are required by Her Majesty's Government to be acceded to by your Highness immediately upon their being made known to you. And upon your refusing, neglecting, or evading to do so, the Admiral commanding the British forces in these seas will adopt such coercive measures, increasing in their severity, as he may deem expedient to obtain the required satisfaction... ."

On August 13th the Minister of the Prince of Satsuma replied with a temporising and otherwise unsatisfactory letter; and on the 14th Lieut.-Colonel Neale, by dispatch, requested Vice-Admiral (temporary rank only) Augustus Leopold Kuper, C.B., Commander-in-Chief on the East Indies and China station, to enter upon such measures of coercion as he might deem expedient.

The Vice-Admiral's available force consisted of H.M.S.-

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Ships.Guns.Tons.Nom. H.P.Compt.Commanders.
Euryalus (flag)352371400515Capt. John James Stephen Josling.
Com. Edward Wilmot.
Pearl211469400275Capt. John Borlase, C.B.
Coquette467720090Com. John Hobhouse Inglis Alexander.
Argus6981300175Com. Lewis James Moore.
Perseus17955200175Com. Augustus John Kingston.
Racehorse469520090Com. Charles Richard Fox Boxer.
Havock22356040Lieut. George Poole.

The Euryalus, a wooden screw frigate, originally of 51 guns, was built at Chatham in 1853. The Pearl, a wooden screw corvette, was launched at Woolwich in 1854. The Coquette, a wooden screw gun-vessel, was built in 1855. The Argus, a wooden paddle-wheel sloop, was built at Portsmouth in 1849. The Perseus was a wooden screw sloop, built at Pembroke in 1861. The Racehorse was a wooden screw gun-vessel built in 1860. The Havock, of the "Albacore class," was one of 116 similar wooden screw gun-vessels built at the time of the Russian War.

From the Vice-Admiral's dispatch of August 17th to Lieut.-Colonel Neale, and from that of August 22nd to the Secretary of the Admiralty, is compiled the succeeding account of what occurred:-

On the forenoon of the 14th inst., Kuper quitted the Euryalus and proceeded in the Havock in order to satisfy himself as to the position of three steamers, the property of the Prince of Satsuma, which were lying in a bay to the northward of Kagosima. These steamers were the England, screw, 1150 tons, purchased for 125,000 dollars; the Sir George Grey, screw, 492 tons, purchased for 85,000 dollars; and the Contest, screw, 350 tons, purchased for 95,000 dollars. He found deep water in the bay, there being generally fifty fathoms within a hundred yards of the shore. A strong breeze from the eastward had sprung up, and, the rapid falling of the barometer indicating the probable approach of a typhoon or heavy gale, the top-gallant masts were sent on deck.

Kuper received the dispatch of the 14th inst. on the evening of that day; and the Pearl, Coquette, Argus, Racehorse, and Havock were sent at daylight on the 15th to seize the three steamers already referred to. Captain Borlase, the senior officer, was directed to avoid as much as possible all unnecessary bloodshed or active hostility.

"The steamers were accordingly taken possession of without opposition, and brought down to our anchorage during the forenoon of the 15th, lashed alongside the Coquette, Argus, and Racehorse, which vessels anchored in the same bay as before... . The weather still looked threatening. At noon, during a squall, accompanied by much rain, the whole of the batteries " (about 88 guns and mortars were in position, including at least three 10-in. and two 8-in. guns, and forty 32- and 24-prs) "on the Kagosima side suddenly opened fire upon the Euryalus the only ship within range;" (the Euryalus was taken entirely by surprise. The late Sir Alfred Jephson told me that she hastily weighed, while her band played, "Oh dear, what can the matter be?") "but although many shot and shell passed over and close around her, no damage was done beyond cutting away a few ropes. Finding that the springs on the cable would not keep the ship's broadside on, and as it was impossible, with the comparatively small force at my command, to engage the batteries under way, and, at the same time, to retain possession of the steamers, I signalled to the Coquette, Argus and Racehorse to burn their prizes, and then to the whole squadron to weigh and form the line of battle according to seniority" (this order is observed in the tabulated list given on p. 196. [above]), "the Havock being directed to secure the destruction of the three steamers. Previous to this, the Perseus, having slipped her cable, was directed to fire on the north battery until the signal was made to form line of battle, which service was executed by Commander A. J. Kingston with great promptness.

