When Britannia Ruled the Waves

Sailing uncharted waters and setting footing on the shores of a new land has been the dream of many people. Imagine what it would have been like to live during the Age of Exploration, when a New World had just been discovered!

Portugal and Spain led global explorations in the 15th and 16th centuries, and started to establish overseas empires. But, despite a slow start in the 16th century, England’s kingdom eventually became the true giant.

Motivated by the Spice Trade, European powers began their worldwide explorations, constantly seeking new ways to acquire these valuable goods. By the late 16th century, England began creating overseas trading posts and ports, and soon became the largest empire in world history.

As England’s maritime fleet grew, sailors needed an effective way to measure time. Before a ship left for sea, its chronometer would be set to noon in Greenwich, the exact moment when the sun crossed the Greenwich meridian.

Throughout their journey the sailors kept track of the sun, and the difference between local noon and Greenwich noon could be used to find how many degrees they had travelled from England. Based on this, 24 time zones were created, each an hour apart from the other.

The 18th century saw a major increase in England’s colonial power. In 1776, when the thirteen colonies declared their Independence, Britain shifted its focus toward Asia, the Pacific, and later to Africa.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the power of the British Empire began to decline. World War I and World War II further injured Britain’s military power. Throughout the rest of the century, British colonies like India would gain independence and mark the end of the British Empire.

Today, billions of people’s lives are in some way defined by the economic and cultural legacies of British rule. This year, I’m spanning the globe and London is my staring point. Together we’ll journey on to explore Sydney, Montreal, Mumbai, Malaysia, Singapore, St. Kitts, and Zambia to gain an understanding of how this relatively small country could possess such great power.