Presentation on theme: "British Imperial History Revision Power Point – A2."— Presentation transcript:
British Imperial History Revision Power Point – A2.
1876 Victoria declared ‘Empress of India’. 1882 British occupation of Egypt. ‘Scramble for Africa’ underway in 1880s/1890s. 1898 Conquest of the Sudan 1914 - 1918 WWI 1899-1902 Second Boer War results in British control of the whole of S. Africa. 1880 First Boer War (until 1881). 1879 Zulu War 1875 Disraeli purchases shares in Suez canal. 1919 Versailles Treaty Britain gains mandates in Middle East & Africa. Amritsar Massacre - India. Government of India Act 1948 ‘Malayan Emergency’ begins, lasts until 1960. 1952 Mau Mau insurgency beginning in Kenya, lasts until 1956. 1956 Suez Crisis - Sudan 1957 Ghana is granted independence. 1931 Statute of Westminster - Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. 1935 Government of India Act 1938 Climax of Appeasement at Munich 1939-45 WWII Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ Campaign – 1942. 1945 Labour wins 1945 election and opts for Indian independence. 1947 Partition of India & Pakistan Cold War intensifying between USA & USSR - continues until late 1980s. 1961 Tanganyika (Tanzania) is granted independence. 1962 Uganda is granted independence 1963 Kenyan independence 1964 Malawi and Zambia granted independence. 1965 UDI by Rhodesian whites 1973 Britain joins the EEC 1980 Zimbabwean Independence 1930 Round Table Conference, London. Gandhi’s campaign of civil disobedience in India (to 1931). 1920 Gandhi’s non- cooperation movement in India (until 1922). 1960 Macmillan’s ‘Winds of Change’ speech. Nigerian Independence British Imperial Timeline
The Scramble for Africa Africa was rapidly split up amongst the European powers between 1880 and 1914 – virtually the whole continent was occupied in a phase often described as ‘the Scramble for Africa’. The only independent local state able to resist was Abyssinia, which defeated an Italian attempt to invade in 1896, Previously, European controlled areas had been on the coast and mainly in the hands of the British, French and Portuguese. Now these powers expanded their territories and were joined by the Germans, Italians and Belgians. The motives of the powers involved varied, though once the race for territory began, there was pressure not to be left behind. Empires seemed to convey status, so it began to seem intolerable to the national pride of the European powers to be left on the sidelines while others took over vast tracts of Africa, potentially rich as markets or sources of resources. Rules were agreed between the Europeans for sharing out some areas, for instance, a conference in Berlin in 1884 laid down ground rules for the occupation of West Africa (the first rule was that a country could simply seize the land they wanted, and then inform the other European powers.) Before the ‘Scramble’ Britain already had the largest European colonial empire, and its Indian Empire was richer and more populous than anything Africa had to offer. Our possessions in Africa were fairly limited; the largest area of British control was in South Africa – the Cape colony and Natal. Britain also controlled Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Lagos, and had claimed the right to control over the Boer republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. British traders, explorers and missionaries had penetrated into the areas surrounding the British colonies, but the government had no policy of extending direct British rule before 1880. The situation of trade links without control meant we had the benefit of access to raw materials and markets without the need for the expense of troops and administrators that would be involved in an occupation. Some historians have characterised the relationship with these areas as one of ‘informal imperialism’– e.g. although it was based on trade rather than colonisation, our traders were backed up by British forces when necessary. The fact that we participated in the ‘Scramble’ represented a major shift of policy; by the time it was over we had gained the largest share of territory; the British claimed 5 million square miles compared to the 2.5 million miles shared by Germany, Belgium and Italy. British possessions in Africa included Egypt and the Sudan in the North, British East Africa (mainly Kenya and Uganda), large tracts of land in West Africa including modern Nigeria and Ghana and much of Southern Africa (British possessions stretched from modern South Africa to modern Zambia).
Bechuanaland Mainly as a result of Boer settlers penetrating South Africa British government worried about the possibility that the Boers might link to with the German Settlers in German South West Africa This led to paranoia that the British would be cut off from the mineral rich Zambia. Egypt Egypt was important, because a great deal of trade passed through the Suez Canal, and it made trade routes significantly shorter. Equally importantly, it allowed for faster and easier transfer of troops to India in case of an international situation,. Sudan The Sudan controlled the upper reaches of the Nile, which was vital to Egypt’s economic development. Reaction to French involvement at Fashoda. West Africa (Ghana, Nigeria) European powers had started to take over territory in West Afica with the aim of giving their merchants access to markets and resources The British were concerned they would be shut out if they did not follow suit. The area taken over was rich in palm oil (used for soap and candles and as an industrial lubricant), rubber and cocoa. Rhodesia Supposedly rich in minerals and resources. Was a stepping stone to brining all of East Africa under British control Hoped that as it was hospitable for Europeans, British would settle there and anglicise Africa. East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Zanzibar) The east of Africa had huge economic potential German and French explorers were interested, Britain feared being left behind. Lead to the British staking their claim because of the perceived threat to their trade routes to and from India. The fear that the Germans could take control of the source of the White Nile. The Scramble for Africa – Map
Strategic Factors Strategic considerations lay behind the event which arguably touched off not only British expansion in Africa but also the whole ‘Scramble’, the British occupation of Egypt. Egypt was a semi independent part of the Turkish Empire, with its own ruler or Khedive. Trade with Egypt was significant, but it was also of crucial importance to the British because of its strategic position; a great deal of British trade passed through Egypt (because trade routes through Egypt cut a considerable amount of time off a journey to the East), and Egypt’s position also allowed fro easier and faster transfer of British troops to or from India in the case of an international situation. This prompted the Conservative PM Disraeli to pull off a notable coup in 1875; the prime minister took a secret loan to buy 44% of the Suez canal shares, which then gave the British government an excuse to get involved because of our national interests. The Occupation of Egypt The Occupation of Egypt – Sequence of Events The immediate cause of the British seizure of Egypt was Egyptian nationalism. During the 1860s and 1870s, the Khedive had borrowed large sums from European bankers which he was unable to repay. He had to hand over the running of the government and its finances to British and French advisers – they cut government spending and raised taxes, which caused misery for the Egyptian population. A nationalist movement developed which the British regarded as a threat to their influence. Gladstone became convinced that it was essential to stop Egypt falling into the hands of the nationalists and sent an army of 30,000 to invade Egypt. They defeated the nationalist movement at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir and although Gladstone claimed the occupation would only be temporary, the Khedive’s authority now depended on British troops – if they left, it would collapse, opening the way for the hostile nationalists. Although Egypt wasn’t officially a colony, the British Army remained and the country was governed by the British Agent and Consul General, Sir Evelyn Baring, with the Khedive ruling in name only. The British remained in effective control of Egypt until 1922. Conclusion This major expansion of the Empire therefore happened for strategic reasons, although there were also economic factors as British investment in the Canal was also at risk. In the short term, it was provoked by the attempts of Egyptian nationalists to resist European interference and facilitated by the willingness of the Khedive to collaborate to save his throne. Great power rivalry also played an important part – the British feared that if they didn’t intervene in Egypt, the French might. International Relations The British invasion of Egypt was also affected by a fear that if Britain didn’t move to resolve the problems caused by the nationalist rebellion, the French would, giving them access to the Suez canal. Subsequently, the French were furious that having removed Arabi, the British showed no signs of leaving Egypt, which France had at least as much of an economic stake in, and Anglo – French relations became hostile until the early 1900s. As the French response was to expand their own Empire in Africa, partly in the hope of forcing the British out of Egypt, the British occupation is has been seen by some historians as the trigger for the ‘Scramble for Africa’. Economic Factors Egypt’s strategic importance to Britain was underpinned by economic concerns – a great deal of British trade passed though the Suez canal, the ability to travel through it made trade routes to and from India shorter, and the government was under pressure from British investors, who had stakes in the Suez canal, to prevent the nationalist rebellion in Egypt, which might have restricted British access to the canal.
