The Truth about Opium / Being a Refutation of the Fallacies of the Anti-Opium Society and a Defence of the Indo-China Opium Trade

The Truth about Opium / Being a Refutation of the Fallacies of the Anti-Opium Society and a Defence of the Indo-China Opium Trade

William H. Brereton
William H. Brereton

Author: Brereton, William H.
Opium trade — China — History — 19th century
Opium trade — India — History — 19th century
Opium trade — Great Britain — History — 19th century
China — Commerce — India — History — 19th century
India — Commerce — China — History — 19th century
China — Commerce — Great Britain — History — 19th century
Great Britain — Commerce — China — History — 19th century
Opium abuse
The Truth about Opium
Being a Refutation of the Fallacies of the Anti-Opium Society and a Defence of the Indo-China Opium Trade




Let truth and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put
to the worse in a free and open encounter?
”—John Milton.

(All rights reserved.)



In the preface to my first edition I expressed a hope that these lectures, however imperfect, would prove in some degree instrumental towards breaking up the Anti-Opium confederacy, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that my anticipations have not been altogether disappointed. The lectures were well received by the public and the press, and struck the Anti-Opium Society and its versatile Secretary, the Rev. Mr. Storrs Turner, with such consternation that, in the language of people in difficulties, “business was discontinued until further notice.” Mr. Storrs Turner,—the motive power which kept the Anti-Opium machine working,—who had hitherto been so active, aggressive, and demonstrative—a very Mercutio in volubility and fertility of resource,—became suddenly silent, mute as the harp on Tara’s walls. He who once was resonant as the lion, like Bottom the Weaver, moderated his tone, and roared from thenceforth “gently as any sucking dove.” Until the delivery of my lectures, no lark at early morn was half so lively or jubilant. Letters to the newspapers, articles in magazines, improvised lectures and speeches, flew from him like chaff from the winnowing-machine. Heaven help the unlucky individual who had the temerity to differ from him on the opium question, for Mr. Storrs Turner would, as the phrase goes, “come down upon him sharp.”
This kind of light skirmishing suited him exactly; it kept alive public interest in the Anti-Opium delusion, and no doubt brought grist to the mill, without committing him to anything in particular, or calling for any extraordinary draft upon his imagination or resources. He had only to reiterate loud enough the cuckoo cry that his deluded followers had so long recognised as the pæan of victory. But when my lectures were delivered, and it was announced that they would be published, “a change came o’er the spirit of his dream.” Having for so many years had practically all the field to himself, it had never occurred to him that another and more competent witness from China, where all these imaginary evils from opium smoking were alleged to be taking place,—who had had better opportunities of learning the truth about opium than he could possibly have had, and who had turned those opportunities to good account,—should appear and refute his fallacies. This was a dénouement that neither he nor his Society was prepared for, and dismay and silence prevailed in consequence in the enemy’s camp.

And the tents were all silent,—the banners unflown,—
The lances unlifted,—the trumpet unblown.

