The Strange Story of
 
JamesTeer's Gold Watch 

 

Two years after the wreck, James Teer was presented with a gold watch in recognition of his services to the other survivors during their ordeal on the Auckland Islands. The presentation was made by a group of prominent citizens of Invercargill. New Zealand at the Colyer's Princess Hotel on 20th January 1868.

      

James Teer's Watch           

       

 Lower pictures by kind permission of Derek Torrens © 2011

In late 1869 James Teer decided to send the gold watch to his sister Margaret who had married a William Richard Bishop and now resided in Islington. London.

A good friend of the family Richard Gould was at that time an officer aboard the "Tartar" which was undergoing a refit in England prior to departure for Melbourne. It was arranged that Richard would collect the watch on arrival and take it back to Margaret in London.

The "Tartar" was a fine wooden vessel built in 1840 at the Blackwall yard London for Wignam & Green. The size of the ship was 529 tons, around half the size of the General Grant. The Blackwall yard was famous for producing high quality vessels. Among those built there were the "Bounty" and "Sea Witch" a noted Tea Clipper. The ship once refitted must have been quite spectacular sight, painted black with white trim and coppered to the sea line, she boasted a fine figurehead of an eastern warrior in flowing robes and brandishing a scimitar.

During the time that the ship was being refitted Richard Gould spent a great deal of his time visiting Margaret and William Bishop at their home in Islington.

On the 1st September 1870, the Tartar set sail for Australia via Drammen, Norway to pick up a cargo of wood bound for Melbourne. She enjoyed fair winds and an uneventful passage arriving in Melbourne in good time.

Once in Melbourne Richard Gould arranged with James Teer for the watch to be delivered from New Zealand by the hands of Capt Maguire master of a coastal schooner, to whom he received the watch and signed a receipt to that effect.

After unloading at Melbourne the Tartar sailed to Freemantle to take on another cargo of sandal wood destined for Shanghai.

Encountering following winds she arrived a few weeks earlier than expected which was to cause something of a problem. The intended cargo of tea for London was not yet ready - so rather that waste time sitting in harbor the Captain secured a local general cargo for Foochow (Fuzhou), and a return cargo of prop wood.

The voyage to Foochow was once again a good passage apart from one night off the north saddle of the Yang-tse-kiang they experienced a typhoon which caused more than a little concern. In arrival at the Min river they moored at the Pagoda anchorage, discharging their cargo and loading the pit props from Junks for the return journey. In all they remained  

When the ship was ready for sea they sailed down river until abreast of Sharp Peak. there was a heavy sea running across the bar with an inshore wind. Here they let slip the anchor and the Chinese pilot went ashore to await more conditions.  In due course the wind moderated and they put to sea. However the winds were still not in their favor and after a week of trying in vain to get Northward of the Island of Formosa (Tiawan) they had to give up and put back to the "White Dogs" anchorage and hold on the starboard anchor with 30 fathoms of cable.

 

Foochow (Fuzhou) Top Centre Right & Formosa (Taiwan)

The next day work began on making good the damage sustained during their fruitless efforts to head North. Although the wind worsened the next day, the ship was safely moored and sheltered from the storm.

On the Wednesday the Captain and Officers were at breakfast when the starboard cable parted, the port anchor was let go, and the spare anchor put over the starboard bow and the end of the broken cable shackled on. The Captain decided to let the ship drag until the anchor brought the ship up. Although the winds were high the weather was otherwise good and it was considered that the ship was not in danger as long as the cable held.

Next day Thursday 6th October 1871 - the ship lay windward of the "Warning Rocks" some seven mile away. By midday the wind had increased again and the Captain decided to slip the cable and run for one of the Southerly ports of Amoy, Swatow, or Hong Kong to re-fit.

