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NOTIONS OF ADDICTION IN THE TIME OF THE FIRST OPIUM WAR*

  • P. E. CAQUET (a1)

Abstract

This article explores whether the British decision-makers and public were conscious of the habit-forming nature of opium at the time of the Chinese war of 1839–42, the First Opium War. While most political historians have assumed that the British authorities understood the nature of the drug, social historians argue that notions of addiction only arose, in Britain, at the end of the nineteenth century. Examining the abundant press, pamphlet, and parliamentary literature generated by the war debate, this article examines in what terms opium use was characterized. It considers the groups that intervened on both sides of the debate and draws lessons from the arguments they deployed for and against the war. Situating the source literature within the context of early Victorian values and mores, finally, it argues that the British leaders and political nation were aware of the drug's habit-forming properties. Not only was it widely recognized that it was something dangerous that was being introduced, at the point of a gun, into China, but there can be said to have existed, in Britain, a layman's notion of drug addiction.

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Corresponding author

Gonville & Caius College, Trinity Street, Cambridge, cb2 1tapc388@cam.ac.uk

Footnotes

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*

I am grateful to Michael Ledger-Lomas for his suggestions, encouragement, and comments on drafts of this article. I presented this paper at Jilin University, Changchun, and at Cambridge in 2014, and I would like to thank the attendees and organizers for their support and input.

Footnotes

References

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1 £1–2 million a year net, according to Warren more than one tenth of total Company revenue in India: Brian Inglis, The Opium War (London, 1976), p. 198; Samuel Warren, The opium question (London, 1840), pp. 55–6. This does not include what the merchants themselves were making, nor the duties collected on Chinese tea imports.

2 Inglis, The Opium War; Peter Ward Fay, The Opium War, 1840–1842 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1975); Jack Beeching, The Chinese Opium Wars (London, 1975); and Glenn Melancon, Britain's China policy and the opium crisis (Aldershot, 2003). Fay touches on contemporary contexts on pp. 3–14.

3 Julia Lovell, The Opium War (London, 2011), pp. 17–38. Lovell seems to take her cue from the social historians, especially Berridge.

4 The Habitual Drunkards Act and successor Inebriates Act targeted alcoholism but also covered drugs taken in liquid form, and their scope was extended in the ensuing decades. Penalization was a multi-step process, but a landmark was the 1916 Defence of the Realm Act 40B.

5 Geoffrey Harding, Opiate addiction, morality, and medicine (Basingstoke, 1988), p. 1; Louise Foxcroft, The making of addiction (Aldershot, 2007), p. 59. See also Mike Jay, Emperors of dream: drugs in the nineteenth century (Sawtry, 2000), pp. 51–87; and Howard Padwa, Social poison (Baltimore, MD, 2012), pp. 38–49.

6 Virginia Berridge, Opium and the people (3rd edn, London, 1999), pp. xxix and 21–37.

7 In a third historiographical strand, literary criticism, addiction had been a known quantity since the seventeenth century: Alethea Hayter, Opium and the Romantic imagination (London, 1968), pp. 23–30.

8 Berridge, Opium and the people, p. 299.

9 A. S. Thelwall, The iniquities of the opium trade with China (London, 1839), pp. 5–6; Charles Gutzlaff, China opened (2 vols., London, 1838), i, pp. 508–9; Jehu Lewis Shuck, Portfolio Chinensis (Macao, 1840), p. 29; and Chinese Repository (Jan. 1840), pp. 443–4.

10 George Tradescant Lay, The Chinese as they are (London, 1841), p. 291; ‘On the preparation of opium for the Chinese market’, Foreign Quarterly Review (Oct. 1839), pp. 119–20.

12 This article addresses the comparison and its implications for addiction further down.

13 Among opponents of the traffic, references to poison are innumerable. Pro-war writers who labelled opium a poison included John Elliot Bingham, Narrative of the expedition to China (2 vols., London, 1842), i, pp. 22–3; and Robert Viscount Jocelyn, Six months with the Chinese expedition (London, 1841), pp. 39–40. On concerns about opium poisoning and the Pharmacy Act, see Foxcroft, The making of addiction, pp. 98–111; and Berridge, Opium and the people, pp. 75–93 and 113–22.

14 As a sample of such uses: ‘The Canton Register’, British and Foreign Review (Apr. 1840), p. 394; Walter Henry Medhurst, China, its state and prospects (London, 1838), p. 83; ‘The iniquities of the opium trade with China’, Eclectic Review (Oct. 1839), pp. 458–9; Horatio Montagu, A voice for China (London, 1840), p. 12; and C. A. Bruce, Report on the tea plantations of Assam (Calcutta, 1839), p. 32.

