« AnteriorContinuar »
a quarrel with America would mean simply the disappearance from the neighbouring waters of perhaps more than nine-tenths of the tonnage sailing beneath our flag. What would remain might, were proper precautions taken in time, be effectively defended from Vancouver. If the proposed canal to join the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans be ever made, the bulk of the trade in the latter will run along fresh routes, and the problem of protecting them will assume a new aspect.
It has been said that, studded as this ocean is with archipelagoes and detached islands, there is a remarkable absence of them in the belt of water which washes the western shores of the whole American continent. We do not possess even a coaling station for mail steamers south of the straits of Juan de Fuca. There is, nevertheless, one remarkable group of islands in a position which can hardly fail to render them very attractive to anyone desirous of remedying the strategic defects of our naval position. The Galápagos Islands lie at a most convenient distance from the Gulf of Panama, and form a sort of halfway-house between the Straits of Magellan and Vancouver. They are between 500 and 600 miles from the coast of South America.
Considering that these islands are placed directly under the Equator,' says Mr. Darwin, who visited them in H.M.S. Beagle,' the climate is far from • being excessively hot.' There are plenty of springs on the larger islands, and in certain spots vegetation is luxuriant; the anchorages are not inconvenient, and altogether they promise to form a naval station in all respects equal, if not superior, to that which we have at Ascension, in the Atlantic. The policy of acquiring additional territory is at present, and apparently not unjustly, rather discredited; but perhaps it is permissible to hope-as a mere matter of what may be called abstract strategy—that before the new canal is completed some amicable arrangement may be come to with the indebted and impoverished proprietor of the Galápagos, the republic of Ecuador, for the purchase of one or other of these islands, which that state does not use, as it does some of the rest, even as a convict station.
The most exacting strategist will probably content himself with the reflection that there is little use in acquiring new positions until those that we have already are adequately secured. Opposite to the Russian possessions we possess some of our own which are in many respects, and especially as regards climate, incomparably more favourably circumstanced than the former. Mr. Rhodes, the Swedish consul at Victoria, says that · Vancouver Island has the best coal for naval purposes in the Pacific.' It has a fair amount of agricultural land and much magnificent timber. There has been, since the time of the Crimean war, a small naval yard at Esquimalt. The annual output of coal from the Nanaimo mines is about 110,000 tons. What we have done to render this, our only North Pacific base, capable of meeting the surprises of modern war, will best appear from the report of General Selby Smyth, commanding the military forces of Canada, which was published a few weeks since in this country. Speaking of the
present inadequate force' at Victoria, he directs attention to the fact that Vancouver is only 4,500 miles from Petropaulovsk, and that the Amoor is barely 500 miles further off.
'In the event of war,' he says, ' Russia would be in a position to harass not only Hong-kong and the China and Japan trade, but to send a squadron across the ocean in thirty days to attack the western sea-port of the Dominion. Our security in the Pacific requires Esquimalt to be well guarded; our fleets must keep the sea, if necessary, in all weathers, and they cannot do so without coal. That important element is in ample stock and of prime quality at Nanaimo. The British
navy is scattered over the Pacific, and there were no works of defence at Vancouver till last year; no forts for the protection of our coal; nothing but British prestige and a few companies of militia at Victoria and up the Fraser river.'
He mentions that some works were hastily thrown up in 1878, when a Russian squadron was known to be near the coast; but since then apparently nothing has been done to provide against the recurrence of the alarm that was then experienced.
But it is not only by the possibility of war between this country and any other great Power having naval forces in the Pacific that British interests may be seriously affected. We hope no such calamity will occur, though it may be necessary to provide against it. A much less improbable contingency is the occurrence of hostilities between one of those Powers and China. At this very time the relations of China and Russia are strained. The treaty which was to regulate their Kashgarian frontier has been repudiated, and in both Empires preparations for actual hostilities are contemplated. We cannot venture to form an opinion as to the result of military operations conducted in the heart of Central Asia; but the Chinese armies are said to be vastly improved in arms and discipline, and, however superior the Russians might be in these respects, they would necessarily be operating at an enormous distance from any civilised base. Everything leads us to believe that, in the event of a rupture between Russia
and China, the former Power would rely mainly on naval operations to compel the Chinese to submit to terms; and such naval operations, conducted from the harbours we have described at the mouth of the Amoor, might involve very important consequences, not only to the Chinese Empire, but to Great Britain. The blockade by Russia of the ports open to European trade would suspend mercantile transactions of great magnitude, of which four-fifths are under the British flag; and it might cause losses to the revenue of England and of India, which could with difficulty be endured. If, therefore, any real danger of hostilities between Russia and China should exist or arise, such a case would call for a strenuous effort on the part of the British Government to adjust by mediation the differences between these Powers, which arise out of a contest for some barbarous regions in Central Asia. And, in order to support such an offer of mediation with effect, we require the presence of a naval force in the Pacific capable of making itself respected by every Power in the world. Indeed, in no part of the globe is the presence of the British Navy more indispensable, for the reasons we have given at some length in the preceding pages.
