3.15 Fall and Rise of China: First Opium War
Last time we spoke, Lin Zexu had brought the foreign barbarians to their knees and Elliot was forced to hand over 20,000 chests of opium. Lin zexu destroyed the illicit substance riding his nation of its filth. Elliot made a terrible error when he told the opium merchants the British government would compensate them for the confiscated contraband. This would all lead to Captain Henry Smith of the Volage firing the first shot of the First Opium War. Britain was in a financial bind, they needed their tea fix and China was closing off trade to them. How was Britain going to compensate the opium merchants and open up China to keep the tea flowing?
That is when Thomas Macaulay made the suggestion to Lord Palmerston, a rather out of the box idea. Why not make China pay for it all.
This episode is the First Opium War Part 1
Welcome to the Fall and Rise of China Podcast, I am your dutiful host Craig Watson. But, before we start I want to also remind you this podcast is only made possible through the efforts of Kings and Generals over at Youtube. Perhaps you want to learn more about the history of Asia? Kings and Generals have an assortment of episodes on the history of asia and much more so go give them a look over on Youtube. So please subscribe to Kings and Generals over at Youtube and to continue helping us produce this content please check out www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. If you are still hungry for some more history related content, over on my channel, the Pacific War Channel where I cover the history of China and Japan from the 19th century until the end of the Pacific War.
Lin Zexu’s attempt to send a letter to Queen Victoria proved to be a failure, no one cared. But back in China Lin Zexu’s war against Opium earned him a promotion. He went from high commissioner to taking Deng Tingzhen’s title as Governor-General. This seems to have bolstered Lin Zexu’s resolve to deal with the foreign barbarians as he wrote at the time “Only by knowing their strengths and their weaknesses can we find the right to restrain them”. Lin Zexu shared his countrymens contempt for the foreigners, but he knew he had to learn more about this enemy in order to defeat them. Lin Zexu was a scholar and had a practical mindset for how to go about the task. Lin Zexu began by buying the British warship Cambridge for use to the Chinese navy and anchored it around the mouth of the Canton River. The only problem was that Elliot made sure to order all of Cambridge's cannons removed before it was sold and the Chinese sailors were unable to properly sail the vessel, thus it was literally towed to the canton river.
By spring of 1840, there were only a few small limited battles between the Chinese junks and some British vessels still attempting to smuggle opium into canton. Elliot decided the first course of action was to map the Yangtze river so he could provide good intelligence to the incoming British force. He sent a ship from Jardine Matheson & Co called the Hellas, unbeknownst to Elliot, Matheson told its captain Frederick Jauncey to try and sell opium while they navigated the Yangtze to hedge his profits. The Hellas ran into trouble on May 22nd of 1840 when Captain Jauncey ran into what he originally thought were just a few Chinese merchant ships, but were in fact 8 war junks. They opened fire on Hellas and attempted to ram and board her, but Hellas was able to keep the fire fight at a distance until some strong wind picked up allowing Hellas to make an escape. Captain Jauncey earned a broken jaw and almost lost an eye during the battle and a few of his crew were hurt, but there were no fatalities. By the end of May the Hellas limped back to Macao for some medical treatment. On June the 8th, a Chinese fleet of fireships loaded to the brim with gunpowder were sent into the British ships anchored at Capsingmum some 45 miles east of Macao. Many of the British vessels fled for their lives, but the warships, Volage, Druid and Hyacinth rushed forward to stop the fireship attack. They used grappling hooks to tie up the fireships from a distance and towed them away from the rest of the British flotilla thus saving them all. The next day, the long awaited British force Palmerston promised finally arrived in Chinese waters. There was a scarcity of sailors hindering what could be amassed for hte China expeditionary force, due to the ongoing wars and other operations against the French in the mediterranean sea and the forces of Mohammed Ali in Egypt. By the end of June 17 men of war had assembled including 3 line of battle ships, the Wellesley, Melville and Blenheim. The East India Company also lent a hand providing 4 armed merchantmen steamers, the Enterprize, Madagascar, Atalanta and Queen. Following behind the force was 27 troopships carrying the 18th Royal Irish, the 49th Bengal Volunteers, the 26th Cameronians,a corps of Bengal engineers, and another corps of Madras sappers and miners. On its way to catch up to this force was British most devastating weapon, a brand new ocean-going Iron warship, the first of its kind named Nemesis. She was launched in 1839 and deployed to China as her first operation. She was powered by 2 60 horsepower Forrester engines and armed with 2 pivot mounted 32 pounders and 6 6pounder guns. She had watertight bulkhead, the first to be used for a warship at the time enabling her to survive a lot of hull damage. It goes without saying this one warship will have a daunting part to play in this story and the Chinese would nickname her “devil ship”.
