The British occupation of Egypt 1882

‘How far was the occupation of Egypt a result of its rulers’ failure to modernise?’

The British occupation of Egypt in 1882 was supposed to be a temporary expedient, undertaken reluctantly by the government; and initially it appeared as if it would be short-lived. However, what had started out as joint Anglo-French financial control in Egypt soon turned into permanent British occupation, which subsequently lasted for 72 years.[1] The motives behind the occupation have been debated widely. As Galbraith points out, British reasons behind the intervention have been examined by publicists and scholars from the time of the occupation up until the present day.[2] There are two main sides to the argument; the idea that Egypt was occupied in the interests of capitalists and industrialists or what can be called the Robinson and Gallagher thesis.[3] Robinson and Gallagher’s thesis, which emphasised political and strategic factors, sparked a generation of debate and research; whereas Cain and Hopkins are among the historians to have looked at economic causes, such as gentlemanly capitalism.[4] Clearly it was in Britain’s interests for Egypt to modernise, however the Egyptian rulers’ had been tackling this problem since well before the 1800s. Although they were not always successful the rulers were attempting to change things and so it would not appear that the British occupied the country purely for this reason. However, there are other explanations put forward by historians and politicians over the years. One of the most widely examined arguments is that of British interest in the Suez Canal, which provided Britain with a significantly shorter route to India. There were also economic reasons linked to the canal, with investment both in India and Egypt at stake. In addition complicated Anglo-French relations played their role in the eventual occupation of Egypt. There is still no prospect of the debate ending since no the gulf between advocates of different theories seemingly cannot be bridged. Furthermore, the motives which lay behind the occupation were “complex and devious”.[5]

Well before 1800 modernisation, diversification and industrial growth were being moulded by the incorporation of Egypt into the global economy; principally as a supplier of raw materials to Europe, especially cotton, and also as a consumer of European manufactured goods.[6] Muhammad Ali recognised the importance and necessity of modernisation, if Egypt was to progress in any way. He had many schemes of modernisation, often based on western ideas; however these ideas were not just confined to the Egyptian economy. Aside from introducing a more modern tax system and improving irrigation, thus creating a better farming system, he also realised the importance of modernising the Egyptian army.[7] It would appear then as if Egypt was already in the process of modernisation, thus the British occupation cannot be justified as a reaction to failure on this front. However, it is important to note that a significant amount of doubt remains over whether Muhammad Ali’s schemes raised the standards of health and wealth as a whole, or just benefited certain groups of people. In addition, between the years 1863-1879 fresh attempts at industrialisation, under Khedive Ismail, faltered quite drastically without adequate local powers of trade protection while problems also arose from involvement in the construction of the Suez Canal.[8] External intervention followed shortly after, led by private financial interests from Britain and France. Therefore, although Britain had invested interest in Egypt due to these financial problems it is clear that Egypt was attempting, and not too unsuccessfully, to modernise. Thus there were other reasons aside from failure to modernise that played a greater role in leading to the occupation in 1882; reasons that required this decisive British action.

The Suez Canal was opened in 1869, under Napoleon III, linking the Mediterranean with the India Ocean.[9] Although construction of the canal was initially opposed by the British they soon realised its strategic value; with the canal becoming the “jugular vein of the Empire”.[10] Despite the initial opposition to the Suez Canal, in 1875 the Conservative Government under the leadership of Benjamin Disraeli bought the Egyptian ruler Ismail’s 44% share in the canal; although this still did not grant the British outright control of the strategic waterway. According to Jankowski, the conventional explanation of the British occupation of Egypt emphasises their concern for the safety and security of the Suez Canal; Britain’s major lifeline to its eastern possessions.[11] In their 1961 essay ‘Africa and the Victorians’, Robinson and Gallagher argue that the British occupation was partly as a direct result of the British desire to protect their control over the Suez canal; allowing them to maintain their shipping route to the Indian Ocean.[12] The Suez Canal reduced the average length of time from England to India from 5 months via the Cape to 40 days via the canal.[13]Furthermore, Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid states that 89% of all shipping sailing through the Canal was British, and that the canal was the artery to India and other colonies in the Far East; thus Britain would have occupied Egypt if any sort of threat to the safety of the canal was posed since it was such an important part of their trade and economy.[14]

