Pax Britannica pp 136-150 | Cite as

The Imperial Web in the South Pacific

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


So read the Admiralty’s instructions to Captain Fremantle of 18 February 1854, and these were the sort of breezy generalities of the imperial dictum that was to guide a generation or more of British naval officers like Fremantle who at mid-century were sailing half a world away from the home islands and quite out of direct communication with Whitehall. As such, the Captain Freemantles of the age had to read into the future: they had to imagine whether they would receive a note of congratulations or a severe reprimand for whatever actions they took among the islands of the vast Pacific Ocean. Quarterdeck diplomacy was the hallmark of the Victorian Navy, and no place gave it wider scope than the South Pacific, unheralded sphere of empire-making and the European scramble for territorial and strategic advantage.1


Hawaiian Island Society Island Submarine Cable British Subject Fiji Island 
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  1. 2.
    For a beginning, see Ged Martin, ed., The Founding of Australia: The Argument about Australia’s Origins (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1978). The naval stores and related arguments are advanced by Alan Frost; for counter positions,Google Scholar
  2. see David Mackay, A Place of Exile: The Settlement of New South Wales (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1985). For related views on commercial policy,Google Scholar
  3. see Margaret Steven, Trade, Tactics and Territory (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    John M. Ward, British Policy in the South Pacific, 1786–1893 (Sydney: Australian Publishing, 1948), 39–41.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Pritchard to Palmerston, 9 November 1838, Palmerston’s minute of 16 July 1839, Stephen to Fox-Strangways, 1 August 1839, and Palmerston to Pritchard, 9 September 1839, F.O. 58/15; see also W.P. Morrell, Britain in the Pacific Islands (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960), 72–73.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Neil Gunson, in Jane Samson, ed., British Imperial Strategies in the Pacific, 1750–1900 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), 276–278.Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    John Bach, Australia Station: A History of the Royal Navy in the South West Pacific, 1821–1913 (Kensington, NSW: University of New South Wales University Press, 1965), 34, 17. Congressional Record, 44th Congress, 1st session, vol. LV, pt. 2, 6 March 1876, 1489.Google Scholar
  8. Cited in John I. Brookes, International Rivalry in the Pacific Islands, 1840–1875 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1941), 379–380, 391.Google Scholar

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© Barry Gough 2014

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  • Barry Gough

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