The Captain set a course to pass the rocks wide on the port bow, but the lookout reported a spit of sand ahead, by this time the wind had got up and was blowing half a gale, and the sea boiled. The fore top-sail split from top to bottom on the starboard side. Next the fore topmast staysail tore to ribbons. As the opened out to clear the rocks, sail had to be made before the ship became unmanageable. Two hands were sent aloft to clear away the gaskets of the mainsail , the sheet was hauled aft and tackle got ready for the tack. Just then a mighty sea rose on the port quarter and it was "Hold on All" as it broke aboard. It swept everything moveable on the main deck down into the starboard scuppers. A cry came from the poop "The Captain is overboard", but he was found flung into the starboard mizzen rail. The shock ad stunned him, and after seeing him made comfortable below, Gould assumed charge.

Gould searched the shoreline with his binoculars. A rocky coastline stretched out from the starboard bow right astern, but he picked out a reef with smooth water inside. The binoculars were passed around so that every man might see his only chance. The ship was timber laden and if she was run upon the reef, she would either remain upon the reef or plunge right over into smoother water. At least there was a chance of safety for all or some of the crew. The men rallied like heroes. The second mate was sent forward to set the jib, and the rags of the mainsail clewed up. As the jib was being carefully sheeted, not too flat, the collar of the stay parted and a heavy sea struck the  ship on the port bow. She began to forge ahead, and gather steerage way, two men manning the wheel. A village appeared on the port bow and the helm was set to steer for it. The Captain came on deck again, still dazed from the fall, but there was no time to debate what to do. When the ship struck on a sunken rock and remained fast, the Captain embraced his Chief Officer, and said, "Mr Gould you have done nobly, and I'll never forget you as long as I live". The crew crowded round patting him on the back and calling down blessings on him for their delivery from imminent peril.  

 

 Although the "Tartar" had grounded, the crews position was still perilous in the extreme; they could see the Chinese gathering on the shore, and knew they were notorious pirates, with little regard for human life. Still something had to be done, and Dick Gould called for a volunteer boat's crew to go with him ashore and attempt to get a message to the British Consul at Foochow. Seven men stepped forward at once; four were chosen, including two Chinese passengers, and the Chinese supercargo.

Before leaving Gould took the second officer Herbert Gardner into his cabin and entrusted him with the gold presentation watch to take home to London and deliver it to Mrs Bishop for him should he never return from his desperate venture. The watch with its gold Albert. a nugget and three jade ornaments attached were housed in the same drawer as Gould's own watch. The volunteer crew left behind all valuables and put off for the shore.

As they approached land they could see the inhabitants running to meet them, and realising with horror that man was armed chiefly with hand hatchets. The boat was put about and in the effort to do so, two of the oars snapped. They decided to let the boat drift, prefering to go down in the sea rather than be cut to pieces by pirates. Presently they got into broken water and though the boat filled she still carried them to shore, where again the inhabitants were waiting for them. The boats crew saw to their horror that they too were armed, and resolved that when the boat struck they would scatter in the hope that some at least might get away. But it was to no avail; they were stripped and searched, but their lives were spared. The boat was cut to pieces and the fragments carried off.

Gould with two of his crew and the Chinese supercargo succeeded in getting clear, although bare footed and practically naked. Presently topping a slight elevation, they came in sight of a village, with some junks riding at anchor. They decided to risk entering the village. The inhabitants crowded round them, with every sign of curiosity. The carried on into the village where they met a Manderin with his attendants. Their Chinese comrade when ahead and related their plight to the Manderin after some time he came running back; "Mate, Manderin one number one good man, say givee clo, givee chow, givee bed".

Profound thanks were given to the Manderin , and conducted by a chinese soldier, they were led to a temple. There, to their joy they found the other two members of the boat's crew and the two chinese passengers. They were given dry clothes rice, tea and a bamboo pipe of tobacco. Nobody slept that night as all were torn with anxiety about the fate of their shipmates.