My lectures were delivered in February, 1882. The Rev. Mr. Storrs Turner attended them and corresponded with me upon the subject. In those lectures I criticized his book and pointed out its misleading features and inaccuracies; but, recognizing the force of Sir John Falstaff’s maxim, that “the better part of valour is discretion,” he never attempted to controvert my case, nor justify himself or the Anti-Opium Society, who for so many years had made such noise in the world. It was only in October, 1882,—eight months after my lectures had been delivered,—after an article appeared in the London and China Telegraph, commenting on the collapse of the Anti-Opium Society,—that Mr. Storrs Turner, like Munchausen’s remarkable hunting-horn, gave utterance to a few feeble notes, to the effect that his Society was still alive; for he well knew that all that I had stated in those lectures I could prove to the hilt,—aye, ten times over.
But if Mr. Storrs Turner has declined the contest, an acolyte of his, Mr. B. Broomhall,—who appears to be the Secretary of the Inland China Mission, and one of the “Executive Committee” of the Anti-Opium Society,—comes upon the scene like King Hamlet’s ghost, declaring that he “could a tale unfold, whose lightest breath would harrow up your souls, freeze the hot blood, and make each particular hair to stand on end.” Plagiarising, if not pirating, my title, with a colourable addition of the word “Smoking,” he produces, in November 1882, a compilation entitled “The Truth about Opium-Smoking,” rather a thick pamphlet, made up of excerpts from all the writings and speeches, good, bad, and indifferent, that have been published and delivered within the last thirty years on the Anti-Opium side of the question, with some critical matter of his own, from all of which it appears most conclusively that he, Mr. B. Broomhall, is perfectly innocent of the subject he undertakes to enlighten the world upon. I think I see through this gentleman and his objects pretty well. With respect to the authors of these writings and speeches, I may say at once that I hold them in as much respect as Mr. B. Broomhall does himself. Some of them are very eminent men, who, apart from this opium delusion, are ornaments to their country, and all, I have no doubt, are men of spotless honour and integrity; but what, after all, does that prove? Why, simply the bona fides of these gentlemen, which no one ever questioned, and nothing more;—that in writing those pamphlets and articles they honestly believed they were giving utterance to facts and recording circumstances which were true, and which it was for the good of society should be widely known. The good and just man is as liable to be deceived as he who is less perfect,—indeed, more so, for his very amiability and guilelessness of heart allay suspicion and make him an easier prey to the designing and unscrupulous. Not one of those gentlemen, save Sir Rutherford Alcock, and one or two others, whose opinions are coincident, in fact, with my own, have had any actual personal knowledge of the facts they write about, and such a statement as the following might well be printed in the front of each of their books or writings, viz.: “I have read certain books and articles in newspapers, and heard speeches upon the opium question, which I believe to be true, and on such assumption the following pages are my views upon the subject.” To prove to my readers the utterly unreliable and deceptive character of Mr. Broomhall’s compilation, it is only necessary to refer to one passage, which will be found at page 122, where it is gravely put forward THAT THE INDIAN MUTINY WAS BROUGHT ABOUT BY THE INDO-CHINA OPIUM TRADE! After that, Tenterden Steeple and the Goodwin Sands will hardly seem so disconnected as has been hitherto commonly supposed. But then the book is illustrated; there are the pictures copied from the Graphic. There is the poppy, and there is the opium pipe. Of course Mr. B. Broomhall knows all about opium smoking,—or the illustrations would not be there. Mr. Crummles, with his “splendid tub and real pump,” could not have done better.
As to Mr. B. Broomhall’s remarks respecting my book I have very little to say; there is nothing in them. Like Mr. Storrs Turner, he has found it a poser, and has said very little respecting it. When your opponent gets the worst of an argument, if he does not honestly acknowledge his discomfiture, he generally follows one of two courses—either he loses his temper and takes to scolding, or he suddenly discovers something wonderfully funny in your arguments which no one else was able to detect. Mr. B. Broomhall eschews the former, but adopts the latter course. He selects a paragraph or two, and says, “That is ludicrous,” but he never condescends to enlighten his readers as to where the fun lies, or in what the drollery consists.
But, although Mr. B. Broomhall makes light of my book, he has thought proper to imitate its title. He evidently thought there was nothing ludicrous in that. This was very “smart,” but smartness is a quality not much appreciated on this side of the Atlantic. As my book had dealt a heavy blow to the Anti-Opium Society, and a cheap edition might prove still more damaging, an opposition book, with a similar title, might so confuse the public as to be mistaken for mine. Imitation has been said to be the sincerest flattery, but I dislike adulation even when administered by the Anti-Opium Society. This gentleman and his compilation bring very forcibly to my mind the profound Mr. Pott, of the Eatanswill Gazette, who, having written a series of recondite articles on Chinese Metaphysics, brought his lucubrations to the notice of his friend, Mr. Pickwick. That gentleman ventured to remark that the subject seemed an abstruse one. “Very true,” returned Mr. Pott, with a smile of intellectual superiority, “but I crammed for it—I read up the subject in the Encyclopædia Britannica. I looked for metaphysics under the letter M, and for China under the letter C, and combined the information.” This seems to be the sort of process by which Mr. B. Broomhall has arrived at his knowledge on the opium question, and with similar results. I do not wish to be too hard upon this gentleman, who, after all, may have been only a cat’s-paw in the matter—for it must not be forgotten that there is Mr. Storrs Turner in the background; but he himself, on reflection, must, I think, admit that it was going a little too far to introduce into his compilation a parody—which some might call a vulgar parody—on one of the verses of Bishop Heber’s very beautiful and world-renowned Missionary Hymn. I will not give my readers the “elegant extract,” but they can find it for themselves at page 117.
I have in this edition amplified the matter and given extracts from the Reports of Mr. William Donald Spence, Her Majesty’s Consul at Ichang, and Mr. E. Colborne Baber’s Travels and Researches in Western China, which throw a flood of light upon the opium question. I have also quoted from a very valuable work of Don Sinibaldo de Mas, an accomplished Chinese scholar, formerly Spanish Minister to the Court of Peking, published in Paris in 1858, which in itself is a complete vindication of the opium policy of Her Majesty’s Government in India and China, and an able refutation of the unfounded views of the Anti-Opium Society; and I believe this edition of The Truth about Opium will be found a very complete defence of the Indo-China opium trade.
30th January 1883.


