In 1798 the British Empire in the Mediterranean was confined to Gibraltar. After Nelson’s victory at the Nile, Minorca and Malta were added to the portfolio; but such way stations on the central sea were hardly the stuff of imperial dreams. The first was quietly handed back to Spain in 1802; the value of the latter only became obvious later, and then because it kept the Russians out rather than benefited the British. By 1815 Corfu and the Ionian Islands had come under British sway, reflecting the central reality of British imperium. Britain sought a maritime empire based on trade and capital, ports and naval bases, like the Venetian empire that had spent so lavishly to make Corfu the key to the Adriatic. Tragically the British were drawn, inexorably and unwittingly, into highly inappropriate forms of rule – taxing the people and controlling the land – that were more continental than maritime.
Yet there were still those who saw the empire in maritime terms. Early nineteenth-century naval officers opened new Mediterranean perspectives. Francis Beaufort’s Karamania of 1817, together with William Smyth’s meticulous hydrographic surveys and his book The Mediterranean: A Memoir Physical, Historical and Nautical of 1854 (both absent from this book)