Author: Duncan John Gordon


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Abstract It is the intention of this thesis to present a prequel to Armed and Ready. Britain established her Second Empire after the American War of Independence by colonising a new continent, Australia at the other side of the world. In an era of globalisation, of a prosperous economy underwritten by ore exports, the industrial base established in Australia during the interwar-period 1919 to 1945 examined by Dr Andrew Ross in his seminal book Armed and Ready is little understood. To explore the decision to establish small arms ammunition manufacture in Melbourne in the 1880s, and the historical factors during the British climacteric within which the South African War fell, leading to the munitions production decisions at which point Dr Ross commences. In the period prior to 1904 this country’s economic development and engineering capabilities, to a large extent mirrored that of Argentina. Both countries shared intimate trade and financial links with Britain. The subsequent dichotomy of the level of industrial development between the two countries from the 1890’s until the 1950’s is an interesting question. Political and strategic issues converged from the late 1880’s to bring a national political focus to the social issues of racial and national survival. Australian social structures, the political outlook of discrete colonial governments within changes to engineering and chemical technology accompanying the rise of the competing industrial powers, the United States of America, Japan, and Germany in the Pacific are crucial to understanding the ‘Australian’ response to the imperial decline of Britain in the Climacteric 1895-1905 demonstrated in the South African War. With the Japanese defeat of the Russians on land and sea in 1905 the political decisions were made to produce munitions and naval vessels (in effect industrialise) what had been an agrarian economy at the periphery of empire. Dependent settler colonies established around the littoral of the Australian continent from first settlement in 1788. The disparate colonial pastoral economies developed a bullock wagon journey in from the littoral. With colonial self-government in the 1850’s following the Gold Rushes, an unquestioned next step to the late 1880’s was borrowing money from The City to establish railways with associated bureaucracies and local industries. Colonial (pastoral) development projected inland along railways originating from seaport capitals. The land adjoining the tracks was sold as freehold to pastoralists to finance development and public spending. The colonial economies flourished on wool exports to England. Pastoralists relied heavily on mortgage finance. The imperial legal and financial structures within which settlement proceeded, administrative control from London and Pax Britannica with its liberal trading policies underwrote flows of money, people, and goods in both directions to the Australian colonies. Colonial self-government from the 1850’s meant the colonies, although divided and rarely of a single mind had a voice. There were early political concerns to self-governing Australian colonies of the role of France in the South Pacific. Concurrent with these political evolutions of the periphery was direct military and logistical support to New Zealand in early settlement, but most significantly to Governor Grey in Wars of the early 1860’s. The colonial resources of men and materiel were decisive. The significance of the service officers, both former and serving, as governors and as officials, throughout the colonial bureaucracies is an integral part of the history. Much of this influence is deduced from the experience of a veteran of a later age in the twilight of the influence of World War Two veterans in the Britain, South Africa and this country. Such networks are rarely documented. Examining the role of Britain in the post-Waterloo era, the Prussians defeating Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 marks the effective end of her moral authority. The resulting bipolar power structure with Prussia, technological changes to weapons design, and Prussian military domination in what became the German Empire, are crucial to an understanding of the later political flux. Working from the ideas of interchangeable mass-production of musket lock components pioneered in Revolutionary France by Honore Blanc, the Americans had with official backing over forty years for Springfield and Harpers Ferry armouries, by the 1850s established what was later called, ‘The American system.’ Wide reading into the topic of engineering and manufacture both in Britain and America establishes small arms and ammunition production was the cutting edge of manufacturing technology. The dichotomy between British and American railways industries engineering methods was maintained by engineers on the periphery of empire specifying small numbers and designs of locomotives for which American firms producing runs of a single model simply could not match. British locomotives using the finest materials and workmanship were designed and built to run and run… American locomotives ran at higher pressures and used steel pipes with a lifespan of perhaps only twenty-five years. British naval supremacy based on specialised ship-building and associated ordnance production was challenged by the expansion of newly industrialising powers, Germany, and the United States into the South Pacific. With the Depression of the 1890’s, collapse of the wool price, the Baring’s Bank crisis and a changing world, colonial polities underwent convulsions as lenders in the metropole foreclosed on pastoralist mortgagees. The Schwartz hypothesis suggests the imperial legal structure enabling lenders to have recourse to defaulting mortgagees in Australia in contrast to Argentina, compelled the economic re-ordering of the colonies. The nationally organised unions having eschewed industrial action for the political process, made common cause with urban manufacturers and pursued their objectives of employment and development through industrialisation and official schemes to subdivide pastoral properties to establish fat-lamb, fruit growing, and dairy farming. Within a few elections, the Labor Party became a force changing political directions, ideas, and society. With colonial support for Britain over the South African War, the challenges to the Royal Navy from emerging industrial powers, the disparate Australian colonies after a decade of political discord and wrangling, initiated political change among themselves federating in 1901. From 1901 to 1914 in the context of a narrow focus on national and racial survival, the perceived threat from Japan following their decisive defeat of Russia on both land and sea and their post-war objective to raise and train a million man army, the Commonwealth Government working from a financial, industrial, and scientific base in Victoria, established arsenals and factories to provide autonomous sources of weapons and munitions for Australian forces.

Keywords: economic history,weapons technology,imperial military technology

Subject: International Relations thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2010
School: School of International Studies
Supervisor: Associate Professor Richard Leaver