CFP: War of the Worlds: Transnational Fears of Invasion and Conflict 1870-1933

Extended CFP Deadline 31st July

War of the Worlds: Transnational Fears of Invasion and Conflict 1870-1933

One-day international workshop organised by the Invasion Network at Lancaster University, 8th September 2017.

Key-note speaker: Professor Emeritus David Glover

Call for Papers Deadline: 31st July 2017

Hosted by the Department of History, Lancaster University and supported by the Irish Research Council, this is the second international workshop of the Invasion Network, a group of social and cultural historians, literary scholars, and a range of other specialists and independent researchers working under the broad theme of invasion, with a particular focus on British invasion fears in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. ‘War of the Worlds: Transnational Fears of Invasion and Conflict 1870-1933’ seeks to expand this focus geographically to consider the fear of invasion as a global phenomenon and temporally to take in the period between the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1) and the rise of the German Third Reich. We invite papers that consider invasion fears in any region in which the fear became a notable social phenomenon and/or analysing how fears of invasion and future conflict expressed in different nations and regions informed each other. Papers may consider any form of representation – fictional, journalistic, visual, etc. Possible areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • European fears of invasion and future conflict
  • U.S. fears of invasion and future conflict
  • Fears of invasion in the colonial and quasi-colonial territories of the British empire – including but not limited to Ireland, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Latin America, South East Asia and coastal China – including the fears of the colonised and the colonisers
  • Global concerns about mass migration
  • International espionage, secret societies, terrorism and anarchism
  • Sinophobia and Russophobia
  • Invasion fears in war time (such as Zeppelin scares) and in the interwar period
  • The global circulation and reception of invasion texts
  • Female authors and readers, and gendered aspects of international invasion fears

The workshop is aimed at all levels of academic scholarship, and we are especially keen to receive paper proposals from postgraduate students and early-career researchers.  Please send abstracts of 300 words and a short biographical note (150 words) to Dr Harry Wood ( and Dr Ailise Bulfin ( by 31st July 2017. Enquiries also to these addresses.

For more information on the Invasion Network:


Vulnerable East Anglia from the cover of John Buchan’s ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’

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William Le Queux in Melbourne: Bibliographical Notes

In the following, I want to share some recent bibliographical findings and musings about William Le Queux. While planning the Invasion Network’s forthcoming special issue on Le Queux in Critical Survey, I committed myself (rashly) to trying to establish the veracity of the often-cited, but never substantiated claim that The Invasion of 1910 (1906) sold over a million copies.[i] Harry and I suspect that the source may in fact be Le Queux himself in the propaganda ‘exposé’ German Spies in England (1915), which, given Le Queux’s reputation for embellishing, would cast doubt on the claim. We intend to publish the full findings on this in a bibliographical note to accompany the special journal issue, but for the moment, here is some of what I found out on a recent research trip to Melbourne.

Le Queux is well represented in the catalogue of the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, speaking to a readership there, with colonial and Melbourne-published editions of his work pointing to his sales potential. The library contains one London-published Macmillan colonial edition of The Invasion of 1910, dated 1906 and noted as the 5th impression on the title page, implying it went through 5 print runs in this format in its first year, the first one issued no earlier than late July/August. Most of the rest of the Le Queux works in the catalogue are propagandist fictions and tracts from the First World War years, again indicating the wide dissemination of his scaremongering and its possible implication in the propaganda wars for Australian volunteers and the Australian conscription debate. These works include the small, cheap, pamphlet-style exposés Britain’s Deadly Peril (London: Stanley Paul, n.d. [1915]), German Spies in England (London: Stanley Paul, n.d. [1915]) and The Way to Win (London: Simpkin, etc, n.d. [1916]), the latter written in March 1916 and predicting Britain’s ‘coming victory’ just months before the Somme campaign began. Also present is a Melbourne-published version of The Secrets of Potsdam (Melbourne: Melville & Mullen 1917); this was a ‘startling exposure of the inner life of the Courts of the Kaiser and Crown-Prince’ purportedly revealed by the German informant Ernst Von Heltzendorff and ‘chronicled’ by Le Queux, but reading more like fiction than some of Le Queux’s most sensational fictional texts.

Also present is the large, luxury volume The War of the Nations: A History of the Great European Conflict, vol. 1 (London: Newnes, 1914), which is full of on-location photographs and dramatic, specially-commissioned illustrations.

