Free Custom «British Imperial Policy in South Africa c. 1860-1910» Sample Essay

«British Imperial Policy in South Africa c. 1860-1910»

British imperial policy in South Africa c. 1860-1910 was geared primarily to safeguarding black interests against the encroachments of white settlers


In the last decades of the 19th century, South Africa was the fastest growing and, at the same time, the most unstable part of the British Empire. While British administration committed to developing mineral resources of the region, the Boers were defending their rights to preservation of the agrarian economy, which primarily based on extensive cattle breeding. British entrepreneurs vested interest in peaceful relationship with the African population that worked in the mines as unskilled labour. In the study of the established problem, researchers pay attention to the economic, political and military background of the British policies. However, scholars paid less attention to the analysis of manner of British colonization of the region and the policy formation for the white population.

The aim of the current paper is to prove the hypothesis that British imperial policy in South Africa in 1860-1910 was geared primarily to safeguarding black interests against the encroachments of white settlers. The evidence to prove the assumption bases on the background of relationship between Britain and South Africa, evaluation of the key features of the British imperialism, and assessment of the major obstacles that the British Empire encountered in the colonised countries.

British Empire and South Africa: The Background of Relations

In order to understand the way Britain and South Africa used to cooperate during the defined period, it is necessary to investigate the political backgrounds of both countries. One of the most important times in the Great Britain's history is the last decades of the 19th century (Nugent, 2014). The period saw the rapid territorial growth of the British Empire and the perception of British society as the imperial faith. The policy of imperialism became a sharp response to the problems and challenges of the national position of England on the world stage. In the end of the 19th century, imperialism was most effective and relevant response as perceived by contemporaries (Bickford-Smith, 2011).

The world has seen enormous economic potential of Asia and Africa, broad prospects of political development of the colonies, military power of the empire, and the civilising mission. The aforementioned aspects of the imperial ideas and policies re-evaluated the course of the end of the 19th century, when imperialism has taken the position of the dominant ideology of the UK. Moreover, in the early 1870s, the British imperialism was perceived by society as a negative phenomenon and aggressive policy of government (Lal & Vahed, 2013).

However, in mid-19th century, the number of colonised regions of Great Britain in Africa, Asia and the Pacific increased in number (McLaren, 2015). Continued expansion in the period was based on and justified by considerations of the British strategic plan. It involved the need to establish British control in areas of the British India, which resulted in strengthened defence. Moreover, the process was at variance with the official doctrine of the liberals, which proclaimed that the government does not intend to continue expanding the zone of the British responsibility in the undeveloped countries. The phenomenon bore a heavy burden on the budget of the metropolis. Moreover, trade with the British colonies in the middle of the 19th century did not correspond to the expenses related to the regional dependence. The Britain incurred higher costs of administration and defence as compared to the benefits (Sadouni, 2014).

The Traits of British Imperial Policy in the South Africa in 1860-1910

The position of black and white population in South Africa and imperial policies of the Great Britain relate to the way British politicians of 1860-1910 treated South Africa and other colonies. A characteristic feature of the olonial policy of the United Kingdom in 1860-1910 was the expansion of so-called informal empire that included the states of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The colonised regions were involved in the scope of economic interests of the UK (Lal & Vahed, 2013). However, they remained politically independent. In commercial terms, the countries were transferred into individual entrepreneurs, who have become the main agents of the British influence in the locations.

In the middle of the 19th century, the least intervention of the British government in the colonies improved the British trade in the countries of the third world (Sadouni, 2014). The punitive operation against the British ruler of Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia), Theodore, was held in 1867 in order to protect the British missionaries and messengers (Nugent, 2014). However, the situation had not led to the political subordination of the country (Cope, 1987). While discussing the Abyssinian question in the British parliament, representatives of different political groups agreed that the government should restrict the purpose of the expedition undertaken to release the British captive. They suggested refusing the annexation of the country, and refraining from any political obligations.

In the middle of the 19th century, the future of the colonies of the Great Britain seemed to have built the capacity for the political and economic independence before they receive the right to form their own government (McLaren, 2015). Thus, the main intention of the liberal imperial idea did not account for owning British colonial empire. The middle of the 19th century saw the virtual disappearance of the colonial possessions, and political values ​​of the party slogans content (Cope, 1987).

