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Matthew M. Heaton

Chapter 4 examines the pilgrimage as a political symbol of decolonisation in Nigeria through the figure of Sir Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of Nigeria’s Northern Region from 1954 to 1966. A large part of his political positioning centred on his role as a defender of Islam, and proponent of an agenda of ‘northernisation’ that sought to bring political and economic parity to the North. From the late 1950s, his government embarked on a series of reforms to streamline the pilgrimage and, in particular, to promote undertaking the journey by air. Bello undertook his first Hajj in 1955, and performed it every year save one for the rest of his life. Indeed, Bello’s flights to the Hijaz every year became political acts in their own right: he filled his plane each year with a wide array of allies and notables, who could forever claim to have been part of the ‘VIP airlift’. In this way, Bello and the Northern People’s Congress transformed the image of the pilgrimage from a journey conducted in penury over years to one undertaken in relative comfort as a symbol of a modernising, but still proudly Islamic, Nigerian identity.

in Decolonising the Hajj
Steamship space
Jonathan Stafford

Passengers stepping on board the overland route steamship reported their amazement at what they described as a radically new kind of shipboard space. The steamship formalised passenger accommodations on the journey to the East, with permanent cabins and a range of other luxurious dedicated passenger spaces: dining saloons, bathrooms, toilets, ladies’ dressing rooms, smoking rooms. The ship’s deck particularly underwent a transformation, from a space of labour aboard the sailing vessel into a bourgeois social sphere of leisured display and spectatorship, due in part to the decline of the traditional maritime labour practices in this space effected by steam propulsion. Steamship space was distinguished not only by practical changes, but was invested by passengers with the practices and associations of other – specifically modern – spaces from beyond the ship: the factory, the city, the coffee house, the private club, and so on. Steam propulsion also introduced new labour spaces such as the engine room and stokehole to the ship, and the new labour roles of the engineer and stoker. While the sailing ship had for centuries been characterised by rigid forms of discipline, the steamer was more clearly demarcated spatially, in terms of who could access certain spaces, and how they could behave in this space, particularly with regard to the categories of class, race and gender. The chapter culminates in an examination of how the various aspects of steamship space designate it as an idiosyncratically imperial environment.

in Imperial steam
Steamship modernity
Jonathan Stafford

Chapter 1 explores what exactly was modern about the colonial steamship experience, utilising as an organising principle four key aspects of modernity defined in an 1857 publication eulogising the overland route steamship’s revolutionary impact on the voyage to India. Exploring these themes of ‘bustle, motion, progress and change’, the chapter tests their veracity against the archive of the overland route. Bustle emphasises the texture of modern experience, particularly the sensory overstimulation associated with urban modernity. The steamship voyage was, however, seen as an oasis of calm, only described as overwhelming in the transitions of the external world, the different sights and experiences outside of the ship and the various stops along the way, described as increasingly exotic and ‘oriental’ in character. Motion foregrounds the significance of mobility in the making of the modern world, with accounts repeatedly attesting to shifting conceptions of imperial geographies as a result of the overland route, describing a familiar sensation of the compression of global space. Progress engages with the Victorian preoccupation with technological development’s role in promulgating enlightenment values and societal improvement. Change assesses just what was new about steamship travel to the East. Passengers described a spectacular overcoming of nature which, I argue, was rooted in the steamship’s liberation from the influence of wind and wave. However, this characterisation relied on ignoring both the nascent steamship’s continued reliance upon sail and modern forms of subaltern shipboard labour.

