For Flashman Down Under click HERE Balladeer’s Blog moves on to another Harry Flashman adventure referred to but never completed before George MacDonald Fraser’s death.
Projected Title: FLASHMAN IN THE OPIUM WAR
Time Period: Late in the Second Opium War in China (1859- 1860)
The Setup: In Flashman and the Dragon (1985) readers learned that our antihero Colonel Harry Paget Flashman had been serving in Hong Kong and mainland China long enough to become fluent in the language. Flashman in the Opium War would detail Harry’s adventures in the closing period of the Second Opium War up until the start of the Anglo-French military expedition to Peking.
The Second Opium War is still an incredibly controversial conflict from Queen Victoria’s reign. Even at the time passions ran very much against the war AND against the fact that HMG was seen as accommodating the opium trade in Chinese ports.
To the most critical eyes – then and now – the Empire seemed to be facilitating the market in opium so that certain British businessmen could get rich and if the drug’s use had a very negative, epidemic downside for the Far Eastern customers, that was callously perceived to be a fringe benefit.
As I say, that is the most critical view. More sympathetic figures point out that in the 1800s the world did not have the same derogatory view of the drug trade as now and the drug trade was LEGAL in the Far East. If it hadn’t been British merchants making money off the opium trade then any gaps would have been filled by the Chinese merchants who had been dealing in drugs for centuries.
We know from off-hand references in other Flashman novels that the amoral Cavalry officer lent his name to Flashman and Bottomley, Ltd, whose ventures included the opium trade during Harry’s time in the Far East.
Usually in Flashman’s dark-humored adventures the swashbuckling rogue’s pursuit of loot is separate from the particular historical atrocities being depicted. In this case Harry’s pursuit of a fortune in opium is so tangled up with the outrages to be chronicled that it would surely have tested Fraser’s storytelling abilities to the utmost to maintain Flashman’s charm.
At any rate, I don’t know how Fraser planned on getting Colonel Flashman from America to China in 1859 to serve in the closing months of the Second Opium War proper.
Harry being Harry, he no doubt would have been happy to abuse his military role to help his and Bottomley’s opium business against their Chinese competitors, both legit and the Triads. (Remember, Fraser mentioned that Flashy’s familiarity with China and the Triads would need to be explained in a future volume of the Flashman Papers. )
The historical backdrop of Hong Kong that early in British control would be fascinating on every level. Harry would no doubt make himself well-known among the prettier British wives in Hong Kong and at the kinkier brothels.
The consistent thread throughout the story could be Flashman and Bottomley, Ltd’s attempts to compile a genuinely huge bonanza of opium to make a really big score of Superfly proportions.
Since it would not go over well with modern readers for Harry to become a successful drug magnate the tale would need to end with Flashman and his partner getting gypped out of their opium treasure. It would be something like the end of Royal Flash when Lola Montez runs off with the Crown Jewels of Strackenz which Harry had stolen.
And from there the stage would be set for Flashman and the Dragon‘s account of the Anglo-French expedition to Peking.
Miscellaneous bits of business Flashman could witness or take part in that would fit the book and the location and the wartime backdrop:
*** At times in the cities where British troops were stationed the Chinese people there would throw bags of gunpowder or smoky lantern stink-bombs at British soldiers walking along. Some soldiers suffered severe burns from assorted attacks like this prompting British reprisals against the entire street everywhere the incidents happened. Eventually this stopped the random attacks but added to the air of tension.
*** The five canals of Swatow would make a fitting setting for a chase or running battle between Harry and the legion of enemies he makes in his travels. According to some contemporary accounts Swatow and vicinity’s entire economic base lay on the opium trade.
*** In 1859-1860 on nearby Double Island, a veritable Boom Town/ Island, there were between 20-30 Europeans involved in human trafficking or “the Coolie Trade” as it was called. Such figures were frowned upon by the British army because of the way they gave outside businesses in the area an even blacker eye than the opium business. These people would be ideal foils to help Flashman look not so bad to readers.
*** Further fueling resentment to the European presence on Double Island was a local superstition claiming that the typhoons of the past few years had been caused by the fact that a European had built a lighthouse on the island.
*** Around Fuchau were a few asylums for lepers and the mistaken Chinese belief that leprosy was immediately communicable made those asylums feared places. One could imagine Harry or his competitors thinking the asylum would be an ideal hiding spot for various contraband, on the assumption that it would be safe from the locals.
*** There were also hot Sulphur springs around Fuchau.
*** Nearby Macao, because of its milder climate, was a frequent temporary destination of merchants and importers. Its sights and air of intrigue would make it ideal for a clandestine meeting or two as Flashman juggled his military duties with his illicit side venture.
*** Famed Royal Navy Doctor Charles Courtney could be one of the real-life historical figures Harry interacts with in this tale.
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