Friday, October 17, 2008

Beleaguered in Peking and Annie Chamot

Earnshaw Books is really churning out the excellent reprints. Robert Coltman’s Beleaguered in Peking filled a gap in my reading – the first-hand memoir, published almost immediately after the Boxer Rebellion was suppressed in 1900 as it had plenty to say on the mishandling of the Boxers and the subsequent siege by many leading diplomats including the US Ambassador Conger and that much overrated old fool Sir Claude MacDonald. Coltman takes us inside the besieged legations of Peking, describing the diplomatic missteps, daring sorties, broken friendships and international camaraderie during the siege.

I was especially interested in the light the book throws on one of the most interesting foreign women in Peking around the turn of the century and who became well known during the Siege.

Annie-Elizabeth McCarthy arrived in Peking on the eve of the Boxer Rebellion to marry Auguste Chamot, a Swiss hotel entrepreneur from Penthaz in Switzerland. Auguste’s French brother-in-law was working in Peking at the Hôtel de Pékin, the city’s most luxurious western-style hotel. Chamot was just 17 but very ambitious. He started out as a fairly lowly garçon de salle but was promoted every year until he eventually became the proprietor and director of the hotel in 1900. He married Annie McCarthy from San Francisco and they soon became a formidable pair tested in the Siege of the Legations as the Boxers attacked the foreign enclave of Peking in 1900. Auguste established a much needed bakery in the besieged British Legation that turned out hundreds of loaves a day. Annie was one of the few women trapped in the Legations who had a knowledge of guns – indeed she was a marksman, her father had taught her to be a crack shot in the basement of their San Francisco home, and so took her turn on sentry duty along with the men. When a group of Belgians found themselves cut off by Boxers and running out of ammunition, Auguste and Annie led a rescue party and succeeded in bringing the men back safely.

The Chamots were duly decorated for their bravery during the Siege by several governments later, though perhaps more usefully for them they had become seriously wealthy having bought up many Chinese treasures looted by the allied troops that relieved the Legations at bargain prices from the eager for cash foreign troops.

Someone should do a bio of Auguste and Annie they deserve it.


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