A lucrative opium trade existed between China and Britain in the 19th century. British sales of opium in large amounts began in 1781 and between 1821 and 1837 sales increased fivefold. Two 'Opium Wars' punctuated the period, their outcomes redefining the trade.
The East India Company held the monopoly of the opium trade in Bengal and supplied large quantities of the drug to China. One of the main commodities that Britain had wanted from China was tea as this had become a fashionable drink in Europe and although there was some tea grown in India, tea planting was not yet on a large scale. As demand for tea increased, the East India Company realised that a good revenue could be obtained if it was able to entice China to supply directly to them . The inducement was to be the Indian grown opium.
It was not until the 1820s that the potential of an Indian tea trade was considered and, therefore, continuing trade with China, which operated via Canton, was important to the EIC. When the Chinese government became worried about the effects of opium addiction and took steps to prevent the importation of opium, the EIC agreed not to carry the drugs on their ships but, in reality deals were done with the owners of Country Ships who continued to smuggle the drug into China on their vessels. As the country ships were under licence to the East India Company this meant the company still had control of the sale of opium. This practice continued until 1833 when the trading monopoly of the East India company was abolished - but by then the first Tea Plantation in Assam had been established.
- 1st China War 1839-42
Opium addiction in China had become such a problem that to prevent imports the Qing Dynasty closed the waterway up to Canton and seized over 1 million kilograms of opium, requiring merchants to enter into a bond not to deal in the drug. The Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China tried to negotiate with the Chinese but was continually rebuffed. Naval confrontations took place and Britain sent an expeditionary force from Singapore, capturing Canton and Shanghai. The war ended in August 1842 with the Treaty of Nanking which opened five treaty ports to trade, ceded Hong Kong and granted an indemnity to Britain.
- 2nd China War 1856-60
The Western Powers sought to renegotiate their commercial treaties with China. The British wanted all of China open to merchants, legalization of the opium trade and exemption of import tariffs. The Qing Government refused and relations deteriorated. The French, Russians and Americans also became involved. In the First Campaign British and French forces captured Canton and took the Taku Forts outside Tianjin. There was a temporary end to hostilities with the Treaty of Tianjin (giving extensive rights to the Western Powers) but the Qing Government rejected the treaty and this led to a Second Campaign. In June 1859 Anglo-French forces failed to take the Taku Forts but later captured Tianjin. In September the Chinese were defeated and the Summer Palace in Peking destroyed. The Convention of Peking ratified the Treaty of Tianjin, the opium trade was legalized, China was opened to western merchants and Britain and France were paid a huge indemnity.
- Review by Peter Bailey of the book Indigo and Opium: Two Remarkable Families and Fortunes Won and Lost by Miles Macnair (2013). The review is in FIBIS Journal Number 32 (Autumn 2014), pages 50-51. For details of how to access the review, see FIBIS Journals.
- "The Victorian Scots who brought opium to China" by Alison Campsie 25 July 2016 The Scotsman
- The opium godown or store within its compound at Patna An interior view. Watercolours from British Library Online Gallery
- Report of the Opium Department India 1881 Drugtext.org
- Opium: A "morally indefensible trade in a "horrible drug" Cambridge University Library
- The Opium Trade Maritime Heritage Project
- “Narcotics and empire” from Frontline-The Hindu Volume 23 - Issue 10: 20 May - 2 June 2006. A review of the book Opium City, The Making of Early Victorian Bombay by Amar Farooqui. Look in the website Archives for this issue if the link is unstable.
- “The manufacture and sale of opium and opium alkaloids at the Ghazipur factory” by S. K. Vardhan Manager, Government Opium and Alkaloids Factory, Ghazipur (U.P.). written in 1956
- This link (business-standard.com) states between 1870 and 1900 the opium trade protected the people from taxation, due to the amount the government was earning
Historical books online
- Foreign Mud: being an account of the opium imbroglio at Canton in the 1830s & the Anglo-Chinese War that followed by Maurice Collis 1946. Pdf download Digital Library of India. Archive.org mirror version.
- British Parliamentary Papers:Appendix to the Report on the Affairs of the East India Company. Volume 4: Administration of Monopolies. Opium and Salt: 11 October 1831 Google Books
- The opium trade: including a sketch of its history, extent, effects, etc., as carried on in India and China by Nathan Allen M.D. 2nd Edition 1853 (first published 1850)
- “Report no.1: On the Poppy Cultivation, and the Benares Opium Agency” by WCB Eatwell MD ‘First Asst. and Opium Examiner. Board of Customs, Salt and Opium’ from Selections from the Records of the Government of Bengal (1851) Google Books
- The rise and progress of British opium smuggling: the illegality of the East India Company's monopoly of the drug, and its injurious effects upon India, China, and the commerce of Great Britain. Five letters addressed to the Earl of Shaftesbury by Major-General R Alexander, Madras Army 3rd edition revised and enlarged 1856 Google Books
- Indian revenue from Indian opium ; Chinese money at the expense of Chinese life ; British honour or British disgrace: questions which should be considered in the treaty to be concluded with China by Captain Tyler R E 1857 Google Books
- The opium trade in China, by an eyewitness [J. Johnston]: to which is added, A voice from India on the opium question [extr. from 'Notes on the opium question', by McL. Wylie] by James Johnston, Macleod Wylie 1858 (Google Books)
- A Cruise in an Opium Clipper by Captain Lindsay Anderson 1891 Archive.org. He joined the opium clipper 1859 at Shanghai.
- Papers Relating to the Opium Question Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing 1870 Google Books
- British opium policy and its results to India and China by F. S. Turner 1876 Archive.org
- The opium question: a review of the opium policy of Great Britain, and its results to India and China by the Rev. Arthur E. Moule 1877 Archive.org
- Manual of Opium Husbandry: For the use of Officers in the Government of Behar and Benares by John Scott, Curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens , Calcutta, (on special duty) attached to the Opium Department 1877. Archive.org, Digital Library of India Collection.
- In an Opium Factory by Rudyard Kipling 1888 (eBooks, University of Adelaide). In an Opium Factory from the Kipling Society with comments on the text.
- A Short history of the lives of Bombay opium smokers by Rustom Pestanji Jehangir 1893 Archive.org
- First report of the Royal Commission on Opium with Minutes of evidence and appendices Archive.org Volume 1 Evidence taken in London September 1893 1894. Evidence taken in India:Volume 2, in 1893. Volume 3, in January 1894, Volume 4, 29 January-22 Feb 1894, Volume 5 Appendices 1894
- The truth about Indian opium by G. Graham Dixon. Printed for and issued by the Industries and Overseas Department, India Office 1922 Archive.org
- Drug smuggling and taking in India and Burma by Roy K Anderson 1922 Archive.org
- Survivor Library: Opium Links to pdf downloads, mainly written mid to late 1800s. survivorlibrary.com. Note: it is possible some of these books may be available to read online on alternative sites such as Archive.org