15 Correspondence relating to China (London, 1840); Times, 10 Sept. 1840, p. 3; ‘China’, Saturday Magazine (11 Apr. 1840), pp. 142–3; and House of Commons, Hansard's parliamentary debates, Third Series, vol. 53, 7 Apr. 1840, c. 712.

16 From a memorial to the emperor quoted in John Francis Davis, The Chinese (2 vols., London, 1836), ii, p. 433.

17 Lovell, in her chapter on the subject, tends to treat Chinese and British notions as synonymous. Lovell, The Opium War, pp. 18–19 and 33–4; Frank Dikötter, Lasrs Laamann, and Zhou Xun, Narcotic culture: a history of drugs in China (London, 2004), pp. 1–9 and 44–5; David Anthony Bello, Opium and the limits of empire (Cambridge, MA, 2005), pp. 152–9. I am indebted to David Luesink for this reference. See also Windle, James, ‘How the East influenced drug prohibition’, International History Review, 35 (2013), pp. 1185–99.

18 ‘Abuse of opium’, Chinese Repository (Feb. 1840), p. 516.

19 The many such parallels include for example William Groser, What can be done to suppress the opium trade (London, 1840), p. 12; and Leeds Mercury, 16 Nov. 1839, p. 4.

20 Morning Herald, 21 Nov. 1839, p. 2.

21 Times, 6 Dec. 1842, p. 5.

22 Commons Debate, Hansard's parliamentary debates, Third Series, vol. 68, 4 Apr. 1843, c. 391.

23 See for example Foxcroft, The making of addiction, pp. 119–29.

24 Ibid., pp. 124–5; Berridge, Opium and the people, pp. 151–7.

25 ‘The opium plague’, Illustrated London News (8 Apr. 1843), p. 235.

26 They also focus on the 1823 not the 1856 edition, whose introductory pages are far more explicit: Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an opium-eater (2nd edn, London, 1856), pp. 1–13.

27 Warren, The opium question, pp. 84–5; T. H. Bullock, The Chinese vindicated (London, 1840), pp. 94–5; John Fisher Murray, The Chinese and the Ministry (London, 1840), p. 20; ‘Canton Register, July to December 1839’, Foreign Quarterly Review (Apr. 1840), p. 203; Canton Press (23 May 1840), p. 2; and ‘Confessions of an opium-eater’, Chinese Repository (Nov. 1840), pp. 425–36.

28 Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English opium-eater (London, 1823), pp. 169–70; Thomas De Quincey, ‘The opium and the China question’, Blackwood's Magazine (June 1840), pp. 717–38; and ‘Canton expedition and convention’, Blackwood's Magazine (Nov. 1841), pp. 677–88.

29 Grevel Lindop, The opium-eater (London, 1981), p. 347.

30 Thelwall, The iniquities of the opium trade, pp. 4–5.

31 Medhurst, China, its state and prospects, p. 83.

32 China as it was and as it is (London, 1842), p. 59.

33 ‘On the preparation of opium’, Foreign Quarterly Review, pp. 120 and 138.

34 ‘Opium and alcohol’, Chinese Repository (July 1840), pp. 147–56.

35 ‘Iniquities of the opium trade with China’, Quarterly Review (Mar. 1840), p. 540.

36 Morning Chronicle, 27 Mar. 1840, p. 4, 13 Apr. 1840, p. 3, and 8 June 1840, p. 2; Globe, 12 Apr. 1840, p. 2; and Manchester Guardian, 17 Mar. 1841, p. 2.

37 ‘Debate in the House of Commons on Sir James Graham's Motion, April 1840’, Eclectic Review (June 1840), p. 709.

38 Morning Chronicle, 27 Mar. 1840, p. 4.

39 Ibid., 4 Apr. 1840, p. 5.

40 ‘War with China, and the opium question’, Blackwood's Magazine (Mar. 1840), pp. 382–4.

41 Manchester Guardian, 14 Mar. 1840, p. 3.

42 ‘The quarrel with China’, Examiner (22 Mar. 1840), p. 177.

43 The House divided 271 to 262 in the cabinet's favour.

44 Commons Debate, Hansard's parliamentary debates, Third Series, vol. 53, 9 Apr. 1840, c. 940.

45 Quoted in ‘The quarrel with China’, Examiner, p. 178.

46 Commons Debate, Hansard's parliamentary debates, Third Series, vol. 53, 7 Apr. 1840, cc. 716–17.

47 Ibid., cc. 740–3.

48 Ibid., 9 Apr. 1840, cc. 882–96.

49 Ibid., c. 940.

50 For example Warren, The opium question, pp. 60–75; Globe, 16 Mar. 1840, p. 2; Morning Chronicle, 24 Mar. 1840, p. 3.

51 Commons Debate, Hansard's parliamentary debates, Third Series, vol. 53, 9 Apr. 1840, c. 927.

52 Elliot to Palmerston, 6 Apr. 1839 and 21 Feb. 1837, quoted in A digest of the despatches on China (London, 1840), pp. 115 and 53.

