America - Albion's Orphan - A history of the conquest of Britain - 1760

An anti-Qing alliance between the Russians and Marathas seems reasonably likely, though I don’t think we’ve gotten any details on what the Russo-marathian(?) relationship looks like. The EIC might join in too, at least in a limited capacity. Maybe Japan, for all that they seem to be doing their level best to ignore the world.
 
Hey, I believe India was as specie-hungry as China, it is just that OTL EIC rule offset and to the extent it might become obnoxious, repressed that tendency. But Indians of wealth I gather did tend to hoard silver and gold and the collective hoards of India amounted to a huge portion of the overall world precious metal supply already mined. The OTL British controlled enough gold and silver fields of their own not to be too aggressive about prying hoards out of Indian hands save by the general piecemeal suction of general colonial exploitation.

But here since the 1760s India has been under a domestic overlord and so I would think the Maratha Empire is as much a silver sink as China is. (Neither valued gold as highly IIRC).

Could going "gold bug" be a solution for European powers with access to gold mines--let the Asian giants suck up all the silver, the western powers going over to a gold standard?

Or, will sentiment start shifting against both Asian powers in equal measure in Europe and America? Trouble with that is, the main way to attack one is to support the other. I think the Marathas are in a better position to diplomatically win allies than China is.
Interesting points regarding the relative perception of the value of gold versus silver in the west versus east. I'll have to think about that one.

Thanks.
 
Chapter 350
1880

Southeast Asia


While many sailors over the generations would win acclaim via great decisive victories, in truth the history of naval warfare tended to be relatively conservative. The existence of Navies, like Armies, were primarily a deterrent from aggression. If a Navy (or an army) was unleased....and loses a decisive battle, then the entire war could be effectively lost in a single day.

In the late 19th century, this was no different. If anything, the anxiety was multiplied as new technologies consolidated real power under the masts (and engines) of just a handful of modern ships, the loss of which in a great battle may see a huge empire be placed at the mercy of as few as one or two powerful ships which could lay waste to coastal cities and destroy the commerce of the losers. It was not out of the question, theoretically, that had China or the Marathas not upgraded their navies, one or two of the petty, poor and lightly populated European nations might even bring the mighty Asiatic Empires to heel by virtue of superiority of a few ships. Naturally, this was dismissed as absurd by some (though not by the governor of Van Diemensland, Alfred Mahan, who was writing a book on the subject).

Thus, when the Maratha and Chinese fleets dueled in 1879, it was assumed that the damaged ships could be repaired in a few weeks or months at most (and, for the most part, were) and then sent back into battle. But the confidence (or desperation) which compelled the first battle would dispel and both Empires suddenly determined to see how the war plays out on land before risking a winner-takes-all battle at sea.

Both nations continued to pour manpower into Malaya, Siam and Burma with the intent of vanquishing the enemy. In the meantime, the East India Company, seated in Batavia, would see the "requests" of the Peshwa for martial assistance turn to "demands" and, ultimately, "threats".

Though the EIC had spent years attempting a diplomatic resolution as a "disinterested third party" and loudly proclaiming their neutrality, it was a fact that the battlefield of Malaya was across from the EIC holding of Sumatra. The priceless Straights of Malacca determined the war at sea and the Peshwa had not interest in the EIC not contributing. While no longer a political power on the Subcontinent, the EIC still did a great deal of business in Company factories, held many Maratha government contracts and, perhaps most importantly, the Maratha Empire effectively pointed like a dagger at virtually all direct EIC possession in the East Indies and Southern Africa. The Peshwa's intervention in the Horn of Africa proved without a doubt the Maratha's capacity to interfere further in Africa should they be irritated.

While the EIC was hardly defenseless, the demographics spoke for themselves. The Marathas could destroy the EIC completely. At the moment, it did not appear that China could (though losing the China trade would hurt a great deal as well).

Eventually, an agreement to "loan" much of the EIC fleet to the Maratha's (under EIC officers, of course, with secret orders from Batavia as to what they could or could not do) as well as Maratha agreement to defend Sumatra, Java and the other EIC East Indies should it be necessary. Of course, the Directors most explicitly DID NOT want this to be necessary as it was uncertain just what a Maratha Army might do should they arrive on East Indian soil. Would they ever leave?

However, what the EIC Directors, China and the Marathas had forgotten was the fact that other nations were becoming interested in the region. Russia had long since dominated the Near East north of Arabia politically and wanted to secure their own trade. France had long done business in the region and had been especially interested in Southeast Asia. With the opening of the Suez Canal, both could dispatch large fleets of modern steamships in a fraction of a time than in the past when wars at such a remove were virtually impossible logistically.

The last thing either the Marathas or the EIC wanted was the great nations of Europe suddenly taking an interest in the goings-on of the Indian Ocean. While no major incidents had taken place, tension had been building for years as France looked increasingly interested in the EIC holdings in Africa, particularly the rubber trade. All the European nations (well, all developed nations) were eagerly purchasing rubber from the Congo, from the Viceroyalty of Brazil (which was already exceeding Spain in population and wealth) and wherever else it could be raised. There was talk that the assorted nations of Southeast Asia may become prime exporters if their croplands could be converted over to rubber. Already, the EIC was doing so in Java and Sumatra and Malaya seemed an even better candidate.

