Britain's Imperial Century, 1815-1914 : A Study of Empire by Ronald Hyam

By Ronald Hyam

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As Bolivar said, 'Only England, mistress of the seas, can protect us against the united force of European reaction' . 18 To a remarkable extent, early and mid-Victorian expansion was a strategy based on rivers and sea power. It was well understood that England's writ ran no further than the range of her ships' guns. There was an instinctive dislike of advancing imperial land frontiers in Asia and Africa beyond the protective reach of British sea power. The growth of commerce in North America by way of the St Lawrence and the Mississippi had made it a primary assumption of the Victorians that great rivers flowing out of vast continents might be the means of comparable developments elsewhere.

Repeal of the navigation laws was something which the colonies wanted, and so from 1849 it was no longer necessary in law for British merchandise to be carried in British-built ships. It thus enabled greater interchange of goods to take place between Canada and the United States on their inland waterways. The last remaining preferential duties were removed by an unrepentant Gladstone in the 1860 budget: the flourishing condition of the Canadian colonies made him impervious to the echoes of gloomy predictions which had accompanied previous measures unshackling trade.

Homegrown wool had by 1824 become absolutely unsaleable; three-quarters of the supply came from Germany, the rest from Spain. It was in this situation that Australia slowly began to compete. 4 Progress was aided when in 1822 Parliament discriminated against German imports. Duties on colonial wool became almost nominal. Witnesses before the 1828 Committee agreed about the superiority of Australian wool; the freight charges were low - it cost no more for wool to go from Sydney to London than from South Germany.

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