In 1888 Australians were bright an optimistic for their glorious future of becoming a large and populous independent part of the enlarged British Empire. Not even 50 years earlier however, Australians were almost on the point of revolt as there was talk of restarting the shipping of convicts to Australia. The revolt, however never happened. The malcontents knew that they would never be forced into an actual armed rebellion because ever since the American Revolution the British had been much more concerned with keeping colonies happy. Australians knew by 1888 that once their politicians had ironed out the details, their federal union would be approved by the queen. The thing that Australians wanted most of all was an enemy against which they could baptize themselves in war. The first external power they thought of was China, but they also knew that China would never attack them. By 1988 Australia had not reached the visions of thirty or fifty million of a century earlier, but only sixteen million, and most of whom were not of British decent.
The specific time at which Australia became an independent power is somewhat ambiguous and widely debated among historians. The dates of the freedom matter less than the interpretation of the history of the freedom. Many historians would argue that Australia became an independent nation on December 11th in 1931, when the Statute of Westminster was proclaimed. They argue that this date is far more important than in 1942 when the Australians ratified the measure. They say this because the Australians could have chosen to do this at any point after the proclamation was made. Despite the fact that from the forging of the Australian Federation in 1901 their policies were littered with hints at freedom, the people making the policy were actually disinclined in talking about independence openly or directly. They feared that once the achieved independence that Britain would no longer give them protection nor would it favor them in trade and other aspects. In Australia there was practically no support for breaking off with Britain entirely and moreover they believed that maintaining a tie of dependence to the motherland would keep the defenses of the Royal Navy on their shores. It was for these reasons that Australia did not become immediately independent. If December 11th, 1931 is accepted as the date of the beginning of Australian independence it has yet to be celebrated in Australia.
A date that is remembered in Australian culture is the date that their troops landed at Gallipoli — the day that their nation was baptized in the blood and fires of war. The fact that the failure of the campaign, the mythos of Gallipoli did not shrink, but grew. They assured themselves that the defeat was not the fault of Australian soldiers but that it was the fault of inept British leadership. By the 1990s however, Australians viewed Gallipoli as a campaign fought in someone else’s war as opposed to seeing it as it was at the time, as Australia fighting its own war as part of the empire, in fact in 1918 the words country and empire were synonymous in the Australian mindset.
Other people, specifically the prime minister in 1991, Paul Keating, saw the first true Australian war as happening in 1942 when Australia was forced to defend itself against Japan’s invasions in New Guinea at the Anzac Trail. It was at this point that Australia turned from Britain and looked to America for defense.
In 1954, the Royal tour was very popular in Australia, but after that Australian enthusiasm declined for British trade and for the royalty. Around the same time, the British prime minister dropped the word “British” from “The British Commonwealth”. By 1964 the word “British” no longer appeared on Australian passports and Australians could no longer enter Britain freely, but had to wait in lines with travelers from less Anglicized colonies. In short order they had to wait in line with true foreigners like the French.
As Australia continued to move away from Britain, citizens no longer pledged allegiance to the queen and Australia had decided to make itself into a republic. The only real discussion was about what kind of republic would be set up. Many people expected miracles out of the republic, wishing it to make Asia accept more imports from them, but doing this is beyond the power of a government to guarantee. It is still unclear to what extent, if at all, Australia will recognize its British legacy, but for now “Brit-bashing” is very popular and uncomfortable topics in the country’s history, such as race relations, are being skirted. There was a benchmark in the racial policies of Australia when the highest court ruled that the Aboriginal peoples had a right to the land that British legislation could not remove. This decision has yet to be applied meaningfully, but the fact that it was made is still the first of what will hopefully become many steps forward in Australian policy.
This section will not be focused primarily on the history of British India, but with an appraisal of their rule there, and will be written with as little bias as possible with the understanding that bias can never be completely eliminated from historical writing and analysis.
There is more analysis than actual history about India. Most of the analysis is biased by the cultural and regional preferences. The British always tend to view their imperialism in general as well as that which specifically happened in India in a positive light. From the British perspective, they did nothing wrong and have nothing to apologize for. It is equally difficult, however, for those people of native colonial decent to see the positive aspects of British colonialism. The British did more good than natives are willing to admit and cannot be blamed for the “culture of poverty” which existed in India before they got there, but they certainly did nothing to make it better. The British did more good than critics are willing to admit and more wrong than their proponents are.
