Distant Dominion: Britain and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1579-1809

By Barry M. Gough | Go to book overview

7
Imperial Dreams and False Starts

And you will be careful to embark on board these ships such articles ... for building etc.... in order to enable them to fulfil the object of forming such a settlement as may be able to resist any attacks from the natives, and lay the foundation of an establishment for the assistance of his Majesty's subjects, in the possession of the fur trade from the N.W. coast of America.

INSTRUCTIONS TO GOVERNOR PHILLIP. MARCH 1790

Nootka Sound symbolized newly won prosperity for British mercantile interests in eastern seas, a fact that the government, ever conscious of traders' demands, could ill afford to ignore. 1 By 1789 public and parliamentary interest in the prospects of the Pacific was so strong that the government decided that Meares, Colnett, Etches, Cox, and others needed official support. Persistent requests for official support had come from several quarters, and had been received by the government almost simultaneously. These requests reflected various motives— some commercial, others scientific, and still others humanitarian.

Yet at the root of these intentions lay the desire to promote the financial prosperity of the United Kingdom by generating new trade in eastern seas. To this end David Scott, James Strange's ally, found parliamentary support from Henry Dundas (later Viscount Melville) in pressing for a diversification of national interests by widening the East India Company's scope and adopting more flexible methods of trade and regulation in eastern seas. Similarly, Samuel Enderby's whaling interests lobbied Lord Hawkesbury at the Board of Trade to establish a base in the South Pacific. Meanwhile, ex-maritime fur traders who had returned to London and vested interests such as the East India Company and the Hudson's Bay Company turned their attention to these changes in eastern affairs. Similarly, armchair geographers, scientists, and members of learned societies made known their positions. The government came under pressure during the three years before the celebrated seizure of British ships at Nootka Sound, and this same pressure resulted in official decisions to send an armed expedition even before news of the outrage at Spanish hands reached London in 1789.

At this time the British were anxious to secure Pacific trade and direct or indirect dominion over lands in the component parts of that ocean. On opposite sides of the Pacific, the Northwest Coast and the Antipodes lay unoccupied, though not unclaimed, by European nations. Japan, China, and Korea largely remained closed to foreign commerce. Hawaiian, Tahitian, and other island clusters at

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Distant Dominion: Britain and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1579-1809
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Distant Dominion - Britain and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1579-1809 *
  • Contents *
  • Photographic Credits *
  • Illustrations *
  • Preface *
  • 1: Tyranny of Distance *
  • 2: Pacific Probes *
  • 3: Cook's Reconnaissance *
  • 4: Spanning the Pacific *
  • 5: The Fortune Seekers *
  • 6: Beachhead of Empire *
  • 7: Imperial Dreams and False Starts *
  • 8: Conflicts of Ambition *
  • 9: Dealing with the Dons *
  • 10: The Surveyor-Diplomats *
  • 11: The Overlanders *
  • Epilogue *
  • Abbreviations *
  • Notes *
  • Note on Sources *
  • Select Bibliography *
  • Index *
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