The British armada did not just bring military assistance, it also was secretly carrying more opium, because of course why not. Over 10 thousand chests were snuck away aboard the ships ready to flood the Chinese market. The large British naval presence would allow the smugglers to offload their opium at Lintin during broad daylight with impunity. The armada gathered itself at Singapore to devise a strategy going forward. There in Singapore, the marines practiced amphibious assaults while Chinese war junks in the distance observed from a distance. By June 1 of 1840 enough warships had gathered at Singapore to launch the invasion of the Qing dynasty. So on June 16 the first ship, a steamer named Madagascar entered the Gulf of Canton followed a bit later by a large part of the armada. Aboard the Wellesley, captain Elliot met with the commander of the expeditionary force, Commodore Sir J. J Gordon Bremer and they discussed strategy. Jardine had made a proposal, to commit some warships to blockade the entire eastern and southern coasts of China and seize the island of Chusan. Jardine argued they should also blockade the mouth of the Bei He River which flowed into the Yangtze, the waterway for food and other shipments directly to Beijing. Chusan island was a critical depot for the Qing, more than a quarter million ton of grain pass through it to go to Beijing to feed the capital. Depriving the capital of a major food source and revenue would bring the Chinese to a peace settlement and thus a British victory.
The British Admiralty’s Sir John Barrow thought Jardine’s proposal was too much, threatening the Qing capital would just result in the Chinese digging in deeper to defend themselves and not bring them to the peace table. Barrow argued they should focus around the gulf of canton, shell the city and seize Hong Kong. Charles Elliot argued a middle ground: take Canton then sail up the Bei He river to threaten Beijing. Elliot also argued they could instead attack Shanghai because attacking such a prominent city would make the Qing lose face and intimidate them. Another man who had just arrived was Elliot’s cousin, Admiral Sir George Elliot who had been given co-plenipotentiary powers. He brought with him a peace treaty with orders to make the Qing government agree to every article of it and to continue the way until it was done.
Sir George Elliot arrived in the later part of 1840 and ordered a blockade of the Gulf of Canton using 5 warships while he and the rest of the armada sailed north. The British merchants were disappointed, they expected a direct assault upon Canton, they had hoped to open the city back up for trade. Both Elliot’s got aboard the Wellesley as the armada made its approach towards Chusan. George Elliot also had with him a letter from Palmerston to inform the emperor Britain intended to blockade and seize various Chinese ports as a response to the Qing siege of the Canton factories. Palmerston also cheekily added that if the Emperor wanted to stop the opium trade he should probably convince his people to stop smoking opium. At the end of the letter Palmerston added that to avoid “unpleasantness” the Emperor was invited to send a delegation to a shipboard meeting with the two Elliots who most likely would park their warships at the mouth of the Bei He River. The Elliots gave the letter to a Captain named Thomas Bourchier whom went ashore with a white flag at Namoy just 300 miles north of Canton. As Thomas entered the harbor some Qing officials came aboard. Thomas explained to them that the armada meant to bombard the city if they did not respect the white flag. As he explained this to them, along the coast a ton of Chinese began to form a crowd near his boat so he sailed off. With his ship a few hundreds yards away from the shore he waited to see what the Chinese would do. Then Thomas noticed cannons being mounted on a nearby fort. Thomas sent his translator named Robert Thom on a small raft with a large placard repeating what retaliation the Chinese could expect if they fired upon his ship. Thom also began to shout the orders at the crowd along the beach, but they simply screamed insults in return. Then some of the people on the beach began to swim out towards Thom’s boat and some arrows and gunshots were fired at him. Suddenly one of the cannons from the fort fired and some nearby chinese junks joined them all aiming for poor Thom. Thom dashed back to Captain Thomas and reported to him what had happened. Captain Thomas responded by sending another letter explaining that the British government had no quarrel with the Chinese people, only their emperor. He sent the letter with a courier in another small raft and as it approached the shore the mob rose up yet again and soon gunfire was going off. It is alleged after this Captain Thomas literally threw a message in a bottle before sailing off towards Canton.
