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Part 7: The Age of Empire, continued

The Growth of Empire
The long struggle between Britain and France for world supremacy continued to be fought all over the globe. For 23 years, Britain was at war with the greatest military power on earth, led by its great military genius Napoleon. Its results were to destroy the ambitions of the French dictator, to impose a New Order on the whole of Europe by force and to vindicate Britain's equally firm resolve to not only resist, but to uphold the imposition of order only through international law.

United in their Protestantism more than anything else, the Welsh and Scots and English thought of themselves as British; it was their Protestantism (and perhaps their representatives in Parliament) that held them together; they thought of themselves as a united, religious and moral people. Thus it was only right for them to go out as bringers of enlightenment, mainly through the conflicting aims of trade and religious conversion (the latter always second to the former) to the far corners of the earth. The anarchy and confusion that prevailed in France during its Revolution were looked on with revulsion in England, now having come to terms with the loss of its American colonies and having become more of a united kingdom in the painful process.

On the Continent, the armies of France crushed those of Austria, repelled those of Prussia and helped establish a French Republic. (The monarchy was abolished by the National Convention in September, 1791: King Louis XVI was executed in January, 1793.) When France invaded the Netherlands, England was asked to help protect the navigation rights to the Dutch. The French Republic then declared war on Britain, Holland and Spain who formed an alliance. Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Rome in 1796, made the Pope a prisoner and the same year assembled an army to invade England. He went to Egypt instead, where his forces captured Alexandria and Cairo from the Mamelukes. Two years later, he defeated the Turks, with their British allies at Abukir. He then left to take command of his armies in Europe as first consul and dictator of France.

Napoleon continued his victories in Europe, defeating the Austrians at Marengo, 1800, but a temporary peace signed at Amiens in March, during the following year gave Britain control of Trinidad and Ceylon in exchange for its other maritime conquests. A renewal of hostilities and the need for France to find adequate finances led to the doubling of the United States by its "Louisiana Purchase" in 1802.

Napoleon once more contemplated invading England by assembling a fleet at Boulogne and negotiating with Robert Emmet to lead a rebellion in Ireland. In India, another British victory was achieved by Arthur Wellesly over native forces. In France, in May 1804, Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor. Spain then declared war on Britain. Early in 1805, Viscount Nelson blockaded a French fleet intent on invading England.

On October 21, 1805 one of the greatest sea victories in England's long history took place at Trafalgar, when Admiral Nelson defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet near Gibralter. All French pretensions as a great sea power were effectively ended by this decisive battle during which Nelson was mortally wounded. (It is to be noted that the British crews were now free of scurvy which continued its deadly toll on enemy ships).

On land, however, the French armies continued their string of victories, with Napoleon defeating the Austrians and Russians at the Battle of Austerlitz in December. Early in 1806, the Holy Roman Empire came to an end after a thousand years when the Confederation of the Rhine was set up under French control. Prussia now joined the fight against Napoleon's grandiose ambitions. Napoleon's Berlin Declaration inaugurated the Continental system designed to cut off food and supplies reaching Britain from the Continent. When British ships bombarded Copenhagen in September for joining the Continental system, Denmark allied with France and Russia declared war on Britain.

French troops then marched into Spain to prevent occupation by Britain, who invaded Portugal under Sir Arthur Wellesly, soon to succeed Sir John Moore as British Commander. It was the beginning of the end for the armies of Napoleon despite a costly victory over the Austrians at Wagram, leading to the Treaty of Schonbrunn that ended hostilities between the two countries. In March 1810, Napoleon married the Austrian Archduchess Maria Luisa. No-one in Paris witnessing the construction of the Arc de Triomphe could have guessed the fate soon to overtake their triumphant Emperor.

In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia, the same year that Britain and the United States began a 30 month war over issues that included the impressment of US seamen. Wellesly continued his success in Spain against the French armies, and when Napoleon reached Moscow, he found the Russian armies had prudently withdrawn and the city almost empty. The European war then seesawed back and forth; Austria renewed its enmity with France; Napoleon won at Dresden, was utterly defeated at Leipzig, and Wellesly continued his successes in Spain to cross the borders into France.

