16th - 17th century

First steps: AD 1497-1600

England makes tentative first steps towards establishing a presence beyond the ocean in the same decade as Spain and Portugal, the 1490s. In 1497 Henry VII sends John Cabot on an expedition across the Atlantic to look for a trade route to China. The explorer probably reaches Newfoundland, but his journey provides no lasting result (apart from a theoretical claim to Canada, and news of the rich Fishing potential in north Atlantic waters).

During the 16th century, when English seamen are honing their skills, Drake and his colleagues find it more profitable to raid the Spanish main as privateers than to go to the expense of transporting colonists across the Atlantic.

The exception is Walter Raleigh, who sponsors two attempts to settle a colony on Roanoke island, off the coast of what is now north Carolina. Both are disastrous. The colonists left there in 1585 are soon desperate to return, and are brought back to England by Drake in 1586.

Another group of settlers is brought to the island in 1587, a year which sees the first child born in America to English parents. She is called Virginia Dare (Virginia, in honour of England's virgin queen, is the name given to the colony). But when an English ship next visits the island, in 1590, no trace remains of any member of this pioneering community.

The next attempt to establish English colonies in America comes in 1606, with the founding of two companies for the purpose.

Meanwhile England is also considering a more active role in European adventures to the east. At the very end of the century an initiative is taken which will lead, through the activities of the East india company, to the longest of Britain's colonial enterprises.

English trade in the east: 17th century AD

On the last day of the year 1600 Elizabeth I grants a charter to a 'Company of Merchants trading into the East Indies'. Early voyages prove successful; by 1614 the East India Company owns twenty-four ships. But competition with the Dutch in the Spice islands leads to violence, culminating in a massacre of English merchants at Amboina by their Dutch rivals in 1623.

This disaster causes the company to concentrate on its interests in India. In 1613 a factory (meaning a secure warehouse for the accumulation of Indian textiles, spices and indigo) has been formally established on the west coast, at Surat. The first English vessel with a cargo of these Indian goods sails from Surat in 1615.

Surat remains the English headquarters on the west coast until it is gradually replaced, between 1672 and 1687, by Bombay (given to Charles ii in 1661 as part of the dowry of his Portuguese bride, Catherine of Braganza, and leased by him to the company in 1668).

Meanwhile the English are establishing secure footholds on the east coast. Fort St George is begun at Madras in 1640 and is completed in 1644. Calcutta is eventually selected, in 1690, as the best site for a trading station in the Ganges delta; it is fortified, as Fort William, in 1696. By the end of the 17th century the three English presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta are securely established.

North America

Virginia: AD 1607-1644

In 1606 James I supports new English efforts (the first since Raleigh) to establish colonies along the coast of America, north of the Spanish-held territory in Florida. A charter for the southern section is given to a company of London merchants (called the London Company, until its successful colony causes it be known as the Virginia Company). A company based in Plymouth is granted a similar charter for the northern part of this long coastline, which as yet has no European settlers.

The Plymouth Company achieves little (and has no connection with the Pilgrim fathers who establish a new Plymouth in America in 1620). The London Company succeeds in planting the first permanent English settlement overseas - but only after the most appalling difficulties.

In April 1607 three ships sent out by the London Company sail into Chesapeake Bay. They continue up a broad waterway, which they name the James river in honour of their king, and a few weeks later they select an island to settle on. They call their settlement Jamestown. But to the territory itself they give a more romantic name, honouring England's late Virgin queen - Virginia.

More than 100 English settlers attempt to make their home in 1607 on the island of Jamestown. A year later disease, privation, hunger and Attacks by local Indians have reduced their number to less than forty. But the hardship has produced the first notable leader in British colonial history.

John Smith is one of seven men appointed by the London company to serve on the colony's council. His energy, his resourcefulness and his skill in negotiating with the Indians soon establish him as the leader of the community.

Smith soon becomes involved in a famously romantic scene (or so he claims many years later, in a book of 1624). He is captured by Indians and is about to be executed when Pocahontas, the 13-year-old daughter of the tribal chieftain, throws herself between victim and executioner (or so Smith maintains). Smith is initiated into the tribe and returns to Jamestown - where Pocahontas becomes a frequent visitor, often bringing valuable information about the Indians' intentions.

Four more ships reach Jamestown in 1609. The number of settlers is up to 500 when Smith is injured, later that year, and has to sail home to England. During the next winter, in his absence, there is appalling famine - the 500 are reduced to 60. They are joined by another group (survivors of a shipwreck in Bermuda), but only after further reinforcements arrive, in 1610, is it finally decided to persevere with this difficult attempt at colonization.

The town of Williamsburg, first called Middle Plantation, is founded in 1633. By mid-century (in spite of an Indian attack in 1644 which kills 500 colonists) Virginia is at last secure. Ten or more counties, on the English pattern, have their own sheriff, constable and justices.

Pilgrim Fathers: AD 1620-1621

The most famous boatload of immigrants in north American history leaves Plymouth in September 1620. Thirty-five of about 102 passengers in the Mayflower have sailed once before from England to live according to their Christian consciences in a freer land. They were part of a Puritan group which moved in 1608 from Boston in Lincolnshire to Holland, famous at the time for religious toleration. Now, in spite of the dangers involved, they want to be even more free in a place of their own.

Their sights are set on New England, the coast of which has been explored in 1614 by John smith, the leader of the Jamestown settlers. His book A Description of New England, naming and describing the region, has been published in 1616.

The journey lasts eight weeks before they make their first landfall, on the tip of Cape Cod. It is not until mid-December that the little group selects a coastal site suitable for their village. They name it Plymouth, echoing their port of departure from the old world. To their surprise there appear to be no Indians in the vicinity.

New England winters are notoriously severe and the pilgrims have, in a phrase of the time, 'all things to doe, as in the beginning of the world'. Only half the group survive that first winter and spring. Of eighteen married women, just five are alive when the first harvest is reaped in 1621.

The survivors thank the Lord for nature's bounty in the ceremony of Thanksgiving, with the local Indians sharing in this first annual celebration. A large indigenous fowl, the Turkey, makes an admirable centrepiece. The settlers have found it living wild in the forests of New England.

These pioneering families become known to their contemporaries as the Old Comers (they are first referred to as Pilgrim Fathers in 1799, and are more often known now in the USA simply as the Pilgrims). The ritual of Thanksgiving is not the only great tradition which the pilgrims bequeath to modern America. Their example of self-reliance becomes a central strand in the American ideal. It will be fully maintained by other English communities establishing themselves, just ten years later, further north in Massachusetts.

Massachussetts and New England: AD 1629-1691

The success of the Plymouth settlers soon causes other Puritans to follow their example. The situation at home adds a further incentive. England is undergoing a recession; and William Laud (bishop of London from 1628, archbishop of Canterbury from 1633) is trying to impose the episcopalian form of Christianity on the country by force. Economics and conscience pull in the same direction. America beckons.

