Equal Subjects, Unequal Rights: Indigenous Peoples in British Settler Colonies, 1830-1910

By Julie Evans; Patricia Grimshaw et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Imperial expansion and
its critics

In May 1910 Edward VII, king of Great Britain and Ireland and emperor of India, who had assumed the throne on the death of his mother Queen Victoria in 1901, died at the age of 68. He had worn the Crown which held together an Empire of formidable extent that ranged across a quarter of the globe and included over 300 million people.1 Of these, nearly 19 million were settlers, most of British origin, in the White Dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the newly united South Africa, the economic transactions of which constituted 16.5 per cent of Britain's overseas trade.2 Edward's son and successor George V had visited all of these Dominions, a feat not matched by his father and grandmother. King George's coronation, scheduled for 22 June the following year, provided a suitable occasion for the prime minister of Britain, H. H. Asquith, to call together Dominion representatives for an Imperial Conference. The first Imperial Conference had coincided with Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, in 1887, and several mutually advantageous meetings had occurred subsequently, the most recent having been in 1907.3 At this juncture, with international tensions brewing, the most urgent business for the British Liberal Government was to unite the Dominions around issues of defence.

And so in May 1911 the prime ministers of the Dominions, flanked by their appropriate ministers, set foot in the British capital, all apparently pleased, if not flattered, to be there to receive the applause of the press and the assiduous attentions of the senior ministry and royal family. From the newly united South Africa came its first prime minister, General Louis Botha, recently commandant-general of the defeated Boer army. The long-serving French-Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier represented Canada. Also from Laurier's sphere, but separate from Canada, was Sir Edward Morris of Newfoundland, which had stayed outside the Confederation. From the Commonwealth of Australia came Mr Andrew Fisher, the first Australian Labor Party man

-17-

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