Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Drinking and Drugs - Opium - Opium Smoking Dens


    NINE o'clock on a Saturday evening, the place Cornhill, and the want a policeman. Wonderfully empty and still are the City haunts we have passed. Curiously quiet, too, is the vast thoroughfare we are in. Shops and warehouses, banks and offices, are closed; and though here and there a blaze of light tells you how to telegraph to India, or glimmers out of one of the upper windows of the closely-shuttered houses you pass, the great street is wonderfully free from the feverish traffic of the day. Lazarus starts up out of the shadows which fantastically combine together on the pavement under the illuminated clock to the left, and having yielded to his prayer for pence, you and I look out anxiously for a policeman to aid us in tracing him home. Perhaps we carry with us a mysterious talisman which will at once enlist the sympathies and insure the cooperation of the force; perhaps we rely on our powers of personal persuasion; perhaps we have justice on our side, and claim its officers as allies ; perhaps we wish to test the truthfulness of the pitiful story he has told us; or perhaps we are merely animated by a holy hatred of beggars, and a wish to prosecute Lazarus to the death.
    Let us look at him again. Shabby canvas trousers, a loose and ragged blue jacket, high cheek-bones, small sunken eyes, a bare shaven face, and an untidy pigtail - such is Lazarus. He is one of the poor and wretched Chinamen who shiver and cower and whine at our street-corners, and are mean and dirty, squalid and contemptible, even beyond beggars generally. See how he slinks and shambles along; and note the astonishment of the policeman we meet at last, when we tell him we wish to follow the abject wretch home. We have gone through Cornhill and Leadenhall-street, past the corner where a waterman is pottering about with a lantern - a modern Diogenes, who is perhaps looking for an honest man - and are close by Aldgate pump, and in the full glare of the huge clothing establishment at the Minories corner, before we come upon our policeman. New-court, Palmer's Folly, Bluegate-fields - that is where the Chinese opium-smoking house is, and that is where Lazarus is bound for.
    "I know them Chinamen well,'' adds Mr. Policeman sententiously ; "they'll beg, and duff, and dodge about the West-end-we won't have 'em here-and never spend nothin' of what they makes till night. They don't care for no drink, and seem to live without eating so far as I know. It's their Opium at night they likes ; and you'll find half-a-dozen on 'em in one bed at Yahee's, a-smoking and sleeping away like so many lime-kilns and dormice ! No, sir, it wouldn't be at all safe for you to venture up New-court alone. It ain't the Chinamen, nor the Lascars, nor yet the Bengalees as would hurt you ; but there is an uncommon rough crew of English hangin' in and about there, and it would be better for you to have a constable with you, much better; and if you go to Leman-street, the inspector will put you in the way." This was all the information we needed from the policeman.
    Lazarus has shambled out of sight during our colloquy, and so, hastily following him down Butcher-row, Whitechapel, and resisting the fascinating blandishments of its butchers, who press upon us "prime and nobby jintes for to-morrer' s dinner at nine-a-half, and no bone to speak of," reach Leman-street and its police-station in due course. A poster outside one of time butcher's shops causes annoyance and regret for it announces a forthcoming meeting at which the difficulties besetting the trade are to be discussed in solemn conclave at Butchers' Hall, and inspires one with an abortive desire to assist in the deliberations. To hear the rinderpest spoken of by the astute professors who have made money by it, and to learn the causes assigned by salesmen for the present price of meat, would be both instructive and profitable; but, alas, some parochial guardians, with whom we are at issue on the propriety of stifling and otherwise maltreating paupers, meet on the same evening, and for their sake the butchers must be given up with a sigh.
    Pushing through the small crowd outside the station, Crossing a long flagged court, and ascending a few steps to the right, we present our credentials to the inspector on duty. A one-eyed gentleman is in the dock, and oscillates up and down on the iron railing round it like an inane puppet whose wires are broken. He is an Irishman, whose impulsive nature has led him to savagely bite and scratch the landlord of a public house near, for having dared to pronounce him drunk, and for refusing him a further supply of stimulants. The landlord prefers the charge, and shows a bleeding forefinger, from which the nail has been torn. Irishiman protests that he is a poor workin' man, who doesn't like to be insulted ; tipsy friends of Irishman noisily proffer themselves as witnesses to his general virtue and the extreme meekness of his disposition ; and then retire, grumbling; "ten o'clock on Monday, before the magistrate, will be the time for all that,'' being the answer given. Inspector, methodically and with much neatness, enters name and address of both the biter and the bit, and a few other details, in the charge-sheet, and the man is removed. The landlord binds up his bleeding hand, and the next business, a shrieking lady with dishevelled hair, is proceeded with.
