The Nemesis Steamer Destroying Chinese War Junks, in Canton River (12 November 1842): 420. Image scan and text by Philip V. Allingham.

Since the sketch reproduced in the ILN appeared courtesy of the Honourable East India Company, we may conclude that the artist was not a member of the military, but a civilian (perhaps a British merchant in the employ of the Company) who had a good view of the various battles. Such a man might well have been attached to the Company's representative, also serving as Her Majesty's plenipotentiary, Sir Henry Pottinger, afterwards first Governor of the Crown Colony of Hong Kong. The drawing, then, is a sure indication of the level of cooperation between the East India Company, the British government, and the British press.

It will be remembered that the Nemesis, which is commanded by Lieut. Hall, distinguished herself in a very extraordinary manner, shortly after her arrival in the Chinese waters, by blowing up a number of the enemies' war-junks [not looking especially formidable, despite their numbers, in the sketch], which created no little consternation amongst the Celestials. As this event invests the Nemesis with more than ordinary interest, we here present our readers with a sketch of her on the trying and critical occasion to which we allude. The following brief narrative of the steamer's career since her launch may be allowed by way of episode, and will prove not altogether unacceptable. The Nemesis was builr by Mr. Laird, of Birkenhead Iron-works, near Liverpool, for the Hon. East India Company, and sailed for China in March, 1840, was the first iron steam-vessel that passed the Cape of Good Hope, and the first that appeared in China. Here services there have been since pretty generally known, and the following is an account of the destruction of war-junks illustrated in our engraving: — "Arrangements having been made by Commodore Sir J. J. G. Bremer, K. C. B., &c., for the capture of the Chuenpee forts, and the opposite one of Ty-kok-too, the Nemesis, after disembarking the 37th Regiment Native [i. e., Indian or Sepoy] Infantry, took up an advantageous position under the upper battery of chuenpee, in company with the zHon. Company's ship Queen, and commenced throwing shell with good effect, lodging many within the walls, thereby enabling the troops to advance, and take possession, which they did in the most gallant style. This cocomplished, she proceeded round the point to assist in silencing the lower fort, throwing in grape, canister, and musketry, thereby distracting the attention of the enemy on the sea-side, and giving the troops and some of the Hyacinth's crew, whom we observed scaling the walls, greater facilities for entering, which they speedily did, driving all before them. She then pushed on to attack the war-junks strongly moored at the mouth of a small and shallow river at the bottom of Auson's Bay; and, when within 500 yards, commenced a heavy fire of shot and shell on the four largest, which was returned by them. The first Congreve rocket fired by her took terrific and instantaneous effect — blowing up one of the largest, with all her crew. The others being soon silenced, she then despatched her boats, in company with those of her Majesty's ship Sulphur, and one or two others from the Larne, Calliope, and Hyacinth [ships of the line whose deep draft made them impractical in the shallow waters of the river mouth]. Junk after junk was boarded and set fire to. The whole, 11 in number, blew up as the fire reached their magazines, and thus were completely destroyed. She now proceeded to a town up the river, much to the astonishment of the natives [i. e., the Chinese], and brought away two junks, which were moored to the shore, without firing a shot or receiving any — such was the consternation at her appearance alone at a place only navigable for junk. We understand that the Commodore expressed himself much pleased with what the Nemis had accomplished; and a remark made by Captain Elliot, the Chief Superintendent, that the Nemis had done the work of two line-of-battle ships, proves that her services have been somewhat important: only one shot struck her, the others falling short or going over. On the 8th January, agreeably to the instructions from the commodore, the Nemesis, in company with two rocket-boats from her Majesty's ship Blenheim, took up a raking position, about 1100 yards distant from the Anung-hoy fort, mounting 100 guns, and commenced throwing shot, shell, and rockets with the greatest effect, which was not returned, from the peculiarity of the position she was enable to take from her light draught of water; indeed the enemy could only bring four guns to bear on her, and these were of small calibre. Ten minutes, or thereabouts, after commencing firing, she was recalled. . . . [The Nemesis] has been fortunate in having a commander who combines first-rate skill and seamanship with the greatest bravery, and who never appears satisfied unless he is constantly employed in active service.

It is easy to be brave and perform one's duty with audacity when one enjoys such massive technological superiority over an enemy ill-prepared for such fire-power in a place thought impregnable by virtue of the difficulty involved in navigating a regular warship to such a scene of battle.

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The Illustrated London News I, No. 27 (12 November 1842): 420-21.

Last modified 15 September 2006