By July 1st the armada anchored in the harbor of Dinghai on Chusan Island. Dinghai held around 40,000 inhabitants within a 5 sided 22 feet high wall city. It held many towers and was surrounded on all 4 sides by a canal. The city had 16 hundred defenders, but in reality they were all just some fishermen, sailors and quickly raised up militiamen armed with spears, bows and some matchlocks. There were also 12 chinese war junks that had followed the British armada keeping a safe distance. The British noticed one of the Chinese war junks had a banner indicated a high Qing official was aboard and they signaled they wanted to talk. The Chinese war junks invited a British delegation aboard their flagship. Commodore Bremer went aboard with his interpreter and met with the Qing commander of the Chusan garrison. Bremer did not mash words he was quite blunt demanding the “surrender Chusan or face the consequences”. The Qing host was not intimidated however and sent the British back to their boats. When the British were back aboard their vessels, instead of blasting the chinese war junks, well they simply invited the Chinese aboard the Wellesley to wine and dine them. In the 1997 movie “the opium war” this scene is quite well done, I highly recommend watching it. So the Qing officials dined and one Qing officer even analyzed some of the 74 guns aboard Wellesley. That officer was quoted to say “it is very true you are strong and I am weak. Still I must fight”. After dinner, Commodore Bremer demanded their surrender again and gave them 24 hours to comply. The Chinese in the meantime ran ashore and began to stuff a ton of sandbags with rice and other things to strengthen the defenses around Dinghai’s walls.
The 24 hours passed and Bremer brought the Wellesley closer to the shore, but he had to wait for some more reinforcements to arrive to launch an amphibious assault. By 2pm on July 5th, 6 British warships arrived to the scene and Bremer fired a single cannon targeting a tower on a small fort. The Qing fired a single cannon in response, which led Bremer to start shooting volley’s every 10 minutes. As the maelstrom was going on, Lt Colonel George Burrell led the 18th Brigade in an amphibious landing. Suddenly the Chinese stop firing just as the 18th brigade landed ashore. The British took the situation by storm and began bombarding the Chinese war junks to pieces and Dingshai’s fort towers. Lord Jocelyn, a military secretary said of the scene. “The Crashing of timber, falling houses and groans of men resounded from the shore. Even after the bombardment ceased, a few shots were still heard from the unscathed junks. We landed on a deserted beach, a few dead bodies, bows and arrows; broken spears and guns remaining the sole occupants of the field”. The 18th brigade found no resistance on the beach. The Qing defenders had fled almost as soon as the first cannons had gone off. A Qing commander on scene, Brigadier Zhang had refused to give up the fight, but had both his legs blown off by cannonade and had to be whisked away on a litter. The local magistrate and some of his subordinates watched in horror as the defenders departed and they all committed suicide.
A detachment of the 18th brigade set up 8 9 pounder artillery pieces and some howitzers on a hill which had a vantage point overlooking the city of Dinghai. They then began to shell the now defenseless inhabitants forcing countless to flee for their lives. The British reported not a single casualty during the volley exchange nor the beach assault. Lord Jocelyn described the planting of the Union Jack by the Joss house in Dinghai “the first European banner that has floated as conqueror over the flowery land”.
The city of Dinghai was a mile from the shoreline and Colonel Burell slowly marched his men to its formidable walls as artillery rained hell upon them. The residents of Dinghai responded with their own artillery forcing Colonel Burrell to hold back his men from a distance and wait it out until the next day to assault the city. During that lull the British soldiers found some samshu in a local fishing village and proceeded to get drunk as hell and looted the fishing village during the night. An Indian soldier said of the incident “A more complete pillage could not be conceived. The plunder ceased only when there was nothing to take or destroy”. The artillery was going on throughout the night and at around midnight of British 9 pounders hit a gunpowder deposit inside Dinghai turning the city into an inferno.
