Described by the Daily Telegraph on its publication in 1912 as ‘Breezy, unconventional, garrulous and good-natured’ the description of this book could equally well apply to the author of this fascinating memoir of Victorian military life in the Indian Mutiny and the China Wars, ‘Cutting the cackle’ as Harris would put it, every page of this memoir has an arresting anecdote. One such is his memory of his first ‘blooding’ in the Mutiny: “My pay sergeant, Donovan, got another round shot, which took off his right arm high up at the shoulder, and the arm caught the adjutant, Coghill, right in the face. This incident, which when remembered in cold blood, is sufficiently horrible, seemed to me at the moment to be to be very amusing’. After his Indian service, Harris was sent to China where he took part in the storming of the Taku forts and the looting of Pekin (today’s Beijing) which won him his nickname ‘China Jim’ from the amount of precious booty – including jewels, jade, and roills of silk – that he carried away. Although he denies that he stole more than his comrades, Harris admits to filling ‘seven large baskets with loot of various kinds’. But when one of his Chinese coolies also turned his hand to looting, the unabashed author tells us, he was hanged. As a memoir of British imperialism at the arrogant peak of its 19th century heyday, this book cannot be beat!
Major-General J T Harris
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2010 N&M Press reprint (original pub 1912). SB.xii + 218pp
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