*from “An Interview with Scott Westerfeld on Barking Spiders, Steampunk, and All Things Leviathan”.
Image: (English Heritage): “Inventor and engineer Sir Hiram Maxim is commemorated with a blue plaque at Hatton House, 57d Hatton Garden, Holborn, the founding site of the Maxim Gun Company and where he invented the first fully automatic machine gun.”
Sam Bocetta wrote for Military History Now on 24.10.17:
“HIRAM MAXIM WAS a prolific American inventor. During his lifetime, he devised mousetraps, curling irons, steam pumps, bronchitis inhalers, and even an amusement park ride. He also tinkered with powered flight, early radio technology and light bulbs.
It wasn’t until 1882 however that the 42-year-old inventor conceived his most famous creation.
“I was in Vienna, where I met an American whom I had known in the States,” Maxim told the Times of London. “He said: ‘Hang your chemistry and electricity! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each other’s throats with greater facility.’ ”
Ironically, Hiram’s creation would not initially be used by Europeans to kill one another, but by the continent’s imperial powers to slaughter colonial enemies by the thousands. In fact, Maxim’s gun was so effective at keeping order in Britain’s sprawling empire, Queen Victoria bestowed a knighthood on the inventor in 1900.
In just one battle during the 1893 Matabele War, Maxim guns cut down more than 1,600 warriors. Tribal leaders were so despondent by the lopsided defeat, they committed suicide en masse by throwing themselves on their spears.
Over the course of the next three years, Maxim toiled in his London workshop and, lo, the Maxim machine gun was born…”
Ramey Mize concludes her article, The Conspicuous Absence of Machine Guns in British Imperialist Imagery, in the Rutgers Art Review (2021):
“…Throughout this article, multiple manifestations of tension and volatility reflect and refract each other, evident in paradoxical constructions of Victorian masculinity, in the impulse behind the persistent obfuscation of the machine gun’s fundamental role in the colonial theater, and in the explosive recoil within the obdurate shell of the weapon itself. Around the turn of the century, a wide range of visual material, including battle paintings, drill formation photographs, and technological diagrams, exhibits an uneasy awareness of the machine gun’s lethal, precarious proportions—as well as man’s fraught relationship to them. Here lies the key to the machine gun’s absence in British imperialist imagery by artists such as Richard Caton Woodville. The sinister, sing-song phrase, “Whatever happens, we have got/The Maxim Gun, and they have not,” coined by Hilaire Belloc in his 1898 account The Modern Traveler, betrays the very presumption upon which Western claims to preeminence rest. Behind the boastings of the British soldiers’ physical and racial superiority over their colonial conquests, whether in Africa, China, or India, lurked the knowledge that the machine could lay waste to them all; any person, regardless of race, class, or nationality was capable of pulling a trigger.”
“Published in 1898, The Modern Traveller is not a travel book at all, but a brilliant satire (in verse) that attacks colonialism, explorer-journalists intent on fame and fortune, and British pretensions to moral superiority. Along with other travel accounts of the period, Belloc was undoubtedly parodying Henry Morton Stanley’s In Darkest Africa, 1890, which sold 150,000 copies within a few weeks of publication. (Stanley was the reporter who led a 7000 mile expedition through tropical jungle to find the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone in 1871.) The entire poem takes the form of an interview that the narrator of the story, an unscrupulous adventurer, gives to a journalist from the Daily Menace (probably a poke at the British newspaper, the Daily Mail). The narrator explains to his wide-eyed visitor how he teamed up with Commander Henry Sin, a foreign mercenary, and Captain William Blood, a commercial buccaneer, and embarked on an enterprising and patriotic expedition to the dark continent. Belloc has the narrator describe the dangers and hardships endured by these scoundrels, along with the narrator’s claims to personal heroism, so as to make it clear that most, if not all, of the account has been fabricated. Conveniently, Commander Sin and Captain Blood, perhaps also fictitious, do not survive the expedition to provide independent testimony. Belloc’s satire ends with the narrator boasting about how much he is being paid for his upcoming book.”