The Crimean War in the Pacific World, 1854

  • Andrew C. Rath


The Crimean War played multiple roles in a larger drama unfolding in the Pacific world during the 1850s. Anglo-Russian conflict, or the threat thereof, took center stage in Russia’s nascent efforts to expand its territorial holdings in East Asia at the expense of Qing China. Likewise, linguistic and cultural misunderstandings among British and Japanese protagonists transformed an ostensibly European struggle into a catalyst of diplomatic relations between the two countries, much to the chagrin of British mercantile interests in China. Instead of interrupting a protracted series of negotiations over a broader range of issues than were at stake during Commodore Matthew Perry’s famous mission, wartime events actually facilitated these exchanges. The joint Anglo-French naval campaigns against Russia’s easternmost possessions in 1854 also foreshadowed subsequent developments, including the Hawaiian Islands’ loss of independence; Russia’s 1867 sale of Alaska to the United States; and the abandonment of time-honored practices from the waning “Age of Sail,” especially privateering. Such a multifaceted sequence of events involved far more than British naval actions constituting “the mainspring of events” and principal determinant of the far-reaching consequences that ensued.1


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