The Collections

Tea: breaking into the tea trade

Created: 05.09.11

The East India Company’s trading patterns changed in the late 1700s. By then it made most of its money from the trade in China tea, as tea-drinking became popular in Britain. But buying tea was tightly controlled by Chinese officials and paid for with huge quantities of silver exported from Britain.

The Company tried to bypass Chinese restrictions on trade to meet the growing British demand for tea. By encouraging opium production in India, the Company raised taxes from private merchants exporting the drug to China. This tax money then funded much of the Company’s profitable tea business.

However, selling opium broke Chinese law, leading to war between Britain and China.

Find out more about the Traders gallery.

  • Name
  • Artist / Maker
  • Date made
  • ID
  • Chamberlains & Co.
    circa 1802

    Japan pattern saucer, part of a breakfast service that belonged to Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805). The saucer is painted in colours and gilt. The centre is decorated with a basket of flowers and there are three panels of flowers on…

  • Huggins, William John
    circa 1820-30
    East Indiamen in the China Seas

    This large painting is believed to depict the 'Winchelsea' and other Indiamen at sea. The ships are named at the base of the canvas as the 'Ceres', 'Lowther Castle', 'Glatton', 'Marquis of Ely', 'Princess Amelia', 'Winchelsea' (in the centre) and…

  • Unknown
    circa 1770

    Chinese export porcelain bowl which belonged to Captain James Cook (1728-1779) and his wife Elizabeth. The outside is painted with peonies and pomegranites in a garden. Inside the rim is a floral border and there is a citron flower in…

  • Unknown
    circa 1840
    Passenger/cargo vessel(1840); Blackwall Frigate

    Scale 1:48. A contemporary full hull model of a Blackwall frigate (circa 1840), a cargo merchantman. The model is decked, equipped and fully rigged with sails (modern) set. There are also 14 sails which were replaced when restored in 1979.…

  • Hua-Chi, Chou
    circa 1850
    Geomantic compass

    A Chinese compass consisting of a wide thin disk of wood painted black. At the centre of the compass is a small shallow bowl containing a dry-pivot needle. The needle is short and thin and points south. There is a…

  • Unknown
    circa 1760
    Geomantic compass

    A Chinese compass consisting of a wide thin disk of wood. At the centre is a small shallow bowl containing a short, thin dry-pivot needle that points south. There is a line in the bowl indicating the north-south direction. Surrounding…

  • Unknown
    19th century
    Service vessel; Snake boat

    Scale: approximately 1:13. A model of a Chinese snake boat, used as a smuggling vessel in the Canton Delta, Kwangtung. The model is made entirely in wood which has been varnished a dark brown finish. The hull is formed of…

  • Ya, Tung
    Cargo vessel; Junk; Antung Trader

    Scale: circa 1:20. Full-hull and fully rigged model of a type of Northern Chinese junk known as an Antung Trader. The hull is long and low with a flat bottom, curving up towards the bow and stern with near vertical…

  • Unknown
    Before 1865
    Chinese War Junk

    Scale: circa 1:18. Ethnographic boat model of a Chinese k'uai-tu ('quick leaping') or war junk. One unrigged mast. Square platform at bow. Brightly painted. Rudder and keel fenestrated suggesting represents craft from Kwangtung. Equipped with six light pivot guns and…

  • Unknown
    circa 1800
    Achromatic telescope

    The telescope is of a standard configuration for the early nineteenth century: three draw tubes and an achromatic objective lens. The maker’s name, ‘Fraser & Son London’, is engraved on the eyepiece end and helps to date the piece to…

  • Unknown
    18th century
    Miniature Chinese garden

    Qianlong period miniature Chinese garden with a plum tree in coral, a pine tree in carved wood and ivory, tinted ivory bamboos. They symbolize longevity, perseverance and integrity since they can all endure cold weather and are known as the…

  • Chinese School, 19th century
    19th century
    Trial of Four British Seamen at Canton, 1 October 1807: Scene Inside the Court

    A scene showing the Chinese Court of Justice held at the British factory of Canton, 8 March 1807. The court was convened after a Chinese man was killed by rioting sailors from the East Indiaman 'Neptune'. While on shore leave…

  • Chinese School, 19th century
    19th century
    A trading junk

    On the sail of the junk shown there is an inscription bearing five Chinese characters, namely, 'Fo Shan Lian He Dian Zao' ('manufactured by the United Shop in Foshan') The inscription probably refers to the manufacturer of the sails, rather…

  • Daniell, William
    Late 18th to early 19th century
    A View of the European Factories at Canton

    Daniell and his uncle, Thomas Daniell, were important artist-explorers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They travelled throughout the East, above all in India, and published an influential series of illustrated volumes of ‘Oriental Scenery’. Both also exhibited…

  • Daniell, William
    The Watering Place at Anjer Point in the Island of Java

    The picture shows the activities taking place at Anjer Point, a well-known convoy rendezvous and watering point on the western tip of the island of Java. It shows the homeward bound China fleet of East Indiamen, at anchor in the…

  • Chinese School, 19th century
    circa 1841-46
    Shipping in the Pearl River off Canton

    This painting relates to the British presence in China. In 1842 the Opium War between Britain and China ended with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking. This effectively opened up the five main Chinese ports of Canton, Amoy, Ningpo,…