The next morning the British saw most of the defenders were fleeing and sent a detachment of 12 men to approach the south wall to prod it. There was no resistance so the men began to climb the rice bag defenses that had been piled almost 2 stories high in front of the wall. Within minutes they were over the top and could see the city that once held 40,000 people was all but deserted. Lord Jocelyn said of the city “The main street was nearly deserted, except here and there, where the frightened people were performing the kow-tow as we passed. On most of the houses was placarded "Spare our lives;" and on entering the jos-houses were seen men, women, and children, on their knees, burning incense to the gods; and although protection was promised [to] them, their dread appeared in no matter relieved.”
The British reported that perhaps 2000 Chinese died, which is complete nonsense, the Chinese state something like 25 died so the actual number is somewhere in between, quite a large range I know. The British themselves might have lost up to 19 men. They found a ton of antiquated weapons and armor as they looted the city such as padded cotton jackets which displayed the disparity between the 2 forces. Robert Thom who witnesses the looting said “No one has been killed in cold blood that I am aware of, and only one or two cases of rape occurred perpetrated it is said by the sepoys”. By the way a lot of the primary sources for this war will lay blame on the Indian soldiers for misconduct and take it was a grain of salt. I am not saying it did not happen, it most certainly did, but the idea that the British redcoats were not taking part in such ventures seems dubious.
By Jul 11th, Jardine and Matheson reached Chusan and found out Admiral Elliot was forbidding their opium ships from landing on the island. Yet they pressed their team of smugglers to persist and against Elliots wishes unloaded opium. Chusan would become a storehouse for opium and by November of 1840 43 opium smuggling ships were using Chusan as an offloading point. 12,000 chests of opium would be brought to Chusan by the end of the year.
Chusan island would also bring quite a lot of misery to the British. Colonel Burrell refused to allow his troops to occupy the abandoned city of Dinghai fearing repercussions from the Chinese and instead kept his men in a particularly malaria infested paddy field. With the scorching heat and an order that all men keep their top buttons on their uniforms fastened almost 500 men would die to malaria and dysentery. A lot of variables were at work, bad provisions, too much Samshu, stagnant water and the most evil culprit, malaria invested mosquitos took a heavy toll on the British. By October, only 2036 out of 3650 troops would be fit for duty. By december more than 5000 men were admitted to hospitals and 448 deaths would occur. If anyone knows the story of Japan’s invasion of Taiwan in the 19th century, it really reminds me of that ordeal. Taking an island by force and with incredible ease, only to fall victim to brutal mother nature. On july 27th, Elliot had gathered many warships at Dinghai and felt he had enough firepower to proceed 500 miles north to Beijing.
A week after Dinghai fell, Beijing got the word. However this is where a large problem would emerge for the Qing dynasty. The Emperor was given word through Qing officials, and if the news was bad, the officials would fear enraging the Emperor and more often than naught falsify what they told him. In this case the officials downplayed the severity of the incursion. They told him of alleged weaknesses of the foreign invaders. The governor of Jiangsu Province lying at the mouth of the Yangtze River, Yukien told the Emperor “take our fort at Woosung. From the bottom upward there is the stone base, then the clay base, and finally the fort itself. It is even elevation far above the level of the barbarian ships. If they shoot upward, their bullet will go down and consequently lose force. Moreover the barbarians are stiff and their legs straight. The latter, further bound with cloth, can scarcely stretch at will. Once fallen down, they cannot again stand up. It is fatal to fighting on land”. Yukien would also make remarks about how the barbarians lacked bows and arrows. While this might come off as humorous, I bring it up for important reasons. The Emperor will continuously be given these sort of reports, downplaying of events such as battles, made up stories about victories over the British and much more. The Emperor will be reacting accordingly based on the information he is given and this will be quite the crux of the entire war.
The British armada approached the mouth of the Bei He River in a course of 10 days and was only 75 miles southwest of Beijing. However at the mouth of the Bei He River lied one of the Qing dynasty’s most formidable defenses, known as the Dagu forts. 2 Dagu forts guarded the mouth, though to Elliot they looked pretty decrepit and deserted. Elliot was still trying to find a Qing official who would take Palmerstons letter to the Emperor and at the mouth he saw several Chinese war junks. Elliot sent a man with the letter to the war junks and the commander of the warships replied that he would send the letter to a higher ranking Qing official who was only a short distance away. Thus Elliot waited to see what would occur and it turned out the Qing official was Qishan, the governor of Chihli province. Qishan sent word to Elliot that his letter was sent directly to the Emperor, but that Elliot would need to wait for a reply.
