Dark History: Opium Factories of Bihar

Patna was the main locality in Bihar for the cultivation of the Poppy. Its cultivation, as well as the manufacture, and the traffic in Opium, were subject to the East India Company .It was a strict monopoly of the british government. For superintending and managing the business, there was an extensive and complicated system of government agency. Large sums of money were advanced to the Ryots, or native cultivators, to meet in part the expense of cultivating the Poppy, and when the crop was come to maturity and the juice was collected, it must all be delivered to government agents at a fixed price. As all engaged in its cultivation and manufacture, were paid for their services, the Opium when prepared was the property of government.

The ryot or farmer was frequently compelled to cultivate the poppy at a fixed rate, when it was discovered that anybody was cultivating poppy , without having entered into such an arrangement with the government, his property was to  be immediately attached, or he has to give securities for the faithful delivery of the product. A system  was also established, for the  preventing the traffic of even a minimum quantity of this valuable drug.

The first opium factories were established by the dutch in early eighteenth  centuries. In 1781, the Dutch Factory at Patna was seized on the lOth of July by Major Hardy, commanding the British Militia force.

Watercolor of an Opium Godown in Patna, Bihar from 'Views by Seeta Ram from Patna to Benares Vol. II' by Sita Ram (1814-15.) 
Watercolor of an Opium Godown in Patna, Bihar from ‘Views by Seeta Ram from Patna to Benares Vol. II’ by Sita Ram (1814-15.)

The factories ofChhapra and Singhia were next seized. On the 4th of July 1781, the Governor-General and Council apprised Mr. Maxwell, the Revenue chief of Patna, of the seizure of the Dutch factory at Chinsurah, and of the appointment of Messrs. Puling, Heatly, Adair and Ramus Commissionaries for the immediate charge of the treasures, effects and concern of the Dutch East India Company.

The Dutch factory received its opium from the English contractor, paying the English Company a nazarana of Rs. 10,000 per annum for this purpose. At the date of the seizure of the factory Mr. Campbell, the opium contractor, had a claim of Rs. 96,900 against the Dutch for opium supplied, which the English Government liquidated on the 29th of November 1781. Mr. Brooke, Revenue chief of Patna, was ordered to make the buildings of the Dutch factory over to the opium contractor. 

The Stacking Room  Opium Factory and the opium fleet on Ganges, Patna (c.1850)
The Stacking Room Opium Factory and the opium fleet on Ganges, Patna (c.1850)


There was no secret in the opium trade; the quantity exported was well-known, and the prices were always given in the Canton Register, a public newspaper : the opium chests being cumbrous things, were broken up on board the receiving smuggling ships at Lin tin, and the opium placed In bags for delivering to the Chinese, who go alongside the ships in smuggling boats in the open face of day, frequently within view of the Chinese men-of-war boats, and the opium was delivered to them upon their presenting what was called an opium order from the agent at Canton. 
They took it from along-side in smuggling boats that were well manned and armed, Four Mandarin boats have been surrounding a ship when there were thirty chests of opium to smuggle, and was prevented from going to sea on account of the opium : the way that they smuggled it was thus—they stripped the chest entirely away, took nothing but the opium, and put it into bags; the lower deck-port was opened, and in one moment they put the opium into the boat, and all hands were off in a second. 
From the profits of Patna poppy,crores of the Chinese wealth was drained to India for a century from China, till at last that country awoke to the appalling enormity both of the physical and moral drain, and how the humanities of British civilization had rendered that trade negligible.
Indeed the British Government had washed its hands of the unrighteous trade . The extent of the trade was in the figures of the enormous exports between 1840 and 1860. The recorded value rose from 1.14 crore to 5-16 crore rupees.
Source: BiharGatha
A girl from the capital of Bihar, trying to understand the past underdevelopment of Bihar and exploring the ways to improve the status of the State