The following lectures were given in pursuance of a determination I came to some six years ago in Hong Kong, viz. that if I lived to return to England I should take some steps, either by public lectures or by the publication of a book, to expose the mischievous fallacies disseminated by the “Anglo-Oriental Society for the Suppression of the Opium Trade.” About that time nearly every mail brought out newspapers to China containing reports of meetings held in England condemnatory of the Indo-China opium trade, at which resolutions were made containing the grossest mis-statements and exaggerations as to opium-smoking, and also the most unfounded charges against all parties engaged in the opium trade, showing clearly, to my mind, that not one of the speakers at those meetings really understood the subject he spoke about so fluently. I have now, happily, been able to carry out my intention. Unfortunately, I was deprived of the opportunity of delivering these lectures in Exeter Hall, which was not only more central than St. James’s Hall, but where I could have selected a more convenient hour for the purpose than the only time the Secretary of the latter Company could place at my disposal, the reason being that the Committee of Exeter Hall refused to allow me its use for the purpose of refuting the false and untenable allegations of the Anti-Opium Society, an act of intolerance which I think I am justified in exposing. I trust, however, that any drawback on this account will be compensated for by the publication of the lectures. I am well aware that this volume has many imperfections, but there is one respect in which I cannot reproach myself with having erred, and that is, in having overstepped the bounds of truth. I have the satisfaction of knowing that all I have stated in the lectures is substantially true and correct, and with such a consciousness I entertain a confident hope that they will prove in a humble way instrumental towards breaking up the Anti-Opium confederacy, the objects of which are as undeserving of support as they have proved mischievous in their tendency.