On May 13 of 1840, one of Qishans subordinates came aboard the Wellesley providing the British with food and water and this was followed up for several days with more gifts. Then Elliot was told the Emperor had officially received the letter, but it would be regretfully another 10 days or so for the Qing court to discuss with the Emperor the letters contents. Do not forget, the story I spoke of about the malaria and dysentery outbreak on Chusan was raging by this point and thus Elliot decided it best to scatter the armada in search of cleaner water because the Chusan wells seemed to be the culprit at the time. Some of the ships went hundreds of miles away in search of water and as this all occurred, 10 days had come and gone. When all of the armada regrouped with their fresh water reserves, Elliot decided they needed to speed up the Qing courts process. Elliot ordered the warships Madagascar and Modeste to begin firing at some forts on Chusans outskirts, but before the shelling could begin a messenger from Qishan suddenly appeared. Elliot was invited to meet with Qishan in 3 days time. The meeting would be on july 30th and the location was a fort in southern Chusan. Qishan brought gifts and food with him for the British and had a flotilla built up so the British would not have to walk in mud to the fort. Elliot, Qishan and Jocelyn had a large dinner and then they discussed the Palmerston letter for over 6 hours. Qishan during the meeting made a mention of the precedent set by the Macartney and Amherst missions, that of the tributary system. Elliot insisted both men were not tributaries, but ambassadors holding equal status to the Emperor. Qishan could feel the tension in the room and changed the subject, he pointed out that the occupation of Chusan island was unacceptable for the Emperor. Elliot understood and said the British occupation was temporary, they were merely using it as a base of operations. Then the largest looming subject emerged, Opium. Qishan demanded a promise from Queen Victoria that Britain would stop exporting opium to China. Similar to Lin Zexu, the Qing had a difficult time understanding the representatives of authority for other nations and assumed Queen Victoria held a similar position to their Emperor. Elliot said plainly that he did not have the authority to grant such a concession and then made the remark “if the Chinese wanted the opium trade to end, they should stop using it”. Elliot also made a remark that most of the Opium was coming from other sources outside British influence, but he had little evidence to support this. Qishan swallowed this resentfully but did not quibble over it. Instead Qishan moved to the subject of reparations as Palmerston had demanded compensation for the 20,000 seized opium chests and for war reparations for Britain who was invading China! Qishan flat out called these demands ludicrous, when he said this, Elliot began to write something on Palmerstons letter and when Qishan asked him what he was writing Elliot replied “I am writing what is your opinion on the matter, because many of the Emperor other officials might have differing ones”.
Qishan then began to explain to Elliot that Lin Zexu had fallen out of favor with the Qing court and that Qishan agreed with the British that Lin Zexu had mistreated them and employed unnecessary violence. Qishan made a remark that the Emperor was most likely going to fire Lin Zexu and punish him. It seems Qishan was hinting to Elliot that he might be replacing Lin Zexu as his successor and with it plenipotentiary powers. So you get the idea here, Qishan is basically hinting while nothing can be done right now, perhaps when he is in charge he will help the British out. Qishan also kept stating that the British should go to Canton, as it was the center of foreign trade and a much more logical and practical place for them to go to further negotiations. But both Elliot and Qishan knew why he was stating this repeatedly, he wanted the British to get as far away from the Emperor as possible.
George Elliot informed Charles Elliot that he felt the armada was quite vulnerable sitting in Bei He Bay and urged him to end the negotiations and leave. Likewise upon hearing the news that Lin Zexu was going to be dismissed soon, Charles Elliot agreed and they too the armada and sailed away. This rather abrupt partie however gave the Chinese the impression the barbarians were done with the war all together. As you can imagine many Qing officials began telling Beijing this. As you can also imagine the British departure was only temporary.
By September of 1840 the British armada re-emerged at the mouth of the Bei He River. The Elliots had order the armada to up the pressure on the Qing and Charles Elliot had written a note to Palmerston at this time “It is notorious that the Daoguang Emperor entertains the utmost dread of our enterprising spirit”. What he meant by this, was by sending periodic naval patrols he was trying to scare the shit out of Beijing.
