Blood Ground: Colonialism, Missions, and the Contest for Christianity in the Cape Colony and Britain, 1799-1853

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Blood Ground: Colonialism, Missions, and the Contest for Christianity in the Cape Colony and Britain, 1799-1853. By Elizabeth Elbourne. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's Univ. Press, 2002. Pp. xi, 499. Can$75 / US$75 / £57.

Recently several new approaches to the history of Britain and its empire have begun to bear fruit. In coming to understand the limitations of both "national" perspectives and those confined to the history of particular colonial localities, scholars have increasingly tried to take account of the transnational, international, or global circumstances shaping the imperial experience. In reaction against the dominant secular paradigms of that empire's historiography, attention has been given to the importance of religion for empire, particularly in the forms of overseas missionary enterprise and the Christian encounter with non-Christians. Finally, the manner in which colonial possessions and the processes of empire-building have shaped not only a distant colonial periphery but metropolitan Britain itself has become the focus of investigation.

Taking advantage of the rich literature on early nineteenth-century South Africa, and drawing on her own extensive research, Elizabeth Elbourne has combined these three perspectives in a wonderful study that will long remain an inescapable reference point for all students of the changing relations between Christianity and empire. A short review cannot do justice to its exceptional combination of scholarship, insight, and readability. Focusing on the Cape's Khoi people, the London Missionary Society, and its Kat River Settlement, Elbourne offers a narrative account of a tragic half-century encounter demonstrating "the incompatibility of settler colonialism and the hopes of a Christianized Khoekhoe elite for economic and political parity with whites" (p. …