Sie sind auf Seite 1von 3

British Colonialism 24.01.


British colonialism

General information:
The British empire was the largest empire in history and the leading global power for more
than 100 years. Its origins can be found in the European age of discovery which took place in
the 15th century and enabled European powers to become colonial empires.
By 1921, 458 million people lived in a British controlled country. These countries covered
about 36.6 million km2, which is one quarter of the Earth’s total area.
Because of the British domination, these countries often have a similar form of legacy,
government, eductian system, and of course, language.
After the independence of the territories controlled by the British, many of the arising
countries became members of the Commonwealth of Nations, which is a free association of
independent states.

Origins of the Britsh Empire (1497-1583):

The origins of the British Empire lay in 1497. Because Columbus discovered America for
Spain and Portugal in 1492 in order to find a way to India, Henry VII of England also wanted
to discover a route from Europe to Asia via the North Atlantic. In 1497, Captain John Cabot
landed on the coast of Canda and believed like Columbus five years earlier that he had
reached India, which was of course wrong.
England wasn’t interested in colonies till the reign of Elisabeth I started. In the Anglo-Spanish
War pirates, which fought for England, were the first settlers.
At the end of the 15th century, more and more intellectuals and politicans wanted Britain to
conquer colonies because other powers like Spain and Portugal also had them.
As a matter of fact, England had begun in colonizing Ireland a long time before.

The first British Empire (1583-1783):

Although the Carribean territories became very important and lucrative for Britain, several
attempts for building up colonies failed especially at the beginning. Later, settlements in
Barbados, St Kitts and Nevis (founded about 1620) had great sucess because of sugar
The first colony on the American mainland was Jamestown, founded in 1607. In 1624, the
area controlled by this settlement was called Virginia. Other colonies were founded by the so-
called Pilgrim fathers. They had to flee from religious persecution and escaped to America,
where they founded Maryland, Rhode Island. Soon later, New York was sold to the British by
the Netherlands. The American colonies produced tobacco, cotton, rice, furs and naval
The British East India company began trading with Asia in 1600. A deal left India for the
Nevertheless, the American colonies were far more important for the British empire and the
loss of them in the American struggle for independence (1776-1783) was an enormous defeat
for the empire
At that time, the British Scotland, Wales and England were united.
The second British Empire (1783-1815):
The British now concentrated on Asia, especially India and Australia. The British also wanted
to abolish slavery and did a lot to achieve this goal. The slave trade was outlawed in 1807 and
by the mid of the 19th century, slave trade was largely stopped around the world.
The Napoleonic wars were a struggle for the leading role in Europe’s and the world’s politics.
Napoleon wanted to defeat England and planned an invasion.The battle of Trafalgar in 1805

Gergej Varadij & Helmut Winkler 1/3

British Colonialism 24.01.2008

ended Napoleon’s plans. There, the British fleet under the command of Nelson, was able to
defeat the French fleet.
The defeat of Napoleon in 1815 left the British Empire as the world’s dominating power.

Britain’s imperial century (1815-1914):

During this century, 10 million square kilometres and about 400 million people became part
of the British empire. Britain was the strongest power and played a part in every politic
decision around the world. This policy is known as the “Pax Britannia”.
In Asia parts of South-East Asia were brought under the rule of the Crown. Java, Singapore,
Malacca and Burma and after the Opium war with China Hongkong were added to the British
In Africa, Egypt was conquered in 1799 in order to weak Napoleon, who fought there. The
Cape Colony, a former station for ships travelling to India, was made a colony. Enormous
British immigration drove the thereliving population away.
The colonialization of the rest of Africa started around 1870. The ressources there were
needed by the European powers, especially Germany wanted Colonies.
At the Berlin conference (1884-1885) Africa was parted between the European powers.
Britain wanted all the land from Egypt to South Africa, which was called the “Cape-Kairo”-
policy. This was made unpossible, because Germany occupied Tanganyika.
At the end of the 19th century, the self-ruling of former colonies started. Canada (1867), New
Zealand, Australia and New Foundland (1907), became so-called “Dominions” which were
allowed to govern them on their own.

World War I and the Inter War Period (1914-1939):

During World War I the English were able to conquer the German colonies. The battle of
Gallipoli for the Australians and the battle of Vimy Ridge for Canada, gave birth to their wish
in becoming an independent nation. After the war, Britain gained control over Palestine and
the Iraq through League of Nation mandates.
The Inter War Period also gave more rights to Canada, Australia and Egypt. At the end of the
Anglo-Irish war in 1921, Ireland was divided. An free Irish state was formed but the region
round Ulster remained part of the British Empire.

Gergej Varadij & Helmut Winkler 2/3

British Colonialism 24.01.2008

Decolonisation and decline (1945-1997):

The colonies wish for independene ended what was known as the British Empire. The Asian
states got mainly independent in the 1950ies and the African states in the 1960ies.
The Falklands War in 1982 gave proof that the British would defend their remaining oversea
territories if they have strategic influence or if this is wished by the population.
The last territory becoming independent was Hongkong in 1997. It was handed back to China.

After the discovery of a sea route to India by Vasco da Gama in 1498, European powers
traded with India. The British East Indian Company had the permission to trade in India since
1617. The trade with Europe, especially the textile industry, was very important for India and
so the British got more and more power and finally didn’t have to pay duty. This led to riots
in which British soldiers began conquering India. About 1850, they had the full control about
all of India (nowadays: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh).
From 1920 on, leaders such as Mahadma Ghandi, began mass movements against the British
rule. The non-violent protests of Ghandi had success and in 1947, India became independent
but soon seperated into two states: the Hindu India and the Muslim Pakistan.

The Commonwealth of Nations consists out of 53 states which were former colonies of the
British crown. Nowadays, a quarter of the world’s population live in Commonwealth
Especially in the 1950ies and in the1960ies the association was highly important for the
economy of the Commonwealth countries. Most of the countries sold their goods to Britain
and Britain’s economy needed the ressources from these countries. But the membership of
Britain in the European Union and close economic relations with Britain’s neighbouring
countries ended the close economic relationships.
In the beginning, Commonwealth citizens had the right to live everywhere in the
Commonwealth, which led to enormous immigration to Britain. Economic problems and a
high unemployment rate were the reasons to stop this.
Nowadays the Commonwealth is an organisation where rich and poor countries reach
discussions per consensus. They discuss international problems and try to work for human
rights, democrazy, economy, freedom, law etc.

The former colony Rhodesia split up in three countries: Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Rhodesia was parted in these three states in 1953 after colonialism ended but was ruled by
one African government. The white-minority in Zimbabwe took over the power there because
they didn’t want too loose their influence and their land. A government was formed in which
Ian Smith became the leading man. He declared independence in 1965 and made Zimbabwe a
“republic”. Nevertheless, the government was never accepted by any western state.
The situation in Zimbabwe can be compared to the one in South Africa under the system of
Apartheid. Because many Africans didn’t want to accept the rule of the Whites any longer,
riots broke out and rebels fought against the government. One of the rebels’ leaders, Robert
Mugabe became the new president after negotiations in 1980. Robert Mugabe, who promised
land for the poor African people, rules as a dictator. His policy didn’t have much success till
now, Zimbabwe is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been thrown out of the
Commonwealth because Mugabe cheated in several elections.

Gergej Varadij & Helmut Winkler 3/3