The Battle of Dorking

The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer is an 1871 novella by George Tomkyns Chesney, starting the genre of invasion literature and an important precursor of science fiction. Written just after the Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian War, it describes an invasion of Britain by a German-speaking country referred to in oblique terms as The Other Power or The Enemy.

The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer
Cover of the 1914 edition
AuthorGeorge Tomkyns Chesney
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreInvasion literature
PublisherLippincott, Grambo & Co (reprint Oxford Press 1971)
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover & paperback)


Chesney was a captain in the Royal Engineers and had grown concerned over the ramshackle state of Britain's armed forces. He used fiction as a device to promote his views after letters and journalism on the issue had failed to impress public opinion. The Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) had just demonstrated the speed, superiority and adaptability of the Prussian Army, which meant that Chesney's depiction of a fast-moving and determined invader hit a nerve.[1]


The story is told as a narrative by an unnamed veteran who participated in the Battle of Dorking. He is recounting the final days before and during the invasion of Britain. It is addressed to his grandchildren as an event fifty years earlier. Beginning sometime after an event similar to the Franco-Prussian War, concerns grow with the mobilisation of armed forces near the Netherlands. The Royal Navy is destroyed by a wonder-weapon ("fatal engines"), and an invasion force suddenly lands near Worthing, Sussex.

Demilitarisation and lack of training means that the army is forced to mobilise auxiliary units from the general public, led by ineffective and inexperienced officers. The two armies converge outside Dorking, Surrey, where the British line is cut through by the advancing enemy and the survivors on the British side are forced to flee.[2]

The story ends with the conquest of Britain and its conversion into a heavily-taxed province of the invading empire. The British Empire is broken up, with only Gibraltar and Malta being kept by the victorious Germans. Canada and the West Indies are ceded to the United States, and Australia, India and Ireland are all granted independence. Ireland enters a lengthy civil war as a result.[2]

Publication historyEdit

Front cover of the 1871 pamphlet edition of The Battle of Dorking

The Battle of Dorking was first published as a serial in Blackwood's Magazine, then in pamphlet form before finally appearing as a novel. It went through several editions and engaged the interest of soldiers and politicians, as well as the reading public.[citation needed]

It has appeared in a number of collections,[citation needed] including Michael Moorcock's Before Armageddon: An Anthology of Victorian and Edwardian Imaginative Fiction Published Before 1914 (1975).

The pamphlet is in the public domain worldwide, because the author died more than 100 years ago.


  1. ^ Ashley 2011, p. 84.
  2. ^ a b Chesney 1871, pp. 1–102.


Further readingEdit