John Fish B.Sc. Publishers of Tenby in Wales (UK)


A Legacy of Opium


Douglas Fraser

Tenby Observer: [11th June 2010] A Legacy of Opium is a fascinating new book just published by Tenby Heritage Publications, a joint venture of Tenby Museum and Art Gallery and Tenby Historical Society. The story contained within its pages will appeal to a variety of readers, including those who love true-life adventure stories and biographies, as well as local history.
The story concerns three young Tenby lads from a maritime background who made their way to China and earned their living as captains of sailing vessels involved in trading opium from India to China. John Rees, the most successful of the brothers, rose to the position of Commodore of the Jardine Matheson fleet. Among his many adventures was rescuing 14 men from a junk that had run aground and was breaking up. Eventually John Rees, now extremely wealthy, retired and returned to Tenby where he lived the life of a gentleman.
Douglas Fraser, the author, discovered the exciting story of the Rees brothers and their involvement in the opium trade while researching the history of his house in Lexden Terrace [inside the town walls, down by Tenby harbour, opposite the Hope & Anchor]. Many people have enjoyed researching the history of their own homes and discovering who lived there before them, when the house was built and by whom and sometimes even the name of the architect.
Douglas uncovered all this information, but did not stop there. He delved deeper and deeper and discovered this delightful true-life adventure story. It was, of course, John Rees who was responsible for the building of Lexden Terrace, financed by the money he had amassed in the opium trade.
The book commences with an outline of the Rees family background in Tenby before heading to China with a brief overview of Chinese trade and in particular the opium trade in the early 19th century. The story continues with details of the three Rees brothers involvement in the Opium trade, including an interesting diversion collecting tea seeds! If you are reading this review while drinking a cup of tea you owe more to John Rees than you could ever imagine! If you are a tea lover, you will need to read the book to find out more.
Following John Rees' return home, the story continues with his life in Tenby as a retired gentleman. To round off the story, Douglas has continued his research to include details of the descendants of the Rees family.
The legacy to Tenby from the Opium trade is, of course, Lexden Terrace. Douglas has included a full chapter on Lexden Terrace, together with further notes concerning the builder, a tour of the houses and brief details of some of the notable residents of the terrace over the years along with information on Lexden House in an appendix to the main story.
As well as being a good read, 'A Legacy of Opium' is a valuable addition to our knowledge of Tenby. Complete wilh over 30 illustrations, 14 of Tenby, this professionally researched book comes complete with details of sources, a bibliography and an index. The book is available in Tenby from the bookshop at Tenby Museum and Art Gallery.

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A Legacy of Opium by Douglas Fraser