I am really trying to like this programme, because it’s entertaining in a weird sort of way, and I’m missing Poldark and Victoria; but the historical inaccuracies are just too much to take!! The whole premise of the series is that, in 1814, James Delaney has somehow inherited control of Nootka Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and the British government, the American government and the East India Company are all desperate to get their hands on it. Even supposedly turning to torture to try to get what they want – er, excuse me, it’s meant to be the 1810s, not the 1530s!
The idea is that Nootka Sound is the subject of a dispute between Britain and America as part of the War of 1812. However, that’s nonsense! The Nootka Sound dispute was between Britain and Spain! The United States wasn’t involved in it. In fact, if any third country had interests in that neck of the woods at the time, it was Russia, which held Alaska and had its eye on getting stuck into the fur trade. And it was all sorted twenty years before Taboo”s set. Spain was reluctant to get into a fight with Britain unless France would get involved too, which France wouldn’t. Then, once the French Revolutionary Wars broke out, Britain and Spain needed to work together and couldn’t afford to be getting into a conflict in the Pacific at the same time, so it was agreed that neither country would establish a settlement in the Nootka Sound area but that the ships of both would be able to use it. It was all settled by 1794.
The US just wasn’t involved in it all, and it certainly had nothing to do with the War of 1812. The programme did mention Spanish North America, but Spain had pretty much backed off from anywhere that far north by then. And the Oregon Question, the issue of the western border between the US and Canada, which did sour Anglo-American relations and dragged on until the 1840s, didn’t kick off until well after the War of 1812. All sorts of things did go on during the War of 1812 – the Americans invading Ontario and planning to attack Montreal as well, Britain attacking Washington and, famously, burning down the White House. the tragic defeat of the Tecumseh Confederacy and with it probably the end of any hopes of a Native American state in what’s now United States land, Francis Scott Key writing The Star-Spangled Banner, the Battle of New Orleans (which took place after peace’d been agreed, but the message didn’t get there on time! I’ve been round that battlefield twice.) and everyone annoying everyone else’s ships, but nothing that involved the Pacific North West. You cannot just go around picking an international incident, changing one of the parties involved, and plonking it into the wrong time period! Gah!!
Then there’s the question of the East India Company. According to this series, it’s some sort of terrifying organisation which is dead set on world domination. There are a lot of those theories about. Most of them involve either religious organisations, like the Jesuits, or secretive societies, like the Rosicrucians. They’re all twaddle. And there isn’t even one of those theories about the East India Company: it’s been made up for the purposes of the series! Yes, it dominated a vast amount of world trade, but it certainly wasn’t the big bad force that it’s being presented as here. And it was certainly never after Nootka Sound!
The East India Company was not involved in the “Pacific North West” area. That was the North West Company’s territory. The clues are in the names! The theory in the series is that the East India Company wanted Nootka Sound because of the Pacific trade routes to China. But the Pacific trade with China mainly involved furs, and the East India Company was not involved with the Pacific fur trade. That was the domain of the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company. The North West Company and the East India Company didn’t get on, because the EIC wouldn’t let any other British company trade through Canton (Guangzhou), but the EIC didn’t get involved on the NWC’s turf.
The EIC, at this time, was busily trying to get as much Bengal opium into China as possible. To pay for tea. Well, OK, silks and other stuff as well, but no-one really needs silks, and everyone needs tea! Funny to think that tea wasn’t really being grown in India until a bit later on – because “Indian tea” is what I think of as proper tea, whereas “Chinese tea” is more that stuff that smells as if someone’s put pot pourri in it. I think Chinese tea’s supposed to be posher. There’s a scene in an Enid Blyton book in which a very snooty character – shortly before being pushed into a swimming pool by a Naughty French Girl – complains vociferously about being given Indian tea instead of Chinese tea, and any mention of the differences between the two always makes me think of that :-). Anyway, to get back to the point, opium had to be smuggled across the Indo-Chinese border because the Chinese authorities had banned its import. So taking it by sea from Canada would have been impossible. And taking opium from India to China via Canada would have made absolutely no economic sense anyway.
The programme does have a weird sort of Gothic appeal, and there’s nothing else on on a Saturday night after Casualty anyway, but the way they’ve completely distorted history to suit themselves is doing my head in! A lot of that goes on in books, films and TV series, but most of them draw the line at moving an international incident to a period over twenty years later and changing one of the countries involved! Not to mention the bizarre portrayal of the East India Company. What next?! Moving Bosworth Field into the Hundred Years’ War? Moving the Battle of New Orleans into the Mexican War? Gah and double gah! Very Silly Indeed. So there!!