Opening of the Suez Canal in 1869

Britain’s interests in these new possibilities of communication were obvious from commercial and strategic points of view. It was vitally necessary to ensure that no European rival should place herself along these new lines of communication. In addition, the occupation of Egypt provided Imperial Britain with a naval base as well as strengthening their control of an indispensable passage to Asia.[15] In the mind of the British government, the safeguarding of their interest in the Suez Canal was acceptable but occupation in the sense of annexation was out of the question.[16] Indeed, Marlowe points out that it was Gladstone himself who asked the House of Lords for money to fund the expedition to occupy Egypt. He explained to the house that such an expedition was necessary for the protection of the Suez Canal which was menaced by the anarchical conditions in Egypt.[17] R.L. Tignor advances the argument that the British government, despite their hesitation and reluctance to play a significant role in the running of Egypt, occupied the country because of its location on the route to India; not for other economic reasons, or because of the revolt.[18] “Egypt was occupied because of India, not because of the bondholders”.[19]

A.G. Hopkins rejected Robinson and Gallagher’s argument, citing both original and second-hand sources to claim that there was no perceived danger to the Suez Canal from the Orabi movement.[20] However, he does point out that British investment in Egypt had grown massively leading into the 1800s, particularly in regard to the Suez Canal; thus it is understandable that they would have occupied Egypt to protect this investment.[21] On the other hand, Alexander Schölch believes it would be misleading to regard the events of 1882 as a ‘Suez crisis’; instead insisting that the occupation was as a result of the failure of Dual control in Egypt.[22]

Finally it is important to acknowledge the other argument historians have pushed forward; that of justifying the occupation by the importance of the Suez Canal. John Galbraith believes that the Suez Canal was not a legitimate reason for Britain to occupy Egypt. He argues that Gladstone did not order the occupation as a result of worrying about the Suez Canal since after the Alexandria bombing; he told Granville that he did not fear an Egyptian attack on the canal.[23] The ‘security of the canal’ argument was put forward by the government merely as justification for the occupation since it provided the most palatable explanation. The rest of the Liberal party and the British public demanded an explanation, and the Suez Canal security was cited to ensure they did not lose faith in the government; not because the gravity of the situation actually merited such action.[24]

British investment within Egypt expanded significantly leading into the 1880s, and so when the security of this investment was threatened it was almost inevitable that the government decided to take action. The Orabi Rebellion, in September 1881, marked the final phase of the crisis and led to worry among Europeans that the Egyptian nationalists might renege on repayment of the Debt, as well as prompting British fears for the safety of the Canal.[25] Indeed, Cain and Hopkins have recently returned to look at economic reasons being the cause of the British occupation; although they emphasise gentlemanly capitalism rather than industrial capitalism.[26] Hopkins himself argues that Gladstone and the cabinet were motivated by protecting the interests of British bondholders, who had invested in Egypt; leading to the occupation in 1882.[27] Egyptian finances continued to deteriorate despite dual power and the two European representatives, the controllers, resigned in protest. They warned their respective governments, French and British, that Ismail’s plan was not feasible and that the bondholders risked not being paid; consequently the powers who were espousing the cause of their bondholders decided action must be taken.[28] Lord Cromer, a widely respected politician, felt that the financial interests concerned were so great, that the risk that financial disorder would eventually have led to anarchy was too considerable to not have led to an armed intervention.[29]

Alternatively Robinson and Gallagher go to great lengths to show that the British government did not intervene in the affairs of Egypt from 1876 onwards because of pressure from the bondholders; but rather as a result of a amalgamation of factors combining together to make the occupation necessary.[30] Although the bond holders applied pressure to the British government, the final decision to occupy Egypt was made because the ensuing chaos following the rebellion threatened the Suez Canal.[31]