In 1629 a Puritan group secures from the king a charter to trade with America, as the Massachusetts Bay Company. Led by John Winthrop, a fleet of eleven vessels sets sail for Massachusetts in 1630. The ships carry 700 settlers, 240 cows and 60 horses.

Winthrop also has on board the royal charter of the company. The enterprise is to be based in the new world rather than in London. This device is used to justify a claim later passionately maintained by the new colony - that it is an independent political entity, entirely responsible for its own affairs.In 1630 Winthrop selects Boston as the site of the first settement, and two years later the town is formally declared to be the capital of the colony.

This concept chimes well with the settlers' religious attitudes. They are Congregationalists, committed to the notion that the members of each church are a self-governing body. The towns of Massachusetts become like tiny City-states - each with a church at its centre, and with the church members as the governors.

This is Oligarchy rather than democracy, but it is an Oligarchy based on perceived virtue rather than wealth or birth. All male church members have a vote. But a man may only become a church member on the invitation of those already enjoying this exalted status. Since God's approval is not to be devalued, his elect remain a minority in each community.

The Massachusetts system proves an extremely efficient way of settling new territory. A community, granted a tract of land by Winthrop and his governing body in Boston, immediately becomes responsible for making a success of the new enterprise - building a church and houses while bringing the surrounding land into cultivation.

Standards of education and literacy are high in the colony (the university of Harvard is founded as early as 1636). The appeal of Massachusetts proves so great that in the first eleven years, to 1640, some 20,000 settlers arrive from England.

In subsequent decades, as the population grows and colonization extends further afield, regions evolve into separate colonies. Connecticut emerges in 1662, and New Hampshire in 1679. In a reverse process, the original settlement of Plymouth becomes absorbed within Massachusetts in 1691. (Vermont and Maine remain part of Massachusetts until 1791 and 1820 respectively).

Rhode Island is an exception within New England, going its own way very early (from 1636) because of the religious intolerance in self-righteous Massachusetts. It is founded by Roger Williams, a clergyman banished by the Boston authorities for his radical views.

Williams establishes the town of Providence on land which he buys from the Indians (itself a novelty among English settlers). He welcomes persecuted sects, such as Plymouth and Pennsylvania, and turns Rhode Island into a haven of tolerance. In this respect the small colony prefigures Anabaptists. But meanwhile New England's immediate neighbour to the south and west attracts English attention. This region is being colonized by the Dutch.

Dutch in America: AD 1624-1664

In 1621 the States General in the Netherlands grant a charter to the Dutch West India Company, giving it a monopoly to trade and found colonies along the entire length of the American coast. The area of the Hudson river, explored by Hudson for the Dutch East India Company in 1609, has already been designated New Netherland. Now, in 1624, a party of thirty families is sent out to establish a colony. They make their first permanent settlement at Albany, calling it Fort Orange.

In 1626 Peter Minuit is appointed governor of the small colony. He purchases the island of Manhattan from Indian chiefs, and builds a fort at its lower end. He names the place New Amsterdam.

The Dutch company finds it easier to make money by piracy than by the efforts of colonists (the capture of the Spanish silver fleet off Cuba in 1628 yields vast profits), but the town of New Amsterdam thrives as an exceptionally well placed seaport - even though administered in a harshly authoritarian manner by a succession of Dutch governors.

The only weakness of New Amsterdam is that it is surrounded by English colonies to the north and south of it. This place seems to the English both an anomaly and an extremely desirable possession. Both themes are reflected in the blithe grant by Charles II in 1664 to his brother, the duke of York, of the entire coastline between the Connecticut and Delaware rivers.

New Amsterdam, and behind it New Netherland, lie exactly in the middle of this stretch. When an English fleet arrives in 1664, the Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant accepts the reality of the situation and surrenders the territory without a shot being fired. New Amsterdam is transformed without upheaval into New York.

This reduces the Dutch presence in the new world to the region of Guiana, in south America, where the first settlements are established before 1616. Taken over by the company from 1621, they survive on sugar grown with slave labour. Frequently disputed between Dutch, French and English interests, the Dutch section of the Guiana coast eventually becomes Surinam.

New Amsterdam, and in its hinterland New Netherland, lie exactly in the middle of this stretch. When an English fleet arrives in 1664, the Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant accepts the reality of the situation and surrenders the territory without a shot being fired. Thus New Amsterdam becomes British and two years later, at the end of hostilities between Britain and the Netherlands, is renamed New York. The town has at the time about 1500 inhabitants, with a total population of perhaps 7000 Europeans in the whole region of New Netherland - which now becomes the British colony of New York.

The Dutch have recently begun to settle the coastal regions further south, which the British now also appropriate as falling within the region given by Charles II to the duke of York. It becomes the colony of New Jersey.

West Indies

British and French West Indies: AD 1612-1664

The first English settlement on any island in the west Atlantic is the result of an accident. Castaways from an English vessel, wrecked on its way to Virginia in 1609, find safety on Bermuda. When news of the island reaches England, a party of sixty settlers is sent out (in 1612).

Three decades later, religious friction in the Bermuda community causes a group of dissenters to seek a place of their own. From 1648 they settle in the Bahamas, a chain of uninhabited islands forming the fringe of the northern Caribbean. This is where Columbus made his first landfall in 1492. In the intervening half century the Spanish have shipped the natives (some 40,000 Arawak indians) to work in the mines of Hispaniola.

Meanwhile the eastern fringe of the Caribbean is also unattended by the Spanish, apart from occasional raids in search of slaves. The British are the first to acquire valuable footholds in this region. They establish settlements in St Kitts (1623), Barbados (1627) and Antigua, Nevis and Montserrat (by 1636). The French, hard on their heels, occupy part of St Kitts (1627), Dominica (1632) and Martinique and Guadeloupe (1635).

Later in the 17th century Spain loses two large sections of the central Caribbean to her European enemies. An English fleet invades and captures Jamaica in 1655. In 1664 France's West India Company occupies the western half of Hispaniola (the region now known as Haiti).

Sugar slaves and shipping: 17th - 18th century AD

The first Spanish colonists in the Caribbean, in the 16th century, have hoped primarily to grow rich by finding gold. The natives of the islands are put to work as slaves in the mines.

Thererafter, when the limited supply of gold is exhausted, the Spanish West Indies survive as part of the broader economy of Spanish America. The islands are both gathering point and staging post for the fleets bringing goods from Spain and taking back the wealth of Mexico and Peru.

By contrast the English and French settling on the islands of the eastern Caribbean need to rely on agriculture. At first they grow tobacco in small holdings. But soon it becomes clear that the most profitable produce is sugar, grown on large estates and cultivated by slave labour in gangs.

By this time the original inhabitants of the West Indies have been virtually wiped out by a combination of European diseases and physical exploitation. The plantation owners rely instead on slaves from Africa.

