The changing nature of trade + Royal Navy

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  • Created on: 08-07-20 18:31

The changing nature of trade

Protectionism- taxes/prohibitions on imports & exports designed to protect domestic producers.

Mercantillism- policy of government intervention to ensure that the value of exports is more than the value of imports. 

Free trade- import and export taxes are minimised to allow merchants to compete across borders. 

Gepolitics- idea that power derives from territorial dominance. 

GOP- the monetary value of all the services and finished goods produced by a country. 

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  • 1765 (1833)- Falkland Islands
  • 1770- Australia
  • 1791- Canada
  • 1815- Ceylon, Cape Town and Malta
  • 1819- Singapore
  • 1839- Aden
  • 1841- Hong Kong
  • 1842- Shanghai
  • 1875- Suez Canal
  • 1878- Cyprus
  • 1890- Zanzibar
  • 1898- Weihaiwei
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The abolition of the slave trade 1807


  • Trade directly enriched traders + ports they sailed from. Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow all flourished. 
  • By the 1790s, around 120-30 slave ships sailed from Liverpool. 
  • MPs were planters or had business interests in plantations- could not be expected to favour abolition. e.g. Lord Mayor of London had land in Jamaica, Church of England in Barbados.

Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade- end of British involvement by 1808.

Importance of slavery- economical, tariffs and taxes as well as profit through slaves and general trade. 

Abolition- influential movement?

Abolitonists gathered evidence of slave horrors and published them. 

William Wilberforce (leader of movement)- friends with PM William Pitt. 

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Free trade 1842

Adam Smith = critical of mercantilism, tariffs should be removed as without barriers sides benefit from trade. "the wealth of a neighbouring advantageous in trade"


Ireland had tariffs on goods by English landowners to reduce competition. Despite their economy growing, wealth was limited to a few people. The Irish became angry and began protesting (many English troops were in America- war of independence). English government asked Smith who said their tariffs were 'unjust'. Restrictions on Ireland were then removed in 1779.

Corn Laws: Tariffs on imported grain/food that kept prices high by excluding foreign grain in Britain.

Changing political atmosphere: Tory PMs made little progress towards free trade- wealthy landowners benefitted. Whigs elected 1830- political reform e.g. 1832 Reform Act. 

1838 Anti Corn Law League: Robert Peel- pro free trade. Founded the Conservative Party with these values. As PM he dismantled laws supporting mercantillism. Over 1,200 import tariffs were abolished from 1842-46. 

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The Navigation Acts 1651-1673

  • Colonial goods produced for export could only be carried on British built and owned ships. 
  • Certain goods had to be shipped to an English port. 
  • European imports to British colonies also needed to land at an English port and then be reshipped onwards. 

Salutary neglect meant that Britain tended not to enforce the trade regulations too tightly and smuggling was rife. 


Peel- landmark budget of 1842. 

Included the abolition of hundreds of protectionist tariffs, except sugar duties and corn laws which were repealed in 1846. Sugar duties were considered essential for plantation owners as post slave trade they were uncompetitive compared to slave colonies. Corn laws had acquired symbolic importance for landowners. 

Post Peel Whigs- pro free trade, Lord Russell. 

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Laws of the 1760s pt.1

The residence of custom officials in America post 1763:

  • From 1763, customs officials were obliged to live in America. Previously British men held this position in Britain and delegated duties to poorly paid local deputies. 
  • Americans feared that this would introduce a class of 'placemen' who were loyal to 'playmasters' in London and would result in an extension of unjust power by the executive.
  • Trials of smugglers were not to be held in local, colonial courts but by a naval court in Halifax, Nova Scotia under judges alone. This appeared to be an extension of military power over civillians and an attack on the principle of trial by jury. 

