Thursday, 1 September 2016


It was a typical August early-morning at Patna in 2016. Cloudy sky, high humidity- we were in search of a place -Gulzarbagh Government Printing Press. One auto- rickshaw driver after asking two locals took us to a narrow road connecting Old Patna City with MahavirGhat on the bank of Ganga.

It is a typical Government establishment beside Ganga with very high boundary wall, consisting of some high rise wire-house like structures within its gated enclave. The security at gate was quite strict, neither we were allowed to enter the premises nor permitted to take any snap.

Our interest about this printing establishment is createdby one post published in According to this report prior to this printing press, the establishment functioned as Government store-house of Opium up to 1911. 


Particularly “Patna Opium” hoarded in this premises had a pivotal impact on politics, trade & societies of South Asia, Europe & United States of America in between middle of eighteenth century to early twentieth century. 
India has a long history for cultivation of poppy & subsequently manufacturing opium. The medicinal quality of Opium was known to Indians from ninth century onwards. Its amusement quality & kick (the effect of drug) was well documented in medieval period. Opium smoking became a fashion for Moghul nobility & one of the perks of Rajput army. The cultivation of poppy in India was unrestricted under Mughal regime & became a prized export commodity for the European merchants from seventeenth century onwards. The Europeans started exporting opium to South East Asian ports & found it very lucrative.It was a business cycle between Indian merchant princes & European traders. Post 1757, the situation changed radically.

After the Battel of Plassey (1757) British East India Company became the king pin of Bengal politics, established the shadow government of today’s combined Bengal, Bihar & Orissa (Sube Bangla). Winning the battle of Buxar in 1763, this mercantile entity was able to remove the last Indian resistance. Since 1765, the British colonial rule applied on the Indian soil as East India Company now became the official revenue collector of Sube Bangla under decadent Mughal Authority.


This East India Company was also had monopoly of Chinese Trade on behalf of Britain. Their new found territorial power & status in India made this organization greatest exporter of the opium to China. But there remained a cool-headed unethical business blue-print for this particular commerce.

1757 onwards, when the British were able to annihilate all business competitors (native or European) within their Indian territory; they were facing tremendous resistance in China. Chinese Ming dynasty compelled all foreigners to do business at Canton (modern day Guangzhou) port. The business conducted through “Co Hong” [a single window Chinese business guildestablished in 1760] only. The only exchange medium was silver bullion. No foreigners were allowed for any inland Chinese trade; neither were they permitted to reside beyond their ear-marked factory area of Canton port on the mouth of Pearl River. The world-wide demand of Chinese tea, silk & porcelain was phenomenal at this time. The British were able to dump inferior grade of European goods in their Indian settlement successfully. In case of China, there were no-takers for the same. British monarchy, economy, politics & society all were depended on the performance of East India Company. Hence this serious trade deficit had to be addressed.


For a solution, East India Company monopolized the cultivation of poppy & manufacturing of opium in Indian Gangetic delta. The entire process was under exclusive control of colonial Government. From Cultivation to manufacturing, Government was the sole custodian of the entire product. Mode of control had been changed time to time but nobody barring the Government of East India Company ever allowed to participate independently in any steps of this production.  The British vigil, maximize the production of this export-good. High excise duty & strictest supply control on this “Patna Opium” [opium produced under Company territory in India] severely limited the domestic consumption in India. The best quality “Patna Opium” from the Government Factory of Ghazipur (Benares) & Patna (Bihar) sailed through Ganga to Company’s Indian head-quarter at Calcutta for Government auction [prior to the introduction of railways in India]. The auctioned material was transported to Canton by the successful foreign bidders under their personal capacity. Direct dealing of opium through East India Company’s ship were forbidden as Chinese authorities were issuing edicts after edicts (since 1729) to eradicate this devastating addiction. The exporters used to take the material by ship, near Canton, within the international water limit the chaste of opium were transferred to Chinese country boats. The nexus between Western traders & their Chinese counterparts, Custom Official & local police force in unison reversedthe flow of silver in Anglo Chinese trade by this contra-band business.


As the British had gained more & more political supremacy in India they were able to collect pass-fee against “Malwa Opium” (produced in India’s princely states in west & central, beyond the colonial British Indian territory, dealt from Bombay Port to Canton by Surat based Parsi community & free-merchants, inferior than the quality of “Patna Opium”). A typical mentorship of a smuggling net-work where accumulating imperial wealth was the sole motto, opposite to the ethical international trade responsibility. The income of this smuggled commodity was invested by foreign merchants to import the Chinese product- the correction to counter the deficit of British trade. It made British sterling the most valuable currency of  the-then world economy. 

