In transcribing the following article from the Hathi Trust online version of a copy of the Illustrated London News in the University of Michigan Library, I have used ABBYY software to produce the text below. I have added subtitles and links to material in the Victorian Web — George P. Landow
Opium Packages. Click on images to enlarge them.
The Turkish opium is made into flat cakes, and was at one time the only kind of the drug in use. The Indian opium is of two descriptions—the Bengal and the Malwa. The former is cultivated and manufactured by the East India Company, and is much esteemed lor its taste by the Chinese. About two pounds of pure opium is rolled up by the hands into a ball, and covered with from ten to fifteen layers of the poppy-leaf, till it is the size of a thirty-two pound shot. These balls are then packed in a chest two feet eight inches in length, nineteen inches in breadth, and fifteen inches deep. There are two tiers or layers of balls placed between divisions of wood, and every interstice is filled up with the dried leaves of the poppy. The chest is then caulked up air-tight, and water-tight, and covered with a green hide, which is sewed on all over it. Coarse canvess is next bound round it, and the whole secured by rope lashings; the Company’s distinguishing mark is then conspicuously affixed—the letters signifying the United East India Company. It is now sold by the government authorities to the merchants at public auctions.
The Malwa opium is grown in the native states, and is packed in chests containing 140 lb., done up in lumps or cakes about the size of a small roll.
At what period it was first introduced into China cannot now be correctly ascertained, but it is upon record that up to the year 1780 the Portuguese (who bad gained a permanent footing at Macao) were the chief if not the only suppliers of this article to the Celestial Empire. About that time (1780), however, the English commenced the sale of the drug, by establishing a depot to the southward of Macao, and only 200 or 300 chests were annually imported, paying a duty of about 20s. per chest, besides a packing charge amounting to about 16s. 9d. per chest; but there can be no doubt that even , thus early opium smuggling—though not to any very great extent— was carried on by the officers of the company’s ships, as well as the ships of private merchants : it was reserved for later times to man and arm a small fleet especially adapted to the purpose.
Whether there is anything peculiar in the physical or intellectual organization of the Chinese, so as to render them more than any other nation attached to the smoking of opium, is not relevant here, but certainly as the intoxicating influences of the drug became more generally known, so in proportion did the demand for it increase, till, in the course of a few years, instead of 200 or 300 chests, the annual importation amounted to several thousand chests.
The baneful effects produced upon the human constitution by an immoderate indulgence in smoking this drug aroused the attention of some of the better-disposed amongst the Chinese authorities, and about the year 1796 the importation of opium was not only entirely prohibited, but a severe punishment was ordered to be inflicted upon all who were detected in smoking it. But the traffic had now as a pecuniary matter become of considerable national importance, for, as the Chinese made us pay for all our teas in hard cash, so also, in return, the opium-dealers received back that money in payment for opium.
The decree was certainly issued, and war-junks were fitted out to pnt a stop to smuggling; but the high prices caused by prohibition, and the determination of the people themselves to indulge in this pernicious luxury, enabled the smugglers to give large bribes to the mandarins and officers of customs; so that the trade, instead of decreasing, became every succeeding year more and more extensive and lucrative, as the following statement will testify :—In 1798 the quantity imported was about 4200 chests, which fluctuated for the next ten years, but during the whole interval the prices had actually trebled. In 1808 the number of chests imported was 4208. In 1818 the prices had more than quadrupled, and the quantity was rather less, but in 1828 the quantity had nearly doubled, for in that year the number of chests was 7700, and so rapidly did it continue to in-crease that in 1832 no less than 10,638 chests were imported. In In 1833 the number was 12, 223; in 1834 it was 12,977; in 1835 it had increased to 14,745; and so went on progressing till the time of the open rupture, when the importation for that year, it is said, would have amounted to 40,000 chests, valued at upwards of four millions in money. The above calculations (excepting the last) are for Calcutta alone, but there was also a considerable quantity exported to China from Bombay and Damaun. The number of Chinese addicted to the habit has been variously estimated, but may, on a moderate computation, be taken at three millions, though in all probability that amount is greatly exceeded in reality.
The poppy was principally reared in the fertile districts of Bengal, Behar, and Benares, at first by private individuals; but, as the trade grew into greater importance, the East India Company took it into their own hands, by farming the whole of the produce. It was afterwards discovered that it would grow luxuriantly in Malwa and Central India, and the company, to preserve a monopoly, negotiated with the native chiefs of those districts to prevent the manufacture of opium; but the practice was not checked, and ultimately they conceded the point, and granted passes at rather high rates for the transit of the Malwa opium to Bombay, where it was shipped for China.
Under the company’s management, and within their dominion, every ryot (cultivator of the soil) was compelled to set apart a portion of his best land for the produce of opium, which he was bound to deliver in a proper state. The collectors and inspectors were bat poorly paid, and hence arose great aggression, extortion, and fraud; in fact, the whole system was one of iniquity from the commence-ment to the end, and is still carried on in the same reckless manner.