53 Ibid., p. 79.

54 Quoted in Granville Loch, Closing events of the campaign in China (London, 1843), p. 173.

55 James Matheson to William Jardine, 1 May 1839, quoted in Alain Le Pichon, China trade and empire: Jardine, Matheson & Co. and the origins of British rule in Hong Kong, 1827–1843 (Oxford, 2006), p. 369.

56 Sydney S. Bell, Answer to Samuel Warren's ‘The opium question’ (London, 1840); Lords Debate, Hansard's parliamentary debates, Third Series, vol. 54, 12 May 1840, cc. 34–43.

57 An exception to the group was Alexander Graham, who argued for compensation but also repudiated the opium trade: Alexander Graham, The right, obligation, & interest of the government of Great Britain to require redress from the government of China (Glasgow, 1840).

58 Lindsay's pamphlet was H. Hamilton Lindsay, Is the war with China a just one? (London, 1840). Lindsay also spoke against the Ashley motion in the Commons, Hansard's parliamentary debates, Third Series, vol. 68, 4 Apr. 1843, cc. 453–7.

59 H. Hamilton Lindsay, Letter to the right honourable Viscount Palmerston on British relations with China (London, 1836).

60 As the editors of the Chinese Repository confirmed: ‘Pamphlets on China’, Chinese Repository (July 1840), p. 157; and as noted in Inglis, The Opium War, p. 132.

61 As suggested by its opening pages: The rupture with China and its causes (London, 1840), pp. 3–4.

62 Hogg quoted Jardine in arguing against the Ashley motion: Commons Debate, Hansard's parliamentary debates, Third Series, vol. 68, 4 Apr. 1843, cc. 435–50.

63 John Bull (17 Apr. 1843), p. 234.

64 Le Pichon, China trade and empire, pp. 383–4.

65 C .W. King, Opium crisis: a letter addressed to Charles Elliot (London, 1839), p. 16.

66 Medhurst, China, its state and prospects, p. 90.

67 Canton Press (12 Jan. 1839), pp. 1–2, (27 July 1839), p. 2, and (16 Nov. 1839), pp. 1–3.

68 Record, 30 July 1840, p. 4.

69 Harding, Opiate addiction, morality, and medicine, pp. 23–30.

70 ‘Iniquities’, Eclectic Review (Oct. 1839), pp. 458–6; ‘Debate in the House of Commons’, Eclectic Review (June 1842), pp. 699–725; and ‘Sketches of China’, Eclectic Review (June 1842), pp. 683–91.

71 Times, 15 Aug. 1839, p. 6.

72 Ibid., 23 Oct. 1839, p. 4.

73 Ibid., 17 Apr. 1840, p. 4.

74 Ibid., 3 June 1840, p. 5, 13 Aug. 1840, p. 4, and 6 Nov. 1840, p. 4.

75 Ibid., 3 Dec. 1842, p. 4.

76 Ibid., 15 May 1840, p. 4, and 6 Apr. 1843, p. 4.

77 Leeds Mercury, 23 Nov. 1839, p. 7, 30 Nov. 1839, p. 4, 4 Jan. 1840, p. 7, 14 Nov. 1840, p. 4, and 4 Mar. 1843, p. 7.

78 E.g. Standard, 13 May 1840, p. 2; Morning Herald, 7 Apr. 1840, p. 4, and 6 Apr. 1843, p. 4; and Record, 23 Apr. 1840, p. 4.

79 Both Fay and Lovell tend to exaggerate the mission's support of the opium merchants, especially based on the atypical Gutzlaff: Fay, Peter Ward, ‘The Protestant mission and the Opium War’, Pacific Historical Review, 40 (1971), pp. 145–61; Lovell, The Opium War, pp. 27–8.

80 Record, 2 Mar. 1840, p. 4.

81 S. G. Checkland, The Gladstones: a family biography, 1764–1851 (Cambridge, 1971), pp. 326–9.

82 Leeds Mercury, 28 Mar, 1740, p. 7; Morning Herald, 12 May 1840, p. 4; and Times, 8 July 1839, p. 6. The ‘natives’ in this last quote were Indian.

83 See Barry Milligan, Pleasures and pains: opium and the Orient in nineteenth-century British culture (Charlottesville, VA, 1995).

84 On the topic, see ibid., pp. 83–102.

85 For similes involving smuggling, generally French, off the English coast, see for example William Storrs Fry, Facts and evidence relating to the opium trade with China (London, 1840), pp. 29–31; Graham, The right, obligation & interest, pp. 11–12; and Hobhouse in Commons Debate, Hansard's parliamentary debates, Third Series, vol. 53, 9 Apr. 1840, c. 893.

