Short excerpts to discuss two debates and controversies on British imperialism

  • Half the world, Conquered and Peopled in a Fit of Absence of Mind? (John Sealey, The Expansion of England, London, 1883)
  • Reluctant Imperialists? (Pr.H.C. Mathew,  »The Liberal Age, 1851-1914 » in K. O. Morgan (Ed.), The Oxford History of Britain, vol. 5: The Modern Age, 1851-1987, Oxford University Press, 1992).

Reluctant Imperialists?

[…] The British did not as a whole look for increased direct imperial authority […] Indeed, in the old areas of white settlement, they successfully sought to devolve authority, passing the Dominion of Canada Act in 1867 and the Commonwealth of Australia Act in 1900. Yet the last forty years of the century saw the annexation of vast areas of land in Africa, the Far East, and the Pacific. In 1851, Britain was the world’s trader, with an overwhelming dominance of world shipping, which continued even when Britain’s dominance in manufactured goods was declining after 1870. British interests were thus to be found wherever there was trade, even though British imperial authority might not be formally present […] In East and Central Africa, the first European presence was often religious, as evangelical medical missionaries such as David Livingstone preached the gospel, healed the sick, and exposed the inhumanity of the inland slave trade […] In addition to this huge and largely informal network of trade was the centre-piece of India, `the chief jewel in the imperial crown’, now no longer so profitable, but the assumed focal point of British thinking about security outside the European context. Following the Indian mutiny of 1857-8, the old East India Company was wound up, and its territories came under direct British administration. In 1876, at the express wish of the queen, an Act was passed at Westminster which declared her `Empress of India’.

To safeguard India, and the route to that subcontinent,various annexations were made. In the vicinity, Burma and Malaysia were annexed, largely at the urging of the government of India in Calcutta, which conducted its own programme of imperialism with the systematic approach characteristic of everything it did, and quite dissimilar to […] London. On the route, Egypt and the Sudan came under British control, and imperial expansion in East and South Africa was at least partly affected by Indian considerations.

H.C. Mathew,  »The Liberal Age, 1851-1914 » in K. O. Morgan (Ed.), The Oxford History of Britain, vol. 5: The Modern Age, 1851-1987, Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 43.


Half the world, Conquered and Peopled in a Fit of Absence of Mind?

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