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Colonial Rivalries

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  • Category: Europe

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European powers had colonies long before industrialisation. The true age of discovery was the 16th century. From 1450-1815 Spain and Portugal, then Holland, France and Britain gained colonies in Africa, Americas and Asia. Some settlements like North America were white settlements, while other areas were plantation colonies, in which native races were made to work the land (both employed and slaves).

However the period from 1815-1870 was the age of anti-imperialism, as Britain’s large empire was observed as “a millstone around our neck” by Disraeli. In an 1865 parliamentary report, it was recommended that Britain should abandon some of its West African Colonies.

Other disillusionment over imperialism related to the fact that American, Canadian and South African colonists, had wished for independence from Britain and the right to self-rule. This was seen as somewhat ungrateful as Britain paid the majority of the colonies defence costs as well as the initial conquering.

Economic justification of an Empire had ceased by 1850, as Britain did more trade with America after it’s independence, and its colonies were no longer it’s best trading partners. The old colonial system of trading was being phased out for a new style of free trade.

Despite these complaints, Britain carried on expanding it’s empire, to include Singapore, Aden, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Lagos. Australia and New Zealand were mainly being used for excess population to emigrate to.

From 1830, France extended its empire mainly for prestige as well as industrialists. Their two main African colonies were Senegal and Algeria. Senegal was controlled by an excellent colonial governor who trained excellent African marksmen regiments. As well as asserting themselves into Africa, France entered Indo China.

Russia’s conquests in this time were based on extending their boarders in the East. Russia potentially appeared to be an aggressor to Britain’s Jewel (India), as Russian forces were within striking distance of Afghanistan, which was adjacent to India’s North West front.

Russia began her expansion in 1840s -1860s. Tashkent and Bokhara, meant most of Turkistan was under Russian control. It also obtained a strategically very important Vladivostok, adjacent to the Pacific and China.

In this so-called age of anti-imperialism, 3 major European powers greatly extended their empires, for various reasons, from trade, strategic points, to prestige.

To a majority of Victorians, Africa was the dark continent. It was assumed it had no history and the people remained unchanged from ancient times. This assumption brought about fantastical tales of barbarism as well as the fact that there were no definite boarders to countries, as in Europe, it was thought that anarchy reigned and that Africans were a lesser people.

Although Africans were a diverse people, it was common to stereotype them under the term “the African”. Explorer’s conjured up stories of savagery in tribes to make their journeys seem more thrilling. Africans were seen as inferior to Europeans. Therefore it was decided that the Africans needed the guidance of the Europeans and of Christianity.

It was believed that the lighter the skin, the higher the intellect. Racism was regarded as a science.

In political terms, European influence was firmly asserted onto the states of Tunisia, Egypt and Tripoli.

Despite local resistance, in South Africa, European rule was expanding. To combat this, the Boers (original Dutch settlers) established a settlement outside of British control.

In South Africa, Britain’s main concern was the Cape. Cape Colony was regarded as an imperative port on the route to India. Both before and after the Suez Canal opened in 1869. In 1872, the Cape was granted self-government, however this did not mean the end of British influence. Many local tribes saw Europeans as potential allies against other tribes rather rivals.

North African countries had a much more integrated economy with Europe. Trade between these two areas was excellent and economic changes were down to decline of the slave trade.

Between 1815-1870, commercial links were growing much stronger each decade. In turn most African regions were developing well also. However the gap between Europe and Africa was still widening as world trade was expanding at a much faster rate than the African economy as a whole. Also the encounter between Europeans and Africans after 1870 was by no means equal. This was due to the rapid technological advance of the leading European states in forms of transport and weapons.

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