An alternating series of defeats and victories then followed for the French armies, now opposed by the formidable Prussian leader Marshall von Blucher as well as Wellesly, promoted to Duke of Wellington. Napoleon's abdication was followed by his internment at Elba. His escape from Elba and consequent defeat at Waterloo in June, 1815 at the hands of Blucher and Wellington finally ended his European dreams. The war came to an end during the same year when the Congress of Vienna rewrote the map of Europe. Similarly, the Treaty of Ghent ended the ''War of 1812' between Britain and the United States. With her armies victorious in Europe, England was now poised to assume the mantle of world leadership in many areas.

Leadership implied responsibility and created a dilemma as to which side England should support in the conflicts of Europe. Was France, the known, or Russia, the unknown, the more dangerous rival? In 1854, however, common interests brought Britain and France together in defense of the crumbling Empire of Turkey against the ever-increasing aggressiveness of Russia. Britain, in particular, wanted to keep Russia out of the Straits and away from the Mediterranean. The result was the costly muddle known as the Crimean War that began in 1854 and that solved nothing.

The horrors of the War have been well documented. The refusal of the Duke of Wellington to initiate reforms in the army, the general incompetence of the military leaders such as Lord Cardigan of the Light Brigade fame, the lack of an efficient central authority to manage supplies, send reinforcements and ensure adequate training created disaster after disaster in the field. The main enemy proved to not be the incompetent Russian armies, but the numbing cold aided by cholera, dysentery, typhus and scurvy as well as the lack of adequate food, clothing and shelter. Florence Nightingale and her gallant nurses did their best to remedy the appalling hospital conditions and the army's resentment at their "interference." The war ended when the allies took Sebastopol after a costly siege and Russia, to prevent Austria from joining the allies, agreed to the peace terms.

Other areas in which English soldiers were involved included India, where they had to deal with the great mutiny; but a war with China over British export of opium from India in exchange for silks and tea. The Chinese forbade the opium trade, rashly fired on a British warship and were bombarded by a Royal Navy squadron. The Opium War ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 that opened up five "Treaty Ports" for trade and gave Hong Kong to Britain. The second war with China came in 1857 out of an incident involving the Arrow, a Hong Kong schooner sailing under a British flag. Palmerston won an election on the issue, vowing to punish the insolent Chinese for arresting the ship on a piracy charge. An Anglo-French force captured forts leading to Tientsin and Peking, won concessions from the Chinese, including more "treaty ports," gained diplomatic representation and the right for Christian missionaries to practice their trade in China. Palmerston continued his "gun-boat" policy by later aiding Garibaldi's invasion of Sicily and the Neapolitan mainland by sending warships. His government also compensated the United States for the mischief caused by the Confederate raider Alabama built on Merseyside.

The Agricultural Revolution
King George III had shown such a great interest in the agricultural improvements taking place in England that he was known as "Farmer George." He had much to be proud of; his countrymen were at the forefront of creating changes in the way the land was farmed and livestock raised that would dramatically change the face of agriculture, an undertaking that had for so long been traditionally conservative and opposed to change.

In 1600 "Theatre d'agriculture des champs" had been published in France by Huguento Ollver de Serres recommending revolutionary changes in crop growing methods. It had been mainly ignored by all, but there were some in England who took notice. There, land enclosures had been taking place steadily since the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, with the great barons amassing huge swathes of the best agricultural lands when the king sold them off. Massive numbers of peasants and small landowners were displaced.

A riot against the enclosures in Elizabeth's reign was severely dealt with, and the enclosures continued apace. Notorious winter weather continued to plague a system that was reluctant to introduce major changes except to increase the amount of land available for the raising of sheep and cattle. Potatoes had been planted in the German states as early as 1621 though much of Europe remained in fear of the tubers' spreading leprosy but their food value was too great to be ignored.

By 1631, potato production in Europe was so great that a population explosion ensued. In England, population growth had been more or less increasing at the same slow rate for hundreds of years, but began a rapid rise in the 18th century. It was simply a matter of the nation being better fed. Land enclosures may have been protested vigorously by the peasantry, but they did result in better management, allowed for selective breeding of stock and experiments with fertilization and machinery that produced better crops.

In 1701 Jethro Tull's seed-planting drill had enormously increased crop production and lessened waste. Tull had studied farming methods on the continent and was not reluctant to introduce them into England. In 1733 he invented the two-wheeled plough and the four-coulter plough, both of which, strenuously resisted at first by his labourers, had a great impact on future methods of cultivation.