The Occupation of the Sudan The Occupation of the Sudan – the Sequence of Events The PM, Gladstone had no desire to take over the Sudan and attempted to withdraw Egyptian garrisons, but this went disastrously wrong: In 1883, a rebellion led by the Mahdi erupted and his followers destroyed a British led Egyptian force sent to end rebellion. Gladstone send General Gordon to the Sudan with orders to evacuate British and Egyptian nationals, but Gordon installed himself in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, to await relief and establish British control. Gladstone delayed making a decision about the relief and Gordon’s force was slaughtered two days before it arrived. Gladstone was condemned by the public and politicians and lost the 1885 general election, to be succeeded by Lord Salisbury. Salisbury’s Conservative government sent a force to conquer the Sudan in 1898. Strategic Factors It had become important to defend our position in Egypt, after a pact with Italy and Austria to protect our interests in the Mediterranean broke down. Furthermore, the French hadn’t given up the attempt to get the British out of Egypt and had sent a small force to the Sudan. The Sudan was important because it controlled the upper reaches of the River Nile, and the Nile was vital to Egypt’s economic development. The Sudan was therefore taken over to protect Britain's strategic interest in the Suez canal. International Relations The British occupation of the Sudan was also partially a result of Anglo French rivalry: Britain feared that if France controlled the Sudan, they could divert the waters of the Nile, affecting the Suez Canal and crippling Egypt economically. In 1898, General Kitchener defeated a Sudanese army at Omdurman. His force was then ordered to fight a rival French expedition at Fashoda. The French were forced to withdraw. This incident confirmed British supremacy over the whole of Egypt and the Sudan, but undermined Anglo-French relations. The Fashoda Incident and the threat from France was therefore the trigger for the occupation of the Sudan. Public Attitudes Public attitudes within Britain were also a factor in British policy towards the Sudan. There was increasing popular support for imperialism, and Gladstone was under intense pressure to rescue Gordon, who was a popular hero – Gordon’s fate made Gladstone extremely unpopular and damaged him politically – grief and anger swept the nation and Queen Victoria sent Gladstone a reproving telegram. Although Gladstone was unrepentant, his refusal to send troops to help General Gordon sooner severely damaged his political and public standing, and led to electoral defeat. On the other hand, Salisbury’s conquest of the Sudan, avenging the death of Gordon, was popular with the public and added to the Conservatives’ appeal.
British Expansion into West Africa This led to a race to take over territory and sign up local chiefs for the various Empires, and the British took over the whole of Nigeria. The British colony of the Gold Coast (Ghana) was also expanded northwards after the defeat of the powerful Ashanti tribe in 1895. In West Africa, the British government expanded their Empire primarily in response to the actions of other powers. The main area taken over was modern Nigeria, where the British already had a coastal colony at Lagos and trade conducted by the Royal Niger Company, especially in palm oil (used for soap and candles and as an industrial lubricant), rubber and cocoa. By the 1880s, other European powers had started to take over territory in West Africa with the aim of giving their merchants exclusive access to markets and resources, and the British government became concerned that British traders would be shut out if they didn’t follow suit – the initial act of imperial expansion was not due to planned policy but economic priorities, as a response to other countries expanding in Africa, the British felt they needed to stake a claim. To avoid conflict between the European Powers, a conference in Berlin in 1884 agreed ground rules for the occupation of areas of West Africa (colonisers simply had to seize the land and inform the other states that they were in effective occupation).
British Expansion into East Africa There were also some strategic issues in East Africa. As in Northern Africa, the reactions of Africans also influenced the process of colonisation - either resisting the British, like the Ashanti, which resulted in war and conquest, or collaborating with them. The motives for expanding the Empire in East Africa were similar to those in the West, though in this case there were also strategic factors: The Island of Zanzibar in the East imported goods from Britain and India and was therefore a major trading point. The East of Africa had huge economic potential, and German and French explorers became interested in the area. The British saw this as a threat to British trade and trade routes to India and the Far East. As in West Africa, the British government was driven to expand into this region by the activities of European rivals and pressure from British commercial interests. Traders and explorers form the two countries lobbied their governments to act, notably the German Karl Peters and the British businessman Sir William McKinnon. When Germany declared a protectorate in Tanganyika (what is now the mainland of Tanzania), McKinnon’s British East Africa Company, lobbied for the creation of British colonies in the area and Salisbury’s Conservative government agreed the 1890 Anglo- German Convention, whereby as part of a series of exchanges of claims and territories, the Germans accepted British control of Uganda, Kenya and Zanzibar. Salisbury initially expected the British East Africa Company to run the new territories, but when it proved unable to cope, the government took over. The motives for British expansion in West and East Africa were therefore mainly economic, although the British government might have been content with small coastal colonies and informal control of the hinterland had it not been for the seizure of territory by the other European powers and lobbying by local ‘men on the spot’ like McKinnon.
The Zulu War and the First Boer War Despite the defeat of a small British force in the First Boer War, Gladstone eventually decided to restore the Transvaal’s independence. Nevertheless, the peace settlements implied some form of British ‘suzerainty’ or ‘over lordship’. The Cape was originally settled by the Dutch (ancestors of the Boers/ Afrikaners), but conquered by Britain 1806. A minority of the "Boers" decided to move into the interior to escape British rule (the 1836 Great Trek), setting up two independent states: the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Later British expansion brought the Empire’s borders up to these Boer states, and government policy became to bring about a federation of the British and Boer colonies to end tensions in S Africa. In 1877 the Boers in the Transvaal were forced to ask for British help in defending themselves against the powerful Zulu kingdom and Disraeli’s Conservative government took the opportunity to annex the Transvaal. The High Commissioner of Cape Colony, Sir Bartle Frere, who was an expansionist, then issued the Zulus with an ultimatum to disband their army and ordered the invasion of Zululand when they refused – despite orders from the government to keep the peace. In the Zulu War that followed, a British army was massacred at the battle of Isandhlwana, before the Zulus were defeated. With the Zulu threat over, the Transvaal demanded its independence and rebelled when the new British PM, Gladstone, hesitated.
