The Fragments That Remain

By Rouse, Anthony | The Spectator, June 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

The Fragments That Remain


Rouse, Anthony, The Spectator


Edward Gibbon famously had the idea of writing his Decline and Fall in Rome `while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter'. Harry Ritchie's good idea struck less exotically when his eye was caught by a list of the last pink bits in the atlas:

It was what seemed to be the anachronistic absurdity of section Z:12 in the Pears Cyclopaedia that gave me the idea to write a book about what remains of Britain's possessions after the loss of Hong Kong, a book that would offer an answer to the question George V whispered on his deathbed: `How is the empire?'

There are those who think that the king's last words were `Bugger Bognor,' but perhaps he said both. `Bugger Bognor. How is the Empire?'

Not in very good shape, according to Ritchie. When Hong Kong is given to the Chinese next month, the population of our colonies will be reduced from over six million people to around 180,000. The remaining territories will be: Gibraltar, Bermuda, the Falkland Islands and, a few hundred miles south and east of the Falklands, the uninhabited South Sandwich and South Georgia; St Helena, (midway between South Africa and Brazil) and St Helena's dependencies, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha; in the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Montserrat and Anguilla; in the Pacific, Pitcairn, struggling on with a population of about 50.

We also own the British Indian Ocean Territory, which consists of five coral atolls and about 3,000 American and British Military personnel. According to Ritchie, we moved the local population of about 1,100 to Mauritius without so much as a by-yourleave. Finally, we claim an area about the size of Mexico in Antarctica.

On his travels through the last pink bits, Ritchie missed out Pitcairn on the reasonable grounds that he could stay only for two hours no permanent local population. And he foolishly confined himself to just one of the Caribbean colonies, the Turks and Caicos Islands -- chosen because they are the least known.

Ritchie found the fortunes of the Turks and Caicos had been saved by the French Club Med. …

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