Tag Archive | Opium

5th February 1805. Opium.

John Jones in his 1700, ‘Mysteries of Opium Revealed’, credited it not to dulling pain, but inducing ‘serenity’,‘promptitude‘,’alacrity‘, ‘euphory’, ‘contentation,’ and ‘equanimity’.

Many families were involved in the opium trade with even the Wordsworth’s investing £20,000 in John’s voyage on the earl of Abergavenny, a large sum for a family still living more or less hand to mouth in a tiny Cumbrian cottage with two bedrooms, stone floors, smoking chimneys and sheets of newspaper pasted on the walls. The convoy sailed for China carrying a cargo of silver dollars and the prospect of gain from opium, standing to gain up to £30,000, £1,000,000 in today’s money.

However disastrously for John Wordsworth his ship went down Today on 5th February 1805 after striking a sandbank off Portland Bill three days after setting sail. Two hundred and sixty passengers and crew drowned.

Opium in the late 18th and 19th centuries was the recreational drug and before the 1868 Pharmacy Act anyone could trade in opium products; The Society for the Suppression of Opium was founded in the same year.

The 19thc was the era of sinister opium dens in London and much cocaine use but 1910 saw the dismantling of the Indian-Chinese opium trade which the East India Company had controlled whereby India had the monopoly in growing and selling of prepared opium which brought a quarter of India’s revenue.

Imports rose six fold here between 1825 and 1850 and by 1870 income from its export accounted for no less than a fifth of tax revenues, mainly at the expense of the Chinese.

‘It keeps womenfolk quiet it do’ says the old Fenlander in Charles Kingsley’s, Alton Locke (1850) and was mothers’ little helper in childcare,  and one effect of the the 1868 Poisons and Pharmacy Act was to reduce infant mortality by opium overdose by two thirds.

Alcohol Opium Tincture and Laudanum freely available in pharmacies and grocers, was used to keep children quiet.

Art and literature flourished under the influence of opium or cocaine, from De Quincey’s ‘Confessions of an Opium Eater‘, to Coleridge, Shelley and Keats, later Charles Dickens where it featured in his unfinished ‘Mystery of Edward Drood’ with the seedy addiction of John Jasper. Kipling’s ‘Kim’ 1901 centred on the wide availability of opium.

Other partakers of the period included Wilberforce, Disraeli and Florence Nightingale, with many taking drugs to ease pain.

The popular novelist and intellectual Mrs Humphrey Ward, who suffered ill-health, recorded: ‘my syringe and my needle, like my toothbrush and prayer book, are sacrosanct. I would not dream of allowing my best friend to share them’.

Novels such as the Moonstone 1868 by Wilkie Collins used opium as a plot-device for both medicinal and exotic deviant association. Collins had an ambivalent attitude towards opiates shown when Francis Blake steals a diamond against his knowledge as he had secretly had his drink laced with laudanum. The publication of the book coincided with 1868 Act.(1).

Refined ladies after enjoying afternoon tea would bare their arms and inject each other to relieve the ennui up until WWI.(2)

Opium the once wonder drug continued to be big business by big imperial trader interests until the Dangerous Drugs Act 1920 which banned cocaine, though amphetamine-based products such as Benzedrine could still be bought over the counter in the Fifties.

(1) Collins used laudanum and injected morphine.

(2) Reported by Sarah Phelps who wrote The Crimson Field for BBC TV broadcast in April 2014, who had read ‘All these Edwardian ladies diaries saying they used to have morphine parties which explains why they joined the VAD to nurse the soldiers.

Ref: talkingdrugs.org/Pic.

Ref: Opium-Realites Dark Dream. Thomas Dormandy, Yale 2012.

Ref: Opium and Empire in Victorian Britain

Ref Wilkie Collins Hutchinson 2013.

Mary Augusta Ward re Humphreys Nb Matthew Arnold.


15th August 1785. Confessions of an Opium Eater.

Papaver somniferum (opium poppy), the source of the drug, has a long history, with John Jones in his 1700 ‘Mysteries of Opium Revealed’, crediting it, ‘not to dulling pain, but inducing serenity, promptitude, alacrity, euphory, contentation and equanimity’. (sic).

Today in 1785, the writer Thomas Penson de Quincey, best known for his essay ‘Confessions of an Opium Eater’, probably inaugurated the vogue for addiction literature.(1)

Opium in the late 18th and 19th centuries was the recreational drug for the well-heeled and before the 1868 Pharmacy Act anyone could trade in the drug, including healers, herbalists, barber-dentists, quacks and patent medical sellers: The Society for the Suppression of Opium was founded in the same year.

