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111 (Dragon) Battery




China: The First Opium War

4th July 1840 - 17th August 1842


For decades the Chinese govenment had made strenuous efforts to halt the illegal opium smuggling

conducted by foreign , mainly British, ships at Canton. Quite apart from the physical dangers to native

Chinese of opium smoking, there was, particularly since 1830 or thereabouts, the considerable economic

damage caused by the drainage of cash silver from the country to pay for the illegal imports. The trade had

become so pervasive (millions were addicted and corruption was rife among customs officials) that a lively

discussion now took place among Chinese officials as to the advisability of legalizing the drug and, at least,

bring the trade under the normal purview of the customs department.


There were others, of course, who adopted the contrary view that opium smoking was a national evil

which had to be stopped. Finally, the Chinese emperor took the path of suppression and in 1838 severe

measures, leading to summary execution of native drug traffickers, were instituted; though as one

observer commented: "They might as well have tried to concert a measure to stop the Yellow river in

its impetuous flow, as to check the opium trade by laws and penalties"!


Although the British government connived at the trade by allowing imports of the drug from the

East India Company's distribution center in India, the British naval officer Capt. Charles Elliot, then

supervising the legal trade at Canton, incurred the ire of his countrymen when he posted a public notice

citing the danger to the regular trade of illegal trafficking by British merchants which "was rapidly staining

the British character with deep disgrace."


The entire situation was transformed, however, with the arrival of the special Imperial Commissioner,

Lin Tse-hsu, at Canton on March 10, 1839, the signal that the Chinese government meant to deal the

death-blow to the trade by finally attacking the evil at its root--the foreign ships in the harbor. As the

emperor himself is reported to have said to Lin: "How, alas! can I die and go to the shades of my

imperial father and ancestors, until these direful evils are removed!"


One week later the first of Lin's edicts was issued both to the co-Hong and foreign merchants: all

opium cargoes in foreign store ships in the harbor were to be handed over and bonds given that, on

penalty of death, no more would be brought in. Thus was set in train the series of events that led to the

opium war between China and Britain.


An expedition was accordingly mounted in 1840, the real point of which was to establish that, as

Fortescue puts it, after two centuries of friendly commercial intercourse, it was intolerable that the

British should be arrogantly and insultingly excluded from Chinese territory.


Three battalions of British infantry (18th, 26th and 49th Foot) were sent from India and Ceylon and

were supported by a detachment of two Officers and 34 men of the Royal Artillery under the command

of 2nd Captain J Knowles, RA., and by units of the Madras Artillery.


The force arrived off Macao on the 21st June and, a week later, entered Chusan harbour and began a

blockade of which the Chinese took little notice. But sickness developed in the British force on an

appalling scale. The 26th Foot which had arrived 900 strong had no more than 140 fit men by the end

of 1840, and of a force originally numbering 3,000, 450 had died and 500 were in hospital.


In January 1840 an amphibious attack was made up river towards Canton. The forts defending that

city were taken but protracted negotiations for an armistice delayed operations. The Chinese then

counter attacked in April, as a result of which the British force staged a full scale attack on Canton

itself. Canton was defended by 45,000 Chinese troops, but the 3,500 soldiers, marines, and seamen

under General Gough routed the Chinese and captured the city.


The Madras Foot Artillery at the Assault on Chin-Kiang-Foo,

21st July 1842

By David Rowlands

The units of the Madras Artillery served with distinction in the many actions that took

place during the rest of the Campaign.


111 (Dragon) Battery also fought in Burma in 1824-25. All three  Dragon Batteries (111. 127, and 129)

went right through the First World War in France in either the 1st or 2nd Divisions from the earliest

days of the British Expeditionary Force at Mons to the very end of the War.


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