Pax Britannica pp 151-164 | Cite as

Send a Gunboat!

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


As the nineteenth century progressed, the Industrial Revolution changed British naval power and made it more effective in inshore and riverine waters. Sail gave way to steam, and the “wooden walls” yielded to iron and steel ships. By the 1840s, paddlewheel gunboats mounting six 32-pounders were serving on distant stations. They proved effective, within their limits of speed and seaworthiness, in those locations where checking piracy, controlling unruly populations such as gold-seekers, and policing native tribes were the requirement. In the early nineteenth century, flag officers on distant stations requisitioned Congreve rockets and 9-pounder fieldguns — the former to terrorize recalcitrants ashore, the latter to be used by shore or landing parties. As the century wore on, Maxim guns came into use, and even armoured trains, for the purposes of coercion and bombardment. For work on rivers, including the Nile, gunboats could be sent out from British ports in parts and then assembled on the spot. The coming of the railways made British control of rivers and lakes an extension of dominance on and over the seas. Pax was spread and made more effective by technology.


Northwest Coast Native Village Native Tribe Colonial Authority Wooden Wall 
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  1. 2.
    The Hale 24-pounder rocket was standard issue in the Victorian navy (high-pressure gas in the tail, generated by internal combustion). Hardly accurate, they “produced an awe-inspiring effect on bush tribes, to whom the prolonged and diabolical howl as they soared overhead almost suggested the wail of the last trumpet in the sky”. George A. Ballard, “War Rockets in the Mid-Victorian Fleet,” Mariner’s Mirror, 31 (1945), 174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    This chapter draws on Barry Gough, Gunboat Frontier: British Maritime Authority and Northwest Coast Indians, 1846–1890 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1984).Google Scholar
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© Barry Gough 2014

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  • Barry Gough

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