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British Naval Power in the East, 1794-1805

British Naval Power in the East, 1794-1805: The Command of Admiral Peter Rainier

Peter A. Ward
Volume: 8
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    British Naval Power in the East, 1794-1805
    Book Description:

    When war broke out with France in 1793, there immediately arose the threat of a renewed French challenge to British supremacy in India. This security problem was compounded in 1795 when the French overran the Netherlands and the extremely valuable Dutch trade routes and Dutch colonies, including the Cape of Good Hope and what is now Indonesia, fell under French control. The task of securing British interests in the East was a formidable one: the distances were huge, communication with London could take years, there were problems marshalling resources, and fine diplomatic skills were needed to keep independent rulers on the British side and to ensure full co-operation from the East India Company. The person charged with overseeing this formidable task was Admiral Peter Rainier (1741-1808), commander of the Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean and the East from 1794 to 1805. This book discusses the enormous difficulties Rainier faced. It outlines his career, explaining how he carried out his role with exceptional skill; how he succeeded in securing British interests in the East - whilst avoiding the need to fight a major battle; how he enhanced Britain's commanding position at sea; and how, additionally, in co-operation with the Governor-General, Richard Wellesley, he further advanced Britain's position in India itself. Peter Ward completed a PhD in naval history at the University of Exeter after a career in international personnel management, working for Californian high technology companies in the United States, Hong Kong and Europe.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-128-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. 1-6)

    The end of the Seven Years War in 1763 found Britain the pre-eminent European colonial power. Its main rivals, France and Spain, had little hope of ever controlling North America, the Caribbean, India, and the major sea-going trade routes. Yet, in this position of power lay the seeds of events which would affect the entire world for the next two hundred years. The loss of Britain’s American colonies and the rising influence of British power in India were the next steps in that progression.

    The army of the English East Indian Company (henceforth the ‘Company’), under the command of Robert...

    (pp. 7-37)

    The French Wars of 1793 to 1815 were fought on a global scale. The attempt of revolutionary and imperial France to become the pre-eminent power in Europe eventually failed due to the fluid permutations of the continental powers of Russia, Austria, Prussia and Spain combining with the colonial and industrial power of Britain. Naturally the conflict centred on Europe, but the colonial aspirations of Britain and France, together with the declining powers of Spain and the Netherlands, and the rising power of the United States, meant that the conflict spread to all parts of the globe. And the resources provided...

    (pp. 38-60)

    Rainier was first and foremost a naval officer and without the active support of the various departments of the Royal Navy he could not be successful and he would be recalled. If he were able to manage both upwards and downwards he would keep a maximum of independence. Any orders he received would be at least three months out of date and might not be appropriate to the actual conditions in which he found himself. How he communicated with London and how far he told the Admiralty what he was doing, rather than asking what he should do, would be...

    (pp. 61-84)

    Whilst the West Indian merchants could cause their flag officer many headaches with their demands, Rainier was in a different position from that of any other commander-in-chief in that the East India Company was such an important organisation, both in London and on station. It was a key element of the City with its demand for money through bonds and loans, and, at other times, as a provider of finance, men and materials for the government. The Chairman of the Board of Control, which oversaw the activities of the Company on behalf of the government, was headed by Dundas, arguably...

    (pp. 85-121)

    The methods by which Rainier communicated were important because he needed to operate effectively both within the navy and with the Company. A major reason for this communication was the transfer of intelligence. Obtaining intelligence in a thirty-million-square-mile station presented enormous challenges. It then had to be evaluated and used appropriately.

    As Parkinson has said of communications between London and India:

    Messages … could go by the overland route, but there was always an element of risk.… A duplicate was always sent by sea … and usually a triplicate by another ship, to provide against shipwreck.²

    From the late seventeenth...

    (pp. 122-148)

    An understanding of the physical features of this enormous station, including its primary weather patterns,² and the trade routes which formed the skeleton of British interest and power in the region is helpful to appreciate how challenging it was for Rainier to provide trade protection.

    The actual area which the station covered consisted of more than thirty million square miles. It stretched from Canton in China down through the Philippines to Sydney in Australia, then west across the Indonesian archipelago and Bay of Bengal to India. Onwards over the Indian Ocean it went northwards into the Red Sea. Its western...

    (pp. 149-180)

    British territory was protected by the actions of both the army and navy. This could be effected either by the direct defence of colonies or through the offensive action of depriving the enemy of potential bases from which to attack British interests. The strategies were built on the complex relationships between the two armed forces, and connections largely dictated how successful they were.

    Because of the time taken for letters to reach Rainier, he was, to all intents and purposes, in an independent command. As the Governor General was, de facto and de jure, the commander-in-chief of the army, Rainier...

    (pp. 181-222)

    When Rainier arrived in India in 1794 he was new to the role of independent command and he had much to learn. At least he had in-depth experience of his vast station of thirty million square miles and appreciated what could go wrong during the 15,000–16,000-mile journey out from England. In theory there were some naval supplies held for him by the Company in Madras and Bombay, there was a private victualling organisation under a contract held by the Honourable Basil Cochrane, which held food for the navy in Madras, and there was the Bombay dockyard, the only one...

    (pp. 223-227)

    In 1799 a correspondent to the Oracle and Daily Advertiser complained that all the honours and rewards of the present war were being bestowed on the victors of naval battles – Howe, St. Vincent, Duncan and Nelson – while Rainier’s conquests were being forgotten. Comparing the recent celebration of Nelson with the plight of Rainier, he protested that ‘the former is surrounded in a blaze of glory, the latter seems enveloped in a cloud’.¹

    It was no accident that the Oracle’s correspondent signed himself ‘an E.I. Proprietor’ and pointed to the ‘immense territories’ and ‘countless treasures’ secured to the East India Company...

    (pp. 228-232)

    The history of British involvement in India and the Far East following the departure of Rainier, until the Congress of Vienna in 1815, can be illustrated by the East India Company’s story.

    The Court of Directors’ disapproval of Wellesley’s expansionist policies led to his recall just months after Rainier’s departure. His successor, Lord Cornwallis, lasted less than three months before illness carried him away. An experienced Company administrator, Sir George Barlow, followed. As a firm believer in the merits of economy and trade, his relationship with Pellew was not a warm one. Company debts had trebled between 1793 and 1808,¹...

  15. APPENDIX 1 Terminology
    (pp. 233-233)
  16. APPENDIX 2 Chronology
    (pp. 234-236)
  17. APPENDIX 3 Rainier Family Tree
    (pp. 237-237)
  18. APPENDIX 4 Trade Statistics and Their Interpretation
    (pp. 238-242)
  19. APPENDIX 5 East Indies Naval Manpower Strength, 1793–1812
    (pp. 243-243)
  20. APPENDIX 6 Cost of Victualling (in Pounds Sterling) in the East Indies, West Indies and Mediterranean, 1804–9
    (pp. 244-244)
  21. APPENDIX 7 Commanders-in-Chief/Senior Naval Officers of East Indies Station, 1754–1814
    (pp. 245-245)
  22. APPENDIX 8 National Ships Taken/Destroyed by Admiral Rainier’s Squadron
    (pp. 246-246)
  23. APPENDIX 9 Captain Rainier’s Orders on Sailing to the East Indies in 1794
    (pp. 247-247)
  24. APPENDIX 10
    (pp. 248-252)
    (pp. 253-268)
  26. INDEX
    (pp. 269-286)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-289)