Being at the mercy of the EIC or Brazil did not sit well with some European leaders and any new avenues for growth were being explored. To prevent this, the Marathas and EIC would effectively declare the Indian Ocean a warzone and close their ports temporarily to foreign traders who not only lost customers but coaling, watering and victualing stations. While this was explained to be "temporary", the action was viewed as heavy-handed at best, outrageous at worst. While foreign ships were not officially "stopped", the withdrawal of most of their ports in the region would effectively kill trade for months, maybe years.

The EIC, deeming themselves more wise in the politics and diplomacy of the west, would immediately offer to mediate with the white men for the Peshwa. This seemed reasonable but the EIC Ambassadors would prove unexpectedly inept in the role. They effectively looked at a map and noted former regions of conflict and sought to exploit this.

First, they approached the Russians with an offer of Maratha aid against China should Russia seek to regain their far eastern territories lost in the last Chinese war. What they did not take into account was Russian contempt for a "mere Company" seeking to negotiate with a Czar as an equal or the fact that Russia, in 1880, was far more concerned with access to the Indian Ocean now than potential access to the Pacific at some undetermined and vague point in the future. After all, the two major reasons for Russia's expansion to the Pacific in the first place were:

1. Ensuring another supply line to Russian North America....which was now under their own King.

And 2...........Trade with China.

Thus making war on China didn't seem to make a great deal of sense. Given the costs of the previous wars with China and the obvious (and insulting) EIC belief that Russia could be manipulated into an expensive war for EIC and Maratha benefit did little to endear the Maratha/EIC coalition to the Czar.

Similarly, the EIC would temporarily reassign an American officer, one Governor-General George McClellan of EIC East Africa, on a special mission to Manhattan to meet with the King's Ministers. Naturally, as an Ambassador, the man was received by the King first to present his credentials. However McClellan, who had come to think of himself as both a military genius and effective King in his own right by virtue of governing millions of Africans, would act with such oafishness as to offend the King, a young man of general good humor who often laughed at the eccentricities of others.

Naturally, the King said little to McClellan and directed him to his Foreign Secretary. Here, McClellan would do little more than present a secret offer: Should France take a stand AGAINST the Peshwa and Company....then the EIC and Marathas would happily aid British North America in gaining some of those disputed Pacific Islands the nation had been pining for. While the American Foreign Secretary, Benjamin D'Israeli, might have been willing to make such a deal, the First Lord and the King most certainly were NOT. Both were disgusted by this crass and transparent attempt by McClellan (though entirely formed by the Directors of the EIC) to get America to do their "dirty work" for them and promptly agreed that the written offer should be known to the French. The French Ambassador, Giuseppe Garibaldi, would be summoned immediately.

Garibaldi was the scion of an Italic-speaking family in Nice (handed over to France generations earlier) who had longed for his home region to be reunited with Italy. However, the French influence was great and, even in his lifetime, Garibaldi would see the local language reflecting more and more French influence. Seeing his boyhood dreams as unreasonable in middle age, the soldier would apply for a position in the diplomatic corps and, surprisingly, get one. Eventually, Garibaldi was stationed in the 1860's in America and became fast friends with then First Lord Abraham Lincoln. His relationship with Abbott was less close but still warm. However, Garibaldi considered D'Israeli an unprincipled opportunist.

When John Abbott and Benjamin D'Israeli showed the French Ambassador this letter, the usually calm and collected Garibaldi reddened with rage. He managed to stutter out a word of gratitude to the Americans and requested a few days to communicate this to Paris. As it so happened, the first trans-Atlantic cable between France and America had been laid and tested a few months prior and the information speedily conveyed (yet another modern convenience as previous generations could expect 6-12 week delays instead of hours).

While the King of France would not do anything precipitous like declaring war, the immediate effect was to turn French public opinion...and that of the King and government....even further from the Maratha/EIC.
 
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Chapter 351
1881

Paris


The decade of the 1880's would go done in European history as an era of political agitation. Kings willing to move with the times, such as the King of France Louis XVIII, would quietly and, perhaps more importantly, INCREMENTALLY, support the union movement and moderate pace on reform internally to expand the franchise for Parliament. While Parliament was hardly a powerful body, the fact that the King was publicly supporting expansion of the franchise made him popular and, as more French proved eligible to vote, the King would surrender bits of power here and there to the body.

King Louis XVIII would die in 1881 and his grandson (his son had predeceased him) would assume the throne at the tender age of 28. Raised for several years by his grandfather to support the natural progression surrounding him, Louis XVIIII would prove an adept politician who knew the hearts of the common man better than his Ministers.

In one of the most astonishing acts in modern European history, the King would order an almost revolutionary speech printed and read in every town square and church in the nation. He gloried in the name of his ancestors and what they had accomplished for the people of France but pointed out that the nation and her economy had expanded so much that one King and his chosen Ministers could hardly be expected to make all decisions wise and true. He stated that some power MUST be handed over to Parliament....but ONLY if it were certain that every man in France held the vote and provided his wisdom to the Elective Body.