Another great pioneer was "Turnip" Townsend, Secretary of State under George II and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Townsend also studied foreign methods of land use and introduced the practice of crop rotation into England, using turnips and clover to revitalize land left fallow and to provide winter feed for livestock, whose manure in turn fertilized his fields. Townsend was followed by Thomas Coke who worked on the principle "No fodder, no beasts: no beasts, no manure; no manure, no crops." At Holkham, Coke continually worked on ways to improve crop yield, contributing greatly to better breeds of both cattle and sheep.

It is to Robert Bakewell, however, that most of England's outstanding success in producing better breeds of sheep and cattle is to be attributed. Bakewell pioneered methods of selection and the secret of breeding, including breeding the new Leicester sheep. Farm animals became fatter, hardier and healthier. Britain became a meat-eating nation, but it also enjoyed better and more reliable supplies of bread and vegetables.

Even as early as 1707, England was enjoying the fruits of its explorations and settlements in India. The opening of Fortnum and Mason's in London in that year attests to the increased demand for foreign delicacies, English farmers having produced sufficient basic necessities. In particular, farmers had realized that beef and mutton would be more profitable than powers of draught and quantities of wool. In the latter part of the century, Arthur Young's tenure as Secretary of the Board of Agriculture ensured that the new farming methods were accepted throughout the nation (though it took many years for English farmers to utilize the iron plow, developed in 1784 by James Small).

In 1786, Scotsman Andrew Meilde developed the first successful threshing machine. In addition, following the publication of Lady Montagu's "Inoculation Against Smallpox" in 1718, and after the work of Edward Jenner in the 1790's, the killing disease began to be eliminated in England. Hand in hand with the vast improvements in agriculture and medicine, an industrial revolution was taking place that would also change the world forever. Progress in agriculture was to be dwarfed by what took place in industry.

The Industrial Revolution
The progress of the industrial revolution is a long catalog of mechanical inventions by which the labor and skill of the human worker was replaced by machines. It had its beginnings in the depletion of England's forests in Elizabethan times to provide timber to build its great navies. Coal was a ready substitute as fuel and it was abundant. The early part of the 17th century brought a new emphasis on coal mining though effective methods of extracting it had to wait until developments in the steam engine took place and mines could be drained of their ever-present water. The enormous increase in the price of firewood fueled a rush to find and extract more coal. By 1655, even under the most primitive mining conditions, Newcastle was producing half a million tons a year.

But coal was expensive and dangerous to mine. In 1627, Edward Somerset had invented a crude steam engine. This was of little use, but in 1698, English engineer Thomas Savery improved matters with his crude steam-powered "miner's friend" to pump water out of coal mines. A further advance came in 1705, when Cornish blacksmith Thomas Newcomen produced his steam engine to pump water out of mines. In 1709 a major breakthrough occurred when Abraham Darby, who made iron boilers for the Newcomen engine, discovered that coke, made from coal, could substitute for wood in a smelting furnace to make pig and cast iron. The industrial revolution was on its way, the whole process being geared to producing for profit and ushering in a totally new economic system.

In 1739, Benjamin Huntsman rediscovered the ancient method of making crucible steel at Sheffield, soon to become a major British steel producer. In 1754, the first iron rolling mill was established in Hampshire, the same year that the Society for the Encouragement of Arts and Manufacture was formed. In the 1760's the Bridgewater Canal was opened to link Liverpool, England's major port (which had profited enormously from the slave trade) with Leeds, a centre of manufacturing. It heralded an era of rapid canal building, joining cities and towns all over the nation and enabling manufactured goods and raw supplies to be shipped anywhere they were needed.

In 1765, James Watt produced his steam engine, a far more efficient source of power than that of Newcomen. During the same year, Brindley's Grand Truck Canal began construction to link the western and eastern coastal ports of Britain. In 1769, Watt entered into partnership with Mathew Boulton to produce his steam engines which would revolutionize industry and the world. In 1782, English ironmaster Henry Cort perfected his process of puddling iron, completely changing the way wrought iron is produced, totally freeing it from its dependence upon charcoal for fuel, and giving further impetus to the search for coal. The mining industry benefited greatly from Humphrey Davy's invention of a safety lamp for miners in 1815.