in Imperial steam
Abstract only
Jonathan Stafford

The conclusion consolidates the book’s main contributions, arguing that overland route narratives offered a unified, linear means for coming to terms with and imagining the British Empire, helping to repress difference and diversity, to conceive of it as a coherent totality. The steamship provided a simple organising discourse, emphasising a familiar Britishness rooted in technological prowess, punctuality, comfort and safety, which passengers used to articulate a powerful vision of their place in the imperial world. It goes on to consider the event which brings the overland route’s history to a close, the opening of the Suez Canal. Exhibiting a perhaps more emphatic instance of the logistical modernity which the book documented in the archive of overland route travel, the Canal’s opening provides something of a symbolic culmination of the book’s core themes. The P&O steamship had become by the end of the overland route’s history something of a shorthand for forms of bourgeois imperial sociality and leisure. The imperial travel it had pioneered was increasingly association with a form of touristic jouissance rooted in the kinds of affective investments, experiences and textual valences which passenger narratives had given voice to. The conclusion argues that in the blasé attitude to global mobility found in these texts – in the bathos, the world-weary disappointment expressed by passengers, in their characterisation of overland route travel as banal, boring, uncomfortable, disappointing, they are commenting on the commodification of the global, on an imperial world made both more accessible, and more mundane.

in Imperial steam
Producing the maritime landscape
Jonathan Stafford

With striking frequency, passenger descriptions of the maritime landscape viewed from the steamship employ the popular Victorian entertainment form of the panorama as a means of framing and articulating their perception of the Eastern landscape. P&O’s steamship service to the East was represented in one of the nineteenth century’s most successful spectacles of this type, the 1851 Overland Mail panorama. The popularity of this panorama was testament to the overland route’s place in the Victorian popular imagination, particularly situating the steamship line in relation to Britain’s global empire. While the Overland Mail panorama presented an aesthetic mode of engaging with the geographies of global space that had been made possible by P&O’s introduction of steam to colonial shipping, it also fed back into passengers’ experiences of the overland route itself. The mechanical form of vision facilitated by the panorama not only offered passengers a means of representing their experience of steamship travel, but also, I argue, presented a Western mode of viewing the Eastern landscape in which representation came to precede reality – travellers reported that the Eastern landscape viewed from the steamer resembled the panorama, rather than the other way round. Furthermore, passenger descriptions of these landscapes compare favourably with their accounts of disembarking and experiencing the imperial world first-hand, an experience often met with disappointment. This phenomenon supports the notion that the steamship offered Western travellers a means for viewing the Eastern landscape in a way that they found comprehensible.

in Imperial steam
Abstract only
Modernity on the sea route to India, 1837–74

Imperial Steam engages with an untapped wealth of nineteenth-century accounts of travel aboard the vessels of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, or P&O, as the steamship line responsible for connecting Britain with its Eastern empire was known. It employs the subjective experiences of imperial mobilities found in these sources to explore the history of steam’s introduction to the sea voyage to the East through the cultural attitudes and experiences, shifts in perception, and social and material practices they give voice to. These sources exhibit a persistent concern with what can only be considered the steamship’s modernity: in perceptions of global geography; in the social life of the ship and its spatial organisation; in the temporal rhythms of shipboard life; in the steamer’s luxurious domesticity; and in descriptions of maritime landscapes, travel accounts are marked by attempts to articulate an idiosyncratic newness that characterised the steamship and its mobility. Marrying the most modern technological innovation with the workings of Britain’s expanding Eastern empire, P&O’s steamships provided a ready spectacle for the Victorian public imagination. The steamship provided a vantage point – both literal and literary – from which to view the imperial world. It was significant not just as a functional means to reach the East, but as a key discursive site for engaging with and encountering Victorian globalisation.

Abstract only
Jonathan Stafford

The introduction engages the reader with the book’s main themes, contributions and methodology, and gives some historical background on the steamship route to the East. It proposes that the wealth of texts which documented the overland route voyage to India provide a distinctive perspective on the history of Britain’s imperial world, an approach which is indebted to developments in imperial history which focus on ego documents and their insight into the subjective, imaginative aspects of life in the British Empire. It argues that the steamship provided a means for both passengers, and those who read their accounts, to encounter the imaginative geographies of British imperialism. Exploring the affective engagement with the logistics of imperial mobilities contributes to the important debates regarding the relationship between metropole and periphery. Establishing the breadth and tenor of the corpus of texts drawn upon, the introduction explores the nexus between steam’s mobilities at sea, travel writing and the imaginative geographies of imperial space, drawing attention to the vicarious nature of Victorian practices of textual consumption. Furthermore, it highlights the extent to which this discourse operated through the diverse imaginative investments associated with an idiosyncratic modernity which was ascribed to the steamship. It emphasises that the preoccupation with this modernity found in the archive of imperial steamship travel is at the heart of the book’s contribution to the historiography of the British Empire.