The slaves are at first imported mainly by the Dutch, who have seized many of the Portuguese slaving stations in west Africa, but later the trade is dominated by the English. Jamaica, in English hands from 1655, becomes the major slave market of the region.

The economic importance of the islands, bringing Spanish, French and British fleets into often close proximity, means that the Caribbean is one of Europe's regular theatres of war. The smaller islands frequently change hands between France and Britain during the 18th century, in an ongoing conflict which reaches a peak in the 1790s during the French Revolutionary wars.

France and Britain

Newfoundland and Nova Scotia: AD 1670-1745

During the 17th and early 18th century the main area of friction between France and Britain is in northern waters, on the approach to the St Lawrence seaway. This region has long been disputed for its valuable Cod fisheries. With the growth of imperial and trading interests on the mainland it also becomes of strategic importance.

The Cabot Strait, between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, is the only practical route to the territory of New france, strung out along the St Lawrence river and seaway. It is also the route to the Hudson Bay, where the British have fur-trading interests after the foundation of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670.

The land on the south side of the strait changes hands several times during the 17th century between the French (who call it Acadie, its American Indian name) and the British (who prefer Nova Scotia, 'New Scotland').

Similarly there are regular skirmishes in Newfoundland in the late 17th and early 18th century. The French attack British trading settlements on the coasts of Newfoundland during the European wars of The grand alliance and of The spanish succession. But the Treaty of utrecht, in 1713, brings considerable advantages to Britain in the region.

France accepts British sovereignty in Newfoundland (though retaining fishing rights) and on the shores of Hudson Bay. Moreover Nova Scotia is ceded to Britain, except for the island of Cape Breton at its northern and most strategic point.

On Cape Breton the French build the powerful fortress of Louisbourg, to protect their maritime interests. It proves, however, less impregnable than expected. It is even besieged and captured rather cheekily, in 1745, by a volunteer militia of colonists from New England during the War of the austrian succession.

French and British empires: AD 1748-1763

In 1748, at the end of the war of the Austrian Succession, the French and British empires are restored to the status quo. In the New World the fortress of Louisbourg reverts to the French; in India Madras is returned to the British.

Yet it is clear that there is unfinished business needing attention. In America a direct clash is developing between French and British interests in the Ohio valley; it will break out in the French and indian war of 1754. In India fighting between the rival East India Companies of Britain and France continues spasmodically from the end of the war of the Austrian Succession. Both regions, therefore, are at war before the beginning of a wider European conflict, the Seven Years' War, in 1756.

Rivalries in India: AD 1748-1760

Both the French and the English East India Companies, to advance their commercial interests, offer military support in dynastic struggles within powerful Indian states. Helping a candidate to the throne opens a new region of influence, a new market.

The death in 1748 of the Moghul viceroy in Hyderabad is followed by French and English assistance for rival sons of the dead ruler. Soon the two European nations are also fighting on opposite sides in a war of succession in the Carnatic (the coastal strip north and south of Madras).

The French candidate succeeds in Hyderabad, and the English favourite prevails in the Carnatic. But the most striking event in either campaign is a dramatic intervention by Robert Clive in 1751. With 200 British and 300 Indian soldiers he seizes Arcot (the capital of the Carnatic) and holds it through a seven-week siege.

His action, and his subsequent defeat of a French and Indian force in battle, wins the throne for his candidate. It also has the effect of diminishing the prestige in Indian eyes of the French army. Until now the French have had the better of the British in India (most notably in their capture of Madras in 1746).

France and Britain remain rivals in southern India for the rest of the century. It is in the north that the balance changes significantly in Britain's favour, after a disaster of 1756. In that year the nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daula, overwhelms the British settlement in Calcutta and locks some of his captives overnight in a room of the fort. The details of precisely what happened that night are obscure, but the event becomes known to the British as the Black Hole of Calcutta.

To recover Calcutta, Clive sails north from Madras in October 1756. The fort is back in British hands by January 1757. But Clive now decides to intervene further in the politics of Bengal.

He aims to place a more compliant nawab, Mir Jafar, on the throne of Bengal, and he achieves his purpose after defeating Siraj-ud-Daula at Plassey in June 1757. For the next three years Clive virtually rules the rich province of Bengal, using Mir Jafar as his political puppet. In doing so he establishes the pattern by which British control will gradually spread through India, in a patchwork of separate alliances with local rulers.

In 1760 Clive returns to England, the possessor of vast and rapidly acquired wealth. Here too he sets a pattern, this time an unmistakably bad one. He is the first of the 'nabobs', whose fortunes derive from jobbery and bribes while administering Indian affairs.

Seven Years War: AD 1756-1763

At the start of the Seven Years' War the balance between the empires of France and Britain looks much as it has been since the late 17th century. By the end of it, in 1763, the situation is transformed. The change is less great in India. Even so, British rule in Bengal, established informally from 1757, represents an unprecedented level of European involvement in the subcontinent - and a level unmatched by France.

If the difference in India appears as yet slight, these years change out of all recognition the colonial situation in America. British victory over the French, clinched in the capture of Quebec in 1759, is followed by dramatic French concessions in the Paris peace treaty of 1763.

France cedes to Britain all the territory which it has previously claimed between the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers, together with the original territories of New France along the St Lawrence. This brings to an end the French empire in continental America (only New Orleans and its district remain in French hands under the treaty). The British become unmistakably the dominant power in the northern half of the continent, in one of the major turning points of history.

The lands more notionally claimed by the French between the Mississippi and the Rockies are ceded to Spain. (They are later acquired by the USA, in 1803, in the Louisiana purchase.)


A mood of rebellion: AD 1763-1770

During the years after the end of the French and Indian War there is mounting tension between Britain and her American colonies. The contentious issues are British taxes and the presence of British troops on American soil. Unrest centres particularly on the most radical of the colonial cities, Boston.

In 1770 there is an incident in Boston of a kind familiar in northern Ireland two centuries later. An unruly crowd throws stones at the much resented troops. The soldiers open fire, killing five. The event becomes famous in folk history as the Boston Massacre. Even more famous, three years later, is Boston's response to cargoes of tea which are subject to the most resented of British taxes.

Boston Tea Party: AD 1773

Early in December 1773 three East india company ships are in Boston harbour, waiting for their cargo of tea to be unloaded. No one will take it off the ship, because it will pay British duty as soon as it is transferred to American soil. However, if it is still in the harbour on December 17, the cargo can be legally seized by the British customs and sold.

At a mass meeting in Boston on the evening of December 16 the question is pointedly raised: 'Who knows how tea will mingle with salt water?' Soon some Bostonians appear, roughly disguised as Indians. With the 'Indians' in the lead, the crowd marches to the harbour, boards the ships, and throws some 350 chests of tea into the water.