Expansion of the Empire in Southern Africa Cecil Rhodes was a British born south African business man and politician who was sent to South Africa at the age of 17 because of poor health – it was thought that the hot climate would help. He was an ardent believer in colonialism and started a secret society with the aim of bringing the whole world under British rule. By 1884, it was becoming clear that Boer settlers were penetrating into Bechuanaland. This created the possibility that the Boers might link up with German colonists in Herman South West Africa, leading to the isolation of British controlled Southern Africa from the supposedly mineral rich Zambesia to the north. The possibility of a German-Transvaal alliance was of great concern to Britain at this time and Rhodes saw not only the opportunity for colonial expansion but also for the expansion of his own personal wealth if he could access the economic potential in the Zambesia region. Bechuanaland was crucial to this process and in December 1884, Britain declared Bechuanaland a British protectorate. In 1889 Rhodes acquired a charter for his British South Africa Company, knowing that he could exploit the government’s attitude of empire by using his company to administer and control new territories on their behalf. The BSAC functioned like an independent colonising organisation and Rhodes used it so that by 1895, he had eliminated all effective opposition to his control of Zambezia, which he named Rhodesia, and Nyasaland. The motives in Southern Africa were primarily strategic and economic, but there were some significant differences compared to other areas of Africa. T The main competitor to British influence was not an outside European power, but the Boer states already existing within Southern Africa. ‘Men on the spot’ like Rhodes played an important role in driving forward colonisation, though there was a much stronger appetite for expansion from within the government after the arch – imperialist Joseph Chamberlain became Colonial Secretary in 1895 - this was to be a major factor in the second Boer War. As elsewhere, British expansion was accompanied by a mixture of collaboration and resistance on the part of African peoples like the Matabele and Zulus. Once territories were taken over, British administrators were spread very thinly, backed up by small numbers of African police and troops - as a result, they depended on the cooperation of local chiefs. Without the collaboration of the Africans themselves, British rule would therefore have been impossible - as a result, it was necessary to compromise with the wishes of local elites and avoid too much interference with local customs.
Popular Support for the Empire 1870 - 1914 Britain had a parliamentary system and they needed to win the voters’ support. Public attitudes to imperialism mattered, and it is therefore important that the 1880s and 1890s were a time of growing support for imperialism in Britain. The greatest support came from the upper and middle class, especially from those that had a direct interest in the Empire (colonial administrators, middle class business men and colonial officials). There was also rising support from the lower middle class and skilled workers. Some have argued that the working class was largely indifferent though other historians argue that imperialistic propaganda did have an impact on the working class. The Church benefited from imperialism - missionary activity was facilitated by imperial expansion. Although missionaries often put the interests of the Africans before those of the colonial authorities, they played an part in spreading British influence (e.g. through teaching English in mission schools) and they reinforced white dominance because the new Christian communities were led by white bishops. Although British politicians claimed bringing civilisation and Christianity to the ‘natives’ as the justification for imperial expansion, there is no evidence that this was their main motive Support for imperialism was encouraged by the Conservatives and helped them to dominate politics in the later 19th century. The Liberal leader Gladstone’s more cautious attitude became increasingly unpopular, as can be seen over the popular fury over the death of Gordon in the Sudan. A climate existed in which ‘war, the armed forces and imperial adventures’ had become ‘focal points of popular entertainment and mass celebration’ – this was a favourable situation for politicians bent on imperial expansion. The media and propaganda spread support for imperialism effectively. Pro-imperialist propaganda was widespread after 1880, and it spread support for imperialism because it was easily accessible, simple, repeated frequently, believable, based on beliefs that the audience already held and it maintained the interest of the audience. Leading imperialist, Joseph Chamberlain argued that through expanding the empire, investors and workers would benefit. This would help finance the radical social reforms he planned to instigate. Chamberlain was looking towards the future and he saw that the future world powers would be large countries (like America and Russia) and that the UK would have no power. He wanted to form a permanent imperial federation, linked by trade and a universal parliament. He wanted to introduce tariff reform, as part of imperial preference – e.g. Britain preferring trade with Canada, not the USA. Chamberlain also thought that Britain had a moral responsibility to bring civilisation and Christianity to the African natives. His idea of Britain helping uncivilised and inferior peoples appealed to people theoretically, but his ideas of economic stability thought imperial control appealed to the public on a more practical level.
Anti- Imperialism in Britain 1870 – 1914 Considerable anti-imperialist reaction followed the brutal repression of the Matabele tribe in Rhodesia, where the British said they wanted to ‘thoroughly thrash the natives’. Support for the empire was widespread during the 19th century, but it was not total. Until the 2nd Boer war of 1899, there was no anti-imperialism movement, but before the Boer war, the liberal party had been divided – some of them wanted to avoid reckless colonial expansion. Members of the new socialist movement also opposed imperialism as they thought it would distract the working class and cause them to forget real issues of wages and working conditions. They thought that the imperialist capitalists were using patriotism to distract the working population from challenging social change. Some Liberals questioned the economic advantages of the empire – they felt it undermined free trade. This led some Liberal party members to move to the newly forming Labour party, adding to anti-imperialist feeling within it
The Media, Propaganda and Jingoism, 1870 – 1914 The attitude of many people in Britain in the 19th century has been described as ‘jingoistic’; jingoism was in idea based on a patriotic song from 1878. The idea came to represent a type of arrogant patriotism that sought to display Britain’s military power. Jingoists thought that Britain would should protect her interests though patriotism, and that Britain’s pride and honour could not be allowed to be undermined. The jingoistic ideal has been associated with the idea of Britain as a country who was not afraid of its enemies. The media was a superb vehicle for propaganda because it could reach the masses at every level. Children’s literature became the target of imperialist literature (such as imperialist magazines like Magnet or Union Jack) and popular literature was also used to spread propaganda – one of the greatest pro- imperialist writers was Rudyard Kipling, who deliberately wrote to influence the masses. The popular press in the late 19th century was in the hands of pro-imperialist Lord Hamsworth (who founded the Daily Mail) - it used glamorised stories of the empire and imperial conflicts that created heroes (such as General Gordon) who were popular amongst the British public.