For a King to say such a thing was viewed in some corners of Europe as almost heresy. After all, France was the most powerful country in western Europe (though some called the Eastern Power of Russia more powerful than France), the other nations of Europe had long expected France to uphold the status quo. Instead, the King was virtually BEGGING his subjects to aid him in ruling them.

Even many members of Parliament would object to this. The French Parliament was, like most European nations, a group of oligarchs, hardly a true representation of the people. THEY didn't want every man to have a vote, only the minority which constituted the elites. Men who had called themselves "republicans" were suddenly fighting the King not to expand the franchise but maintain it.

France would enter an era of internal turmoil rarely seen and hardly conceived by her neighbors in Spain, Italy and Germany, most of who remained largely autocratic regimes (with Oligarchic control).

In the meantime, French public sentiment was rapidly flowing AGAINST the EIC and Marathas.

Manhattan

Alfred, the young King of British North America (often, in common parlance, just called the "American" King) would be slightly disappointed that no territories would be ready in the early years of his reign for Dominion-hood. This was often seen as a mile-marker in a King's reign (Henry II saw "X" new Dominions added while Henry I saw "Y") and failure to do so was seen by the young King as something of a measure of his own worth.

Still, America continued to grow exponentially.

The nation had already reached 55,000,000 souls in 1880's census, above any European nation (or American) save Russia and they hardly counted. But somehow America retained a sense of inferiority.

But the nation continued to develop. In just two years, the King had personally inaugurated a dozen new Universities (usually with a Royal Donation of a College within it), half that many Museums throughout the nation and snipped the obligatory ribbon for canals, roads and ports.

America was viewed as perhaps the leading nation for science and technological innovation. The Royal Navy was competitive with Russia and France while probably ahead of the Maratha Empire, Chinese Empire, East India Company and Spanish Empire.

While certain Royal embarrassments periodically cropped up (like the Grand-daughter of Henry I eloping with the son of his would-be assassin), the nation was rapidly becoming respected. In the past decade, a half-dozen of the King's aunts and sisters had been married to foreign Princes (perhaps a measure of their fertility as much as high-status). King Alfred's next two sisters in age would be married to the Kings of Romania (a widower) and the Prince and Heir of Greece. Two of his younger aunts married petty German Princes though a match with the widowed King of Sweden fell through.

The new Queen would bear her third child in 1881, bringing another Prince an heir into the nation's heart after the death of the first-born son. However, this boy too would perish in infancy, once again making Princess Anastacia the next in line for the throne (America had never followed Salic Law). Fortunately, the Queen would bear another daughter in late 1882, Princess Tatiana.

As Royals were hardly in short supply in 1881, it seemed likely that a King would eventually inherit. After all, the King and Queen were young and quite fond of one another (as four children in five years could attest).
 
Chapter 352
1882

London, Wessex


In 1882, the aging William V of Wessex died of a massive coronary while out on his morning constitutional. His son Charles III would be crowned a month later. Over his long life, William V had managed to reconcile with his British neighbors and push for more integration with the rest of the island. Canals, railroads, telegraphs, telephones, etc, would unite the British Isle in ways never imagined centuries before when ruled by the same monarch.

The Hague

After the humiliating defeat to the East India Company years before, the Dutch Republic had long possessed leaders desirous of regaining the lands east of Cape Colony. As the war between the Maratha and Chinese Empires expanded, the Dutch began to wonder if the Maratha ally was vulnerable to attack in southern Africa.

The Dutch would press their "allies" in Paris to act on their behalf but France hardly cared about Dutch concerns. If the EIC was to be pushed out of Africa, WHY hand any lands over to the Dutch? Why not just keep it for themselves?

But the weak Dutch Central Government lacked much in the way of wisdom and continued to press their Catholic neighbor to fight their battles for them. In an almost unprecedented event, the Dutch even authorized payment for four new French-built warships to challenge the EIC in Southern Africa.

Paris

Though the King of British North America and his First Lord, John Abbott, had declared they would not act as the EIC's surrogate in a war against France, that did not mean Foreign Secretary Benjamin D'Israeli intended to allow an opportunity to slip past. With the relations between France and America warming, D'Israeli would renew his attempts to gain title to some Pacific Islands. Overseas colonies were considered an ornament of powerful nations thus even useless Pacific Islands mattered to D'Israeli.

Quietly, D'Israeli would lay claim to minor to flyspeck islands which the French had ignored for years, even generations. Niue, Tonga and others were sought, most of these islands depopulated by the French over the years. Exactly what America would do with these island....well, no one knew.

Finally, in the wake of the diplomatic reapproachment with France over America turning over the EIC's blatant attempt to turn America against France, D'Israeli went for the big prize: Samoa.

Like most islands of the region, disease and "recruitment" had resulted in over a 90% loss of population in Samoa. The culture was largely destroyed and what islanders were left remained in remote regions in a sustenance lifestyle.

