WIPING OUT A PIRATE LAIR

This first appeared in issue #1 of 'History Notes', compiled by the late Phillip Bruce. It is reproduced here on Gwulo by kind permission of Mr Bruce's family.

One of the largest monuments in the Hong Kong Cemetery, at Happy Valley, is an obelisk bearing on its side the word "Kuhlan". This was a notorious nest of pirates and eventually the Royal Navy took spirited action to clear it out.

The island, south west of Macau, is referred to as Kau Lan on the present Admiralty chart and as Sha Bai Shi on a Chinese map.

The Friend of China, of Wednesday, November 15, 1854, carried the following report;

"We publish the Extra issued from this office yesterday, and add to it the promised detail. The Baracouta left for Ty-lo at 8 P.M. and would enable Capt. O'Callaghan to put the Squadron to work again about daylight this morning.

Tuesday.

H.M.S.S. Baracouta, Capt. Parker, returned this morning from the Island of Tylo, where at Kulan, the expedition under Capt. O'Callaghan which left this on Saturday last has been completely successful, in destroying three formidable batteries that kept up a steady fire on the Boat squadron for upwards of half an hour yesterday, until fairly shelled out from the boats; which could not get nearer to the Chinese guns than seven hundred yards. There has been only one serious casualty that of the death of an American Seaman, (Morrison) who was shot through the brain.

Altogether 340 men landed, viz:-

British            280
Portugese           25
Chinese Braves 20
Americans  15

Twenty guns (12s. -18s. -and 24s.) were taken from the long battery by the Chinese Braves, after it was silenced. Three guns were found in another battery, and seven guns and Two Gingalls about a mile inland, the Chinese keeping up a fire there until driven out by the Marines' musketry.

Ten Chinese were made prisoners, - Fifty one Junks destroyed, and three piratical nests burnt - Number of killed among the hills unknown, supposed to be fifty at the least. Full particulars will appear in to-morrow's paper. H.M.S. Str. Baracouta returns immediately, with further instructions regarding a fleet of Piratical Junks said to be at anchor at Ty kam.

- It was known, prior to the despatch of the last mail, that H.E. the Naval Commander in Chief had been in correspondence with the Governor General of the Two Kwang regarding the notorious pirate haunt at Kulan, on the Island of Ty-lo, a place about forty miles south and west of Macao; Admiral Sterling being anxious to obtain the cooperation, or rather the direction, of the Chinese Authorities, before undertaking an expedition which by some, might not be deemed altogether necessary by reason of any particular attack on British vessels; although the plunder of the Chilian ship Caldera opposite Kulan, whilst commanded by a British subject (a native of La Belle France being there also subjected to a good deal of annoyance and peril of life) gave perfect reasonable* *we print the word "reasonable" in italics, for the special "reason" of our friends in Exeter Hall, warranty for the interference really necessary. In our issue of the 11th it was stated that a party of pirates had joined the Imperialist service for an attack on Fatshan; as many as fifty West Coast Junks being passed by one of the Steamers en route to that place. Be the previous pursuit of those vessels whatever it may have been, the Chinese Governor readily, as we before stated, gave the required sanction, and issued orders to the Commodore of the Taiping Division to hold himself in readiness to proceed with the Foreign vessels to wherever lawless characters might be found, and especially to destroy Kulan, a fortified place which, for four years, has successfully resisted all attempts of the Chinese Government to take it.

H.M.S.S. Baracouta was, in accordance with the sense of this reply, promptly despatched, with Mr Caldwell on board to bring H.E. the aforesaid Chinese Commodore and suite down from the Bogue to Hongkong; and arrangements being completed, as the Baracouta returned at 8 A.M. on Saturday last, a Squadron, consisting of H.M.Ss. Encounter, 14 guns, Captain O'Callaghan (as Commodore) Baracouta, 6 guns, Commander Parker, and Styx, 6 guns, Commander Woolcombe, were ordered to hold in readiness for immediate movement. It should have been mentioned that H.M.S. Spartan, commander Sir W. Hoste, was sent to lie off Macau and the Broadway on the previous Wednesday, in order to watch the motions of any vessels towards, or from the beforementioned island of Tylo; and that service having been effected so far as necessary, the Baracouta was ordered off whilst her Steam was up, to tell Commander Hoste to return to Hongkong, the Spartan giving, however, a pinnace, with Lieut. Palliser (the officer commanding the expeditions, of which mention has before been made, in search of Madame Fanny Lovoit and the Cargo of the Caldera) to proceed on towards the intended place of action.

