111 (Dragon) Battery RA
China: The First Opium War
4th July 1840 - 17th August 1842
For decades the Chinese govenment had made strenuous efforts to halt the illegal opium smuggling
conducted by foreign , mainly British, ships at Canton. Quite apart from the physical dangers to native
Chinese of opium smoking, there was, particularly since 1830 or thereabouts, the considerable economic
damage caused by the drainage of cash silver from the country to pay for the illegal imports. The trade had
become so pervasive (millions were addicted and corruption was rife among customs officials) that a lively
discussion now took place among Chinese officials as to the advisability of legalizing the drug and, at least,
bring the trade under the normal purview of the customs department.
There were others, of course, who adopted the contrary view that opium smoking was a national evil
which had to be stopped. Finally, the Chinese emperor took the path of suppression and in 1838 severe
measures, leading to summary execution of native drug traffickers, were instituted; though as one
observer commented: "They might as well have tried to concert a measure to stop the Yellow river in
its impetuous flow, as to check the opium trade by laws and penalties"!
Although the British government connived at the trade by allowing imports of the drug from the
East India Company's distribution center in India, the British naval officer Capt. Charles Elliot, then
supervising the legal trade at Canton, incurred the ire of his countrymen when he posted a public notice
citing the danger to the regular trade of illegal trafficking by British merchants which "was rapidly staining
the British character with deep disgrace."
The entire situation was transformed, however, with the arrival of the special Imperial Commissioner,
Lin Tse-hsu, at Canton on March 10, 1839, the signal that the Chinese government meant to deal the
death-blow to the trade by finally attacking the evil at its root--the foreign ships in the harbor. As the
emperor himself is reported to have said to Lin: "How, alas! can I die and go to the shades of my
imperial father and ancestors, until these direful evils are removed!"
One week later the first of Lin's edicts was issued both to the co-Hong and foreign merchants: all
opium cargoes in foreign store ships in the harbor were to be handed over and bonds given that, on
penalty of death, no more would be brought in. Thus was set in train the series of events that led to the
opium war between China and Britain.
An expedition was accordingly mounted in 1840, the real point of which was to establish that, as
Fortescue puts it, after two centuries of friendly commercial intercourse, it was intolerable that the
British should be arrogantly and insultingly excluded from Chinese territory.
Three battalions of British infantry (18th, 26th and 49th Foot) were sent from India and Ceylon and
were supported by a detachment of two Officers and 34 men of the Royal Artillery under the command
of 2nd Captain J Knowles, RA., and by units of the Madras Artillery.
The force arrived off Macao on the 21st June and, a week later, entered Chusan harbour and began a
blockade of which the Chinese took little notice. But sickness developed in the British force on an
appalling scale. The 26th Foot which had arrived 900 strong had no more than 140 fit men by the end
of 1840, and of a force originally numbering 3,000, 450 had died and 500 were in hospital.
In January 1840 an amphibious attack was made up river towards Canton. The forts defending that
city were taken but protracted negotiations for an armistice delayed operations. The Chinese then
counter attacked in April, as a result of which the British force staged a full scale attack on Canton
itself. Canton was defended by 45,000 Chinese troops, but the 3,500 soldiers, marines, and seamen
under General Gough routed the Chinese and captured the city.
The Madras Foot Artillery at the Assault on Chin-Kiang-Foo,
21st July 1842
By David Rowlands
The units of the Madras Artillery served with distinction in the many actions that took
place during the rest of the Campaign.
111 (Dragon) Battery also fought in Burma in 1824-25. All three Dragon Batteries (111. 127, and 129)
went right through the First World War in France in either the 1st or 2nd Divisions from the earliest
days of the British Expeditionary Force at Mons to the very end of the War.
Please click on the above Link to visit David's impressive Website
Ubique Barracks, Dortmund
17th March 1984
After a long and eventful life the Dragon Standard was lowered for the last time on Saturday,
17th March 1984, and presented to the MGRA, by Capt PA Lamb, the Battery Commander for
safe keeping, until hopefully it is needed again in the future.
Dragon Battery was founded as G Company, the Madras Foot Artillery in 1806. In 1840 it
took part in the First China War and in recognition of its service was awarded the honour title
"Dragon". It was during this conflict that the Battery captured a Chinese Dragon Cannon.
In 1947 it was renumbered 111 (Dragon) Battery.
The Battery had been in Dortmund since 1971, first with 36 Heavy Air Defence Regiment,
then 2nd Field Regiment and then finally, in August 1979, it joined 19th Field Regiment.
F Troop whilst with 43 Battery 39 Regiment, how many do you recognise?
Thanks to Mel Cooch for the photo
Copyright: Keith Holderness 2001- 2021
All rights reserved