The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902-22

By Phillips Payson O'Brien | Go to book overview

2

Towards a naval alliance

Some naval antecedents to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1854-1902

Hamish Ion

The very names of the ships evoke images of flying shot and cordite smoke, boyhood valour and death to Her Majesty's enemies, Alacrity, Algerine, Aurora, Barfleur, Bonaventure, Brisk, Centurion of the Royal Navy's China squadron, that most visible manifestation of British power in Japanese waters and Chinese seas during the late nineteenth century. The China squadron was the sword that the British government wielded through two wars with the Japanese, but it was also the buckler that served to help protect the territorial integrity of Japan against the advances of a rapacious Russia. This chapter outlines some of the naval antecedents that helped to lead to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, which was signed in late January 1902, and brought to an end, both for Britain and Japan, an era of eikō aru koritsu (splendid isolation). Rather than concentrating on policy-making at the Admiralty and in Cabinet, it looks at the China squadron. It investigates the complex and rapidly changing events in East Asia in the decades before the Russo-Japanese War which helped to form and to shape the perceptions and realities of Japan of some of those who served in the China squadron, the 'Gem of the Sea', as Admiral Sir Henry Keppel described her. 1 These localized naval perceptions were based not simply on cold realism but also on warm sentiment stemming from lengthening contact and familiarity with the Japanese that had developed since modern Anglo-Japanese relations began with the arrival of Rear Admiral Sir James Stirling's flotilla in Nagasaki in 1854. The positive image of naval Japan and the society seen in the memoirs and reminiscences of old China squadron hands not only lent support to the alliance but also helped to leaven the reality that developments in East Asian waters during the 1890s had created and which had resulted in great challenges to Britain's naval dominance in the region. Challenges, particularly those posed by Russia and also resulting from changing naval technology, left Britain little alternative but to seek an alliance with another naval power.

The flow of naval activity in the China squadron allows the years from 1854 to be divided into three general periods. The first period runs from 1854 through years of serious confrontation in the early 1860s to the withdrawal of the Royal Marine garrison from Yokohama in 1875. The second covers years of relative tranquillity and growing familiarity with Japan from

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