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28 DECEMBER

BRITISH BOMBARD CANTON TO ENSURE SAFE PASSAGE FOR THE OPIUM TRADE

[ 28 December 1857 ]

On this day, twenty five British and French gunboats commenced a bombardment of the Chinese port city of Canton, after a British flagged ship had been detained by local officials. Although the registration of the ship had lapsed, Britain was determined not to allow any interference with its freedom to trade in the Chinese market, including the stupendously valuable export of Opium.

At the time, Canton was one of the largest cities in the world with approximately one million inhabitants. One report described how by the evening “the effects of the fire were seen in the blazing houses throughout the city,” and, according to a correspondent of The Times, it “became like our own Shropshire iron counties at night – a plain of fire.”[1]

The following day the city walls were stormed by a combined force of 4,700 British and 950 French troops. A correspondent who traveled through the city a few days later reported that “the Chinese are busy clearing away the ruins of their burnt homes,” adding that “the spirit of insolence has departed out of them.” [2]

FOOTNOTES

  1. The Times quoted in “Bombardment and Capture of Canton,” The Newcastle Journal, 20 February 1858, p7
  2. “A Visit to Canton,” The Hull Advertiser, 27 March 1858, p7.

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