I have been going into some detail researching the 4th Earl of Carnarvon as he appears in my next book. As usual, I get easily distracted. Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, to give him his full name, was deeply involved in Victorian politics and held the post of Colonial Secretary in two conservative governments, initially under Lord Derby and then under Benjamin Disraeli. As Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon decided to buy himself a yacht in order to carry out his duties.
It was called the “Marcia”, 165 tons, 94 ft 5” long, 20 ft 5” broad, 10 ft 6” deep; designed and built by Camper and Nicholson, Gosport. Naturally it came with bills, for wages, repainting, for harbour charges and so on but undeterred, it was followed a few years later by a second yacht, the “Alruna”.
This was a period when Britain was using its powers of persuasion (the navy) and trade entrepreneurship to negotiate its own terms in the world. As Prime Minister Disraeli had the unenviable task of trying to balance the books, curb his Admirals’ expansive desires whilst managing and even increasing Britain’s area of colonial influence. Elsewhere in the world the USA was recovering from its own civil war, France was evolving painfully into its next Republic and for the moment there was a balance between the emergent Prussian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian federation of an Empire.
The importance of the trade winds in the development of trading routes had first been recognized by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Britain’s powerful navy and their relatively sophisticated understanding of these winds became the key components in the success of England’s merchant fleets as they crossed the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans.
England’s success in the 19th century was built largely on the trade strategies established in the 18th century by one of England’s most able Prime Ministers, Robert Walpole, (1676-1745). Described by his peer Edmund Burke as “the ablest Parliament man, and the ablest manager of a Parliament, that I believe ever lived”, and despite a myriad of public and private faults, Walpole was commended for being “an intelligent, prudent, and safe minister”. He certainly heralded a period of unprecedented growth within the British Empire leading to an enormous trade network that still survives in part today.
Across the Atlantic, similar “honourable” attributes were applied to the First President of the USA. A “systematic, orderly, energetic,” man, Washington’s farewell address, drafted with Alexander Hamilton, reflected on the nature of politics and was such a powerful speech that it has provided a fulcrum for reflection for over 200 years. In his turn he also heralded the emergence of what would become, 150 years later, an immensely powerful political and economic State.
Now, on both sides of the Atlantic, political debates are once again dominating the agenda with trade as one of the key areas of argument. Some things just never really change but conversation and sitting together to discuss the challenges together, must be the more far-sighted way to proceed.