86 Bynum, William F., ‘Chronic alcoholism in the first half of the nineteenth century’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 42 (1968), pp. 160–85; Brian Harrison, Drink and the Victorians (2nd edn, Staffordshire, 1994), pp. 22–3; Porter, Roy, ‘The drinking man's disease: the “pre-history” of alcoholism in Georgian Britain’, British Journal of Addiction, 80 (1985), pp. 385–96. Berridge has a later timeframe: Berridge, Opium and the people, pp. 154–5.

87 Report from the select committee on inquiry into drunkenness, with minutes of evidence, and appendix, House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (London, 1834).

88 ‘The opium and the China question’, Blackwood's Magazine, p. 720; Globe, 11 Apr. 1840, p. 2; Warren, The opium question, pp. 85–6; Some pros and cons of the opium question (London, 1840), pp. 11–16.

89 E.g. England and China (London, 1842), p. 8; Opium: the opium trade with China, its effect, etc. (reprinted from the Glasgow Argus of 9 September 1839), p. 5; ‘The opium and the China question’, Blackwood's Magazine, p. 720; ‘Iniquities’, Eclectic Review, pp. 458–9; and R. Inglis in Commons Debate, Hansard's parliamentary debates, Third Series, vol. 68, 4 Apr. 1843, c. 460.

90 Thelwall, The iniquities of the opium trade, pp. 21–3.

91 A digest of the despatches on China, p. 198.

92 ‘The missionaries, and the Christian opium-smugglers in China’, Christian Observer (Oct. 1839), pp. 603–4.

93 ‘Opium, opium-eaters, the opium trade with China’, Saturday Magazine (23 Nov. 1839), p. 197.

94 Harrison, Drink and the Victorians, p. 23; and on the difference between temperance and teetotalism, pp. 103–14.

95 Bynum, ‘Chronic alcoholism’, p. 161; quote from Robert Armitage, A sermon on the common evils of drunkenness (London, 1834), p. 28.

96 ‘On the preparation of opium’, Foreign Quarterly Review, pp. 119–20.

97 Harrison, Drink and the Victorians, pp. 63–5.

98 Jocelyn, Six months with the Chinese expedition, p. 11.

99 ‘The opium trade’, Illustrated London News (8 July 1843), p. 21.

100 Commons Debate, Hansard's parliamentary debates, Third Series, vol. 53, 7 Apr. 1840, c. 714.

101 E.g. Manchester Guardian, 25 Mar. 1840, p. 2, and 26 Nov. 1842, p. 2; Globe, 9 Apr. 1840, p. 4; A digest of the despatches on China, pp. 24 and 205; Review of the management of our affairs in China (London, 1840), pp. 49–50; and Bingham, Narrative of the expedition to China, i, p. 139.

102 John Cam Hobhouse, Recollections of a long life (6 vols., London, 1909–11), v, p. 263.

103 Record, 5 Mar. 1840, p. 4, and 6 Apr. 1843, p. 4; ‘The closing events of the campaign in China’, Tait's Edinburgh Magazine (Aug. 1843), p. 431.

104 Harrison, Drink and the Victorians, p. 63. As Harrison notes, pp. 182–201, prohibitionism only arose, under American influence, in the 1850s. See also Virginia Berridge, Demons: our changing attitudes to alcohol, tobacco, & drugs (Oxford, 2013), pp. 36–50.

105 A digest of the despatches on China, p. 209.

106 Berridge, Opium and the people, pp. xxiv–v and 159–60; Berridge, Demons, p. 26.

107 Guan, Shijie, ‘Chartism and the First Opium War’, History Workshop, 24 (1987), pp. 1731.

108 Morning Chronicle, 4 Apr. 1840, p. 2; Fry, Facts and evidence, p. 54; and Wen-Tsao Wu, The Chinese opium question and British opinion and action (New York, NY, 1928), p. 44.

109 Berridge, Opium and the people, pp. 38–48; Leeds Mercury, 21 Dec. 1839, p. 6; ‘Opium smuggling in China’, Penny Magazine (7 Mar. 1840), p. 91.

110 Berridge, Opium and the people, p. 294. One chest contained about 140 lbs. For Chinese imports, see Inglis, The Opium War, p. 183.

111 ‘Consumption of opium’, Examiner (5 Apr. 1840), p. 210.

112 William Howitt, ‘Nooks of the world – a visit to the Whitworth doctors’, Tait's Edinburgh Magazine (Apr. 1839), p. 239.

* I am grateful to Michael Ledger-Lomas for his suggestions, encouragement, and comments on drafts of this article. I presented this paper at Jilin University, Changchun, and at Cambridge in 2014, and I would like to thank the attendees and organizers for their support and input.

NOTIONS OF ADDICTION IN THE TIME OF THE FIRST OPIUM WAR*

  • P. E. CAQUET (a1)

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