Opium was important in Britain’s brutal, exploitative role in imperial, eastern, commerce, but eventually regarded as a major health problem, but so was endemic cholera, malaria and dysentery.

Opium’s derivative, morphine was discovered in 1805, with laudanum widely used to quell fractious babies, and Morphine and Heroin (opiates) were widely seen as miracle cures when they were first distilled, with manufacturers proudly proclaiming their products as containing these narcotics.

de Quincey by John Watson Gordon.

A friend of Coleridge, de Quincey lived 10 years at Dove Cottage, once home to Wordsworth, and by 1818 was editor of The Westmorland Gazette, the Tory newspaper published in Kendal, so a reactionary, champion of aristocratic privilege ,and ‘Jacobin’ was his highest form of opprobrium, however he was a staunch slavery abolitionist.

Despite being the son of a Manchester manufacturer, debt was a constant problem through his adult life, but found Debtors’ Sanctuary at Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, but was allowed to emerge on Sundays.

Grave of de Quincey.

de Quincy suffered with astigmatism and the extremely painful Trigeminal Neuralgia, so who wouldn’t deny his efforts at alleviation.

It was whilst studying desultorily at Oxford that de Quincey, failing to take his oral exams, occasionally used opium, and it was remarked on the correlation of the amount of his usage and his productive writing.

de Quincy eventually exchanged London and the English Lakes for Edinburgh where he died on 8th December 1859 to be buried at St. Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh. See left.

Today Codeine (a naturally occurring alkaloid of Opium) has been widely used to relieve pain and as a soporific and stimulant.

(1) the ‘de’ in the name was an affection of his mother. His essay on opium inspired Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique, reflecting an internal struggle.



telegraph.co.uk. Book Review. Simon Heffer. 1.1.2010.

26th January 1841. Opium!

After the battle of Plassey 1757 Britain annexed Bengal in India, and the monopoly in opium trading passed to the British controlled East India Company, who balanced their tea trade purchases from China by trading opium to that country.(1)

In the mid-19th century, Britain was involved in the  opium trade in China, which allied with the associated burning, and looting of their national treasures, cast a dreadful, shameful and long lasting stain on our relations with that country.(2)

Great Britain acquired Hong Kong Island (‘fragrant harbour’), when Commodore Sir Gordon Bremer of the Royal Navy arrived, hoisted the Union Flag, and claimed Hong Kong as a colony Today in 1841. It was officially ceded next year.

The Kowloon Peninsular Territory was added in 1860, and the New Territories were ceded in 1898 on a 99-year lease.(3)

Opium War. Nemesis destroying war junk at Battle of Chuenpee 7.1.1841. E. Duncan 1843.

Opium War. Nemesis destroying war junk at Battle of Chuenpee 7.1.1841. E. Duncan 1843.

It was William Parker who cemented his reputation during the 1st Opium War 1839-42 when he led a combined force up the Yangtse, captured Nanking and forced China to sue for peace.

By the ending of the first Opium War and the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, the British Representative, Sir Henry Pottinger became the first Governor, after the Qing Dynasty agreed to cede Hong Kong Island, ’in perpetuity’.

The Treaty signed on 29th August also forced China to reduce her import tariffs, the effect of which was to change the framework of foreign trade in force since 1760 (the Canton System). Britain was now allowed free trade in five designated ports.

The punitive Treaty also imposed on The Qing Dynasty a fine of 6 million silver dollars for opium confiscation, 3 million for debts and 12 million for the cost of the war, to be paid in instalments with a 5% penalty.

The Second Opium War in 1856 lead to the burning and looting of the Peking Summer Palace in 1860, much of which treasure came to Britain including a Pekinese dog for Queen Victoria, which she shamelessly called Lootie.

The British High Commissioner for China at the time, was the 8th Earl of Elgin, whose father had been responsible for removing the Elgin Marbles from Greece.

The war resulted in the end of the Manchu Dynasty, the rise of the Boxers ,and civil war with squabbling warlords. The later Boxer Wars resulted from the Chinese confiscating large quantities of Indian opium carried by British merchants into Canton.

As a result Treaty Ports such as Shanghai were forced to open up to British trade and residence, on the back of which companies such as Jardine Matheson and Dent and Co., were to flourish.

