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The British Empire at its height spanned over 13 million square miles. It included both formal and informal land holdings on six different continents, from the small outposts to the trading stations to the large bustling colonial cities that made up the empire it was no exaggeration to say that the sun never set on the empire. How was such a feat accomplished? There were many efforts that went into building the empire from the ground up but on a lower level it was the towns and cities that the colonies were made from and the emigrants from Britain that helped their creation.


The First Types of Colonies


The earliest form of Colonies was forts. Since they were established by explores with military support they would make simple Log walled forts for shelter. Eventually with enough man power and supplies an actual stone fort would be created. The purpose being to defend not only against other European powers competing for land and colonies but from the possibility of attack from the indigenous people as well. Places such as Madras, Cape Town, Calcutta, and Penang. This was the first wave of colony establishments mostly in India and south Asia. As a result of the forts presence as more settlers arrived from mainland Britain or more military personnel a town would develop around the fort. These would eventually become cities, in such places such as Cape Town, taken by the British in 1795 and Calcutta 1773. It was later in the mid 19th century when other forms of colonies begin to appear.


The characteristics of the early colonies were such as these were more autonomous for the reason of just being too far from Britain for any of the direct control to be realistic. Due to the small demographic that helped start them they were unorganized and cluttered. They also relied heavily on the local populations, for supplies as well as a source of labor.  In cases of Madras and Calcutta they were more over seen by the East India trading company. Much of there efforts were spent on exporting local goods created by the locals back to mainland Britain, the largest sector of gods being silk.


Early colonies were predominately male always a 100 women to 140-160 men because of this the colonies would take on the tone of the male members of the colony, the idea of toughness and the ability to turn anything to be useful, by the strength of the individuals there. Though this was necessary in order to establish the colony the sentiment contributed to the overall character of the colony. This whole process was encouraged by the endless schemes to push surplus population of Britain to the colonies.


Second Generation Colonies


The second generation applies to the first colonies growing into Cities as well as the start of new colonies. These new colonies were set in places such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Due to the circumstance upon which there were created and relations with the indigenous populations made the fort not necessary. This lead to the town layout being actually planned in a grid sections keeping the population from being crowded.  Cities Such as Johannesburg in 1886, Sydney in 1788 and Toronto in 1835, were the setting for this type of city. Due to the location of these towns, the population would remain predominately British if not entirely causing many of the race relation issues that plagued other parts of the empire to remain trivial.


The Cities developed identities of the British migrants adapting to where they eventually settled. Where they did settle was the developments of new societies, young societies that were far removed from the actual force of the British society on in mainland Britain. Many established permanent residence of British became parts of the overall makeup of the countries when the colonies became independent.Both as dominate minorities or mainstay of the population.


Despite these conditions the overall population of al the colonies was relatively small. The indigenous people were on the road to extinction and no effort was spared to save them. This was based on the idea that white colonization required the subjugation of local populations in order to make a fully functioning colony. This idea in some areas prevailed until the late 21st century. Between the years of 1815-1914 about twenty million people left the British Isles for the colonies of the empire. 62% went to the untied states, 19% went to Canada, 10.5% went to Australia and New Zealand and 3.5% went to South Africa. Half the immigrants from England and Wales came back.


Women and Race Relation


Women In the colonies cannot be examined without first examining the Race relations between the British settlers and the native populations. This was more of a problem in South Africa and India as well as other southern areas of Asia with cities such as Singapore and eventually Hong Kong. These were the regions upon which the natives made up a significant portion of the Colonies in large minorities, or In the case of South Africa they made up the Majority. In the beginning of most colonies the races were not separated the only separation was the rich higher members of society from everyone else. This divide began to express itself along the same line of rich and poor. Due to the circumstance of the colony those line also coincided with race. This was also expressed in City layout regardless of the type of colony as the cities developed so that the most densely populated areas became slums which were pushed to the edge of the city or toward the center.


This situation was most seen in places such as Calcutta and Cape Town. The interactions with the natives in the early colonies were substantial until later in the 19th century. The relation became strained as they divides increased. Relations between British men and native women dropped off with the increase in the number of British women and the revival of Evangelical Christians, this lead to an increase in Racism throughout the empire.


The prevailing thoughts about Women in the colonies are that Women caused most of the increase social divide.[1] It was suggested that to introduce order to Australia then “God’s police” should be employed meaning women and children. The Idea behind this theory is that the larger number of British women present stopped the relations with local women from occurring. Another since it was seen as their job to maintain the house hold they would keep their Husbands home leading to a larger social gap. Although it is probable that some of this is true, It alone would not be enough to cause this much of a social change.