At the start of the 1800s Major Misset, the British Consul General in Egypt, was agitating for the annexation of Egypt by England to stop it from falling into French hands.[32] Robinson and Gallagher’s thesis emphasised amongst other factors, the importance of Anglo-French rivalry in bringing about the British occupation of Egypt.[33] They take great pains to show that the intervention of the British government in the affairs of Egypt was motivated “by their anxiety to keep in step with France. To allow France to steal a march on them in Cairo would give her command of the Suez route.”[34] On November 10th 1881 an event occurred which some argue ultimately ensured the British occupation of Egypt; the Jules Ferry government fell and Léon Gambetta took office as the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of France.[35] He determined that dynamic action in Egypt was necessary, but only remained in office for s short period of time before the succeeding Freycinet government came to power. However, where Gambetta had believed that dynamic action was the way forward the Freycinet government shrank away from what was supposed to be a joint French-British action; leaving Britain to deal with the Egyptian situation alone. J. A. Williamson’s study, entitled ‘A Short History of British Expansion’, reproduced the official version of events. Egypt was a corrupt and backward state, however Britain was still unwilling to intervene but ending up being left in the lurch by France and thus had to take action.[36] An example of this was when British Admiral, Sir Beauchamp Seymour, sent on ultimatum during July 1882 demanding that the forts at Alexandria be dismantled within 24 hours or be bombed; only for the French government to refuse to be associated with the ultimatum.[37]

The French and British sent a note to their respective representatives in Cairo who subsequently communicated it to the Egyptian government on January 6th 1882. The Chamber of Notables’ support swung over to support the army, becoming exigent in their demands for control of the budget in addition to an increased army size.[38] The British government considered whether they should make concessions to the demands of the Chamber, but the French disagreed and thus the Egyptian government moved in the direction of constitutional self-government.[39] Subsequently the British government became increasingly suspicious that the French government was planning on coming to terms with both Orabi and the Khedive; leaving the British out of the loop.[40] While Britain had no wish to govern Egypt they could not allow France to gain the upper hand.[41] Since so much of the shipping through the canal was British, England was even more anxious than France to protect her interests in Egypt.[42] It was impossible for Great Britain to allow the troops of any other European power to occupy Egypt.[43]

Therefore, although it was the French lead and their concern about the safety of the canal which pushed the British government forward on the road to intervention in 1882; however after January 1882 the French pressure was non-existent.[44] Thus, the occupation of Egypt cannot have been as a direct result of Anglo-French relations but must have been due to a combination of factors. Historians are still unsure whether intervention was dictated by fear of a foreign challenge to British supremacy by ‘strategic considerations’ since there was such close Anglo-French collaboration before the occupation.[45]

In 1881 a group of Egyptian army colonels succeeded in replacing the Circassian minister of War as well as getting the Khedive to dismiss the Pasha, and invite the leader of the constitutionalists to form a ministry. The efforts behind this movement were seemingly directed against the Khedive, however it soon became clear that the ultimate object was the power behind him; the Anglo-French controllers. Essentially it became an anti-foreign military movement.[46] According to historian Vatikiotis, Egypt had two governments just before the occupation; a Khedivial one whose power and authority were confined to the already British-controlled Alexandria and the Orabist rebel government in full control of Cairo and the provinces.[47]

The Orabi Rebellion happened largely as a result of 1300 foreign officials being brought in at huge salaries to do work that had been done more cheaply by Egyptians; this caused huge resentment and fuelled anti-European feeling. The subsequent military revolt was led by the only four native Egyptian colonels in the army, with a slogan of “Egypt for the Egyptians”.[48] When the British cabinet first decided to occupy Egypt it did so with no thought beyond rescuing the Egyptian monarch from the nationalists, restoring his authority, effecting rapid reforms in the administration and then retiring from Egyptian political life.[49] Robinson and Gallagher argue that in addition to protecting the Suez Canal, the British occupation was also ordered to quell the perceived anarchy of the Orabi revolt.[50] Britain landed troops at Ismailia and suppressed the revolt by the battle of Tel-el-Kebir on September 13, 1882. According to Cromer, “England stepped in, and with one rapid and well-delivered blow crushed the rebellion.”[51] As stated earlier it had been claimed that this was only a temporary intervention, however British troops remained until 1956. Gladstone believed that they needed to convert the present interior state of Egypt from anarchy and conflict into peace and order. The Commons vote, about providing money for the expedition to occupy Egypt, was secured by Gladstone arguing that British intervention was a means of providing the Egyptian people with hope and freedom.

