China produced silk, porcelain and most importantly tea for export to the West. But there was very little that the Chinese wanted in return except silver (coinage).
Consequently, a major negative balance of trade evolved between the entire tea consuming world and China. In an effort to solve their economic problems, the British government gave a monopoly to the British East India Company (1770's) to grow poppies in India and produce opium for sale to China. Within 10 years the British had succeeded in balancing their trade with China. By the 1830's the Chinese were spending more on opium than they received for their tea, causing inflation in the value of Chinese silver. The Emperor, in an effort to deal with foreign "barbarian" merchants and force the British out of business, confiscated several thousand trunks of opium. The British used this as an opportunity to attack China and exacted a 3 million dollar ransom on Canton. In the settlement, Britain received 5 treaty ports, including Hong Kong, which it still holds today. The opium trade remained illegal but continued unhindered by the Chinese government.
January of 1849 - Gold discovered at Sutter's Mill in the Sacramento River Valley. The beginning of the California gold rush. There was no north coast lumber industry in California at the time, but rapid growth and regular fires in San Francisco created a high demand for timber and household goods.
By 1850/ steam ships were coming into favor in the opium trade. They were more reliable, and could carry more cargo. Having outlived her usefulness/ the Heard Co. was looking for a way to unload the Frolic, which had developed rot in her hull and was otherwise outdated. The California gold rush opened up a new market to the Heards and provided them with an opportunity to use the Frolic for one final profitable voyage. The Frolic's journey from China to the California coast took 44 days, a distance of some 6000 miles.
Mistaking their distance from shore in the coastal haze, the Frolic wrecked on the reef at the north edge of what is now the Preserve, the night of July 25th, 1850. No lives were lost in the wreck. Captain Faucon and his officers landed at Big River after abandoning ship and making for land in the lifeboats. They left at least 18 of the Malaysian, Chinese, and Lascar seaman behind on the boat or on Big River Beach to fend for themselves. (What became of them?) 10 days later Faucon arrived in San Francisco where news of the wreck was publicized in the local paper.
The Frolic was well insured. The Heard Co. may not have made as great a profit as they might have had the cargo reached San Francisco, but they still saw a return on the venture. (Was there a deliberate scuttlebutt? Why would the captain abandon the ship without making an effort to salvage the cargo? Why was he so anxious to cut his losses?)
Edward H. Faucon, Captain of the Frolic began his merchant seaman's career in 1829 as first mate aboard a fur-trading vessel on the California coast. This was late for the fur trade, which was already suffering from over hunting by the early 1920's. The ship carried New England manufactured goods to the Pacific Northwest, trading them to the natives in exchange for furs, especially those of the sea otter, which was hunted to extinction for its luxurious pelt. These furs, in turn, were exported to China. A chapter of the book Two years before the mast, by Richard Henry Dana, is devoted to Captain Faucon
Before her death in 1942, Catherine Faucon (daughter and sole heir) donated her family's extensive collection of heirlooms to museums and archives. In this process she carefully edited and burned the records of her father's participation in the opium trade.
The only document saved dating to his employment in China was a small penciled Portrait, sketched there sometime during the late 1840s, a reproduction of which is exhibited in Journey of the Frolic.
Additional study materials on the Frolic story are available on request, including a videotape of Dr. Layton's training lecture. A permanent exhibit of artifacts from the ship is on display at the County Museum in Willits
You will enjoy The Voyage of the Frolic by Tom Layton. Just visit our GIFT SHOPwhere you can purchase a copy of this exciting book.
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