Dirty British coaster: Steam power, free trade and colonial self-interest

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Author: Tristram Hunt
Date: Feb. 12, 2021
From: TLS. Times Literary Supplement(Issue 6150)
Publisher: NI Syndication Limited
Document Type: Book review
Length: 844 words
Lexile Measure: 1460L

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Port cities and globalization in the age of steam 1830-1930


496pp. Allen Lane. 25 [pounds sterling].

FOR RUDYARD KIPLING, Bombay was the, "Mother of Cities to me". He "was born in her gate, / Between the palms and the sea, / Where the world-end steamers wait". The students of his gifted art professor father, Lockwood Kipling, similarly celebrated the magnificence of steam with their Indo-Saracenic designs for the city's Victoria Terminus rail station--"the truly central building of the British Empire", in the words of the late Jan Morris.

If you are interested in the architecture of Bombay Gothic, or the multi-ethnic soundscape of the Liverpool docks, or the condition of enslaved Africans, then this is not your book. Instead of an urban history of port cities, John Darwin has written a characteristically commanding, crystal-clear account of the technological processes and socio-economic implications of steam globalization in the story of European colonialism.

After a long preamble tracing the trade flows of the age of sail, Darwin chronicles the ruthless progression of steam power on global freight and passenger transport following the first transatlantic steam crossing in 1838. The compound engine and global availability of coal meant that by the 1860s it became profitable to send steamers as...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A652093468