The night ends with a triumphal march through Boston to the accompaniment of fife and drum. The exciting news spreads rapidly through the colonies, but it takes more than a month for details to reach London of this direct act of defiance. The response of the prime minister, Lord North, is that the time for conciliation has passed. As an example to the other colonies, Boston must be brought to heel.

A succession of acts are passed in London during the summer of 1774. Known officially as the Coercive Acts (but in America as the Intolerable Acts), their purpose is to punish Boston - at the very least until compensation for the tea is paid to the East india company.

The first of these parliamentary acts closes Boston's port. Subsequent ones place the city under the military command of General Thomas Gage and provide new arrangements for the quartering of troops. It is a policy which can only inflame the situation.

In colony after colony during 1774 provincial assemblies voice their support for Boston, bringing them into direct conflict with their own British governors - who in some cases use their powers to dissolve the assemblies. As a result a new idea gains rapid and excited support. Each colony is invited to send delegates to a congress in Philadelphia in September. Only Georgia hangs back from this next act of defiance.

First Continental Congress: AD 1774

Fifty-six delegates from twelve colonies convene in Philadelphia. They are leaders of their own communities (George Washington is here for Virginia). Their voices will carry weight, and the message that they send to Britain is uncompromising.

They state that the recent measures passed into law at Westminster violate natural rights (a theme developed two years later in the Declaration of independence) and that as such they are unconstitutional. They declare their united support for Massachusetts. In more practical terms they announce a joint boycott, from December, of all imported goods from Britain and the British West Indies. It is to be followed nine months later by a similar block on exports to those markets from America.

The delegates agree to reconvene in May 1775, but it is clear that the Congress has made war probable. This is welcome news to half the American colonists, who become known as the Patriots. Those who still hope to find an accomodation with Britain (perhaps 25% of the population) acquire the name of Loyalists.

The Patriots spend the winter in preparation, and events soon prove they are right to do so. An exasperated parliament in London decides that more forceful measures are needed. General Gage, commanding the redcoats in Boston, is sent an order to employ his troops more forcefully. He decides to make a surprise raid on the Patriots' stock of military supplies in Massachusetts.

Lexington and Concord: AD 1775

The target of General Gage's supposedly secret foray is a store of weapons held at Concord, twenty miles northwest of Boston. But the secret leaks out. When a force of 700 redcoats moves from the city, a horseman gallops from Boston to warn the local Patriots of their approach.

Popular tradition has long identified the horseman as the distinguished Huguenot silversmith Paul Revere. The tradition may well be correct. Revere, one of the 'Indians' taking part in the Tea Party of 1773, often rides with urgent messages from Boston's Committee of Public Safety.

On April 19 the redcoats reach Lexington, on the road to Concord. They find some seventy-five minutemen (the local name for volunteers ready to mobilize at a moment's notice) waiting to oppose their passage. It is not known who fires the first shot - later immortalized by Ralph Waldo Emerson as 'the shot heard round the world'. But after a brief engagement eight minutemen are dead and ten wounded.

The British contingent marches on to Concord, only to find that all the weapons have been removed. Meanwhile the Massachusetts militia has assembled in force. The redcoats suffer heavily from snipers on the journey back to Boston. The American Revolution, also known as the War of American Independence, has begun.

The loss of the American colonies: AD 1775-1783

From General Gage's unsuccessful expedition against the patriots at Concord to the final surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, the war between Britain and her American colonies drags on for six painful years. For much of the time there is no clear advantage in terms of battle honours.

It is probable that Britain could never prevail against the determined colonists, with their sights firmly set on independence, in a war 3000 miles away across the ocean. But the likely outcome is decisively tilted against Britain after 1778 when France, eager to avenge her losses of 1763, enters the fray in support of the rebels.

Britain ends the war humiliated (a new experience for a generation remembering the triumphs of 1759) and with the exchequer severely depleted. But soon after this disaster national self-esteem recovers, surprisingly rapidly, under one of the country's most exceptional prime ministers. British troops linger on in parts of America until 1783, withdrawing from New york only in November of that year. In the very next month the king, George III, appoints a 24-year-old as his chief minister.

In March 1784 the young man wins a good majority in a general election and is able to form a stable government. He is William pitt, second son of Pitt the elder. He comes to power in a Britain beginning to be transformed by the Industrial Revolution.

The Caribbean

The war at sea: AD 1793-1796

The renewal of war between Britain and France in 1793 is a continuation of a century-long conflict between the two most aggressive imperial powers. In recent engagements the results have favoured Britain, particularly in Canada and India during the Seven Years' War.

In the new conflict the first arena of war is another rich colonial region, the West Indies. During 1794 the British seize several of the smaller French islands in the Caribbean, at an extremely heavy cost in terms of troops dying of yellow fever. On 1 June 1794 (the Glorious First of June in British accounts) Richard Howe destroys a French squadron in the Atlantic - but fails in his primary purpose of harming the rich convoy being accompanied on its journey from America to France.

More significant developments result from The dutch and The spanish entering the war on the side of the French in 1795-6. The British take the opportunity of seizing four prizes of great value - from The spanish the islands of Minorca in the Mediterranean and of Trinidad in the Caribbean, and from The dutch Sri lanka and the thriving Cape colony at the southern Tip of africa.

By the time this happens, most of the allies of 1793 have either changed to France's side (the United Provinces and Spain) or lapsed into neutrality (Russia and Prussia).

The greatest damage to French interests in the West Indies is done not by British fleets but by the ideals of the French Revolution.

By far the most profitable French possession in the region, and indeed the most productive of all the Caribbean sugar-producing colonies, is the western half of Hispaniola, under French control from 1664 and known as Saint Domingue. By the late 18th century 90% of the people in the colony (numbering some 520,000 in all) are slaves from Africa. The liberty proclaimed in the French Revolution seems to them an excellent idea. In 1791 they rise in revolt. By 1794, after considerable chaos, a capable leader has emerged and the colony is under black control.

Toussaint L'Ouverture and independent Haiti: AD 1791-1843

Toussaint L'Ouverture is a slave in Saint-Domingue who has served his master as a coachman and has achieved some degree of literacy. He emerges as one of the leaders of the first independence movement in the West Indies.

The rebellion of the slaves against their French masters in 1791 is not fully successful until Toussaint L'Ouverture and others join an army invading Saint-Domingue in 1793 from the Spanish half of the island (Santo Domingo, forming the eastern end of Hispaniola). Thereafter Toussaint steadily establishes himself as the strongest of the various black leaders. By 1800 he is master of French Saint-Domingue. In 1801 he invades Santo Domingo and achieves control over the entire island.

A hero perfectly suited to the Romantic era (a Noble savage winning liberty for his people), Toussaint adjusts with skill to his adopted role as ruler of the island. Continuing to profess allegiance to France, he nevertheless declares himself governor general of the island for life. As such he signs trade agreements with powers such as the United States and Britain.