    Bluegate-fields is not in this police district, but the inspector will send a constable with me to a station which is only five minutes' walk from the place we want. Arriving here, the wail of a feeble fatuous old booby, who has been in improper company, and is now crying over the loss of his purse, is the first thing we hear. "Yes, sir; a bo'sun is right, sir ; and I only left my ship tonight. Seven pound thirteen, and a silver medal. O Lord, O Lord ! Felt it in my pocket five minutes before I left the mouse. Has a constable gone? Deary, deary me !-seven pound, too, and me only left my ship this blessed night!"
    This, with a profusion of tears, and much maudlin affection for the officers of the law. A few minutes' delay, during which booby is gruffly and fruitlessly recommended to "give up blathering, as that won't give him his money back, and told what he ought to expect goin' along with such cattle as that; then a slight bustle at the door, and a hideous negress is brought in. From the window of the inspector's little room we look down upon the dock, see the sergeant beyond, who, pen in hand, is entering particulars in his charge-sheet, while the ridiculous old prosecutor on the one hand, and the vile and obscene bird of prey on the other, mouth and gibber at each other, and bandy compliments of the fullest flavour.
    "One of the worst characters about here; used to be always up for robbing sailors and that, but has been much better lately, and hasn't been here, O, not for more than a month." The hideous creature of whom this is said now adds her "blather'' to that of the old man, and her protestations are the noisier of the two. Strange to say, these protestations are for once well founded; for at a sign from the inspector the sergeant again cross-examines the fleeced boatswain as to where he felt his purse last, and the possibility of its being on his person still. In time midst of solemnly incoherent asservations that the negress has it, the sergeant's hand falls carelessly into the boatswain's inside coat-pocket, and lo, the missing purse is held up aloft between the sergeant's forefinger and thumb. Its contents are counted and found right ; the negress declaiming vehemently against "the old wretch,'' and, with a shrewd eye to future difficulties, declaring, "It's always so with pore me; people is always swearin' agin me, and accusin' of me wrongfully.'' The old man looks more foolish than ever ; and we, with an inspector, start on our mission, leaving the sergeant and constables in the midst of warnings and admonitions.
    The time spent at the two stations has not been lost, for it is now only half-past ten, and the opium revels are seldom at their height before eleven. There is no limit to the variety of nationalities patronising the wretched hovel we are about to visit. From every quarter of the globe, and more immediately from every district in London, men come to old Yahee: the sole bond between them being a love of opium and a partiality for Yahee' s brand. Sailors, stewards, shopmen, mountebanks, beggars, outcasts, and thieves meet on perfect equality in New-court, and there smoke themselves into dreamy stupefaction.
    There is a little colony of Orientals in the centre of Bluegate-fleids, and in the centre of this colony is the opium divan. We reach it by a narrow passage leading up a narrow court, and easily gain admission on presenting ourselves at its door. Yahee is of great age, is never free from the influence of opium, but sings, tells stories, eats, drinks, cooks, and quarrels, and goes through the routine of his simple life, without ever rousing from the semi-comatose state you see him in now. The curious dry burning odour, which is making your eyelids quiver painfully, which is giving your temples the throbbing which so often predicates a severe headache, and which is tickling your gullet as if with a feather and fine dust, is from opium. Its fumes are curling overhead, the air is laden with them, and the bed-clothes and the rags hanging on the string above are all steeped through and through with the fascinating drug. The livid, cadaverous, corpse-like visage of Yahee, the wild excited glare of the young Lascar who opens the door, the stolid sheep-like ruminations of Lazarus and the other Chinamen coiled together on the floor, the incoherent anecdotes of the Bengalee squatted on the bed, the fiery gesticulations of the mulatto and the Manilla-man who are in conversation by the fire, the semi- idiotic jabber of the negroes huddled up behind Yahee, are all due to the same fumes.