The Sugar Act 1764:

  • George Grenville 1763-65:Had a set duty of 6d per gallon of sugar/molasses from non-British Caribbean and had yielded only £21,652 in over 30 years. The new act lowered the duty to 3d but the expectation was this would be collected not avoided. 
  • Approx 1d was being paid on each gallon imported- rise of 2d. British assumed that the new rate would raise £78,000. 
  • 9 assemblies said this was an abuse of power. They accepted British right to regulate trade but not its right to tax and raise revenue in America. Resented by merchants. 
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Laws of the 1760s pt.2

The Mutiny Act 1765:

  • The act required colonial assemblies to make provision for providing accomodation and supplying British troops stationed in each colony. 
  • Most accepted but the New York Assembly refused as the army headquarters was in NY and their burden was greater. 
  • The British passed the New York Restraining Act in 1767 which prevented the assembly from taking legislative action until they complied. 

The Stamp Act 1765:

  • Required stamps on almost all formal documents- much broader tax.
  • It was opposed by the assemblies who now petitioned London for repeal and condemned the Act, denying the rights to pass it. 
  • Repeal with the Declaratory Act- colonies were subordinate to Crown. 
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The Acquisition of Singapore 1819

  • East India Company seeking to expand to trade with China.- EIC lost monopoly 1813. 
  • Bad conditions in China- regulations. 
  • Europeans were not permitted to leave base at Canton, only licensed to deal with the 'Hongs' and were heavily taxed by the governor. 
  • Only way to reach Canton was the Straits of Malacca- colonised by the Dutch who had established a monopoly over the spices. 
  • Dutch either refused British entry or charged high tariffs. 
  • Stamford Raffles- obtained permission from East India Company to seek a British base and trade route to China...
  • Singapore- treaty with locals established under a trading post. 
  • British parl/gov were initially unaware of the settlement, the extent to which locals had ceded sovereignty was unclear under treaty and the Dutch were angered by the encroachment on territory. 
  • 1819- trade worth 400,000 Spanish dollars passed through Singapore. 
  • Worked as an entrepot- free trade and so attracted merchants from all across the world. 
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The Acquisition of Hong Kong 1841

Strict enforcements in China- British merchants remained confined to Canton and couldn't travel up China's river network. 

East India Company found itself with a negative balance of trade, forced to use silver bullion to purchase goods in China. 

Opium switch- grown cheap in India. Chinese coastal merchants were willing to smuggle opium to supply growing opium users. 

The opium trade accelerated. 

Chinese Blockade 1839- Canton. 

Lord Palmerston and a naval squadron defeated China and seized Hong Kong in 1841.

Hong Kong was a secure location for big boats- deep harbour- and aided trade with Asia. 

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Suez Canal 1875

Constructed by The Suez Canal Company from 1859 to 1869, the Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. 

Originally owned- Egyptian joint stock, 52% French and 44% Egyptian. 

The Egyptian khedive went into debt and sold his shares to the British prime minister, Benjamin Dirsraeli. 

Disraeli purchased the stocks..

  • Secure a hold on Egypt.
  • Secure an easy, time effective route to India- jewel in the crown.
  • Advance Britain's geopolitical interests- strategic not exploitative.
  • Link to Africa- British interests in Africa around Egypt, Sudan, Zanzibar and South Africa. 
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Shanghai 1842

The Treaty of Nanking 1842, known as the first of the 'unequal treaties' due to Britain's overwhelming display of naval strength. The Chinese agreed to...

  • Pay 6 million silver dollars in compensation for destroyed opium, 3 million in debt to British merchants and 12 million in reparations.
  • Cede Hong Kong to the British in perpetuity.
  • Open the ports of Amoy, Fochow, Ningpo and Shanghai to foreign traders and lift restrictions at Canton. 
  • Grant British citizens legal protections in China. 

Shanghai- situated at the mouth of the Yangtze. Under Nanking, British merchants were not only allowed to trade there but could now trade with anyone and access the Yangtze. 

Opium trade- 6,500 tons in 1880. Sold opium to Chinese middlemen in Shanghai. 

Taiping Rebellion- political and religious uprising that lasted for 14 years in China. Left over 20 million dead. 

