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Opium Lords

“This is a most excellent tale in paperback format, splendidly told and profusely illustrated by old Chinese engravings. The author is a born writer.” L.Ward Canberra Times 26.2.1997

“It is a mix of fiction and history. It’s a really rollicking story in a historical context. It’s a good read." Canberra Times

The story begins thus in the Year of Our Lord 1832:
“In this fine spring of her twenty-first year, Holly Shay was about to take destiny into her own hands. She would up anchor from the port where she had always lived, and cast the ship of her life adrift with the same resolution as her forebears, those old whaling captains who, for three generations past, set sail for the open sea knowing they would not return from the Pacific Ocean for at least two or three years if at all. She would abandon this dying port where the cluster of sailing ships in the reaches of the river grew thinner every year and leave America, possibly for ever.

Throughout the long-drawn out days of her father’s last illness, she knew she was heir to their restless spirits, and longed to be free. Not to go to New York under the wing of her Aunt Jean, as her Uncle Bart, executor of her father’s will, had urged, but to the place of her longing for independence. So she announced, now the predictable will had been read, that she and her brother were his sole heirs, ‘I’m going to China.’

The shock of five of the six people in the room was palpable: not only of her uncle and aunt, but of her dearest friend, her cousin Abby and Jim Peel, captain of the ship owned by her father the Eugenia. But not of her brother, Lou, who already knew. Such a plan was simply scandalous, preposterous, beyond all bounds of propriety or custom they declared, vying in their outrage as she stood defiantly before them, a slender delicate figure in her flowing sprigged muslin gown, looking younger than her years.

Proper enough to be a teacher or governess, even to help Uncle Bart in the business they insisted. But she could not, in all seemliness, go to China; not unless well-chaperoned by a married woman. Her Aunt Jean wept hysterically, clutching Holly’s sleeve as if to detain her from a voyage already begun.

‘I often warned your father. A girl alone in a household of men! Warned him where it would lead! Too much independence I said!’

Holly rebuked her timid aunt impatiently. ‘Tush, aunt. Salem women have always had to be independent. Who ran the shop but mother, for heaven’s sake, while Dad was at sea months, years at a time until he swallowed the anchor? As he had after a fall from a yardarm in a hammering storm rounding the Cape, lucky to lose no more than a leg.

Abby, arm round Aunt Jean, said soothingly. ‘Holly is right. She needs a change after her sad loss.’
Holly rejected this sop. ‘I’m not going for a change.’
The perplexity on Uncle Bart’s stolid face was almost comical, ‘then why go at all?’
 ‘I want to go into the China trade.’

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