Oceania under steam

Sea transport and the cultures of colonialism, c.1870–1914

Frances Steel
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The age of steam was the age of Britain's global maritime dominance, the age of enormous ocean liners and human mastery over the seas. This book charts the diverse and often conflicting interests, itineraries and experiences of commercial and political elites, common seamen and stewardesses, and Islander dock workers and passengers. It tracks the beginnings of routine steamship operations in the 1870s and the consolidation of regional trading relations in the Pacific, through to the years immediately preceding the outbreak of the First World War. Charting the rise of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand (USSCo.) and its extension into the island and transpacific trades, the book examines the ways political leaders in New Zealand and Australia recruited maritime transport operations to support regional agendas. Accounts for continuity and change in crew culture heralded by the transition from sail to steam and the rise of managerial capitalism in the late nineteenth century come next. The imperial maritime labour market was racially diverse. The book also examines the presence of stewardesses and passengers, working and living at the 'coal face' of a new world of transport and trade, and Suva's early years as the Fijian capital. It explores how the savages on the shoreline have in fact become peaceable, non- threatening wharf labourers through the transformative reach of imperial transport, communication and trading networks. Under the terms of the Merchant Shipping Act 1823 (the Lascar Act), Indian sailors were not freely entitled to serve on merchant vessels trading internationally.

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Shortlisted for the Ernest Scott Prize , 2012


‘Frances Steel's Oceania under Steam is an outstanding contribution to the social history of the steamship era. Despite the major archives which exist for the world of steam, and the enormous importance of the steamers and their workforces in creating modernity, the period is still relatively unexplored by social historians.'
Jonathan Hyslop, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY
September 2016

‘Her wide and meticulous archival research forms the basis for a maritime history full of people and their human stories, but threaded together by the overarching structures of empire and colonialism. Moreover, she knits the sea and shore together, and shows the ways in which New Zealand and Australia were intricately part of the Pacific, entwined by the routes, vessels, and kinships of maritime trade and the steam industry in particular.'
Australian Historical Studies
September 2016

‘Oceania under Steam's sensitivity to issues of race, gender, class, space, affect, and colonialism makes the book a very important contribution to the growing fields of maritime mobility studies, use-centered history of technology, and sub-imperial citizenship and network scholarship. The book will be of interest to historians of empire, maritime historians, and mobility scholars well beyond experts of the Pacific region.'
Heloise Finch-Boyer is Curator of History of Science and Technology at the U.K. National Maritime Museum specializing in the material culture of mobility and empire in the Indian Ocean from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century.
Transfers Volume 2 Issue 2
August 2012

‘The work is rich in recollections of nautical artefacts and museums, pictures of docksides from Dunedin days, and echoes of the sea and smell of salt. The reader travels almost through a memory lens of the USSCs, analysing steam liners for the ways they developed as emblems of a technological culture, iron transforming the layout of decks, the nautical speed of voyages, and the vision of Pacific travel.'
Matt K. Matsuda, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA
International Journal of Maritime History
September 2016

‘This book represents a fantastic example of 'new maritime history' that seeks to understand the crucial place that maritime spaces hold in understanding the complex relationships, whether in terms of power, culture, labour, race or sex, that existed in nineteenth-century maritime empires. While it is an impressive step forward in terms of scholarship, it also highlights how many questions about maritime history remain, and how much there still is to do.'
Steven Gray, University of Warwick
The Mariner's Mirror
April 2016

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