In an article entitled ‘Coal, trade, and the empire’, in the periodical The Nineteenth Century, Archibald S. Hurd used an extended simile to explain the importance of coal to British commerce. The trade of Britain, he argued, was like those emigrants attempting the pre- railway crossing of the American prairies. Just as the crossing was made extremely dangerous by the constant threat of capture and destruction from the ‘Warlike Indians’, trade was constantly threatened as it traversed the seas, which were ‘greater and wilder than any prairie.’ To avoid this danger on the prairies, posts and garrisons were established, just as fortified and garrisoned coaling stations protected ships. The telegraphs that connected these stations were the reigns used by the driver, representing the Government, on his coach, the empire. The coach was pulled by six horses, representing the coaling stations, warships, and the colonies.
So what can we learn from this? It certainly seems a tenuous simile. But the point it is that coaling stations were a crucial part of the defence of British trade and interests abroad, and thus the empire itself.