Britain's Rise To World Empire

In 1901, when Victoria, Queen and Empress, died as the head of an empire of more than one hundred dominions, colonies, territories and protectorates. It was then quite true to say that:

 ...'The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire'..

Queen Victoria's British Empire: 1898


Britain's rise to world power was built on the symbiotic development of trade and a strong navy. The navy built harbours in: Leith, Scotland and Great Yarmouth in Norfolk to dominate the North Sea and Baltic and to add to its existing ports of London and Portsmouth; it had earlier captured and used the Spanish island of Minorca, which together with Gibraltar enabled a British fleet under Admiral George Byng to defeat a Spanish fleet at Sicily and so to dominate the Mediterranean. In North America there was a continuing threat from the French Fort Louisbourg, which enabled privateers to operate out of Cape Breton, so the British navy moved from their vulnerable harbour at Port Royal in Nova Scotia to Chebucto, soon to be renamed Halifax. A naval squadron at Halifax protected the vital fisheries and access to the forests of Maine and New Hampshire; and a new port in Savannah, Georgia protected the southern coast. The East Indies was protected by the commercial East India Company's private ships, but the West Indies was plagued by buccaneers, or pirates.

The British Empire was the largest empire in history and for a time was the foremost global power. It was a product of the European age of discovery, which began with the maritime explorations of the fifteenth century, that sparked the era of the European colonial empires. In 1578 Sir Humphrey Gilbert was granted a patent by Queen Elizabeth for discovery and overseas exploration, and set sail for the West Indies with the intention of first engaging in piracy and on the return voyage, establishing a colony in North America. The expedition failed at the outset due to bad weather. In 1583 Gilbert embarked on a second attempt, on this occasion to the island of Newfoundland where he formally claimed for England the harbour of St. John's, though no settlers were left behind.[1]

There was a delay in England's rise to empire. James Stuart's Great Britain fell into Civil War under his son Charles I. The English civil war lasted from 1642 to 1651 and was fought between Charles and his supporters and the parliament. Parliament won at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651. Charles was executed in 1649 and Cromwell ruled from 1653 to 1659. A power struggle continued with Charles II, who was replaced by his brother James II. James was overthrown in 1688 and replaced by William III, of Orange and Queen Mary Stewart. With a Dutch king alliance with the Netherlands against France was inevitable. All these conflicts detracted from England's international interests. There was more to come in Scotland and Ireland with the Jacobite rebellions beginning in 1689.

The Battle of Scheveningen: 10 August 1653


Trade disputes led England to war with the Dutch in 1652, because the Dutch had the largest mercantile fleet of Europe. Actual conflict was kept in the English Channel and the waters adjacent to either country. In 1654, the English navy forced the Dutch to accept an English monopoly on trade with England and her colonies. Since the Spanish and Portuguese colonies were then considered vulnerable since the parent states had collapsed both England and the Netherlands tried to gain control of the rich spice trade. War broke out again in each of the next three decades. The Netherlands was overturned in its own reach for empire and profitable trade by an improving English navy. While England struggled its way through republic and via several kings back to monarchy France supplanted Spain as the world power. The French manoeuvered for power in Europe, while France, Spain, and (after the Act of Union) Britain rushed for colonies overseas. Increasingly European colonies were settled in America, and America came to be seen as all of the Americas plus the Caribbean.

After Captain William Kidd was hung for piracy in 1701, the English Parliament detached a small squadron commanded by Captain Woods-Rogers. Harbours were established at Kingston, Jamaica and in the Bahamas, where Woods-Rogers was to be the governor. The Caribbean nemesis was Blackbeard, Captain Edward Teach, who operated out of the colonial American Carolinas. Teach was hunted down and killed in 1718. By 1730, pirates had also been killed, or driven out of Madagascar and Sierra Leone in Africa, thus clearing the Atlantic. All this British activity on a world-wide scale was bound to upset the French who competed for colonies and trade. How did it develop? War was involved and prime amongst those wars was the first global war called The Seven Years' War.

Building the British Empire

The real action began in 1739 with Spain: the War of Jenkins' Ear. By then, the English perceived the Britsh Navy ' essential to our Safety and Wealth as Parliament or Magna Carta'.[2] Ten thousand British soldiers and sailors died at Cartagena from malaria and yellow fever, this was not going to prove easy. Admiral Sir Edward Vernon was given command of a squadron to be based at Jamaica, and Captain George Anson led a small squadron around South America to attack Spain's Pacific colonies in a four-year epic. Since this was patently a wide-spread world war, statesmen began to consider which country would dominate that world. Spain, the Netherlands, and Portugal all realised that they did not have the military and naval capabilities to project power: ominously, that left Britain and France. In 1743, France signed an alliance with Spain and backed Prussia against Britain's ally Austria. By 1735 France's East India Company out-performed both that of both Britain and the Netherlands; the French army was Europe's best; and the French navy had more than 53 men-of-war (Spain had an additional 50!). Britain then had more than 150 ships and 40,000 sailors, and Britain and France were to stay at war until Napoleon was finished at Waterloo!