Reasons for the Second Boer War Was the last great event in the expansion of the British Empire in Africa. Although there were faults on both sides, it was primarily the result of the strategic ambitions of British imperialists (especially the Salisbury’s Colonial Joseph Chamberlain), and their success in whipping up support for war among the British public. There was competition between the British and Boers for domination of South Africa; the attempts of the British to absorb the Boer states had led to the first Boer War in 1881, after which the Boers regained their independence. However, the peace settlement still implied a degree of control. By the 1890s, influential British imperialists like Rhodes and Chamberlain were more eager than ever to take over the Boer states, which they saw as a vital part of their aim of strengthening the Empire and Britain’s role as a World Power. South Africa was crucial to the future of the Empire; it was a fallback route for trade to India and Australia, and was rich in resources. It was also an area suitable for white settlers. However, even in the British - controlled areas, the Boers outnumbered the British. In 1884, gold had been found in the Transvaal; it seemed likely that in the long run, the wealthy, independent Boer states would become the dominant force in South Africa, and that Boers in the British colonies (the Cape and Natal) would want to be united with them, leaving the Empire. Boer domination of South Africa was unacceptable to imperialists like Chamberlain, who saw Boer freedom to control their affairs as weakening British power – Britain needed control. Chamberlain was in favour of further expansion. The drift to Boer control in South Africa could be stopped if the wealthiest of the Boer states, the Transvaal, was brought into the Empire and peopled with British settlers. By the 1890s, a possible answer had appeared - large numbers of foreigners (Uitlanders) many of them British, had moved to the Transvaal to work the gold mines. They were taxed heavily by the Boers and Kruger, President of the Transvaal, was determined to avoid foreigners taking over the country via the voting system, as they heavily outnumbered the Boers in some areas – the voting qualifications excluded them. By the late 1890s the Uitlanders, resentful at what they saw as their exploitation by the Boers, had formed political movements - dominated by Britons. Here, it seemed to some British imperialists, was a means of breaking the Boers` grip on the Transvaal.
The Jameson Raid The result was a fiasco - there was no rebellion, and the Boers captured Jameson’s small force. The Raid had serious consequences. Rhodes was forced to resign as Cape PM. The British Government was embarrassed - but Chamberlain claimed not to have been involved and was cleared by an inept Commons committee. The Boers now feared the worst and began to prepare for war. The millionaire and imperialist idealist Cecil Rhodes, who had been Prime Minister of the British Cape Colony since 1890, was a key player on the British side. Rhodesia, to the north of the Transvaal, was already under the control of Rhodes` British South Africa Company. With the probable involvement of key British imperialist - the new Colonial Secretary in 1895, Chamberlain - Rhodes launched a plot to topple Kruger. A force of Rhodes` BSA Police under Dr Jameson invaded the Transvaal, hoping to link up with a Uitlander rebellion in Johannesburg.
Events leading up to the Boer war Chamberlain was the driving force behind attempts to take over the Transvaal, together with the imperialist Lord Milner, who was sent out as Governor General of the Cape to lead the negotiations with Kruger. Their strategy was to intimidate the Boers into giving the vote to the Uitlanders (who could then outvote them and bring the TV into the Empire). The demands for voting rights for the uitlanders were backed by the powerful mine owners in the Transvaal – these ‘Rand millionaires’ have been seen as forces pulling the strings of the British government for financial gain, but recent research suggests that their interests weren’t the main influence on Chamberlain and Milner, who were motivated by the broader strategic needs of the Empire. Chamberlain and Milner hoped to force the Boers to give in without war but they were prepared to risk it if necessary to get what they wanted. To begin with, this was not a policy demanded by either the British public or the Cabinet. To change public attitudes, they played up the oppression of the Uitlanders and claimed that the real issue was the Boer threat to British rule in her South African colonies. In 1899 negotiations between Milner and Kruger at Bloemfontein finally broke down - Kruger would not agree to change the voting qualifications in such a way as to give the Uitlanders the majority. 21,000 Uitlanders sent a petition to Queen Victoria about their treatment which Milner backed openly, angering the British public. Chamberlain had finally managed to swing the Cabinet behind his policy of pressurising Kruger - it agreed to send 10,000 troops from India to bolster British forces in South Africa. The Boers didn’t wait for the British to grow stronger - they sent an ultimatum demanding that Britain withdraw troops from their borders and send no reinforcements. This played into Chamberlain’s hands: They now seemed like a threat to British power; by trying to tell the British what to do, they justified what Chamberlain had been saying all along. Only a few Radicals were prepared to criticise the war, which broke out when the Boers attacked British forces in South Africa.
The Second Boer War The guerrilla war and the concentration camps. However, Boer armies were not completely beaten – they waged a guerrilla campaign against Britain. Kitchener returned to South Africa to deal with the guerrilla campaign. He divided Cape Colony into zones and sectioned them off with barbed wire, to impede movement. He also employed a ‘scorched earth’ policy, where the British burnt Boer villages, destroying crops, capturing cattle and collecting civilians in concentration camps. The conditions in the concentration camps caused an international outcry – surrounded by barbed wire, 12 prisoners shared a small tent, no soap, no toilets, no mattresses, few blankets and rations were below starvation level. The German chancellor denounced the British as ‘brutal and inhumane’. The British government claimed that the camps were voluntary and refused to give details about how many people died in them – the exact figures are unknown but it could be anywhere between 20,000 to 28,000. British victories in 1900 – capture of Boer population centres. After Lord Kitchener and Lord Roberts were sent to take command of the war effort, things improved. They reorganised and developed a clear strategy – Kimberly, Ladysmith and Mafeking (having held out for 217 days) were reclaimed in quick succession. By June 1900, British forces were nearing complete victory – Johannesburg and Pretoria (the capital of the Transvaal) were occupied and Paul Kruger and his government were in exile. British defeats 1899-1900. In the early months of the war, Britain suffered a series of defeats at Ladysmith, Kimberly and Mafeking at the hands of the Boers. In one ‘black week’ in December 1899, the British lost battles at Stromberg, Magersfontein and Colonso. In January 1900 a further set back occurred at Spionkop. These defeats were the result of poor planning by the war office and poor leadership by the generals. The British under estimated the Boers and failed to adequately supply troops with food and ammunition. The peace settlement in 1902. In 1902, the Boer leaders gathered at Vereeniging, after 2 years of fighting – 25,000 Boers were killed, 22,000 Britons died and so did 12,000 Africans. The peace agreement reflected the now widely held view that the war had been a mistake. All Afrikaner prisoners who signed an oath of loyalty to the British crown were freed. The British agreed to pay for the costs of war damage, offered loans for rebuilding, offered to safeguard the Afrikaner language for any future constitution and pledged to restore free elections and self government as soon as possible.