Tignor believes that the final decisions to occupy were based upon specifically crushing an indigenous proto-nationalist movement, the Orabi revolt, which threatened the security of Britain’s major route to the east, the Suez Canal.[52] He states that the reason given by the British for occupying Egypt was their desire to restore order in Egypt. On the other hand, Jankowski places some of the blame for the occupation upon the ‘men on the spot’ who warned the British government that Egypt faced anarchy and that the European position of privilege which had developed in recent years was menaced by the new nationalist regime.[53] “The massacre of 11 June was a critical event in determining the British occupation”; it convinced those in England that law and order had broken down and the Egyptian army were unwilling to control the situation, endangering European lives.[54] Hopkins argues that Britain would not have taken action had it not been for the political instability in Egypt, according to him the invasion was an involuntary response to the continuing collapse of the current Egyptian regime.[55]

However there are historians who counter this argument, believing that Orabi and his forces were not chaotic anarchists but in fact maintained law and order. If this was indeed the case then the British could not justify their occupation by the supposed rebellion. The intention of the British to ‘rescue’ Egypt from disorder and the Egyptian throne from a nationalist movement, dubbed a military mutiny, and to then retire was not a clearly conceived policy by any means; especially considering that in reality there was not a general agreement about whether occupying Egypt was the right decision. Although a large reason behind England occupying Egypt in 1882 was as a consequence of the revolt of Orabi Pasha, it was also partly in order to avenge the violated rights of her own nationals and to safeguard their interests in the future.[56] Nevertheless it is important to acknowledge that it would be fair to state that although the motives behind the occupation are complicated, an immediate incentive was stopping a nationalist rebellion that threatened to make an end of European intervention in Egyptian affairs.

The occupation of Egypt in 1882 came about due to a multitude of reasons that resulted in Britain’s belief that their intervention was necessary. Although the attempts at modernisation within Egypt were not completely successful, the government was trying to progress and move forwards. Therefore it does not seem likely that the occupation of Egypt was as a result of the rulers’ failure to modernise. When the modernisation schemes began to produce less favourable results, external involvement occurred in the form of financial interest from Britain and France; and so they had invested economic interests in Egypt’s future. However, this investment was not so much in modernisation as in the Suez Canal which was of vital importance to Britain. Anglo-French relations were important in influencing the 1882 occupation. The intervention of the British government in the affairs of Egypt was motivated “by their anxiety to keep in step with France. To allow France to steal a march on them in Cairo would give her command of the Suez route.”[57] Despite France playing their part in the occupation, it was first and foremost to keep primary control of the Suez Canal and not let France monopolise it or collaborate with the Egyptian government that Britain occupied Egypt. An immediate incentive in occupying Egypt was to stop the nationalist rebellion that threatened to mark an end of European intervention in Egyptian affairs. This would have been a huge blow to Britain since they desperately needed to remain involved in the running and use of the Suez Canal, which they had not only heavily invested in but which also provided them with vital trade routes. Due to the expansion in British investment in Egypt leading into the 1880s, it was natural for them to want to protect these investments when they appeared to be under threat. However, it was the £4 million investment in the Suez Canal that they were most concerned about therefore believing it necessary to occupy Egypt when this appeared to be under threat from the rebellion.

The various factors which combined together and resulted in the occupation of Egypt all revolve around the Suez Canal, and therefore it was because of the importance of and danger to the canal that Britain ultimately occupied Egypt. There are historians, such as Galbraith, who argue that Britain only used the Suez Canal as justification for their occupation not because they believed it was in any danger. However, the Suez Canal was vitally important to the British Empire given that without this trade route their economy and trade would have suffered since it provided them with a route to India or the ‘jewel in the crown’ as it was referred to.

Bibliography:

Books:

Al-Sayyid, Afaf Lutfi. Egypt and Cromer, A Study in Anglo-Egyptian Relations (London, 1968).

Al- Sayyid-Marsot, Afaf Lutfi ‘The British Occupation of Egypt from 1882’, in A. Porter and W. M Roger Louis (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume III: The Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1999).

Earl of Cromer, Modern Egypt Volume I, (London, 1908).

Jankowski, J. Egypt, A Short History (Boston, 2000).

Louis, W.R. The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States and Postwar Imperialism (New York, 1984).

Mansfield, P. The British in Egypt (London, 1971).

Marlowe, John. Anglo-Egyptian relations 1800-1953, (London, 1954).

Marlowe, John. Cromer in Egypt, (London, 1970).

Reid, Donald Malcolm. ‘The Urabi revolution and the British conquest, 1879-1882’ in M.W. Daly (ed.), The Cambridge History of Egypt, Volume II: Modern Egypt, from 1517 to the end of the Twentieth Century, (Cambridge, 1998) pp. 217-238.

Robinson, R. and Gallagher, J. Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism (Basingstoke, 1978).

