The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 3

By William Roger Louis; Andrew Porter et al. | Go to book overview

4
British Migration and the Peopling of the Empire

MARJORY HARPER

'British emigrants do not as a body care whether they go to lands under or not under British rule, and cross the seas . . . at the prompting not of sentiment but of interest.'1

If you leave the gloom of London and you seek a glowing land,
Where all except the flag is strange and new,
'There's a bronzed and stalwart fellow who will grip you by the hand,
And greet you with a welcome warm and true;
For he's your younger brother, the one you sent away,
Because there wasn't room for him at home;
And now he's quite contented, and he's glad he didn't stay,
And he's building Britain's greatness o'er the foam.2

The disparity between dismissive views of the relationship between emigration and Empire and portrayals of British migrants' umbilical attachment to their flag is one of many paradoxes in the complex mosaic of migration. Those who sponsored emigration not only walked the tightrope of promoting Imperial colonization while discouraging emigration to foreign destinations, notably the United States of America; they also wrestled with contradictory accusations, emanating from centre and periphery respectively, that they were stripping Britain of the brain and sinew of its population yet filling the colonies with paupers, social misfits, and political malcontents. Competing and overlapping theories and schemes of migration proliferated as new destinations were opened up, as British philanthropists and speculators filled the vacuum created by Colonial Office indecision and non-intervention, and as settler colonies acquired increasing control of their own immigration policies. But migration was much more than a subject of impersonal political debate for the 22.6 million individuals who left the British Isles between 1815 and 1914. Their life-changing decisions were shaped perhaps less by governments' and emigration societies' policies than by local

____________________
1
Charles Dilke, Problems of Greater Britain, 2 vols. ( London, 1890), I, p. 26.
2
"'The Younger Son'", in Collected Verse of Robert Service, 2 vols. ( London, 1960), I, p. 70.

-75-

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