Opium and the Quakers

  • Geoffrey Harding


With the single exception of Storrs-Turner, the founders of the Society were also members of the Quakers’ organising body, the Society of Friends. Membership to this august body ensured an elevated status in the community but was strictly controlled and conferred only on those who had satisfactorily met the criteria of competence for, and knowledge of, the Quakers’ mission of divinely appointed guardians of moral standards. Members were therefore expected to regularly attend Quaker meetings;1 and their social conduct and spiritual inspiration was compatible with other Quakers. Except for those who could claim birthright membership, i.e. born of two Quaker parents in good standing with these meetings, prospective candidates to the sect had to endure a complex and arduous ‘right of passage’. Having made an initial application for membership, applicants would be visited in their homes by two long established ‘Friends’, elders of the sect, who would conduct a scrutinising interview to ascertain elegibility. Should this prove satisfactory the prospective members would be invited to attend one of the monthly meetings where these applicants would be asked to ‘give of their experience’. This involved testifying to their recognition of a ‘divine calling’, a religious inspiration which moved them to seek conversion. Divine knowledge and competence however were invariably synonymous. J. Whitwell Pease himself testified to this in an impassioned plea for the termination of the opium trade at a public meeting of the SSOT. ‘Surely’, he argued, ‘as a Christian country, in the light of that religion which we believe comes down from Heaven not merely to illuminate the hearts of men, but to act upon the sense of duty in every man, we ought to be able to accomplish a revolution in a revenue which most of us, having looked into the question, say could be very well dispensed with.’2


Opium Trade Monthly Meeting Teenth Century Opiate Addiction Annual General Meeting 
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5 Opium and the Quakers

  1. 1.
    For the procedure by which Quaker membership has historically been conferred see R. Vann, The Social Development of English Quakerism 165–1755, (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1969) p.144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    Christian Doctrine of the Society of Friends, Friends Tract Association, 1904, p.100.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    London Yearly Meeting of Friends, Extracts from Minutes and Proceedings, 1881, p. 1.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    E. Isichei, Victorian Quakers (London: Oxford University Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    London Yearly Meeting of Friends, Extract from Minutes and Proceedings, 1857, p.27.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    R. Howard, The Church of England and other Religious Communions (London: Keegan, Paul, Trench, 1885).Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    See M. Kirby, Men of Business and Politics (London: Allen & Unwin, 1984).Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    London Yearly Meeting of Friends, Extracts from Minutes and Proceedings, 1834 p.44.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Anon, The Physiology of the Sects (London: Samuel Tinsley, 1874) p.147.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    J. Evans, A Sketch of the Denominations of the Christian World (London: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy 1827).Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    Friends of the Opium Question, Friend of China 1880, vol.IV, no.3; pp.734.Google Scholar
  12. 18.
    London Yearly Meeting of Friends, Extracts from Minutes and Proceedings, 1880, p.23.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Geoffrey Harding 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geoffrey Harding
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Pharmaceutics, School of PharmacyUniversity of LondonUK

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