Steam and Iron in the 1830s: Liberal Imperialism, Thomas Love Peacock, and the Nemesis

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This essay deals with the development and increasing prevalence of steam-powered technology in the life and culture of the 1830s. It discusses the vexed question of the relationship between liberalism and empire and the contribution of liberal progressives and technological radicals, such as Thomas Love Peacock and Thomas Babington Macaulay, to the process of empire. It argues that a war begun in 1839 between the British and the Qing empires acts a kind of summation of the progress in the decade towards a new form of steam powered colonialism. The focus of this essay is on the application of steam power to Britain’s developing colonial system and the ‘small wars’ of the 1830s and the contribution of influential commentators in the 1830s on this process. The ‘Steam Romanticism’ of the 1830s had a strongly imperialist dimension. This essay discusses the crucial contribution of the Romantic period satirical novelist and essayist to this process. As a leading administrator of the East India Company, Peacock was intimately involved with the commissioning, design, construction of new, steam powered vessels for use by the Company, notable the iron-hulled warship, the Nemesis the presence of which proved crucial in the First Opium War with China.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNineteenth-Century Literature in Transition
Subtitle of host publicationThe 1830s
EditorsJohn Gardiner, David Stewart
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages30
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Aug 2023


  • Stem Technology Liberalism Imperialism China India

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