First, a little background. I'm hard at work writing the fifth volume of the Maxwell Saga, a short story for an anthology to which I've been invited to contribute, a fantasy novel that may or may not see the light of day (I have to find out whether it's good enough first), and the third and final volume of the Laredo Trilogy. The first two are taking most of my time right now, but the other two can't be ignored.
As part of this, and planning future books, I'm looking at technology and how it evolves, how it can change the military equation, and so on. I can't help but remember the old adage that "Generals always fight the last war". It's so hackneyed that it's become a cliché, but it's been true often enough that it's stood the test of time.
In that light, considering the evolution of naval technology, I couldn't help but smile as I recalled one of the more (in)famous quotes from the decline of the Age of Sail and the dawn of the Age of Steam.
In 1828 Mr. Hay, of the Colonial Department, had asked that a steamer might carry the mails from Malta to Corfu. To this, Lord Melville, replying in a minute written by himself,
"regretted the inability of my Lords Commissioners to comply with the request of the Colonial Department, as they felt it their bounden duty, upon national and professional grounds, to discourage, to the utmost of their ability, the employment of steam vessels, as they considered that the introduction of steam was calculated to strike a fatal blow to the naval supremacy of the Empire..."
(From p. 27 of 'A Short History of Naval and Marine Engineering' by Engineer Captain Edgar C. Smith, OBE, RN, published by Cambridge University Press in 1938.)
That opinion didn't last long. The first steam-powered Royal Navy mail ship was dispatched to the Mediterranean in 1830.