Africa and the Victorians: The Climax of Imperialism in the Dark Continent

By Ronald Robinson; John Gallagher et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
The Spirit of Victorian Expansion

T he Victorians regarded themselves as the leaders of civilisation, as pioneers of industry and progress.1 Industry in Britain was stimulating an ever-extending and intensifying development overseas, as her investors and manufacturers, merchants and colonists, railway-builders and officials opened up new continents. Year by year, trade and investment overseas had grown, so that by 1880 almost two thousand million pounds of credit had accumulated abroad.2 More than twelve million Britons emigrated between Waterloo and the end of the Eighteen eighties, to settle new lands 3 and help supply the growing volumes of food and raw materials consumed in the Mother Country. Business men were gathering the harvests of commercial and naval supremacy from Rio de Janeiro to Hong Kong; and officials, working to improve the Indian peasant or put down the African slave trader, were drawing the Orient and the Dark Continent into the world economy.

The actual powers of industry however were as nothing compared with the expansive spirit which their discovery inspired in the early and mid-Victorians. They were sure that their ability to improve the human condition everywhere was as tremendous as their capacity to produce wealth. And in the exhilaration of their achievements not unnaturally they gave praise for the industrial philosopher's stone to their own domestic arrangements and virtues.4

Their secret seemed to lie in releasing private enterprise from the dead hand of the state. Social energy appeared to flow from the happy play of free minds, free markets and Christian morality: from their liberty to think, speak and worship, to inquire and invent, to buy cheap

____________________
1
British National Income: 1851 -- £613 millions; 1879-83 -- £1109 millions; rise in real income per head, 1851-78 -- 27-30%. ( J. R. Bellerby, "'National and Agricultural Income, 1851,'" Economic Journal, LXIX, March 1959, 103, 104.)
2
A. H. Imlah, Economic Elements in the Pax Britannica, ( Cambridge, Mass., 1958), 42-81; idem, "'British Balance of Payments and Export of Capital, 1816-1913,'" Economic History Review, 2nd ser., V, ( 1952), 237, 239.
3
Cambridge History of the British Empire, ( 1940), II, 443; Brinley Thomas, Migration and Economic Growth, ( 1954), 57.
4
T. B. Macaulay, Critical and Historical Essays, ( 1854), I, 120-1.

-1-

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