A Trip to China

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. -- 2 Timothy 3:16

This article was taken from the Methodist paper California Christian Advocate of 1916. It was written by Mrs. Eliza C. Gibson, wife of Rev. Otis Gibson.

Mrs. Eliza C. Gibson
(Photograph taken a year or two before sailing for China in 1855.)

Mr. Otis Gibson was appointed missionary to Foochow, China, in April, 1854. He graduated from Dickinson College in June and October received a telegram to leave for New York on the 10th. We reached New York and then learned that the ship had received orders not to go. So we went back to Northern New York. The secretary said he had written a letter telling us of the change, thinking it would reach us before we left. The latter part of December we were again ordered to go to New York as a ship was about to sail. The ship sailed all right, the 3rd of January, and Dr. Wentworth and wife, who were going to the same mission, sailed on her. But we did not go.

The Secretary of the M. E. Missionary Society, Dr. Durbin, sent to the New Jersey Conference for Mr. Gibson’s recommendation for ordination, and found that the Recording Secretary had neglected to write it in the minutes. So red tape said wait until the first Spring Conference meets in March, when the mistake will be corrected. So we were sent to New Haven to study Chinese from Dr. White, a former missionary in China, until another Conference session. Then in March we were told we could go home and say good-bye again. We went for a week, and then a telegram came a ship was leaving. The Baltimore Conference was in session. Mr. Gibson was recommended for ordination and was ordained April 2nd. We went down to the clipper ship, R. B. Forbes, with Capt. Ballard, bound for Shanghai to load for tea, but the day was dreadful. A gale was blowing and the dust in the streets of New York was like a sandstorm on the desert. The captain said he would not sail in such weather. Mrs. James, wife of Bishop James, who was there to see us off, invited us to her home to spend the day. We went to the ship to sleep as we were to have an early start, weather permitting. No cook on board yet, so we went on shore for breakfast. We hurried back, and when we came in sight, they motioned frantically for us to hasten. We ran up the gang plank, which was hastily pulled after us; the anchor was raised and we were of at last for China, the 3rd of April, 1855. Our fellow-passengers were Dr. and Mrs. Fish. Mrs. Fish was a lovely girl of eighteen years, whom we learned to love. The day proved beautiful. The sun shone. There was a gentle breeze, and we congratulated ourselves that probably we should not be seasick. The day was enjoyed and the next until about 4 p. m., when the wind began to rise. The ship rolled and pitched some, and we quietly, one by one, turned pale and went to our state rooms. We were seen no more on deck for days. I will draw a veil right here but must tell one incident.

The second night as we were supposed to be asleep, I heard an order given to pump ship. Now I know nothing of ship ways, but had read of pumping ship when filling with water and danger of sinking. Mr. Gibson was asleep in the upper berth and I would not waken him as I only wished that, like him, I could go down without knowing of our peril. The ship would rise on a wave and tremble and shake and settle, and I could fell it sinking. Then it would rise again and tremble and shake and sink. I kept thinking how our friends would wait for news of us and never know our fate. At last the pumping ceased, and I thought the leak must be stopped.

After I became pretty well acquainted with the captain I asked him if they ever pumped ship when there was no danger. He said all wooden ships leaked a little and [they(?) ... usually(?) tried(?)] them to see how much bilge water was in the hold.

No streamers went from New York to China in those days. (Our route lay S. S. E. on the Atlantic across the Equator and South Temperate Zone, below the Cape of Good Hope, along South Africa up northeast through the Torrid Zone again, the Indian Ocean, the Straits and China Sea; or our route lay around the Cape of Good Hope.) Day after day we saw the sky and the ocean, beautiful sunsets, starlit evenings, and new kinds of fish and birds. Very monotonous. When we were away south of the Cape of Good Hope the cold was intense. The captain had a little coal stove set up in the cabin, where we popped corn and made molasses candy. The Captain and our husbands took turns reading during the long winter evenings.

One Sunday we were all depressed. The barometer was falling, the wind was howling through the rigging, and a storm was brewing. In the night the mate came running to the captain’s door. We heard him say, “Man overboard, sir.” The captain bounded to the floor and ran on deck, ordered the ship put about, threw over a hen coop and other things, but it was dark as pitch and a terrible sea running. Soon the ship resumed her course and poor Jack was left to his fate. How sad we all felt. O, how we longed for a sight of land!

At length, after some 80 or more days, they told us we would soon see land. We sat up till after midnight straining our eyes, but saw only a cloud. In the morning, O glorious sight, Paradise lay before us. We had rounded Java Head and Angier with its green trees loaded with fruit, with its brilliant flowers lay before us. Scores of small boats came off with nude natives to sell all manner of tropical fruits, vegetables, monkeys, parrots, love birds, doves, cockatoos and canaries. We were becalmed there all day much to the chagrin of our captain, but to our great pleasure. We wanted to go ashore but the captain said we would go at our peril, for at the least breeze we would set sail. About dark a slight breeze came and we were off. But what a never to be forgotten day it was. Then we sailed through the Straits and felt the spicy breezes that blew soft o’er Ceylon’s Isle.

At last, after 95 days, we dropped anchor in Hong Kong Harbor. Everything was strange. Here again were the sampans (small boats) manned by men and women with clothes on, bringing things to sell. Mrs. Fish and I bought grass cloth for a dress. How could we help it when it was so nice.

We went ashore in one of the boats and were introduced to the sedan chair, which was to be our carriage for the next ten years. But I must hasten. Our ship went to Shanghai and we were bound for Foochow. There was no regular line to that place, and we must rely on a chance ship. After 3 weeks in Hongkong we heard of a ship going to Foochow to load with tea. Mr. Gibson went to see Capt. Patten. He was on shore and the mate told him to see Mrs. Patten. He told her of his dilemma. She said Josh would not take passengers, and moreover every stateroom was filled with cargo. He remarked how disappointed Mrs. Gibson would be. She said, “O, is there a Mrs. Gibson? I have not seen a white woman for over five months. Why, yes, Josh can take you as well as not. I’ll have a stateroom cleared out right away.” We sailed on the “Neptune’s Car” for Foochow. After a delightful trip of two weeks we were at our journey’s end, August 12, 1855.


The copyright of this article has expired.
Kindly provided to me by Jeffrey L. Staley of Seattle University.

Last updated: 2009/09/06