Objects of the Lectures.—Lectures based upon principle and not upon grounds of expediency.—Lecturer’s knowledge of the Opium question derived from actual acquaintance with the facts, acquired during nearly fifteen years’ residence in Hong Kong.—Opium smoking as practised by the Chinese perfectly innocuous, beneficial rather than injurious.—Opinion of Dr. Ayres.—Charges made by the Anti-Opium Society and its supporters false and unfounded.—Alleged knowledge of the members and supporters of the Anti-Opium Society founded on hearsay evidence of the worst and most untrustworthy character.—Lecturer not acting in the interests of the British merchants in China, nor of any other party or person.—Has no personal interest in the Opium question, and is actuated only by a desire to dispel the false and mischievous delusions spread abroad in England by the Anti-Opium Society.—British and other foreign residents in China hold opposite views to those disseminated by the Anti-Opium people.—British merchants as a body have no interest in the trade.—China a great Empire as large as Europe, with a much greater population.—Country and people of China described.—Impossible to demoralize and debase such a people.—Opium smoking a general custom throughout the eighteen provinces of China.—Reasons for the prolonged existence of the Anti-Opium Society.—False charges of the Anti-Opium Society respecting the Indo-China Opium trade more fully formulated.—Petition to the House of Commons of the Protestant Missionaries at Peking.—Refusal to sign it of the Rev. F. Galpin.—If half those charges were true the British residents in China would be the first to raise their voices against the Opium trade.—Official Yellow Book published by Sir Robert Hart, the Inspector-General of Chinese Customs, negatives the allegations of the members of the Anti-Opium Society and the Protestant Missionaries.—Roman Catholic Missionaries make no complaint against the Indo-China Opium trade.—Allegations of the Anti-Opium Society that British trade with China has suffered from the alleged forcing of Opium upon China untrue.—Friendly relations between the British merchants in China and the Chinese people.—Englishmen more esteemed by the Chinese than any other nation.—Hong Kong described.—Government of China described.—Hong Kong the head-quarters of the Indo-China Opium trade, Chinese residing there have better means of procuring the drug than elsewhere—no sufferers from Opium smoking found there.—Exposure by Dr. Ayres, the Colonial Surgeon of Hong Kong, of the fallacy that Opium smoking, although indulged in for years, cannot be dropped without injury to the system.—Fallacy of comparing the Chinese with the savages of Central Africa by the Secretary of the Anti-Opium Society exposed.—Archdeacon Gray, a resident for twenty years at Canton, silent, in his recent work on China and her people, as to the alleged iniquity of the Indo-China Opium trade.—Character of the Chinese as described by various authors.—Chinese a frugal and abstemious people.—Opium smoking less injurious than beer or tobacco.—Charges of the Anti-Opium Society based upon fallacies; those fallacies detailed.—Alleged objections of the Chinese to receive the Gospel on account of the Indo-China Opium trade the merest subterfuge, and utterly absurd and untenable.—The opinion of the late John Crawfurd, Esq., F.R.S., formerly Governor of the Straits Settlements.—His Dictionary of the Indian Islands and Adjacent countries.
Pages 1-49
Hearsay testimony upon which charges of the Anti-Opium Society founded explained.—Chinese a polite people and treat Missionaries courteously, but despise Christianity, and will not tell Missionaries the truth about Opium.—Respectable Chinese would become an object of scorn and disgrace to their fellow-countrymen if they embraced Christianity.—Professing Chinese Christians in most cases impostors.—Heathen Chinese as a rule more trustworthy than so-called Christian converts.—Missionary clergymen in China have not the confidence of the Chinese people, and draw their information as to Opium smoking from polluted sources.—Difference between Missionary clergymen in China and the clergymen of all denominations in England as regards knowledge of the people they live amongst.—Missionaries in China wholly responsible for the imposture prevailing in England as to Opium smoking in China.—Although the Chinese are a spirit-drinking people, they never drink to excess.—Drunkenness unknown amongst Chinese.—Chinese-American treaty a sham as regards Opium.—Sir J. H. Pease, M.P., duped by the “bogus” clause as to Opium.—His speech on the Opium question in 1881.—Chinese smoke Opium wherever they go.—As much Opium imported into China now as before the sham treaty.—Opium a luxury which only the well-to-do can freely indulge in.—Explanation of the means by which unfounded statements respecting Opium are propagated.—Apologue by way of example.—Proof of the state of things explained by the apologue furnished by the Rev. Storrs Turner and Dr. Ayres.—First fallacy, that the poppy is not indigenous to China, but has been recently introduced there, presumably by British agency, and the second fallacy, that Opium smoking in China is now and always has been confined to a small per-centage of the population, but which, owing to the importation into the country of Indian Opium, is rapidly increasing, refuted and the truth fully stated.—Testimony of Mr. W. Donald Spence and Mr. E. Colborne Baber, and Sir Rutherford Alcock.
Pages 50-100
Third and fifth fallacies upon which the members of the Anti-Opium Society and its supporters are misled.—Opium eating and Opium smoking contrasted with spirit drinking.—Valuable curative properties of Opium.—Spirit drinking produces organic and incurable diseases, is a fruitful cause of insanity, and leads to ruin and destruction.—The like effects admittedly not due to Opium.—Opium eating and Opium smoking totally distinct.—Whatever the effects of Opium eating, Opium smoking perfectly innocuous.—Anti-Opium advocates cunningly try to mix the two together.—Disingenuous conduct in this respect of the Rev. Storrs Turner—Mr. Turner so great an enthusiast as not to be able to see the difference.—Testimony of Dr. Eatwell as to the use of Opium.—Difference between Opium eating and Opium smoking explained in the case of tobacco smoking.—Tobacco taken internally a deadly poison, harmless when smoked.—Medical testimony as to the poisonous quality of tobacco and its alkaloid, nicotine.—Opium a valuable medicine, without any known substitute.—Anti-Tobacco Smoking Society, once formed the same as the Anti-Opium Society, put down by the common sense of the community, the like fate a

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