Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Crowd Sourcing 3rd of Five

This is the 3rd section of a draft version of one of the chapters for my upcoming book The Silver Bowl. It is one of four thumbnail sketches of Irishmen whose impact on Hong Kong in its early days as a Colony were significant. My hope is that helpful readers can set me straight if I am wrong about any of the facts. I still have much to learn.

Sir Hugh Gough (1779-1869)
A painting of Hugh Gough that hangs in the hallway of St. Helen's, Booterstown. SOURCE: Wikipedia.
Under the direction of Palmerston, Sir Hugh Gough provided much of the military muscle that helped set the preconditions for the first treaty. Fit as a goat, he climbed several of the hills of Hong Kong during his brief stay there, possibly even the one that bears his name: Mount Gough. At 61 years of age, and a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, he was older than most active generals when he headed up the troops that won the 1st Opium War on behalf of the British Crown. This was not his first successful campaign. Promoted to the rank of lieutenant, one month before his fifteenth birthday, on October 11, 1794, he then had led his soldiers in the capture of Good Hope only one year later, the first of many conquests under his leadership. Like Lord Palmerston, his family had roots in Ireland dating back to the Elizabethan era and, like Palmerston, they were members of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. His father was Lieutenant-Colonel George Gough and his mother, Letitia Bunbury, also came with her own family legacy of both wealth and military prowess. That notwithstanding, there was never any doubt about Hugh Gough’s personal bravery in the face of actual battle. He had not won his rank due to mere patronage.

By the time Gough captured the forts at Canton, he was supported by a well-funded, professional British navy, armed with the best of modern weaponry. With 6,000 of such troops under his command, the outcome was practically preordained. As Punch magazine put it, it was a war of howitzers to pop guns. On the Pearl River, the Chinese wooden junks were no match against the steel-hulled Nemesis, a shallow-draft, well-armed paddle-wheeler named after the Greek goddess of retributive justice. That vessel had been loaned to the campaign by the British East India Company, a not insignificant fact. Both the loan of this ship, as well as its name, speak volumes about whose interests, as well as whose sense of justice Gough was defending.

Throughout his soldiering career, Gough still retained his connections to his homeland, as well as his membership in the Kildare Street Club, a bastion of the Irish Ascendency. Unlike many men under his command, he ended his life quietly in Dublin at age 89. The Dublin statue which had been erected in his honour didn’t fare quite so well. It was blown up by the IRA in 1957, an act commemorated in a lengthy bit of doggerel, a portion of which is representative:

'Twas a terrible fact, and a most wicked act,
For his bollix they tried to blow off!


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