The day began badly. It started to rain, mixing the red brick dust into muddy slop in the courtyards. It was 16 July 1900 and George Ernest Morrison, along with 472 other civilians, a garrison of about 400 soldiers of Japanese and various European nationalities, and more than 3000 Chinese refugees, had been under siege for a month.
The Boxers, the fanatical anti-foreigners, acting with the connivance of the ruthless Dowager Empress and with the help of the Chinese armed forces, had surrounded the legations in the imperial capital of Peking on 18 June. At any time, it seemed, they could call up the heavy artillery, smash the brick buildings to pieces and obliterate the foreign devils who they believed had feasted on China and tortured its people at gunpoint for half a century.