In addition to the vessels named the U.S.S. Queen, Lieut Prebble, with a party of men from the U.S.S. Macedonian, and the P. & O.S.N. Co's steamers Canton and Sir Charles Forbes added to the number of the squadron: the Canton towing H.M.S. Winchester's launch, and a full crew under the command of Lieut. C. Fellows. On board the Forbes was the party who paid the expense of the P & 0 Steamers; the Chinese who lost wives, children and some $60 000 on a recent occasion on his way from Canton, and who was now prompted to follow the pirates into their stronghold, not so much with the expectation of recovering his household gods, as to view a bloody vengeance on the desecrators of his happiness.

The final signal for starting was made about half past 4 p.m. and a little before sunset the vessels were fairly under weigh, the Encounter towing the Flag ship and tender of the Chinese Commodore, H.E. Cheung-yok-tong, who, in virtue of his rank, was saluted with three guns. The order of sailing for the night was as follows - Encounter leading - followed on the starboard quarter by the Canton - on the port by the Forbes - the Queen as whipper in - the Styx's place being regulated, apparently, by various signals. The wind outside was found fresh from the Northward and Eastward with somewhat of a swell, causing the heavy vessels to roll about rather more than was pleased. By midnight the steaming and progressive powers of the various vessels seemed fully ascertained, each doing its work very well. About that time the land was well in the rear, and a course was shaped for Ty-lo, distant 70 miles from Hongkong, and bearing about 8. W from the Southwest end of Lantao. At day light the high land of Ty-lo was right ahead, but was by-passed, Cap. O'Callaghan determining on getting to the other side of the island by the safer channel between the Island of Kow kok and Ty kam. Unfortunately just at 8 a.m Sunday, the Chinese Junk broke adrift, and it was not until after the Encounter's Oig had been stove in getting alongside with a warp that she was again secured. The tender broke adrift about an hour before, but was left to be picked up either by the Styx or the Baracouta then coming down from the Spartan, and observed in the distance. The island of Ty-kam presents a bluff, sterile appearance - a huge round boulder, resembling Tiger Island inside the Bocca Tigris. The water carried inside the islands forming the channel to Kulan between Kow-kok and Tymong was 5-4 and 3 fathoms. At 10.30 a.m. three suspicious looking Junks were observed in a bay on the West side of Kow-kok, and signal was made for the fleet to anchor; the Mandarin suggesting that they should be destroyed, for no honest vessel he asserted could be found in that place.

The launches were accordingly prepared, and taking one of the Chinese Commodore's Officers, and Mr Caldwell (who accompanied the expedition as Interpreter) in the Winchester's boat, Lieut. Fellowes proceeded in towards the Junks to examine them. But evidently anticipating what was in store, the crews of the Junks lost no time in removing their armament and every thing of value, the gun carriages being left to float about the beach. Rice, Fish, Rattans, &c. formed the bulk of what was found on board these vessels, with large quantities of powder and stink pots and amongst other things some rolls of English canvass, which Mr Rooney (late master of the plundered ship Caldera, who accompanied Lieut. Fellowes) identified as part of one of his topsails. Several Triad passes were also found, and quite sufficient evidence to warrant the Mandarin's assertion that they were pirates. Between the Winchester's and the other boats' crews, the Junks, from 50 to 100 tons burthen each, were effectually set on fire, and the Mandarin then landed to inspect the Joss house, and two or three small houses, off which the Junks lay; but every thing of utility or value had been removed from them by people who were seen in the distance struggling up the hills. A quantity of charcoal was found for the manufacture of Gun powder, in rear of the ruins of half a dozen good-sized houses; and on the hills an English shirt and trowsers, with a California gold digging licence.

A Macao Government Boat-Registry board was picked up also, marked T20 and D No. 173. A few half starved dogs and cats were the only living occupants of the place, which the Mandarin said was called Ho-pow shan. By 2p.m. the boats had returned (the Styx's's boat towed out by the U.S.S. Queen) and at half past two with the Winchester's boats astern, Captain O'Callaghan being on board, the Canton weighed and steamed up to reconnn Kulan, and ascertain the depth of water, which Mr Raymond, Master of the Encounter, found, on a survey by Lieut. Gordon R.N. and others, to be correctly laid down, carrying from under quarter three on to a quarter less two, the depth of*f the entrance to Kulan bay, about opposite the village of Cho ko me, where so much of the Caldera's cargo was found on the Lady Mary Wood's and Ann's trips. At 8.45pm observed a long English looking boat pulling away from the stockade running across the mouth of Kulan valley, - off which seven junks were counted: the others afterwards seen being hid by the head land. Captain O'Callaghan with the cutter then left the Steamer, which had anchored, intending to try the water further in, but the breeze was too fresh, and current too strong, to effect such a service, so that the cutter shortly returned, and at 4.15pm the Canton weighted and steered back towards the Squadron, distant about nine miles, the signal being made to weigh and approach.