The opium trade was to continue until the early 20th century, and though Hong-Kong Island and Kowloon were ceded in perpetuity, whilst the New Territories were on a 99 years’ lease, the whole Colony was returned to China in 1997.

(1) Bengal was acquired under East India Company Act 1793.

(2) International conventions governing repatriation of cultural property have never been signed by Britain despite Labour’s pre-1997 election promise to accede to them.

(3) Hong-Kong was acquired by three treaties:
a.Nanking 1842.

b.Beijing 1860.

c.Convention for Extension of Hong-Kong Territory 1898.

Ref: wikipedia.org/transfer-of-sovereignty-over-hong-kong.

Ref: Pic: wikipedia.org/first_opium_war.googleimages.

Pic: wikipedia.org.history_of_hong_kong.

Pic: timeout.com.uk/british-occupation-of-hong-kong.

28th September 1926. The Drug Problem.


The Opium trade, for a century, had been engaged in by the big Imperial interests. However the problem had now moved nearer to home, for a 1904 advert in the British Daily Telegraph, advised that: ‘ALCOHOL EXCESS AND DRUG HABITS cured at home, in three to seven weeks’.

After the 1912 Hague Convention, there was no common agreement as to who should implement legislation and regulation of drugs, though there was pressure for criminal penalties, up to the outbreak of war in 1914.

Sir Malcolm Delevingne, Under-Secretary at the British Home Office, considered that the key to the problem was control of supply, and took responsibility, by using the War Powers Act, to stop the sale of cocaine and opiates to soldiers, unless under prescription. 

It was around this at a time that the term ‘Dope Fiend’, with all its sinister associations was being bandied about, and serious enough to inspire The Dangerous Drugs Act 1920, which banned cocaine. Up to this time the British medical profession treated drug addiction as a disease.(1)

It was not until after we had signed the International Convention on narcotics, when cannabis became illegal, that Today on 28th September 1926, the 1925 Dangerous Drugs Act which controlled Indian Hemp and all resins and preparations, came in force.  The Home Office was now charged with administering the Act.

The 1926 Act was to form the basis of drug legislation to the 1990’s.

The lead-up to the Act was low key, with no lobbying, and in the House of Commons, a junior minister merely reported that the 1925 Geneva Convention, which had dealt with Indian hemp and all resins, couldn’t be ratified, until an ‘important and small law’, which now included coca leaves, was passed.

It was now recognized by the Home Office, that appropriate dosage should also be available for addicts, however cannabis (marijuana) was not included in the review.

It was also in 1926 that a Committee chaired by Sir Humphrey Rolleston, President of the Royal College of Physicians had drawn up a policy on opiates, cocaine and other drugs, where Medical and Public Health considerations were stressed along with the notion of, punishment and criminality, though for some reason the police were not invited to the talks.

In 1934 the Home Office had created a Drugs Branch, but felt able to control the situation, as Morphine addiction, which had been the major problem, had declined from 1935.

Back in 1898, when first marketed, Heroin, was considered a non-addictive alternative to Morphine, though the drug remained a small problem until 1938, when the Scotland Yard, ‘Flying Squad’ saw fit to launch a drive to eliminate it.

Amphetamine-based products such as Benzedrine could still be bought over the counter up to the 1950’s, a time when young girls were said to be smoking Indian hemp in reefer cigarettes.

The consumption of cannabis (or marijuana), didn’t take-off until the ‘swinging’ 1960’s, when in ten years it increased fourteen fold. However the drug was downgraded to Category C, but since 2009 became Category B, and is now the preferred recreational drug for many.

Discoveries in 1988 suggest that human beings are hard-wired to cannabis, owing to our inheriting from the primitive sea-squirt, a cannaboid receptor in the brain, which regulates emotional activity, and when over stimulated can cause a feeling of well-being, but also addiction and paranoia. This raises the question can man live by bread alone? (Gen 1.29) as the article said.(2)

(1) The Home Secretary now gave 40 days’ notice in January 1921 that controls would be issued on: raw opium, morphine, cocaine, heroine and ecogonine (coca). Manchester Guardian ‘Sale of Dope’-New Control and regulations.8.1.1921.

(2) Cannabis produces Omega 3 and 6 essential unsaturated fatty-acids, which are essential for human life as we cannot synthesize them, and when we are low in endocannabinoids(ECS), it signals unhappiness.(see youtube.com below).

Ref: wikipedia.org.uk/dangerous_drugs_act_1920.