War of the Nations

The irony of commissioning someone as pathologically indisposed to telling the truth as Le Queux seems to have been to write a ‘history’ seems glaring; on the other hand this mendacious tendency made him the ideal candidate to produce propaganda, as The War of the Nations in essence was. Like the small tracts, it is full of Le Queux’s favourite scaremongering hobbyhorses – the presence of an advance guard of German spies in Britain (and also in Belgium); the dastardliness of the ‘War Lord’ Kaiser’s long plans for war cloaked beneath a rhetoric of peace; endlessly exaggerated versions of German atrocities in Belgium – not just sanctioned but explicitly ordered for tactical purposes by the Kaiser; and of course, on the other hand, the heroism of the ‘splendid’ Tommies. These ‘factual’ texts are accompanied in the library catalogue by a fictionalisation of the same themes in At the Sign of the Sword: A Story of Love and War in Belgium (London: Jack, 1915), the title pretty much summing up the plot, in which the heroine falls into the hands of the Kaiser’s drunken, barbaric ‘hordes’ and is on the point of ‘ravishment’ before her timely rescue by the dashing Belgian officer-hero.

Many of the war-time works highlight on their title pages and front matter the fact that Le Queux was the author of The Invasion – this was the successful abridged version of The Invasion of 1910 published by Newnes in 1910.  This reissue and the fact that Newnes chose Le Queux as the sole author of The War of the Nations, a well-finished volume that must have been expensive to produce, again testifies to the lasting impact and selling power of The Invasion of 1910.

The pamphlets seem to have sold well also: the front matter in The Way to Win in early 1916 notes the sales of 120,000 copies of German Spies in England and 14 editions of Britain’s Deadly Peril by that date. Le Queux at this point seems to have been a one-man propaganda machine, and, given the number of publishers churning out his war pamphlets and fictions, one considered profitable by the industry. It is also worth mentioning that the works mentioned here are just a selection of the very many more similar works Le Queux produced during the war years, and hence, even though he reused material considerably between them, he must have been working at a frantic rate.

Other interesting holdings are a Melbourne-published edition of Le Queux’s Rasputin the Rascal Monk (Melbourne: Melville & Mullen, n.d. [1918]) and a Melbourne-published edition of George Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (Melbourne: Robertson, 1871), ‘Reprinted from Blackwood’s magazine for May 1871’, and available online at

[i] The usual source for this claim is I. F. Clarke, but Clarke doesn’t give his source, see the Introduction to The Battle of Dorking and When William Came (Oxford: Oxford Popular Fiction: 1997), p. xvii.

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CFP: Invasion to Integration

We are delighted to promote the below conference co-organised by Peter Keeling, an Invasion Network member and blog contributor.


To download a copy please use the below link:


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Invasion Network Meeting at Lancaster, 2nd May 2016

Eleventh months on from our inaugural conference, the Invasion Network met at Lancaster University on 2nd May to discuss ongoing research and future projects. Hosted by the Head of Lancaster’s Department of History Mike Hughes, attending IN members included Ailise Bulfin, Michael Matin, Pete Mills, Tony Taylor, and Harry Wood. The primary topic of conversation was ‘Literature and Propaganda: William Le Queux, Invasion Scares and Spy Fever, 1880-1920’, a special edition of Critical Survey showcasing the research of the network and due to appear in mid-2017. This collection of essays will interrogate and interpret Le Queux’s life and legacy from a variety of scholarly angles, and the meeting offered an opportunity to ensure the contributions are developing in a coherent and interconnected way. Unifying research questions include the idea of Le Queux as a ‘populist’, the extent of his role (both quantifiable and subjective) in encouraging invasion anxieties, and the challenges of analysing a figure who left such a small archival footprint.  Having now set deadlines for drafts and established group editorial procedures, ‘Literature and Propaganda’ is moving in an exciting direction.


