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Attack on Canton 1857

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Location: Canton

Period/ Conflict:

Year: 1857

Date/s: 28 December 1857

The Battle of Canton (Chinese: 廣州城戰役) was fought by British and French forces against Qing China on 28–31 December 1857 during the Second Opium War. The British High Commissioner, Lord Elgin, was keen to take the city of Canton (Guangzhou) as a demonstration of power and to capture Chinese official Ye Mingchen who had resisted British attempts to implement the 1842 Treaty of Nanking.

Elgin ordered an Anglo-French force to take the town and an assault began on 28 December. Allied forces took control of the city walls on 29 December but delayed entry into the city itself until 5 January. They subsequently captured Ye and some reports state they burnt down much of the town. The ease with which the allies won the battle was one of the reasons for the signing of the Treaty of Tientsin in 1858.

British and French troops reconnoitred the city on 22 December. The allied force amounted to 800 men from the Indian Royal Sappers and Miners and the British 59th (2nd Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot, 2,100 Royal Marines, a 1,829-man naval brigade drawn from the crews of British ships and a 950-man force from the French Navy arrayed against a Chinese garrison of 30,000 men.

However the allies could count on the supporting fire of Anglo-French naval vessels and artillery batteries on Dutch Folly and other nearby islands. The main battle began with a naval bombardment throughout the day and night of 28 December.

The next day troops landed, taking a small fort, by Kupar Creek to the south-east of the city. The Chinese had thought that the attacking forces would try to capture Magazine Hill before they moved on the city walls, but on the morning on 29 December after a naval bombardment ending at 9am French troops climbed the city walls with little resistance. They had arrived at the wall half an hour early and so faced fire from their own guns. The British also broke into the city through the East gate.

On the 31st parties of sappers and miners commenced their preparations for blowing up Gough's Fort and the Upper Blue Jacket Fort, outside the walls of Canton to the northward of the city, and they were destroyed on the following day, the former by the English, the other by the French.

On the evening of the 31st a heavy explosion took place near the North-east Gate. A magazine of Chinese powder was being cleared out, when, by some accident, it exploded, and 17 seamen were severely burned.

19 Royal Marines wounded none killed.

The walls were occupied for a week, then the troops moved into the streets of the city that contained over 1,000,000 people, on January 5, after the occupation of Canton, Ye who was unwilling to leave was caught in Yamun by the British army who brought Ye by ship to Kolkata, India.

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