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Zanzibar 1890

  • 1815: Main British concerns were initially safeguarding the trade route around the Cape to India and suppressing the slave trade- Navy = scary.
  • 1822: British persuaded Sultan to ban the export of slaves from Zanzibar. Through their efforts to abolish the slave trade, diplomats were drawn to Zanzibar's domestic policies, supporting sultan candidates favourable to Britain. 
  • 1861: Sultan lost control of Oman through a British-adjudicated settlement. Zanzibar increased its status as a valuable entrepot. Sultan kept tariffs low. (1844: signed a treaty fixing import duties at 5%)
  • German expansion changed the British position. 
  • Mackinnon of Zanzibar-Aden Steamships obtained concession, raisied £250,000 for BEA association. 
  • 1890: Zanzibar became a protectorate of the Empire in 1890 treaty.
  • 1896: Bombarded the city- anti sultan. 
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Weihaiwei 1898

  • Russian Tsar was seeking to expand the Russian Empire in the East. Russia made some advances but abanonded in 1881. 
  • China- military modernisation programme. 1880s commissioned Germans to build a coastal fortress at Port Arthur. 
  • Russia saw this was strategy and persuaded France and Germany to support an intervention to force Japan away. 
  • Port Arthur legally returned to China, who could not protect it so leased it to Russia in 1898.
  • This concerned Britain- they demanded another port off China to oversee developments in Port Arthur: Lease of Weihaiwei 1898. 

This demonstrates how far British colonial interests had come. 

Function of the lease- 'for so long a period as Port Arthur shall remain in the occupation of Russia'

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The changing nature of the Royal Navy

Age of sail- period between the 16th and mid 19th centuries when trade and naval warfare were dominated by sailing vessels.

Geopolitical game- referring to the infuence of geography upon international relations and politics.

Broadside- simultaneous discharge of large guns mounted along on the side of a warship.

Ship of the line- a ship deemed strong enough to take its place in the line of battle.

Naval tactics- long line approach:

  • It enabled sustained bombardment with each ship able to fire a broadside as the line passed an enemy.
  • It avoided friendly ships firing on each other.
  • It reduced the exposure of vulnerable bows and sterns to the enemy fire.
  • It improved the speed and effectiveness of signalling by flags between the admiral's ship and the rest of the fleet.
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Ships used by the Royal Navy

Ship types reflected the needs of the model of warfare. The main ship involved in pitched battles was the ship of the line. These were built to be long, narrow to maximise speed and to allow a large number of cannons. They had deep hulls to cut through water, powered by sails. 

Rating system: Ships of the line were classed as first, second, third and fourth rate, depending on their number of guns and manpower. First/second = 3 gun decks + 80-120 cannon. Admirals often used these as flagships but the extra firepower made them top heavy and less manoevurable. 

Despite the concentrated power of ships of the line, they were less effective outside of fleet-to-fleet pitched battles. They were dangerous to sail near the shore. 

Frigates: Slightly shorter than ships of the line but had 1 gun deck so were faster and more manoevurable and could sail near the shore. Frigates roamed the oceans looking for enemy shipping. This made them appealing to young captains and there were fortunes to be made in prize money on a successful frigate. 

Captain Cochrane on 'Speedy'- destroyed 53 French ships over 13 months 1800-01.

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The position of naval hegemony meant that there was often little desire to experiment with ships.

Steam: early steam engines were unreliable, slow and consumed a large volume of coal for the power they produced. Steamships became effective in areas where sailing ships did not have room to navigate using wind, like rivers. The first impact of the Age of Steam was to open previously inaccessible inland areas to naval forces, rather than disrupt the established order of ships of the line and frigates. 

Both Britain and France poured money into equipping their fleets in the 1850s. France built 10 new and converted 28, Britain buil 18 new and converted 41. 

  • 1794- The Kent is launched as an experimental steamship.
  • 1816- The American ship Demologos becomes the first steam powered warship.
  • 1841- The French start using shell-firing paixhans guns on ships. 
  • 1843- Britain launches first steam propelled frigates. 1845- France launches their own frigates.
  • 1859- The French built the first ironclad warship.
  • 1861- Britain builds its first ironclad- HMS Warrior.
  • 1873- Britain abandons sails on its warships in favour of full steam engines. 
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New Technology

Napoleonic Wars- won by ships with cannon firing solid round shot. These weapons had high trajectories and were used for bombarding towns and fortifications. Paixhan guns- France 1841, Royal Navy quickly did the same. These could easily destroy wooden ships. 