Ref;Heroine Addiction care and control The British System H.B. Spears P.33.

Ref: wikipedia.org.uk/Malcolm_Delevingne.

Ref: idmu.co.uk/historical.

Ref: youtube.com/watch. Human are wired for cannabis as receptors, 1988.

16th July 1845. What’s your Poison?


There were many celebrated poison cases in the mid-19th century, notably those of Dr.Thomas Smethurst, Madelaine Smith and Florence Maybrick.

The Provincial Medicine and Surgical Journal  today in 1845 described the fatal poisoning of a child by arsenic. However this was not an unusual occurrence as many adults as well as children were poisoned either intentionally or otherwise at a time when arsenic was widely used in British society for a variety of purposes.(1)

SAM_1999 (2)

A large piece of native arsenic (As). Pic Ref below

Parliament made efforts to regulate matters by the 1872 Poisons Act which stipulated record keeping by the dispensing chemist, along with a signature from the purchaser. It is currently in force in the UK. 

That Act followed The Arsenic Act 1851, when that poison was fast becoming the preferred means of suicide and murder, as well as causing many accidental fatalities.

Whilst the 1851 Act responded to intentional poisoning, many at the time were dying as a result of commercial use of arsenic, in soap, wallpaper and incredibly as an aphrodisiac.

It was a time when the emerging professions of pharmacy and physiology was moving away from ‘old wife’ healers, herbalists, barber-dentists, quacks and patent medical sellers who as late the 1850’s, could sell opium.

The problem was that small amounts of arsenic mimic similar symptoms as other poisons, and feelings of ‘sinking of powers, failings of strength, slight fever, want of sleep, aversion to food, drink and other enjoyment of life’, as an 18th century physician described, could in reality have applied to many illnesses.(2)

It is not surprising that there was much bad health at the time, especially considering that arsenic was administered by doctors in ‘Fowler’s Solution’ at the end of 18th century, which was arsenic and potassium salt and the ‘answer’ to rheumatism and syphilis.

Dickens’ ‘Household Words’ described a girl who went to a rural grocer for tea, sugar, currants, red herrings, flour and 2 oz. of arsenic. It was used in sheep dips and Hooper’s New Medical Dictionary 1848 noted: [that] ‘it could be used with children for migraine, neuralgia and skin disorders.

Arsenic was used widely well into the 20th century, in fly-paper [hanging from the lamp], curtains, furniture, fabrics, lampshades, ornaments, carpets, lino, toys, wallpaper, books, wrapping for tobacco and as a tinting and colouring agency‘

One result of the 1851 Act was the founding of the [Royal]Pharmaceutical Society co-founded by William Allen, who became its first President, from the necessity of restricting outlets for the sale of arsenic; previously any grocer, oilman or huckster could sell the product. Also the British Pharmacists were keen to restrict the trade to those qualified, but without affecting the lucrative trade.

Then in the 1868 Pharmacy Act pharmacists were given a monopoly to supervise sales under the Act as long as records were kept. Legislation on adulteration of medicines was also enacted.

The test for presence of arsenic, also wryly called ’Poudre de Succession’, (Powder of Succession for those ‘keen’ to inherit), is conducted using the Marsh Test. James Marsh ( 2.9.1794-21.6.1846) was an Ordnance chemist at the Royal Arsenal. His modified test used arsenic and sulphuric acid and arsenic free zinc resulting in arsene gas which leaves a silvery black deposit and described in the Education Philosophical Journal 1836.(3)

(1) The evidence in Agatha Christie’s 1920 ‘The  Mysterious Affair at Styles’ centres on who purchased and signed for  strychnine another widely used poison.

(2) Arsenic (Atomic Number 33), is a metalloid and commonly found with sulfur and metals.  The six accepted examples are:    Boron(B),Silicon(Si),Germanium(Ge),Arsenic(As),Antimony(Sb),and Tellurium(Te).

One who supposedly died from arsenic poisoning, was Fernando 5th Earl of Derby and a patron of Shakespeare, though the symptoms are similar to cholera.

In 2004 hair from George III was found traces of arsenic and in 2005 The Lancet reported that antimony, an element of his treatment, could have been a contributory factor as being found in the same mine workings, could have become contaminated with arsenic.

(3) Marsh lectured as one of Faraday’s assistants at the Royal Military Academy (1829-46).

Ref: Gladstone Legislation 1868-74 on adulteration.

Ref: wikipedia.org/wiki/arsenic.

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