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Oakham School Archives

Explore the history of the school through the documents and objects that have been left behind...


The first Opium War occurred in the 1840s and was concluded with a treaty which opened up China for trade with Western powers. However by the 1850s, the Western powers were unhappy with the treaty’s conditions and the Chinese government’s failure to adhere to them.

The Qing government were distracted with the Taiping rebellion and the British saw their opportunity to renew conflict with China in order to extend trading rights.  In October 1856, the Chinese allegedly boarded a British ship, the Arrow, and lowered the British flag, while the British sailed up the Pearl River and bombarded Canton. Skirmishes broke out between the British and the Chinese.

The French joined the conflict on the side of the British and military operations began in late 1857. Canton was quickly captured and a new governor, more sympathetic to the western allies was installed.  The allies continued on to Tianjin and forced the Chinese to the negotiating table. The treaty of Tianjin was signed in June 1858. The terms of the treaty opened several new ports for trading between China and the West, secured foreign travel through China, and finally gave foreign envoys a base in Beijing. A new tariff, lower than previously, was imposed on imported goods and to avoid the irregularities that had occurred when policed by Chinese customs, the Imperial Maritime Customs Service was created to regulate trade and bring a steady income source for the Chinese government.

The Treaty of Tiajin

The Treaty of Tianjin.

It took two more years of fighting before the Chinese fully ratified the treaty. Hostilities renewed when the British and French attempted to reach Beijing through Dagu. This route had been blocked by the Chinese but such a restriction was ignored by the allies. They were driven back, suffering heavy casualties.

The British and French launched an attack in August 1860 which saw them destroy the batteries at Dagu, travel up to Tianjin and then finally capturing Beijing in October. They then burned the Emperor’s Summer Palace, The Yuanming Garden.

Second Opium War

The British and Chinese fighting during the Second Opium War. 

Following this, the Chinese signed the Beijing Convention, which formalised their acceptance of the Treaty of Tianjin and gave Hong Kong to Britain. These treaties have become known as the Unequal Treaties because of the power and privilege that were gifted to the Western allies at the expense of the Chinese. Indeed, the Allies were allowed to trade with China without making a tribute to the emperor, while they still made gifts to neighbours of China during trade negotiations.


  • ‘Opium Wars’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, <>  
  • ‘The Opening to China Part II: the Second Opium War, the United States, and the Treaty of Tianjin, 1857 – 1859’, Department of State, <>

Old Oakhamians who fought in the Anglo-Chinese Wars

Robert Noble Jackson

(3rd February 1828 – 12th March 1920)

Robert Noble Jackson

Robert attended Oakham between 1845 and 1847.

After Oakham

After school he went to Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge. He went onto have a career as a clergyman, becoming a Deacon in 1851 and being ordained in 1852. He was also a naval instructor and chaplain:

  • On HMS Hastings in the Baltic.
  • On Amethyst in North America from 1856 to 1857.
  • During the blockade of Canton in China between 1857 and 1859.
  • In the Pacific between 1859 and 1860.
  • On HMS Warrior between 1861 and 1864, and a second time in 1867.
  • On HMS Challenger in the West Indies from 1864 to 1865.
  • On HMS Impregnable in 1865.

After his travels he became vicar of Winchcombe between 1871 and 1888 and rector of Sudeley Manor between 1871 and 1917.

Arthur Hesilrige

(26th June 1834 – 14th February 1863)

Arthur attended Oakham between 1847 and 1852. He was a member of School House.

After Oakham

Arthur went to Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge. He became a Lieutenant 59th (2nd Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot and was involved in the assault on Canton during the second Anglo-Chinese War.

Nottinghamshire's Badge

The Sherwood Foresters cap badge.