At the same time that coal mining and iron manufacturing were making such rapid progress, the textile industry was also changing English society. Labor costs had been halved by the invention of Kay's flying shuttle in 1733, the first of the inventions by which the textile industry was transformed. The same year saw the invention of a spinning machine by Wyatte and Paul that redressed the gap between spinning and weaving. In 1765, Hargreave's spinning jenny completed the balance, for it allowed enough thread to be produced for the weavers. A single worker could now operate a number of spindles to produce several threads at once.

The move away from cottage industry to the factory system was further hastened in 1769 with Arkwright's invention of a frame that could produce cotton thread hard and firm enough to produce woven fabric. English cotton mills began to proliferate in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Both English and US economies were to benefit from Eli Whitney's cotton gin of 1792. In 1805, Scotsman Patrick Clark developed a cotton thread that was to replace linen thread on Britain's looms. The woolen industry was also to benefit enormously from the new machinery, especially in Yorkshire. In 1779, Samuel Crompton devised his spinning mule, a landmark in the industrial revolution.

With the steam engine replacing animal, wind, or water power, the Golden Age of domestic industry was now over, and the lines of the factory system laid down. Sporadic riots against the employment of the new machinery did nothing to halt their proliferation and with the increase came a shift in the way industry was financed. (The Luddites began their activities in earnest in 1811 to no avail; quick execution of their leaders brought the movement to an end with only sporadic outbreaks). The factory system was responsible for the development of the joint capitalist enterprise that became such a powerful force in the nation's economic affairs. The steam engine also affected and completely transformed transportation and though the canals had their glorious years, they were soon to be eclipsed by the railroad.

James Watt patented his double-acting rotary steam engine in 1782, a great improvement on his earlier invention. It was used to drive machinery of all kinds, beginning two years later at a textile factory in Nottinghamshire. Women and children now left their homes and their spinning wheels and looms to work in the mills, at first furnished by the rapidly flowing streams of the North, but more and more powered by steam.

The 1780's saw the introduction of steam to power riverboats, in which the work US inventors John Fitch, James Rumsey and Robert Fulton and the Scot William Syminton led the way. The adaptation of Richard Trevithick's high pressure steam engine to propel a road vehicle in 1800 is a major milestone in the development of the railroad. In 1804, in a trial run, Trevithick carried 10 tons of iron and 70 men by steam engine run on rails at Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. The locomotive had arrived on the world's scene.

Only three years later the first paying passengers were taken on the mineral railroad world linking Mumbles with Swansea, South Wales, using horses for power (It lasted until 1960 when its electric trams were discontinued). English inventor George Stephenson ran his steam locomotive on the Killingworth colliery railway in 1814, the first to go into regular service. In September 1825, the world's first steam locomotive passenger service began as the Stockton and Darlington Railway. (Ironically, this was the same year that the Erie Canal opened in the US to link the Great Lakes with the Hudson and the Atlantic: only two years later, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, using rolling stock and rails imported mainly from Wales, began its challenge to the Erie Canal).

The S.S. Aaron Manby, the world's first iron steamship was launched in April, 1822 but it took many years for iron to displace wood in the world's navies. During the same year, the first iron railroad bridge was completed by George Stephenson for the pioneering Stockton-Darlington line.

The introduction of the hot blast by Scot James Neilson in 1828 made it possible not only to use coal without having it coked first, but also to use anthracite to smelt iron. Huge coal fields were thus made available in Scotland and Wales, though the biggest gains came in Pennsylvania when Welsh iron master David Thomas built his first furnace on the Lehigh in 1839. In 1830, the invention of the flanged T-rail by Robert Stevens in New Jersey laid the foundations of all future railroad track developments. In the meantime, road transportation began to benefit enormously through the improvement of highways brought about by the experiments of Scot MacAdam after 1815.

The snowball effect of all these inventions continued throughout the century. In 1856 Bessemer introduced his revolutionary steel-making process, and a new industry was given to England and the world. In 1864, Siemens invented the regenerative furnace, improving the strength and durability of steel, needed for the vast networks of railroads sprouting up all over England. In 1879, an important advance came when Gilchrist-Thomas was able to remove phosphorous from the ores used in smelting (Germany and the US with great deposits of iron ore were particularly grateful for this invention).

During Britain's rise to world supremacy in so many areas, it is sad to relate that so many of its leading citizens made their fortunes from the slave trade. The nefarious business played a crucial role in the development of Britain's mercantile interests.

Resource Information

Part 7: The Age of Empire, continued


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