General Selby Smyth's remark that the British navy is scattered over the Pacific, was exemplified in a very conclusive manner just about the time at which, according to Mr. Harrison's statement, given on a former page, a large Russian squadron was concentrated at San Francisco. Our Pacific force was asserted to be thus distributed: the flagship was in Peru, one ship was in Chili, one at San Francisco, one in the Sandwich Islands, one at Panama, and two-of which one was an old-fashioned gun-vessel—were at Vancouver. It appears difficult to escape the conviction that a redistribution of our navy employed in distant seas is required quite as much as, perhaps even more than, reinforcement. Not even our vast fleet will enable us to be numerically superior to an enemy at all points. We should endeavour to be, and may be with proper arrangements, superior to him at decisive points. The practice of distributing our fleet about the world by tiny squadrons, and even by individual ships, however justifiable in the past, seems unsuited to the conditions of the present day. On both sides of the Pacific, in the treaty ports of China and Japan, and the more important commercial harbours of South America, there was, no doubt, a long period during which our countrymen required the presence of a British man-of-war to ensure the transaction of their business unmolested, and even the security of their lives. A single vessel of very moderate power was quite adequate to the performance of this necessary duty. But times have changed; relations with those countries have been more closely knit, and they have provided themselves with fleets, or at least with ships, of respectable power with which it would be folly for one of our diminutive gun-vessels to provoke a contest. Their governments have come to recognise that an international quarrel cannot now be settled locally, and that an insult or an injury to a European state means the chance of having to face the whole power wielded by that state. It is, therefore, very much open to doubt if the plan of making up a foreign squadron to a large extent of small vessels, which can only lie at anchor off some settlement, and move slowly from one to another, is still a good one. It is on the high seas that the heaviest blows will be aimed at our commerce, and it is only by ships able to cruise upon them that it can be properly protected. Our ships abroad should form squadrons in reality as well as in name, and should visit the different ports in groups rather than singly. The advantages to discipline and training resulting from the adoption of such a plan would be considerable, whilst it is nearly certain that the appearance of a powerful division from time to time would impress the native mind with a far greater idea of the ability of Great Britain to protect her interests than it would ever be likely to conceive from the uninterrupted presence of some gunboat of small size and very limited powers. Where circumstances rendered the continuous protection of our countrymen settled abroad necessary, it would be easy for the squadron to drop a member at that place to be picked up or relieved by the other detachment, whose advent would be only a month or two behind the departure of the other.
Few will care to deny that our whole naval position in the Pacific Ocean has undergone an important change. Interests, which thirty years ago we could hardly have considered very important, have attained dimensions which render their protection a matter worthy of serious consideration. A great colonial empire has grown up there in the interval, which not only promises to increase in wealth and size, but which also draws to it more and more of our trade, and is now holding out the hope of aiding in the supply of food which we require. A large proportion of the capital of the country invested in shipping and the cargoes carried by it is continuously employed in the commerce of the Pacific. Throughout its wide spaces we have but few resting-places for our ships. We have no real basis for naval operations between Sydney, Vancouver, and Hong-kong. The days in which the coast ports of Spanish America monopolised nearly the whole of the tonnage sailing on its waters under our flag have quite gone by. New routes upen it are every day being followed. At 'the same time powers far more formidable than the turbulent republics of the South and Central American coast, or than the Celestial Empire, have gained a footing on its shores. If ever our navy should be called upon to protect our trade against an enemy, it will not be in the Pacific that the least important portion of its duties will be performed.
ART. IV. - The Life of His Royal Highness the Prince
Consort. By Sir THEODORE MARTIN, K.C.B. Vols. IV. and V. London: 1879–80. Sir IR THEODORE MARTIN may be sincerely congratulated
on the successful completion of a laborious, delicate, and difficult undertaking; and at a moment when honours have been conferred with excessive profusion, the distinction conferred upon this gentleman has at least been earned by a considerable service to the Queen. We can readily believe that this work has largely exceeded the limits originally assigned to it by the author, for the documents placed at his disposal are very copious, and the peculiar nature of his task precluded him from subjecting them to as rigorous a process of selection as was desirable. In its present form this book contains a vast quantity of valuable material for the history of our times, and affords ample proof of the indefatigable activity and high moral feeling of the illustrious subject of the memoir. The Prince's collection of papers relating to the Crimean War alone fills no less than fifty folio volumes. But a biography of the Prince, in the stricter sense of the term, is still to be written. The Life of Agricola or a few pages of Plutarch in classical literature, the Life of Nelson ’ by Robert Southey in our own, convey to the world at large a more striking and accurate portrait of a life and of a man than this diorama of a Court. The bulk of a work in five large octavo volumes is altogether disproportionate to the personal importance of the subject : its length and its costliness prevent it from obtaining the circulation it deserves. The generous intention of Her Majesty to make the life of her consort universally known, and to exhibit his character as a model of all excellence, can only be effectually accomplished by a brief popular account
VOL. CLII. NO. CCCXI.