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The Late Victorian Navy

The Late Victorian Navy: The Pre-Dreadnought Era and the Origins of the First World War

Parkinson Roger
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Late Victorian Navy
    Book Description:

    In purely naval terms, the period from 1889 to 1906 is often referred to (and indeed passed over) as the `pre-Dreadnought era', merely a prelude to the lead-up to the First World War, and thus of relatively little importance; it has therefore received little consideration from historians, a gap which this book remedies by reviewing the late Victorian Navy from a radically new perspective. It starts with the Great Near East crisis of 1878 and shows how its aftermath in the Carnarvon Commission and its evidence produced a profound shift in strategic thinking, culminating in the Naval Defence Act of 1889; this evidence, from the ship owners, provides the definitive explanation of why the Victorian Navy gave up on convoy as the primary means of trade protection in wartime, a fundamental question at the time. The book also overturns many assumptions about the era, especially the perception that the navy was weak, and clearly shows that the 1870s and early 1880s brought in crucial technological developments that made the Dreadnought possible.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-505-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. vi-vii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. viii-x)
  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xi)
  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    The standard work on this era was published as far back as 1940.¹ In British Naval Policy, 1880–1905, Arthur Marder argued that there was a gradual weakening of the Navy after 1868 and an increasingly threatening international situation. War scares with Russia in 1885 and France in 1888 drove Lord Salisbury’s Conservative government in the direction of greatly increased naval expenditure.² The naval manoeuvres of 1888 showed the difficulties of blockade under modern conditions of warfare and just how easily a blockaded fleet could break free of a blockading force. The ‘Three Admirals Report’ of that year stated that...

  9. CHAPTER 1 Perceptions of Strategy in the Victorian Era
    (pp. 6-42)

    When naval strategy in the Victorian age is discussed, the long-held standard view has been that the Victorian Royal Navy’s ideas of strategy were not so much misguided as non-existent.¹ In the period 1815–1914 the Royal Navy never formally wrote down its core strategic doctrine; this has prompted many historians to say that there was no core strategy. This is not correct; the Victorian Royal Navy did indeed have strategic doctrine.²

    There were various strategic perceptions of the role of the Royal Navy in national defence that date back to the 18th century. These form a backdrop to the...

  10. CHAPTER 2 Strategic Realities of the 1880s
    (pp. 43-80)

    Strategy has already been discussed in Chapter 1, with reference to Castlereagh and the origins of the two-power standard, as well as Palmerston’s and Wellington’s statements concerning the introduction of steam-propelled ships and their influence on defence policy. It needs repeating that Sir Baldwin Wake-Walker’s classic statement that the premier naval power should not initiate technical change unless a potential rival does so is one of the few statements of core strategic doctrine that survives in writing. With so little core strategy written down, an analysis of the deployment of Victorian warships sheds some light on strategy and policy.


  11. CHAPTER 3 The Naval Defence Act
    (pp. 81-117)

    Central to the formation of naval policy in the 1880s was the Foreign Intelligence Committee, established in December 1882 and developed into the Naval Intelligence Division in 1887. This marked a watershed in the consideration of strategy by both the Admiralty and the larger world of Whitehall opinion. Two of the early Foreign Intelligence Committee reports discussed Britain’s options in a naval war with France or Russia, while a third concentrated on the protection of trade.¹ All three reports show strong links back to the 1878 crisis, also to the Carnarvon Commission and its evidence.

    These documents show that the...

  12. CHAPTER 4 The Evolution of Technology and Ships in the ‘Dark Ages’ of the Victorian Navy
    (pp. 118-160)

    If there is a standard view of the Royal Navy of the 1870s and early 1880s, it is that expressed 50 years ago by Oscar Parkes, who described the ten year period 1873–83 as the ‘Dark Ages’ of the Victorian Navy. He attributed the ‘Dark Ages’ to extreme financial parsimony and an ineffective First Lord more interested in agricultural matters than naval administration.¹ Another naval historian, Nicholas Rodger, has termed the period 1869–85 as ‘The Dark Ages of the Admiralty’.² Rodger concluded that the administrative structure, and thus the central command of the Navy, was chronically ill organised.³...

  13. CHAPTER 5 The ‘New’ Navies as a Consequence of the Naval Defence Act
    (pp. 161-203)

    In the years after the Naval Defence Act public perceptions of the Royal Navy changed. This was no accident; by the 1890s there was a well-organised propaganda machine in position, able to publicise the Navy and its place in society. Exactly why this propaganda machine was brought into existence and with what consequences needs careful examination. The influence of the Naval Defence Act on France and Russia, and, indeed, the other great powers also needs careful analysis, as does the extent to which the Act added fuel to what was becoming a world-wide naval arms race.

    Other areas for discussion...

  14. CHAPTER 6 Technology Change and the Emergence of a Cruiser—Battleship Navy
    (pp. 204-237)

    In the 1890s the cruiser question was rather more complex than might be thought. In some ways it is more important and significant than the big battleship programmes. In 1887 the term ‘cruiser’ was adopted for the smaller naval vessels; just as the term ‘battleship’ replaced the term ‘ironclad’, the change in nomenclature gave the new-age steel-built ships a sharpened focus in the public mind.¹ To gain any proper understanding of the late Victorian Navy in the years after the passing of the Naval Defence Act the balance between battleship and cruiser programmes needs close examination; and there also needs...

  15. CHAPTER 7 ‘A Lantern on the Stern’
    (pp. 238-247)

    In one sense the Naval Defence Act was an attempt to solve all Britain’s perceived defence problems with a single unitary solution. There were three parameters that mattered: the defence of the United Kingdom, the defence of the overseas Empire, and the defence of the trade routes both with the Empire and the rest of the world. For this unitary solution to be accepted, a strategic paradigm shift in defence thinking was required, one that showed a Royal Navy able to undertake all three responsibilities. From the time of the Near East Crisis of 1878 and its aftermath in the...

  16. APPENDIX A European Naval Strengths, 1 December 1894
    (pp. 248-256)
  17. APPENDIX B Cruiser Strengths of the Major Naval Powers, 1885–1907
    (pp. 257-262)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 263-299)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 300-312)
  20. Index
    (pp. 313-324)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-325)