Glossary of terms - British Empire 1815-1914

British Empire
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Glossary of Terms

British Empire.
A system of political control imposed by a strong metropolitan power, based in London on a number of subordinate (peripheral ) societies controlled either directly by the agents of the British government, or indirectly by local governments which have limited powers granted by the metropolitan power. The exact nature of the relationship of the metropolitan power and the people within the empire varied from territory to territory. In 1900 the British Empire covered 20% of the globe and governed 400 million subjects of many different faiths and ethnic groups. There were 60 dependencies covering 3.2 million square miles, British India covering 2 million square miles and including 322 million subjects plus five dominions with 24 million subjects and covering 7.6 million square miles. These territories were governed in many different ways but not included were many more territories that Britain had influence in but were not part of the official empire - the informal empire.
British South Africa Company.
This private chartered company, founded by Cecil Rhodes, received a royal charter in 1889. The company was founded to develop the land lying to the north of British Bechuanaland and to the north and west of the South African Republic (Transvaal). Rhodes and his fellow directors were empowered to sign treaties, acquire concessions, maintain a police force and exercise all the powers necessary for government and the preservation of order. The company was also able to build railways, roads, harbours, engage in mining and other industries, own or charter ships and make land grants, conduct trade, commerce or business. That Rhodes had not got the permission of the ruler of much of this land, Lobengula,  did not seem to concern the Cabinet. That the British South Africa Company was not the company that Lobengula had given certain rights to was not made known to the Cabinet by Rhodes. When the Colonial  Secretary  found out that Rhodes’ company did not have a concession to mine or do anything else in Matabeleland, he was outraged and there was a suggestion that the charter be revoked. It wasn’t and within a couple of years Rhodes had sent in to Matabeleland and Mashonaland the first group of pioneers.
British Imperialism.
The British justified imperialism in the c19th by  claiming that it brought material and cultural advantages to less developed peoples although territories were often acquired to gain control of important trading interests. The modern form of ‘imperialism’ was proclaimed by Disraeli in 1872 and then further developed by writers like Dilke and Seeley, and then given a sense of mission at the end of the century by Rhodes, Chamberlain and Milner. The nature of imperialism  in the British Empire changed over time, as the empire adapted to meet changing demands of commerce, settlers and missionaries. New territories were added for different reasons and  self-government  was introduced into some territories at different speeds. Forces from within the empire and from without forces the empire to continually adapt  so any description of the British empire will only be appropriate for a given period of time.
Imperial British East Africa Company.
A chartered company founded by the Glaswegian shipping magnate, Sir William Mackinnon, which aimed to open up for commerce an area of land around Mombasa and as far westwards as Buganda. A royal charter was granted in 1888 to the Association which Mackinnon had established the previous year, and as the IBEA Co it set up its first base at Machakos in 1889. A second base was established the following year at Fort Smith, five miles from modern Nairobi. The company had insufficient resources to develop the region and never paid a dividend, handing over its responsibilities in 1895 to the British government who established the East African Protectorate which eventually became the colony of Kenya in July 1920.
Colony.
An overseas possession nearly always taken by force or with the threat of force, and ruled by the metropolitan power either directly by an appointed Governor or similar or by a representative government elected or appointed by the Governor.
Commonwealth.
An association of peoples linked by a desire for collective well-being. After the execution of Charles I, England became a ‘Commonwealth’. In 1884 Lord Rosebery, a future Liberal  leader Prime Minister described the British Empire as a Commonwealth of Nations’. The term ‘Imperial Commonwealth’ received official sanction at the Imperial War Conference of 1917 while the Balfour definition referred to the ‘British Commonwealth of Nations’ in 1926. In 1949 ‘British’ was dropped from formal usage.
Dominion.
A self-governing colony or territory the term was first used in the 1867 British North America Act to denote the granting of limited sovereignty. It usually meant self-government in internal matters and tariff policy but foreign policy remained in the hands of  the metropolitan power. In 1900 Australian chose the term Commonwealth, as it regarded Dominion as suggesting dominance.
The First Fleet.
The convoy of ships, escorted by HMS Sirius and HMS Supply which brought the first settlers to Australia. The fleet under the command of Captain Philip had sailed from Portsmouth on 17 May 1787. The voyage lasted 252 days and there were 48 deaths at sea. The settlers disembarked at Port Jackson, Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 with basic supplies for two years. Of the 1,030 people who landed 548 men and 188 women were  convicts transported to the penal settlement to be newly established. Another 220 women convicts were transported aboard the Lady Juliana which left England in July 1789 and reached Sydney on 3 June 1790, a fortnight ahead of the second fleet.
Free Trade.
The c19th reaction to Mercantilism, argued by Adam Smith who believed that the removal  of trade barriers between nations would be the mutual advantage of nations. Encouraging the exploitation of natural resources, an efficient division of international labour and world peace. The liberation of trade began with Pitt the Younger and Huskisson and came to fulfilment in the 1840s when the budgets of 1842 and 1845 replaced or eliminated duties  on many raw materials and manufactured goods. In 1844 the Corn Laws were repealed with any remaining duties ended in the budgets of 1853 and 1860. Free Trade meant that Britain could buy raw materials  in the cheapest markets, and with cheap food, pay lower wages and sell at lower prices, making British manufactured goods cheaper and of better quality than anywhere else in the world. As ’the Workshop of the World’ Britain dominated global  trade for the remainder of the century until the industrialisation of France and new European countries like Germany and Italy slowly became economic rivals and competitors.