Invasion Network team outside Lancaster Castle. From left to right: Harry Wood, Pete Mills, Tony Taylor, Ailise Bulfin, Mike Hughes, Michael Matin


The meeting then moved on to future plans and opportunities for the Invasion Network. Firstly, it was decided that the network will aim to hold a symposium or conference every two years. We are happy to announce that the next such event will be ‘War of the Worlds: Transnational Fears of Invasion and Conflict 1870-1933’, and will be hosted at Lancaster University. This event, for which a call for papers will shortly be circulated, is designed to develop on the strengths of the IN, which currently favour British invasion anxieties of the late-Victorian and Edwardian period. We wish to expand this focus geographically and temporally, assessing the fear of invasion as a global phenomenon, and analysing how fears expressed in different nations and regions informed each other. Areas of interest include:

  • Fears of invasion in the colonial and quasi-colonial territories of the British empire – including but not limited to Ireland, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, South East Asia and coastal China
  • European fears of invasion
  • Fears of invasion in the United States
  • Indigenous fears of Western/colonial invasion
  • Global concerns about mass migration
  • Espionage, secret societies, terrorism and anarchism
  • Sinophobia and Russophobia
  • Invasion fears in war time (such as Zeppelin scares) and in the interwar period
  • Female authors and readers, and gendered aspects of invasion fears

More details about this event will be available very soon, starting with the confirmation of a keynote speaker. The workshop will be aimed at all levels of academic scholarship, and we are especially keen to receive paper proposals from postgraduate students and early-career researchers.

We closed the meeting by thanking Mike Hughes for his hard work and hospitality in hosting the event, and expressing our excitement about the future of this young research network. We look forward to our next event in 2017 in which both the remit and the membership of the IN will be broadened.

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Late Nineteenth Century Invasion Panics and the problem of ‘Public Opinion’

This post by Peter Keeling (University of Kent) is adapted from a paper delivered at the recent Social History Society Conference in Lancaster, as part of the ‘Popular Invasion Scares’ panel.


In 1883 the Liberal journalist Sir Francis Lawley penned an essay reflecting upon the contemporary invasion ‘scare’ aroused by a project to construct a Channel Tunnel to France.[i] If recent public pronouncements were any indication, he wrote, of all the people in the world the British must be regarded as the ‘scariest’. He continued:

‘We are so fond of believing that some other nation is preparing to invade us—that gun for gun we are no match at sea for France—that something has happened, or is about to happen, which fundamentally alters our position, and leaves us comparatively at the mercy of some hypothetical foe, that panic-mongers have always had, and always will have, a glorious time of it in our midst.’[ii]

This perception of popular anxiety regarding invasion was not uncommon among Britain’s intellectual and political elites during the nineteenth century. Taking a more hyperbolic and right-wing perspective in 1888, the Earl of Carnarvon declared the country to be ‘unanimously anxious, without distinction of party or political creed’ in its attitude toward the national defences.[iii] As evidence, men like Lawley and Carnarvon pointed to the defence ‘panics’ which cropped up in the British press on a regular basis, and their assessment of the state of British opinion has been adopted by a significant number of cultural and military historians.[iv]

A panic was a short period of high-profile public, political and media interest and anxiety in the state of the national defences, usually sparked by a particularly influential, convincing, and pessimistic article or speech, condemning some deficiency, real or perceived, in the Army or Navy. By the 1880s Britain already had a long tradition of such events; the 1840s and 1850s saw three major ‘panics’ resulting from fears of French expansionism, the last and most severe of which in 1859 resulted in the construction of a large number of expensive fortifications along the South Coast and the formation of a nationwide Rifle Volunteer movement. During the last two decades of the century, historians identify significant panics or scares in 1882, 1884, 1885, 1888, 1893 and 1900.


‘A Scare’, Judy (May 1888)


During a ‘panic’, or so the narrative had it, the usually apathetic public would ‘wake up’ to its defenceless condition, demand, with ill-thought out haste, the laying down of some new ironclads or the erection of fortifications, and, after a few weeks, retire back into its indifferent state, having added only inefficiencies to the defences and fresh burdens on the exchequer. ‘Panics’, continued Carnarvon ‘produce bad work and expensive work.’ The very use of the word itself is significant: in the wider political, sociological and economic discourse ‘panic’ was closely related to the two contemporary bugbears of the governing class: riot and financial collapse.

