The Second Battle of Canton
Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines
Period/ Conflict: Opium Wars
Date/s: 24 May 1841
On May 21 Chinese forces attempted a night ambush on British positions in the hills to the north of Canton but were repelled. By 2:00 am on the 24th a contingent of naval and land units under Maj. Gen. Hugh Gough assembled, ready to attack the city.
The right column, towed by the steamer Atlanta, comprised around 330 men of the 26th Cameronian, Madras Artillery and an officer of the Engineers. They were to attack and hold the factories with support from the men-of-war anchored on the Canton River. The left column towed by Nemesis consisted of more than 700 troops drawn from regiments that included the 49th Foot, 27th Madras Infantry and Bengal Volunteers along with 380 Royal Marines.
The right column reached its objective by 5:00 pm under Maj. Pratt of the 26th Cameronians, who held his men ready for defensive or offensive action. The large number of troop-carrying vessels under tow by Nemesis slowed her progress and she did not reach the bank next to the village of Tsing-Hae, some five miles up river, until dusk.
Gough landed with the 49th Foot and carried out reconnaissance while other troops unloaded artillery from the ships. In his official report he later noted, "The heights to the north of Canton were crowned by four strong forts and the city walls, which run over the southern extremity of these heights, appeared to be about three miles and a half distant.
"At 3:00 and already under bombardment from the two Western forts, British troops set up a rocket battery, two 5½ mortars, two 12-pounder howitzers and two nine-pounder guns, then returned fire. Under cover of the artillery, Lt. Col. Morris and the 49th, supported by the 37th Madras Native Infantry and Bengal Volunteers, had orders to advance up a hill to his left towards the nearest eastern fort.
Meanwhile, the 18th Royal Irish under Maj. Gen. Burrell, with the Royal Marines in support, were to move forward to protect Morris' flank. At the same time Gough ordered the brigade of seamen to attack the two western forts but the sudden approach of a large body of enemy troops from the right forced him to detach the marines under Capt. Ellis to cover the right and rear. Together with an artillery brigade under the command of Capt. Knowles, Royal Artillery and the crews and troops of the attached naval squadrons, Gough had a total of around 6,000 men under his command.
When the advance sounded, the troops attacked, captured the four forts with comparatively small losses, and within a half-hour "British troops looked down on Canton within 100 paces of its walls.