Gentlemanly Capitalism.
A theory of Imperialism first put forward by the historians P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins in the 1980s and developed in their 1993 work British Imperialism. Cain and Hopkins suggest that from the late c17th it was landed and commercial wealth, together with a range of professional and service interests that provided the impetus for imperial expansion rather than ‘industrial capitalism’ which developed in a much more inconsistent fashion. Enterprise, concerned with managing men   rather than machines was the main driving force for the empire. An alliance of the City, southern investors and the landed interest is what played a leading role in imperial expansion rather than the drive to find markets and an outlet for manufacturing. It was in particular the growth of the service sector  that was the chief factor in expansion after 1850 and what drove New Imperialism.
Great Trek.
The migration of 10,000 Boers from Cape Colony to settle on new farmland beyond British authority. The Boers left because their lifestyle was being threatened by the nature of British rule which felt obliged to regard all inhabitants of Cape Colony as equal with the same legal rights, regardless of colour or race. The Great Trek was a reaction to the ‘Abolition of Slavery’ in 1833 although pressure on the land by increased number of migrants encouraged them to seek a land well away from British colonial administration. The migration of Boers to land east and north east of the Cape lasted several years. One group settled north of the Orange River whilst others travelled east across the Vaal River into what became Natal.
Informal Empire.
This term refers to the influence and interference that Britain exerted in areas not formally part of the British Empire but were nevertheless important for British trade and investment. The interest was normally economic in character and involved territories in South and Central America, Asia, and the Middle East. The extent of this interest is difficult to gauge. Economic penetration of a territory depended on the level of cooperation of local business and political elites, and the degree of resistance to British influence. Informal empire was cheaper than establishing colonies but annexation of territory was sometimes deemed necessary if influence was to continue in the face of rival European competition or the lack of local cooperation such as in South Africa at the end of the 19th century.
 
Imperialism.
A concept of power and influence which includes the process of extending a country’s sovereignty over new territories through the use of force, trade or diplomacy, (normally to exploit the natural  resources to be found) and the nature and the means by which the territory is to be governed.  The term was first used in the 1840s to describe (in critical terms) the French foreign policy but by the 1870s the term was being used by critics to describe Disraeli’s foreign policy. Imperialism  was constantly being redefined and by the end of the decade Lord Carnarvon, Colonial Secretary and an advocate for ‘Federation’ of colonies within the Empire, spoke of imperialism as binding together the English speaking community and providing wise laws and good government with well ordered finance in a system where all could enjoy freedom from oppression and where the light of religion could be found everywhere. By the end of the century imperialism was being seen as providing enlightened government and civilisation. Imperialism though was a term that meant different things to different people.
 
