Surveying the Seas, Expanding the Empire of Science

  • Barry Gough
Part of the Britain and the World book series (BAW)


In the safe, languid and restorative years after Trafalgar, the Royal Navy became a worldwide instrument for conducting scientific research. The absence of war presented new opportunities in the line of human progress. The Navy was, in fact, a human mechanism for gathering global data about the seas and its margins, even its cavernous subsurface features. The fruits of its labours were prodigious. By the end of the nineteenth century the scientific achievements made possible by the Senior Service had made Britain into the leading scientific nation, and the focal point of scientific inquiry and knowledge. The empire of science brought a British order on a global scale, not only in terms of nomenclature and definitions but also in terms of quantification. The Navy was a force of measurement — depths of water, force of winds, patterns of climates, shifts in seasons, flows of tide, speeds of currents — all of these came within the Admiralty’s purview. Lords of the Admiralty were conscious of their exalted position at the head of a global empire of the seas, and they were bound to be patrons of scientific inquiry no matter how grudgingly they might resist underwriting such schemes when the military requirements of the Service seemed to stretch their capabilities of response to the limit.


Submarine Cable Hydrographic Surveying Safe Navigation Missionary Society Sail Direction 
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© Barry Gough 2014

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  • Barry Gough

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