1/01/2012

The Bridges of Banka

The Hsin Tien (新店) River in Wanhua during the 1800s

I was digging around in the British Consular reports for information on Li Chunshung (李春生), the 19th century (1838-1924) Taiwanese comprador who worked with John Dodd to export oolong tea out of, I think, Danshui. Together, they put Formosan tea on the map. I haven't come up with much, but I did stumble across this 1881 account of Banka, the  Shapichu (Shapaochu) aboriginal word meaning "place where canoes meet," from which Monga (Wanhua 萬華) gets its name. I call my blog "Wanhua Taiwan" so I want to throw it up. The following was submitted by Thomas Watters, the British Consul in Danshui at the time:

Sir,

I have the honour to submit an Intelligence Report for the period from August 6th up to this date [November 9, 1881].

1. Political Summary. On the 12th September the Governor of Fuhkien, the well known Chen Yu-ying arrived at Kelung on a tour of inspection. It seems that by an Imperial decree the coast defenses of this island have been put under his sole control. Before crossing over he sent three officials on ahead to herald his arrival and collect information...

One of the first acts of the Governor was to inspect the Kelung Fort. This he condemned as worse than useless, and he gave orders for the immediate construction of certain outworks for the fort. He did not visit the Government Coal mine, but it is supposed that one of his subordinates went to it in disguise and made numerous inquires. From Kelung the Governor went to Banka [Monga AKA Wanhua] where, it is said he made strict investigation [used as a non-count noun, I guess] into the state of public business in each yamen. On the 15th he visited this place [Danshui], and minutely inspected the now-abandoned Camp behind the Consulate and the site for the proposed new fort. This fort is to be built on the north bank and near the mouth of the [Danshui] river... From Banka he went to Hsin-chu where he beheaded one man and from that he went to Changhua where he beheaded another...

While at Banka the Governor gave orders for the erection of a bridge over the Ya-chia [大甲溪] river. This is said to be an enormous undertaking. The Ya-chia river runs into the sea about 30 miles, I am told, south of Tamsui, at the place where Hsin-chu Hsien borders on Chuan-hua Hsien. During the rainy season it is a vast torrent rushing with irresistible force and carrying with it large quantities of earth and stone. All the Hsien in the North of the island are to contribute men and money and the Governor assigned three months as the limit within which the bridge is to be constructed. But he afterwards extended the limit when he found what difficulties were in the way of the undertaking. The construction of the bridge will cost the people an immense amount of money, and those who know the nature of the river say that the bridge cannot last long. The Governor has given orders to have the bed of the torrent deepened and stone embankments made.

The report veers off now:

The relations between the Chinese and aborigines have been very bad lately. The savages are much exasperated at the inroads which are made on their territory by Chinese woodcutters. Some of these latter were last week engaged in felling a tree when savages attacked them and killed two. This occurred within two days' journey from Tamsui.

An English engineer named Malsch is at present engaged in making experiments at the Petroleum wells in the interior. He is employed, I believe, by the Chinese Merchants Co., but I have not heard whether his operations have been successful. The savages in the neighbourhood of the wells are said to be in almost open warfare with the Chinese...

Watters comes back to Banka at the end, under the heading of General:

On the morning of the 25th September [1881] we had a very sharp shock from an earthquake which lasted a few seconds. It caused much damage among the Chinese houses at Banka, but it only shook the foreign houses. It is said to have been the greatest earthquake experienced here since 1864.

*****

There are loose ends here. First off, was the bridge over the Ya-chia River (大甲溪) ever built? "But he afterwards extended the limit." I'm not aware of any bridges spanning Banka's waterways until the Japanese era. As far as I know, the first was Firefly Bridge (螢橋) http://ow.ly/8f1CE, which went up in the early 20th century, so I'm guessing a few more limits were extended and then he quietly stopped with the extensions.  Although many great public works were imagined at the end of the 19th century, nothing really got built or established until the Japanese took over in 1895. The Ching (清朝) was not only incompetent but also despised by the locals (aborigines and Chinese alike). Neither group wanted to assist the mandarins and the planners they occasionally brought in. They just wanted them to go away. Watters touches on the mood with the murders of the woodcutters and resistance to the petroleum wells.

Were any of the rivers or harbors dredged by the Ching? Again, I know this was a point of focus during the Japanese era. The Ching however let the harbor in Tainan silt up. That's one of the reasons the capital was shifted north toward the end of the 1880s. Ships and boats could no longer navigate the southern port. I've never heard about any important pre-Japanese dredge projects up north either. Banka (Wanhua 萬華), once the third most important dock in Taiwan, fell out of favor in the 19th century because it became so silted vessels could not move up the Danshui River to its shores. When the Sino-French War broke out in 1884, the Ching actually dumped junk in the mouth to impede warships. 

I don't mean to completely rag on the Ching. It seems this fellow Chen Yu-ying had some progressive ideas when he wasn't lopping off heads. The resources, will and vision simply could not at the end of the day been there because the poor fellow was in the employ of the Ching Dynasty (清朝), recognized as a laughingstock by this time in every manner and way.


Report in the easily recognizable hand of British Consul
 Thomas Watters

4 comments:

John Scott said...

