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HISTORY OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE
 
 


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Jubilee Years: 1887-1897

Victoria's long reign draws to its close in triumphant mood, with the queen empress emerging from a long period of unpopularity to seem like the serene matriarch of much of the globe. In her middle years, after being widowed in her early forties, she withddraws from public affairs into her private grief. Even as late as 1886 there are hostile press comments about the queen's seclusion. But the celebrations for the Golden Jubilee in 1887, fifty years after her accession to the throne, change the picture.

The festivities have a common touch. Even in Westminster Abbey the queen refuses to wear her crown and robes of state, preferring instead a white bonnet - albeit a very special one, brimming with lace and diamonds.
 









That evening there are fireworks and bonfires all round the country, and the next day (June 22) the queen joins 30,000 schoolchildren for a huge party in Hyde Park. Each child is given a bun and a Jubilee mug full of milk.

The nation's sense of self-satisfaction derives largely from the existence of the British empire. A map of the world published at this time shows Britain's extensive colonies in their characteristic red, with Britannia lolling on a globe accompanied by a British soldier and sailor, a turbanned Indian with elephant and tiger, a bare-breasted Aborigine accompanying a kangaroo, and other such exotic fruits of empire.
 







Senior representatives of the colonies are naturally in London for the Jubilee, and the opportunity is taken to hold an assembly which can now be seen as the first in a long line of Imperial and Commonwealth conferences. Ten years later, for the Diamond Jubilee of 1897, the mood is even more ecstatic. 2500 beacons are lit on the nation's hills, four times as many as in 1887.

The queen, driven in an open carriage through six miles of London streets, notes in her diary: 'The crowds were quite indescribable,and their enhusiasm truly marvellous and deeply touching. The cheering was quite deafening, and every face seemed to be filled with real joy.'
 







The colonial leaders are in town again, and they hold a second conference. The sight of troops from all over the world, marching past in the procession, moves a journalist of the Daily Mail to sentiments of Imperial pride very much of their time (but politically as incorrect as it is possible to be by the standards of a later age).

At the royal level this international gathering is very much a family affair. Victoria's numerous descendants (thirty-seven great-grandchildren at the time of her death) have married into almost every royal family in Europe. Alas, this is no guarantee against family quarrels. In World War I one of the old lady's grandsons is the British king (George V), another the German kaiser (William II).
 






The growth of the Rhodesias: 1890-1900

The population of settlers rapidly increases in the territory adminstered by Rhodes's British South Africa Company. There are as many as 1500 Europeans in the region by 1892. More soon follow, thanks partly to developments in transport.

The railway from the Cape has reached Kimberley in 1885, at a fortuitous time just before the start of Rhodes's ambitious venture (one of the stated aims of his company is to extend the line north to the Zambezi). Trains reach Bulawayo as early as 1896. Victoria Falls is the northern terminus by 1904. Meanwhile the territory has been given a name in honour of its colonial founder. From 1895 the region up to the Zambezi is known as Rhodesia.
 









During the early 1890s the company has considerable difficulty in maintaining its presence in these new territories. Lobengula himself tries to maintain peace with the British, but many of his tribe are eager to expel the intruders. The issue comes to a head when Leander Jameson, administering the region for Rhodes, finds a pretext in 1893 for war against Lobengula.

With five Maxim machine guns, Jameson easily fights his way into Lobengula's kraal at Bulawayo. Lobengula flees, bringing to an end the Ndebele kingdom established by his father. There is a strong tribal uprising against the British in 1896-7, but thereafter Rhodes's company brings the entire region up to the Zambezi under full control.
 







But Rhodes has ambitions far beyond the Zambezi. In 1890 he arrives in Barotseland (the western region of modern Zambia) to secure a treaty with Lewanika, the paramount chief of the region. With this achieved, Rhodes comes to a new agreement in 1891 with the British government. His company will administer the area from the Zambezi up to Lake Tanganyika (the present-day Zambia).

From 1900 the territory is divided into two protectorates, Northwestern and Northeastern Rhodesia, each of them separately administered by Rhodes's company. In 1911 they are merged as Northern Rhodesia, with the colony's first capital at Livingstone (appropriately named, since it is near Victoria Falls).
 







Rhodes hopes also to bring under his company's control the territory to the east, up to Lake Nyasa. But this region (the kernel of today's Malawi) is placed in 1891 under direct British administration - to become the British Central African Protectorate.

There is much conflict during the 1890s between the company's servants and the local chieftains, but the shape of the British colonial presence in central Africa is now clear. Rhodes's dream of a continuous strip of British territory has been achieved as far as the great lakes. The Boers in the Transvaal are admittedly an irritant, half blocking an otherwise satisfactory prospect to the north. But Rhodes and Jameson have plans for them too.
 






Rhodes and Jameson: 1890-1895

Rhodes is a politician as well as a capitalist entrepreneur. A member of the Cape parliament from 1881, he becomes prime minister in 1890. His overriding aim in South African politics is to bring the Boer republics (the Transvaal and the Orange Free State) into a South African Federation - in which the British at the Cape will be the dominant partner.