Yet historians who take contemporary statements of widespread fear at face value neglect the vagaries and nuances of nineteenth century ideas of ‘public opinion’. While it is true that after 1884 the electorate had expanded to include large sections of the male working class, political rhetoric had not necessarily expanded to match. As recent work by James Thompson and Simon Potter has argued, when later nineteenth century politicians spoke of ‘public opinion’ they were generally referring to an ill-defined group of London newspapers, journals and political commentators, through which they received their information about the mood in the country as a whole. As such, any claim these men made about working class or even provincial opinion was necessarily an appropriation of voices they could never meaningfully consult themselves.[v]

Naturally this was not a state of affairs which many politicians were willing or able to admit, for to have done so would have been to risk serious questions as to their right to speak ‘for the people’.  One man not afraid of such a result was the Liberal leader William Gladstone, who dismissed the Channel Tunnel panic and the invasion scare of 1888 in the following terms:

‘The subject of this panic never touched the mind of the nation. These things are not accessible to the mind of the nation. They are accessible to what is called the public opinion of the day—that is to say, public opinion manufactured in London by great editors and clubs, who are at all times formidable, and a great power for the purposes of the moment, but who are a greater power and become an overwhelming power, when they are backed by the threefold forces of the military and literary authorities and the social circles of London.’[vi]

Gladstone’s perspective suggests an explanation not only for Lawley and Carnarvon’s assumptions of widespread anxiety, but also those of historians. By focusing on the easily accessible fears of selected political, military, literary and social circles – fears which emphasised the domestic ‘mob’ as much as foreign invaders – historians have at times failed to recognise the fact that defence remained a subject of little concern to the nineteenth century electorate.[vii] In doing so, they have risked inflating a minority interest into a ‘national obsession’.

This is not to dismiss the subject of late nineteenth century invasion fears out of hand, however. Regardless of the facts, many elites continued to believe that the British were a people uniquely susceptible to defence panics or scares. This was especially true of those on the political right who would go on to form the backbone of twentieth century organisations such as the Navy League or the National Service League. For these people the narrative of panic formed an important part of their propaganda, which regularly argued that only naval supremacy or conscription could prevent not only invasion, but also the disorder consequent of scares and panics. In this way, the misremembered scares of the nineteenth century served to encourage the alarmist agitators of the twentieth.


[i] For more on the Channel Tunnel attempt of the 1880s see Thomas Whiteside, The Tunnel under the Channel (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1962) and Keith Wilson, Channel Tunnel Visions, 1850-1945 (London: Hambledon Press, 1994), pp.22-49

[ii] Francis Lawley, preface to John Bright, Suez Canal & Channel Tunnel: Peace or War with France? (London: C.F. Roworth, 1883), p.9

[iii] The Times, 29 May 1888, p.11

[iv] For examples see Howard Roy Moon, The Invasion of the United Kingdom: Public Controversy and Official Planning, 1888-1918, (Unpublished PhD thesis: University of London, 1968), p.657; Cecil D. Eby, The Road to Armageddon: The Martial Spirit in English Popular Literature, 1870-1914 (USA: Duke University Press, 1987), p.11

[v] Simon J. Potter, ‘Jingoism, Public Opinion, and the New Imperialism’ in Media History, Vol.20:No.1 (2014), p.40. See also James Thompson, British Political Culture and the Idea of Public Opinion, 1867-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)

[vi] W.E. Gladstone, HC Deb., 27 June 1888, col.1459

[vii] Rhodri Williams, Defending the Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), pp.77-78; H.C.G. Matthew, The Liberal Imperialists (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), p.215; W.S. Hamer, The British Army Civil-Military Relations, 1885-1905 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), p.81, p.102

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Invasion Network Panel at the Social History Society Conference 2016

I am delighted to report that three members of the network will be speaking at the Social History Society annual conference at Lancaster University next week (21-23 March). The panel details and abstracts are included below. Please make an effort to come if you are attending the event.


Popular Invasion Scares: The Creation, Manipulation, and Understanding of a Social Anxiety, 1882-1918

Chair: Professor Michael Hughes, Professor of History and Head of Department, Lancaster University.

Peter Keeling, University of Kent. Peter is a PhD student working on British fears and anticipations of invasion between 1880 and 1904.

Dr Harry Wood. Harry is a postdoctoral researcher looking at the cultural history of British invasion anxieties, with a particular interest in invasion-scare fiction, and authors including William Le Queux, James Blyth, George Griffith, and H. G. Wells.

Harry Richards, Keele University. Harry is a PhD student analysing the extent of spy fever during the First World War and its influence on the regulation and policing of British society.