In April 1747 a French fleet set out from Nouvelle Rochelle for Cape Breton, Canada; they were caught off Finisterre on 3 May and Admiral George Anson allowed his captains to choose their targets. Six French warships struck their colours (surrendered), three East Indiamen (merchant ships) were boarded and captured, and 20 more Indiamen were captured on 4 May. This war edged into the Seven Years' War and was fought in Europe, India, the Caribbean, and in both Canada and America: this was a world war. The war involved all the major powers of Europe: Prussia, Great Britain (with British Colonies in North America, the British East India Company, and Ireland), and Hanover were pitted against Austria, France (with New France and the French East India Company), the Russian Empire, Sweden, and Saxony. Spain and Portugal were later drawn into the conflict, while a force from the neutral United Provinces of the Netherlands was attacked in India.[3]

Vice Admiral Sir Peter Warren was the commander of the Western Squadron in 1747; in August he developed scurvy and put Rear Admiral Edward Hawke in temporary command of his squadron. Instead of a period of quiet, the French broke out of Brest with a convoy of 250 merchantmen and escorts. On 25 October 1747, Admiral Hawke defeated the French at the Second Battle of Cape Finisterre. Although the convoy was not confronted until it reached the Antilles (42 'prizes' were captured), Hawke captured all eight of the French warships and inflicted 4,000 casualties, against his 170 killed. Louis XV and the French had to acknowledge British naval superiority in both strategy and tactics, as the Gibraltarr-based squadron tied up the remaining French fleet at Toulon. Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated at Culloden for lack of the French fleet and the army it carried, which had been intercepted by Hawke's squadron. A temporary peace was agreed at Aix la Chapelle in 1748, which merely gave a chance to re-arm. During this truce, the British traded openly with the 'closed' Spanish colonies. Happily for Britain William Pitt was to become prime minister and lead his country in the battle with France.

English strategists grasped the point that '...When trade is at stake, it is your last entrenchment; you must defend it or perish'.[4] Pitt's view was not an empire divided by the oceans, but one united by those oceans! As Herman points out the European aristocracy justified itself in the military and so clamoured for war. The c1750 France's army was 200,000 and by 1756 the French had re-built their navy with a core of 60 warships and 30 smaller frigates. The spark that set this off was the British construction of Halifax as a major naval base. The French countered with a series of forts through the Great Lakes and down the Ohio Valley to Fort Duquesne. Robert Dinwiddie, the Governor of Virginia sent Major George Washington to explain that Duequesne was in Virgina and must therefore be abandoned: he was, of course, rebuffed. Washington was sent back in command of an unsuccessful British advance guard.[5] The British then sent Major General Edward Braddock with a small army to expel the French: he was killed and his command was decimated, albeit as his aide Washington accredited himself and commanded the British withdrawal. French reinforcements were landed in Canada and wider fighting broke out with mixed results. In India the General le Marquis de Dupleix and General Robert Clive had already been fighting since 1752.

The French then persuaded Austria to join in an attack on Hanover as a means to distract the British King George's German home. The French strategic plan was to further distract the British and tie down the British channel fleet by threatening an invasion from the coast. French thinking was that this would result in the shift of the British Mediterranean squadron and thus enable the escape of the French fleet from Toulon and give France control of the Mediterranean. The intended goal was to convince the Spanish to join France as an ally. War began in Europe in August 1756 when Prussia attacked Saxony. The French army then pushed the Hanovariians to the North Sea, while in April 1757 the French navy attacked the British base at Port Mahon on Minorca. Admiral John Byng was sent to reiforce Gibraltar and relieve Minorca, he failed and was later shot for cowardice! Spain was close to joining France, despite furious British diplomacy.

By the summer of 1757 Britain's back was against the wall. In the Mediterranean the French were at liberty, while scurvy broke the blockade at Brest. In Canada Lieutenant General le Marquis de Moncalm threatened to cut the British colonies by advancing to the Huson River; while in India the French were threatening British Madras. In a British political shake-up Pitt was made a secretary of state at the end of 1756. Pitt decided to re-balance the continenal war by helping Prussia, its only effective military ally. Pitt persuaded Britain to pay Prussia to do the necessary fighting in Europe to tie down the French, thus changing the European balance. Friedrich der Große showed his value by defeating the French and their allies, who had a two-to-one numerical advantage but received 10,000 casualties as compared to the Prussians 550 men![6] The French had been divided again by the balance of power. The French could never again marshal all their efforts against the British navy, because Frederick kept them tied down with the Prussian army. Since Pitt was winning a world empire his subsidies to Prussia were a cheap price. To make clear that Pitt understood his position, he said 'We shall conquer America through Germany.'[7]