 

Next morning more rice was brought, and Gould asked permission of the Manderin to send one of his crew with a gaurd, to seek information about the ship. Permission was granted and in the afternoon the men returned with news that the ship's masts were overboard and that she was covered with people. Three days later, after the Manderin had paid a ransom of $100, the Captain and the rest of the crew arrived,  having decided to leave the ship after seeing the Chief Officer,s boat along the coast. On landing they were stripped. The Captain was wearing a ring on his finger, and but for the fact he tore it off and gave it to the pirates they would have cut his finger off to secure it

When sacking the ship , the Chinese made the crew taste everything in the store room to show that it was safe. They donned all the clothes they could find, one of them dressed up in Gould's best suit and pretended to play one of his violins, and wearing as a crowning touch the captains hat box. The shipwrecked crew remained in the village for ten days and received every from the inhabitants.

At the end of their stay they were place on board a junk in charge of a Chinese official. Each man was provided with a dollar's worth of cash, and were ferried over to the mainland, landing at a little tributary, on the canal which leads to the Min, just opposite Pagoda its anchorage. The marched all day and that evening arrived at a lodging house, where they had blocks of wood on the floor for pillows, and a flickering lamp in the roof. Worst of all was the stench, so strong, that they spent the night outside on the ground.

Next day about noon, they reached the walled city of Fuking. The inhabitants crowded round them when two white men appeared. American Baptist Missionaries who could not do enough for the shipwrecked men, and provided food and lodgings for the night. Next morning they set them on their way, and even furnished palanquines for those too weary to walk. They marched on and in the afternoon had to take refuge hurriedly  in a marsh to avoid the inhabitants of a village who's demeanor was threatening. About four o clock in the morning they boarded a junk which bore them across the Min and landed them at Pergoda Place

In due course an inquiry was held into the loss of the 'Tartar', the court consisting of Lieutenant Shaw of HM Gunboat 'Elk', with two merchant captains as assessors. The Captain, Gould and the ships carpenter Steven Meek, of Falmouth, gave evidence, and the court found the loss was due to "stress of weather".  

 

Arrangements were made to send the crew home as distressed mariners, but Gould was offered the post of chief officer of the barque "Hannah Nicholson"  of Melbourne, with the promise of  a command on arrival in Australia. Before leaving Gould wrote out a full account of the wreck, which he entrusted to Mr Gardner, the second mate, to be delivered to Mrs Bishop on arrival in London. This duty Mr Gardener performed. 

Two years after accepting the post of Chief Officer of the barque "Hannah Nicholson" of Melbourne in 1873, Dick Gould arrived home in Newcastle on a visit to his parents to find that he was being accused of having stolen James Teers watch and having sold it to the Chinese.

Naturally he was absolutely flabbergasted to find such an embarrassing story circulating in his home town. The rumors were put about in such a way as to be almost impossible to trace, but there is no doubt that pressure was put on Mrs Bishop to prosecute Gould. He soon returned to sea, and on arriving home again in 1875 he married and settled down. The rumors still persisted, and through a newspaper report, Gould learned that a further enquiry had been made into the  circumstances of the wreck of the "Tartar".

A report had been made on 4th December 1871, by Mr Charles Sinclair, HM Consul at Foochow, to Thomas F Wade CB, HM Envoy Extraordinary at Peking, to the effect that the crew had been stripped and robbed of all they possessed and the wreck looted of all it contained. A further enquiry was made by the Commander-in-Chief, China Station under the directions of Lord Derby, Foreign Secretary, which brought to light some further facts.

Mr Sinclair wrote to the Tartar General requesting him to give orders for the apprehension and punishment of the villagers concerned in the plunder of the "Tartar", and for the restitution of the stolen property or indemnity for the losses. The Tartar General placed the matter in the hands of the Trade Committee. On the 9th March 1872 the Consul received a despatch from the Trade Committee stating that the villagers denied the charges brought against them, but that four hundred and six poles, a ships chronometer, a silver watch and a field glass had been recovered from them: that the headman of the village had been beaten, and fined one hundred dollars for a gold watch and chain which they acknowledged had been taken by a relation of one of them, who had since disappeared. Surely proof enough for any reasonable person of the truth of Dick Gould's story. Nevertheless the malicious whispers went on. Even quarter of a century later, when an account of the wreck of the "General Grant" appeared in the "Wide World" magazine the triumphant sneer was "Now we'll know what became of James Teer's  watch!"