This panel challenges the assumption that British society was widely included within the observable ‘invasion scares’ of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and instead seeks to analyse how individuals perceived the threat of invasion. While invasion panics have often been linked to late Victorian and Edwardian attitudes towards security and immigration, the popular acceptance of such concerns has only received superficial treatment by historians. Harry Wood asks whether Edwardian invasion panics were genuinely ‘popular’ in nature.  Examining the political and cultural roots of pre-1914 invasion scares, Wood cautions against assuming that such anxieties were widespread, and suggests avenues by which the social history of invasion panics can begin to be explored.  Peter Keeling discusses the reaction to panic, and how controlling forces attempted to limit the negative influences of newspaper-driven alarm. Keeling contends that regardless of the actual extent of these scares they significantly influenced contemporary views of popular opinion, conditioning politicians to fear popular anticipations of war almost as much as they feared war itself. Harry Richards concludes the assessment of invasion scares by turning to the First World War to analyse the role of local authorities in provoking spy fever, along with the competing mechanisms of criticism and protest that questioned the prevalence of the German spy in Britain during the First World War. In spite of attempts to instruct society to remain cautious and vigilant in the response to the spy danger, Richards argues that many individuals remained indifferent to such rhetoric and viewed the rumours with steadfast derision.

By re-evaluating the degree of invasion obsessions, the nature of press-led panics, and the impact of local reactions to ‘spies’, this panel will reflect on the varied emotions and attitudes experienced by the British public over the period 1882-1918. It will examine the construction of ideas attempting to promote anxiety and fear by building on nationalistic sentiment. The chronological analysis will demonstrate the development and manipulation of an idea in a range of different contexts, and challenge the dominant view of Britons as a typically insular race.


‘Chronic Alarmists’: Defence Panics in Britain, 1882-1900′ – Peter Keeling

Public discourse relating to national defence in fin de siècle Britain was conducted within a context of widespread pessimism, with the state of the Army and Navy regularly condemned by ‘experts’ whose words were eagerly disseminated and dissected by the press. On occasion a particularly influential article, speech or international event would whip up a ‘panic’, a period of high-profile public and political interest and anxiety. By the end of the century official attempts to respond to defence panics were considered by many to have destabilised government policy, damaged national finances and spawned an international arms race, without seriously improving either the position of the armed forces or public confidence.

This paper examines the ‘newspaper panic’ phenomenon of later nineteenth century Britain as a case study in press power. It argues that, despite the top-down and relatively limited nature of these scares, their prevalence within the press left many contemporaries with the impression that the British were a people unusually susceptible to ‘contagion’ by panic, a weakness which some anticipated would severely hamstring the nation during wartime. As a result, fear of panic became an important motif within both public and official anticipations of ‘the next Great War’, while the prevention of popular panic became increasingly regarded as an important facet of defence preparation, encouraging an anxiety about public hysteria which was carried over fully formed into the twentieth century.


A National Obsession? The Pervasiveness of Edwardian Invasion Anxieties – Harry Wood

Writing in 1968, the historian Howard Moon described the fear of invasion in Edwardian Britain as ‘nothing less than a national obsession’. Pointing to the periodic invasion panics of the pre-war years, the numerous inquiries held by the Committee of Imperial Defence, and the great popularity of invasion-scare fiction, Moon argued that invasion enjoyed a dominant position in Edwardian social and political discourse. This position has remained largely unchallenged in the intervening years, not least within the debate surrounding the outbreak of war in Europe. In Britain and the Origins of the First World War, Zara Steiner and Keith Neilson argue that the same pressure ‘which led men to read invasion stories in the press and to welcome the fictional accounts of war to come’ prepared the way for conflict in 1914.

Yet the idea that invasion was a ‘national obsession’ is difficult to justify on the available evidence and research. Based largely on high political crises, newspaper-led panics, and popular invasion novels, historians have rarely attempted to gauge whether these events and cultural products translated into widespread invasion anxiety. In short, the popular reception of invasion fears remains underexplored. This paper aims to offer some thoughts as to how analysts might begin to address this gap in understanding. Examining the value of autobiographical works, newspaper coverage, oral interviews, and a range of circumstantial accounts and stories, it will be argued that the pervasiveness of invasion fears cannot be assumed, and should be critically engaged with.


Spontaneous Eruptions of Fear? The Spy Threat in Britain during the First World War – Harry Richards

During the First World War, British society supposedly became consumed by a fear of German spies seeking to subvert the war effort. Espionage literature and exaggerated press reports reflected and seemingly confirmed the paranoia. David French has described the panic as a spontaneous eruption of fear caused by the gullibility of the British public, who believed the German spy menace to be a very real and immediate danger. By analysing the distinctions between concern, anxiety, and fear this paper aims to give greater agency to the individual citizen in order to ascertain how people actually responded to the depiction of the spy threat.

