B.M. Gough: Britain, Canada and the North Pacific: Maritime Enterprise

Britain, Canada and the North Pacific: Maritime Enterprise and Dominion, 1778-1914.

Gough, Barry M.
Variorum Collected Studies Series: CS 786
Aldershot 2004: Ashgate
Anzahl Seiten
330 S.
Rezensiert für 'Connections' und H-Soz-Kult von:
Professor Keith Robbins, Rhydyfran, Cribyn, Lampeter, Ceredigion, SA48 7NH Wales / UK

The field and period indicated by the title of this book is one which Barry M.Gough has studied in depth for more than three decades. The present volume is not a monograph but a collection of articles written at different dates over this period and published in journals in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain and Spain. Such places of publication in themselves indicate that the topics investigated have ramifications on both sides of the Atlantic and the Pacific. The author argues that the history of the Northwest Coast and the North Pacific constitutes a true example of the inrerrelatedness of peoples and lands - and their links by sea.The year 1778 marks the starting point of the collection because it was then that Captain James Cook, Royal Navy, voyaged to Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island and to Alaska. From that voyage until 1914, Gough argues, constitutes a unique epoch of modern history. It was then that a 'world' unknown to Europe and eastern North America was 'opened up and its aboriginal and native peoples found themselves subjected to commercial and 'modernizing' pressures which sometimes proved fatal to the coherence of their own cultures and social viability. The consequences of this transcultural encounter, however, are not the central concern of these papers. It is elsewhere that the author has written on the Indian policies pursued by Great Britain and the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. The reader who is primarily interested in the dynamics of inter-cultural contact should be advised that Professor Gough is here primarily concerned to explore the actions and purposes of the 'incomers'.They introduced political and legal systems which they regarded as beneficial, even if contemporary opinion may now be less certain. The period is one which, in large measure, saw the rise and dominance of British commerce on and over the seas. However, this field gains additional interest (and additional complexity) from the fact that all the major powers in the period under review came on a quest for influence in the North Pacific world - France, Germany. Russia, Spain and the United States, to varying degrees, all claimed a place within the Pacific rim. In some cases there were contending territorial ambitions, in others a struggle for commercial dominance. This is, therefore, not merel;y the narrative of a bi-lateral relationship between the British Empire and the 'native world'. It is rather a set of competing aspirations which often 'forced the pace'. Moreover, latterly, it is also an examination of the evolution of British North America into the Dominion of Canada, of the place of British Columbia within Canada, and of the evolving relationship between Britain and Canada. Throughout, too, commercial and political considerations, and sometimes a tension between them, are at the heart of the matter. These various layers of interaction combine to make this a field of particular interest.

Professor Gough draws attention to these and other points in a specially written 'Introduction' but the articles themselves are reprinted as originally written, even to the extent of retaining the pagination (and the typeface) of the journals in which they first appeared. They reflect the author's accumulated deep knowledge of sources. Inevitably, however, notwithstanding the extent to which they may be said to constitute a single field, they are discrete pieces, rich in scholarly detail, but having separate origins and being written for different audiences. It is the reader who must see the linkages between the topics and form any overarching conclusions. That said, the author has pointed to particular coherences by grouping the essays under two headings. One set is entitled 'James Cook and British Enterprise in the North Pacific' and the other with 'Pax Britannica: South America, Canada and the Pacific'. In the former, there are wide-ranging treatments of Pacific exploration in the late eighteenth-century. The only one in which Cook's name actually appears discusses him in the context of the Maritime Fur Trade. The aspirations of other Powers feature most strongly in essays on British-Russian rivalry in the search for the North-West Passage in the Early Nineteenth Century and on William Bolts and the Austrian attempt to establish an Eastern Empire'. Other essays emphasize the paramountcy of commerce, whether in relation to furs or forests, although an essay on the role of the Royal Navy and the Oregon Crisis, 1844-1846' has a rather different focus. It is 'Sea Power' in its varied aspects which forms the common thread of the second set of essays. Some have a sharp and relatively limited focus - as perhaps on the South American Station of the Royal Navy in the first third of the nineteenth century or on specie conveyance from the West Coast of Mexico in British Warships in the mid-nineteenth century - but the remainder, in different ways, concentrate on Canada and the North Pacific, with particular emphasis on the Royal Navy and the maritime foundations of the Canadian State. The final essay moves beyond the North Pacific focus - though that area is not absent - in a general assessment of Pax Britannica, seeking to disentangle both the contradictions and the unities of 'peace, force and world power'.

Sufficient has been said to bring out both the diversity and the unity in this collection. There is a wealth of detail here for specialists to ponder and the collection brings out the depth of the contribution which Professor Gough has made to this field over the years. There are, however, deeper and perhaps more troubling issues posed by the essays which appear only in the background. This is a transnational history from the perspective of the 'intruders'. Its full significance can only be appreciated when other 'voices' are heard.

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