University Of Tasmania
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The too vast orb : the Admiralty and Australian naval defence, 1881-1913

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posted on 2023-05-27, 07:42 authored by Briggs, MJ
The subject of this study is the relationship between the Admiralty and the Australian colonies, and subsequently the Commonwealth of Australia, from 1881 to 1913. Of main concern is Admiralty policy; its objectives, the way in which it was determined, and the factors which shaped it. The three decades examined in this study saw fundamental changes in the relationship between the Admiralty and Australia. Federation and the growth of nationalist sentiment encouraged Australian efforts to develop a local navy. These efforts were rewarded with the establishment of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911. This period also saw major changes in Britain's strategic and economic circumstances and the decline of the Royal Navy relative to the other great navies of the world. Students of British naval policy have tended to overlook the Admiralty's relationship with colonies such as Australia, concentrating on relations with the great powers, in particular the naval race with Germany. Of those studies which do mention Australia, many have emphasized the role developing nationalist sentiment in Australia played in changing the Admiralty's policy on dominion naval defence. Historians from C.P. Lucas to Donald Gordon have implicitly or explicitly criticized Australia for pressing for a local navy in the face of cogent strategic arguments by the Admiralty. Such criticism, however, does not take into account the extent to which changes in the Admiralty's position on Australian naval defence were initiated by the Admiralty themselves as a result of changes in their strategic and financial circumstances. While it is acknowledged that developing Australian nationalism and Australian efforts to establish a local navy did influence the Admiralty's thinking on Australian naval defence, this study argues that changes in the Admiralty's attitude were primarily a response to broader changes in Britain's strategic and financial position. This study begins in the early 1880s when a series of incidents involving the Australian colonies highlighted the problems posed for Britain when the colonies established their own local naval defence forces. The upshot of these incidents was the 1887 naval agreement. While the 1887 agreement has often been linked with the Imperial Federation movement, which was active at the time, it is claimed here that the agreement was devised by the Admiralty primarily to undermine naval development in the Australian colonies. As such it formed the basis for future relations between the Admiralty and Australia until changing strategic and financial circumstances forced the Admiralty to rethink their policy of discouraging colonial naval forces. From the turn of the century the Admiralty's advice to Australia on naval matters undergoes frequent, often contradictory, changes. This study examines these changes in the context of, and as a reflection of, Britain's deteriorating strategic and financial circumstances and domestic political situation. Extensive use is made of Admiralty materials, especially the internal memoranda of the influential Naval Intelligence Department, in order to reveal the factors which shaped the Admiralty's Australian policy. The Naval Intelligence Department material has been little studied in regard to Australian naval defence. A major section of this study is devoted to examining the 1909 proposal by the Admiralty for the establishment of a Pacific Fleet. The Pacific Fleet scheme, with its provision for ocean-going colonial 'fleet units', was a major departure by the Admiralty from their policy of discouraging naval development by the colonies. It also appears at odds with the programme of fleet concentration and rationalization which the Admiralty was engaged in at the time. Perhaps because of this, and the fact the scheme was short-lived, being abandoned by Britain only two years after it had first been mooted, it has been ignored by historians or dismissed as an aberration not worthy of much attention. This study argues that the Pacific Fleet sheme was a genuine proposal by the Admiralty to reassert British sea power in the Pacific and it shows how a series of fortuitous events led the Admiralty to believe that a new Pacific Fleet was possible, even in the midst of the naval race with Germany.


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Copyright 1991 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Includes bibliographical references. Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 1992

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