    As soon as we arc sufficiently acclimatised to peer through the smoke, and after the bearded Oriental, who makes faces, and passes jibes at and for the company, has lighted a small candle in our honour, we see a sorry little apartment, which is almost filled by the French bedstead, on which half-a-dozen coloured men are coiled long-wise across its breadth, and in the centre of which is a common japan tray and opium lamp. Turn which way you wil1, you see or touch opium smokers. The cramped little chamber is one large opium pipe, and inhaling its atmosphere partially brings you under the drug's influence. Swarthy sombre faces loom out of dark corners, until the whole place seems alive with humanity ; and turning to your guides you ask, with strange puzzlement, who Yahee's customers are, where they live, and how they obtain the wherewithal for the expensive luxury of opium-smoking. But Booboo on the bed there is too quick for you, and, starting up, shouts out, within a volubility which is astounding considering his half-dead condition a few seconds before, full particulars concerning himself, his past, his future, and the grievance he unjustly labours under now. First, though, of the drug he smokes.
    "You see, sar, this much opium, dam him, smoke two minutes, sar -no more. Him cost four pennies - him damn dear, but him dam good. No get opium at de Home, say (the Home for Asiatics); "so come to Yahee for small drunk, den go again to Home and sleep him, sar. Yes, me live at de Home, sar - me ship's steward - Bengalee - no get opium good as dis, except to Yahee, say. Four pennies, you und'stand, make smoke two minutes, no more ; but him make better drunk as tree, four five glasses rum - you Inglesee like rum drunk, me Bengalee like opium drunk, you und'stand - try him, sar ; he much good."
    Thus Booboo, who is a well-dressed Asiatic, in a clean shirt, and with a watch-chain of great strength and massiveness. He has been without a ship for five months ; has just engaged to go on board one on Monday; shows me the owner's note for four pounds, and complains bitterly that they won't change it at the Home, or give him up his box. "Me owe them very leetle, sar, very small piece ; me there five mouths, and pay long time, and now they say, you give us money, and we no give you change." Booboo looks a little dangerous as he brandishes his opium-pipe ; and old Yahee, who is lying on his back, within his eyes closed and his mouth open, growls out an incoherent warning to be calm.
    Mother Abdallah, who has just looked in from next door, interprets for us, and we exchange compliments and condolences with Booboo. Mother Abdallah is a London lady, who, from long association with Orientals, has mastered their habits and acquired their tongue. Cheeny (China) Emma and Lascar Sal, her neighbours, are both from home this evening, but Mother Abdallah does the honours for her male friends within much grace and propriety - a pallid wrinkled woman of forty, who prepares and sells opium in another of the two-roomed hovels in the court: she confesses to smoking it too for company's sake, or if a friend asks her to, as yer may say, and stoutly maintains the healthiness of the habit.
    "Vy, look at this 'ere court when the fever was so bad. Who ad it? Not them as took opium ; not one of em, which well you knows, Mr. Cox, turning to the handsome bluff sergeant of police, who has joined the inspector and the narrator; "but every one else, and look at the old gen'elman there ; vy, he's more nor eighty year old, and 'ardly ever goes to sleep, bless yer, he don't, indeed: he sings and tells stories the whole blessed night through, and is wonderful 'ealthy and clean. There ain't a cleaner old man than Mr. Yahee, not in Bluegate-fields, and if you could see him in the morning a-scrubbin' and washin' his 'ouse out, and a-rinsing his clothes, it 'ad do your 'art good. Does everythin' for his self, buys his own bits o' fish, and rice, and vegetables, and cooks and prepares them in the way they like it, don't he, Chin Chin?"   
    Chin Chin is a Chinaman, whose face is well known at the West-end, and who lives by selling tracts and song-books in the streets. He boards with Yahee, and pays one shilling a-day. Chin Chin proves more sardonic than communicative, and Mrs. Abdallah resumes:
    "The old gen'elman has lived here these twenty year, and has looked just the same, and allers done what he's a-doin' of now, made up the opium as they like it, and had a few of 'em lodging within 'im. I don't pretend to make it as well as he does, but I've lived here these dozen year, and naturally have got into many of their ways. He ain't asleep, bless ye, sir; he'll lay like that for hours. Look ! he's wakin' up now to light his pipe agin, and then when it's later he'll begin to sing, and'll keep on singing right through the night. That there young Bengalee, asleep in the corner, is another of his lodgers; he's a ship's cook, he is, only he can't get a ship. They treat 'em shameful, just because they're darkies, that they do, only allowing 'em a pound a month, and sometimes ten shillins, and they have to find they're own bacca out o' that. These men come from all parts o' London to smoke Yahmee's opium. Some on 'em sweep crossins; some has situations in tea-shops; some hawks ; some cadges; some begs; some is well off, some is ill off; but they all likes opium, and they all knows there's no opium like Yahee's. No; there ain't no difference in the quality; but you can't smoke it as you buy it, you see, and Yahee has his own way o' preparin' it, which he won't tell nobody. That tumbler with the light in the middle has the opium, and that thick stuff like treacle is it. They just take it up with a pin this way, and roll it round and round, you see, and then when it's like a little pea, so, they smoke away until it's done. Tell the gen'elman how much you smoke, Jack. They call 'im Chow Chee John Potter, sir, because he's been christened; but he's not right in his head, and his own country-people don't understand him."
    Chow Chee is of an affectionate disposition, and the effect of opium is to make him put both hands on the knee of one of our party, and, after advancing his smiling black face to within a few inclines of his friend's nose, to wink solemnly, and to say he "smoke as much as him get, sometimes all day and all night if Christians peoples good to Chow Chee."
    On a suggestion being made that the opium smoking should be supplemented by some other stimulant, gin was chosen by such of the company as were not too stupefied to speak. Yahee, we should mention, never lifted his head after he had once silently welcomed our little party. Coiled up on the bed, in trousers and shirt, and with his shoeless feet tucked under him, he looked like a singularly tough trussed fowl, and only turned to the light at his side as his pipe was refilled. Save in answer to our questions, there was little talking. Chow Chee John Potter occasionally attempted original remarks, but they were, as a rule, failures, and were so branded by his friends. It was a sheer opium debauch; not noisy, not turbulent, not quarrelsome, but fervent, all-engrossing, amid keenly enjoyable to those engaged in it.
    As the evening wore on, several fresh arrivals came in at the narrow door; among others, two Malays, a Lascar, and the Chinaman many of us have seem performing the knife-trick for the delectation of the British public. This last worthy started back on seeing the police-sergeant, and in very vigorous English asked what that particular reptile wanted here. In vain was it attempted to soothe him with the assurance that it was all right, and that he would come to no harm. In vain did Mrs. Abdallah and some other ladies, who had by this time joined her in the doorway, protest to the fastidious knife-thrower that we were "on the square". It was all useless; and with a growl of baffled hate at the sergeant, and a malignant scowl at the rest of the party, he disappeared down the dark passage of the court, and was no more seem during our stay. We learnt subsequently that he had just come out of prison after a sojourn there of eighteen months, through the sergeant having convicted him of offences too hideous to describe. He was the only very black sheep we saw. The others arc decent men in their way, whose principal weakness is devotion to opium, and who rarely give trouble to the police.
    Old Yahee himself has, as mother Abdallah stated, lived for more than twenty years in the same hovel, for which he pays three shillings a week rent ; and has spent the whole of that time in preparing opium for such smoking-parties as we see now, and in making provision for his boarders. Yahee is a consistent misogamist, and allows no woman to interfere in his domestic arrangements. The chopsticks and the plates for breakfast and supper are washed by himself; his two rooms are cleaned and swept, and every meal is prepared in the same independent way. Such of his customers as desire other society than that of the choice spirits assembled to smoke, must seek it elsewhere than at Yahoo's. He scorns to offer adventitious attractions, and is content to rest his popularity on his favourite drug. We have now had the pleasure of visiting him four times, have invariably heard the same stories of his cleanliness and quietness, have always found him in a stupor, and his establishment steeped in opium-fumes. His sunken eyes, fallen cheeks, cadaverous parchment-like skin, and deathly whiteness, make him resemble a hideous and long-forgotten mummy; while his immobility, and the serene indifference with which he smokes on, whoever may be by, suggest a piece of mechanism, or a cataleptic trance. How he manages his little household, how he guards against imposition; how his receipts and disbursements are regulated, what check he has over the consumption of opium by his customers, are mysteries.