It is impossible to make generalizations about imperial life and the quality of rule in any one colony of the empire, let alone in the empire at large. There can be no unanimous view of the imperial past for this reason. In the empire, those who were ruled under the structure of the empire had just as much if not more to do with the events in their colonies than the ruling British did, which also causes conditions in different colonies and even different regions of the same colony, to vary widely from one another.
British influence in India began in the 1670s, and stopped expanding in the mid-1800s, and the structure of the empire in India lasted until 1947. Conquest began with the East India Trading Company, and by the time they entered the subcontinent the Mughal Empire — the last major power in India — was in its throes of death. Contrary to what is often said, India was not acquired as an accident or without the realization of what was happening there. India was conquered because of the greed of the East India Company and its management. When the takeover of India began it was for the most part just a pillaging of the native people, stealing their resources and what wealth they possessed. This style of conquest was one of the major contributing factors in the famine of 1770.
When the Indians rebelled in the “Mutiny” of 1857 they were very brutal in rebellion, and the forceful method that was used to quell the rebellion was also brutal. The brutality on both sides of this rebellion is one of the major causes of racial tension and hatred between the ruling British and the native Indian peoples. In 1858 when the crown took control of Indian affairs there was no longer any real power left to oppose British rule. The only non-British force left wad banditry, and this was quickly crushed by British forces. The British called this time of relative peace the “Pax Britannica”.
Most people were not happy with this “British peace” for several reasons. First, the British forces were deployed to protect British interests, not to maintain order or help the native people. Also the police forces that were meant to keep order were extremely brutal and most natives lived in absolute terror of them. The legal system set up by the British, while it did impose much more equality under the law, was far too expensive and complicated and expensive for it to be helpful for most of the Indian people. For this reason, most civil cases were handed by small village councils. There are no records of common Indian people enjoying the Pax Britannica.
Indians had many other grievances with British rule. Under the rule of the crown, for the first time in history, pious Hindus and Muslims and learned men had to pay rent for their land and taxes on their goods. Where they previously could have received grants to cover the expenses of research etc. they now had to to come up with this money on their own. Also, from the 1870s onward native Indians were not allowed into the high offices of government because of the emerging stereotypes of Indians as sly and untrustworthy. As was made necessary by the small number of British in India, they were still allowed in the middling positions of government. The only people who truly approved of British rule at any time were the old wealthy and the newly emerging professional classes, and even after the 1820s they became more and more critical of the British as well.
In most of India there was little to no agriculture. For the first time in history, India became a net importer of foodstuffs and almost 50% of the population could not afford enough food for sustenance. This is due to the fact that the British insisted on the growing of cash crops as opposed to actual food that could sustain the population. Until 1921, the population growth was less than one percent, when the population was growing at all. Literacy rates among men were around 12%, even lower for women.
India’s poverty cannot be blamed solely on the British; it existed long before they arrived on the subcontinent. In the 1800s for the first time India began to export more manufactured goods than they imported. Although they received no support or protection from the Britain economically until the mid-1920s, by the time the British left India had a small but growing industry. Although they were at the bottom of international industry, they were given the foundation required to be built into an industrial nation that could compete in the international markets. The strength of the Indian economy under British rule and for a time afterward was its mercantile and entrepreneurial class.
After the transfer of power, India broke into 3 successor states: the Islamic Pakistan, the Hindu India, and Burma. In the same year that these divisions occurred, Bangladesh broke away from India. All three of the original successor states had adopted British parliamentary systems. All of them slid towards dictatorship at some points, with Pakistan going the farthest in this direction. Under British rule in 1919 only 2% of the population could vote for the Indian representative bodies, and by 1937 only about 10% could. Soon after the British had left both India and Pakistan both granted full adult suffrage. The expensive and complex legal systems as well as the oppressive police force are still something of a problem in India, as is poverty.
The primary goal of the British in India was always to support the interests of Britain. When the welfare of the Indian people did not interfere with these goals however, their wellbeing was kept at an important place in the minds of the British policy makers. The very small numbers of British people in India promoted inter racial cooperation. The British gave India a combined and single identity that had never existed before they arrived. Another thing besides Identity that the British gave India was a westernized education system which educated and trained many people. The Western educational system brought some rationalism into a world of ancient traditions. The final result of this educational system was the creation of a modern intellectual and political class to bring India into the future.
Inglis, K. S. "Australia." In The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire, by P. J. Marshall, 338-56. Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Raychaudhuri, Tapan. "British Rule in India: An Assessment." In The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire, by P. J. Marshall, 357-69. Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press, 1996.