University of Portsmouth's History Blog

“Officers of the society”: Lloyd’s Register surveyors in China and transnational maritime networks, 1869-1918

On 14 December 2022 University of Portsmouth PhD researcher, Corey Watson, presented at the second joint Naval History/ History research seminar of the year. In the paper Corey, who is in the second year of his doctoral programme, discussed the crucial role that the small group of surveyors who worked for Lloyd’s Register in China played as middle-men in this global maritime system. If you missed the paper, the recording is available to watch here. You will need the following password MLFv8c.z to access the recording. An abstract for Corey’s paper is below. To read more about Corey’s PhD programme, generously funded by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, see Dr Melanie Bassett’s blog on the Port Towns and Urban Cultures website.

Shanghai shortly after opening the port to foreign trade. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1869, a Lloyd’s Register ship and engineer Surveyor was for the first time posted to Shanghai, China. The surveyor, Joseph John Tucker, upon arriving in Shanghai marked the beginning of a rapid and global expansion of the Lloyd’s Register Society’s influence. By the end of the First World War the society had hundreds of surveyors in post across all five continents. These marine surveyors – veteran marine engineers whose expertise covered shipbuilding and maintenance, maritime safety, and maritime technology – played important roles in facilitating the ever-expanding networks of maritime knowledge, trade, and migration that increasingly connected the late 19th century world. This paper will draw on the concept of ‘new imperial history’ to investigate how these imperial maritime networks of knowledge functioned by analysing the lived experiences of these Lloyd’s Register surveyors. It also develops on a burgeoning literature which stresses the importance of these transnational networks and the ‘infrastructural globalization’ of the ‘world system’ that they underpinned. This paper will specifically engage with the themes of maritime knowledge networks, the movement of people, and the resultingly complex cultural identities that were produced. It will be shown first that by studying these maritime professionals, there can be found a number of interesting contradictions in the workings of maritime networks as the long reach of London struggled, with mixed success, to keep a degree of control over its agents far from home. Furthermore, it will be demonstrated that these surveyors, who played crucial roles as middle-men in these global maritime systems, found themselves with complicated and frequently shifting cultural identities and levels of professional agency as a result of their engagement with these networks.

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