The Great Tea Robbery — Background Story

The East India Company ship Nemesis destroying the Chinese war junks in Anson’s Bay, on 7 January 1841 – Credit: “Destroying Chinese war junks”, by E. Duncan (1843)

This adventure isn’t just about the Great Tea Robbery or tea; it goes deeper. It immerses you in a world where history’s secrets unfold. I’ll aim to be concise while revealing the profound impact of the humble Camellia Sinensis leaf on our world.

“Disclaimer: This game/adventure includes references to controversial figures and historical events. These references are intended to provide historical context and do not imply endorsement or approval of these actions or individuals. Our aim is to offer an immersive experience while acknowledging the complexities of history.”

Boston Tea Party

Title: Destruction of tea at Boston Harbor; Creator: Nathaniel Currier; Date Created: [New York] : 1846.

The Boston Tea Party, occurring on December 16, 1773, was a pivotal event that underscored the East India Company’s significant influence. Being the primary supplier of tea to America, the company’s dominance was vividly evident. This act of protest emerged as a response to British policies orchestrated by the company, where Bohea tea, emblematic of their monopoly, was daringly cast into the harbor. The protest ignited the flames of American independence.

“The die is now cast; I have passed the Rubicon. Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish with my country, my honor, and my life.”

John Adams, a Founding Father, on the decision to participate in the Boston Tea Party.

East India Company’s Monopoly and Loss

This logbook covers the years 1717-1718 and contains a crew list of the King George. Credit: The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

For centuries, the East India Company reigned supreme, amassing power akin to a sovereign entity with its own formidable military forces. As the lines between commerce and governance blurred, it finally lost its monopoly with China in 1833. This marked a turning point as other players entered the trade scene.

The British Empire owes a great deal to Robert Clive and to those who followed him. The Empire had a large and shining place in the sun.

Winston Churchill

Breaking the China Monopoly

Loading Tea at Canton – Author: Tinqua circa 1852

Interestingly, the same East India Company later dispatched Robert Fortune to the Bohea hills. His mission was to acquire tea plants, seeds, and even Chinese tea workers. This move was driven by the company’s goal to break China’s tea monopoly and establish tea production in India. 

The Chinese possess a key to the monopoly of the tea-trade, the necessity of which, to a great commercial nation like Great Britain, it is impossible to exaggerate.

William Mure, “A Critical History of the Language and Literature of Ancient Greece,” 1850

Trade Imbalance and Silver Payment

Qing Dynasty Silver Dollar

Tea constituted the bulk of Great Britain purchases, creating a significant trade imbalance. As requested by the Qing Emperor, payments were to be made using silver dollars. This consistent outflow of silver significantly impacted the UK’s silver dollar reserves.

Opium, Conflict, and Opened Ports

East India Company ship the “Nemesis” attacking on 23 February 1841

To counterbalance the trade gap, Great Britain aimed to sell opium, leading to tension with China. The First Opium War began due to China’s resistance to opium and restricted trading conditions, resulting in the opening of certain ports for freer trade.

The first cannon shot of the Opium War shattered China’s age-old seclusion.

Deng Xiaoping

Robert Fortune’s Risky Mission

Credit: Royal Horticultural Society Libraries

Robert Fortune embarked on a daring mission for the East India Company amid the two Opium Wars. Despite risks, he journeyed to China to acquire tea plants and knowledge, challenging restrictions on travel and the protection of China’s tea industry. In China, tea was zealously protected – it was prohibited from leaving the country.

The Industrial Revolution

Tea consumed by the mass – Credit: Istockphoto

Robert Fortune’s groundbreaking efforts had a profound impact. His missions to bring tea plants and knowledge from China accelerated the mass adoption of tea, lowering costs. This shift curbed alcohol dependence among workers, lessening accidents, and boosting productivity. These changes played a vital role in the industrial revolution.

Tea does our fancy aid, Repress those vapours which the head invade, And keeps that palace of the soul serene.

Edmund Waller – English poet and politician who lived in the 17th century.

Tea’s Timeless Significance

Afternoon Tea – Author: Arturo Ricci (1916)

Today, tea remains the world’s most popular beverage, enjoyed by approximately 80% of households globally. This enduring preference highlights its lasting importance.

Beyond Tea

Prunus Triloba Fortune

And above all, Robert Fortune was not only a spy or robberer but also a remarkable botanist. His journeys introduced a multitude of plants and flowers from the East to the Western world, enriching our gardens, parks and orchards. This added layer of intrigue is woven into the rich tapestry of our game, making it a truly immersive and enlightening experience.