Entry updated 22 June 2021. Tagged: Author.
(1830-1895) UK soldier, founder in 1871 of the Royal Indian Civil Engineering College at Staines, a Conservative Member of Parliament from 1892 for Oxford, and author of some fiction, including the famous The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer (May 1871 Blackwood's Magazine; 1871 chap; vt The Fall of England? The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer 1871 chap) [see Checklist for further details on vts] published anonymously, though the author was soon identified as "Lieut-Col George T Chesney". After great success, both in magazine and book form – two of the many variant titles under which the book was released are recorded below – this tale virtually founded the Future War or "dreadful warning" genre of Invasion stories, which attained great popularity in the UK, as the unexpected sudden defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 generated waves of Paranoia and apocalyptic anxiety (for further discussion, and list of associated tales, see Battle of Dorking). An earlier and inferior story, Alfred Bate Richards's The Invasion of England (A Possible Tale of Future Times) (1870 chap, privately printed), had had little effect.
Chesney's story warns against UK military complacency and the incompetence of politicians in a bleak narrative of confusion and folly at home as the German army mounts an efficient invasion by surprise attack. The Battle of Dorking was immediately reprinted in Canada and the USA, and translated into several European languages, including German, each European nation soon being inspired into developing its own version of the invasion theme – which saw its greatest popularity, understandably, in the years immediately preceding World War One. A second tale, The New Ordeal (1879), which posited the obsolescence of war through innovations in weaponry and its replacement by tournaments, proved less popular. His last novel, The Lesters; Or, a Capitalist's Labour (1893), depicts a kind of private investment Utopia: the hero Lester chances upon a hidden treasure, becoming thereby wealthy enough to build a model City which he modestly names Lestertia, in which matters are ordered more satisfactorily (to a right-wing sensibility) than they are in England at large. Chesney was knighted in 1890. [JC/AR]
General Sir George Tomkyns Chesney
born Tiverton, Devon: 30 April 1830
died London: 31 March 1895
- The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer (Edinburgh, Scotland: William Blackwood, 1871) anonymous [chap: first appeared May 1871 Blackwood's Magazine: pb/Patterson]
- The Fall of England? The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer (New York: G P Putnam's Sons, 1871) anonymous [chap: vt of the above: precedence of this edition over the Porter and Coates below not established: pb/]
- The German Conquest of England in 1875, and Battle of Dorking; Or, Reminiscences of a Volunteer, Describing the Arrival of the German Armada – Destruction of the British Fleet – The Decisive Battle of Dorking – Capture of London – Downfall of the English Empire (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Porter and Coates, 1871) by an Eyewitness [chap: vt of the above: precedence of the Putnam edition above not established: pb/nonpictorial]
- The New Ordeal (Edinburgh, Scotland: William Blackwood, 1879) anonymous [hb/]
- The Lesters; Or, a Capitalist's Labour (London: Smith, Elder and Co, 1893) [3 vols: hb/]
about the author
- I F Clarke. Chapter 2 of Voices Prophesying War 1763-1984 (London: Oxford University Press, 1966) [nonfiction: hb/]
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