Empire in Asia

A New Global History

The Global Reach of Empire

Book Cover

Book Title

The Global Reach of Empire: Britain's Maritime Expansion in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, 1764-1815. Carlton: Miegunyah Press, 2003


Frost, Alan


The book is a study of British maritime and imperial expansion in the Indian and Pacific oceans in this period. It encompasses seaborne discovery, strategy in wartime, and the creation of infrastructure necessary to support far-flung maritime activity, colonization and trade.

With the work of explorers in drawing up a more comprehensive map of the seas, explorations of 1764-1815 were made in larger and handier ships which were able to carry more supplies of food and other necessities. Yet the diplomatic struggle between Britain and France for the control of Dutch affairs were perpetuating long-established attitudes between inveterate rivals. In the years 1783-1786, the British also began a series of new initiatives which were intended to give them control of the routes to the Indian and Pacific oceans, and therefore lay the basis for the expansion of trade.

The book also examines the role of other parties, such as the encompassing vision that underlay Pitt's and Dundas' thinking. They envisioned the creation of a great triangular commerce spanning the Pacific, with avenues to India and Europe. Dundas pointed out the lack of success in the conduct of war and to the absence of Cabinet consensus concerning what moves were either necessary or desirable, Instead, he persistently argued that Britain could not take 'a direct part in the Military Operations on the Continent, and can only act indirectly and collaterally with our Continental Allies', which thus in part led to the strategy of forming alliances with local rulers. Thus, various decisions from the summer of 1786 into the 1790s show that Pitt and Dundas had formulated at least the basis of this vision by the mid-1780s - most importantly is their ability to conceive the world as a whole.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

This book covers the essential years of 1764-1815, beginning with the Seven Years' War of 1756. The author frames his discussion of imperialism by starting with the argument that the beginnings of British presence and her need for a strong navy ought to be seen against the backdrop of French-British rivalry, technological developments and European rivalry and dominance in general.

The Seven Years' War (1756-1763), exploration of the Indian and Pacific oceans, naval expansions and wars, diplomatic struggle in Britain (1782-1788), search for bases and trade (1783-1786), the vision and implementation of policy beginning in 1786-89 gives a more coherent idea of the gradual process of British imperialism in India.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

The writer argues that the British succeeded in the quest for global empire (which involved trading networks as well as territory) because they had greater naval capacity and administrative competence, and a stronger economy. Their policies included not only the pioneering of sea routes, the acquisition of territories to give control of these routes and the liberalization of trade, but also the large-scale transfer of people, animals and plants from one hemisphere to another. "a global empire of the sea"

In the span of fifty years, within the period of British imperial expansion in the second half of the eighteenth century, the British military marine gained control of the sea routes to the large world envisaged by the politicians, and their merchant marine began what would become the massive exploitation of its resources. In this way, the history of Pitt's administration should be seen against the backdrop of the history of the world. Pitt, Dundas and Mulgrave instigated the idea of a maritime trading empire spanning the Indian and Pacific Oceans and therefore the globe, arguing for warships to protect this trade, which might be built predominantly of eastern materials, in order to ease the pressure on European sources and facilitate the overall operation of the empire.

Annotated by Michelle Djong