Patna Opium Factory was a huge Government establishment. Emily Eden, one of the eminent British novelists of eighteenth century described it in 1837– “ G went to see the jail and the opium godowns, which he said were very curious. There is opium to the value of 1,500,000 l(British pound sterling) in their storehouses, and Mr. T [Appears to be one of the highest civilian of  British administration] says that they wash every workman who comes out; because the little boys even, who are employed in making it up, will contrive to roll about in it, and that the washing of a little boy well rolled in opium is worth for four annas (or six pense) in the bazaar, if he can escape to it.” [Here G is the Governor General of India].
Alert English imperialism at its height on a British dominion to manufacture state-patronize drug which was systematically ruining generations of another oldest self-sufficient civilization of the world. 

How this Patna Opium Factory functioned? The factory commenced with a huge Examination Hall. The consistency of the crude opium as brought from the country in earthen pots was simply tested, either by the touch, or by thrusting a scoop into the mass. A sample from each pot (the pots being numbered and labelled) was further examined for consistency and purity in the chemical test room.

Once the test result satisfactory; the earthen pot was taken to the Mixing Room.  The content then thrown into vats and stirred with blind rakes until the whole mass becomes a homogeneous paste.

Next stop was the high-ceilinged Balling Room, where the opium paste is shaped into small spheres. Each ball-maker was furnished with a small table, a stool, and a brass cup to shape the ball in a certain quantity of opium and water called ‘Lewa,’ and an allowance of poppy petals, in which the opium balls were rolled. Every man is required to make a certain number of balls, all weighing alike. An expert workman would turn out upwards of a hundred balls a day.
After this, the balls were taken to the Drying Room, where each is placed in an individual earthenware cup. The balls were examined thoroughly prior to punching with a mark.
The finished opium balls were stored before shipping in the Stacking Room, where a number of boys were constantly engaged in stacking, turning, airing, and examining the balls. To clear them of mildew, moths or insects, they were rubbed with dried and crushed poppy petal dust. Finally, the balls are transferred into boxes and loaded into huge cargo boats bound for Calcutta.


This Opium transport was tried to be suppressed by the Chinese imperial Government which lead into first opium wars in between Chinese & West (1839-1842). Result was- devastating Chinese defeat in naval war-fare. With this defeat, Chinese authority had to accept the free trading of Opium & other goods by Western merchants within Chinese mainland, had to open several Chinese ports to the Western traders. The creation of British Hong Kong had to be permitted. Chinese were compelled to pay huge compensation to West against the expenditure of war & shockingly, against destruction of smuggled opium carried out prior to the first opium war. Second Opium War fought again in 1856. For Chinese, the outcome of this war as catastrophic as the first. To West, these were the unavoidable steps for free-trade with China. Was it almost a license to annihilate some Chinese generations with opium addiction?

British East India Company first exported opium to China in 1637; ultimately the Indo China Opium trade came to total stoppage in 1914 under growing human rights campaign & changed economic equation. During 1767 to 1880,for this business, British administration had exclusively used the Patna Opium Factory.

On 1912, the premises were converted into the Secretariat Printing Press. Since then, till date, the establishment continued to publish the State Gazette and various Government documents.

While leaving  Gulzarbagh Printing Press, it struck in to the mind, printing technology is one of the best Chinese inventions presented to the world.Though “Patna Opium” was instrumental to ruin the Chinese society, created “Blood Money” for thefree merchants, ultimately Chinese had the last lough.





During development of this article we have gone through following astounding views / facts / figures which may be worth for a few interested readers-  


1.      Opium throughout History (Ref Central Bureau of Narcotics)

·         AD 1600 -Portuguese merchants carrying cargo of Indian opium through Macao direct its trade flow into China.

·         AD1637 - Opium becomes the main commodity of British trade with China.

·         AD 1700 - The Dutch export shipments of Indian opium to China and to the islands of Southeast Asia; the Dutch introduced the practice of smoking opium in a tobacco pipe to the Chinese.
·         AD 1803 - Friedrich Sertuerner of Paderborn, Germany discovers the active ingredient of opium by dissolving it in acid then neutralizing it with ammonia. The result: alkaloids--Principium somniferum or morphine. Morphine is lauded as "God's own medicine" for its reliability as a pain killer, long- lasting alleviation and least side effects.
·         AD 1827 -E. Merck & Company of Darmstadt, Germany, begins commercial manufacturing of morphine.
·         AD 1843 -Dr. Alexander Wood of Edinburgh discovers a new technique of administering morphine- injecting with a syringe. He finds the effects of morphine on his patients instantaneous and three times more potent. A technique extensively adopted by today's addicts.
·         AD 1874 - English researcher, C.R. Wright first synthesizes heroin, or diacetylmorphine, by boiling morphine over a stove.

·          The last independent Nawab of Sube Bangla SirajudDowla occupied the Kashimbazar British Factory & stalled the opium transportation in between Patna & Calcutta in 1756, next year the British participated in the decisive battle of Plassey against Siraj.

·          When in 1756, Siraj successfully banished the British from their Calcutta settlement; market was flooded with opium supply. In absence of British the Dutch had purchased Opium in all time low rates at Bengal. The affected Indian business community wanted British back for their own profit. The infamous conspiracy of Plassey put on the wheel through one of the leading Indian Opium Trader by Resident Management of East India Company- a typical Supply vs. Demand equation.