Back over in Canton, despite the incredible efforts of Lin Zexu, the opium trade was still rearing its ugly head. Since Jardine & Matheson were now able to shove their contraband on Chusan island it began to flood right back into the Canton market. By the fall of 1840 6500 chests had gotten through the Canton trade from Jardine & Matheson Co alone. Many hundreds of others were flooding in from the other independent smugglers and despite the severity of punishment for using the substance, there was still an enormous demand. The Elliots of course banned the trade of opium on Chusan, but they were not morons, they knew it was simply going to Canton in the end. Of course they were allowing the trade to go on, they were after all quite broke. The Elliots had no other way of raising money to continue the war effort other than relying on the sale of opium. Both Elliots understood the fiscal dependency they had on the opium smugglers and the prohibition of its sale on the island of Chusan was merely symbolic, a way of keeping face, so typically british. Thus vessels were allowed to offload opium near Chusan with zero interference from the British armada, which in turn was patrolling the waters thus protecting the opium dealers in the end. The hope in the end was by symbolically banning the substance at Chusan, perhaps this would alleviate the Emperor while simultaneously allowing the condonation of revenue for the war effort by allowing its trade to ports like Canton.
Over in Beijing, Emperor Daoguang hesitated over Lin Zexu, he was not yet comfortable dismissing him. This embolden Lin Zexu, whom began to crack down even more so on the Chinese opium consumers. Lin Zexu put out an edict limiting the amount of time opium addicts had to wean themselves off the drug “while the period is not yet closed, you are living victims. When it shall have expired, then you will be dead victims”. Yet despite his efforts Lin Zexu could do little against the opium vessels which were being protected by the British armada making patrols in the Gulf of Canton, Amoy, Chusan and the Mouths of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. Then to the horror of the Chinese the British began seizing Chinese ships along the coast and taking their cargo to sell and finance the war effort. Imagine how cash strapped a nation has to be to start performing this sort of looting. Between June and July of 1840 the British armada had seized 7 large trading vessels plundering their cargo. In retaliation the Chinese raised a price for the heads of any British military personnel at 100$ for a soldier taken alive, 20$ for a corpse, $5000 for a British captain and for a British ship 10,000$, cha ching. Things got out of hand quite quickly, Chinese desperate to make some coin turned to attacking European and American civilians such a missionaries. Gangs of Chinese would hunt them down beating them nearly to death. On August the 5th, Vincent Stanton a tutor of a British merchants children alongside a missionary named David Abeel made the terrible decision to go swimming in Macao’ bay. Stanton was kidnapped and brought to Canton. Until this point Macao was seen as the last safe spot in China for foreigners, but the kidnapping of Stanton broke that. Adding to everyone's fears, 8 Chinese war junks docked at Macao sending the Portuguese colony into a frenzy.
It turns out Stanton's kidnapping was masterminded by Lin Zexu, it was psychological warfare. He was not able to go after the British warships, but he was able to target anyone on land. The Governor general of Macao, Pinto pleaded with Lin Zexu to return the man, but it came to nothing. The British felt they had lost face, Stanton was one of theirs and they had even tried allowing the Portuguese aid the situation to no avail. 2 weeks after Stantons kidnapping the British had had enough. 4 British warships from the Armada were sent to Macaos Casilha Bay alongside 400 soldiers. The British warships opened fire upon the Chinese war junks whom returned fire. However the Chinese war junks cannons were old and obsolete, they could not match the range the British were firing from. The Chinese crews began to panic when their return fire was literally only matching half the distance of the British and soon jumped ship. Meanwhile the british warships simply continued to rain hell upon the war junks. As noted by British officer “The [Chinese] junks, which were aground in the inner harbour, were utterly useless, for none of their guns could be brought to bear, though several of the thirty-two pound shots of the ships found their way over the bank, much to the consternation of the occupants of the junks." The Chinese crews tried to establish a defense on the coast, but the British soldiers overwhelmed them with musket fire. The Chinese war junks still intact made a break for it, as the rest of the Chinese fled into the fortifications. The British warships battered the walls of Macaos fortifications until their batteries stopped returning fire and the British and Indian soldiers soon scaled the walls. By 5pm the Chinese routed inside the Macao fortifications as the British set fire to multiple barracks. In the end the Chinese suffered upto 60 dead with 120 wounded and the British reported only 4 wounded, but take the number with a grain of salt. In Beijing Qing officials told Emperor Daoguang there had been a major victory at Macao and that many British were dead and multiple British warships laid at the bottom of Casilha Bay. These Qing officials were court officials who were received false reports from the military at Macao. Its sort of like the game broken telephone, where every link embellishes the story to make it more and more positive. All the Chinese soldiers began to abandon Macao and no more Chinese War junks came to its harbor. In the eyes of the Portuguese and British they had saved Macao, in the eyes of poor Stanton…well he was imprisoned in Canton.