Indentured Servants.
An indentured servant or indentured labourer is an employee within a system of unfree labour who is bound by a signed or forced contract (indenture) to work without pay for the owner of the indenture for a period of time, often seven years. The contract often lets the employer sell the labour of an indenturee to a third party. Indenturees usually enter into an indenture for a specific payment or other benefit (such as transportation to a new place), or to meet a legal obligation, such as debt bondage. On completion of the contract, indentured servants were given their freedom, and occasionally plots of land. Indentured servitude was often brutal, with a high percentage of servants dying prior to the expiration of their indentures. After the Abolition of Slavery in 1833 the British used indentured labour, usually from India, to provide the labour on plantations where they could not get sufficient local labour. As parts of the African and Asian continent were colonised by Britain in the late c19th, indentured labour from India was used on the newly established rubber, tea and coffee plantations.
 
Jingoism.
A popular term for the patriotic pride of the late c19th expressed at the news of successful imperial colonial victories such as the relief of Mafeking in the Second South African War. The term originates from 1878 when Britain seemed about to enter a war with Russia in support of  Turkey. Troops from the Indian Army were sent to Malta in preparation for the war and the gesture of colonial troops being sent to fight for Britain was seized upon by the popular music halls and the press. A popular tune of the time was ’We don’t want to fight, but, by Jingo, if we do, we’ve got the men, we got the ships, we’ve got the money too’. A year before, Queen Victoria was declared Queen Empress of India, and it seemed as if Britain was really an imperial power like Russia. By expressing the phrase Britons were aspiring to being a great power, and expressing the belief that Britain was a great power. In  Mafeking, following the ending of the Boer seige   in 1900, expressions of jubilant imperialism, or jingoism were made more out of relief than an overt belief in Britain’s greatness.
Mercantilism.
A trading system that existed from about 1500 to the mid-c19th by which countries tried to ensure that more goods were exported than were imported so that there was a profitable ‘balance of trade’ and that the sources of important commodities (sugar, tea, tobacco, spices etc) were controlled through the establishment of colonies. Mercantilism also involved restricting the trade of European competitors by controlling the ships involved in global  trade.
 
The Metis.
A Canadian people of mixed descent, part-French and part-Indian, the term originating with early French colonists. With the collapse of the French fur trading companies many metis took up service with the Hudson’s Bay Company, although many more remained independent and became skilled bison hunters. The metis had a settlement on the Red River which was accepted by the Hudson’s Bay Company but with the founding of the new Canadian federation and the purchase of Company land rights by the new dominion in 1869, the federal government was not prepared to tolerate a people who did not want to accept British rule. The metis rebelled in 1869-70 and again in 1885 but the transformation  of Manitoba swamped most aspects of metis life.
 
The Men on the Spot.
The idea that, given the time it took to communicate with far away colonies, it was local officials (Governors and High Commissioners) that drove the expansion of the empire rather than officials in the metropole. Examples of this was Bartle Frere’s aggressive policy towards the Zulus in South Africa which led to the disaster at Isandhlwana in 1879 and the first Afghan War in 1839 launched by Lord Auckland.
 
Nation.
A territory which is comprised of a people with a common language, religion, and political institutions; a clear geographical area, and exact borders.
 
New Imperialism.  
A period of British imperial expansion in trade, industry and overseas investment from 1870 to 1914 which coincided with the  expansion of European empires. This expansion of the British Empire took place largely in Africa and Asia and with increased rivalry between European powers, and occasional periods of increased tension, greater public interest in imperial affairs. The climax of New Imperialism was the Second South African War which together with the rise of European armies and navies resulted in a crisis of confidence in Britain.
 