Since the key to British military strategy lay in the British navy, Admiral Anson's leadership as First Lord was critical. In 1755 Anson produced the first new two-deck (thus higher gun-platforms than the old three deckers) battleship of 74 guns, based on a captured French design.[8] By 1759 there were 14 new ships in service.[9] Anson used the naval world strategy to keep Clive resupplied in India, while denying the French the opportunity to reinforce. The result of their support was Clive's 1757 defeat of Dupleix at the Battle of Plassey, and the end of the Madras Seige in 1759. India became British in 1760 with General Coote's final victory at Wandiwash in 1760. In 1758 Britain captured West African Senegal, the centre of the French slave trade, and the French fortress at Gorée. The Channel Blockade cut off New France and in 1758 both Louisbourg and Fort Duquesne fell to British armies. Fort Duquesne was renamed Pittsburgh to record Pitt's role as prime minister. In 1759 Fort Ticonderoga fell to General Jeffery Amhurst, and Fort Niagara fell to Sir William Johnson. In September 1759, Major General James Wolfe captured Québec City and thus Canada became British.

The British navy made empire possible

Admiral Edward Boscawen had been busy in the 1758 capture of Fort Louisibourg; in the 1759 defeat of a French fleet (at the Battle of Lagos in which he captured or destroyed five ships), which intended to resupply Canada. In a last attempt a French plan was hatched to invade Scotland and open a new front against the victorious British. The Lagos battle cancelled French plans to invade England, but the French still contemplated an invasion of Scotland. Taking advantage of a gale, which drove off the blockading British, the French fleet escaped from Brest. Sadly for the Comte de Conflans, the British returned. On 20 November 1759 Admiral Sir Edward Hawke with 23 ships of the line caught the French fleet of 21 ships of the line under Vice Admiral le Comte de Conflans-Brienne, and after hard fighting, sank, captured, or forced aground and virtually destroyed the French fleet. Conflans lost his flagship and four other ships-of-the-line, while his remaining fleet was damaged and trapped either at Rochefort, or in coastal river-mouths. Admiral Boscawen returned to the attack in the Caribbean in 1762 and captured the French colonies of Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Lucia, and Grenada.[10] Recapture of the Mediterranean was only a matter of time.

French trade was further blocked by 2,000 British privateers and over 70 naval frigates.[11] French colonies had been lost - most forever; and French armies were stalled in Germany and the Netherlands. In 1759, the British Royal Navy had 276 warships, including 92 ships of the line. In 1763 the British navy had grown to more than 300 ships and 60,000 officers and men. The French were broke and their ability to redeem their losses crippled by their loss of trade.

Riding to France's rescue, Spain finally declared war on Britain: it was too late. In 1762, the Spanish had to suffer the humiliation of the loss of their Spanish-American economic centre of Havana in Cuba. Havana was captured in a British joint military-naval operation. The final humiliation was the capture of Manila in the Philippines in 1763. Despite British protestations, the final Treaty of Paris returned Havana and Manila to Spain, and Martinique and Guadeloupe to France. Nevertheless, Britain kept: India; Canada; Minorca in the Mediterranean; and the Caribbean islands of Grenada, Dominica, St Vincent, and Tobago. The most significant outcome of the war was the end of France’s power in the Americas (having only French Guiana, Saint-Domingue, and a handful of islands left) and the emergence of Britain as the dominant world power. France's navy would never again be even near equal terms with the British Royal Navy. The British East India Company acquired the strongest position within India, which was to become the jewel in crown. Perhaps most significantly both Britain and France were in serious debt and both countries soon had to face rebellions by outraged populations faced with the bills. In the British colonial rebellion George Washington was to profit by the experience he had gained during this war.[12]

Imperial Risk

Empire required risk and the English took a series of risks in gaining European power and in then creating the capability to project that power. Being an island it was easy to see that a powerful navy was required and Elizabeth served notice that she had world ambitions in sending her privateer captains in world-wide search of opportunity in the seventeenth century. The information and confidence gained led directly to commercial expansion in both North America and India. Wars were fought with the competing French, Dutch, and Spanish and later the Russians and Germans. Inevitably there were many wars fought with the native peoples, who did not seem to recognise the true value of becoming British colonies. Imperial spread gathered a staggering 102 colonies as members of the British Empire.[13] Gaining and keeping power were recognised as separate issues during the Elizabethan era and a strategy of ensuring Imperial unity with British blood evolved. Britons ‘Conquered and peopled half the world'. Creation of wealth, and and the search for markets for their manufacturing goods led to English culture and language becoming world standards.

North American Empire

Real empire began at Québec in 1759


The Anglo-French New World struggle for power began, in 1629, when Québec was stormed. Acadia, now New Brunswick, changed hands, but it was the 1670 establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company fur-trading empire that galled the French Governor of Canada, Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac. The French had worked hard to pacify the Indians and build a fur trade centred on Montréal. The English undercut Montréal by exploiting Hudson's and Frobisher’s Arctic explorations. The Company saved weeks in moving furs to the European markets directly from Hudson’s Bay, vice Montréal. That obviously cut into French trade and Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur d’Iberville was sent to capture the Company posts on Hudson’s Bay. Iberville was quite successful and the Company was temporarily put out of business. Of course the British came racing back - there was all that profit! Since the Company's mandate encorporated 'all waters flowing into Hudson's Bay', the Company's empire was larger than most countries.

