Lord Bowring and the Great Bakery Incident

It had a cast lifted from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera and a plot that would shame a penny dreadful. It is a quintessentially Victorian story, featuring a shadowy, manipulative and evil Chinese mandarin, incompetent natives, an aristocrat dispensing magnanimous British justice and his frail, delicate English wife. And all set against the explosive and exotic backdrop of the Opium Wars and the booming new Crown Colony of Hong Kong.

In the midst of this turbulent chapter of Asian history came the Great Bakery Incident of 1857, a plot so devious and underhand that only a foreigner could have carried it out. This was the only way that the shocked Anglo-Hong Kong elite could rationalise their close brush with death.

This single batch of poisoned bread on a small island off the southern coast of China would ultimately fan the flames of the Second Opium War, demonstrate the virtue of British justice and lead to the foundation of the grandest of Hong Kong’s department stores.

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