Friday, 13 March 2015

PC 119 George BAIRD - a story fit for Indiana Jones

  © Copyright Karl Peet and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

George declared his father to be Raemer Baird a seaman from Tayport in Fife.  In 1869 Raemer had been stroke rower in the “Rocke” which came second in the Champion four-oared race held by the Newport Amateur Rowing Club.  George was born on 2 September 1876 in Dundee with the only distinguishing feature being a mole on the back of his neck.  At 14 years of age he was living in Ferry Port on Craig and working in the local jute mill with his elder brother.

At the age of 19 George enlisted with the Royal Marines in Dundee and became Private 7720.  His first eight months were spent training in Walmer, Kent before being transferred to the Plymouth Division.  In March 1897 George joined HMS Imperieuse at Esquimalt in British Columbia just in time for the ship’s short cruise south to Acapulco.  Later in the year HMS Imperieuse, which was flagship of the North Pacific squadron, left Esquimalt for a longer journey reported later to have been “full of incident and adventure as any naval man can expect to enjoy during piping times of peace”.  The destination?   The Cocos Island.  Much secrecy surrounded the trip but it was eventually revealed that the intention was to search for buried treasure.  One of the guests on board was Mr Harford who, having previously visited the island, claimed he knew the whereabouts of a cache of buried treasure – he certainly had a chart.  On arrival no time was lost in sending parties of men ashore.  The newspapers reported:

Digging for thirty millions is fascinating employment and although it was raining hard the watch responded with alacrity when Lieutenant Lee informed them that all were to go ashore and “dig diamonds”. 

The digging was commenced at a spot indicated on the chart and designated by Harford.  At a depth of five or six feet he said a large flat stone or slab would be discovered out of which he had previously chiselled the distinguishing number that it had originally borne.  The slab was found at the depth stated and there was no lack of energy in compliance when Harford next gave the order to dig ten or twelve feet deeper where the tunnel would be struck leading to the cavern of gold and jewels.

The continuous rain made the work extremely difficult but it was nevertheless continued until a depth of ten feet was reached with no disclosures.  At this point the water had so filled the pit that a large overhanging rock was seen to sway from the under-mining and Lt. Lee retired his men just in time to avert a serious fatality.  The rock completely filled the excavation made and more than neutralized the work accomplished.  Instead of blasting out the rock and continuing operations according to the original plan Admiral Palliser ordered a blast in the hillside itself and this being done without result the Imperieuse turned her prow and steamed homeward despite the pleadings from Harford

A story fit for Indiana Jones !

Most of 1898 was spent in Esquimalt with just a short cruise to Acapulco in May. On 1 April 1899 HMS Imperieuse sailed from Esquimalt for England with final calls at Acapulco, Panama, Guayaquil, Callao, Iquique and Coquimbo arriving in England on 12 August 1899.  George’s next posting was to HMS Vivid and a few weeks later the Admiralty announced that 40 volunteers were required for the Hong Kong Police.  George slapped in his application.

The volunteers embarked on the Glen Line Steamer “Glenfarg” at London on 2 February 1900 and arrived in Hong Kong on 27 March.  The following day at 3.30pm the Governor inspected the whole of the Police Force in the compound at Central Police Station.  The new recruits lined up at the rear of the European contingent and it was reported that they had signed on for a period of 5 years on pay of $75 per month.

These new recruits were needed in order to expand the Hong Kong Police following the leasing of the New Territories to Britain in 1898.   As a temporary measure matsheds had been constructed for use as police stations and by 1900 new stations had been built at Ping Shan, Tai Po and Au Tau.

Health became a real issue for anyone posted to these rural stations.  Near to Au Tau Police Station could be found a swampy island which was home to a Leper colony.  Plague was prevalent on Cheung Chau Island and malaria was rife throughout the New Territories.  The Medical Officer recommended that the paddy fields adjoining the Sha Tau Kok Police Station be resumed and reclaimed as the constant stagnant water on them provided a breeding place for the Anopheles mosquito.  A further recommendation was that Eucalyptus trees be planted on the damp areas at the base of hills as this would help drain the swampy grounds. 

George proved himself to be a conscientious and hard working officer whilst his good nature gained him numerous friends.  Sadly George lasted less than 18 months in Hong Kong.  He died of Typhoid fever at 11.30pm on Sunday 15 September 1901.  He was buried in Section 2 of the Hong Kong Colonial Cemetery – Grave 6450 – during the afternoon of 16 September.  The funeral was well attended and the many floral offerings showed how well George was regarded.