Iron plates- armour on wooden ships. Royal Navy were slow to innovate but quick to imitate (France La Gloire 1859, Britain HMS Warrior 1861)

HMS Victory- launched 1765, retired 1824. Nelson. 

Rapid improvements were made in steam engines, armour + guns. New ships became bigger, heavier and more reliant on their engines. Sails were abandoned with HMS Devestation 1873. This symbolised a turning point where traditional sailing was in the past. 

Network of ports- supply stations worldwide- vital for steamers, made length voyages capable. 

End of Age of Sail- eliminated a naval advantage- the superior seamenship of British sailors. The RN had prided itself on the ability of its crew to sail better than anyone else. From the 1870s, naval strength was derived from the number and quality of ships a country produced instead. 

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Naval supremacy

Britain sought to retain its position as a pre-eminent naval power and maintain the two power standard: Idea that RN would be as strong as the next 2 navies combined

It was argued by the Admiralty that by rapidly expanding the navy and enshrining a committment to maintain naval supremacy in law, Britain's position would become so unassailable that other powers would be deterred from naval expenditure. 

Naval Defence Act 1889, Britain committed to 10 battleships, 42 cruisers and 18 torpedo gunships by 1893 at £21.5 million. 

John Fisher:

  • Became first Sea Lord of the Admiralty in 1904. Introduced a huge modernisation programme. 
  • Scrapped 154 older warships and restructured Britain's fleets so that largest and most modern ships were in Europe. 
  • His intention was to end the arms race by producing warships that were so technologically advanced no other navy could challenge them.
  • HMS Dreadnought 1906- a ship so powerful it instantly made all existing battleships obsolete. 
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Commerce protection

Navy life- tough, cramped living conditions and harsh discipline. Pay was modest- able seamen's wage in 1794 was £14 per year. Royal Navy struggled to attract volunteers and had to rely on impressment. 

  • The Navy protected the seas for merchantmen as well as capturing foreign merchants during war. This made the trade routes safe for English merchants and dangerous for foreign competition. 
  • The RN captured 1,165 French merchants. 
  • British merchant shipping was expected to provide tens of thousands of skilled sailors to the RN and trade profits increased revenue to the Exchequer. 

Government policy- Navigation Acts. These mandated that trade between Britain and its colonies must be carried in British ships. 

Royal Navy- ultimate gurantor of Britains' free trade Empire. 

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Slavery + slave trade

By the late 18th century, slavery was the biggest trade route for British shipping with over 150 ships leaving Britain on the triangular trade. 

The slave economies of the West Indies were an important source of income, at a time when the Exchequer needed money for wars with France. 

Supporters argued the slave trade was the 'nursery of the Royal Navy' due to the number of experienced sailors recruited from slaving ships. 

However, abolitionist Thomas Clarkson (1788) showed that of the 5,000 men leaving Britain on slaving voyages in 1785, only 2,329 returned. Slave crews suffered high mortality rates due to disease. 

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Early abolitionist efforts

Napoleonic Wars:

  • Few resources could be spared to the abolition. 
  • New squadron 1808- to stop transatlanic trade but only 2 ships were dispatched. Enforcement was not a priority (1831- 7 ships) Slaves shipped rose from 80,000 to 135,000 (1800-30)

West Africa Squadron:

  • Undesirable (long postings, heat, disease) 
  • Not effective- in Napoleonic Wars, RN could board and seize ships at will but once there was peace, it was strictly regulated. 
  • Slavers operated by carrying papers and flying flags of nations that the RN could not seize.

However, successive foreign secretaries used Britain's diplomatic position to create a series of treaties allowing the RN to seize slaving ships. But could only act if there was slaves being carried.

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The Royal Navy: end of slave trade

Anti slave trade operations led to technological developments. 

In the 1840s, the Royal Navy began using paddle steamers which could follow slaving ships into reiver systems- HMS Hydra. The slavers then began using clipper ships for speed. 

Between 1810 and 1860 the RN captured and freed around 150,000 slaves. 

