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Commercial Origins Of The Global Opium Pandemic

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(From) “Opium & The Opium Appetite” by Alonzo Calkins, MD published 1870

Chapter II: The Commercial History Of Opium In Europe And The Orient

“Audax lapeti genus Ignem fraude mala gentibus intulit.” – Horace.

“Japheth shall dwell in the tents of Shem” – The Patriarch

Among Semitic peoples it originally was where the poppy extract, Opium, found its marts and consumers; and if Egypt was the originator, Persia certainly “cette patrie ete pivot” says Ferishta, is the historic foster-mother. The Moslem, it is reckoned, carried opium to the China-frontier as early as the tenth century or before. Chardin, the traveller, who visited Persia towards the close of the seventeenth century, found the article a familiar acquaintance there, for Schah Abbas had put it under the ban of a decree a hundred years before this. According to this author, the Tartar hordes at the era of the Conquest, 1644, took opium along with them across the Great Wall; yet for more than a century after, the new immigrant made no measurable advance, being restricted to medicinal purposes solely, e.g., in dysentery and melancholia.

The importations into China, from alien sources, had not by 1767 exceeded 200 packages annually. From so small beginnings the trade thus initiated by Portuguese adventurers at Whampoa has now, upon various estimates, Johnston’s with the rest, so expanded as to comprehend an aggregate of populations numbering above 700,000,000 of individuals, in their various distributions over Persia, India, China and Tartary, Malacca and the Sunda Isles, and Turkey and the Levant, even to Mauritania and Egypt; indeed, whithersoever the Crescent has conducted migrations opium has borne company, finding for itself successive lodgments.

The introduction of opium into the Island of Formosa is credited by Choo-Tsun to the Hung Maou or red-haired (the English); another account implicates more directly the Dutch merchants of Batavia.

Hindustan, which furnishes eight-tenths of the total supply for China, might be styled, and without hyperbole, an immense poppy-garden. The importations from India into China were: 1767 – 200 caissons. 1800-1810 – 2,500 piculs (133 lbs/picul), average. 1820 – 4,700 (7,000) piculs; 1830 – 18,700 piculs 1840 – (1838, 48,000) 50,000 piculs; 1850 – (1848-9, 54,000) 55,000 piculs 1860 – 60,000 piculs upon estimate; 1867 – 75,000 piculs (=10,000,000 lbs.)

For the later decennial periods there has been a falling off below the two percent of annual increase that was, a reduction variously ascribable to poverty, increasing celibacy, and impaired fecundity and infanticide, the direct and palpable offshoots of the national vice.

Opium being in China a dutiable article, a large margin must be allowed for the contraband traffic. Some presumptive estimate may be formed of the extent of such traffic from an item of the commercial history of the country for 1839.

About this year had been issued the famous “Edict,” which proscribed and condemned to destruction all the opium then in the ports. Within a twelve month thereafter there passed through Canton 1800 piculs, upon 700 of which only, or 40 percent of the whole, was the duty paid. In view of the fact that there is to be guarded a coastline of twenty-five hundred miles, swarming with a population whose supreme passion is the procurement of opium at all hazards, legitimately or illicitly, an addition of 12 percent to the customs figures would be a safe reckoning.

There is besides a large home production, which Dr. Macgowan, more than twenty years since, estimated as coming up to twenty-five percent on the importations. The cultivation has proceeded for years in the southwest province, Yunnun, and has extended (on the authority of Waterton) to at least six provinces, from one of which alone there annually go out several thousand chests. The accounts for 1869 are, that the manufacture as well as the consumption is increasing at rapid rates, particularly in Mongolia and Mantchuria. The home growth must be very large; indeed, upon a calculation made by G. S, Cooke, then resident in the country, it approximates to the amount imported.

Suppose this domestic supply to have now reached 35 percent only as compared with the foreign, the people of China are now (1867) consuming in a single year 110,620 piculs = 14,750,000 pounds of opium. To such swelling proportions has this “cloud no bigger than a man’s hand” expanded itself, and within the range of just one century!

The tabulated records are confirmed every way by miscellaneous facts. As long ago as 1842, Surgeon G. H. Smith, of Pulo-Penang. estimated that one-tenth of the people of the kingdom were then addicted to the opium pipe, and one-third of that proportion in Malacca. The returns made by Sir John Bowring for Canton and the contiguous districts give a ratio of 26 percent; three local reports, made by native officials, comprise 4,600 smokers out of a total of 13,500 individuals. In Rajpootana (Col. Todd), the use of opium in one form or another is well- nigh universal; and what is true of this district is equally so of Tartary, where the Abbe Hue found the pipe in requisition among all classes and everywhere, their tribunals and solemn assemblies not excepted.

