- Lind, L.J.
- Biographies and personal histories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1974 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
An uneasy peace settled over China and Calcutta returned to Hong Kong for a refit before departing for England on 19th March 1859. The ship carried invalids. During the voyage Rawson completed his two years sea service and was promoted to midshipman. The veteran was 15½ years old.
HMS Encounter was Rawson’s next ship. He returned to England in September and two months later departed once more for China. Encounter was an old vessel and according to her Captain, Captain Roderick Dew, RN, ‘she leaked like a sieve’. The voyage was leisurely and three weeks were spent in Rio de Janeiro. She arrived in Hong Kong early in 1860 to find the Chinese troubles had flared up again.
Encounter was ordered to Talienwhan Bay to support a force under Admiral Sir James Hope. Some months previously the Chinese had blocked the entrance to the Peiho River with war junks and rearmed the Taku Forts. The Admiral attacked but was severely repulsed in his first attempt to break through the Chinese vessels.
Captain Dew was ordered to commandeer a fleet of junks and bring stores forward to the Admiral’s ships. It was in these circumstances Rawson obtained his first command. He wrote:
HMS Commissariat Junk No. 2
June 2 1860
‘. . . I was told off to one of these junks, and they gave me a compass, chart, two bluejackets, and four marines, and told me to make the best of my way back to Talienwhan Bay. There were twenty five Chinamen on board, and she had a cargo of silk, cotton, and calico. After the ship left us, I set course for our anchorage, and that afternoon I was lying in the cabin when one of my men roused me and said: ‘You had better get up, sir, as there is something afoot’. While he went forward to rouse my men, I jumped up and had a look at the Chinamen, who had all mustered aft and were buckling up their waistbands and taking off their superfluous clothing. I was the only one aft, so I got my sword and revolver within reach. Suddenly the leading Chinaman gave a signal, and took a flying leap overboard, followed by all the others. At the time we were five miles from land, but there was a small junk standing towards us, and I saw that they had jumped overboard to be picked up by this boat, so I stood on. But when I had gone two or three hundred yards, I heard a yell, and found that the junk had passed within a few feet of the Chinamen, but would not pick them up. I immediately gave orders for tacking, but found, to my dismay, that the wind had dropped, and we were in a strong current, rapidly drifting us on to a rocky lee shore, anything but pleasant to be as near as we were, so I let go the anchor. Soon I found I was dragging, but after cutting away cable, I got clear away, and reached the bay at last.’
Meanwhile, a combined British and French Army of 18,000 British and 7,500 French had been assembled, and this force was landed on 1st August to march on Peking. Young Rawson was appointed aidede- camp to Captain Dew, who was accompanying the army.
The advance met with feeble resistance, and after three minor engagements entered Peking. The Chinese government surrendered.
Encounter sailed for Japan in November where more trouble threatened. Christmas Day was celebrated at Yokohama.
They remained in Japanese waters for eight months, except for a brief visit to Shanghai. Two important events were recorded by the midshipman. He played in the first cricket match to be played on Japanese soil. The second won him the Humane Society’s Medal.
At 2 a.m. on 1st April, the sentry walked overboard and was swept away in the fast flowing Woosong River. Rawson, who was on watch, plunged overboard and supported the man in the water until picked up by a boat.
In August Encounter cruised north to investigate Russian development at Tsushima and Amur. The Russians were developing a formidable base at the former and laying the foundations of their defeat by the Japanese some 40 years later.