D'Israeli determined to make the acquisition of these islands a cornerstone of his legacy to the Crown. While First Lord John Abbott hardly gave him a blank slate to do what he wished, D'Israeli had influence and was determined to use it.

If France wanted to KEEP America as a friend...and potential ally....the cost would be clear.

Athens

In a first of modern diplomatic history, the Sublime Porte of the Ottoman Empire (what was left of it in Anatolia) would pay an official State Visit to Greece, a nation which it had once suppressed. The Porte had been brought up in a wave of modernization which precluded the old practices of the past, including religious repression or prejudice. The King of Greece...and his American wife....would greet the Porte in a show of friendship in hopes of hearkening a new age of peace.

The King was mildly concerned about receiving the Turk without "consultation" of the Czar but this concern would prove unwarranted. The Czar hardly cared.

Palestine (and Sinai)

Over the 1870's and 1880's, a new wave of migrants deposited along the shores of Palestine. Hundreds of thousands of Russians, Russian Jews and Polish Jews arrived with tens of thousands of European Christians of all denominations. Adding to the mix of local Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, Copts, Egyptian Shia's, Balkan Muslims (Greek, Turkish, Albanian, Bulgarian and Bosniak) and others, the Kingdom of Palestine would see no group with a majority in her shores, much like Syria to the north which was also seeing lower levels of Russian, Jewish or European migration.

The problem was that the Kingdom of Palestine lacked a King. Finally, the Russian Czar with dispatch one of his younger sons to Palestine as the new monarch with express orders to respect the religious orders.
 
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Chapter 353
1882

Northern Siam


After years of bitter warfare, the disputed regions of northern Siam were decimated, the peoples seeing their lands burned under waves of battle. Tens of thousands of Maratha and Chinese soldiers augmented the Burmese and Siamese armies waging see-saw war. Eventually, the Maratha-Burmese forces would be driven out of northern Siam by a determined Chinese offensive.

Malaya

Within a few years of battle, the warring factions of Malaya effectively ceased to exist as their "allies" of China, the Maratha Empire and the EIC had utterly consumed the Peninsula, absorbing the local rulers' lands directly.

King Mahesh I of Nepal (house of Wesley) would follow his father and grandfather into the service of the Maratha Empire. Placed in command of the EIC and Maratha forces (mostly EIC from Java, Sumatra and even Africa), the King would, In a devastating series of maneuvers, crush his enemies and push them south into the "neck" of the Malayan Peninsula. The EIC threw itself into this particular fight as secret agreements with the Peshwa would see the Malayan Peninsula as falling to the IEC. The Peshwa, apparently, was not interested in gaining another nest of Muslims anyway and would be satisfied to seize "influence" over the rest of Southeast Asia.

Just as Mahesh I was preparing to celebrate a great victory, the Chinese turned the tide. Still controlling the eastern shore of Malaya, the Chinese managed to sail behind Mahesh's lines and disembark 25,000 Viet "volunteers" generously provided by the puppet King of the Viets. The EIC/Maratha commander was forced to split his forces and rush back to southern Malaya to blunt the invasion.

Paris

Over the past two years, several diplomatic incidents between the warring nations of Asia and those of Europe had taken place. French, American, Russian, Dutch and other neutral parties had seen their ships stopped, searched for contraband, etc, while sailing through the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Benjamin D'Israeli had personally sailed to Paris to discuss the matter with the French Foreign Minister. While none of the incidents alone was deemed enough of an outrage to warrant a declaration of war of any form of hostility, still SOMETHING must be done.

The two diplomats agreed to not only cut off all war material (including ships) in trade with the warring nations but also dispatch a great combined fleet on a "diplomatic" tour. Both men were certain that the Asiatic fleets could not possibly defeat the two most modern fleets on earth.....but weren't THAT certain. Thus, the two would invite other European nations to partake.

The Dutch had long stung at their defeat to the EIC a generation before in southern Africa and agreed to send their three best ships (really the ONLY three that could be called modern). At length, the Russians were contacted and proved interested in "scouting the region" as the Russian Admiral put it. This made everyone uncomfortable but the offer could not be withdrawn.

No other European nations proved interested and the assorted fleets were to be assembled in Bordeaux in February of 1883 and prepared to sail for the Orient. A French commander was nominally put in charge but, in all reality, virtually every aspect of the tour was agreed upon in advance with the diplomatic personnel assigned to the mission to agree any any deviation.
 
Chapter 354
1883

April

Bordeaux


Though it had been agreed that the combined French, American, Dutch and Russian fleets would depart in early March, they indeed would not leave Bordeaux until late April as the Russian fleet in St. Petersburg was iced in during late winter and only made it to Bordeaux by April. This was, however, easily communicated via telegraph and the fleet agreed to wait at the urging of the Russian Ambassador to France.

Though the steam-ships were vastly faster (and increasingly more reliable) than the previous sailing ships of a bygone era, it still took the convoy several weeks to reach the Indian Ocean. It turned out that the extra time at anchor in Bordeaux was put to good use as the convoy's naval commanders and diplomats had additional time to plan their journey.