The French fought to limit England's control of America, but the costs were enormous. Innumerable forts and garrisons were required to show even a presence in an area. Once a fort was established the competitors could detour around an area, attack it at some vulnerable time, or pressure a new area and cause a shift in Indian allies, forts and garrisons. Additionally, once established the garrisons had to be maintained with new men and supplies from Europe. That maintenance put the merchant shipping at risk to the privateers, which in turn required navies for protection. Empire had some large start-up costs.

D’Iberville returned in 1687 in an English ship, with no English forts left on James Bay, and in 1690 he led a mixed native force of Canadians, French and Indians to force Schenectady to stop the Iroquois raids into Québec.[14] That last area is still known as 'Burnt Hills'. The English were marked for further war in the New World. Britain fought with all her rivals and developed her navy into a dominant world force and then built an army. Lima was founded as the capital of Spanish Peru in 1535 and enabled the Spaniards to maintain an edge over the French and Portugese in exploiting the natives (for gold and silver) and in colonising (from Peru to San Francisco where they met the Russians c1770). However, the Spanish wealth became a target for the world's pirates led by the English, French, and Dutch.

By 1700, development of European technology and navigational discoveries made world change irreversible. The French explored eastern and southern America, but developed a focus on fur trade rather than colonisation. Although Québec was founded in 1608, the English founded Jamestown in Virginia in 1607 and the Mayflower landed in Massachusetts in 1620. By 1700, twelve separate English colonies had become well-established with British blood and agricultural, commercial, and fishing economies. Amongst them was a population of 250,000 and by 1750 (including 100,000 slaves) the population was one-third England’s, while Massachusetts’ alone equalled the population of all of New France.

Yorktown ended Britain's America


The end of Marlborough’s War of the Spanish Succession, by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, left Spanish trading monopolies intact but led to clashes amongst the growing imperial powers. Utrecht gave Britain some French concessions, including Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. But trade tensions between Britain and France led to the Indian War of 1754-1760, and into the global Seven Years War of 1756-1763. In 1759, Major General James Wolf defeated Major General the Marquis de Montcalm at Québec City and with the Treaty of Paris in 1763 all Canada and the lands to the east of the Mississippi were conceded to Britain.

Having won the Seven Years War, fought in part to relieve the French and Indian threat to the colonists, and ignoring the commercial profit motive which drove the war and the colonial development in the first place, the British decided that the colonists should pay. Taxation was unpopular with the colonies, as the 1776 events were later to show. If Britain had war costs prior to 1776, they were nothing compared to the post-1776-era costs. The British took their losses in America and promptly focused on India.

The British government's policies to defend her monopolies and her new American empire led directly to the American War of Independence. Colonial administrators like Sir William Johnson tried to hold back a tide of settlers from swamping the native American Indians. In 1774, the Québec Act expanded that colony's boundaries to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, inflaming Virginia and Pennsylvania, and exacerbating the trade restrictive colonial Coercive Acts. The New World discoveries led to uncontrolled settlement and a struggle for power.

Imperial Expansion

Fabulously wealthy India


British leadership in Europe was demonstrated during the Napoleonic Wars of the early nineteenth century. Britain was established by 1815 along with France, Russia, Ottoman Turkey and China as one of the world's great imperial powers. Recognising her dependency on trade, the Napoleonic view of a French world was anathema to the British. The Dutch had also been serious rivals for trade, in Europe, America, Africa and Asia; and three Anglo-Dutch wars were fought between 1652 and 1692. To placate Dutch feelings, the Duke of Marlborough was sent to the Continent to lead the fight against the Franco-Spanish Alliance in the War of the Spanish Succession. English and Dutch East Indian Companies competed for trade in south-east Asia and British traders were established in Assam, Burma, Malaya and Java. The British colony of Singapore broke the Dutch trading monopoly in the Asian far east, while the British Middle East guaranteed shipping influence. These last colonies were built to ensure British rule and control of India. The fabulously wealthy India had to be protected. As a consequence, the Empire was expanded into both Africa and Asia during the nineteenth century, Ethiopia in 1865 and Egypt and the Sudan in the 1880s; the Battle of Omdurman was in 1898. The French would later be manoeuvred between British land access to India, and the Russians, in the post-WW I division of the Ottoman Empire.[15]

While busy in America, Britons were also active in developing trade and empire in both Africa and Asia. The British navy and privateers were given the authority to ensure trade and punish interfering foreign interests, primarily the Spanish, French and Dutch. The British 1760 victory over the French in North America coincided with other French defeats by the British in India and the Caribbean, and the same Treaty ceded most of India, Grenada, St Vincent and Tobago to create the British Empire. The Caribbean was added to the lucrative Jamaican and Barbados sugar and rum trades. Britain traded for slaves to replace most of natives, who died of the European diseases.

