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  • Writer's pictureSi Biggs

The First Battle of Canton

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines

Location: China

Period/ Conflict: Opium Wars

Year: 1841

Date/s: 18 March 1841

The First Battle of Canton was fought between British and Chinese forces in Canton, Guangdong Province, China, on 18 March 1841 during the First Opium War.

The European Factories Canton

The capture led to the hoisting of the Union Jack on the British factory in Canton and the resumption of trade between the British and the Chinese.

Canton - The capture of the Bogue Forts was now complete, and the way was open to Canton.

The Political Officer was however very vacillating and difficult to deal with; by this time General Sir Hugh Gough had taken over the command of the troops and Admiral Sir F Senhouse had replaced Commodore Brener in command of the Fleet. Operations were therefore suspended until May.

A plot was then discovered to murder the British merchants in Canton, and a proclamation was issued on 20th May. On 21st May the foreigners were warned to leave Canton by the British Envoy and left for Macao; the factories were deserted, and the Marines withdrawn, and that night by means of fire junks the Chinese attempted to burn the Modeste, Pyladee, Algerine, Nemesis, etc.

“Fortunately that day I had been directed by Captain Herbert of HMS Calliope commanding the Advanced Squadron, to detach from the garrison 1 NCO and 12 men to the latter for her protection and accordingly sent them with a large supply of ammunition and they arrived in time to be of the utmost use."

No attempt was made on the Fort. Sir H Gough and the available troops were now making their way up the river.

On 21st the Royal Marines evacuated the Fort and proceeded up the river where they were formed into a battalion and joined Sir H Gough's forces. A second attempt by fire ships was defeated on 23rd and a battery above the town opened on the ships, but was silenced by the the Calliope, and a party landed and destroyed the fortifications. HMS Nemesis also discovered 43 war junks and 32 fire rafts and destroyed them; whilst the mob pillaged the factories.

A reconnaissance was made by the Naval and Military C-in-C's on 23rd, and Tsing-poo - 4 miles to West of Canton - was selected as the place for landing; here a creek runs up to the base of the hills commanding Canton on the North-West. The foreign factories were in the Western suburbs and there were also suburbs on the East and South sides of the town.

A wall running from East to West divides the old Northern part from the new Southern part of the city. Outside at the South-East corner was a fort called French Folly, Westward almost in centre was the Dutch Folly; both forts commanded the Arsenal. On Northern hills on the high ground were 4 strong forts with 42 guns which were directly above the city, from which they were separated by a ravine.

The Naval Forces consisted of Blenheim, Wellesley (Flag), Blonde, Calliope, Sulphur, Hyacinth, Nimrod, Modeste, Pylades, Cruiser, Algerine, Conwag, Herald, Alligator and the steamers Nemesis and Atalanta. The Naval personnel amounted to about 3200, of which about 1000 were available for landing. [1]


History of the Royal Marines 1837-1914 HE Blumberg

Related 'Dits'

The Second Battle of Canton

Further reading:

The Gazette

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