Pax Britannica pp 117-135 | Cite as

The Indian Ocean, Singapore and the China Seas

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


From the days of Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish, the British had been pressing their advantages in the eastern seas, drawn to the spice trade. They did so against great odds. Not only did indigenous rulers, pirates and states pose obstacles, but the pioneer maritime powers of Europe — Portugal, Holland and Spain — seemed always ahead of them. Yet on these distant margins of Europe’s influence, the British made significant inroads, one piece at a time. They used their armed military might to do so. It came in two forms: first, the East India Company, with its army and its navy, known as the “Bombay Marine”; and second, the Royal Navy and such units of the British Army as were required from time to time to make the point that Britain was not beholden to any other power, and that the commercial interests of the home islands and overseas places of trade and production had to have equal advantages to those of Britain’s rivals. By the time the British had opened China’s gates by the end of the first war there, in 1841–1842, they had projected their maritime and amphibious power in a way hitherto undreamed of. As the governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Davis, remarked, the British campaign was “the farthest military enterprise, of the same extent, in the history of the world, surpassing, in that respect, the expeditions of Alexander and Caesar in one hemisphere, and those of Cortes and Pizarro in the other”.1 All of that lay ahead, and the progression came in various stages, all determinants of sea power.


Indian Ocean Malay Peninsula East India Company Coal Station Naval Force 
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© Barry Gough 2014

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  • Barry Gough

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