The massive commitment of British troops to the West Indies in the 1790s reflected fears that their very considerable value to Britain might be threatened either by internal slave revolt in the manner of St Dominque in 1791, or by external powers. In the event, rather than losing ground, Britain made additional permanent territorial gains in Trinidad (from Spain) and on the South American mainland, in Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo (from the Dutch).

The fundamental focus on inter-relationships between states developed into the need to project power around the globe to protect economic interests. It was trade and the English navy which provided the impetus for the growth to the British Empire. Technology produced guns, wool, rum, and African slaves were added as commodities, all exploited for the wealth of men like the Boultons. Britain had become an industrial mechanised giant by 1850, trading colonial resources for products and increased wealth. England made steel for railways and ships to carry the goods, while her economic growth and increasing world interests drove her to protect her own key economic trading interests. Religions, races, food, trade and ideas all became mixed into what is now a global economy. The development of railroads and the major Suez and Panama trade canals of the nineteenth century saved weeks in shipping time.

The trade squeeze on the American Colonies backfired and led to the 1775 Revolution and in 1781 General Washington defeated Major General Cornwallis at Yorktown. (Ten years later Cornwallis made up for the loss and won a battle in India). The British turned to India to console themselves for the loss of America.[16] India absorbed Mackenzie talents with the deployment of the Seaforth Highlanders in 1781. Sir Alexander Mackenzie fought alongside Clive in the Mughal Wars, in the First Mysore War and was the Commander-in-Chief in Bengal. His grandson followed him to India and fought to pacify the Mughal tribes in northern India. He fought in the 1846-1847 campaign to limit the Sikhs and was an advisor at Gwalior, near Agra and the Taj Mahal. India provided the cotton for English mills and thereby much of Britain’s wealth. Conscious of their vulnerability, the British labelled the land between Europe and India as the Middle East.


India made up for losing America


In 1498, the Portugese Vasco da Gama landed at Malabar and began a profitable spice trade. In the 1600s, the English joined the Portuguese, French, Dutch and Danish in India, to trade in spices, textiles and sugar. In the 1700s, the Marathas struggled against the Mughal emperors. The East India Trading Company, established in 1600,, built both Madras and Calcutta from British forts. But the first major trading centre was at Bombay. Bombay had been Catherine de Braganza's dowry to King Charles II in 1661 and he gave it to the East India Company for 10 rent. Although a big metropolis by 1688, Bombay was later eclipsed in 1698 by Calcutta and New Delhi.[17]

The enormous and complex Eastern, British empire had been created in India since the beginning of the Seven Years' War. India was soon to become the centrepiece of Britain's overseas possessions. To these were added other tropical territories, including Ceylon and Mauritius. India was the product of Britain's unavoidable involvement both in Europe's world-wide wars and, by the agency of the East India Company, in the internal politics and commercial rivalries of the individual Indian states such as Bengal, Arcot and Mysore.

Anxious to defend their position in India, the Imperial government and the East India Company directors in London were routinely unable to do more than follow in the wake of their representatives and other countrymen on the spot. The pursuit of personal ambitions, commercial interest, security, and wealth to pay the troops, gave a powerful dynamism to British expansion which, under the Governors-General Wellesley and Hastings, progressively overrode Indian independence in many parts of the sub-continent by 1820.

The French and English commercial companies fought an Indian trade war in 1744. The Carnatic was brought under the British to protect the Nawob in the 1750s. General Lord Robert Clive won the key battle against the Mughals at Plassy in 1757, and a final British victory in 1763. Independent Indian ambitions were ignored as the British began to turn India into a source of vast British wealth. After losing America in 1781, Lord North's government fell and Sir William Pitt, the Younger passed the India Act in 1784, which placed the much of India under Parliamentary control. The consolidation of India into the Empire was begun with the Duke of Wellington's brother, Richard Wellesley. As Governor, Wellesley finished off fthe Marathas by war and forced the departure of the last Mughal emperor in 1805.

The British Empire was then supreme and the profits were enormous. In southern India the British and the French allied with opposing political factions within the successor states to the Mughals. The Europeans extracted gains for their own companies and to weaken the position of their opponents. Private ambitions were also involved. Great personal rewards were promised to the European commanders who succeeded in placing their Indian clients on the thrones for which they were contending. A successful kingmaker, like Robert Clive, could become prodigiously rich.

Protecting An Empire

The Western Europeans were not the only people interested in India, there were also the Russians. The Russians conquered the little Khanates of Central Asia, one by one - Samarkand in 1868, Bokhara, Khiva and Kokand in 1868-75, closing on Afghanistan. Lord Salisbury spoke of the Russian advance over the steppes as ".this Russian avalanche".[18] In 1858 Peshawar, site of the main British military base on the Indian Northwest Frontier, was a thousand miles from the nearest Russian outposts in Central Asia; by 1876 only four hundred miles separated them. As the two armies drew closer together, fear of Russian intentions and capabilities grew. It was firmly believed that if Russia ever controlled Afghanistan, India would be in mortal danger.[19] The Russians and British fought a lonely cold war at the top of the world in the Pamir, Hindu Kush and Himalaya Mountains.