The position deteriorated again in China in the last months of 1861. In March of 1862 Encounter was ordered to Ningpo with orders to disarm the forts at that port. The storming of these forts was faithfully recorded by the young midshipman:
‘The Captain sent for Douglas and myself to head the scaling party, as he determined to take the place by assault. We placed the scaling-ladders against the walls and ran the field-piece up. I had the trigger-line, as soon as the gun was laid the Captain gave the word. I fired, and then we all rushed for the ladder, the officers being where they always ought to be, well to the front. I was half-way up when smash went the ladder, and down I came flop on the ground. However, I jumped up and got on to No. 2, followed closely by the bo’sun. We hadn’t got up half a dozen rungs when that one broke down too, so we immediately jumped up No. 3. One of my men, named Davis, was before me, and as he was climbing over the parapet he was shot through the chest, fell backwards, and after nearly taking me with him, dropped dead at the foot of the ladder. ‘Up’ was the order of the day. As soon as we got to the top we made a rush for the rebels, who were clustered in a heap like bees. I was firing away, when a man next me said ‘I’m hard hit, sir’; so I turned, and with my handkerchief clapped on a tourniquet and stopped the bleeding. I hadn’t finished when a marine fell against me severely wounded, and I had to tie him up. Then I seized his rifle, and we started off along the wall to get possession of the bridge. I and three others were in front, and were soon joined by three or four more, when we commenced some sharp firing and drove the rebels back, holding the bridge until the Captain, with the main body of the men, came up. We had taken a walled city in the face of fifteen thousand of the enemy with a force of only a hundred and ninety seven men. But all was not yet over, for about five hundred of the rebels had reorganized themselves and were coming back to the attack. So Captain Dew sings out: ‘Marines to the front! Charge! Quick, or you haven’t a chance!’ Directly I heard this I dashed to the front, and with a cheer we charged ’em. Even now they were advancing, and it was doubtful how far we 50 could fight 500, when there was a cheer from the ship lying a quarter of a mile away in the river, and ‘bang’ went the 10-inch after-pivot gun, covering us with dust, but so confusing the rebels that they bolted off into the city among the houses, where we could not follow them. ‘
In his report to the Commander-in-Chief Captain Dew said: ‘Where all behaved so well, distinction would be invidious, but I have much pleasure in bringing to your notice the conduct of the officers and men on this occasion. Lieutenant Hugh Davis, with Mr. H.H. Rawson, commanded the seamen with great distinction and ability.’
Rawson was wounded in the action. A ball entered his leg about five inches above the knee. ‘I can see him now,’ wrote a fellow officer, A.D. McArthur, ‘hopping along with a smile on his face, as though he was merely engaged in a one-legged race’.
Promotion to Sub-Lieutenant followed on 20th November 1862. He was advanced over 80 senior officers.
The New Year found Sub-Lieutenant Rawson in command of Imperial Chinese Forces stationed at Ningpo. At 19 years of age he was commandant of 1,300 troops.
Six months after promotion to Sub- Lieutenant, Rawson was promoted to Lieutenant. He joined HMS Vulcan in May 1863, and on June 9th sailed for home in that ship. He had served six years and eight months in the China Station.
In the years that followed Rawson enjoyed a varied career. July 1865 found him in HMS Excellent, the gunnery school at Whale Island. Two years later he was First Lieutenant and Gunnery Lieutenant in HMS Bellerophon.
This latter appointment was held in high esteem. Bellerophon was one of the world’s best fighting ships. Heavily armed and armour-plated, she and her sister ships, HM Ships Agincourt, Minotaur, Northumberland, Hercules, Monarch, Warrior, Black Prince and Inconstant, were the ultimate in warships of the 1860s.
Bellerophon was a unit of the Mediterranean Fleet and in May 1868 was one of five British ironclads at the opening of the Suez Canal.
The year 1870 found Rawson serving in the Royal Yacht, Victoria and Albert. It was this appointment which commenced a lifelong friendship with the Royal Family, a not inconsiderable asset in the navy of the Victorian era.
Lieutenant Rawson won his second award for the saving of life at sea while serving on the Royal Yacht. Off Antwerp on 30th August 1871, a boat containing four ladies, a man and two boys capsized alongside the Victoria and Albert. Rawson and an engineer, Mr. John Aitkin, swam to the rescue of the drowning people and were instrumental in keeping them afloat until a boat could pick them up. Both officers were awarded the Belgium Civic Cross, Second Class.