In an attempt to intimidate the East India Company, the fleet would actually sail past the Congo and well as southern Africa stopping periodically in various ports of EIC control plus the Cape Colony as a show of force. They would then sail northwards along Eastern Africa before arriving at various stops Southeast Asia. Though some advocated "visiting" Maratha ports, this was deemed too provocative.

By May, the fleet arrived along Eastern Africa, stopping in Zanzibar. Then they sailed north to the Suez, as if to remind the nations of the Red Sea of their presence. Then, the fleet sailed in June to Bourbonia. By July, they were in Adelheid, Van Diemensland where they were greeted by "Fleet Captain" Alfred Mahan, who was more than a little nonplussed to not have been invited on the mission (despite his post not possessing a particularly impressive ship to take as his flag).

By August, the fleet was sailing again West with the intent of threading through the EIC's possessions in the East Indies.

Among the fleet were six French vessels, four Russians (originally five but one was left in Van Diemensland for repair to her engines), six American and three Dutch. Most were the among the most capable on earth and, should a pitched battle break out, it was likely that this allied force would wipe out either the Marathas or Chinese fleets which challenged them (maybe BOTH Maratha and Chinese fleets).

Isthmus Canal, New Granada

After nine years of construction, huge expense and thousands of lives despite frenetic attempts to eradicate disease-bearing mosquitoes near the worksites, the "Isthmus" as it would become called in common parlance, was complete.

The King of Spain himself would arrive for the opening ceremony. Within weeks, there would be mechanical problems but these would only delay the traffic between Atlantic and Pacific for a short time. For the most part, the Canal would be a resounding success.
 
I've been expecting a collision of the two Asian titans for some time now, but I do find it strange that the EIC as Maratha ally would fumble the diplomatic ball so badly. I would think that to have survived so long, making profits, in this region, the Company management would have made a deep and special study of how to suck up to and flatter the Maratha Peshwa for generations, while also very shrewdly, cold-bloodedly, analyzing the power relationships and cost-effectiveness of attempts to penetrate this or that market.

They might have a diplomatic tin ear if too accustomed to insinuating and hinting at what they wanted, erring not on the side of bumpkinish bluntness but on being too damn elliptical and ambiguous for European courts to trust them or even be sure they understood them. Knowing from near a century of experience how to manipulate and flatter the Peshwas, I think McClellan's rather Yosemite Sam style of negotiations, reminiscent to me of an exaggerated form of the bombast of the Zimmerman note from the German Second Reich enticing Mexico to attack the USA with promises of German help, would have been prevented by the EIC having diplomatic experts to send instead of some arrogant regional proconsul. Of course the day to day focus of EIC diplomacy would be on the Maratha and Qing courts; despite the European background of Company officials their diplomats might be at sea trying to negotiate with European courts, as much so as the Maratha or Qing would be themselves. And maybe the Maratha, fed a line of bull by EIC officers with an unwarranted high opinion of themselves, just don't realize how tone deaf the European company is actually.

But at any rate, I'd think anyway they would be shrewd analysts of the interests and probable aims of even the distant European powers. After all, while they aren't face to face with fronts of Russian or French or American power every day (well aside from their increasingly ambitious imperial reach) they are selling the products of their various schemes, to some great extent to Indian and Chinese customers, but still a good share of it, at least a third and maybe twice that, is sold to the per capita richer nations of Europe and the American kingdom. The company must have regular agents, if not of the status of international ambassadors, then anyway as company regional managers responsible for marketing and purchasing in these markets. Surely they have their ears to the ground generally, and could warn the Company heads that the Russians for instance would rather break into the Indian Ocean than push back to the distant Pacific.

So why is the Company displaying neither shrewd analysis of the political facts on the ground nor careful diplomatic procedure? I can see them being bad at one or the other, though the former is really weird, but dropping the ball on both raises the question how did they ever last this long, without the Peshwar getting really angry with them and dispossessing their Indian operations and going on the warpath against them, or pissing off the Qing Emperor with similar results in the Pacific, or just plain going under when their wishful thinking, out of touch with realities, causes them to miscalculate disastrously?

Thinking about it, I suppose the best explanation is that they did used to be very very shrewd indeed, albeit not too diplomatic except where they had to be, in the two powerful courts; communicating with those courts is the work of two different groups of specialists, and more generally their idea of diplomacy has always been of the Yosemite Sam school, generally dealing with powers or outposts of power in a weak position to resist mere blunt bluster. But in their field, in their region, they did analyze things shrewdly if ruthlessly. But now, they are, misled by the greater speed and reach of communications, blundering into other zones where they are closer to the centers of other powers than India and China, and they omitted to feel it out carefully and devise a third group of diplomatic specialists because, given their Western origins, they mindlessly assumed they wouldn't need to cultivate any special skills and just deal frankly. But not being accustomed to deal with true peers, they send envoys who might do for intimidating some back country tribe, but are totally out of their depth in places like Manhattan, Paris or St Petersburg.

I would have figured in this coming clash of titans that the Indians had the inside track on diplomatic advantage and it would be the Chinese who either fail to make any allies at all or find themselves with the second string picks.
 
