I’ve previously written about Alexander Burnes and his Scottish connections. Burnes was of course a participant in the ‘Great Game’, the jousting for power in Asia between Britain, through its Indian Empire, and Russia with it’s expansion East.
There is a tendency to focus on central Asia as a theatre for the Game, perhaps because of Kipling’s novels and perhaps because of the crucial importance of India to the British Empire – without India the Empire was unsustainable – look how quickly it dissolved after 1947.
However the Great Game was much more of a global phenomenon – for example, during the Crimean War, British and French ships attacked Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky in the far east of Siberia, later, during the US civil war, the Russian navy maintained a squadron in San Francisco, in part to protect shipping from confederate commerce raiders.
When the Russian warship Bogatyr visited Melbourne in 1863 it was partly a spying mission in case there was a need to intervene, given Britain’s tendencytolooktheotherway as a far as confederate commerce raiders went.
The interesting thing is that the Bogatyr went on to New Caledonia afterwards – the northern Pacific was of value to Russia, if only because of the whaling trade. In fact Russia’s engagement with the Pacific is a forgotten story with the one time establishment of a fort on Hawaii. We also tend to forget that in the nineteenth century Russia posessed a significant navy that was seen by both Britain and France as a credible threat.
At the same time Britain, the US and to a lesser extent Russia were jockeying for position in the pacific northwest of America (leading to the oddity of a Roman Brick in Portland Oregon), not to mention various struggles for influence in post Meiji Japan between Britain, Russia and the US, involving such interesting characters as Thomas Blake Glover, just as we saw similar battles for influence between the West and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.