At 5pm, a Lorcha was seen running down before the wind, and by her firing a gun she was concluded to be H.M.F.M.'s armed vessel Amasona expected from Macao, her assistance in the expedition having been tendered by H.E. Governor Guimaraena. At 5.20pm the Lorcha, which proved to be the Amasona was observed firing at the Kulan stockade, and as the signal to weigh had been seen, and was being acted on, Capt. O'Callaghan determined on running back towards Kulan again. At 5.45pm the water shoaling to a quarter less three, the Canton anchored in a safe position for the heavy vessels to lie for the night, and shortly afterwards Lieut. Scarnichia, Commanding the Amasona, came on board and reported that the Chinese at Kulan fired at him before he discharged his guns. The Amasona which had 40 Men and 10 Marines from the Portugese Corvette Dom Jaos on board, brought intelligence, which had reached Macao, of Sixteen Junks that had left Kulan a day or so before, and were ere believed to be at Ty kam, the Island at the Southwest end of the Channel before mentioned. A Blue light was burnt shortly after the Squadron had anchored, and the respective Senior Officers came on board the Canton, when it was determined that the Canton (towing the Amasona) the Sir C. Forbes, and the Queen would take up a position off Kulan, and prevent the escape of any of the Junks. A rocket was fired for the Forbes to close, and at 7pm the Canton weighed, anchoring with the others off Kulan Bay at 8.20pm.- the Amasona running well in shore. Boats then rowed guard. At midnight Lt Fellowes, in charge of the night blockade, proceeded with Mr Soames, of the Sir C. Forbes, right into the bay, and ascertained the best passage for the boats to take on the following day.

At 2am Monday the Forbes' boat returned, without having been observed by the people on shore. At 4am the Sir C. Forbes got up anchor and ran back to the Encounter distant about four miles, for Captain O'Callaghan. At 6.30am the Canton weighed and stood towards the shore - 7am Canton anchored, and the Kulan men fired a shot which fell short. At 7.15am the Pirates were observed hoisting their flags, the principal of which were triangular, of a slaty white colour, with blue border, and studded with high sounding Chinese characters descriptive of the opinion the Pirate Chiefs wished the world to entertain of their bravery - Other flags were red, with black borders. At 7.20 Pirates again opened fire at the Amasona, which had gone in to within gun shot range in most gallant style; but in accordance with the previous orders of Captain O'Callaghan no return was made - 7.30am Captain O'Callaghan arrived on board the Canton, and directed all the boats to rendezvous at the Sir C. Forbes whilst the Canton returned to bring up the Mandarin and a party of Kwangtung braves, it being Capt. 0'Callaghan‘s intention, according to the instructions given by H.E. Sir James Stirling before starting, to make no aggressive movement without the express desire of the Chinese Commodore. The firing and bravado of the Pirates, however, rendered official parley unnecessary. At 9.30 am the Canton arrived back, and Lieutenant Fellowes commanding the Starboard division, received orders to proceed to the Portugese Lorcha and tell Captain Scarnichia to open fire as hot and heavy as he pleased. The first gun fired was from the Queen, but the ball fell short of the shore, her metal being too light. The Portugese guns however (formerly the Reynard's saved from the Pratas Shoal) told beautifully. The boat squadron under Captain Parker H.M.S.S. Baracouta, was arranged as follows:-

Starboard Division, Lieutenant C. Fellowes Commanding,

Winchester's Launch - two 12 pounder carronades 
Styx's Paddle-Box boat  - one 12 pounder carronade 
Styx's Paddle-Box boat  - one 12 pounder carronade 
Styx's Pinnace - one 12 pounder carronade 

Port Division, Lieutenant Palliser Commanding,

Spartan's Pinnace - one 12 pounder carronade
Baracouta's Paddle box boat - one 21 pounder carronade
Baracouta's Paddle box Boat - one 24 pounder carronade
Baracouta's Pinnace - one 12 pounder carronade.

