First War with China, and efforts to suppress the Slave-Trade - A.D. 1840.
The Chinese had long designated the English, as well as all other Europeans, the “outer barbarians,” and treated them in the most insulting manner. At length the Chinese government, finding that silver alone was given in exchange for opium, was afraid that the country would be drained of that precious metal, and resolved to put a stop to the importation of the drug. Commissioner Lin was sent to Canton for that purpose, and, to prove that he was in earnest, he ordered the first Chinese opium smuggler he could catch to be strangled, shut up the British merchants in their factories, and then demanded the delivery of all the opium ships in the river. At the same time the British flag was fired on, British ships were detained, and a Chinaman having been accidentally killed by a British seaman, the life of a British subject was demanded in return. Captain Elliott, R.N., acting at that time as chief superintendent of trade, immediately sent home an account of the state of affairs, summing up altogether a long list of complaints against the Chinese. On receipt of the news a squadron was sent out of 3 seventy-fours, 2 forty-fours, 3 38-gun frigates, and several sloops of war and brigs, which, on their arrival, were joined by 4 of the East India Company’s armed steamers, and to meet them on their arrival about 4000 troops were despatched from India. Before this the Volage and Hyacinth, while lying in Canton River, had a sharp engagement with a fleet of war-junks, under the Chinese Admiral Kwang. Gallantly as Kwang behaved, in a short time one of his junks blew up, three sank, several were shattered and deserted by their crews, and the remainder fled in the greatest confusion, Kwang’s junk being in a sinking condition. Captain Smith, not wishing to cause any unnecessary bloodshed, retired with his ships to Macao, where he embarked a number of British residents. Kwang, in consequence, boasted that he had gained a great victory, and was covered with honours, his countrymen being encouraged to persevere in the contest. The Chinese also issued a proclamation offering 20,000 Spanish dollars to any one who would capture an English 80-gun ship, and 5000 dollars to the man who took alive a foreign mandarin or captain, and so on in proportion to the rank of the captives; while a third of the sum was to be paid for killing them. The Chinese, determined to resist, prepared fire-ships, exercised their troops, and got up sham fights, dressing some of their men in red clothes, who were always soundly beaten, to teach the Celestials to conquer the barbarian English. They had likewise purchased the Cambridge, an old East Indiaman, of 900 tons, and armed her with thirty-four guns, and had built some curious craft with paddle-wheels, in imitation of English steamers. It was said even that they had funnels, with fires below them to create a smoke, in order to deceive the barbarians. They also threw up forts along the banks of their rivers, sometimes facing them with thin boards or canvas, painted to look like stone, in order to frighten their invaders.
A considerable squadron, under the command of Rear-Admiral Elliott, in the Melville, 74, now arrived. When at Singapore, Captain Maitland had drilled 350 of her seamen to act as light-infantry troops, and had brought them into an admirable state of efficiency. While one part of the fleet blockaded the mouth of the Canton River, the remainder proceeded to the northward to look into different harbours. On her way the Blonde came off Amoa, near which she observed batteries thrown up, and in a short time a number of large armed junks came down as if to attack her. On a boat being sent on shore with a flag of truce, she was fired on by the Chinese. On this the Blonde opened her broadsides, soon knocked the forts to pieces, and compelled the war-junks to run up the harbour.