Schölch, Alexander. Egypt for the Egyptians (Essex, 1981).

Tignor, R.L. Modernisation and British Colonial Rule in Egypt, 1882-1914 (Princeton, 1996).

Tilby, A. Wyatt. British India 1600-1828 (Charleston, 2009).

Vatikiotis, P.J. The History of Egypt from Muhammad Ali to Mubarak (London, 1985).

Articles:

Chamberlain, M.E. ‘The Alexandria Massacre of 11 June 1882 and the British Occupation of Egypt’, Middle Eastern Studies13 (1977), 14-39.

Galbraith, John. and al-Sayyid-Marsot, Afaf Lutfi. ‘The British Occupation of Egypt: Another View’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 9 (1978), 471-488.

Schölch, Alexander. ‘The ‘Men on the Spot’ and the English Occupation of Egypt in 1882’, The Historical Journal, 19 (1976), 773-785.

Hopkins, A.G. ‘The Victorians and Africa: A Reconsideration of the Occupation of Egypt, 1882’ The Journal of African History 27 (1986), 363-391.

Nakhla, R. ‘The British in Egypt’, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 9 (1920), 101-117.

[1] Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid, Egypt and Cromer, A Study in Anglo-Egyptian Relations (London, 1968), p. 1.

[2] John Galbraith and Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British Occupation of Egypt: Another View’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 9 (1978) 471.

[3] Alexander Schölch, ‘The ‘Men on the Spot’ and the English Occupation of Egypt in 1882’, The Historical Journal, 19 (1976) 774.

[4] D.M. Reid, ‘The ‘Urabi revolution and the British conquest, 1879-1882’ in M.W. Daly (ed.), The Cambridge History of Egypt, Volume II: Modern Egypt, from 1517 to the end of the Twentieth Century, (Cambridge, 1998) p. 218.

[5] Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid, Egypt and Cromer, A Study in Anglo-Egyptian Relations (London, 1968) p. 1.

[6] Afaf Lutfi Al- Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British Occupation of Egypt from 1882’, in A. Porter and W. M Roger Louis (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume III: The Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1999) p.653.

[7] J. Marlowe, Anglo-Egyptian relations 1800-1953, (London, 1954) p. 58.

[8] Afaf Lutfi Al- Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British Occupation of Egypt from 1882’, in A. Porter and W. M Roger Louis (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume III: The Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1999) p.654.

[9] A. Wyatt Tilby, British India 1600-1828 (Charleston, 2009) p. 256.

[10] W.R. Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States and Postwar Imperialism (New York, 1984) p.718.

[11] J.Jankowski, Egypt, A Short History (Boston, 2000) p. 91.

[12] R. Robinson and J. Gallagher, Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism (Basingstoke, 1978) p.4.

[13] J. Marlowe, Anglo-Egyptian Relations 1800-1953 (London, 1954) p. 42.

[14]Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid, Egypt and Cromer, A Study in Anglo-Egyptian Relations (London, 1968) p. 2.

[15]Afaf Lutfi Al- Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British Occupation of Egypt from 1882’, in A. Porter and W. M Roger Louis (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume III: The Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1999) p.652.

[16] Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid, Egypt and Cromer, A Study in Anglo-Egyptian Relations (London, 1968) p. 28.

[17] J. Marlowe, Cromer in Egypt, (London, 1970) p. 67.

[18] R.L. Tignor, Modernisation and British Colonial Rule in Egypt, 1882-1914 (Princeton, 1996) p. 10.

[19] Ibid. p. 24.

[20] A.G. Hopkins, ‘The Victorians and Africa: A Reconsideration of the Occupation of Egypt, 1882’ The Journal of African History 27 (1986) 373.

[21] Ibid. p. 379.

[22] Alexander Schölch, ‘The ‘Men on the Spot’ and the English Occupation of Egypt in 1882’, The Historical Journal 19 (1976) 776.

[23] J. Galbraith and Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British Occupation of Egypt: Another View’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 9 (1978) 472.

[24] Ibid. p. 473.

[25] Afaf Lutfi Al- Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British Occupation of Egypt from 1882’, in A. Porter and W. M Roger Louis (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume III: The Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1999) p.654.

[26] D.M. Reid, ‘The Urabi revolution and the British conquest, 1879-1882’ in M.W. Daly (ed.) The Cambridge History of Egypt, Volume II: Modern Egypt, from 1517 to the end of the twentieth century, (Cambridge 1998) p. 218.