    Yet Mrs. Abdallah, the sergeant, the inspector, Booboo, Lazarus, and Chow Chin, are unanimous in saying that Yahee is a good manager, a shrewd dealer, and, in his way, a reputable host. To lie on your back and smoke opium with your eyes shut until after midnight, and then to commence fantastic anecdotes and still more fantastic songs, the offspring of your morbidly-excited brain; to continue these songs and stories until morning, and to then go out marketing for bits of fish and rice,-seems a trying mode of life for an octogenarian. Yet Yahee does this, and seems to thrive; that is to say, he is not less like life than when we were first shocked at seeing him nearly three years ago. All the other opium-smokers here are young men ; but the wrinkles of their host, his sunken eyes, and falling under-jaw, make the great age he is credited with probable enough.
    Lazarus yonder is no longer the contemptible wretch he was when we threw him a penny on Cornhill two hours ago. His frame has expanded, his countenance has lightened, his mien has become bright and buoyant. Who knows time rapturous visions passing through his brain, or the blissfulness which prompts that half-expressed smile? The smallest-footed houris, the most appetising birds'-nests and stewed dogs, nay, the yellow mandarin's button itself, are Lazarus's now. What cares he for policemen, for the cuffs and kicks, the slurs and sneers, of the barbarians from whom he has to beg? Yahee's shabby stifling little room is his glory and delight. To it he looks forward through the long and dreary day; by its pleasures he is compensated for the pains and penalties of his weary life. Booboo, too, has already forgotten the grievance he recounted half an hour ago, and with eyes raised to the ceiling, is in a rapturous half-trance. The visions this miserable little mole has seen - the sweet and solemn strains of music, the mighty feasts, the terrible dramas, the weird romances, the fierce love, the strange fantastic worship, the mad dreams, the gorgeous processions, the brilliant crowds, the mystic shadows, which have occupied it - would fill a volume.
    Mr. Inspector Roberts, a friend to whom we have been indebted for much interesting information, tells us that before meals the strange people lodging with Yahee are seen "to kneel down, and, looking up to the ceiling, jabber something to themselves" -a description which, we have no doubt, a Malay or Chinese policeman would have little difficulty in applying to the prayers of English or other barbarians. But the interest of the place is centred, not in the food or worship, not in the variety of skins, and their range from drab and mahogany to ebon and jet, but in the strange unholy pleasures enjoyed in it, and the glimpse it gives you of barbaric life.
    Old Yahee is as exceptional an instance of opium eating and smoking being pursued with impunity, as any tremulous dotard who is seen tossing-off his dram, and it would be as ridiculous to quote the one as the other, as a fair example of the influence of a degrading habit. Booboo and the rest are full of grievances; complain they cannot get ships, or shall never see father or mother, brother or sister, again - a handsome young Malay was especially lachrymose on this last point - but the plain truth is, they are all such slaves to the drug of which Yahee is high priest, that when they once fall out of the groove of labour to which they have been accustomed, recovery is impossible. Like the dreamer in Lord Lytton's beautiful story, the day is less to them than the night; their heaven may be purchased by the few pence they beg of passers-by; and those who remember the experience of Coleridge and De Quincey when struggling to emancipate themselves from the service of the opium-demon, will not wonder at the utter self-abandonment of poor Lazarus and his tribe. Mother Abdallah, Lascar Sal, Cheeny Emma, and the rest, are the only Englishwomen he has known ; and his existence is divided between a misery which is very real, and a happiness which is as fictitious and evanescent as that of the moth killing itself at the candle's flame.
    We saw Lazarus last cowering on time pavement near Westminster Bridge; there is not a day in which he may not be found, dazed and dreary, ragged, wan, and wretched, in one or other of our West-end streets. He gave a ghastly snub when we reminded him of our evening at Yahee's ; and lifting up his lack-lustre eyes, and cringing more than ever, held out his tracts and mutely asked for alms. His manner made a suggestive contrast to the contemptuous air with which we had seen him wave the same bundle of sorry literature at the opium-feast; and in this contrast may be discerned the moral of Lazarus's life.