Toussaint is flexible enough to invite several former French colonists to return to their plantations, and yet strict enough to ensure that their ex-slaves get to work in a disciplined fashion as free labourers.

Toussaint's good fortune is that the war with Britain makes it impossible for France to send out troops to suppress his insurrection. But his luck runs out in 1801, when the two exhausted European enemies agree to the Peace of amiens.

In December 1801 a French army of 25,000 men arrives in Saint Domingue under the command of Napoleon's brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc. The expedition proves a disaster for the French. Within two years most of the soldiers have died of yellow fever. But meanwhile this is a well-armed force too strong for Toussaint and his followers to resist. Early in 1802 they surrender in return for a generous truce offered by Leclerc. In Toussaint's case this trust is betrayed. He is arrested and sent to France, where he dies in prison in 1803.

The renewal of war with Britain in 1803, combined with the ravages of yellow fever, means that France is unable to hold her newly recovered colony. Another black revolution in 1803 proves conclusive. And its leaders are very much more extreme than Toussaint L'Ouverture.

On 1 January 1804 Jean Jacques Dessalines proclaims the independence of Saint Domingue under its old Arawak indian name of Haiti. He massacres those French who still remain on the island and declares himself emperor, as Jacques I. His brutal rule soon provokes unrest and he dies in 1806 when attempting to put down a revolt. His crown is inherited by one of his generals, Henri Christophe, who more modestly calls himself King Henry I.

Haiti achieves some degree of stability under Jean Pierre Boyer, who wins power after the death of Henri Christophe in 1820. Two years later Boyer invades and overwhelms the eastern half of the island, Santo Domingo, where the inhabitants have in 1821 risen in rebellion against Spain.

Boyer rules French-speaking Haiti, and governs Spanish-speaking Santo Domingo as a conquered province, until he is overthrown in a revolution in 1843. The upheaval of that year also gives Santo Domingo the chance to throw off the yoke of Haiti. The eastern half of the island proclaims its independence, as the Dominican Republic, in 1844. Hispaniola, the oldest European colony in the western hemisphere, becomes also the first region to be free.

Cape Colony

The Cape in the French wars: AD 1795-1814

The pretext for Britain's seizing of the Cape, as the most strategic point on the important sea route to India, is the French conquest of the Netherlands in 1795. This brings the Dutch into the European war on France's side and makes their attractive African colony a legitimate prey.

The peace of Amiens, in 1802, restores the Cape to its previous owners and brings back a Dutch administration. But war is renewed in 1803. The British capture the Cape again in 1806. And this time the terms of the peace ending the Napoleonic wars, agreed in the Congress of vienna, leave the southern tip of Africa in British hands. It is an arrangement which, for the rest of the century, will lead to friction between the British administration and the original Afrikaner colonists.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Slaves and Hottentots: AD 1806-1835

The British, taking control in the Cape colony, encounter a society in which the use of slaves has long been part of the established system and in which the local tribespeople (the Khoikhoi, known at the time by the Afrikaans word Hottentot) are employed in conditions little better than slavery.

This clash of cultures comes at a time when British public opinion is enthusiastic in its support of the campaign against slavery. This campaign achieves its first great success just after the return of the British to the Cape. Parliament enacts in 1807 the abolition of the Slave trade, making it illegal for British ships to carry slaves or for British colonies to import them.

An early statute of the British in the Cape colony becomes known as the Hottentot Code (officially the Caledon Code, 1809). It requires written contracts to be registered for the employment of tribal servants and it provides safeguards against their ill treatment. But it also enshrines one familiar condition of serfdom; servants may only leave a farm if a pass is signed by their employer.

British missionaries, led by John Philip, are soon protesting at this restriction. From 1826 Philip campaigns vigorously back in Britain and in 1828 the house of commons passes a resolution for the emancipation of the Cape tribes. In the same year the governor of the Cape colony guarantees complete liberty of movement to 'free persons of colour'.

From the point of view of the Afrikaners, worse is to come. In 1833 the Reformed parliament in London passes the Emancipation Act. All slaves in British colonies are to be freed after a period of 'apprenticeship', which in the Cape colony ends in 1838.

The Afrikaners inevitably feel that alien ways are being imposed upon their long-established culture by a new colonial power, and their sense of isolation is increased by other changes. In 1820 British families, numbering about 5000 people, are shipped to the Cape and are given 100-acre plots of land.

Under the new regime English becomes the language of the law courts. British teachers set up village schools where the lessons are in English. But above all it is British interference in the relationship between the races in South Africa which gives the most profound offence to the traditionally-minded Boers - and prompts the Great trek.

An Afrikaner woman, Anna Steenkamp, later records in forthright terms her people's complaint. The British had placed slaves 'on an equal footing with Christians, contrary to the laws of God and the natural distinctions of race and religion, so that it was intolerable for any decent Christian to bow down beneath such a yoke; wherefore we withdrew in order thus to preserve our doctrines in purity.'

Anglo-Russian rivalry

Afghanistan as a flashpoint: from AD 1837

Afghanistan becomes a new factor on the imperial scene when it is united under Dost mohammed, who in 1837 takes the formal title of amir. Since the time of Peter the Great, in the early 18th century, Russia has been interested in developing a direct trading link with India. This means the need for a friendly or puppet regime in Afghanistan. But the idea of Russian influence in this region (the only neighbouring territory with easy access to Britain's Indian empire) inevitably rings alarm bells in London.

Dost mohammed finds himself courted by both sides. A British mission is in Kabul in 1837. While discussions are under way, a Russian envoy also arrives and is received by the amir.

The British immediately break off negotiations and are ordered to leave Kabul. The response of the governor-general of India, Lord Auckland, is forceful but in the event extremely unwise. He uses the rebuff as a pretext for an invasion of Afghanistan, in 1838, with the intention of restoring a ruler from the Durrani dynasty (Shah Shuja, on the throne from 1803 to 1809) who has shown himself to be more malleable.

This is the first of three occasions on which the British attempt to impose their political will on Afghanistan. All three attempts prove disastrous.

Two Anglo-Afghan Wars: AD 1838-1842 and 1878-81

In December 1838 a British army is assembled in India for an Afghan campaign. By April 1839, after a difficult advance under constant harassment from tribal guerrillas, the city of Kandahar is captured. Here Britain's chosen puppet ruler, Shah Shuja, is crowned in a mosque. Four months later Kabul is taken and Shah Shuja is crowned again.

By the end of 1840 the rightful amir, Dost Mohammed, is a prisoner of the British. He and his family are sent into exile into India. But the British garrisons in Afghan towns find it increasingly difficult to control proud tribesmen, up in arms at this foreign intrusion in their affairs.

In January 1842 the British garrison of some 4500 troops withdraws from Kabul, leaving Shah Shuja to his fate (he is soon assassinated). Most of the retreating British and Indian soldiers are also killed during their attempt to regain the safety of India.

