The Late Victorian Navy

The Late Victorian Navy

The Pre-Dreadnought Era and the Origins of the First World War

Roger Parkinson


Boydell Press



A reappraisal of the late Victorian Navy, the so-called `Dark Ages', showing how the period was crucial to the emergence of new technology defined by steel and electricity.
In purely naval terms, the period from 1889 to 1906 is often referred to (and indeed passed over) as the `pre-Dreadnought era', merely a prelude to the lead-up to the First World War, and thus of relatively little importance; it has therefore received little consideration from historians, a gap which this book remedies by reviewing the late Victorian Navy from a radically new perspective. It starts with the Great Near East crisis of 1878 and shows how its aftermath in the Carnarvon Commission and its evidence produced a profound shift in strategic thinking, culminating in the Naval Defence Act of 1889; this evidence, from the ship owners, provides the definitive explanation of why the Victorian Navy gave up on convoy as the primary means of trade protection in wartime, a fundamental question at the time. The book also overturns many assumptions about the era, especially the perception that the navy was weak, and clearly shows that the 1870s and early 1880s brought in crucial technological developments that made the Dreadnought possible.


June 2008
21 black and white illustrations
336 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843833727
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Boydell Press
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Table of Contents

Perceptions of Strategy in the Victorian Era
Strategic Realities of the 1880s
The Naval Defence Act
The Evolution of Technology and Ships in the `Dark Ages' of the Victorian Navy
The New Navies as a Consequence of the Naval Defence Act
Technology Change and the Emergence of a Cruiser-Battleship Navy
`A Lantern on the Stern'


A comprehensive survey of its subject (offering) a scholarly but very readable analysis of a vital period in the development of the Royal Navy. (...) The author's research is impeccable. NAVAL HISTORICAL COLLECTORS & RESEARCH ASSOCIATION REVIEW
A meticulously researched and carefully constructed book that opens a wide window onto the Royal Navy. (...) An important contribution to naval history. VICTORIAN STUDIES
A cogent and well-written book (and) a very valuable contribution to our understanding of the late Victorian Royal Navy. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MARITIME HISTORY
Parkinson's documentary research, tables, and ship drawings vividly portray the origins of the pre-dreadnought navy of the 1890s. Despite the title, his analysis does not extend all the way to the origins of WW I. Recommended. CHOICE
A dense work, containing a great deal of information on a myriad of subjects. A valuable contribution to the literature on the subject. NAUTICAL RESEARCH JOURNAL
(This) is a terrific book. All naval historians, scholars of nineteenth century Britain, and students of strategy and policy would benefit from reading The Late Victorian Navy. MILITARY HISTORY

(A) useful contribution to the discussion of naval policy, strategy, defence of commerce and the development of sea-power theory. Andrew Lambert, ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

An important and scholarly re-evaluation that throws considerable light on the navy of the 1870s-1890s. (...) An impressive work. JEREMY BLACK, HISTORY