J.C. Parkinson, Places and people, being studies from life, 1869

Opium Smoking, the Lascar's Rooms in "Edwin Drood"

click here for accompanying text

Gustave Doré, Opium Smoking, the Lascar's Rooms in "Edwin Drood"
from London : A Pilgrimage, 1872

[ ... back to main menu for this book]

Opium Smoking Dens.— The best known of these justly-named “dens” is that of one Johnstone, who lives in a garret off Ratcliff-highway, and for a consideration allows visitors to smoke a pipe which has been used by many crowned heads in common with poor Chinese sailors who seek their native pleasure in Johnstone’s garret. This is the place referred to in the “Mystery of Edwin Drood” (see also RATCLIFF-HIGHWAY). A similar establishment of a slightly superior—or it might be more correct to say a shade less nauseating—class is that of Johnny Chang, at the London and St. Katharine Coffee-house, in the Highway itself.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

see also J. Ewing Ritchie in Days and Nights in London - click here

see also James Greenwood in In Strange Company - click here

see also James Greenwood in Odd People in Odd Places - click here

see also Richard Rowe in Life in the London Streets - click here


My first visit to China Town, and my experience of opium then acquired, had whetted rather than sated my curiosity, and not many days elapsed before I found my way back again. I chose a Saturday again for my expedition, because I knew that Saturday was the day when I was most likely to meet the habitual frequenters of the Chinese boarding- houses in which opium-smoking goes on. Work is over early on a Saturday, and the Chinese sailors from the ships of the various lines trading to China come up from the docks, and stay at these houses over the Sunday. As soon as their marketing is over they take their purchases of rice, pork, and fowls to the saloons they frequent, and there get them cooked, cut up into small morsels so as to be conveniently eaten with chopsticks. On this occasion I refrained from trespassing on the hospitality of my former host, and succeeded in affecting an entrance into a larger "joint," which seemed to be doing a flourishing business.  As is often the case, the lower room was a shop, and the smoking was carried on in an upper room.


After seeing the accommodation of one or two of these places, I cannot but think that those who have spoken of them as low and filthy haunts of vice have either never seen them or must have been singularly unfortunate in the specimens they hit upon. The room I was in this evening was considerably larger than the one I had been in before; it was perfectly clean, and had a good many ornaments of various kinds about it in the shape of pictures, Chinese weapons, figures, and strange-looking musical instruments round the walls. The general arrangements were much the same as before - couches, tables, pipes, &c.; but in the middle of the room was a table, the use of which I soon saw, and some chairs. When I first went in there was no one but myself there, and before beginning my smoke I asked a few questions as to the cost of the pipe, &c. My host, who spoke English perfectly, explained that pipes varied very much in price; a common bamboo pipe might be had for eight or nine shillings, while others, examples of which he showed me, made of some special kind of dark cane, and ornamented with silver, were valued at from five to ten pounds. He spoke of having sold one to a lady, an American, so he said - who used at one time to go there regularly to smoke. I had some difficulty in believing this, but it was confirmed from another source. I also examined some of the musical instruments. They were very quaint : one was something like a banjo in shape, but looked as if it were made from the lid of a butter tub, and had four huge wooden tuning pegs; the strings seemed to be of wire, and it was played with a sort of plectrum. Another was a sort of mandolin, but with a very small body and very long neck; while a third was a fiddle with one string, which was played with the bow beneath it, after the style of a clown in a circus.