[27] A.G. Hopkins, ‘The Victorians and Africa: A Reconsideration of the Occupation of Egypt, 1882’, The Journal of African History 27 (1986) 373.

[28] Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid, Egypt and Cromer, A Study in Anglo-Egyptian Relations (London, 1968) p. 4.

[29] Alexander Schölch, ‘The ‘Men on the Spot’ and the English Occupation of Egypt in 1882’, The Historical Journal 19 (1976) 777.

[30] Ibid. p. 774.

[31] R.L. Tignor, Modernisation and British Colonial Rule in Egypt, 1882-1914 (Princeton, 1996) p.24.

[32] J. Marlowe, Anglo-Egyptian Relations 1800-1953 (London, 1954) p. 33.

[33] D.M. Reid, ‘The Urabi revolution and the British conquest, 1879-1882’ in M.W. Daly (ed.) The Cambridge History of Egypt, Volume II: Modern Egypt, from 1517 to the end of the twentieth century, (Cambridge 1998) p. 218.

[34] Alexander Schölch, ‘The ‘Men on the Spot’ and the English Occupation of Egypt in 1882’, The Historical Journal 19 (1976) 774.

[35] P. Mansfield, The British in Egypt (London, 1971) p. 30.

[36] A.G. Hopkins, ‘The Victorians and Africa: A Reconsideration of the Occupation of Egypt, 1882’, The Journal of African History 27 (1986) 374.

[37] P. Mansfield, The British in Egypt (London, 1971) p. 43.

[38] J. Marlowe, Anglo-Egyptian Relations 1800-1953 (London, 1954) p. 119.

[39] Ibid. p. 117.

[40] P. Mansfield, The British in Egypt (London, 1971) p. 42.

[41] R.L. Tignor, Modernisation and British Colonial Rule in Egypt, 1882-1914 (Princeton, 1996) p. 14.

[42] Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid, Egypt and Cromer, A Study in Anglo-Egyptian Relations (London, 1968) p. 2.

[43] Earl of Cromer, Modern Egypt Volume I, (London, 1908) p. 298.

[44] Alexander Schölch, ‘The ‘Men on the Spot’ and the English Occupation of Egypt in 1882’, The Historical Journal 19 (1976) 774.

[45] J. Galbraith and Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British Occupation of Egypt: Another View’, International Journal of Middle East Studies 9 (1978) 471.

[46] J. Marlowe, Anglo-Egyptian relations 1800-1953 (London, 1954) p. 115.

[47] P.J. Vatikiotis, The History of Egypt from Muhammad Ali to Mubarak (London, 1985) p. 154.

[48] Afaf Lutfi Al- Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British Occupation of Egypt from 1882’, in A. Porter and W. M Roger Louis (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume III: The Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1999) p.654.

[49] Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid, Egypt and Cromer, A Study in Anglo-Egyptian Relations (London, 1968) p. 28.

[50] R. Robinson and J. Gallagher, Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism (Basingstoke, 1978) p.4.

[51] Earl of Cromer, Modern Egypt Volume I (London, 1908) p. 300.

[52] R. L. Tignor, Modernisation and British Colonial Rule in Egypt, 1882-1914 (Princeton, 1996) p.11.

[53] J. Jankowski, Egypt, A Short History (Boston, 2000) p. 91.

[54] M.E. Chamberlain, ‘The Alexandria Massacre of 11 June 1882 and the British Occupation of Egypt’, Middle Eastern Studies13 (1977) 14.

[55] A.G. Hopkins, ‘The Victorians and Africa: A Reconsideration of the Occupation of Egypt, 1882’, The Journal of African History 27 (1986) 372.

[56] R. Nakhla, ‘The British in Egypt’, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 9 (1920) 102.

[57] Alexander Schölch, ‘The ‘Men on the Spot’ and the English Occupation of Egypt in 1882’, The Historical Journal 19 (1976) 774.

 

British Imperialism in the 19th century

‘In what ways did British Imperialism change over the course of the 19th century?’

