Pax Britannica – The Zenith of the British Empire

Pax Britannica – The Zenith of the British Empire

These colonies of white settlement were Canada, Australia, New Zealand, The Cape, Natal and Newfoundland. “There were other groups of white settlers, notably in the West Indies and parts of Africa, who did not enjoy self-governing status. In 1902 there were, moreover, the two newly conquered Boer republics (the Orange Free State and the Transvaal) whose future within the Empire was uncertain.”18

British possessions in other areas were often without the coherent justification or strategy. For example, the West African colonies were either remnants from the slave trade or the products of commercial and humanitarian enterprise. In central Africa there was Nyasaland and Rhodesia. Nyasaland served no fundamental British interest. As far as Rhodesia was concerned, it was ruled by Cecil Rhodes’ creation, the British South Africa Company, which was hardly a boon to investors, though more satisfying for white colonists. Malaya and Borneo in the Far East were becoming more valuable for their production of tin and rubber than for their strategic positions. Acquisition of South-Eastern New Guinea and the Cook Islands had been in response to Australia and New Zealand’s anxieties, but other colonies in the Pacific were by no means vital to British security. Finally, Singapore and Hong Kong rested on commerce.

“In the early 1900’s these territories were hardly more divergent than the methods by which they were governed.”19 North Borneo and Rhodesia were administered by chartered companies. Crown colony government predominated in the West Indies. Ceylon, too, was a crown colony. Protectorates abounded: East Africa, Somaliland, Northern and Southern Nigeria, Nyasaland, Bechuanaland, Aden. The other were the protected states, such as Brunei, Zanzibar, Tonga and the Malay States, where local rulers remained, but were subject to the advice of the British residents. The one most vital state to British imperial strategy being also effectively under British control was Egypt. The Sudan and the New Hebrides on the other hand were ruled by Britain jointly with Egypt and France respectively. The Sudan could be viewed however as effectively a British dependency.

Although British influence prevailed in all these territories the methods of governing them from London presented little consistency and the imposition of a greater degree of uniformity throughout the colonial Empire was an urgent task. The administration of the chartered territories was only loosely supervised by the British government, though a charter could be revoked.

The Colonial Office ruled the Crown Colonies, but the Foreign Office was generally responsible for the protectorates and the condominiums. Additionally, there were areas outside the Empire’s boundaries which Britain either protected informally or dominated commercially. The derelict Turkish Empire had been shored-up against Russia in the Crimean war, and again protected in 1878 during the Eastern crises. British influence extended to southern Persia and the Persian Gulf. By the beginning of the twentieth century the commerce of China owed much to British management, but only after successive Chinese governments had been overawed by British gunboats and subjected to British commercial pressures. In concert with other interested European powers, and relying heavily on Indian mercenaries, Britain had crushed the anti-foreigner Boxer rising of 1900.

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