The Edwin Fox

How an Ordinary Sailing Ship Connected the World in the Age of Globalization, 1850–1914

By Boyd Cothran, Adrian Shubert

312 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 35 halftones, 4 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7655-5
    Published: October 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7656-2
    Published: October 2023

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It began as a small, slow, and unadorned sailing vessel—in a word, ordinary. Later, it was a weary workhorse in the age of steam. But the story of the Edwin Fox reveals how an everyday merchant ship drew together a changing world and its people in an extraordinary age of rising empires, sweeping economic transformation, and social change. This fascinating work of global history offers a vividly detailed and engaging narrative of globalization writ small, viewed from the decks and holds of a single vessel. The Edwin Fox connected the lives and histories of millions, though most never even saw it.

Built in Calcutta in 1853, the Edwin Fox was chartered by the British navy as a troop transport during the Crimean War. In the following decades, it was sold, recommissioned, and refitted by an increasingly far-flung constellation of militaries and merchants. It sailed to exotic ports carrying luxury goods, mundane wares, and all kinds of people: not just soldiers and officials but indentured laborers brought from China to Cuba, convicts and settlers being transported from the British Empire to western Australia and New Zealand—with dire consequences for local Indigenous peoples—and others. But the power of this story rests in the everyday ways people, nations, economies, and ideas were knitted together in this foundational era of our modern world.

About the Authors

Boyd Cothran is associate professor of history at York University.
For more information about Boyd Cothran, visit the Author Page.

Adrian Shubert is professor emeritus of history at York University and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
For more information about Adrian Shubert, visit the Author Page.


"A skillfully narrated, deeply engaging account of the shifting currents that reshaped global networks and changed the relationships among nations and their people in the second half of the nineteenth century. The book deserves to be widely reviewed and read around the globe."—Tony Ballantyne, author of Empires and the Reach of the Global: 1870–1945

“In Cothran and Shubert’s expert telling, the story of the Edwin Fox reveals the great changes wrought by human globalization in the second half of the nineteenth century, skillfully situating individual lived experiences on a single sailing ship within a big, broad history of the era. It should appeal to a wide audience.”—Cian T. McMahon, author of The Coffin Ship: Life and Death at Sea during the Great Irish Famine

"Imagine a biography of a ship: an extraordinary life history of a quite ordinary ship, circulating abject human cargoes and rare commodities through the great Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Cothran and Shubert have given us such a book, and it is magnificent."—Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Brown University