Still conscious of his own integrity and unwilling to give his slanderers any further publicity, Dick Gould took no further action. He never lost faith that in good time the truth would prevail, and his character vindicated. A remote chance one would say: the watch had disappeared, and in all probability, had been melted down shortly after the pillage of the wreck. But trite though saying is, "truth is stranger than fiction". One morning in September 1908, Mr Gould was aroused by a thundering at the door of his residence. The caller could only blurt out in his excitement "Captain Gould, Captain Gould, Teer's watch is found!" Calming his excited informant, Mr Gould learned that a rumor was going round that enquiries had come from New Zealand seeking for relatives of James Teer: that a Chinaman had been converted to Christianity, and finding the watch among his fathers possession's sought to make restitution.

At last the calumnies of over forty years were to be refuted. James Teer had died in Port Melbourne in 1889: the last survivor of the "Tartar" had died in June 1908, and Dick Gould alone was left to identify the watch. He resolved to secure it, and to fulfill the trust he had undertaken so long ago, by restoring it, not to Mrs Bishop, (who had died) but to her husband and eldest daughter.

 

And now began a long and weary correspondence: to the British Consul at Foochow, to missionary societies in Foochow and to their headquarters in London, Boston and New York. Also to the Police Authorities in New Zealand. The first replies were not encouraging as the lapse in time made it well-nigh impossible to retrace events of nearly forty years earlier in China, but the missionary societies promised to make all possible enquiries.

The first ray of light came from the Inspector of Police in Invercargill New Zealand, who wrote to say the original enquirey came from Wong Kaik Chung, through an employee of the Chinese Post Office in Foochow: Mr Gould immediately wrote to Wong, and cabled his name and address to the British Consul in Foochow, to enable him to make definite enquirys. A reply, dated 30th December 1908, was received from the Consul at Foochow from which the following text was taken: "Of the identity of the watch there is no question, for I have seen it, and it bears an inscription stating that it was presented to Mr Teer. Wong Kaik Chung alleges that he bought the watch at a shop in Foochow City. I have asked him on what terms he is willing to surrender it to you. He has replied that he wishes to arrange terms personally by correspondence. I have no power to make him give up the watch for at this distance in time, I take it to prove unlawful possession would be impossible. "I can however certify, and do so certify that the watch entrusted to you in 1871 for transmission to Teer's sister was not appropriated by you but has since, been in the possession of Chinese in the city of Foochow, and is presently owned by an employee of the Chinese Imperial Post Office named Wong Kaik Chung". 

Here at last, was definite evidence, but many difficulties had to be cleared up before the watch could be returned to this country. Mr Gould held nothing back but he had made a full statement of all the relevant facts and had further obtained the authority of Mr Bishop to act for him as representative of his late wife. Some of Mr Teer's relatives put in a claim as next of kin, in spite of the fact that Mr Teer had parted with the watch for transmission to his sister years before his death. Subsequently they were to forward to Foochow: through a solicitor: an affidavit: purporting to describe an article that none of them had ever seen.

 

At last a reply came from Wong, dated 12th May 1909, in which he asked how much Mr Gould would offer for the watch. Mr Gould was unwilling to acquire the watch by any means other than entirely above board, but was willing, assuming Wong to be an innocent participator, to recompense him for his out of pocket outlay. The intervention of the Foreign Office was sought through the late Jeremia McVeagh, MP, but the net result of protracted correspondence was that owing to the lapse of time and the rival claimants in the field, the Foreign Office declined to act.

Finally acting on the advice of a friend, Mr Gould laid the whole facts of the case before the great Irishman Sir Robert Hart, founder of the Chinese Customs. Sir Robert's reply was prompt and to the point. He returned Mr Gould's letter, with an endorsement, advising him to send it on to Sir Robert Bredon acting Inspector General of customs at Peking. Here again action was prompt, and Mr Gould received a letter dated 3rd June 1910, from the Postal Secretary at Peking to say that he had instructed Wong to forward the watch to Mr Gould ans asking him to remit to Wong the sum of $40 his rightful claim for out of pocket expences. Mr Gould immediately remitted the sum of 8 pounds stirling to the Postal Secretary.  

