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Merthyr, China 1850

Merthyr, China 1850


46 x 36cm

acrylic and pencil on canvas


Merthyr, China 1850: In the Welsh language Merthyr translates as martyr. In the early 19th century the town was known as the Iron capital of the world due to its heavy industry. Producing the majority of iron for Britain’s industrial revolution, feeding the ever growing British Empire. A dirty, unhealthy polluted place in the time of progress. Thomas Carlyle wrote after a visit in 1850 “A vision of Hell that will never leave me,… these poor creatures broiling in sweat and dirt, amid their furnaces, pits and rolling mills.” A particularly overcrowded area of Merthyr was called “China” infamous for being one of the worst slums in Britain at the time, no toilets just open sewers. Diseases such as typhoid and cholera were common place contaminated water supplies early deaths, working children and large families struggling to survive in terrible conditions.

Across the world in China itself, in the year 1850 The Taiping Rebellion had just started, a vast lower class uprising in part caused by poverty, a twisted combination of Christian and Confucian doctrines which were introduced by Westerners, a massive rise in population 430 million at the time. A poorly organised infrastructure. The rebellion also occurred only a few years after the first Opium war with Britain. When the ruling Qing dynasty of China tried to defend and stop the illegal smuggling of opium into the country by the British from India. As a consequence of this increased illegal smuggling there was widespread addiction and a rapid increase in economic disruption which in turn caused social destabilisation. The causalities of the rebellion were astronomical it is estimated that some 20 million people died during the war, around three million more deaths than during World War I, some 64 years later. On the whole, this part of recent history is overlooked in European history.

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