Sailors now began to drop in and looked at me curiously, but seemed take the fact of my being in the room as good proof that I had a right there. I thought it well to begin to smoke, to show that I was present on business ; so I lay down on a couch, and my host prepared my pipe for me. I watched the preparation of the opium more carefully than before, and was surprised to see how the tiny bead of opium at the end of the wire swelled up over the flame, and admired the skill with which it was rolled and shaped into a cone, and worked into the tiny hole in the pipe bowl. As I smoked I lay and watched the company ; they were a pleasant-looking, good-tempered lot, so far as I could judge by their behaviour. There must have been members of two or three different races ; they differed very much from one a other in physique, some being, as I had noticed on my first visit, very big, and some very puny. Many of them took a drink of tea from a kettle that stood there as they came in. I had a cup myself, but did not find it particularly good. I found that some of them did not object to a glass of whisky. It seemed to me a sort of club; some smoked opium, sumo tobacco ; some settled down at the table in the middle of the room, and started playing various games with Chinese cards —long, narrow strips of thin cardboard—Chinese dominoes, &c. The table was covered with "cash" and silver coins, but these may have been simply markers. Of the games I could make neither head nor tail, but they seemed to interest the players, who chattered and laughed as if they were having a good time. Sometimes a new comer would take down one of the musical (?) instruments and produce some discordant sounds from it, which I concluded were the Chinese equivalent for "Daddy wouldn't buy me a bow-wow."


I made a point of watching the effect of the successive pipes on myself carefully. As before, the first pipe had no effect at all ; after the second pipe I found I was beginning to perspire gently, and the skin was soft and relaxed, exactly as if I had been taking Dover's powder. From this it struck me that opium-smoking might be useful in muscular rheumatism. I smoked five pipes one after the other, and fancied that the action of the heart was slightly depressed ; but beyond this 1 felt nothing whatever. I had been chatting with my host as he managed my pipe for me, and had ascertained that there were no public restaurants, the cooking being done in the boarding-houses; nor was there a public "joss" house ; my host had his "joss " in a special room in his own house. As time was getting on I rose to leave, and received several friendly nods and grins from the other men there. After I had left the place about a quarter of an hour, I began to find that the opium was taking effect. My limbs felt as if they did not belong to me; I could control them, but they seemed to be a part of some one else. My brain seemed quite clear and very active, but I became aware that it was doing the thinking on its own account; I could not govern or direct the chain of my thoughts, which proceeded in the most grotesque order, the most irrelevant ideas following one another, and getting mixed up with the ideas called up by external surroundings. My sight, too, was affected ; I fancied there was a very faint haze over everything, and it seemed as if the power of adjustment was lost, and size and distance were difficult to determine. I had slight hallucinations also for instance, I was, for a moment, certain that a centipede about four or five inches long, with a chain round it, was walking up my leg ; at the same time I know it was only a vision, and that it arose from my having seen during the day a man in the street selling one of the reptile toys which run along and are held by a string. Soon after I found the greatest difficulty in keeping my eyes open, though my brain was still abnormally active; this passed on; and I felt no ill effects of any kind; and I may mention that next morning I had neither headache nor the least feeling of discomfort of any kind. Certainly this will not be my last trial ; the experience was sufficiently interesting to snake me curious to carry it a point further, and see what the dreams of the actual opium sleep are like. I think also it might be useful if the subject were investigated by medical men, to see if opium smoking might not be found a convenient way of administering the drug to patients who otherwise cannot take it without the stomach being upset. As for the so-called "dens," they seemed to me simply poorly fitted social clubs, and certainly as free from anything visibly objectionable as, to say the least of it, public-houses of the same class.  

Pall Mall Gazette, 1893

see also Montagu Williams in Round London - click here

see also 'Oriental London' - click here