George Tomkyn's Chesney

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The Battle of Dorking, Chesney novel, 1871

Sir George Tomkyns Chesney (born April 30, 1813 in Tiverton , † March 31, 1895 in London ) was a British general , political reformer and author . He became known for his influential story The Battle of Dorking from 1871, which describes an invasion of England by the Germans against the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian War . He is an early exponent of the invasion novel in England and military science fiction .


Chesney came from a respected but impoverished Anglo-Irish family. His father was a former captain in the Bengali army. He attended the Addiscombe Military Seminary in Croydon , an officers school of the East India Company , and was from 1848 Second Lieutenant of the Bengal Engineers. As a pioneer officer in India, he initially dealt with civil construction tasks. In the Indian uprising of 1857 he took part in the battle of Badli-ki-Serai and was seriously wounded in the siege and storming of Delhi on September 14th. He was promoted from lieutenant to major and became director of the civil engineering school at Fort William in Calcutta. He then returned to civil administration and wrote the book Indian Polity on colonial administration in 1868 , which contained some radical proposals (unification of the various armies and streamlining of the federal administrative structure) and received a great deal of attention. He founded the (civil) Royal Indian Civil Engineering College in Staines-upon-Thames and was its president from 1871 to 1880. In 1869 he became lieutenant colonel, in 1877 colonel, in 1886 major general, in 1887 lieutenant general, in 1890 commanding colonel of the Royal Engineers (Colonel-Commandant) and in 1892 general. From 1886 to 1892 he was a military advisor to the Council of the Governor General of India and campaigned for Indians to be admitted to the officer corps, but met resistance from the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, Frederick Roberts . He had an independent mindset on other issues as well, for example he did not share the fear of an invasion of India by Russia, which was widespread among the British military in India. In 1892 he returned to England and became a Member of Parliament for Oxford and Chairman of the Army Committee in Parliament. He died of a heart attack and is buried in Englefield Green , Surrey .

Between the group of traditionalists (the Commander in Chief George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge and in another faction the Prince of Wales ) and reformers (the factions of his former superior in India Frederick Roberts and Wolseley, known for the colonial wars ) in the Victorian military he took one independent position. He stood up for a small, professional British army modeled on his own.

In 1891 he published a criticism of the War Office ( Confusing worth confounded at the War Office , citing John Milton's Paradise Lost ). It was published again posthumously in The Nineteenth Century in 1900 , under the influence of the problems of the Second Boer War .

He was highly regarded as an expert in military administration and in 1898 the Royal United Services Institution (RUSI) named one of its highest honors after him (Chesney Gold Medal), first awarded to Alfred Thayer Mahan in 1900 .

The Battle of Dorking

Chesney wrote several novels and short stories (The Dilemma, The Private Secretary, The Lesters) and contributions to literary magazines. He is known for the story of around 100 pages published anonymously in Blackwood's Magazine in 1871, The Battle of Dorking , which founded the genre of invasion novels in Great Britain in the period before the First World War (see spy novel ), with the climax of War of the worlds by HG Wells 1898, in which Martians also land in Surrey. Some of these were parodies of Chesney's book.

In retrospect, the story describes how an unprepared, underfunded British army, which relied primarily on poorly trained volunteers, was defeated in its own country after the invasion of a superior, determined, nameless (but German-speaking) enemy, with a decisive battle near Dorking (Surrey) . The Royal Navy had previously been defeated by a miracle weapon (infernal machines) of the enemy, which landed at Harwich . The British Empire was then smashed; Canada fell to the United States, India and Ireland gained independence, with the result that a civil war broke out in Ireland. England became the province of the nameless empire, which also took over Malta and Gibraltar. The whole thing is told from the perspective of a veteran of the lost battle fifty years later, with an urgent warning in the opening lines:

" You ask me to tell you, my grandchildren, something of my own share in the great events, that happened fifty years ago. Tis sad work turning back to that bitter page in our history, but you may perhaps take profit in your new homes from the lesson it teaches. For us in England it came too late. And yet we had plenty of warnings, if we had only made use of them. The danger did not come to us unawares. It burst on us suddenly, tis true, but its coming was foreshadowed plainly enough to open our eyes, if we had not been willfully blind. "

“You ask me, my grandchildren, to tell you about my own part in the great events that took place 50 years ago. It is sad work to turn to these bitter pages of history, but you, in your new home, may benefit from the teachings. It was too late for us in England. Still, we had a variety of warnings if only we had used them. The danger did not come to us unsuspecting. She suddenly burst in on us, that's true, but her arrival was clear enough to open our eyes - if we hadn't been stubbornly blind. "

The story was a great success and sold 80,000 copies in the first month alone when the book was published in June 1871. It had been written by Chesney in a short time to shake up politics, to invest more in the military, and was attacked by the liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone , who pursued a cautious foreign policy and wanted to cut military and administrative expenditure and make it more efficient. The Tories and others, however, gratefully took up the book's success in public (and that of the Franco-German War of 1870/1, which motivates the book) to call for military reforms, and a public debate ensued. Many translations also appeared, including in German in 1879 ( England's end at the Battle of Dorking ).

Honors, family

He was holder of the Order of the Star of India (CSI) and the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) and from 1887 of the Bath Order, from 1890 as a knight (KCB).

In 1855 he married Annie Louisa Palmer and had four sons and three daughters with her. He was the brother of the military historian and Colonel Charles Cornwallis Chesney , who also participated in the public debate following the publication of the Battle of Dorking . His uncle was Francis Rawdon Chesney .


Web links

References and comments

  1. Gladstone directly attacked the book in a speech in Whitney, Kirkwood, Graduate History Review, Volume 4, 2012, p. 3