"Although the weather was now very dirty, with every indication of a typhoon, I considered it advisable not to postpone, until another day, the return of the fire of the Japanese, to punish the Prince of Satsuma for the outrage, and to vindicate the honour of the flag; and, everything being now ready, I proceeded towards the batteries, opening fire upon the northernmost one with considerable effect; and passed, at slow speed, along the whole line within point-blank range. Owing, probably, to the unfavourable state of the weather, the ships astern did not maintain their positions in as close order as I could have wished, and the Euryalus was consequently exposed to a very heavy and well-directed fire from several of the batteries at the same time, and suffered somewhat severely. About this time, also, and whilst in the thickest of the action, I deeply regret to state that I was deprived, at the same moment, of the assistance of Captain Josling and Commander Wilmot, both of whom were killed by the same shot, whilst standing by me on the bridge of the Euryalus, directing the fire of the quarters and setting an example of coolness and gallantry which was emulated throughout the entire ship" (Captain John James Stephen Josling's commissions bore date: Lieutenant, July 25th, 1847; Commander, Nov. 2nd, 1854; and Captain, Jan. 31st, 1861. Commander Edward Wilmot's commissions bore date: Lieutenant, Sept. 26th, 1853; Commander, Dec. 24th, 1861. He had served in the Black Sea, in the Royal Albert, during the Russian War. In addition to the two officers already named, Gunner Thomas Finn, of the Coquette, was killed).

"In consequence of the dense smoke, and occasional heavy showers, it was difficult to ascertain the extent of the damage done to the earthwork batteries, but by the time the Euryalus got abreast of the last, or southernmost battery, I could observe the town to be on fire in several places; and, the weather having now assumed a most threatening appearance, I considered it advisable to discontinue the engagement, and to seek a secure anchorage for Her Majesty's ships. The Racehorse, owing to a momentary stoppage of her engines, unfortunately took the ground opposite the northern battery: but by the prompt energy of the commanders of the Coquette, Argus, and Havock, which vessels were despatched to her assistance, she was got off without damage. The steady fire kept up by Commander C.B.F. Boxer prevented the Racehorse receiving any serious injury from the battery, which had already been much disabled by the fire of the other ships. The Havock was then ordered to set fire to five large junks belonging to the Prince of Satsuma, which Lieutenant George Poole accomplished in a most satisfactory manner; and these, as well as a very extensive arsenal and foundry for the manufacture of guns, shot, and shell, together with large storehouses adjoining, were also completely destroyed.

"During the whole of the succeeding night it blew almost a hurricane, but all the vessels of the squadron rode it out without accident, with the exception of the Perseus, which vessel dragged her anchors off the bank into 60 fathoms water, and was compelled to slip her cable during the following afternoon, when the gale had somewhat moderated. The gale subsided gradually during the 16th, and, as I had observed the Japanese at work, apparently erecting batteries on the hill above the anchorage, enveloped in trees and bushes, which might have inflicted much damage upon the small vessels lying within pistol-shot of the shore, I became anxious for their safety, and determined to move the squadron out of the anchorage we had occupied upon the night of our arrival in the gulf, for the purpose of repairing damages, fishing spars, and refitting previous to proceeding to sea. The squadron accordingly weighed at three P.M. of the 16th, and, passing in line between the batteries of Kagosima and Sakurasima, steamed through the channel and anchored to the southward of the island, taking advantage of the occasion to shell the batteries on the Sakura side, which had not been previously engaged, and also the palace of the prince in Kagosima. A feeble fire only was returned from the batteries which had not been closely engaged in the first attack, and this, happily, without effect upon Her Majesty's ships... . With much regret I have to add that the returns received from the various ships present a list of casualties unusually great, being no less than 13 killed and 50 wounded, the half of which occurred in my flagship alone. ... I left the gulf of Kagosima, in company with the squadron, on the afternoon of the 17th inst., on my return to Yokohama."