The British in India In the later 19th century India was indeed the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the Empire; it was one of the main British markets – during the latter part of the 19th century, 40-43% of British exports went to India. There was a great deal of British investment in India, and ruling a subcontinent added to British prestige. India also gave Britain a potentially vast reserve of military man power (more than 1 million Indian soldiers fought in WWI). The British involvement with India started as a straightforward trading relationship – British merchants were drawn to India because of the luxury goods - spices and textiles - that could be obtained for sale at home, and in time it became a vast market for British manufactures. The East India Company (EIC) was granted a monopoly of British trade, and in time it came to have its own network of settlements and a private army of Indian soldiers (sepoys) with British officers. In the warfare between the Indian princes that followed the decline of the Mughal Empire, the British were able to gain large tracts of territory for themselves by taking sides in local conflicts and they were also able to defeat their main European rival in India, the French. By that stage, the EIC had become subordinated to the British Crown, which appointed a Governor-General to run the areas under British control, and this arrangement continued until the Indian Mutiny in 1857, when thousands of sepoys rebelled over a mixture of grievances about the destruction of traditional Indian society. It took a year of bitter fighting to defeat the mutineers and in the aftermath the government of India was reformed to strengthen the British hold on India. The EIC’s role was ended; India was now run by a Secretary of State in London and a Viceroy in India. The British element in the army was strengthened. In 1876, in a move designed to impress both the Indians and Queen Victoria, Disraeli arranged for the Queen to be declared ‘Empress of India’. The British had become the dominant force in India by the later 18th century and first Bengal, and then other large tracts of India fell under their direct rule. The British governed India, but they depended on the collaboration of the Indians themselves. Parts of India were not under direct British control but were run by the Indian princes, who were key collaborators in British rule – the British Raj covered 61.5% of Indian territory; the remaining percentage consisted of 601 ‘princely’ states that owed allegiance to the British crown, and left foreign policy control in the hands of the British government The army that upheld British rule had a majority of Indians and the approx. 1,000 British administrators of the Indian Civil Service depended on a much larger number of Indian public employees to run the day to day machinery of government at the lower levels.
The Origins of the Indian Nationalist Movement How Lord Curzon’s policies provoked nationalist resistance. He was extremely patriotic. Did not care about Indian religion, customs or traditions. Believed the British were in India to stay – was hostile to the Indian National Congress. He encouraged British investment in India. The resistance of traditional Indian society was crushed in the repression that followed the Indian Mutiny, but by the end of the 19th century a more modern form of Indian nationalism had emerged which was ultimately to be successful in removing the British from India. How educated Indians felt excluded by their British rulers. The British in India were aloof, absorbed by their own concerns and tended to treat Indians as second class citizens, avoiding any close contact. The racial arrogance of the British hurt the feelings of the educated Indian class and widened the gulf between them. Many administrators displayed crude ideas on racial superiority. The viceroy of India (1896 – 72) said that his major task in India was to teach his subordinates that ‘we are all British gentlemen engaged in the magnificent work of governing a superior race’. Many doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists and engineers felt alienated and therefore founded the nationalist movement. Obstacles facing Indian nationalists. The nationalist movement faced the problem that Indian society was divided - Hindus made up – 70% of the population, Muslims, 21% and Sikhs, Christians and Jews the other 9%. Each part of India had its own culture and the vast majority of Indians felt part of their own region, not part of an Indian structure. Central government, national laws and institutions were an alien concept. The British had control of the sub-continent and so therefore they would have to confront the British. The origins of the Indian National Congress. The Origins of the Indian National Congress Indian association, formed in 1876 by educated Indians – was a pressure group, originally. The British set up the Indian national congress in 1885 because they thought the Indian association was harmless. It was designed as a talking shop for the Indian middle class. The British never thought it would actually form the official opposition to British rule, as it eventually did. Was very popular – by 1900, each region had a national congress with delegates. The Liberals’ response to Indian Nationalism The Liberal government that came to power in 1905 and its viceroys were readier to discuss reform with the Indian Congress than Curzon. Bengal was reunited and there were concessions to the desire of Indians for a greater role in government: The 1909 Indian Councils Act allowed elected Indian representatives onto the Viceroy’s Legislative Council and local legislative councils. The Islington Commission also recommended the ‘Indianisation’ of the higher levels of the Civil Service. However, there was still no acceptance by the British that Indian self government would be required in the longer term.
British Expansion in China The leading powers took over more bases and parcelled out China into areas where powers had exclusive trading rights – the British gained the Yangtse valley. Control over Hong Kong was consolidated because of its importance as a gateway to China (in 1898 a 99 year lease gave Britain control over the ‘New Territories’, next to the British Crown Colony). India wasn’t the only area of Asia that was of interest to the British. Gaining access to the vast market of China had also been a longstanding objective, originally to support the trading interests of the East India Company. This was pursued without formal occupation, partly because unlike India, China was united under the rule of the Manchu dynasty. Nevertheless, the British had fought two wars in 1839-42 and 1856-8 to force open the Chinese market, in the first of which the Chinese had been forced to cede the island of Hong Kong to Britain, which became a major base and trading centre. In the later 19th century the decline of Chinese power almost led to a ‘scramble for China’, but in the end the leading powers preferred to keep China intact rather than see their rivals take it over.
British expansion in Burma and Malaya British expansion in Malaya was achieved mainly through political pressure leading to treaties with local sultans, with an outcome similar to the princely states in India – the sultans still ruled, but they were now expected to follow the guidance of British Residents. The Straits Settlements were run directly as a crown colony by a governor in Singapore. Unlike China, other areas of Asia were subject to colonisation by the European powers. Burma was occupied by the British after 3 wars. Burma was partly of interest to the British because it offered a trade route to China and annexation was intended to pre-empt the French, who were expanding their colonies in Indo-China (Britain also competed with Russia to secure influence over the areas bordering on India to the north and west – Persia, Tibet and Afghanistan, in the so- called ‘great game’). Resistance to British rule in Burma continued after the conquest in 1886 and wasn’t finally defeated until the end of the 1890s. The British had longstanding trading interests in Malaya because of its tin and gold mines and also its suitability for producing rubber and tea, and Singapore was important as a naval base and for its position on the trade route to China.
WWI and the Empire In the years after 1900 the international situation was threatening for Britain and its Empire. Europe was divided between two major alliances, both of which were potentially a danger to Britain. Our most dangerous rivals were France, whose territories bordered ours in many parts of the world and who we had nearly fought a war with over the Sudan, and Russia, which threatened the Indian Empire. Germany came to seem a danger in the early 1900s. It was overtaking us economically, had a foreign policy which seemed aggressive and it had begun to build up a navy which was a serious threat to the Royal Navy, the key to the protection of the British Empire. Before 1914 there was a naval arms race between Britain and Germany. Britain was formally isolated up to 1914, but Britain came to side with France and Russia, settling our differences with them and making plans to fight alongside them if war came. When war broke out on the continent in 1914, Britain declared war on Germany and her allies. Although the Royal Navy was superior to the German navy, the British army was dwarfed by the Germans’, so declaring war was a grave risk. The struggle on the Western Front reached a stalemate as a result of trench warfare. Britain was forced to build up a huge army, which was bearing the main brunt of fighting the Germans by 1916. There were a series of costly offensives which made little progress, like the Battle of the Somme, before the Allies drove the Germans back and forced them to ask for an armistice in 1918. The Royal Navy was able to blockade Germany but German U boats threatened to strangle British shipping. However, German attacks brought the USA into the war on the Allied side in 1917, and the submarine threat was beaten by the convoy system. Fighting also took place between German and Allied forces in Africa and elsewhere. The British were also at war with Turkey, which was on the German side and which was able to block supplies getting to Russia by closing the Straits. Turkey threatened the Suez Canal, and the Germans encouraged the Sultan to call on Muslims to join a jihad against the Allies (potentially dangerous for the Indian Empire). Initial British attacks on the Turks at Gallipoli and in Iraq were disastrous failures, but British agents helped to encourage an Arab revolt against the Turks and British forces from Egypt succeeded in capturing Jerusalem from the Turks in 1917. The Empire played a vital part in the British war effort. About 2 ½ million colonial troops fought for Britain – although many came from the white dominions, the largest imperial contingent was from India (62,000 Indians were killed; by 1918 almost a million Indians had served overseas, especially on the Western Front and in Mesopotamia against the Turks). Britain was a victor in WW1, its main rivals were no longer a threat in the short term and our territory expanded even more when we gained much of the German Empire and the Middle East as League of Nations Mandates. However, many of the gains proved temporary and in some respects the War left Britain much weaker and undermined its grip on the Empire.
