China War Medal 1840-42

Thomas Fitzgerald HMS Blenheim

Thomas Fitzgerald
HMS Blenheim

Eligible to HM Forces & East India Company forces who served at any of the following operations of 1841 (First China War):

  • In the Canton River, in operations:
  • At Chusan in 1841 & 1842
  • At Amoy, at Ningpo, at Chinpae, at Tsekee, Chapoo, in the River Woosung, in the Yangse Kiang, and at the assauly of Ching-Kiang-Foo.

On 29th August 1842 a treaty was signed on HMS Cornwallis by Sir Henry Pottinger and the Chinese representative, Keying Elepoo. Under the terms of the treaty, China agreed to cede Hong Kong to Britain, to open key ports and to pay an indemnity of US $ 21 Million.


China War Medal Rev

China War Medal Rev

HMS Blenheim

HMS Blenheim

In late October the Thomas Coutts arrived in China and sailed to Canton. This ship was owned by Quakers who refused to deal in opium, and its captain, Warner, believed Charles Elliot (The British Superintendent of Trade in China), had exceeded his legal authority by banning the signing of a bond which allowed ships to land if they did not carry the drug, the violation of which would result in the death penalty and confiscation of all the opium on board. The captain negotiated with the governor of Canton and hoped that all British ships could unload their goods at Chuenpee, an island near Humen.

To prevent other British ships from following the Thomas Coutts, Elliot ordered a blockade of the Pearl River. Fighting began on 3 November 1839, when a second British ship, the Royal Saxon, attempted to sail to Canton. Then the British Royal Navy ships HMS Volage and HMS Hyacinth fired a warning shot at the Royal Saxon.

The Qing navy’s official report claimed that the navy attempted to protect the British merchant vessel, also reporting a great victory for that day. In reality, they were out-classed by the Royal Naval vessels and many Chinese ships were sunk. Elliot reported that they were protecting their 29 ships in Chuenpee between the Qing batteries. Elliot knew that the Chinese would reject any contacts with the British and there would eventually be an attack with fire boats. Elliot ordered all ships to leave Chuenpee and head for Tung Lo Wan, 20 miles (30 km) from Macau, but the merchants preferred to harbour in Hong Kong.

In 1840, Elliot asked the Portuguese governor in Macau to let British ships load and unload their goods there in exchange for paying rent and any duties. The governor refused for fear that the Qing Government would discontinue supplying food and other necessities to Macau. On 14 January 1840, the Qing Emperor asked all foreigners in China to halt material assistance to the British in China. In retaliation, the British Government and British East India Company decided that they would attack Canton. The military cost would be paid by the British Government.

Lord Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary, initiated the Opium War to maintain the principle of free trade.  Melancon argues that the issue in going to war was not the opium but the Britain’s need to upholding its reputation, its honour, and its commitment to global free trade. China was pressing Britain at just the moment when it faced serious pressures in the Near East, on the Indian frontier, and in Latin America. In the end, says Melancon, the government’s need to maintain its honour in Britain and prestige abroad forced the decision to go to war.  Critics, however, focused on the immorality of opium. William Ewart Gladstone denounced the war as “unjust and iniquitous” and criticised Lord Palmerston’s willingness “to protect an infamous contraband traffic.”  The public and press in the United States and Britain expressed outrage that Britain was supporting the opium trade.

In June 1840, an expeditionary force of 15 barracks ships, 4 steam-powered gunboats and 25 smaller boats with 4000 marines reached Canton from Singapore. The marines were headed by James Bremer. Bremer demanded the Qing Government compensate the British for losses suffered from interrupted trade.

Following the orders of Lord Palmerston, a British expedition blockaded the Mouth of Pearl River and moved north to take Chusan. Led by Commodore J.J. Gordon Bremer in Wellesley, they captured the empty city after an exchange of gunfire with shore batteries that caused only minor casualties.

The next year, 1841, the British captured the Bogue forts that guarded the mouth of the Pearl River—the waterway between Hong Kong and Canton. Meanwhile, at the far west in Tibet, the start of the Sino-Sikh war added another front to the strained Qing military. By January 1841, British forces commanded the high ground around Canton and defeated Bannermen at Ningbo and at the military post of Dinghai. In the same year the British made three unsuccessful attempts to capture the harbour of Keelung on the northeast coast of Taiwan.

By the middle of 1842, the British had defeated the Chinese at the mouth of their other great riverine trade route, the Yangtze, and were occupying Shanghai. The war finally ended in August 1842, with the signing of China’s first Unequal Treaty, the Treaty of Nanking.

Destroying Chines Junks - First Opium Wars

Destroying Chines Junks – First Opium Wars


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