Tsar Alexander I was seeking security, access to a warm port for his navy, and Indian wealth.[20] The British Raj just wanted the wealth - raj means rule. British motives were obvious: Central Asia was key to maintaining India, since the Russians sweeping down from the north could cut land access. British nervousness was justified because Napoleon and the Csar planned to march 50,000 French troops across Persia and Afghanistan to join the Cossacks in an attack to remove the British from India.[21] During the nineteenth Century, the British became anxious to protect their Empire from Russia despite the fact that Turkestan was just a large white blank on both British and Russian maps.[22] Lone spies on the ground was the answer and the 'Great Game' was born. In Asia, The Great Game developed as the Russians pushed south and the British sent out hand picked individuals to explore and block Russian moves while trying to make treaties with the fierce native tribes.[23]

Although the Russians never moved major garrison support closer than one thousand miles from India there was always the chance that their agents could gain support from the fierce Asian War Lords in places like Bokhara and Samarkand. For the Russians freedom from Mongol oppression had been the motive since Ivan III defeated the Golden Horde in 1480. That led to the drive to secure land and the Russian Imperial expansion across Asia. The lust of Peter the Great for India made a clash inevitable where the 'three Empires meet'.[24] Neither the British nor Russians wanted to involve the Chinese, although the British had a war with the Afghanis and the Russians and British negotiated with the Persians, Uzbeks, Kyrgyzis and Tajiks.


The Dutch missed it


The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman mapped and named New Zealand and was the first to circumnavigate Terra Australis Incognita, but later Pacific explorers like the French Bougainville had to wait almost 150 years for Captain Cook to add to their knowledge. Cook made three voyages to the east coast of Australia during the period 1768 to 1780 and added tremendously to the store of knowledge about the Pacific. On route home during his last voyage, while looking for the Northwest passage 'to China from Europe', he mapped the north-western American coast and Vancouver Island. In the late 1770s jails became critically overcrowded in England and led to the transportation of criminals, sometimes only children guilty of stealing food, to Australia and America.[25] The idea was to dispose of a problem while using the human resources to spread more power. They were rough, unwitting British ambassadors.

In 1788, Britain founded the Colony of Australia and the first eleven convict ships carrying 1,300 British convicts, marines and crew arrived at the notorious prison colony called Botany Bay. By 1792, there were four thousand settlers and 1,300 acres of crops planted. The enormous spaces remained to be fully explored in the nineteenth century by men like Gregory, Burke and Mills. Because of the severe climate, Australia remained a colonial drain until wool exports developed in the 1820s. Captain William Bligh, who was the first Governor of New South Wales (NSW) from 1806 to 1809, ended his career in another mutiny, by the NSW Corps of mounted rogues. The new Governor Lachlan Macquarrie who brought farmers, civilisation and sheep controlled them. Victoria was founded privately and Melbourne was named in 1837. Tasmania and New Zealand were annexed, or claimed as British colonies by 1840 and serious settlement was begun. The Aborigines and Maoris were treated badly and the Maoris rebellion (1859 - 1872) was put down with guns. By 1860, the Australian population had doubled in the previous ten years, adding the first non-Britons as a result of an 1851 gold strike in Victoria and NSW. Railways and refrigerated ships replaced the days of convict settlements.


Slavery opened Africa to European hunters


World trade was not innocent and during the 350 years from 1526, ten million slaves were seized and shipped from principally western Africa, the vast majority of the slaves went to the Americas. South Africa (the Cape of Good Hope) was first conquered from the Dutch in 1795, subsequently retaken in 1806, and finally retained by the British for its strategic significance, in 1815.


In West Africa British possessions were limited to the settlement of Sierra Leone (a humanitarian venture begun in 1787, which was designed to serve the interests both of poor blacks from Britain and North America as well as freed slaves), and some scattered trading posts on the Gambia and Gold Coast. The British developed a global strategy to gain economic power and control in Africa and Asia.


The British then used their new ports in Northwest Africa, from Accra to Gambia, to support their new global economy and trade and occupied south Africa. In 1806, Britain bought the port of Cape Town, which was later to expand from the Cape Colony into South Africa, after the Boer Wars, in which my Uncle Jim played a later part.

Lord Cecil John Rhodes founded the De Beers Diamond Mines and tried to establish a railway from the Cape to Cairo. Northern and Southern Rhodesia bore his name in the second half of the nineteenth century. When Rhodes plotted for Johannesburg in 1895 and the take-over of the Boers' Transvaal, Rhodes was after gold mines. His style was all mad gamble but he knew the British did not regard death as failure, since half the Empire had been conquered by dead men.[26] Lord Kitchner would claim the Sudan at the end of the last century, linking British Egypt with British South Africa. The British Empire was at it's peak and was glorified by Queen Victoria, Rudyard Kipling and a long generation who became used to wealth and world power. Power granted titles, gave respect to the wealthy and gave the British passport an unequalled status. These men and the colonial administrators, like Wellesley and Raffles, were talented and worked hard, but in the end Empire fed on colonial exploitation and world hegemony.