I’m a little surprised that the Russians aren’t more interested in seeing the Qing humbled, for revanchisms sake if nothing else. They are, by far, the most immediate threat to any eastern ambitions, they hold historically Russian territory, and, by even threatening to join the war, Russia could probably wheedle out some trade concessions.

The diplomatic fumbles by the Marathas or the EIC could cost them; I’m a little sceptical that they can win a land war with a modern-ish and industrializing China on their lonesome, proxy or otherwise. The only saving grace is that China seems unlikely to gain any powerful allies any time soon.
 
Chapter 355
August 27th, 1883

Sunda Straight between Java and Sumatra


Having paused briefly in July in French Bourbonia and Adelheid, Van Diemensland, the "White Fleet" as the European-American "good will mission" would depart westwards this time intent on passing near, but not directly through, the war zone as a sign of their united strength. It was nearing the end of typhoon season (a reason why the ships had sailed west to east at a very southerly route) and it was determined to hug the coasts should a late storm strike the region. Another American ship, the BNA Cruiser "North Zealand", was added at the request of her new master, Governor-General Alfred Mahan of Van Diemensland who simply could not imagine missing the event. Stuck in administrative duties he hated, the sailor would "volunteer" his new post flagship just to get the hell off of Van Diemensland for a few weeks.

First, the convoy would travel slightly north along the eastern coast of Malaya, controlled by the Chinese Navy. The Qing commander looked upon the shimmering ships of the western fleet and, having received reports of the improvements of in armor (French), artillery (American) and speed (Russia) of these latest ships, he ordered his own ships only to fire if fired upon. Instead, the Admiral steamed only his flagship forward under a flag of truce, leaving the rest of this fleet 10 miles northward.

The Admiral was met with courtesy by the French flagship (which held the assembled diplomatic delegation of all the assorted nations comprising the "White Fleet") and was assured of the allies' good will and neutrality. The diplomats would also be quite direct in reminding the Chinese Admiral of his own nation's responsibilities towards neutral nations. Quite certain that his own forces would be crushed by the assembled might of the most modern ships on earth (which he could tell at a distance were a probably half a decade more advanced than China's best offerings, including those recently bought from France and America), the Admiral knew better than to reply in anything beyond pleasantries through gritted teeth.

Having made their point, the fleet would sail southwards along the coast of Malaya and turn towards the Maratha-EIC joint naval base at Batavia, the administrative center of the East India Company. They would sail into the city on August 16th for yet another unannounced "good will visit". The EIC governor would receive the allies in the expected formality in the European fashion. Impromptu balls were held for the unwelcome guests and speeches of past trade relations were brought up. Open threats were not made...nor were necessary. It was quite obvious that the combined firepower of the White Fleet could decimate Batavia's defenses in days....maybe hours.

Again proving to the locals of what would await them should a conflict with the western powers break out, the allies departed after taking on water, supplies, coal, etc (all "gifts" from the Governor) and sailed northwards. If there was one disappointment over the visit to Batavia, it was the fact that there proved to be few EIC or Maratha warships in harbor. Evidently, sometime in the past six months, the Peshwa's sailors determined that protecting the Straight of Malacca far more important than defending the EIC headquarters and ordered their "ally", the EIC, to dispatch most of their navies northwards to their superior harbors in Rangoon and northern Sumatra. They would have preferred a location adjacent the Malacca Straight itself but no harbor existed which could have served the Marathas as well and thus they were forced to keep much of their ships a disturbing distance from what every party considered the primary battle zone.

The EIC was of two minds on the matter. They hated being ordered around and seeing their eastern Capital so slightly defended (though the Chinese had given few indications of invading Java) but were also glad to see no major Maratha presence on EIC territory. In the end, the latter was the lesser of two evils. EIC governance in the East Indies was hardly universally popular and the Javans could hardly be counted upon to rally to the EIC colors should either the Marathas or Chinese invade.

The White Fleet considered their path:

While they could sail up the Malacca Straight, there was the chance that they may run head-long into some sort of battle. The Fleet's presence was intended to be provocative but possessed no active plan to partake in battle. The Diplomats were quite clear on this and, short of a direct attack by an enemy force, there was no agreement for the Fleet to act aggressively. Thus the fleet determined instead to sail through the Sunda Straight between Java and Sumatra, then sail north past the western coast of Sumatra before arriving in Rangoon.

This seemed a reasonable accommodation and was swiftly agreed by the diplomats (after about two days of discussion, naturally). Once they departed from Rangoon, they Fleet would sail for the Suez Canal and home. Though confident in their invulnerability, the White Fleet's constituent members determined that arriving directly at a Maratha (or Chinese) home port would be seen as an open insult which may bring the parties into a war most didn't really want.

What happened next would be seen by some as Jehovah's Punishment or Karmic Justice, depending upon the nationality of the respective party.