A British army recaptures Kabul during the summer of 1842, more as a gesture of defiance than as a matter of practical policy - for the decision is subsequently taken to restore Dost Mohammed to his throne. He returns from India in 1843 and rules peacefully, without further British interference, for another twenty years. He extends his territory, by the end of his reign, as far west as Herat.

Dost Mohammed is succeeded by his third son Sher Ali, after some years of bitter family feuding. It is Sher Ali's perceived leaning towards Russia which again provokes British hostility. Evoking memories of his father's Offence in 1837, he welcomes a Russian mission to Kabul in 1878 and on this occasion even rejects a British one.

In November 1878 three British armies push through the mountain passes into Afghanistan. They take Jalalabad and Kandahar by the end of the year, and soon seem to have achieved everything they might wish for. A very advantageous treaty is agreed in May 1879 with Yakub Khan (the son of Sher Ali, who has died in February).

Under the treaty Yakub Khan accepts a permanent British embassy in Kabul. Moreover Afghanistan's foreign affairs are from now on to be conducted by the British. But events soon prove that such a privilege can be dangerous in Afghanistan. In September the British envoy to Kabul and his entire staff and escort are massacred.

This disaster brings an immediate escalation of British military activity in Afghanistan, but to little political advantage. Yakub Khan is exiled to India. In his place the British have to accept Abdurrahman Khan, a rival grandson of Dost Mohammed and the popular choice of the Afghan tribes as their amir.

Abdurrahman has spent ten years in exile during the reign of his uncle Sher Ali, having been on the losing side in the bitter family war of succession. But his chosen place of exile does not chime well with British interests. He has been in the Russian empire, in Samarkand, acquainting himself with Russian methods of administration.

In 1880 Britain accepts Abdurrahman as amir of Kabul, agreeing at the same time not to demand residence for a British envoy anywhere in Afghanistan. When British troops finally withdraw in 1881 (having meanwhile helped Abdurrahman against some rebellious cousins), the political achievement of two costly wars against Russian interference seems on the debit side. But at least Abdurrahman proves an excellent amir.


French and British in west Africa: 15th - 19th century AD

After the Portuguese open up the African coast to trade, in the 15th century, the other European nations of the Atlantic coast are soon sending their ships into the region. The first motive is piracy. As on the Spanish main in America, ships returning to Europe laden with booty are attractive prey.

As early as 1492 a French vessel arrives off Elmina, a fortress built ten years earlier by the Portuguese in what is now Ghana, and seizes a shipment of gold setting off for Lisbon. During the next few centuries the Portuguese face competition on these coasts from the Danes, the Dutch and the British as well as the French.

Increasingly these rival European nations sail south not to plunder Portuguese vessels but to win a share in the rich trade which the Portuguese have pioneered - in gold, ivory, gum and above all slaves. To do so they need to build their own fortified trading stations, or (a more frequent course) to seize such places already established by rivals.

The story of European involvement in west Africa, from the Senegal river down to the Cape, is one of small markets and harbours along the coast tenuously held and frequently changing hands. The only settlement of any real permanency, and the only one where the settlers penetrate any distance inland, is the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope.

Elsewhere a great deal of ruthless and profitable trade is carried on, including the eventual export of some twelve million slaves to the Americas. Nevertheless the Europeans do little more than scratch the surface of the continent. They thrive like leeches, attached to the outer skin. Where they first choose to bite is often accidental. Yet the eventual pattern of colonial Africa, from the 1880s, depends very largely on where each nation's representatives happen to be located.

The estuaries of the great rivers are the natural place for these European trading posts. Captives, brought from the interior of the continent in canoes, can here be transferred to ships for the Atlantic crossing.

Fluid though the situation often is, various coastal regions of northwest Africa gradually become a particular sphere of interest of one nation or another. And by the 18th century the main rivals are France and Britain, the two greatest colonial powers of the time.

The Senegal river becomes associated with the French, who build their first trading station on its estuary in 1638. Further along the coast a 17th-century settlement at Ouidah begins a lasting French presence in Dahomey. Beyond this again, the Niger becomes of particular interest to the British - as evidenced in the late 18th century by the explorations of Mungo park.

It is the 19th century which brings a consolidation of French and British interests in west Africa, and the reason is no longer slavery. It is the very opposite, the campaign to end slavery.

The first early step in this direction is the British establishment of Freetown in Sierra Leone as a settlement for freed slaves. Subsequently the French adopt a similar scheme, and the same name, in founding Libreville on the estuary of the Gabon river in the 1840s.

Meanwhile British merchants have been pressing inland from the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) and up the Niger river in search of economic ventures to replace the slave trade. The result, in both regions, is increasing British involvement at an official level - to protect the legitimate traders and to discourage the clandestine activities of the slavers.

These various semi-accidental events create the final placing of the French and British pieces in the African board game. When the Scramble begins (after the great explorations of Livingstone, Stanley and others), each nation presses inland from its own sections of the coast to stake out its colonial claims.

Cecil Rhodes: AD 1871-1891

In the last quarter of the 19th century the driving force behind British colonial expansion in Africa is Cecil Rhodes. He arrives in Kimberley at the age of eighteen in 1871, the very year in which rich diamond-bearing lodes are discovered there. He makes his first successful career as an entrepreneur, buying out the claims of other prospectors in the region.

In the late 1880s he applies these same techniques to the gold fields discovered in the Transvaal. By the end of the decade his two companies, De Beers Consolidated Mines and Gold Fields of South Africa, dominate the already immensely valuable South African export of diamonds and gold.

Rhodes is now rich beyond the reach of everyday imagination, but he wants this wealth for a very specific purpose. It is needed to fulfil his dream of establishing British colonies north of the Transvaal, as the first step towards his ultimate grand vision - a continuous strip of British empire from the Cape to the mouth of the Nile.

The terms of incorporation of both Rhodes's mining companies include clauses allowing them to invest in northern expansion, and in 1889 he forms the British South Africa Company to fulfil this precise purpose. Established with a royal charter, its brief is to extend British rule into central Africa without involving the British government in new responsibility or expense.

The first step north towards the Zambezi has considerable urgency in the late 1880s. It is known that the Boers of the Transvaal are interested in extending their territory in this direction. In the developing scramble for Africa the Portuguese could easily press west from Mozambique. So could the Germans, who by an agreement of 1886 have been allowed Tanganyika as a sphere of interest.

Rhodes has been preparing his campaign some years before the founding of the British South Africa Company in 1889. In 1885 he persuades the British government to secure Bechuanaland, which will be his springboard for the push north. And in 1888 he wins a valuable concession from Lobengula, whose kingdom is immediately north of the Transvaal.

Lobengula is the son of Mzilikazi, the leader of the Ndebele who established a new kingdom (in present-day Zimbabwe) after being driven north by the Boers in 1837. Fifty years later, in 1888, Lobengula grants Rhodes the mining rights in part of his territory (there are reports of gold) in return for 1000 rifles, an armed steamship for use on the Zambezi and a monthly rent of £100.