There were other major efforts of women, contributed to a large amount of humanitarian work specifically in the slums of the cities in order to aid the native populations. They also worked in charitable functions as well as nursing and teaching, both of which where seen as appropriate and professional lines of work. They also served as the head of the house hold which call for them to be effective administrators. Although they were never allowed into administrative jobs outside the home until after World War II. As more women moved to the colonies they enjoyed a higher standard of living then in mainland Britain even in the urban environments this cause the dream of women in British society to be more realized.


 Identity of the Colonies


The entire colonies struggle with Identity with the lack origins sought to remake them compensating for a short or non existent past. Societies define themselves on their past but in the instance of many British colonies these were brand new societies that had to find and identity of their own. Many places would, if a non English speaking people were already present, based their identity of the story of original colonists before British control. Places such as French speaking Canada or the Afrikaner centers of South Africa. The other practice was inventing myths as to define a colony’s reason for existing, The most popular of being the “victim of the old country.” That had been forced out by one reason or another but for every instance that this was true there were an equal number of people that it was not true. The ideas that a New Zealand was the best of the British or the Irish were fleeing starvation. All of these ideas although not true in some cases outrageous did contribute to each colonies identity for better or worse. There was also the instance that if a colony did not have sufficient back ground then they would take an opposite approach. In places such as Australia and would over emphasize their future, as a new bright place with prosperous fortune and possibilities for all who are apart of it.


In the later half of the 19th century there were increasing divisions along the lines of language. In places such as South Africa the division between the original Afrikaners of the Dutch colonies against the English speaking British population raised issues by the turn of the century most of the urban areas of South Africa had become English speaking by the country side remained Afrikaner. In Canada the French speaking population managed to maintain a large enough minority to avoid being absorbed by the English speaking population. Along with the Gaelic speaking inhabitants of Nova Scotia and other minorities there was a push to make a unified language but it was never truly realized.


No empire before it had been so spread out. Since some of the farthest colonies took in some cases 5 to six months to reach by ship. This lead to different developments in the colonies themselves. The farther away a colony or more difficult to reach lead to more of a belief in self sustainability of each colony and the idea of less control from London itself which led to the idea that more self governance was necessary leading to the idea of  dominions. They also had little contact with one another contributing to their own individual colonial identities leading away from an identity of the empire. Of course as technology improved communication becomes better leading to a tighter control of the colonies as London exerted more control.




Architecture became a large influence in all of the colonies. There were three different waves of architectural movements in the Empire. The first was Neo classical Greco-roman style. Used on all governmental building, railway stations, court houses, and town halls. This was done to accomplish connecting their great empire with one of the past being ancient Rome. The second was a neo Gothic revival from medieval Europe. This was used primarily for churches and some government buildings. The last wave was an effort to combine british architecture with that of local traditions of buildings. This effort was done to Make connections with the native people to smooth relations and legitimize their presence. Of course there were many variations of architectural forms. Most colonial churches were based on the design of St. martin-in-the-fields. Reason was the plans were easy to access. Furthermore architecture became a competition for showing the might of the empire. Sydney and Melbourne had a contest which leads to the building of Victorian gothic. In India after the first major rebellion push to use more local architecture were made they choose a more muslim like saranenic.


Most famous architectural development of the colonial period was the bungalow. The bungalow was a new design of home that was first used in the colonies. Its success was due to its simple design was easily adaptable to any environment. Was employed mostly in India and South Africa mostly but used in Southern Asia as well. Is set up changed and became more complicated over time. The main usage of the bungalow had a wrap around porch. The yard has a gate at which visitors are stopped before being allowed in. then the owner of the house would decide whether or not to invite them on to the porch for a chat and tea, always tea. If the person is of the same social status and had more matters to speak of he would be invited into the interior of the house.


This contributed to the social divide that non British colonist were kept out due to the exclusivity. The towns that leveraged the Bungalow the most were Hill towns in India. Hill towns were in essence resorts for the British residence and visitors to India. They were situated on hills hence their name, for the higher class of society and contained the houses of government officials of the colonies administration. The Raj of India lived in a bungalow in a hill town in the summer capital of Simla. The bungalow, although starting out as a mutli-functional house for all, became a device of the British elite. The bungalow still exists today and can be found in many forms though hardly resembles its original forms of bungalow used in the colonies of Imperial Britain.  



[1]Strobel, Margaret. European Women and the Second British Empire. Bloomington: IndianaUniversity Press, 1991.Strobel, Margaret. European Women and the Second British Empire. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.


Strobel, Margaret. European Women and the Second British Empire. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.


Strobel, Margaret. European Women and the Second British Empire. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991



Martin, Ged, and Benjamin E. Kline. "British Emigration and New Identities." In The Cambridge Illustrated History of the     British Empire, by P. J. Marshall, 254-79. Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press, 1996.


Metcalf, Thomas R. "Imperial Towns and Cities." In The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire, edited by P. J. Marshall, 224-53. Cambridge[England: Cambridge University Press, 1996.