This engagement did much to discredit a type of gun which was then new to the Navy. An officer who was present in the Euryalus wrote to me:-

"We had on our main-deck 32-pr. 56 cwt. muzzle-loaders; and they, of course, gave no trouble. On our quarter-deck we had four 40-pr. Armstrongs, and we got two or three from the port side over to the spare ports on the starboard side to make a larger battery. These all worked well. But in the forecastle we had a 7-in. B.L. 110-pr. Armstrong. Whether the men in the heat of the action became hurried I cannot say; but certain it is that the breech piece of this gun blew out with tremendous effect, the concussion knocking down the whole gun's crew, and apparently paralysing the men, until Webster, captain of the forecastle and of the gun, roused them by shouting: 'Well; is there ere a b----- of you will go and get the spare vent piece?'"

It is of first-rate importance that men should have confidence in the safety of their weapons. Naturally the type of gun in question never again commanded much confidence.

During the engagement, a 10-in. shell from the batteries exploded near the muzzle of one of the guns on the main deck of the Euryalus, killing seven men, and wounding Lieutenant Alfred Jephson, and five others. The remaining officers wounded were Assistant-Paymaster George Washington Jones, and Gunner W. Sale (Euryalus); Carpenter M. Armstrong (Pearl); Lieutenant D'Arcy Anthony Denny, and Gunner W. Harris (Coquette); and Lieutenant Francis Joseph Pitt, Master Robert Gilpin, and Midshipman John Robert Aylen (Perseus).

The promotions consequent upon this engagement were:
To be Captains: Coms. John Hobhouse Inglis Alexander (Aug. 16), and Lewis James Moore (Nov. 9).
To be Commanders: Lieuts. James Edward Hunter, and Arthur George Robertson Roe (Aug. 16), and James Augustus Poland, and George Poole (Nov. 9).
To be Surgeon: Asst. Surg. Charles Richard Godfrey (Nov. 9).

Because of the typhoon, and the rolling of the ships, many of the shot intended for the batteries fell in the wood and paper town, and set it on fire. For this, Vice-Admiral Kuper was strongly blamed in the House of Commons; and was as warmly defended by a brother flag-officer, who, in the heat of argument, used the word "damn," and, upon being called to order, created much amusement by apologising for having uttered language which, he said, "so seldom fell from the lips of sailors." Master William Hennessey Parker, of the flagship, steered his vessel with great judgment, taking her at times within 400 yards of the batteries; yet Kuper continually spurred him with: "Go in closer, Parker; go in closer!" Owing to the heavy sea in which the action was fought, the decks were afloat.

It should be mentioned that, previous to the action at Kagosima, the Shogun had quitted Kioto, with the expressed intention of returning to Jeddo overland. He had, however, embarked in a steamer at Osaka, and so had reached Jeddo on July 31st. No doubt he feared for his safety.

The effect of Kuper's action was immense, especially on the powerful Satsuma following. That great clan learnt, and never again forgot, that Japan was not the strongest power in the world, and that there were other nations which, though far away, were, even in Japan, to be feared as being both stronger and more civilised. Satsuma's people subsequently took the lead in general progress, and in introducing European machinery and inventions to their compatriots.

Yet, although the conversion of the anti-foreign party had begun, the Shogun did not regain his prestige. In the autumn of 1863, a European-built steamer, carrying Japanese colours, and bearing envoys from him, was fired upon by Choshiu. Choshiu, however, soon went too far. Early in October, 1863, he formed a plan to carry off the Mikado from his palace, one of the gates of which was in charge of the Nagato clan. The plot was discovered in time; Satsuma's people were summoned in haste; and Aidzu, the Shogun's Resident at Kioto, with some small Daimios, rallied to the Mikado's person, the upshot being that Choshiu, and many of his confederates, had to withdraw in disgrace. This conspiracy had its influence upon the Mikado's advisers; and although the Emperor declared that he was still determined to expel the foreigners, he added that he should delay taking the field. News of this announcement reaching Jeddo, and, it being there interpreted with prudence, the Shogun's council, on November 12th, withdrew the decree of June 24th, relative to the closing of the ports, and the removal of foreigners; and Satsuma's envoys gave the satisfaction and indemnity which had been demanded by Great Britain. From that time the scheme for expelling "the barbarians " fell to pieces. The Shogun, with others, received marks of the Mikado's favour, and, at the same time, promised to confine his functions to those of a military vassal, and to endeavour, by improving the military resources of the country, to enable Japan to hold her own against other powers. The authorities thenceforth frankly recognised the superiority of foreign ships and arms; and a decree on the subject was issued by the Mikado, and sent to all the Daimios. A copy of this decree fell into the hands of the British Minister in April, 1864; and the Shogun's council was then taxed with cherishing a deliberate intention of expelling foreigners when the time for doing so should have arrived. The council answered blandly that the necessary preparations would take a long time to make, if the foreigners should continue to keep at hand a large coercive force. This led to a permanent occupation of Yokohama by the British and French.