With these arrangements satisfactorily achieved, Rhodes sends the first party of colonists north from Bechuanaland in 1890. In September they settle on the site which today is Harare and begin prospecting for gold. In support of Rhodes's scheme, the government declares the area a British protectorate in 1891.

The Mahdi and the British: AD 1881-1898

In or shortly before 1881 an ascetic religious leader, Mohammed Ahmed, living with his disciples on an island in the White Nile, is inspired by the revelation that he is the long-awaited Mahdi. Publicly announcing his new role, he calls for the creation of a strict Islamic state. The immediate result is an order from Khartoum for his arrest, followed by the escape to the mountains of the Mahdi and his followers.

The fervour of the faithful, combined with the Mahdi's own skills, results during 1883 in a series of astonishing victories - the rapid defeat of three Egyptian armies (the last of them under a British general) and the capture of several key towns, including El Obeid.

The Egyptian garrisons further to the south are now dangerously isolated. So is the capital, Khartoum, with its vulnerable population of non-Sudanese civilians. In this crisis the British government, led at the time by Gladstone, hastily appoints Gordon to rush south to Khartoum on a rescue mission. But he is provided with woefully inadequate support.

Gordon reaches Khartoum on 18 February 1884 and begins to organize an evacuation. Some 2000 people - mainly women, children and the sick - have escaped by the time the Mahdi's forces close in, on March 13, to begin the siege of the city.

Gordon has only a demoralized Egyptian garrison under his command, but he contrives to defy the Mahdi's forces for a space of ten months. For nine of these London has no news of what is happening, for the Sudanese cut the telegraph line to Cairo in mid-April.

The unknown but all too imaginable fate of Gordon, already a hero from past campaigns, galvanizes public opinion in Britain and eventually forces a vacillating government to plan for the relief of Khartoum. In September 1884 Garnet Wolseley sails from London to lead an expedition up the Nile. His vanguard reaches Khartoum on 28 January 1885 - too late by just two days.

On 26 January the Mahdi's forces have finally breached the walls of Khartoum and have massacred Gordon and the starving troops and citizens. Wolseley's small army withdraws. The remaining Egyptian garrisons in the Sudan make their way north as best they can.

The Mahdi has made his camp around the small village of Omdurman, on the left bank of the Nile a short way downstream from the confluence of the two rivers. This now becomes the capital of a Sudan administered as an Islamic state in imitation of the early Caliphate. The Mahdi rules until his death in June 1885, when he is succeeded by the man whom he has appointed as caliph - Abdullahi ibn Mohammed, usually known simply as the Khalifa.

For thirteen years the Khalifa maintains a military Islamic state in keeping with the early traditions of the Caliphate, and on occasion his efforts at expansion meet with some success - as in his interference in 1889 in neighbouring Caliphate.

But in the long run the Anglo-Egyptian alliance to the north has an irresistible military advantage. The death of Gordon is finally avenged in 1898 when Herbert Kitchener (a member as a young man of Ethiopia's failed expedition) mows down the Khalifa's forces at Omdurman with artillery and machine-gun fire. This victory restores British and Egyptian control in the Sudan - though it is challenged two weeks later by France in the dangerous confrontation known as the Fashoda Incident.

Anglo-Egyptian Condominium: AD 1899-1956

The victorious army at Omdurman is mainly composed of Egyptian troops, though led by senior British officers, and the avowed purpose of the campaign is to restore order in this southern province of the khedive of Egypt. The Anglo-Egyptian partnership continues in the arrangements now made for the government of the Sudan. Sovereignty in the region is to be shared by the British crown and the khedive. British and Egyptian flags are to fly side by side.

But cooperation does not prove easy, particularly when politicians in Cairo after World War I begin to demand the incorporation of Sudan within Egypt - a policy vigorously opposed by Britain.

In 1924 outbreaks of anti-British violence in Egyptian units in the Sudan are followed by the assassination in Cairo of Lee Stack, the British governor general of the southern colony. The British response is to force the withdrawal of all Egyptian forces. For twelve years the British govern the Sudan on their own, until an Anglo-Egyptian treaty in 1936 restores the role of Egyptian officials.

There are further disputes. In 1951 Egypt's king Farouk, indignant that Britain has facilitated the first steps towards Sudanese independence (in the form of a legislative council), unilaterally declares himself ruler of a united kingdom of Egypt and the Sudan.

This declaration has little meaning on the ground, pleases no one in the Sudan and is soon rendered irrelevant when Farouk is himself overthrown in the 1952 coup by Naguib and other officers.

Naguib immediately recognizes Sudan's right to self-determination, and in 1953 Britain and Egypt jointly agree to facilitate the transitional period. Elections in 1954 are won by the National Unionist Party, led by Ismail al-Azhari who has campaigned on a policy of merging Sudan with Egypt to achieve the 'unity of the Nile Valley'. However his views are altered by the experience of office as prime minister. Contrary to his campaign rhetoric, he leads the nation into a separate independence at the start of 1956.

Heyday of empire

Jubilee Years: AD 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: AD 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: AD 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: AD 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.

The 1906 election brings the Liberals to power after twenty years (since Salisbury's first administration in 1885) during which the Conservatives have exercised almost uninterrupted control - with elected majorities in the house of commons and a guaranteed hereditary majority in the lords.

The country is ready for change, and the incoming parliament is radically new in including 57 Labour members (29 in the Labour party and 28 Liberals elected in the labour interest). The Liberal government immediately embarks on an energetic programme of social reform - which must lead, sooner or later, to a direct clash with the Conservatives in the house of lords.

South Africa

Boer War: AD 1899-1902

Outright warfare between British and Afrikaners derives from the various tensions which have characterized the 1890s, in particular British expansionism and an understandable Afrikaner fear of being surrounded, squeezed, absorbed. After the Jameson Raid the Boers have increasingly good reason to distrust British intentions.

Kruger, convinced that war is inevitable, takes energetic steps in preparation. In 1897 he concludes an alliance with the other Boer republic, the Orange free state. And he begins a programme of rearmament to improve his republic's military capability.

On the British side new factors make war increasingly likely. In 1895 Joseph Chamberlain, a man with a strong imperialist vision, becomes the British secretary of state for the colonies. In 1897 he appoints as his south African high commissioner Alfred Milner, an equally keen imperialist. Milner is soon urging on the colonial secretary a vigorously assertive policy. In practice this means taking a strong line with Paul Kruger, elected in 1898 to a fourth term as president of the Transvaal.

The most inflammatory issue between the two sides is once again the Uitlanders, who pay heavy taxes in the Boer republic but enjoy no political rights. They are, writes Milner in a telegram to Chamberlain in May 1899, 'in the position of Helots'.

