Staff Thesis 668 views
Black Diamonds: Coal, the Royal Navy, and British Imperial Coaling Stations, circa 1870−1914.
Swansea University Author: Steven Gray
This thesis examines how the expansion of a steam-powered Royal Navy from the second half of the nineteenth century had wider ramifications across the British Empire. In particular, it considers how steam propulsion made vessels utterly dependent on a particular resource – coal – and its distributio...
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This thesis examines how the expansion of a steam-powered Royal Navy from the second half of the nineteenth century had wider ramifications across the British Empire. In particular, it considers how steam propulsion made vessels utterly dependent on a particular resource – coal – and its distribution around the world. In doing so, it shows that the ‘coal question’, almost totally ignored in previous histories, was central to questions of imperial and trade defence, required the creation of infrastructures that spanned the globe, and connected British sailors with a plethora of different imperial, maritime, and foreign peoples.Although a limited number of studies have highlighted the importance of coal to imperial defence, this thesis considers the wider context of the period 1870−1914 in order to understand the significant place of coal in these discussions. In doing so, it shows coal’s place within wider changes to political ideologies, imperial defence schemes, popular imperialism and navalism, knowledge collection, and the growth of the state apparatus. A robust coaling infrastructure was required to ensure quality naval coal was available globally on a huge geographical scale. This involved a large number of bodies, but this has never been examined by scholars for this period. Although naval coaling relied heavily on the coal export industry, the Admiralty had a key role in ensuring that the infrastructure, particularly after 1880, could cope with increases in ship size and number and competition from its rivals. The thesis also shows how these processes worked on the ground, from testing and purchasing coal to the methods and labour used to load in on warships. The thesis also shows that the necessity of coaling in foreign stations fostered new interactions between naval personnel and the wider world. Although naval visits to these places are prime examples of British encounters beyond its own shores at the zenith of empire, these are largely absent from existing studies. Thus, it explores how the interactions with local populations, other maritime visitors, and the stations themselves shaped the experience of sailors abroad, and created a maritime community spanning large oceanic spaces.
College of Arts and Humanities