New British export data for research in energy embodiment in trade, 1862-1908

Britain has exported masses manufactures and raw materials over the last few centuries. Better shipping, steam engines, and safer seas allowed for a massive expansion of trade in the nineteenth century.

This map charts coal exports from Great Britain (incl. Ireland) to primary destination countries at a key time 1862-1908 and was built in Excel using British Export data.  Detailed is product, year, quantity, and destination country. Data was derived from parliamentary reports transcribed using OCR tools.

The following map was created in MS Excel from our data and shows coal exports from GB to main trading partners for the full period.  France and Germany were once the biggest importers of British coal, clearly, but countries in modern India and in the Americas received significant quantities too.

coal exports 3

France imported nearly 200 million tons of our coal over this 46-year period, and the world received over 1 billion tons.  All this coal made a significant contribution to economic growth and environmental degradation worldwide.

In the future we could create time-dynamic videos for all data including different goods, years, and territories.  And with more funding we could calculate carbon dioxide emissions from British coal and the energy ’embodied’ in the other exports too. 

Coal burnt by steamships engaged in foreign trade was also recorded by parliament as can be seen in this chart.  This shows the expansion of British steamships involved in foreign trade. Coal burnt at sea nearly trebled over twenty years, which is testament to the first globalisation and the technology that moved goods and raw materials to markets more cheaply and ever further afield.  Ships engines became more energy efficient over this period, meaning the increasing quantities of coal burnt led to even more miles travelled per ton.


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