The Marines (50) under Lieut. Burton R.M . of H.M.S. Winchester, Small arm Party (50) under Captain Woolcombe of H.M. Steamer Styx and Field Piece and Rocket Party, under Lieutenant Montgomery of H.M.S.S. Encounter, with an Assistant Surgeon from each ship, followed close in to the shore on the left hand, where a landing it was found could be effected; Drs. Babington and Jenkins being in the Canton, to attend to such casualties as might occur. The heavy launches could not get closer than within seven hundred yards of the Pirates1 battery, from which a fire was maintained with excellent precision, the shots striking and ricochetting right up to the Amasona. The spirit and coolness with which the Pirates served their guns gave every promise of a hard day's work; but the round shot and shell, from the various launches as they took up their respective positions and which were seen to fall right in amongst them, took the natural effect; and not long after the Winchester's launch had anchored, and trained her guns towards the battery, the fire was observed to slacken. Particular mention is made of the Winchester's launch, it being that on board which the narrator took passage to the shore and which had the good fortune of a few minutes start from the Amasona directly the orders were given (The other boats being kept to the Sir C. Forbes until it was evident what those orders were by the launch's bow gun trained by Mr Gilmore) stirring the dust up in the battery) But as it is not possible, or fair, to attempt to give a detail of the services of each boat, the clearest way to continue the account of the rest of the day's work appears to be to print such notes as were at the time hastily jotted down.

9.40am Dr Sanders took the helm. Firing general - Captain Parker- came alongside - Boat aground - Shot pitching pretty close - 10.15 anchored - Queen's boat came up - a shot had just passed between General Kessan, sitting with Messrs Moses and Aivord in the stern sheets, and splintered the blade of one of the oars - got them to land on the rocks, to where some of the Marines had proceeded - 10.15 got my glass to bear on the batteries, but the men previously observed waving flags were not to be seen - concluded that they had run for it - Captain Parker and Lieutenant Fellowes in the Baracouta's cutter hailing the launches to up anchor and try for deeper water on the other side, towards where Lieutenant Palliser's party were wading through water up to the hips - Chinese retreating up the hills - 10.40 counted Nine Chinese as they were made prisoners - One previously shot by Mr Rooney as he was aiming with a gingall at him - 11am reached the end of the creek - Party of Portugese came up - Observed heavy firing on the left, where there were two or three white flags - Marines and small arm men well up; - Capt Parker and Lieutenant Fellowes racing neck and neck to get up to the guns* [* Footnote: Had it not been for the opportune arrival of Captain Parker's party, General Keenan (ok) US Consul here, who accompanied the expedition and had got a "leetel" too far ahead for his own safety (a good fault with a soldier) would undoubtedly, he tells us, have been hemmed in and killed.]

- Chinese retreating up the hills - Blue Jackets in pursuit - saw one man's brains beat out with but end of musket - got up to the deserted battery, found a creek in front and seven guns of small calibre - with two gingalls. Marines and Blue Jackets up the hills in pursuit - Captain Parker's party gone on up the valley.

Passing a Joss house under erection, dedicated to the Queen of Heaven (according to the inscription engraved on the granite door lintel) at 11.40 came up to the large village which the Mandarin had desired might be spared. It was a beautiful place in an amphitheatre of wooded hills, the houses running up, flight by flight, thirteen or fourteen terraces deep, from fifteen to twenty in each row. 11.50 came up with the Marines and Winchester's men drawn up in file for breath, and waiting the report of scouts sent ahead to reconnn an artificial pass through the hill at the head of the valley, which, properly guarded, might have barred further progress for some time. Plenty of people on the hills, but out of gunshot range.

Noon - Dr Tronson of H.M.S Baracouta, and scouting party came up, reporting the defile clear from end to end - Capt. Parker directed Lieut. Fellowes and party to proceed to the village in- the valley opposite the large one, and search for evidence of piratical occupation - Captains Parker and Woolcombe, Lieut. Burton R.M. and the Marines and small arm men, accompanied by Lieutenant Scarnichia with some of the Portugese Marines and others, then proceeded through the pass, a gap cut about twenty feet deep, just wide enough for one or two abreast, for a length of eighty paces, and running for some 300 paces further over a very narrow outlet to the head of another spacious valley, at the extremes of which houses could be seen among clusters of cocoa nut and other trees, about a mile and a half distant with a wide sandy beach in front, forming the south eastern side of Ty-lo.

12.45pm reached some half dozen fishing huts surrounding a little Temple, also dedicated to the Queen of Heaven. Excepting half a dozen long pull away compartment- boats, hauled up a creek, dry for want of recent use, and evidently kept their for the business of attacking vessels on that side, nothing of a suspicious nature was found in the huts, which were all deserted and cleared of every thing; ample testimony to our thinking of the occupants having been in recent communication with the pirates at Kulan. Capt Parker gave orders to destroy nothing (excepting the cocoa nuts on the tree in front of the temple.) By an accident however* [*Footnote: Not understanding the language in which Captain Parker's order was given, one of the Portugese small arm men set fire to it probably - No great sin.] the thatched roof of the weather house caught fire, and so speedily did the others ignite that some who were resting in them out of the sun had barely time to escape - one of the Marines' Minies being left in the blaze, the barrel of which was only got out after the stock was consumed. The Temple being built of brick did not catch fire, although the flames licked the tiled roof of it pretty clean.