Economic and Military Weakness After WWI In addition to the other damage to the economy, many of Britain’s overseas investments had also been sold off to pay for the War, badly affecting Britain’s balance of payments. With a weak economy, huge debts and growing resistance at home to the high wartime levels of tax, there was heavy pressure on government spending and a strong imperative to cut spending on defence. This resulted in a rapid run-down of our armed forces – just when the demands on them were increasing as the Empire expanded even more due to the Mandates. British forces were badly overstretched in 1919-22 when facing simultaneous challenges from colonial nationalism in Ireland, India, Egypt and Iraq – to reduce their commitments, the British gave semi-independence to Egypt and Iraq in 1922, though British bases remained. The run –down of the forces also left Britain exposed to rival powers in the long run, as Germany recovered and Italy and Japan became more hostile. Defence budgets fell by over a third in the ten years to 1932 between 1922 – 1932, the British demobilised their forces, there were cuts in RAF spending and between 1919 and 1921, there were huge cuts in naval spending – it fell from £334 million to $84 million. At the Washington Conference in 1921, the UK agreed to ratio her ships (for every 5 UK ships, the US could also have 5, and the Japanese could have 3) and they abandoned the long held two power standard. Britain fell behind technologically – she had no aircraft carriers and no tanks. Furthermore, Japan became a threat, Germany became resentful of Britain and the USSR began to threaten us ideologically. Britain had been declining economically relative to the rest of the world since the later 19th century, but the War did great damage to our economic position. The percentage of Britain’s total exports that were made up of staple industries, such as textiles, coal, iron and steel, fell. The USA took over Britain’s role in shipping and overtook Britain industrially. Britain borrowed huge sums of money and the National Debt grew, along with inflation (the pound was overvalued and our exports were to expensive). However, Britain’s economic decline relative to other powers was well underway before WW1, and was only accelerated by the War; some events that are seen as turning points can be seen as a continuation of trends – Britain had been in economic decline for years. This can be seen from the fact that in the years 1870 – 1913, our percentage share of world manufacturing projects more than halved.
Effects of WWI on colonial nationalism However, although the British were now more prepared to make concessions, Indian nationalists were much less likely to be satisfied by them than before the war. The nationalists were now more united, had a larger following and had higher expectations – this paved the way for the large-scale campaigns of the 1920s and 1930s. Before WW1 the dominions had been self governing, but their defence and foreign policy was still controlled by Britain. In Ireland a nationalist movement demanded self government but not yet independence. Elsewhere the most significant nationalist movement was in India, but it was relatively moderate and had been partly appeased by concessions (e.g. the Morley – Minto reforms). WW1 had a major impact on colonial nationalism. The Dominions now wanted independence. They had made a major contribution to the war effort (e.g. Australians and New Zealanders at Gallipoli) and demanded a say in the running of the war in return; after it, they wanted full control over their affairs. In 1931 the Statute of Westminster confirmed that the Dominions were independent countries, only linked by the Crown – though sentiment and self interest continued to tie them to Britain. During the war, support for Irish independence became overwhelming (especially the British decision to shoot the leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916). After the IRA fought a guerrilla war against the British in 1919-1921, Ireland gained effective independence - this encouraged nationalists elsewhere in the Empire, particularly in India. In India, a new campaign for ‘home rule’ began in 1915. The nationalists called for dominion status after the war in return for the support given by Indians to the war effort (by 1918 almost a million Indians had served overseas), and strikes and demonstrations backed up their demands. The nationalist movement was strengthened when Congress and the Muslim League healed earlier divisions and joined together in 1916 (the Lucknow Pact) to fight for greater self government. India had been stripped of British troops and at one stage there were only 15,000 there– the Viceroy feared the unrest would become uncontrollable and urged the government to make concessions to head off trouble. In 1917 the British government introduced the Government of India act, which was one more step towards self government for India. This was a landmark, as it was the first time self government had ever been accepted by the British as an eventual goal. However, nationalist challenges in Ireland, India and elsewhere predated the war. The growing independence of the Dominions was a long term trend dating back to the 19th century, although accelerated by the War.
Attitudes at Home after WWI The mass slaughter in the War turned many intellectuals against the uncritical support for ‘King and Empire’ still widespread before 1914. The War had supposedly been fought for freedom and self – determination and many left wing Liberals were appalled that the peace settlements resulted in what they saw as an ‘imperialist peace’ - unfair terms in Europe and the seizure of the empires of the defeated powers. Many of critics of imperialism left to join the Labour party, adding to the intellectual, anti-imperialist element in the party. However, although the war increased anti-imperialism on the left, there continued to be popular support for the Empire at home. There remained considerable popular support for the Empire, which the political leadership and press barons like Lord Beaverbrook encouraged. 27 million people went to the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924. Imperialist groups like the Royal Empire Society were set up and there was propaganda for the Empire in schools and via the BBC (which also set up an Empire service). Films like ‘The Four Feathers’ and children’s books told exciting stories about the Empire and the bravery of the ‘empire builders’. People were encouraged to buy imperial products by the Empire Marketing Board. Anti-imperialism continued to grow on the left. This had already been significant before 1914, (e.g. the reaction against the Boer War) and it was further increased by disillusion with the slaughter of WW1 and the ‘imperialist’ post-war settlement. There were growing doubts on the left about the legitimacy of Britain, with its democratic system, exercising imperial rule over so many millions of colonial subjects. This was especially the case when violence had to be used to repress nationalist resistance, as in Ireland, (where one of the main reasons why the government was forced to allow the South to break away was the lack of will to continue the war in Britain, and disgust as some of the repressive measures being used by British forces, especially the ‘Black and Tans’), or India, as with the Amritsar massacre. Writers also began to express some of these views, as in EM Forster’s ‘A passage to India’, which implicitly criticised the attitudes of the British in India. Labour politicians and others on the left also questioned the cost of imperial defence, which took money which could have been used for welfare at home (the cost of running Iraq in 1921 was the same as the entire British health budget). Although the interwar period was dominated by the Conservatives, Labour was now the second party, and these views slowly eroded support for the Empire at home and helped to bring about its dismantling when Labour won power in 1945.