This paper examines evidence that suggests life continued as normal for many across the British home front during the First World War. Notwithstanding the concern and anxiety that war naturally caused, the public did not spontaneously generate a hysterical fear of German spies hidden throughout Britain. Research into local newspapers suggests that relatively few individuals experienced such fear, despite the prominence the threat received. This paper seeks to readdress the nature of this so called hysteria and analyse how far the appearance of spy fever was an attempt to manipulate a tradition of xenophobia already apparent throughout certain sections of British society. By comparing police precautions with cases reported across Britain, this paper aims to establish where and how the fear of German spies manifested itself, but also, why people appeared to be unaffected by the contagion of ‘spy fever’.




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Colonial authors and invasion fiction

Christian Melby’s account of how invasion fiction portrays all four official nineteenth century British nationalities – English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh – as being inextricably bound to each other in the context of future armed conflict fits well with my perspective that colonial factors were very important in the production of invasion fiction (read Christian’s post). Many of the authors of key invasion tales had strong colonial connections, as if their greater exposure to the realities of life among the resentful or even downright hostile populations of colonised nations gave them a greater awareness of the potential dangers of invasion. Just to name a few relevant examples – Erskine Childers’ mother was from what is generally known as Anglo-Irish background, this contested term at very least signalling complex self-identification and divided loyalties, and Childers spent a formative period of his youth in Ireland. Though any Irishness is largely elided in the quintessential Englishness of the Carruthers and Davies characters of The Riddle of the Sands (1903), criticism of British imperialism yet emerges in Davies’s observation that the British can’t really be too critical of German aggrandisement: ‘We can’t talk about conquest and grabbing. We’ve collared a fine share of the world…’ (2011 Penguin edition, p. 93-4).

Even the seemingly straightforward case of the British Lieutenant-Colonel Chesney of Battle of Dorking (1871) fame is complicated by colonial factors and quite representative of their formative impact upon invasion scenarios. Though born in England, Chesney was also of Anglo-Irish origins and by the age of eighteen had left England to spend most of his life in colonial service in India as an officer in the British Army, The Battle of Dorking being penned from the India Office (see Patrick Kirkwood’s article listed here). Further, Chesney had fought in the so-called ‘Indian Mutiny’, the major counter-colonial uprising of the mid-century. This traumatic event has been identified time and again as one which severely shook Britain’s complacency regarding its colonial holdings, causing them to be seen increasingly as a locus of threat as well as opportunity and fuelling a hardening of colonial policy towards dissent. That Chesney’s colonial background and experience of rebellion in India informed his novel of European conflict and ignominious British defeat is amply evidenced by his premise that it was the dispersal of British forces to colonial commitments around the world that facilitated the German invasion, including another outbreak in India, as Christian mentions. Here, as a representative statement of the potential negative consequences of imperialism that would be reiterated in much of the invasion fiction to follow, is Chesney’s explication of the causes of ‘the crash’:

First, the rising in India drew away a part of our small army; then came the difficulty with America … and we sent ten thousand men to defend Canada… Thus the regular army at home was even smaller than usual, and nearly half of it was in Ireland to check the talked-of Fenian invasion fitting out in the West. Worse still … the fleet was scattered abroad: some ships to guard the West Indies, others to check privateering in the China seas, and a large part to try and protect our colonies on the Northern Pacific shore of America, where, with incredible folly, we continued to retain possessions which we could not possibly defend. (1997 OUP edition, p. 6)

I think it’s particularly telling that Chesney describes a potential Fenian uprising in Ireland as a ‘Fenian invasion’, showing how conflated the two prospects – European invasion and counter-colonial conflict – were for him.

Also of relevance in this context is Northern Irish author Tom Greer’s A Modern Daedalus (1885), in which an Irishman invents a one-man flying device from which bombs may be deployed by hand against targets on the ground. Despite being a supporter of the moderate policy of Irish Home Rule he is forced onto the side of physical force Irish nationalism by heavy-handed British tactics and a squadron of flying Fenians wins independence for Ireland. The action is confined to Ireland but the potential for attacks on the island of England is clear throughout.

daedalus cover


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