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(Exhibition held 2-31 July 2007)

A small two case exhibition timed to coincide with government legislation making public places and workplaces in England smoke-free. The exhibition looked back at a time when the British government was less concerned with health and more interested in the economic gains of the opium trade.

Sifting and picking over a special sample of teaCase 1 examined the role of the East India Company in the illegal smuggling of Indian opium into China.  This was done to obtain silver which could then be used to satisfy the increasing demand for tea, payment for which was demanded by the Chinese in silver.   China’s fierce resistance to this activity led Britain to force China to buy the drug in the Opium War of 1840-1843.  Reactions to the activities of the East India Company and indeed the British government were explored together with the unscrupulous ways in which opium was procured by the Company.  Finally a few of the more curious ways in which opium has been smuggled over the years were illustrated and mention made of the fact the opium trade was legalised in 1858.

Case 2 looked at the way in which officials played down the harmful effects of smoking opium and how others noted the reality was rather different. Addiction resulted in serious consequences not only for public health but also threatened the very structures of society.  The extent of opium-smoking was illustrated through the inclusion of a table showing the returns of some of the treaty ports of China.  A map additionally illustrated the extent of opium consumption in India itself.  Finally the role of missionaries in drawing attention to the problem was explored.

Black opium / E. Lewis

Captions from exhibition

Hand list of items included or referred to in the exhibition

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