·          The main cause of the blood bath in Patna in 1763 was due to initial experiment in view to monopolize the Opium Trade of Bengal by the British East India Company.

·         To achieve the  monopoly of Opium business the British East India Company through its opium agents converted large extend of food crop producing land  in poppy field- result the infamous Famine of Bengal in 1770- massacres of 10 Millions of Bengal population.

·         FIGURES-

1765-1766 – Poppy cultivation land-      2,83,000 Hectares.

1766-1767 – Poppy cultivation land-      3,03,500 Hectares.
1850           – Poppy cultivation land- 3,50,00,000 Hectares.

1794-1795  – Revenue against Opium Export- Rs.     4,14,869/-

1797-1798  – Revenue against Opium Export- Rs.     9,83,516/-

1798-1799  – Revenue against Opium Export- Rs.   23,70,706/-
1854-1855   – Revenue against Opium Export-Rs.3,71,10,000/-

·         The Malawa Opium (opium produced in Central Indian princely states beyond British Indian Boundary, shipped to China from Bombay by the free traders) became a threat to Bengal Opium monopoly in late eighteenth century. To counter, in early nineteenth century, through series of wars & invasion of strategic locations, British compelled the Central Indian states to offer a transit fee against their opium export. In some cases the purchasing right of Malawa Opium achieved solely by the winning British.

3.     The Economic Importance of Indian Opium and Trade with China on Britain’s Economy 1843-1890(Sarah Deming)

·         There is evidence that there was a high demand for opium in India yet almost exclusively all the opium that was produced each year was sold to China. Because of Britain’s economic motives in balancing trade with China, the opium trade is focused exclusively on China. Because Britain’s economy depends so much on capital inflow and outflow to the country, it was very important for Britain to have a strong currency and balanced trade. There is strong econometric evidence showing that opium revenues can explain the variation of Britain’s trade deficit with China.

·         There is also compelling evidence showing the relationship between the main British imports from China and Britain’s revenue from opium. These two economic relationships illustrate how the British relied on the opium trade with China and how the opium trade governed its policies including in limiting the development of a potentially threatening domestic Indian opium market.

4.     How Bombay's Parsis cracked the opium trade (DibeynduGanguli /  ET Bureau)

·          The historian Amar Farooqui, [author- “Opium City: Making of Victorian Bombay] expressed- “The Parsis succeeded because they operated from Bombay, where East India Company had less control. In Calcutta, where it was omnipresent, Indian businessman like Dwaraknath Tagore, made investment in opium but failed.”

·         Many of Bombay’s Opium merchants had moved to textile manufacturing in 1830s, not over guilt for the havoc their trade caused but because repatriating profit from China had become difficult. Earlier profit would be repatriated through bills of exchange issued by the East India Company, which served as a currency, but the system broke down.

“The move into manufacturing wasn’t a natural progression for the Parsis of Bombay. Rather, it was a solution to the problem of not being able to repatriate profits from the China Trade”- says Farooqui. The move into cotton textile proved to be very fortuitous for Bombay’s former opium merchants. The American Civil Wars 1860s saw demand for cotton zoom and those in the business made fortunes.

5.     Early American Trade with China

·          Initially, American imports from China largely consisted of cloth (nankeen and silk) as well as tea.

·          Without a commodity which consistently found a market in China, the Americans had to use specie (metal and coins) to finance the trade. Without a source of gold or silver, Americans had to obtain specie elsewhere. They did this by engaging in a triangular trade. Goods were shipped to Europe, between European ports, or to South America and sold for Mexican dollars. The specie was then shipped to China to purchase tea. 

·          Some Americans also turned to opium as a commodity to finance the China trade. India produced the highest quality opium, but the British East India Company held a monopoly on opium production in India until 1831. Turkey produced opium of lesser quality and on a far smaller scale than India. Americans began shipping opium from Smyrna by 1805. Turkish opium only made up a small part of the total opium imported into China. Opium did not become an important commodity in American trade with China until the 1830s when it made up approximately 1/4 of the total that

6.     Up the Country: Letter Written to Her Sister from the Upper Provinces of India(Emily Eden).

For the passage indicated in the article refer-

7.      Fig-1 of the Article

8.     Fig-2 to Fig-7 of the Article

·         These colour lithographs were originally made in 1850 at the request of Walter S. Sherwill, an army officer who served as a British “boundary commissioner” in Bengal. According to Ptak Science Books, these particular reproductions were taken from an article exploring the economic and infrastructural marvels of the Indian opium trade in an 1882 supplement to Scientific American. Refer-

9.     River of Smoke- Amitav Ghosh

·          A novel on Indian Parsi, British & American business just prior to the First Opium War at Canton- painstakingly researched document presented as a fiction.

 Research & Picture Courtesy - Abhijnan Basu .


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