His motives are varied. There is the obvious one of extending British control. There is irritation at the damage to trade which results from high tarriffs imposed by the Boers. And there is personal hostility to the leading Boer politician, Paul Kruger, a man as stubborn as Rhodes is impulsive.
 









Rhodes's views are passionately shared by an exact contemporary, Leander Starr Jameson. The two men meet in 1878 when Jameson is working as a doctor in Kimberley. Thereafter their careers are closely linked.

Jameson is among the first colonists heading north into Rhodesia in 1890. In 1891 he is appointed administrator of the region. In 1893 it is he who launches the unscrupulous but successful war against Lobengula. And in 1895 he plays the leading role in a plot, hatched in conjunction with Rhodes, to unseat Kruger and take over the Transvaal by force.
 







From October 1894 Rhodes and Jameson discuss with uitlanders in Johannesburg the possibility of an uprising. The uitlanders (Afrikaans for 'foreigners') are British settlers who have flocked into the Transvaal after the discovery in 1886 of rich gold fields on the Witwatersrand, also known simply as the Rand. They have a sense of grievance, partly because Kruger has denied them the vote (understandably, since they are soon likely to outnumber the Boers in the republic).

A secret scheme is hatched for an uprising by the uitlanders in December 1895. It is timed to coincide with a British invasion from Mafeking, just over the Transvaal border in Bechuanaland.
 







The British force of some 600 men (most of them armed police from Rhodesia) is to be led by Jameson. At the last minute it becomes known that the uprising of uitlanders has failed to materialize, but Jameson, in foolhardy mood, decides to go ahead. Four days later his party is confronted by the Boers fourteen miles short of Johannesburg.

At the end of this fiasco of an invasion, which becomes notorious as the Jameson Raid, sixteen of the British force are dead and Jameson himself is under arrest . When the news breaks of the personal involvement of the prime minister of the neighbouring Cape colony, Rhodes has no choice but to resign. His political career never recovers.
 







Jameson, released by the Boers, is tried in England (for offences under the Foreign Enlistment Act) and spends several months in London's Holloway gaol. But he returns to South Africa and even establishes a political career. For four years (1904-8) he serves in Rhodes's footsteps as prime minister of the Cape Colony.

By then the independence of the Transvaal has been brought to an end in a military campaign longer, more brutal and more effective than Jameson's unfortunate raid. That campaign is the Boer War of 1899-1902, in the build-up to which the Jameson Raid has been one of the more significant moments.
 






Salisbury, Chamberlain and the empire: 1897-1903

The imperial conference held at the time of the queen's Diamond Jubilee, in 1897, is a much more weighty affair than its predecessor ten years earlier. This time the prime ministers of the colonies have made the long journey to attend the festivities in person. And the colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain (appointed to this office in 1895), is a man with a passionate commitment to strengthening the commercial and political ties between the increasingly self-governing colonies.

His prime minister, Lord Salisbury, is a less ardent imperialist. But he is nevertheless much more interested in foreign affairs than in home issues.
 










The patrician marquess of Salisbury (a Cecil, whose family link in politics goes back to the reign of Elizabeth I) is the last British prime minister to govern from the house of lords. He is also the last to act as his own foreign secretary. He does not share Chamberlain's vision of a federal empire, but he is much involved in the diplomacy between the European nations which accompanies the frantic scramble for colonies in Africa in the late 19th century.

The era of Salisbury and Chamberlain sees extensive British activity in the southern part of the African continent. The region being developed by the commercial activities of Cecil Rhodes is proclaimed as Rhodesia in 1895, with its chief town named Salisbury in honour of the prime minister.
 








In that same year the disastrous Jameson Raid causes major diplomatic problems for the British government (Chamberlain is accused of complicity in it, but is cleared of any involvement by a commons committee in 1897). The raid increases the likelihood of serious conflict in the region, and this breaks out in 1899 as the Boer War.

At first the war is unpopular in Britain, with Liberal opposition to it reinforced by a succession of British defeats, but in 1900 the news from the front improves. Salisbury calls an election, branding the opposition as unpatriotic, and is returned with a greatly increased majority - causing this to become known as the 'khaki election'.
 







The next election, also fought indirectly on an imperial issue, is less successful for the Conservatives. Salisbury resigns from ill health in 1902, entrusting the premiership to his nephew Arthur Balfour. But in 1903 Chamberlain dramatically escalates his campaign for a strengthened empire. Speaking in his home town of Birmingham, he advocates a tariff on goods from non-colonial sources.

His purpose is to strengthen the colonies and their link with Britain, and also to raise funds for social measures at home. But the proposal goes against the principle of free trade, considered sacred since the repeal of the Corn Laws. Even worse, as a handle for political opponents, it represents a tax on food.
 







Chamberlain's policy immediately splits the Conservative party and leads to resignations, including his own, from the cabinet. Chamberlain takes the issue around the country in a programme of public meetings, until Balfour finally resigns at the end of December 1905 having lost control of the party. The Liberals are returned early in 1906 with a huge majority.

Free trade has carried the day. The trend in imperial policy is now towards more independence for the colonies rather than greater protection. Dominion status, already possessed by Canada and Australia, is granted to New Zealand in 1907 and to the four newly united provinces of South Africa in 1909.
 






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