Choshiu, the restless, though in disgrace, was not idle. In February, 1864, he sank a steamer which had been lent to Prince Satsuma by the Shogun; and in July, 1864, accompanied by an armed body of Ronins and adventurers, he ascended the river from Osaka, and appeared before Kioto. The Mikado refused to listen to those who advised him to deal leniently with the truculent prince; and heavy fighting resulted, the Shogun's people, under Hitosubashi, and Satsuma's men, assisting in the defence of the palace, and in the defeat of the assailants, but not until there had been great slaughter, and until thousands of houses, sixty Shinto shrines, and one hundred and fifteen Buddhist temples, had been destroyed. After the repulse, the Mikado ordered the Shogun to march an army into the rebel vassal's territory at the south-western extremity of Nipon, and in the island of Choshiu, and to bring to his senses "Matz daira Daizen no Daibu, Jiusi no Choshiu," Prince of Nagato.

(For reference letters, see Table below)

Here was a good opportunity for punishing Choshiu for having fired upon European vessels, to aid a government which showed some signs of entertaining wiser and more liberal sentiments than before, and to open the Inland Sea to trade. The Shogun gave a secret assent to the suggestion that the ships of the powers should assist; and Sir Rutherford Alcock, then British Envoy Extraordinary in Japan, gladly seized so favourable an occasion for dealing a blow at the chief of the anti-foreign party, who, moreover, for the previous twelve months, had interrupted the trade at Nagasaki.

The associated powers were Great Britain, France, Holland, and America. The Americans had no suitable vessel available on the spot; but anxious to take part, they put an officer, some men, and a gun from the U.S. corvette Jamestown, on board a chartered steamer, the Takiang, and added her to the combined forces, which, when assembled, comprised the following ships:-

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Br.AEuryalus, scr. frig2,37133V.-Ad. Sir Augustus Leopold Kuper K.C.B.
Capt. Jno. Hobhouse Inglis Alexander.
Fr.BSémiramis, scr. frig 35R.-Ad C. Jaurès
Capt. Du Quilis.
Br.CConqueror1, scr. batt.-ship2,84578Capt. Wm. Garnham Luard.
Advanced squadron
Br.DTartar, scr. corv.1,29620Capt. Jno. Montagu Hayes.
Fr.EDupleix, scr. corv. 10Capt. Franclieu.
Dut.FMetalen Kruis, scr. 16Capt. J.F. De Man.
Br.GBarrosa, scr.corv.1,70021Capt. Wm. Montagu Dowell.
Dut.HDjambi, scr. 16Capt. van Rees.
Br.JLeopard, padd. frig.1,40618Capt. Chas. Tayler Leckie.
Light squadron
Br.KPerseus, scr. sloop95517Com. Aug. Jno. Kingston.
Dut.LMedusa, scr. 18Capt. de Casembroot.
Fr.MTancrède, scr. disp. v. 4Lieut. Pallu.
Br.NCoquette, scr. g. v.6774Com. Arth. Geo. Robertson Roe.
Br.0Bouncer, scr. g. b.  Lieut. Hy. Lowe Holder.
Br.PArgus, padd. sloop2816Com. Jno. Moresby.
Dut.QAmsterdam, padd. 8Com. Müller.
Am.RTakiang, chartd. str. 1Lieut. Pearson, U.S.N.
Br.SPembrokeshire, collier   
1 Having on board a battalion of Royal Marines.

