Book Review: The Boxer Rebellion by Adrian Musgrave
On Friday evening, my seventy-five-pound dog decided to go after a rabbit. (No…this has nothing to do with the book; well…sort of) and in the ensuing thrilling moment of potential chase, he almost ripped my left arm out of its socket. So by Saturday I was pretty much drugged-up and lying with a heating pad wrapped around my shoulder trying to quash the pain. It seemed like a good time as any to check my email, and lo-and-behold something led me to twitter, where I saw an announcement about this little book. I immediately hit the link and read the blurb. I also saw that the author had several other books about various actions happening at that time.
My grandfather was alive and a career man in the British army at the time of the Boxer Rebellion. Luckily he didn’t end up over there. He was, however, in the Boer War and various other theatres during the years of his enlistment. He was a Lieutenant Colonel when he retired from the British army.
It wasn’t hard to get right into the story. According to the author, Adrian Musgrave, he is the great-nephew of the man who experienced all this story retells. He used his notes, photos, and diaries to put the short book together. It’s about sixty pages in length, so a fast read. Took me about an hour.
I won’t bother going into the background of the Boxer Rebellion. I will simply give you an amazing link to Wikipedia. Someone did a heckuva job putting the article together on that site. Just fantastic, with everything you could ever want to know, including statistics and photos and art work from the period. Well done!!!
Here’s the link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxer_Rebellion
Here’s Amazon’s blurb on the book:
Called back from his honeymoon by an urgent telegram from the New York Times, George Clarke Musgrave settled his new wife at her family home in New Jersey, and then left for San Francisco on 9th July 1900, from where he sailed for China. His brief was to travel with the American force that was part of an eight-nation alliance with Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Austro-Hungary, Japan and Russia, mounting what was termed the “China Relief Expedition.” Earlier in the year, hundreds of Chinese Christians and foreign missionaries had been viciously attacked and killed in China’s Northern provinces. This violence and blood-letting came to a head with the murder of the German Minister in Peking, at which time most foreigners and many Chinese converts fled to the foreign legations in the city where they were promptly besieged by a large force that called itself the “Righteous Harmony Fists,” but which the press had labelled the Boxers. The objective of the multi-national force was to rescue the foreign nationals.
There is no material relevant as an introduction for this book. In fact, there is no book to draw from, neither are there any newspaper articles or reports. Instead, we have only a collection of notes, diary entries, photographs, military briefings and despatches covering the four weeks spent in China. For such an experienced, committed and prolific writer, this is something of a surprise, but the clues lie in the tenor of the words that he uses to describe the horror, the brutality and the sheer trauma of his experiences. Horror and brutality were no strangers to our author, who had experienced war in many theatres, but he had seen nothing like this. Describing his entry into Tientsin, he says; “I could have likened it only to walking into the depths of Hades itself. The overpowering stench was more revolting than any I had suffered, and was matched in intensity only by the visual horrors before us. Thousands of people milled aimlessly from ruin to ruin; or squatted, expressionless, like dumb animals unaware that they were about to be slaughtered. Putrid corpses lay rotting in the streets, while women and children ran in terror from the carnage around them or stood huddled, almost comatose, in abject groups.”
The march from Tientsin to Peking and the relief of the Legations is documented in some detail but worse – much worse – was to follow. The closing notes describe the aftermath of the expedition, when military order was replaced by chaos. In the days following the entry of the alliance forces into Peking, there began an orgy of looting, execution, rape, torture and murder, described as “an unfolding kaleidoscope of human behaviour more nightmarish and more brutal than any of us could have believed possible.”
And here lies the reason why our author penned no words for publication. In a note describing his final hours in the city, together with a group of three fellow correspondents, he wrote; “not one of us had ever known such an assault on the senses; not one of us had ever been exposed to such obscene visions of reality. In our hearts we all knew, we had a silent understanding and a shared pledge that there are things we must not write, and that may not be printed for our readers, which show that this Western civilization of ours is merely a veneer over savagery.”
Here’s the blurb on the real Author, the great uncle of Adrian Musgrave, George Clarke Musgrave:
Born in 1874 George Clarke Musgrave answered the Reaper’s call in 1932 and now lies at rest with his parents at Swanage in the beautiful countryside of Dorset. I did not know him but, for more than a decade now, I have lived with him, walked with him and dreamed with him. The sad reality is that now he has gone, he can no longer recount his life and times to you in person and that task has slipped several branches down the family tree to me. It is with some trepidation, and a keen desire to keep true to his memory, that I have dedicated myself to channelling for you the stories of this fascinating, multi-faceted, complex character.
George Clarke Musgrave’s time in this world carried him through the great challenges and changes of the reigns of Victoria, Edward VII and George V. His life, his travels, his work and his writings, though, were always more closely aligned with the reformers, the heroes, the visionaries and the Empire builders of the 19th century, than with the dour and stifling traditionalists of the 20th. Following service in the British Army, brought to a premature end by injury and subsequent medical discharge, George Clarke became a war correspondent, journalist and author, seeing action with both British and American forces in a number of conflicts across the world. He also wrote a number of books but these are now out of print and genuine editions are rare and expensive. It is my firm belief, though, that his words should be read and, in seeking to bring his library back to life, my intent here is twofold: firstly, to present for you authentic adaptations of our author’s original works, written with a particular focus on preserving the action, the excitement, the drama and the emotion of his original narrative and, secondly, to knit together the diverse and tangled threads of his career which spanned some twenty five years in which he grew from a raw but determined twenty-one-year-old neophyte of the media circus to a seasoned, brilliantly analytical and highly respected observer of war.
So, come with us to the Ashanti territories; to Garcia’s Santiago; to the lands of the Transvaal; the battlefields of France; the brutal hotbed of rebellion in China; and the glorious vastness of America. Share with us the raw brutality, the traumas and the evils of war tempered with an undying admiration for the men and women who have lived and loved, suffered and triumphed in its fighting. Discover in these writings my attempts to chronicle the joys, the tears, the pleasures, the pain and the blessings of a life that George Clarke Musgrave always tried to live well.
I’m not going to include an excerpt from the book. You don’t need one. It’s super cheap on kindle and well worth the read. Great for anyone who is a history buff. I certainly rate it 5 stars*****!