Capture of Chusan

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First Capture of Chusan
Part of the First Opium War
Chusan conference 1840.jpg
British and Chinese officials on board HMS Wellesley a day before the capture. Karl Gützlaff (centre) served as interpreter.
Date 5–6 July 1840
Location Zhoushan, Zhejiang, China
Coordinates: 30°0′24″N 122°6′24″E / 30.00667°N 122.10667°E / 30.00667; 122.10667
Result British victory

 United Kingdom

Qing China
Commanders and leaders
James Bremer
George Burrell
Zhang Chaofa[1]
3,650 troops[2] 1,000–1,200 troops (est.)[3]
Casualties and losses
1 wounded[3] 25 killed (est.)[4]
91 guns captured[5]

The first capture of Chusan by British forces in China occurred on 5–6 July 1840 during the First Opium War. The British captured Chusan (Zhoushan), the largest island of an archipelago of that name.


On 4 July 1840, the Wellesley, Conway, Alligator, and Rattlesnake arrived in the anchorage off Chusan harbour.[6] In the afternoon, Captain John Vernon Fletcher of the Wellesley, Viscount Robert Jocelyn, and interpreter Karl Gützlaff were sent on board the junk of a Chinese admiral, who was also governor of the Chusan islands.[5][7] They delivered a written message from Commodore James Bremer, commander-in-chief of the British naval forces, and Brigadier George Burrell, commander-in-chief of the land forces, to surrender the island of Chusan.[8] Bremer and Burrell claimed the occupation was necessary after the "insulting and unwarrantable conduct of the Canton high officers, 'Lin' and 'Tang,' last year, towards H. M.'s specially appointed Chief Superintendent Elliot, and British subjects."[9] Part of the message stated:

If the inhabitants of the said islands do not oppose and resist our forces, it is not the intention of the British Government to do injury to their persons and property ... It is necessary for the safety of the British ships and troops that your Excellency should immediately surrender the island Tinghae, its dependencies and forts, and we therefore summon your Excellency to surrender the same peaceably, to avoid the shedding of blood. But if you will not surrender, we, the Commodore and Commander, shall be obliged to use warlike measures for obtaining possession.[9]

After an hour, the Chinese admiral and other officials accompanied the British on board the Wellesley.[5][10] The Chinese objected to being made answerable for actions at Canton, saying, "those are the people you should make war upon, and not upon us who never injured you; we see your strength, and know that opposition will be madness, but we must perform our duty if we fall in so doing."[11] They were informed that hostilities would commence if submission was not made before daylight the next day.[6] Their last words before departing at 8:00 pm were, "If you do not hear from us before sunrise, the consequences be upon our own heads."[11][12] Bremer wrote that "gongs and other warlike demonstrations were audible" throughout the evening.[12]


Capture of Tinghai, the capital of the Chusan islands
The First taking of Chusan painting
Taking of the island by the British

On the morning of 5 July, a large number of Chinese troops occupied the hill and shore. British seamen from the masthead of the ships observed the city walls of Tinghai, which were 1 mile (1.6 km) from the beach, also lined with troops. At about 2:00 pm, the Cruiser and Algerine brigs got into position, and the signal was given to land.[6] The first division comprised the 18th Royal Irish Regiment, Royal Marines, the 26th Regiment, and two 9-pounder guns. The second division comprised the 49th Regiment, Madras Sappers and Miners, and Bengal Volunteers.[13] At 2:30 pm, the Wellesley fired at the Martello tower.[14] The Chinese immediately returned fire from the shore and junks. The cannonade lasted 7–8 minutes before the Chinese troops fled to the city walls behind the suburbs.[3][12]

The British landed unopposed on a deserted beach, which Viscount Robert Jocelyn described as having "a few dead bodies, bows and arrows, broken spears and guns".[15] By 4:00 pm, British troops placed two 9-pounders within 400 yards (370 m) of the city walls. Six more 9-pounders, two howitzers, and two mortars were later added to the arsenal.[3] Burrell waited until the next day before ordering a resumption of operations. The next morning, he sent a party to reconnoitre the city. Although there were thousands of inhabitants during the evening, the city was now largely abandoned. The gate was found strongly barricaded by large sacks of grain. A company of the 49th regiment took possession of the main gate of the city, where the British flag was hoisted.[4]

Viscount Jocelyn described his account of the city:

The main street was nearly deserted, except here and there, where the frightened people were performing the kow-tow as we passed. On most of the houses was placarded "Spare our lives;" and on entering the jos-houses were seen men, women, and children, on their knees, burning incense to the gods; and although protection was promised [to] them, their dread appeared in no matter relieved.[16]


On 8 July, Rear-Admiral George Elliot issued a proclamation from the Melville. He declared, among other things, that Chinese natives shall continue to be governed under Chinese laws (excluding torture), and that the "civil, fiscal, and judicial administration" of the Chinese government shall be exercised under the British officer in chief command of the land forces.[17] Brigadier George Burrell became governor of Chusan, Karl Gützlaff was made chief magistrate, and Viscount Jocelyn was appointed military secretary to the admiral.[18] On 23 January 1841, Plenipotentiary Charles Elliot dispatched the Columbine to Chusan, with instructions to evacuate it for Hong Kong Island.[19][20] He declared the cession of Hong Kong to the United Kingdom after negotiations with Chinese Imperial Commissioner Qishan a few days earlier.[21]


  1. ^ The Chinese Repository vol. 9, p. 408
  2. ^ The Annual Register 1842, p. 21
  3. ^ a b c d The Annual Register 1841, p. 578
  4. ^ a b The Annual Register 1841, p. 575
  5. ^ a b c The Annual Register 1841, p. 576
  6. ^ a b c The Annual Register 1841, p. 573
  7. ^ Jocelyn 1841, p. 49
  8. ^ Ouchterlony 1841, p. vi
  9. ^ a b Ouchterlony 1841, p. vii
  10. ^ Jocelyn 1841, p. 51
  11. ^ a b Jocelyn 1841, p. 52
  12. ^ a b c The Annual Register 1841, p. 577
  13. ^ The Annual Register 1841, p. 574
  14. ^ Jocelyn 1841, p. 55
  15. ^ Jocelyn 1841, p. 51
  16. ^ Jocelyn 1841, p. 59
  17. ^ Ouchterlony 1841, p. xii
  18. ^ The Asiatic Journal vol. 33, p. 351
  19. ^ Ouchterlony 1844, p. 107
  20. ^ Bingham 1843, p. 378
  21. ^ The Chinese Repository vol. 10, p. 63