Sir Augustus Kuper quitted Yokohama on August 29th, and sailed again from the rendezvous, off Himesima Island, in the Inland Sea, on September 4th, anchoring in the afternoon out of range of the batteries in the Strait of Simonoseki. The defences then existing there are shown in the accompanying plan. The nature of the guns in the various forts is specified in the table on p. 206. [below]

Kuper, with the French Rear-Admiral Jaurès, reconnoitred the position of the various works which were held by the Prince of Nagato; and it was arranged that the attack should be made on September 5th, as soon as the tide should serve.

At 2 P.M. on the 5th, therefore, the ships took up their assigned positions, and, immediately they had reached them, the action was opened by the flagship Euryalus, the Japanese replying smartly and with spirit. The positions of the ships, as described in Kuper's dispatch of September 15th, were as follows:-

"The advanced squadron, under the command of Captain J.M. Hayes, consisting of the Tartar, Dupleix, Metalen Kruis, Barrosa, Djambi, and Leopard, moved into the bay off the village of Toyoura, as shown on the plan, within easy range of batteries 3 to 8 inclusive, while the Euryalus and Sémiramis opened tire upon the same works. The light squadron, under Commander Kingston, consisting of the Perseus, Medusa, Tancrède, Coquette, and Bouncer, were directed to take the batteries in flank. The Argus and Amsterdam being at first kept in reserve to render assistance to any ship that might be disabled or grounded, were afterwards ordered to close and engage; and the Conqueror, having the battalion of Marines on board, was, in consequence of the difficult navigation, directed to approach only sufficiently near to admit of her Armstrong guns bearing on the nearest batteries. During this operation, the Conqueror grounded twice on a knoll of sand, but came off again without assistance, and without sustaining any damage. The Takiang also fired several shots from her one Parrot gun, doing good service. The Coquette, towards the close of the engagement, was withdrawn from her position with the flanking squadron, and sent to assist the foremost of the advanced corvette squadron, a service which Commander A.G.R. Roe performed with great promptness."

By about 4.30 P.M. the fire from batteries 4 and 5 evidently slackened; and soon afterwards it ceased. By 5.30 batteries 6, 7, and 8 were also silenced. It was, however, then too late in the day to admit of landing-parties being disembarked. Nevertheless, the Perseus and the Medusa being very close to battery 5, and it being too dark to signal for instructions, Commander Kingston, with Lieutenant Francis Joseph Pitt, and a party from the Perseus, followed by Captain de Casembroot, and Lieutenant De Hart, of the Medusa, gallantly pulled ashore, spiked most of the guns in that battery, and returned to their ships without casualties. A curious and significant feature of this first day's action was the receipt of a request from Buzen, on the side of the strait opposite to Simonoseki, that the people there should be permitted to fire blank cartridges at the squadron during the attack, and yet not be molested. They desired to keep in the good graces of both parties, with a diplomatic view to the future.

At daylight on September 6th, battery 8 re-opened fire upon the advanced squadron, doing some damage to the Tartar and Dupleix; but, on a return being made by the squadron, it was silenced, only a few straggling shots being afterwards fired from it. Kuper continues:-

"The arrangement for the disembarkation having been completed, the allied forces, composed of the small-arm companies of the Euryalus and Conqueror, under the command of Captain J.H.I. Alexander, of the Euryalus, the battalion of Marines, and Marines of the squadron, under that of Lieut.-Colonel William Grigor Suther, R.M., and detachments of 350 French, and 200 Dutch seamen and marines, the former under the command of Captain Du Quilis and Lieutenant Layrle, chef d'etat major, and the latter under that of Lieutenant Binkis, were distributed in the boats of the squadron and towed to the opposite shore by the Argus, Perseus, Coquette, Tancrède, Amsterdam, Medusa, and Takiang, the Bouncer assisting to cover the landing, which was effected without accident, under the able superintendence of Captain W.G. Luard, of the Conqueror, assisted by Commander Edward Thomas Nott of that ship; and the force proceeded, under my personal direction, to assault and take possession of the principal batteries; which was accomplished with only trifling opposition. All the guns having been dismounted and spiked, carriages and platforms burnt, and magazines blown up, and deeming it inexpedient, from the very rugged and almost impenetrable nature of the country, to retain possession of any post on shore during the night, I directed the whole force to re-embark at 4 P.M.