He was astounded therefor to receive a letter from Wong dated 20th June 1910, stating that he had deposited the watch with the British Consul at Foochow: this in spite of the direct orders he had received from his superior, the Postal Secretary at Peking. The Consul's action in accepting it was also strange, in view of the disinclination of the Foreign Office to take any action. Perhaps it was a case of saving face, so important to the Chinese.

Mr Gould received a letter on the 5th September ,1910, that the watch had at last been dispatched to him on the 27th of the previous month. Weeks passed and at last on the 11th October1910, thirty-nine years and five days, after the wreck of the "Tarter", a message arrived from the Post Office, Newcastle, that a registered packet had arrived from China for Mr Gould

He went at once to the Post Office with his daughter, and there, in the presence of the staff the parcel was opened by the postmistress who then and there made a statement setting out the description of the parcel and contents. So, at long last, the watch came home, but not with the chain and attachments as described by the Consul: instead were its key, and Mr Gould's own chain, which had been attached to his own watch in the drawer on the Tartar. Further letters to Wong, enquiring for Mr Gould's own watch, and the missing chain and attachments, remained unanswered.

Subsequent details regarding the watch are somewhat vague. It seems however, that after he identified the watch, Gould kept it in his possession pending the publication of a public apology, by those who had accused him of retaining it, and the reimbursement of what he had been out of pocket personally in his efforts to locate it. This the relatives of James Teer were not inclined to do, so Gould held onto the watch.

 

For almost forty years nothing more was heard of the watch but about 1948, it and the story of the "General Grant" and the "Tart-ar" again hit the headlines. Apparently while perusing through Gould's belongings his daughter, Mrs Una Torrens (of Canal Street. Newry) discovered the watch. Though aged 69 she immediately took up the task of tracing relatives of James Teer. Mrs Bishop (for whom the watch had been intended) and Dick Gould had both passed away. At last Mrs Torrens succeeded and dispatched the watch to Mrs Sarah Sharp, grand-daughter of the late Mrs Bishop, who resided at Donnington Avenue Ilford  Essex. And so "finis" was written to a drama of death and suspicion, sea wrecks and Chinese pirates reaching back some 83 years and stretching across the world.

When Mrs Sharp received the watch, she commented: "I knew nothing of my adventurous Grand-Uncle', James Teer, until Mrs Torrens wrote sending me the watch. I am most grateful for all the trouble she has gone to, and the wonderful story she has told me about James Teer. He must have been a fine man".  

Dragon Black

Where is the James Teer watch now?

Philip's comments 

 It is over sixty years since the watch was returned to the Teer family. I now know that it remains to this day within the family, who keep it secure at their bank.

 Note

 The story of James Teer's watch has been published in numerous magazines, this article, which is the most detailed was previously published in "The wreck of the General Grant also The Newcastle Fishing Disaster of 1843" by Mourne Observer Press. Newcastle Co Down 1962.


Crew of the “Tartar

Supplied to Richard Gould by  Oliver and Wilson. Leadenhall Street. London 

G. W. Bush Captain 
R.T. Gould Mate 
Herbert Gardner 2nd Do. 
Stephen Meek Carpenter 
Carl Gullensin A.B. 
A Johannesen A.B. 
Charles Patterson O.S. 
John D. Solomon O.S. 
Nathaniel Prynn boy 
James Sullivan Cook & Steward 
George Williams A.B. promoted from A.B. on 2 Aug. 1871 
Charles McKenzie A.B. 
Charles Smith A.B. 
J.N. Mistler A.B.
 
the last four of the above joined abroad as two of the original crew left in Australia, and four at Changhai. 

The names of these men are: 
John E. Johns Cook & Steward 
H. Christiansen A.B 
Julius Olsen A.B. 
John Fouley A.B. 
Henry McKay A.B. 
J.S. Waller A.B.