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Their method of conquest was to make military roads, planned on system for the whole island, and to plant along them forts garrisoned by the regular troops.

I can't manage to explain this construction from the fundamental definitions of "on" in the OALD.

The SOED (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary) does not reveal any satisfactory solution.

There is the following definition, but "system" is not a word connoting action.

(SOED) II Of time or action implying time 7 On the occasion (of an action); immediately after (and because of or in reaction to), as a result of.
S. FORESTER The captain came instantly on hearing your summons.
F. TUOHY Roland's first decision on leaving .. was entirely conventional.

(Their method of conquest was to make military roads, planned as a result of (a) system for the whole island, and to plant along them forts garrisoned by the regular troops.

I would say that "on" could mean "as part of (a)", but this is a wild guess supported by nothing other than common sense, so an entirely different idea might be involved.

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  • Other instances of “planned on system”: google.com/…
    – user 66974
    Aug 1, 2023 at 17:31
  • 3
    Trevalyn's wording is awkward. "Their method of conquest was to make military roads, systematically planned for the whole island, and to plant along them forts garrisoned by the regular troops," makes more sense.
    – DJohnson
    Aug 1, 2023 at 17:39
  • 2
    What @DJohnson said (on system here is just a really awkward alternative to according to a system, systematically. Aug 1, 2023 at 17:46
  • 2
    All of this (Google, Coleridge) might have one thinking that they are possibly dealing with a fixed expression, then, rather than an awkward formulation.
    – LPH
    Aug 1, 2023 at 17:55
  • 1
    @alphabet Ha! Whoomp, there it is.
    – DJohnson
    Aug 1, 2023 at 20:18

3 Answers 3

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On system = systematically:

The OED has the entry for "System" which is preceded by a preposition to give an adjunct:

System (n.) II.15.

As a mass noun. Orderly arrangement or method; systematic form or order.

1699 Aristotle is more noted for his order, in bringing Morality into Systeme,..and distinguishing vertues into their several kinds, which had not been handled Systematically before. T. Baker, Reflections upon Learning vi. 68

1822 The work of the house is performed as if by magic, but it is the magic of system. W. Irving, Bracebridge Hall iii. 28

1876 Macaulay, even during his hours of leisure, began to read on system. G. O. Trevelyan, Life & Letters of Macaulay vol. II. xv. 474

1992 A cognition that is produced methodically, but without system, is rhapsodic. J. M. Young, translation of I. Kant, Lect. on Logic 287

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Here are a couple additional attestations where the meaning seems to shade more towards "strategically" or "purposefully".

It is good for women, especially, to be endowed with a soft blindness; to have mild, dim eyes, that never penetrate below the surface of things—that take all for what it seems. Thousands, knowing this, keep their eyelids drooped on system; but the most downcast glance has its loophole, through which it can, on occasion, take its sentinel-survey of life.

Brontë , Charlotte. Shirley, A Tale Novel by Charlotte Brontë Annotated (p. 353). Kindle Edition.

In all this Miss Keeldar partly yielded to her disposition; but a remark she made a year afterwards proved that she partly also acted on system. "Louis," she said, "would never have learned to rule if she had not ceased to govern. The incapacity of the sovereign had developed the powers of the premier."

Brontë , Charlotte. Shirley, A Tale Novel by Charlotte Brontë Annotated (p. 800). Kindle Edition.

And there's an 1868 article from The Spectator describing a murder:

... murder of a cool, deliberate kind, murder planned on system ...

cited in Victorian Crime, Madness and Sensation, Andrew Maunder and Grace Moore, editors. 2004

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Trevalyn's wording is awkward.

His wording can be improved by writing, "Their method of conquest was to make military roads, systematically planned for the whole island, and to plant along them forts garrisoned by the regular troops."

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