Author: Ronald Hope
Published: January, 1990
"British oceanic shipping will not rise again." Such is the final observation with which Dr. Hope leaves his readers, after leading them at times breathlessly through this one-volume overview of British shipping from 3000 B.C. to 1988. In fact, these words form the conclusion to the epilogue, entitled "The Great Debates," an essay in which the necessity of merchant shipping for the defence and sustenance of modem Britain and the desirability and form of state support (given the level of unfair competition) are analyzed. These are themes with which the author seems very much at home.
Ronald Hope may not be identifiable to some maritime historians but he is very well-known to people working in the British shipping industry, both ashore and at sea. Service at sea during World War II; training at Oxford as an economist and economic historian; and a position in London close to the heart of the shipping industry enabled him to develop many educational initiatives for seafarers, and left him well-placed both to observe the industry in its years of
increasingly rapid decline and to study the industry's history.
Dr. Hope elected to divide his book into three parts, each split into consecutive chronological chapters of some fifteen to twenty pages: the beginnings (3000 B.C.-1400 AD., three chapters), the rise (1400-1890, fourteen chapters), and the decline (1890-1988, seven chapters). This has the advantage of drawing the reader's attention to the interactions between the main features of a particular period, but the disadvantage of breaking up themes into overly small parts.
The themes of maritime commerce and society are the strongest of the recurring features. The former is found in all its facets, including cargoes, trading organisations, and shipowning, while the treatment of the latter is particularly solid. Here life at sea and in port and, unusually, the contribution of voluntary organisations, are among aspects covered.
The text is brought to life by the inclusion of examples from autobiographical and other original sources which have appeared in print.
Economic and social statistical data are presented in several tables as well as in the text. The majority relate to the second half of the twentieth century, but Dr. Hope has provided five tables, spanning the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, on seamen's incomes (at 1988 prices), numbers of merchant seamen, death rates, merchant shipping tonnage, and seamen's productivity.
Who will find the work of most use?
Three groups seem likely: the keen amateur maritime historian seeking a more substantial overview text than works in which illustration is the focus; undergraduate and post-graduate students of the modern shipping industry seeking an interpretation of recent events; and undergraduates commencing programmes in maritime history who need a starter text to become familiar with the main facts of the British shipping industry. It is for this latter group that this study is most welcome.