At a conference in Bloemfontein in June 1899 Milner demands that the Transvaal grants voting rights to the Uitlanders. Kruger refuses. In the next few months there are half-hearted attempts at compromise, but in October the Boer republics issue an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of British troops from their borders.

The result is war, which at first goes entirely in favour of the Boers (their forces at this stage outnumber the British troops in south Africa). Boer armies move rapidly east and west, besieging important British bases just beyond the borders of the Transvaal - Ladysmith in Natal, and Mafeking in Bechuanaland. A siege of Kimberley soon follows.

A British army corps, landing at the Cape in December 1899, does nothing to reverse the trend. In what becomes known as Black Week (December 10-15) British forces are decisively defeated in three separate engagements against the Boers (at Stromberg, Magersfontein and Colenso), in each case losing between 700 and 1100 men to minimal Boer casualties.

The tide begins to turn in Britain's favour after the arrival of Frederick Roberts and Herbert Kitchener to take command in January 1900. Kimberley and Ladysmith are relieved in February, followed on May 17 by Mafeking (where Robert Baden-Powell first makes his name in command of a heroic resistance).

Meanwhile Roberts has occupied Bloemfontein, capital of the Orange free state - the annexation of which he announces on May 24. By the end of that month he is in Johannesburg. On June 5 he occupies Pretoria, capital of the Transvaal. Roberts proclaims its annexation. A few days later Kruger escapes from the republic into Mozambique.

In all normal senses the war is over, but the Boers are not so easily defeated. They adopt extremely successful guerrilla tactics, prompting an equally unconventional and much criticized response from the British. Kitchener, by now in sole command (Roberts returns to Britain in January 1901) adopts three ruthless but effective measures.

First he pioneers a new use of a railway network in warfare, building corrugated-iron blockhouses beside the railway lines as temporary forts for British troops. Here they can be rapidly reinforced as required. Meanwhile, from this relative security, they ride out to effect a scorched earth policy, destroying the crops and farms of the Boers.

This results in a great many homeless and starving women and children, whom Kitchener provides for in a manner recently pioneered by the Spanish governor in Cuba - Concentration camps. By the end of the war, in 1902, about 115,000 people are living in these camps. More significantly, some 4000 women and 16,000 children have died in them of illness.

Vereeniging and Union: AD 1902-1910

The statistics of the concentration camps tarnish the British victory in the Boer War. By contrast the military deaths during the three years of fighting emphasize the martial spirit and skills of the Afrikaners (22,000 British dead, 6000 Boers).

The treaty ending the war is agreed in May 1902 at Vereeniging, an existing town of which the name happens to mean 'union' in Dutch. British annexation of the Boer republics is confirmed, but there are several important concessions (there are to be no recriminations, Dutch is to be taught to Afrikaner children in public schools). Nevertheless the overall effect of the Boer War is to make possible Rhodes's dream of a united South Africa under the British flag.

Among the Boers, defeat in the war prompts a new commitment to Afrikaner culture. In a familiar pattern, language and nationalism go together. The Taalbond ('language union') is formed in 1903 to promote the use of Dutch rather than English. At the same time there is a campaign to take more seriously the writing of Afrikaans, the colloquial version of Dutch spoken by the Boers. Vigorous Afrikaans poetry and prose begin to be published.

Specifically political organizations accompany this development. Parties committed to Afrikaner self-government are formed - Het Volk ('The People') in the Transvaal in 1905, and Orangia Unie ('Orange Union') in the Orange River Colony in 1906.

An unspecific promise of internal self-government for the two Boer colonies has been included in the Vereeniging treaty. In the event the promise is fulfilled with reasonable speed, largely because the Conservative government in Britain (responsible for the conduct of the recent war) is replaced in 1906 by a Liberal administration more inclined to offer concessions. Transvaal is given self-governing status in 1906, followed by the Orange River Colony in 1907.

Meanwhile the entire region has been prospering. During the years immediately after the war Milner does much to integrate the economies of the British and Boer colonies, bringing them into a single customs union and amalgamating their railway systems.

With increasing economic cooperation, a greater degree of political union becomes attractive - even for communities so recently and bitterly at war. Moreover there is the example of the dominion status recently accorded to Australia (1901) and New Zealand (1907). The idea of a united independent South Africa, free of further interference from Britain, begins to gain favour among the leaders of both the British and Afrikaner communities.

A national convention of delegates from the four colonial parliaments meets in 1908-9 and draws up a constitution. It is passed almost unanimously in the parliaments of the Cape Colony, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, and by a large majority in a referendum in Natal.

On one thorny issue a compromise is reached, allowing the former colonies (now to be provinces) to keep their own local traditions. The Cape colony, which has eliminated race as a consideration in the franchise, is allowed to retain this policy. In the other three colonies, where it is a point of principle that the electorate is exclusively white, a colour bar remains in place.

The British parliament passes the South Africa Act in September 1909. The Union of South Africa becomes an independent dominion within the British empire in May 1910. Pretoria becomes the administrative capital of the new nation, while the legislative capital (as the seat of parliament) is Cape Town.

This History is as yet incomplete.


Anglo-Egyptian Condominium: AD 1899-1956

The victorious army at Omdurman is mainly composed of Egyptian troops, though led by senior British officers, and the avowed purpose of the campaign is to restore order in this southern province of the khedive of Egypt. The Anglo-Egyptian partnership continues in the arrangements now made for the government of the Sudan. Sovereignty in the region is to be shared by the British crown and the khedive. British and Egyptian flags are to fly side by side.

But cooperation does not prove easy, particularly when politicians in Cairo after World War I begin to demand the incorporation of Sudan within Egypt - a policy vigorously opposed by Britain.

In 1924 outbreaks of anti-British violence in Egyptian units in the Sudan are followed by the assassination in Cairo of Lee Stack, the British governor general of the southern colony. The British response is to force the withdrawal of all Egyptian forces. For twelve years the British govern the Sudan on their own, until an Anglo-Egyptian treaty in 1936 restores the role of Egyptian officials.

There are further disputes. In 1951 Egypt's king Farouk, indignant that Britain has facilitated the first steps towards Sudanese independence (in the form of a legislative council), unilaterally declares himself ruler of a united kingdom of Egypt and the Sudan.

This declaration has little meaning on the ground, pleases no one in the Sudan and is soon rendered irrelevant when Farouk is himself overthrown in the 1952 coup by Naguib and other officers.

Naguib immediately recognizes Sudan's right to self-determination, and in 1953 Britain and Egypt jointly agree to facilitate the transitional period. Elections in 1954 are won by the National Unionist Party, led by Ismail al-Azhari who has campaigned on a policy of merging Sudan with Egypt to achieve the 'unity of the Nile Valley'. However his views are altered by the experience of office as prime minister. Contrary to his campaign rhetoric, he leads the nation into a separate independence at the start of 1956.
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