"The French and Dutch detachments were already in their boats, when the naval brigade stationed at battery No. 5 was suddenly attacked by a strong body of Japanese assembled in the valley in the rear of the battery. Colonel Suther's battalion of Marines coming up at this moment, a joint attack was instantly organised, and the enemy driven back upon a strongly-placed stockaded barrack, from which they were dislodged after making a brief but sharp resistance, leaving seven small guns in our possession."

On this occasion, Captain Alexander, while leading his men, was badly wounded in the foot, and numerous other casualties took place. The force re-embarked without further incident. The Perseus, while assisting in the landing operations in the morning, was driven on shore by a strong eddy of the current, and remained fast until midnight on the 7th, when, having been lightened, she was towed off undamaged by the good management of Commander Moresby. An extraordinary incident of the second day's work was the arrival of envoys from Choshiu, with a request for a cessation of hostilities for forty-eight hours, it being alleged that the Japanese troops were tired and hungry, but would be prepared to renew the engagement at the expiration of the period. The episode recalls the easy-going behaviour of the Belgian and Dutch troops, who, during the four days' fighting in Brussels in 1830, desisted each day for dinner, as by common consent, and even allowed each other time for a brief siesta afterwards.

The batteries from 1 to 8 inclusive being in possession of the Allies, working parties were landed early on September 7th, and began to embark the captured guns. In the afternoon, the Tartar, Metalen Kruis, Djambi, and Dupleix moved round to the westward of Moji Saki Point, preparatory to an attack on batteries 9 and 10.

On September 8th, accompanied by Jaurès, Kuper shifted his flag to the Coquette, and, with the four ships above mentioned, proceeded to open fire on batteries 9 and 10. The fire was not returned; and soon afterwards parties were landed from the squadron to destroy the works and embark the guns, the whole operation being completed by the evening of September 10th. Sixty-two pieces in all were brought away.

BatteryGunsHowitzersMortarsFiled Pieces
No. 11 9-pr.1 32-pd. 2 12-prs.
No. 21 9-pr.   
No. 3Removed by the Japanese
..1 12-pd.1 coehorn2 6-prs.
3 swivels
No. 44 30-pr.   
No. 51 8-ton
6 24-prs.
No. 62 11-in.
3 78-prs.
  3 12-prs.
No. 7  1 8-in.
1 13-in.
No. 81 8-in.
3 24-prs.
7 30-prs.
2 5-in.  
Nos. 9 and 106 30-prs.
1 24-pr.
2 9-prs.
1 5-in...4 6-prs.
2 3-prs.
Total1 9-pr.1 32-pd. 2 12-prs.

On the 8th, while the work on shore was still in progress, an envoy from Choshiu went on board the British flagship under a flag of truce, and produced letters and documents which induced Kuper and Jaurès to allow a two days' truce, at the expiration of which a Japanese officer of high rank brought humble and satisfactory submissions from Choshiu, his promise to erect no more batteries, and his consent to open the strait.

In the course of the operations, the allies had 12 people killed, and 60 wounded. The British loss was, Euryalus, 5 killed, 18 wounded; Tartar, 8 wounded; Conqueror, 2 killed, 4 wounded; Barrosa, 1 wounded; Leopard, 2 wounded; Perseus, 2 wounded; Bouncer, 1 wounded; and the battalion of Royal Marines, 1 killed, and 12 wounded: total, 8 killed, 48 wounded. No officers were killed, but the following were wounded: Captain John Hobhouse Inglis Alexander, Lieutenant Frederick Edwards, and Midshipman C.W. Atkinson (Euryalus); Lieutenant William Arthur de Vesci Brownlow, and Midshipman Edward John Wingfield (Tartar); and Lieutenant-Colonel Charles William Adair, R.M., Captain Nevinson William de Courcy, R.M., and Lieutenant James Weir Inglis, R.M., of the Marine battalion.