However, the navy was not successful in stopping the Atlantic slave trade and the freed slaves only represented about 10% of total slaves shipped.

The slave trade was only ended when slave ownership was made illegal in the Americas. 

Still continued in Africa but the RN was able to apply pressure on the sultan of Zanzibar. 

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Piracy + commerce defence

In the early 19th century, the trade route linking China, the East Indies, India and England became a major source of income for Britain and the RN devoted significant resources to protecting this route. 

Suppressing piracy was a major task. 

Arab pirates threatened the Red Sea and the RN increased its operations in the region. Treaties were signed wih the Imam of Mocha and sultan of Aden to protect commerce. 

The Straits of Malacca was a hotbed of piracy. 100+ pirate ships operated in the area. 

As opium sales increased in China the suppression of piracy become a priority for the EIC. In 1824, the company agreed with the Dutch to divide the area and introduce naval patrols. 

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The Attack on Algiers 1816

Algiers- hot spot for pirates and slavers, 'Barbary States'. They were well armed and organised enough to capture shipping and undertake coastal raids. The RN had been strong enough to intimidate the 'Beys' into leaving British shipping alone since the RN seured treaties after bombarding Teipoli in 1675. France also bombarded Algiers 3 times. However- America paid $1 milion ransom to the Beys in 1795. 

The RN had sourced supplies from the states during wars with France but by 1815 it was the dominant force in the Mediterranean and able to resupply from a peaceful Europe.

  • 1816: Expedition under Admiral Pellew, Lord Exmouth, sent to North Africa. Backed by a naval squadron, he secured treaties with the Beys of Tunis, Tripoli and Algiers.
  • However, before his return 200 Corsicans, Sardinians and Sicillians were massacred on the island of Bona. Exmouth returned with a larger fleet and bombarded Algiers- sinking 40+.
  • The Bey of Algiers capitulated the next day, repaying £80,000 in ransom money and freeing 3,000 slaves. 
  • Not entirely effective- Beys were reliant on piracy so raiding continued. Britain bombarded again in 1820 and piracy wasn't eliminated until France conquered Algiers in 1830. 
  • But- showed the power of RN and willingness to use them, 
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Exploration + mapping

Pax Britannica: 'British peace'. Period of 1814 to 1914 when there was reasonable stability in Europe. 

Accurate charts and good navigation- difference between win or lose. Royal Navy haunted by Scilly 1707- 4 warships and 1,550 men lost due to navigation. Between 1803 and 1815, 223 ships were lost. 

It was clear that global operations required accurate knowledge of the oceans and the Admiralty gave high priority to voyages of exploration. 

Longitude- location east or west. 

A navy who could calculate it had an advantage- position at sea/time. 

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Captain Cook 1768-71

The Royal Society was interested in using the transit of Venus in front of the sun to measure the distance between the earth and the sun while the Admiralty wanted to claim new lands and chart potential anchorages for warships. 

James Cook- appointed to lead a circumnavigation 1768 to 1771.

Importance of Cook's voyage:

  • It showed that it was possible for an expedition to stay at sea for three years. 
  • It proved the effectiveness of new technology for making accurate charts.
  • It established a British claim to new lands in Australia and New Zealand. 
  • It forestalled new territorial acquisitions by rivals and was the basis for future colonial expansion. 
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Gibraltar 1783

  • Vital to France and Britain- situated where sea between Europe and Africa met. 
  • The port was the gateway for British ships to enter the Mediterranean. 
  • Also, separated the French Atlantic and Mediterannean coastlines which was an obstacle to France's ability to move war ships and supplies. 
  • Strategic area could blockade France. 
  • Britain captured it in 1704 and Minorca in 1708 from Spain. The French and Spanish tried to take them back but failed. Then again in 7 years war- France occupied Minorca for a period of time. 
  • The French and Spanish attacked when Britain had little money and supplies during/between 7 years war and war of independence. 
  • The Spanish fleets attempt at blockading Gibraltar failed due to inexperienced crew and winds blowing them out of position. 
  • Britain were still able to supply Gibraltar. 
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Ceylon 1815