In 1867, the British Parliament held the debate on granting Canada the constitution. The occasion passed virtually unnoticed by the British society. However, the country's leading politicians perceived it to be a step towards the liberation of the British imperial burdens (Cope, 1987). Undoubtedly, liberal politicians have not followed the goal to destroy the imperial system. On the contrary, they aimed to modernize it. The hypothesis is proven by the views of the Liberal Party leader and one of the most respected statesmen in the UK of the mid-19th century, (Nugent, 2014).

William Gladstone was a supporter of Greek colonization model and considered it the best approach to building cultural, spiritual, and informal links between the metropolis and the colonies. According to him, the political and economic independence of the resettlement colonies would allow the countries to combine the efforts and become stronger than the British garrison. The British colonies encountered gradual learning of management of state institutions and economic system, which would inevitably lead to an increase in the desire for complete independence (Sadouni, 2014).

However, contrary to the calculations of the liberals in the 1850-1860s, self-governing colonies did not want an immediate separation from the Great Britain. Moreover, sparsely populated and underdeveloped Canada, Australia, and New Zealand continued to insist on receiving help from the mother country. At the same time, in Great Britain, the opposition to colonial policy of liberal offices began to grow (Bickford-Smith, 2011). Thus, the anti-colonisation spirits resulted in a constant suppression of white population, since the Great Britain did not actually need the colonies in South Africa any more. In other words, the key direction of the imperial policy of Britain attained a goal of safeguarding black interests against the encroachments of white settlers.

Additionally, the fact that the black population was pushed to fulfil interesting and useful functions relates to the situation. The important function was education of the black population, which influenced the minds of colonised citizens. Lal and Vahed (2013) have a strong conviction that education played a crucial transformative role in the African society of the 1860-1910.

The mid-1870s was thee beginning of the official use of the term the British Empire. After a heated debate in both houses of the parliament, Queen Victoria (1837-1901) won the right to be called the Empress. The title was intended to symbolise a new policy in relation to the metropolis colonial possessions, especially in India. The imperial rhetoric of the conservatives, expansionism, as well as a departure from the policy of non-intervention was the new phenomena for the 19th century England. Moreover, active rejection of the liberal opposition expansionist colonial policy, and the emergence of numerous supporters of the New Deal led to increased attention to the elite of the British imperialism (Ross, 2014).

The Empire began to attract the attention of scholars and intellectuals, who appear in the speeches of politicians and public figures of the country. The colonial society conducted active work, which started in 1868 and targeted distribution of the imperial idea in society (Bickford-Smith, 2011). The time period experienced the changes in the understanding of the term "imperialism" (Bickford-Smith, 2011). British imperialism was initially constructive and aimed at achieving the optimum relations with the inhabitants of the British colonies. The approach strategized political and economic development of the dependent countries by improving the living conditions, and stopping the disease and hunger.

In the last decades of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century, British colonial possessions in South Africa were perceived as one of the most important funds in overcoming the economic difficulties of the metropolis. During the aforementioned period, Britain discovered the boundless opportunities and the prospects inherent in the colonised countries (Ross, 2014). Moreover, many other industrialised countries discovered the value of colonies in the economic development.

The end result of the crown colony development was creating a system of political institutions for the British model. The superiority of the English nation and its mission to carry the blessings of civilisation to the underdeveloped nations of the world were recognised in the second half of the 19th century (Lal & Vahed, 2013). The English people were proud to live in a country with the most advanced political institutions. According to the British nationals, colonising Asians and Africans was not the way to promote the native country to the path of the state progress. The public opinion and the international community explained British intervention in the internal affairs of South Africa as the desire to eliminate the shortcomings of the political system. The explanation contributed to the development of policies aimed at supporting the black population.

The prosperity of the Empire was closely connected with the prosperity and economic growth of the colonies (Ross, 2014). The development was possible only in case when the native population of the colonies work hard. The black population had the potential to work hard for the sake of the Crown. Thus, the imperial policies supported the black population more by attracting them to the work in mines and farms and extract profits for the Empire.


In the period of 1860-1910, imperialism has become the dominant ideology of the UK. However, the development of various aspects of the British imperial idea changed the understanding of the term. At the beginning of the 20th century, imperialism had many definitions. On the one hand, it meant the expansion of the British Empire in order to protect the economic interests of the UK. On the other hand, the term presupposed the union of the self-governing colonies to create a single economic and legal space, unified defence, and improved communications. Britain has once again confirmed its choice in favour of the Empire. The political choices of the country have a significant impact on the world history. The development of the country contributed to the growth of support of the black population in the South Africa, since they were recognised as the most powerful tool in the colonial development.


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