We now come to the mode employed in forcing the opium into China. As the trade attained an extent which made it particularly valuable, a number of remarkably fine vessels were built expressly for the purpose, having, with great beauty and symmetry, the more essential quality of excellent sailers, which gained for them the name of opium.clippers. They were well manned, and, in some instances, not badly armed. The largest are barque-rigged, resembling the illustration which we give below; some are brigs, and a few are schooners. Since the peace naval officers of known merit in the service have at times commanded one or another of them, and a rivalry has always existed to render them perfect pictures to the practised eye of seamen. At the outset there were only two or three; at present the number is fourteen or fifteen; and of these the Water Witch, a lovely barque, of about 360 tons, manned with a crew of seventy men, and well armed, is considered the crack craft. Next to her is the Red Rover, another barque, with sixty men. There are also, the Mohr, the Rob Roy, the Cowagee Family, the Poppy, the Sylph, the Syren, the Tyne, the Malmaison, the John Brightmore (new), and others, whose names we do not at this moment recollect. These take in their cargoes at Bombay and Calcutta, and work up along shore, from Singapore to Lintin, an island in the mouth of Canton river (at no very great distance from Macao), where the merchants have placed receiving ships, for the purpose of selling the drug. The traffic is carried on through the agency of persons on shore, at Canton, who sell the opium; and payment being first made, a boat or boats (called by the natives “ fast-crabs and scrambling dragons’’) go down to the receiving ships at Lintin with an order for the quantity purchased. They are swift vessels propelled by a great number of oars, and a sail, made of split rattan or bamboo, when the wind ia fair. The mandarin boats are constantly on the watch—or rather pretend to be so; but the smugglers, who are a daring set of fellows, being well armed, set them at defiauce; and though engagements (generally sham ones, to save appearances) now and then take place, yet very little harm is done, for the naval officers, as well as every one else connected with the customs, make more money by conniving at the trade than they can possibly get by trying to suppress it: in fact, the mandarins’ boats smuggle as much as those who get their living by it. The illustration represents an opium-clipper getting under way, with her headsails- braced aback for casting; a smuggling boat, upon her oars, near to her; and a war-vessel in the ist&nce.
We have seen that the prohibition, with severe punishments annexed to it, had no effect whatever to check the trade. Opium continued to be sold openly in all parts of China, and the shops were as plentiful in every town of the empire as gin-palaces in England. A bamboo screen suspended at the door was a sure sign to the opium-smoker that he could gratify his fatal propensity within. All classes of persons, of every grade, might be seen entering these places to indulge in the deadly gratification—nothing deterred them; and at length the evil grew to be so enormous that the Chinese authorities, who were averse to it, either from principle, or through not sharing in the spoil, resolved to act with decision, and consequently seized 20,882 chests, and had they rested at that, their conduct would have been perfectly justifiable, but they proceeded to acts of aggression by confiscating the property, and inflicting punishment on the innocent as well as the guilty. Want of space will preclude our entering upon the war which followed, but has now terminated. Opium smuggling is still carried on, and most probably would be continued, even should the legislature of England pass enactments against it; and such is the infatuation of the Chinese, that they will endeavour to procure the drug at all hazards; and as it is paid for in cash or silver exceeding the amount we give for our teas, it naturally follows that there must be a great drain of dollars and silver from the empire.
The mode of using the drug, which is to dip the end of a fine wire into | the prepared drug, reduced to the consistency of molasses, and it is then held over a lamp and inserted into the small aperture-of the bowl of the pipe, which is held in an inverted position. The smoke Is inhaled and retained.by swallowing as long as possible.
An Opium Smoker.
A startling fact is forced upon us from actual knowledge that the use of this drug in a liquid state is fast gaining ground amongst the working population in the manufacturing districts of England, to allay the pangs of hunger. Thus an insatiable craving is induced till the twallowing of it becomes a confirmed habit; and we have known mothers to deprive their children of the food which they ought to have, in order to satisfy this inordinate longing. It is a well-attested fact amongst the retailers of medicines in manufacturing towns, that many working people will swallow not less than sixpennywortli of laudanum in a day. Surely this subject is well worthy of the attention and investigation of the philanthropist, if not of the Legislature of the kingdom.
- Addiction in the Nineteenth Century (homepage)
- England and China: The Opium Wars, 1839-60
- The Medicinal Use of Opium in England
- Commissioner Lin Ze-xu's Letter to Queen Victoria
- The Principle of Extraterritoriality and the Opium Wars, 1839-60
- Representations of drugs in nineteenth-century literature
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“The Opium Trade.” Illustrated London News 2 (1843): 21-22. Hathi Trust online version of a copy of the Illustrated London News in the University of Chicago Library. Web. 14 June 2021.
Last modified 13 June 2021