The British Navy

The Empire would not have been created with the English navy. The English kings and queens all seem to have recognised the need for a strong navy and many worked to build it and create security King John had a fleet of 500 ships, and in the mid-fourteenth century Edward III's navy had some 712. There then followed a period of decline. The first reformation and major expansion of the Navy Royal - as it was then known - occurred in the sixteenth century during the reign of Henry VIII whose ships, Henri Grâce a Dieu ("Great Harry") and the Mary Rose, engaged the French navy in the battle of the Solent in 1545. By the time of Henry's death in 1547 his fleet had grown to 58 vessels.


Sir Francis Drake


In 1588 the Spain threatened England with invasion and the Spanish Armada set sail to secure the English Channel and transport troops from the Spanish Netherlands to England. However, the armada failed, due to bad weather, a revolt by the Dutch and persistent attacks by the English at sea. The Stewarts and Tudors did not create secure funding for the navy, which led to Sir Walter Raleigh's plan for privateering and a self-supporting navy. England continued to raid Spain's ports and ships travelling across the Atlantic Ocean under Elizabeth but was to suffer a series of damaging defeats against a reformed Spanish navy.

A permanent Naval Service did not exist until the mid seventeenth century, when the Fleet Royal was taken under Parliamentary control following the defeat of Charles I in the English Civil War. This second reformation of the navy was carried out under 'General-at-Sea' Robert Blake during Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth. The incorporation of the Royal Navy was in contrast to the land forces, which are descended from both royalist and Parliamentary forces. Curiously Samuel Pepys was the saviour of the navy, as he became the quintessential bureaucrat, friend of scientists, creator of Greewich, and equal to parliamentary questions. Pepys created a professional, modern, naval service. Charles II inherited 122 ships in 1660, and by 1687 there were 171 ships, with mandatory examinations for an increasingly compentent, permanent, officer corps.[27]

Louis IV of France recognised the utility of a strong navy, he even tried Raleigh and Drake's privateer concept of a self-supporting navy: the French took over four thousand Dutch and English ships.[28] French attempts to control Europe spurred Willem of Orange to invade England and replace his father-in-law James II.[29] From that moment the navy was employed as a strategic and world-wide means of implementing government policy and securing trade. In 1702, the navy was tasked to block the French ports, protect convoys against Mediterranean privateers, protect sugar-interests in the Caribbean, and support operations in Canada. To combat the French in the Mediterranean, the English needed a safe port and they captured Gibraltar on 1 August 1704.[30] The British parliament recognised Britain's dependence on trade and the navy and the Royal Navy became a global force. In 1817, the Royal Navy (often known as the RN) had 63 ships serving in 'foreign station': by 1850 there were 129![31]

As the 18th century drew on the government developed improved means of financing the Royal Navy through bonds. With improved cash flow, the Royal Navy began to develop the strategic ability to counteract other county's naval forces by blockades, supported by unprecedented naval logistics. This eventually led to almost uncontested power over the world's oceans from 1805 to 1914, when "Britannia ruled the waves". The Royal Navy suffered only one major defeat—the battle of the Chesapeake against France in 1781 (although in 1796 a French invasion fleet was prevented from landing in Bantry Bay, Ireland only by the weather) and was able to defeat all challengers, as demonstrated at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 when the French and Spanish were beaten by Admiral Lord Nelson.

Domestic difficulties notwithstanding, Britain's commercial and financial strength had sustained the military alliances necessary to restore continental peace, and after her victory over the French fleet at Trafalgar in 1805 her navy had at last secured a global supremacy at sea. The Navy was supreme because of a system of deliberate government poilcy and the realisation of Britain's dependency upon the sea.

The British Army

If the British navy gave Britain the means to project power - and create the empire and wealth, the British army held the frontiers and outposts together. The navy was critical, but the army was central to the creation of Britain's Empire. The army was built on a unique system of regiments, which themselves were tied to the homeland by locally-based support - Royal East Kent Regiment, the Hampshire Regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders, etc. In the outposts of empire the regiment was a fixed home with no fixed base, although a regiment might occupy the same garrison for a lengthy period.