The promotions consequent upon the action were:-
To be Captains: Commanders John Moresby and Augustus John Kingston (Nov. 21st).
To be Commanders: Lieutenants Henry Lowe Holder, William Henry Cuming, William Arthur de Vesci Brownlow, Richard Hastings Harington, and Richard Edward Tracey (Nov. 21st).
To be Master: Second-Master James Greenwood Liddell (Nov. 18th).
To be Surgeon: Assistant-Surgeon Richard Lovell Bluett Head (Nov. 18th).


Most of the British casualties occurred on September 6th, when the Naval Brigade and Marines were engaged on shore. It was then that Captain Alexander was wounded, the command of the Brigade devolving on Lieutenant Harington. In the course of that afternoon's fighting some gallant deeds were done, and no fewer than three Victoria Crosses were gained; one by Midshipman Duncan Gordon Boyes of the Euryalus, "who carried a colour with the leading company, kept it with headlong gallantry in advance of all, in face of the thickest fire, his colour-sergeants having fallen, one mortally and the other dangerously wounded, and was only detained from proceeding further yet by the orders of his superior officer. The colour he carried was six times pierced by musket balls." The others were gained by Thomas Pride, captain of the afterguard, who, until he fell disabled, had supported Boyes; and by William Seeley, seaman, who daringly ascertained the position of the enemy, and afterwards, though wounded, continued in the front of the advance.

In addition to most of the officers who have been already named, the following were mentioned in the dispatches:-
"Lieutenants Robert Peel Dennistoun (flag), Cottrell Burnaby Powell, and Alfred Jephson; Masters George Williams, John Charles Solfleet, and John Emanuel Chappie; Paymaster Hemsley Hardy Shanks (Secretary); Surgeons David Lloyd Morgan, and Christopher Knox Ord, M.D.; Assistant-Surgeons Samuel M'Bean, Edward Alfred Birch, and John Thomson Comerford; Midshipmen Henry Hart Dyke, and Edward Plantagenet Hume; Clerk Robert N. Haly; Lieut.-Colonel Penrose Charles Penrose, R.M.; Captain Ambrose Wolrige, R.M.; Lieutenant John Christopher Hore, R.M.; Lieutenant William Henry Townsend Morris Dodgin, R.M.A.; and a Prussian officer, Herr von Blanc, who was attached to the Tartar."

After much further negotiation, some internal outbreaks, and a demonstration by the fleets of the powers at Osaka, the Mikado ratified the treaties at the end of 1865. In 1866 the Shogun, or Tycoon, Jyemochi, died, and was succeeded by Hitosubashi, under the name of Keiki. At about the same time Choshiu, who had previously repulsed the Shogun's forces, became reconciled both with the Mikado and with Satsuma. In 1867 the Mikado also died, and the crown devolved upon Mutsu Hito, then a boy of fifteen, who later distinguished himself as a most successful and enlightened ruler. There was thenceforward no serious difficulty with foreigners. An attack in May, 1867, on two British subjects who were travelling between Osaka and Jeddo was promptly punished; and the murder of two men of H.M.S. Icarus, at Nagasaki, was as quickly inquired into, the perpetrators being executed. In November of the same year, the dual government was terminated by Keiki's surrender of the remains of his power to the Mikado.

It is not necessary to follow further the evolution of the modern regime in Japan. It was not accomplished without much violence; and in 1868 seamen and Marines had again to be landed on Japanese soil, this time at Kobe. They had, however, little or no fighting to do; and, soon afterwards, the conservative chiefs formally admitted that the long efforts to close the country were a mistake, and prayed that relations of amity with foreigners might be encouraged. In March, 1868, the European and American ministers were invited for the first time to visit the Mikado at Kioto. Isolated outrages continued for some time; and even on the occasion of this visit to but proper punishment was instantly meted out to the offenders; and it was generally admitted that these crimes were the work of individual fanatics, and were in no sense instigated by the government.

Japan, under the Emperor Mutsu Hito, began, very soon afterwards, to astonish her friends by the rapidity with which it assimilated European methods and civilisation; and, ere the end of the nineteenth century, she won her way to recognition as one of the great powers of the world.

Source: Clowes, William Laird: "The Royal Navy: a history from the earliest times to the death of Queen Victoria", Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1903, volume 7, 190 - 209 (1903). 

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