Throughout early August, local EIC governors had noted that the volcano of Krakatoa, an uninhabited island in the middle of the Sunda Straight, had commenced smoking. By late August, it was estimated that the pillars of smoke were as high as 20 miles. A century or so before, the volcano had erupted, killing everything on the island. By August 26th, when the White Fleet was passing through the straight, a series of explosions could be heard for hundreds of miles. Seeing the smoke against the western sunset on August 26th and hearing the explosions, the White Fleet wondered if they were hearing some sort of great battle. The diplomats immediately commenced debating if they should alter course to avoid the possibility of unintentionally arriving in the middle of an active conflict. However, diplomats being diplomats, the men circled the issue for hours before coming to effectively no conclusion. They determined to wait to see what the next day would bring.

This would prove a fatal error as the fleet sailed past Krakatoa just after midnight.

By the morning of August 27th, three massive explosions occurred just before dawn, each so loud as to deafen every person within 10 miles and rupture eardrums of hundreds of the White Fleet's sailors now 20 miles northwest of the island. Vast clouds of ash filled the sky, up nearly 50 miles, which would swiftly circle the earth bring about an atypically cold fall in the northern hemisphere. Fist-sized pumice stones rained down upon the ships even at this distance to such an extent that dozens of sailors were injured and every Captain ordered their crews under cover for their own safety. On one notable instance, a French ship was immediately crippled when a carriage-sized piece of coral was thrown 20 miles and happened to smash into her prow. Even the glancing blow was enough to crumple the ship and throw the entire crew into the bulkheads surrounding them. Nearly half the crew was immediately killed, virtually all the others suffering severe injuries. Rescue operations commenced at once by the nearest allied ships but only four men could be retrieved as the vessel swiftly fell below the waters (one of these men dying from internal injuries within hours).

The delay would prove catastrophic as the first major Tsunamis arrived in the aftermath. Scientists would later calculated that the collapse of the seabed surrounding the island of Krakatoa had displaced huge amounts of water triggering the Tsunami. Usually ships far enough out to sea were relatively safe from tsunamis as their destructive power magnified when hitting coasts. However, THIS series of tsunamis would send waves up to 50 feet high even out at sea and the stationary ships were particularly helpless targets. Had they been fleeing directly FROM or TOWARDS the tsunami, many of the ships may have been saved. Unfortunately for the sailors, several of the idle ships were effectively broadsided by the waves and swiftly capsized.

The southern tip of Sumatra and northern tip of Java saw the tsunamis reach nearly 150 feet. Whole villages were wiped out. The nearby island of Sebesi saw its entire population of 3000 people killed.

The island of Krakatoa would effectively collapse into the sea in a massive landslide. Even with magma building up calderas over the coming months, the island lost nearly 70% of her surface area. The huge undersea expansion of lava would later be estimated at 21 cubic kilometers of land material deposited by the volcano upon the ocean floor, killing off the local sealife in huge swathes.

Hundreds of local fishing vessels and trading ships were capsized, sunk or damaged. The White Fleet would see all but three vessels utterly destroyed. Without functioning relief vessels, most of the crews would be lost (including the French flagship with all hands among these being the diplomatic party). The three remaining ships were so badly battered that they were forced to rig sails to maintain any control over the vessels and were unable to offer significant relief to their stricken fellows. Several life-rafts would, months later, reach Africa bearing the bleached bones of allied sailors.

The three remaining ships now under command of Fleet-Captain Alfred Mahan would recover about 200 sailors before giving up rescue operations. So badly damaged were these vessels that it was apparent they they must reach a safe harbor immediately. The trio attempted to sail around Java to reach Batavia but contrary winds actually forced them south to Bali. Here they found the local facilities adequate to patchwork repairs of the ships.

Mahan himself was shocked ANY of the ships survived the tsunamis. By happenstance the BNA cruiser North Zealand had been particularly well designed for stability. More importantly, he would later conclude in his memoirs of the incident that the North Zealand was one of the few ships actually under steam when the first tsunani approached and he was able to turn the ship INTO the coming waves, thus saving her.

The North Zealand would sail from Bali back to Van Diemensland where the fastest ship in Mahan's local squadron (a small courier) was immediately ordered to sail for the Gulf of California to report the news. The other two survivors, the Dutch Republic Ship (DRS) Rotterdam and Russian Cruiser Paul I would carry the European survivors west through the Suez Canal to report the terrible news. Even this journey would prove treacherous as a late typhoon hit the western Indian ocean in mid-October forcing the fleet into an Ethiopian harbor for weeks.

By happenstance, the telegraph messages would reach Manhattan, the Hague, Paris and Moscow on the same day informing the respective nations of the destruction of the flower of their navies.
 
Destruction of all but three ships, man that is some bad timing. This is an act of God, but I wonder if someone will use it as an excuse to get very involved in the Asian Pacific.
 
I’m a little surprised that the Russians aren’t more interested in seeing the Qing humbled, for revanchisms sake if nothing else. They are, by far, the most immediate threat to any eastern ambitions, they hold historically Russian territory, and, by even threatening to join the war, Russia could probably wheedle out some trade concessions.

The diplomatic fumbles by the Marathas or the EIC could cost them; I’m a little sceptical that they can win a land war with a modern-ish and industrializing China on their lonesome, proxy or otherwise. The only saving grace is that China seems unlikely to gain any powerful allies any time soon.
Thanks for the comments. I think, by 1883, the Russian attention would be more focused on internal problems like population gain, industrialization, etc. Gaining what amounted to a port to the Pacific was probably less than important to them in this scenario than in OTL as the Russian control the Middle East, own part of the Suez Canal and don't even own Alaska anymore.