In 1843, when the Rev. Mr. Lowrie was at Amoy, it seemed to him that almost everybody was given to the stimulus; and Johnson, missionary at Fou-Cliow in 1S67, found a state of things well-nigh as bad. As for the hospitals and almshouses of China, they present records to which nothing corresponding as chargeable to alcoholics is yet furnished by similar institutions in our own land. In 1844, at Dr. Little’s House of Correction in Singapore, of the 44 inmates, 4 out of 5 were found to be consumers; a proportion agreeing exactly with the observations of Surgeon Smith.

Compare now, by way of contrast, 1867 with 1840. To the 50.000 pounds of 1840 add 25 percent (for the home culture), making no allowance for clandestine importations where there was little or no inducement to such, the ratio of advance for this 27 years is as 185 : 100, which, compounded with that of population.

In 1840 the East India Company realized out of the opium traffic with China the sum of $4,000,000; in 1850 the receipts reached $15,000,000, a figure which had doubled by 1858. More than ten years back (1854) the Chinese paid this company for opium alone a sum exceeding in valuation the total export of their teas and silks together. Indeed, as Dr. Allen has calculated, the annual surplus profit at the time from this branch of trade alone was adequate to the liquidation, in the course of seven years, of the twenty million debt that had been incurred by the act of colonial emancipation, principal and interest both.

To such proportions has this species of trade tentatively undertaken by a few roving mariners now culminated, fostered as it has been by the indomitable greed of English merchantmen. The humanising tendencies of British civilization, as enforced and supported by British artillery, are very palpably illustrated in a saying current among the people of China, of this sort: “During the opium war the English gave their Chinese acquaintance cannonballs of iron, and after the war, cannonballs of opium; so that our people had the desperate privilege of choice as between being shot to death and poisoned to death.”

“ Revenons a nos moutons – oh nos cheres moutons!” 

Great Britain & The Continent

Paracelsus introduced opium to the notice of Europeans just about two centuries ago. All over Europe the gum bears the highest repute for its therapeutic powers, but as a narcotic stimulant it is little known beyond the limits of the English people and the Parisians. England alone (for Scotland is exempt, and Ireland nearly so) probably consumes more than France and Germany and the Peninsula altogether.

Importations into Great Britain (vide Parliamentary Documents). 1830 – 22,000 pounds; (over re-exportations). 1835- 30,400; 1840 – 41,000; 1850 – 44,000; 1860 — 98,300; 1867 – 125,000. 

Population. 1840 – 27,000,000, 1860 – 29,000,000. 1867 – (1869, 31,000,000) 30,000,000.

1856 Dr. Hawkins of King’s Lynn ascertained upon inquiry that the chief consumption was in Lancashire and other districts, within which are embraced the large manufacturing centres, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Preston, Nottingham – cities that make up an aggregate population bordering on two millions. The operatives in Lancashire alone (Liverpool excluded) number about two hundred thousand. A chemist in one locality informed Dr. H. he had, in a single year, sold in divided parcels to the amount of two hundred pounds of the drug. Another dealer had thus disposed of a hundred and forty pounds, with the extras of Laudanum and Godfrey’s Cordial, to the extent of ten gallons per week. Here was opium enough, sold at one shop alone, adequate to the supplying of fifteen hundred persons with one drachm of laudanum every day of the year. In the town of Preston, 1843, as was ascertained, sixteen hundred families were regular purchasers of Godfrey, making a ratio of twelve and a half upon the entire population.

Editor’s Note: Godfrey’s Cordial (also called Mother’s Friend) was among the most widely used patent medicine given to infants and children in England and the United States during the latter years of the 18th and early part of the 19th centuries. It was almost always given without a physician’s advice, and was used for a wide variety of symptoms ranging from run-of-the mill fretfulness and colic, to the severest forms of dehydration caused by explosive, bloody diarrhea. Despite the innocuous name, it was a dangerous preparation for infants because of its heavy opium content; Godfrey’s Cordial contained one grain of opium in each two ounces.

Some years since, Dr. A. S. Taylor, an eminent toxicologist, presented, by appointment, to a Committee of Parliament, a report of observations and inquiries made upon a survey of Marshland and the contiguous districts. A druggist whom he met in one parish, assured him he had made sales in small packages during the year previous to the amount of a thousand pounds; a quantity not equal to the demand by a half. This informant declared further, that there was not a village in all that region round but could show at least one shop and its counter loaded with the little laudanum vials, even to the hundreds, for the accommodation of customers retiring from the workshops on Saturday nights. Thus has an aggressive trade with the foreigner recoiled to plague the aggressor in his own homesteads.

Author: panaceachronicles

Those of us who were young in the fifties, sixties and seventies are now well along in our aging - those of us left, that is. Just as we tried in our youth to find alternative ways of living, learning, cooperating, having fun, and being productive, I think we're destined to replay many of these scenarios in our old age. Ironically, this is when our creative independence and desire for autonomy from centralized systems that arose in our younger days is likely to be the prescription for not just quality of life but survival itself.

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