in Imperial steam
Steamship domesticity
Jonathan Stafford

The revolution in global mobility facilitated by steam was repeatedly characterised by passengers as ordinary, everyday, articulated specifically through a distinctive homeliness ascribed to the steamer. Chapter 4 explores this domesticity as a set of social, material and representational practices which helped passengers to identify the steamship as a distinctly modern (Western) environment, acting as a corrective to the dislocation inherent in imperial mobilities. The steamship’s domesticity can be seen as a kind of cushioning of the passenger from both the industrial production of mobility (and the associated labour practices), the tribulations of travel at sea, and the unfamiliarity of the imperial world. Accounts of the steamship’s domesticity exist in a state of tension between descriptions of interior decoration and concerns regarding the level of comfort on board. Steamships featured opulent interior decoration, whose familiarity appealed to an increasingly discerning bourgeois consumer. Florid papier mâché ornamentation, oil lamps, walls hung with paintings and gilded mirrors produced luxurious shipboard interior spaces which helped to mask the trials of life at sea. Yet this décor was often seen by passengers as superfluous, inappropriate to the gravity and potential dangers of maritime travel, and to an imperial climate which tested the very limits of comfort. Descriptions of the inevitable discomforts of life on board foreground the embodied experience of steamship travel, for both the bourgeois consumers of mobility and the subaltern workers who made the ship’s mobility possible.

in Imperial steam
Steamship temporalities
Jonathan Stafford

Chapter 3 focuses on a striking concern in source materials with the steamship’s temporality: on passengers’ preoccupations with the passage of time, with temporal precision, and with the rhythms of shipboard life. The steamship had injected a new temporal urgency into the sea voyage to the East: no longer reliant on the whims of nature, steamships were not just faster than sailing vessels, but could travel to precise, repeatable timetables, unprecedented in global travel. This bureaucratic precision, temporal discipline and repetition which governed the steamer’s mobility was echoed in the passenger experience. From the steamer’s mealtimes to the popular pastime of gambling on the steamer’s insignificant deviations from its schedule, passengers appeared to be obsessed with the temporality of shipboard life. Yet while the steamship was lauded by contemporary commentators for the radical temporal abbreviation of the journey to the East, overland route narratives are marked by repeated references to the monotony of the voyage. These claims emphasise an acute sense of the passengers’ separation from the flow of time associated with their everyday lives on land. Suspended between the temporalities (both real and perceived) of the British and imperial worlds, this dislocation contributed to a sense of being ‘outside’ the passage of time in the modern world. The chapter engages with this shipboard phenomenon in the context of the wider rationalisation of the temporality of everyday life which characterised Western modernity.

in Imperial steam
The Irish connection
Louis P. Nelson

Eighteenth-century Jamaica offers seemingly innumerable examples of defensive domestic architecture, suggesting that the British occupation of Jamaica was from its inception marked by a clear sense of martial contest. This militarisation of the domestic sphere differentiates Jamaica from the colonies of the American mainland. Yet there are some extraordinary parallels between the plantation houses of mid-eighteenth-century Jamaica and early-seventeenth-century Ireland. Both are marked by militarised towered houses. Just as Munster in southern Ireland boasts a large number of English-built manor houses defined largely by four prominent corner towers, so too does that form prevail in the older more predominantly English parishes of Clarendon and St Dorothy on Jamaica. Drawing from a centuries-long practice in the British colonial landscape, newly wealthy planters in Jamaica used architecture to assert their authority over a contested landscape. And just as Ulster exhibited a number of Scottish-derived towered houses, usually with appended or freestanding defensive flankers, so, too, is this form evident in Jamaica, again built largely by Scots. Emigrating Scots were not unfamiliar with the militarisation of houses in a colonial context. The architecture of Jamaica is best positioned not in light of contemporary developments in America, but as an extension of the architecture beyond the pale.

in Ireland, slavery and the Caribbean