The Stanton kidnapping distressed the foreign community in China, but there was another incident that scared the shit out of them. A french missionary named Father Jean Gabriel Perboyre was illegally operating in Hubei Province and got captured in September of 1839. He was tortured and interrogated for over a year and on September 11th of 1840 he was executed publicly at Wuchang. The priest was killed by strangulation, but the Qing authorities decided to place his body on a cross after his death. This set a panic into the foreign community as others were likewise captured and killed and the British on Chusan island were falling victim to malaria, dysentery and starvation, because all the food on Chusan had dried up. They began to eat moldy rice from Chusans stockpiles and bread made from worm ridden flour stuck aboard their ships for quite a long time. It is alleged that the pickled beets and pork on the British warships was so rancid even the iron-stomachs of the British couldn't tolerate it. The drinking water likewise was a source of disease, contaminated by the local sewers. The interpreter Thom wrote a letter to Matheson stating “even the natives hold their noses because of the waters smell. Unless we can manage to get the canal and town cleared out, I fear that we shall be getting some contagious distemper among us. The climate moreover is moist and mosquitoes swarm in amazing numbers. Let no man come here without mosquito curtains else he will bitterly repent of it”. The British did not realize the mosquitoes were the culprit of their malaria nightmare as the belief at the time for europeans was that malaria came from rotten vegetables. The dysentry killed more people than the malaria however, coming from the horrid food and water situation. 12 soldiers died in August, the next month 24, while 250 were hospitalized and by mid september a third of the force was too sick to fight. Being a specialist in the Pacific War I do have to say what amazing parallels this will play out for the Japanese and Americans in the island hoping warfare. Not fun to battle the elements, malaria and a terrible provision situation.
Then there was horrible incident when a commercial ship called the Kite ran aground on a sandbank on september 15th. The Captain named John Nobles lost his 5 month year old baby, and he, his wife and 26 crew members clinging to the boats wreckage until a Chinese war junk captured them. All of them were put in chains and imprisoned at Ningbo. They were placed in wooden cage, the wife of John Nobles stated “mine was scarcely a yard high, a little more than three quarters of a yard long, and a little more than half a yard broad. The door opened from the top. Into these we were lifted, the chain around our necks being locked to the cover. THey put a long piece of bamboo through the middle, a man took either end, and in this manner we were jolted from city to city to suffer the insults of the rabble, the cries from whom were awful”. Some of captured crew were beat to death, 3 men died of dysentery and those who were Indian amongst them were treated extra harshly. One of the English prisoners believed the Chinese treated the Indians worse, because they ate their rice with their fingers which angered them.
When Charles Elliot heard the news of the captives from the Kite he was mortified, particularly because one of the prisoners was a woman! He went to Ningbo aboard the Atalanta to negotiation their release and was immediately told, all the prisoners could go if the British gave back Chusan. The British did not say no, but did nothing to indicate they would hand over Chusan, so the Chinese began to threaten to kill the prisoners. This prompted the Charles Elliot to demand a meeting with Qishan at Chinhai only 10 miles away from the prison at Ningbo. Elliot stated to Qishan if the prisoners were not handed over he would end the peace talks outright. Qishan played some hard ball demanding Chusan returned, but eventually a compromise was made. Elliot agreed to stop British ships from seizing Chinese vessels and blockading the ports and in return the Chinese would still hold the prisoners, but they would improve their living conditions. To show good faith, Qishan released poor old Stanton from his prison in Canton and handed him over to Elliot. The situation did not satisfy the British, but while they danced around with diplomacy, more and more troops from India were being brought to Chusan and the most fearsome weapon Britain had at its disposal had just arrived, the Nemesis.
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Lin Zexu’s efforts against opium were not going well enough and was losing favor with Emperor Daoguang, the British were winning battles and taking territory. How will the Qing Dynasty rid themselves of the invaders? Join us next time to find out.