The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 4

By Judith M. Brown; Wm. Roger Louis et al. | Go to book overview

7

Migrants and Settlers

STEPHEN CONSTANTINE

The size of the Empire and the volume and variety of its people much impressed the British at the beginning of the twentieth century. Recent expansion had sent the cartographers back to their maps to colour in yet more of the earth's surface in shades of pink. Typical of the popular product was The Royal Primrose Atlas, published by the soap manufacturer John Knight Ltd. in 1913, which placed between the advertisements for soap not only maps but statistical data. Highlighted was the population of Britain and the Empire, totalling, it claimed, 396 million and thereby outnumbering the assets of Germany and its colonies (71 million), the United States (84 million), France and the French Empire (93 million), Imperial Russia (130 million), and even China (358 million).

Moreover, the integration of, eventually, about one-quarter of the world's land surface into what purported to be a single polity seemed to British observers to open up dizzying possibilities of enhanced global mobility for the ethnically diverse peoples of the Empire. The British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act in 1914 clarified the definition of British citizens to include 'any person born within His Majesty's dominions and allegiances', and by implication confirmed their right of entry into Britain. There also seemed a prospect of free movement into and between other Imperial territories. Certainly there was much evidence of past mobility, through temporary migration or permanent settlement. Early in the new century it was collected statistically into a Census of the British Empire, whose tables recorded the dispersal of people from the British Isles to the colonies of white settlement and elsewhere; the diaspora, especially of Indians, black Africans, and Pacific Islanders, to Imperial territories outside their homelands; and some influx of the colonial-born into Britain. 1

It was easy too for the British at the opening of the century to fit these movements into a metropolitan-centred economic concept of Empire. The historic role of Britain had evidently been to despatch supplies of labour and skills as well as

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1
P[arliamentary] P[apers] (1905), CII, Cd. 2660, pp. xxix-xlix; Colin Newbury, 'The March of Everyman: Mobility and the Imperial Census of 1901', Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, XII (1984), pp. 80-101.

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