1.40pm returned by the opposite side of the valley; - examined a little Farm house, also deserted, but containing nothing suspicious. 2.45pm reached back to the Bay, taking one prisoner, an old man, by the way. Found the cluster of houses outside the island battery all in a blaze. All the Junks had been set fire to too, and were burning furiously, as well as the village on the opposite side of the valley, in which were found some more of the Caldera's tea, and an empty mathematical instrument case, with a silver plate on the top of it, on which was engraved 'To Captain Matthew Rooney from D.O.B.' and immediately identified by Mr Rooney as part of the Caldera's plunder.

The Caldera's Bills of Lading were found in one of the houses we heard - 3.55 Just as the boats were shoving off, observed four men coming down to the Junks carrying shields and swords - Marines returned towards, and had a shot at them, when they scampered back and hid themselves - Launches gave them a parting salute of shell, which appeared to burst right over their locale. Between five and six, all hands being on board, or in tow, of the steamers, returned to the squadron; - the Baracouta being directed to get ready by midnight to return to Hongkong with despatches for the Admiral.

We have only to regret, in furnishing the foregoing statement, that we have not had ample time to condense and exhibit its main features with more glowing colour. The Expedition of whose work we have now only given a partial tale, (there being plenty of work in store) is not only the most complete of its kind ever sent from this Colony, but is also singular as one of the phenomena of the age. Here were English and Americans, - Portugese and Chinese, hand in hand together heartily engaged in putting down a common enemy. We must confess were were more prompted in a desire to go with the Expedition (permission being readily granted by H.E. Sir James Sterling on application made) out of a wish to see for ourselves whether, in asking the Chinese Government to allow us to assist them, we were not to a certain degree unnecessarily interfering with the contending parties so hotly engaged for a mastery of the Empire; - for we have had so many proofs afforded us of the very excellent and bona fide aims of the people now to arms at Whampoa and Canton, that we should have deprecated, most strongly, the despatch of any expedition of the kind had the means used been prejudicial to what might have appeared rebel interests. During the voyage, however, we were brought in contact with those who had no interest in making the matter appear otherwise than it really stood; and, among them, the party who pays for the charter of the P. & 0. Steamers, who, as well as the Canton Mandarin, denied most distinctly the possibility of any connection between the Kulan-ites and the legitimate Red heads.

*Footnote Any quantity of red surge and red turban bands, however, were found at Kulan.

It was, as we said in the commencement of the narrative, an expedition to destroy a hold which for a period of four years has successfully defied the endeavours of the Provincial Government to subdue. Nor even now would it have been carried so speedily, with all our arms, had not fortune and good judgement for once combined.

Kulan Bight, in Tyho bay (an apparently excellent road-stead about three miles across, exposed to the roll of the ocean only at the N.E. and S.W. ends of a Channel fifteen or twenty miles in length) is peculiarly adapted for a pirate haunt. At its embouchare, it must be some four hundred yards or so across; the hills running abruptly down on each side, and lined at their bases with small oyster sprinkled rocks, covered with the sea even at low water, so rendering a landing on them a work of much difficulty at any time. A tide could not be made for the occasion, nor could the Mandarin accompanying the expedition be expected to get up earlier than the temperature of a November morning would at all warrant; consequently it was only at the low water of a dead neap that the boats could be sent to face a battery the real strength of which it was impossible to learn until it was got into; and manned with men of whose determination to fight to the last there was hardly a doubt. Most fortunate was it that the large Piratical Squadron attached to this place were out on one of their cruizes, and now likely to be destroyed in detail. Not one, nor one hundred casualties would have sufficed in the carrying of this Celestial Bomarsund. There is no doubt but the forty eight Junks found in the natural dock inside, and which could only come out at high water, would soon have been equipped for sea. The mischief they may then have done can hardly be calculated."

The monument in the Hong Kong Cemetery, however, bears the date 1855 and thus refers to a further action to the one described above at the island.

On one panel is "Kuhlan 1855". On another is "Erected by the officers and crews of the United States Steam frigate Powhatan and HBM Steam Sloop Rattler. In memory of their shipmates who fell in a combined boat attack on a fleet of piratical junks, Kuhlan, August 4, 1855."

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