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British Imperial History
Revision Power Point –
purchases shares
in Suez canal.
•Partition of
India &
•Cold War
between USA &
USSR continues until
late 1980s.
‘Empress of
• Labour wins
1945 election
and opts for
• First Boer
War (until
‘Quit India’
– 1942.
• Climax of
at Munich
• ‘Malayan Emergency’
begins, lasts until 1960.
• Conquest of the
• British occupation of
Egypt. ‘Scramble for
Africa’ underway in
• Statute of
Westminster Canada,
Australia, New
South Africa.
• Second Boer War
results in British
control of the whole
of S. Africa.
• Round Table
campaign of civil
disobedience in
India (to 1931).
1914 - 1918
• Versailles Treaty
• Britain gains
mandates in Middle
East & Africa.
• Amritsar Massacre India.
• Government of India
• Gandhi’s noncooperation
movement in India
(until 1922).
British Imperial
• Mau Mau insurgency beginning in
Kenya, lasts until 1956.
• Suez Crisis - Sudan
• Ghana is granted
• Macmillan’s ‘Winds
of Change’ speech.
• Tanganyika
(Tanzania) is
• Uganda is
• Kenyan
• Malawi and
Zambia granted
• UDI by
• Britain
joins the
• Zimbabwean
•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 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).
•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
for Africa
•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.
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 Scramble for Africa – Map
• Egypt was important, because a great deal
of trade passed through the Suez Canal,
and it made trade routes significantly
•Equally importantly, it allowed for faster
and easier transfer of troops to India in case
of an international situation,.
•The Sudan controlled the upper
reaches of the Nile, which was vital
to Egypt’s economic development.
•Reaction to French involvement at
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
• 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
East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Zanzibar)
• The east of Africa had huge economic
• German and French explorers were
interested, Britain feared being left
•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.
• 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.
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.
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.
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.
•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
•Great power rivalry also played an
important part – the British feared that
if they didn’t intervene in Egypt, the
French might.
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.
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.
of the
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.
•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.
•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.
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.
•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
•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.
•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.
British Expansion
into East Africa
•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 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.
•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 Zulu War
and the First
Boer War
•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,
•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.
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.
Expansion of
the Empire in
•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.
•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
Popular Support
for the Empire
1870 - 1914
•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.
•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
•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.
•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
•They thought that the imperialist
capitalists were using patriotism to
distract the working population from
challenging social change.
AntiImperialism in
Britain 1870 –
•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
•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’.
•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 proimperialist writers was Rudyard Kipling,
who deliberately wrote to influence the
•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.
The Media,
Propaganda and
Jingoism, 1870 –
•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.
•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.
•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.
•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.
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
Reasons for
the Second
Boer War
•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.
•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.
•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
•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.
•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.
•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
•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
•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.
leading up to
the Boer war
•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
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.
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 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.
Boer War
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
•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
•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
•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
•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.
•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
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’.
•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.
•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.
•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
•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.
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
•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.
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
•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.
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
•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.
The Origins
of the Indian
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 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
•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.
•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.
•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).
•This was pursued without
formal occupation, partly
because unlike India, China
was united under the rule of the
Manchu dynasty.
in China
•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.
•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.
•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 socalled ‘great game’).
British expansion
in Burma and
•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.
•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.
•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.
WWI and
the Empire
•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.
•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 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).
Economic and
Military Weakness
After WWI
•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.
•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
•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
•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.
•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
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.
•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.
•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.
Effects of WWI
on colonial
•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.
•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.
•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
•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
•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.
•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.
Attitudes at
Home after
•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.
•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.
•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.
Ways in which
the Empire
•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
•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.
•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.
•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
•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.
India between
the wars
•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.
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.
•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
•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.
The Round Table
Government of India Act
•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.
•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.
•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
•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.
•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
•In 1936, Egypt was given control of their own army,
but a large British military presence remained to
protect the Suez canal.
•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.
Other parts of
the Empire
between the
•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 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.
•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 Empire at
the end of the
•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.
•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.
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 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 - 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
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 – 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