While Russia may have a "Manifest Destiny" of her own akin to Americas, the actual potential rewords of having a Pacific naval base akin to Vladivostok would be relatively slim as Russia had only modest trade in the Pacific. Thus an expensive war only decades after another expensive war would be seen as self-defeating with no direct or early benefit.
 
I've been expecting a collision of the two Asian titans for some time now, but I do find it strange that the EIC as Maratha ally would fumble the diplomatic ball so badly. I would think that to have survived so long, making profits, in this region, the Company management would have made a deep and special study of how to suck up to and flatter the Maratha Peshwa for generations, while also very shrewdly, cold-bloodedly, analyzing the power relationships and cost-effectiveness of attempts to penetrate this or that market.

They might have a diplomatic tin ear if too accustomed to insinuating and hinting at what they wanted, erring not on the side of bumpkinish bluntness but on being too damn elliptical and ambiguous for European courts to trust them or even be sure they understood them. Knowing from near a century of experience how to manipulate and flatter the Peshwas, I think McClellan's rather Yosemite Sam style of negotiations, reminiscent to me of an exaggerated form of the bombast of the Zimmerman note from the German Second Reich enticing Mexico to attack the USA with promises of German help, would have been prevented by the EIC having diplomatic experts to send instead of some arrogant regional proconsul. Of course the day to day focus of EIC diplomacy would be on the Maratha and Qing courts; despite the European background of Company officials their diplomats might be at sea trying to negotiate with European courts, as much so as the Maratha or Qing would be themselves. And maybe the Maratha, fed a line of bull by EIC officers with an unwarranted high opinion of themselves, just don't realize how tone deaf the European company is actually.

But at any rate, I'd think anyway they would be shrewd analysts of the interests and probable aims of even the distant European powers. After all, while they aren't face to face with fronts of Russian or French or American power every day (well aside from their increasingly ambitious imperial reach) they are selling the products of their various schemes, to some great extent to Indian and Chinese customers, but still a good share of it, at least a third and maybe twice that, is sold to the per capita richer nations of Europe and the American kingdom. The company must have regular agents, if not of the status of international ambassadors, then anyway as company regional managers responsible for marketing and purchasing in these markets. Surely they have their ears to the ground generally, and could warn the Company heads that the Russians for instance would rather break into the Indian Ocean than push back to the distant Pacific.

So why is the Company displaying neither shrewd analysis of the political facts on the ground nor careful diplomatic procedure? I can see them being bad at one or the other, though the former is really weird, but dropping the ball on both raises the question how did they ever last this long, without the Peshwar getting really angry with them and dispossessing their Indian operations and going on the warpath against them, or pissing off the Qing Emperor with similar results in the Pacific, or just plain going under when their wishful thinking, out of touch with realities, causes them to miscalculate disastrously?

Thinking about it, I suppose the best explanation is that they did used to be very very shrewd indeed, albeit not too diplomatic except where they had to be, in the two powerful courts; communicating with those courts is the work of two different groups of specialists, and more generally their idea of diplomacy has always been of the Yosemite Sam school, generally dealing with powers or outposts of power in a weak position to resist mere blunt bluster. But in their field, in their region, they did analyze things shrewdly if ruthlessly. But now, they are, misled by the greater speed and reach of communications, blundering into other zones where they are closer to the centers of other powers than India and China, and they omitted to feel it out carefully and devise a third group of diplomatic specialists because, given their Western origins, they mindlessly assumed they wouldn't need to cultivate any special skills and just deal frankly. But not being accustomed to deal with true peers, they send envoys who might do for intimidating some back country tribe, but are totally out of their depth in places like Manhattan, Paris or St Petersburg.

I would have figured in this coming clash of titans that the Indians had the inside track on diplomatic advantage and it would be the Chinese who either fail to make any allies at all or find themselves with the second string picks.
Thanks for your comments.

Bear in mind that perhaps the EIC is less concerned with European power as the Europeans have largely in this TL failed to create the great Empires of OTL. Here, you have no carving up of the globe by a half-dozen small European nations. The EIC is arguably the biggest European power in the Indian Ocean if one could even call them European in outlook anymore.

As for the comparison of McClellan's handling of the East African tribes, I have no doubt that the EIC would be willing to resort to "Gatling Gun" diplomacy in Africa than they would with wealthy, populous and powerful Maratha and Chinese authorities.

I believe that the EIC would be more willing to wait out the storm of any diplomatic problems with Europe than to annoy the one nation which could probably wipe the EIC from existence, namely the Maratha Empire which sits astride all of the EIC direct possessions. They could always go back and clean up problems with distant Europeans, and arguably even China, but not the Maratha Empire.

As for poor diplomacy, it would seem that there would be no realistic possibility that neutral ships like French, Russian, American, etc would escape SOME level of harassment and I think that the EIC would be tasked with settling these feelings down to the best of their ability.
 
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