Ways in which WWI strengthened the Empire The Empire had not only survived WW1, but emerged larger than ever - the Paris peace settlements gave most of the German colonies (including SW Africa and Tanganyika) to Britain or the Dominions as ‘Mandates’ and the collapse of the Turkish Empire handed much of the Middle East to Britain, giving access to an increasingly important source of oil in Iraq. The trend of imperial expansion that began in the ‘Scramble for Africa’ period therefore reached its final end after WW1, not before it – it was only now that Rhodes’ dream of a swath of British controlled territory from the Cape to Cairo became a reality. The Empire’s economic importance to Britain actually increased in the interwar period, because its markets were easier to sell to as our economy became less competitive. The First World War meant that the Empire was perceived as an economic lifeline, and Britain made a concerted effort to increase trade with the dominions in particular – the percentage of imperial exports rose from 25% in 1910-1914 to 39.5% in 1935-1939. In the 1920s the Empire was also secure from external threats - Britain’s main rival Germany was defeated and German naval power was destroyed, and Russia was torn by internal conflict. In terms of its size, the Empire seemed stronger than ever in the interwar period. However, British strength was an illusion – British power was overstretched in dealing with new nationalist challenges.
India between the wars The greatest nationalist challenge to British rule between the wars was in India, where unlike in Africa, the British faced an educated, urban middle class that was able to organise massive disruption. Indian nationalism began well before. Congress had already become an organisation capable of leading agitation across India, and the Muslim League had also been set up. Concessions made by the British before 1914 fell far below self government. WW1 had a major impact on Indian nationalism and relations between Britain and India. Congress and the Muslim League were now united, there had been a major campaign for ‘home rule’ and the British had been forced to concede that India would eventually be given some form of self government. Montagu’s promise in 1917 sounded encouraging, as it seemed to go well beyond earlier concessions like the 1909 Indian Councils Act. However, it was a vague phrase that promised much but left delivery remote. As before WW1, reform was based on the principle of ‘gradualness’ – slow change, but at a pace that left self-government on the lines of the Dominions in the distant future. As a first step, Montagu and the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, put forward plans which became the 1919 Government of India Act (‘the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms’): elected Indians were allowed to determine policy on public health, education and agriculture, though only at provincial level rather than on a national basis. The viceroy was to remain in control of foreign policy, law and order and financial policy. Montague’s Promise wasn’t enough to satisfy Indian nationalist leaders in the post – war climate; they also paid close attention to the example of Ireland, which seemed to show that the British had to be forced to transfer power and that it was no good waiting for them to give self government. They were also angered by the government’s decision to restrict political freedom. In 1919, India faced economic problems and the influenza epidemic – in this unsettled atmosphere the government feared Bolshevik plots and disorder and passed the repressive Rowlatt Acts against subversive activities (suspects could be imprisoned without trial; trials of those accused of sedition could be held without juries). Congress called for passive resistance – the campaign was based on Gandhi’s ideas of non – violent civil disobedience and the boycotting of British goods, and won huge support among the Indian masses. Gandhi’s campaign was meant to be peaceful but inevitably led to violent incidents, the worst outbreaks being at Amritsar: British Indian Army soldiers opened fire on an unarmed gathering of men, women and children. The firing lasted about 10 minutes and 33 rounds per soldier were fired. Official British Raj sources placed the fatalities at 379. According to private sources there were over 1000 deaths, with more than 2000 wounded, and Civil Surgeon Dr. Smith indicated that there were 1,526 casualties. The government was embarrassed by the atrocity and Dyer was removed, though never prosecuted, and he was seen by right wingers in Britain as a mistreated hero. Amritsar was important because it undermined the legitimacy of British rule – supposedly bringing peace and justice - and it created martyrs for Indian independence that inspired support for Congress throughout the 1920s. Gandhi also became the dominant figure in Indian nationalism. In the short term, however, the violence caused him to call off the campaign.
The Round Table Conference/1935 Government of India Act In 1928 the British government appointed a new constitutional reform commission under Sir John Simon which was boycotted by Indian nationalists because it had no Indian members. Gandhi returned to the centre of political life by committing Congress to demand that Britain grant India dominion status within a year or face a new campaign of non-violence with complete independence for the country as its goal. In 1929, the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, announced that Britain was willing to move towards Dominion status for India and he called a Round Table Conference with British and Indian members. However, the Simon Commission’s proposals in 1930 fell far short of Dominion status (it only proposed self government for the provinces) and Congress committed itself to full independence. Civil disobedience continued with a campaign against the law that only the government could manufacture salt, highlighted by Gandhi’s Salt March. This was one of his most successful campaigns, resulting in the imprisonment of over 60,000 people. Gandhi was arrested but in 1931 the government and Irwin decided to negotiate and struck a deal whereby all political prisoners were freed in return for the calling off of the civil disobedience campaign and Gandhi attending the Round Table Talks. The Round Table Talks in London broke down over the issue of Muslim representation in an Indian parliament and Gandhi returned to India and restarted his campaign of civil disobedience – massive arrests of Congress members, against the background of the agricultural slump which preoccupied the Indian peasants, led to the collapse of the campaign. Despite the failure of the talks, the National government that took power in 1931 was determined to make some progress towards dominion status and passed the 1935 Government of India Act – it aimed to create a federation or union of Indian states, each becoming responsible for internal affairs through a series of provincial governments. There would be an elected national parliament While the British still wanted to retain ultimate control of India, they recognised that the old system of paternalist government could no longer continue. However, the Act didn’t give India the independence enjoyed by the Dominions and it wasn’t acceptable to Gandhi and the nationalists. Despite this, Congress contested elections to the provincial parliaments and formed governments in a majority of them – Indians now had more say in government, but a national parliament couldn’t come into existence because many of the Indian princes couldn’t agree on the terms for joining the federation. Tension grew in the remaining years before WW2 between Nehru’s overwhelmingly Hindu Congress, which wanted top preserve a united India, and the Muslim League under Jinnah which feared Hindu domination and demanded a separate Muslim state.