Raj.
British run India after the rebellion of 1857 until the establishment of independence in 1947.
 
Royal Africa Company.
Founded under a royal charter of 1600 as the ‘Company of Royal Adventurers’ with monopoly rights in licences to British slave traders who used the West African coast. The name was changed to Royal Africa Company in 1672. Fortified stations were established along the west African coast from Senegal to Nigeria although it was still possible for slave traders to look  for slaves elsewhere in the Indian Ocean in Madagascar and Zanzibar. The Royal African Company was abolished in 1698 and the slave trade was deregulated.
 
Scramble for Africa (Partition of Africa).
The rapid expansion of European influence in Africa by rival governments 1880 -1911. The main beneficiary was France which saw her acquire a third of Africa’s land surface. The ‘land grab’ was caused by i) competitive industrialisation in Europe which required growing economies to seek out new sources of raw materials and new markets, ii) bankers seeking new investment opportunities for surplus capital, iii) individuals seeking to achieve what they regarded as their country’s mission to found colonies, iv) a response by local imperial forces calling on the metropolitan  power to help deal with local native power that resisted the expansion of European power. The swift land grab by European power was made possible by the developments in communication technology and weapons, particularly the Gatling gun.
Sepoys.
Native Indians who joined the Indian Army
Slave Trade.
The trade in African slaves to the Americas and the Caribbean Islands was begun by the Spanish under crown licence in 1510. Dutch, Portuguese, French and British seamen participated from the mid-c16th. Sir John Hawkins undertook the first British slaving voyage to the Caribbean from Senegal and Sierra Leone in 1562 and making two more voyages before deciding it was not economic to continue. British participation continued in 1610 but did not increase in intensity until mid-century. Slave trading  partnerships were established in the c18th using ships from London, Bristol and from 1750 Liverpool. These ships sailed to Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria  and as far south as Angola. Permanent trading posts were established in The Gambia and Ghana to receive slaves brought from the hinterland, and the slaves were then transported under appalling conditions  to the southern American colonies or the islands of Jamaica, Barbados and the Leeward Islands. Quite small ships would regularly carry up to 600 slaves, chained to shelves below deck throughout the crossing.  Following disembarkation of the slaves,  the ships would bring back cargos of sugar and rum to their home ports. The peak period for this ‘trade’ was between 1765 and 1775 when about 34,000 slaves  were brought to the Americas each year. Thereafter the trade declined during the revolutionary wars with France and the campaign to abolish the trade led by William Wilberforce.
Slavery.
Slavery had long existed in much of Europe, Asia and  Africa before in the late c15th and early c16th the institution came to be regarded essential for  the financial viability of the sugar and tobacco plantations. Owners of the early plantations in the c16th  had attempted to use white indentured servants but this soon proved impossible due to the climate. Indigenous native Americans were also used as slaves by early settlers before the slave trade companies turned to the use of African slaves. On 22 June 1772 Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, in a famous judgement concerning the ex-slave Somersett held that the right of property in slaves could not be upheld in an English court of law, and that any slave landing in England would be regarded as free. This judgement encouraged the work of philanthropists like the evangelical MP William Wilberforce and the Quaker Thomas Clarkson who campaigned to end the slave trade. In 1787 the Anti-Slavery Committee was set up and they achieved the abolition of the Slave Trade by Parliament in 1807. There followed naval support to establish a free town for ex-slaves in Sierra Leone although there was continued opposition to ending slavery until growing understanding of the awful conditions combined with a number of slave rebellions in Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana led to Parliament passing the bill to abolish slavery in the British Empire. The Act did not apply to territories under British protection  and so Kuwait did not abolish slavery until 1949 and Qatar until 1952. In other parts of the Arabian peninsula, slavery continued even longer.
   
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