You find some really interesting first-hand accounts and anecdotes!

There a couple of things I wonder about when reading about the history and development of shipping in and out of Taiwan during the last couple of centuries.

One is that I have read that there were 'primary' harbors—deeper ports where the larger ocean-going vessels could dock and unload cargo, and then there were the 'secondary' harbors, docks along the river banks where the freight from the primary harbors would be taken in smaller boats directly to the markets.

Like DaDaoCheng and Banka—were they primary harbors, or were the goods that were traded there freighted to and from ships that docked in Keelung or Danshui?

I wonder because I am curious how much of the tea, camphor, ect. that was traded in Banka or DaDaoCheng was freighted directly from there to China, England, etc., or how much was freighted up the river to ships at Danshui.

I guess that changed over time, as larger and larger ships were used? And as the rivers silted up? As the railroads began carrying more of the freight?

And I know there were customs houses and foreign consulates in DaDaoCheng pretty early on, but there were also customs houese in Keelung and DanShui, right? So where did the inspections take place? Were duties paid on imports in Danshui, or in DaDaoCheng? Or maybe the customs houses in DanShui and Keelung gradually became more important than the ones in Banka and DaDaoCheng, as more and more of the freight was unloaded in the primary harbors?

EyeDoc said...

(1) The 大甲溪 Bridge was built in 1881/2 under the order of 岑毓英. It was near 后里 in Taichung, not Monga, destroyed by floods only a few months later.

(2) Goods were traded and collected in Monga and Dua-du-tia (DaDaoChen) before being shipped via Danshui River to Danshui, the largest seaport in Taiwan in late 1800s and early 1900s, then exported. These two areas sub-served Danshui (it is now Tamsui again, BTW).

Patrick Cowsill said...

@John
"I wonder because I am curious how much of the tea, camphor, ect. that was traded in Banka or DaDaoCheng was freighted directly from there to China, England, etc., or how much was freighted up the river to ships at Danshui."

Look at the picture I put up. The Hsin Tien River, which becomes the Danshui (Tamsui) further down, was a lot higher and more swollen at one time. Still, I don't know the answer, but will keep an eye open for it (it's definitely worth a post). I think some ship-ships did dock upriver in Monga. I also know that smaller boats regularly ferried cargo upriver from both Monga and Dadaocheng going right back to the late 18th century. I just don't know the proportion right now. It would have changed, becoming smaller and smaller, with the gradual silting of the river. The silting of the river ruined the economy of Monga and was a major reason the town lost its prominence. At one time, it was one of the three most important ports in northern Taiwan.

"I wonder because I am curious how much of the tea, camphor, ect. that was traded in Banka or DaDaoCheng was freighted directly from there to China, England, etc., or how much was freighted up the river to ships at Danshui."

Once again, I don't know. You're right about the trading. Both towns had major trading houses for these products.

"I guess that changed over time, as larger and larger ships were used? And as the rivers silted up? As the railroads began carrying more of the freight?"

The trading houses in Monga, as far as I know, got most of their tea from the vicinity (Maokong, etc.), so I don't think the railroads ever contributed here to a loss of business. It's worth pointing out the Ching Dynasty installed the first railroad, a single (and lousy) line from Keelung to Hsinchu in the late 1880s / early 90s. By the time the Japanese started building up the system, Monga had already faded.

"And I know there were customs houses and foreign consulates in DaDaoCheng pretty early on, but there were also customs houese in Keelung and DanShui, right? So where did the inspections take place? Were duties paid on imports in Danshui, or in DaDaoCheng?"

I'll keep digging into the Consular reports to find an answer. This is the kind of thing covered regularly inside them. Thanks for the comments. Lots of things to think about here.

@eyedoc
"It was near 后里 in Taichung, not Monga, destroyed by floods only a few months later."

So the bridge was built? Interesting. Watters says: "The Ya chia river runs into the sea about 30 miles, I am told, south of Tamsui..."

It seems it was further than south. I was just surmising that it wasn't built. But the Consul did get how strong the torrents were. Thanks for the Chinese on Chen Ya-yung = 岑毓英; I knew the character for Chen was 岑. I just didn't know how to pronounce it. I found 梣, which is ㄔㄣ in the second tone, but not 岑.

I was aware that Danshui had been changed back to to Tamsui. There are stickers on the MRT with Tamsui covering up the previous Danshui. This surprised me, especially considering the current regime. Tamsui is Taiwanese. Do you know what it means and where it comes from?

EyeDoc said...

It should be Ta Chia, not Ya Chia.
And yes the Ta Chia bridge was built at huge expenses plus manpower mobilized from Hsin-chu and Changhua - complete with miles of dikes flanking the bridge. It was built over the objection of some engineers and sure enough, it was washed away in the summer of 1882, probably after a typhoon. The description of its location in Watters' report was off by quite a few miles.

岑毓英 (1829-1889) was later sent to southern China to fight (nominally) in the Sino-French war.

It is not a name change. It has always been Tamsui. The reversion from Danshui is purely for historical reasons. And Tamsui = fresh water, i.e., rain water - it rains all the time hence the name.