Colonialism and Imperialism were significant factors in world affairs during the C19th.
The British in particular, increased power through growing an Empire of fity colonies, 500,000,000 people and a quarter of the globe. This meant they were controlling a huge amount of the world’s resources, as well as playing a major roll in world trade and foreign affairs.
- Between 1926 and 1956, at the start of the Suez Crisis, British power declined massivly.
- British colonies started to gain independence and the British Empire turned into the British Commonwealth of Independent States.
So what began the decline of Empire?
- 35% of the British Empire was controlled directly from London, as the Empire grew, so did the costs. By 1880, these costs, coupled with rebellion in the Colonies and pressure to protect them from the French, Germans and the Dutch with a large army and navy, became increasingly onerous.
- The Boer War and the weaknesses it illuminated in the British seemed to be the turning point for the British Empire.
- By 1907, Australia, Canada and New Zealand had made moves towards independence.
- WWI served to weaken it even further. The British Government called on it’s Colonies to provide troops to fight the Germans. Heavy losses of their men particularly at Gallipoli, made the Australians and the New Zealanders question British war policies.
- The result was a place for them at the War cabinet table on an equal footing as Britain.
The tide had turned.
- The Balfour Report of 1926 was a pivotal point in Independence and in 1931, the Statute of Westminster meant the Commonwealth was formerly established.
- World depression during the 1930’s saw a further weakening of British rule.
- By the end of WWII, anti colonial feelings ran high and the US in particular, felt very strongly that the British Empire and other colonial empires had to be abolished as quickly as possible. They saw the disgruntled colonies as ‘hot beds’ for possible communist uprisings.
- Britain was in debt to the US and severely, economically weak, in the years following the war and so the final years of Empire creaked to it’s end.
- The Suez Crisis of 1956 was the final nail driven home by the US.
- Countries opted in or out of the Commonwealth, it eased the transition for both Britain and the former colonies as they struggled to find a place in the new world order.
In most places the Empire seemed to end quietly but with the release by the National Archives of the first of the ‘Migrated Archives’, the records of the former colonial administrations that were brought back to the UK rather than being left in the former colony for examination, the true picture of those dying moments will be revealed.
See todays release at TNA for records from Aden, Anguilla, Bahamas, Basutoland, British Indian Ocean Territories, Brunei, Cyprus, Kenya, Malaya, Sarawak and the Seychelles