"The core, the heart, the very essence of the British army was the regimental system as it existed in the cavalry and infantry. For officers, the regiment was a private, exclusive club, a fitting home for gentlemen. For officers and other ranks alike it was a clan, a hierarchical extended family, offering a meaningful place in life. Whatever the rest of the world might think, a man could here earn and learn self-respect, could take pride in himself, his regiment and its traditions. And he could look forward to adding his mite to glory. Every one was different - unique in fact - and a man did not so much join the army as join a particular regiment, which he generally stayed with throughout his entire career; after the abolition of the purchase system, this was often true of officers as well. Although an officer could request a transfer, he seldom did so. He might spend most of his military career on the staff or at other duties outside his regiment, yet remain on its role, wear its uniform, and consider himself a part of it until he was promoted to general officer rank, retired or died."[32]

It was at this time that the Industrial Revolution flourished, with machine productivity, transportation and growth, the social recognition of child labour laws and women's rights, and the tremendous growth in wealth. While the British Empire created international stability and British wealth, it also created social evils and led to Marx and Lenin. Symbol of the British Empire, Queen Victoria assented to Canadian sovereignty in 1867.


1             Arthur Herman, To Rule The Waves, p. 251.

2             Ibid, pps. 208-209.

3             See 'Seven Years' War','_War.

4             Herman, op. cit. Cited on p.276.

5             Washington ambushed a French scouting party, allowed the French commander to be scalped (presumably he had no choice with his fierce Indian allies), built 'Fort Necessity'' and was joined by the British main body (a 100 man company). The British were then attacked the company commander killed and Washington surrendered. He was then forced to sign a confession to the Frenchman's assassination. See Fred Anderson, Crucible of War, for details.

6             See the 'Battle of Rossbach', at for a fuller account of the key battle and tactics used.

7             Herman, op. cit. cited at p. 279. Clearly Pitt understood the Roman principle of 'Divide and Conquer'.

8              Ibid. P. 281.

9             Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves, p. 227.

10          See 'Edward Boscawen', at, and the 'Battle of Quiberon Bay', at

11          Fred Anderson, Crucible of War.

12          As Wikipedia notes at the Seven Years' War, the war is known by several names. In Canada and the United Kingdom, the Seven Years' War is used to describe the North American conflict as well as the European and Asian conflicts. The conflict in India is termed the Second Carnatic War while the fighting between Prussia and Austria is called the Pomeranian War, or the Third Silesian War. While some U.S.-based historians refer to the conflict as the Seven Years' War regardless of the theatre involved (such as Fred Anderson in A People's Army: Massachusetts Soldiers & Society in the Seven Year's War), others and non-scholars often use that term to refer only to the European portions of the conflict (1756–1763), not the nine-year North American conflict or the Indian campaigns which lasted 15 years (including Pontiac's Rebellion), which are known as the French and Indian War. Many of the Native Americans sided with France, although some did fight alongside the British.

13          More accurately, this number includes all British Dominions, Colonies, Protectorates, Protected and Associated States, Mandated and Trust Territories. See

14          Library and Archives Canada, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, Le Moyne d'Iberville, at, and Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, at

15       David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, Churchill's 1922 Conference in Cairo as Colonial Secretary is well described pp. 493-495.  See also pp. 182 & 562. Lord Kitchener selected the House of Hashem and the Sharif of Mecca as his chosen vehicle to carry British rule throughout the Arab world. He presumed that control of the Caliph (Islamic leader) would give control of an empire, such as the Spaniards gained from the Aztecs. That the responsible "Arabist" British minister was so ill informed about the basic nature of Islam is lamentable. On p. 179, see a discussion of McMahon's deliberate vagueness, to avoid any precise commitment to Emir Feisal. This Conference led directly to the Jews being settled in former Ottoman Palestine and the creation of Israel, see George Lenczowski, The Middle East in World Affairs, p. 391. See also Chistopher Bayly, Atlas of the British Empire, p. 193.

16         John Keay, The Honourable Company, p. 388.

17         Ibid., pp. 130- 4, 168 . Edwardes, A History of India, p. 185.

18         Byron Farwell, Armies of the Raj, p. 105.

19        Ibid, p. 106.

20        The Russian title Csar, or Tsar, derives from the Roman title Caesar, or emperor.

21        Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game, the Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, pp. 2-3. Rudyard Kipling immortalised this in his book Kim.

22        Ibid, p. 321.

23        The bloody story of Captain Kenneth Mackenzie's 1841 mission to Kabul in Afghanistan can be found in Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game,, pp. 253, 255.

24        Fromkin, op. cit, p. 27, Cites Queen Victoria who reflected this view as '...a question of Russian or British supremacy in the world.' Hopkirk, op. cit., p. 455 recounts a Karakoram Mountains meeting of British Lt Younghusband and his Gurkha soldiers and Captain Gromchevsky and his Cossacks.

25        The Burke's Peerage World Book of Mackenzies, p. 1.29.

26        Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War, p. xxvii. Pakenham notes the example of General Gordon and the Sudan, although closer examples are both Generals Wolfe and Brock in Canada.

27        Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves, pps. 185, 227.

28        Ibid, p. 227.

29        Ibid, pps. 208-209.

30        Ibid, p. 230.

31        Ibid, pps. pps. 446-448.

32        Byron Farwell, Mr Kipling's Army, p. 25.

33       See map at Image:World 1898 empires colonies territory.png at,

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