In Palestine, in 1917, Britain had promised support for a Jewish state. Palestine was strategically important for Britain because it defended the eastern flank of the Suez canal. Britain was then faced with a massive anti-Jewish reaction by Palestinian Arabs, particularly as a result of Jewish immigration. Britain never established a satisfactory compromise between the Jews and the Arabs – by 1939, Jewish immigration had been limited to keep Arab support, and therefore, access to Arab oil. Other parts of the Empire between the Wars The British were the dominant power in the Middle East after WW1, which was of great strategic importance because of the Suez Canal and oil supplies. However, they faced considerable problems with Islamic nationalist resistance in Iraq, Egypt and Palestine. Britain’s influence in the middle east had increased after 1918, when the collapse of the Turkish empire gave Britain control of a number of mandated territories. However, this area became increasingly unstable. Africa British rule in Africa between the wars did little to develop the territories or improve the conditions of ordinary Africans. Most territories had little to attract investors, and the British government wasn’t prepared to invest large sums, expecting each colony to be self financing. Local governors tried to fund investment through taxes, but this produced limited sums, especially once the Depression hit exports. Most British politicians, including those on the left, assumed that Africans would only be capable of self government in the remote future. Only Southern Rhodesia (where there were 30,000 white settlers) was given self government in this period. Control over the African colonies depended heavily on using Africans as troops and lower level bureaucrats. It also relied on a system of indirect rule, based on cooperation with local chiefs, who acted as tax gatherers etc for the British in return for their support. Most territories were made up of a mixture of tribal groups with little in common, and there was no sizable, educated urban middle class as in India. As a result, nationalist opposition to British rule was not a serious threat. In 1920, revolts threatened British control of Iraq. The British in turn backed a new, pro-British Iraqi leader and granted Iraqi independence with the condition that during the life of the mandate, British military bases would remain. Iraq remained a close ally of Britain and British influence was guaranteed. Britain established a similar arrangement with regard to trans-Jordan. When faced with serious nationalist demonstrations in 1919, Britain recognised Egyptian independence by 1933. As in Iraq, this was a compromise – Britain remained in control of Egypt’s foreign and defence policies. In 1936, Egypt was given control of their own army, but a large British military presence remained to protect the Suez canal.
The Empire at the end of the 1930s In 1939 the Empire was still the largest the world had ever seen. Less than 30 years later, it had almost entirely vanished. The Empire had some serious problems in the 1930s, such as Indian nationalism, and some historians would argue that the causes of its decline were already well in place. Nevertheless, there were no internal factors that suggested that the collapse of the Empire was going to be as rapid as it turned out to be, and certainly no expectations of this on the part of the British themselves. The Empire had become more, rather than less, important for the British economy. British control over its colonies remained firm despite challenges from nationalists. British military power was adequate to repress unrest. The Dominions were now effectively independent, but remained closely associated with Britain. The Empire was still popular with many in Britain and most politicians wished to uphold it The main threats to the Empire in the 1930s were external, stemming from Britain’s economic and military decline relative to the rising power of Germany, Japan the USA and the USSR. All of these powers had an interest in changing the international status quo created by the Paris Peace settlements, including Britain’s privileged position in control of so much of the globe. Only France had a similar interest in defending the existing system and it was a questionable ally because of political, economic and military weakness. The policy of appeasement that was followed towards the most threatening rival, Germany, but also towards Italy (a threat to British interests in the Mediterranean) and Japan, was due to a combination of factors, but a major one was the recognition of British weakness – economically, Britain was in no position to consider a war. The economic crisis left by WWI worsened after the international economic collapse of 1929. Britain’s resources were barely at a level to ensure the protection of her empire, let alone go to war. Militarily, Britain was extremely weak; although a rearmament programme began in 1937, it came to late to counteract the expansionist policies of Germany, Italy and Japan. Britain was simply not ready for war, even by 1939. One of the assumptions made by Chamberlain and other appeasers was that if Britain did go to war with Germany, the outcome would be that the USSR would dominate Europe and Britain would be weakened and lose ground in the Empire to Japan, the USA and USSR. These fears turned out to be justified – the huge strain WW2 imposed on Britain and the changed circumstances that it brought about proved fatal for the Empire. However, the appeasers’ alternative of an accommodation with the expansionist empires of Nazi Germany and Japan was arguably always wishful thinking.
Role in the expansion of the Empire, 1870 – 1914 - Africa During the C19th the Empire expanded particularly as a result of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ - economic motives played a key role in this. The occupation of Egypt in 1882 to protect access the Suez Canal, which the nationalist movement led by Col. Arabi threatened (the Canal was crucial because of trade with India) and City financiers put pressure on the Government to protect their investments in the Canal itself. Economic factors played a key role in East and West Africa – for instance, Nigeria was occupied to protect the Royal Niger Company’s trade in palm oil, rubber and cocoa. In Southern Africa, Rhodes’ projects in Rhodesia were partly motivated by the hope that the gold deposits of the Witwatersrand would be duplicated in Mashonaland. The Transvaal’s gold deposits added to the desire to annex the Boer states. Role in expansion/contraction of the Empire 1914 – 1939 WWI and its aftermath saw both expansion and contraction in the Empire – Britain gained mandates, but its grip over some areas weakened. British exports to the Empire actually rose to 49% from 1935-9. Economic factors consolidated rather than weakening the Empire, especially when imperial preference was introduced in 1932. However, even though imperial trade was growing, the British economy as a whole was damaged by the effects of WW1, which resulted in lost markets, the selling off of foreign investments and a burden of debt. This made it difficult to afford high defence spending, and the armed forces were rapidly run down, leaving British power overstretched. In the short term this caused difficulties in coping with outbreaks of unrest in the early 1920s in areas like Iraq. Over the longer term it became a much more serious problem, because Britain didn’t modernise its armed forces or build up the defences of key bases like Singapore – this meant that by the later 1930s the British were in a weak position when threatened by Nazi Germany and Japan. Role in the contraction of the Empire 1939 – 1980 - General WWII put the Empire under immense strain – it survived, but it had mostly been dismantled by the 1960s. India gained independence in 1947. An attempt was made to continue the Empire, but this was abandoned by Macmillan’s government. Again, economic factors played a major part: After the loss of India, the Labour government decided to hold onto the rest of the Empire after Indian independence, in the hope that Britain’s economic strength could be bolstered by exploiting the Empire (for instance, Malayan rubber sales provided a valuable source of dollars). However, economic weakness also made Britain vulnerable to US pressure – we were forced to pull our troops out of Suez in 1956 because the US refused a loan needed to stave off a financial crisis caused by the invasion- often seen as a turning point in the decline of British prestige. In the final acts of decolonisation, economic factors once again played a crucial role. By the later 1950s Macmillan’s ‘profit and loss’ review showed that our economic interests in Africa weren’t important enough to outweigh other factors – especially as our trade was increasingly with Europe. In this context there seemed to be no point in continuing to bear the political and military costs of repressing nationalism. Role in the expansion of the Empire, 1870 – 1914 - India The determination of the British to keep control of India reflected its value as a market for British exports – late C19th, 40-45% of British cotton exports went to India, and it also attracted a great deal of British investment (around a fifth of British overseas investments by the 1880s). Role in the contraction of the Empire 1939 – 1980 – India Economic factors help to explain the loss of the Indian Empire; after WW2 Britain faced a huge balance of payments deficit and the massive cost of trying to repress Indian nationalism would have been more than Britain could have afforded, especially given the military burden of occupying Germany and the growing tension with the USSR. The economic case for attempting to do so had also been reversed by the loss of our Indian textile markets. Economic Factors