  • Ceylon initially belonged to the Dutch, the interior remained under the control of the independent Kingdom of Kandy. 
  • The colony was one of the only sources of cinnamon in the world. 
  • When the Netherlands was conquered by France in 1794, the Dutch royals fled to England where they were pressured into ordering Dutch colonies to surrender to British forces by 'protection'. 
  • The French set up a puppet government in the Netherlands. 
  • The Dutch settlements surrendered and a British governor installed with the commercial side of the colony left to the East India Company. 
  • Britain regarded Ceylon as valuable- retained in Treaty of Amiens 1802.
  • Kandy- angry with British as they wouldn't restore their coastline for trade. 
  • Peace until Governor Brownrigg occupied Kandy and imposed the Kandyan Convention where Kandy became a self-governing protectorate that paid to the colony.
  • Ceylon- British Crown Colony after rebellions 1817-18.
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Malta 1815

  • Napoleon had captured Malta from the Knights Hospitaller in 1798 after they refused to supply his fleet on the way to Egypt. 
  • The locals rebelled against the French garrison and asked the British for help. 
  • Nelson blockaded Valletta in 1799, French surrdnered in 1800. 
  • The Royal Navy did not initially regard the island as strategically important. 
  • Britain agreed to leave Malta in the temporary peace of 1802 but maintained a presence there when war recommended in 1803.
  • By 1815, the deep water port and welcoming local population meant that Malta was sufficiently useful to be retained but the port did not become a major naval base until the opening of the Suez Canal. 
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Cape Town 1815

  • Dutch colony- held no economic significance except as a stopping point for shipping between Europe and the East Indies. 
  • A naval fleet there could prevent enemy shipping from sailing between the Indian and Atlantic oceans, cutting a major trade route. 
  • By 1795, the RN seized strategic colonies which other European powers were unable to defend. 
  • After brief Dutch resistance, Britain occupied the colony until the Peace of Amiens in 1802 when it was returned to the Dutch. 
  • After war broke out with France, Britain reoccupied the Cape to prevent French troops being landed there in 1806 and maintained a permanent presence, formalised by a treaty with the Dutch in 1814. 
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Falklands 1833

  • Britain had established a settlement on the Falklands in 1766 but abandoned it 10 years later in the war of independence when the overstretched RN couldn't defend it. 
  • The islands continued to be used by South Atlantic sealing ships until the ex-Spanish colonies in South America (United Provinces) authorised a European merchant called Luis Vernet to found a colony there in 1828. 
  • Vernet struggled to make it a success- the only valuable commodity on the islands was the seal colonies but these were rapidly being depleted. Britain had over 70 sealing ships in the South Atlantic. 
  • Vernet wanted to preserve the seals for his own use and confiscated three American sealing ships in 1831, taking their captains for trial.
  • Britain considered this a dangerous development for British trade prospects and sent a single ship to reassert British sovereignty in 1833. 
  • Vernet surrendered without a fight. 
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Aden 1839

  • Important entrepot in Middle Ages for pepper and spice trade. 
  • British 1798- after docking Aden in Napoleonic invasion of Egypt.
  • Politicians- good location to prevent invasion- Aden located by the eastern approach to the Red Sea, modern day Yemen. 
  • British occupy Aden- sultan was a pirate.
  • The British occupation was a reminder of naval dominance and an example against challengers. 
  • Captain Stafford Haines wanted full British occupation but Earl Auckland was reluctant as it had no commercial value. 
  • Haines captured it in 1839- East India Company accepted.
  • Aden had no value and so Britain could not cover its expenses. 
  • However, it gained value after the opening of the Suez Canal. 
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Cyprus 1878

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli- found Cyprus acceptable and convened congress with Germany.
  • They teamed up and demanded they give up some territory to war. 
  • Secured Cyprus as a deal with the Ottomans.
  • Rented it for £92,799 a year.
  • Britain exchanged support to the Ottomans in return if Russia should ever become a threat to them. 
  • British protectorate until 1914. 


  • Ottoman ally.
  • Diplomatic.
  • Power increase.
  • Near Suez Canal, Cyprus = Balkan.
  • Avoiding naval threats near Suez. 
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