Shipping was the most important and effective mode of transport in the eighteenth century. It required no man-made path and its energy source was free. The extensive coastlines of Britain, France and Scandinavia provided an ideal environment for the development of coastal communications before the railways broke the bottleneck of overland transport. A network of rivers and canals linked coastal shipping with many inland areas of Britain and France. In overseas shipping Britain and France were the main beneficiaries of the growth of the colonial trades in the eighteenth century, connecting Europe with the American continent, India and the East Indies. Thus Britain and France dominated European shipping in the late eighteenth century, the former accounting for above a quarter and the latter a fifth of total tonnage. The railways did nothing to halt the rapid growth of shipping which benefited from the continued expansion of international trade although coasting grew more slowly. Railways were not always appropriate competitors for the coastwise trade and the relationship between the two modes of transport was frequently complementary rather than competitive.


Nineteenth Century Eighteenth Century European Economy Shipping Industry Slave Trade 
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Copyright information

© Simon P. Ville 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon P. Ville
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AucklandNew Zealand

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