Empires in 1900

In order to examine the changes in British Imperialism throughout the course of the 19th century it is necessary to define what exactly is meant by the term imperialism; it has been defined as “the process by which an expanding state dominates the territory, population, and resources of less powerful states or regions.”[1] It is possible to divide the changes that occurred in British imperialism during the 19th century into three distinct phases. From the late 18th century up to the early 19th century Europe was still in the first wave of colonisation until the American Revolution and the fall of the Spanish empire marked the end of this phase. A period of free trade ensued before this came to an end with the emergence of new imperialism towards the end of the 19th century. Throughout these three phases there were political, cultural and economic changes occurring in the British Empire.

At the end of the 18th century Britain along with France, Russia and the Chinese and Turkish empires was one of the world’s major states. However the Age of revolution, the period encompassing 1775-1825, witnessed a major setback for European Imperial fortunes. The American Revolution of 1775-83 resulted in the loss of thirteen colonies in North America and independence, while other countries including France lost colonies such as the French island of St Domingue while mainland Portugal and Spanish America successfully gained independence. These thirteen colonies had been some of Britain’s oldest and most populous and so the shock of these losses felt by the European powers “reinvigorated expansion elsewhere, particularly in Asia”.[2] Throughout the 1830s the old colonial powers of Britain, the Netherlands and France were strengthening their empires in what was known as “the orient” whilst maintaining control of their remaining American colonies. However, along with the loss of the America’s, other colonies such as the West Indies started to lose importance during the 19th century as expansion was focused elsewhere, in 1815 the West Indian islands were contributing £15.4million or 17.6% of Britain’s trade however by 1913 their economies only generated trade with Britain of £6.6million or 0.47% despite the population rising from 877,000 to over 2million by 1911.[3] This was largely because the slave trade had been a very profitable business for cities such as Bristol and Liverpool since they played a large part in the triangular trade with the Americas and Africa and slave emancipation had begun to come into effect as a result of the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1807.

There are historians who believe that the loss of the thirteen American colonies completely changed Imperial policy and caused an era of free trade to be established.[4] In 1815 the Corn Laws were introduced and are often seen as an example of British mercantilism, and restricted other nation’s economic growth as they could not import goods such as corn to Britain or its empire since the prices were too high for people to afford. However the pressure for freer trade was increasing and so in 1815 the Navigation Acts declared that heavy duties placed on American shipping in British ports should be reduced; furthermore the President’s of the Board of Trade bestowed these concessions to European powers as well resulted in a shift to freer trade. However the East India Trading Company lost its hold over the Indian trade in 1813 and it became apparent by the 1830s that Britain’s global trade network could only be secured by use of power but the President of the Board of Trade was not going to destroy the colonial system. Despite this intention by 1860 the acts had gone with the repeal of the Corn laws in1846 the turning point; people became convinced that international success could be achieved by cheap food imports and Europe and the United States were becoming serious rivals, the colonial system was not feasible once people had become convinced that this was the way to success and so it was not expected to last much longer.

A new kind of European Imperialism began to emerge in the 1830s and was influenced by “industrialization and the rise of three related ideologies: liberalism, nationalism, and scientific racism.”[5] Scientific racism refers to the sense European nations held that they had superior institutions and other areas would benefit from them while ‘social Darwinism’ supported the idea that some races were more advanced and therefore had the right to dominate others. As economic ties began to erode between competing nations European powers began to rely upon colonisation of formal empire, in the last two decades of the 19th century the race to acquire new colonies became more dramatic as Britain competed for control over Asia and Africa often known as the ‘scramble for Africa’.

British expansion in south-east Asia up was part of a dramatic resurgence in world-wide British imperialism, after being hit by the crisis in America in the late 18th. India was often referred to as the jewel in the crown because it became the most valuable and heavily populated colony in the British Empire. Military conquest allowed Britain to further increase their control into the north-east of India during the 1820s, into the north-west during the 1840s and into Burma in the 1850s. “In 1815 her world trade stood at only £8 million but grew to £120 million with Britain alone by 1913.”[6] Other colonies that Britain acquired in Asia were not considered to be as important as India but added to a growing empire nonetheless; these included Hong Kong, Singapore, and parts of Borneo.

British expansion into Africa was different to that of India and Asia in the sense that it gained the empire a large amount of territory but did not have a large economic significance. In 1815 Britain’s territory in Africa was limited to small coastal footholds and this hardly changed until the 1860s when over the course of the next fifty years “colonial expansion inland brought her territory in every quarter of the continent.”[7] By the end of the 19th century British Africa covered 2.8 million square miles. Britain gained control of the Cape Colony in 1806 having occupied it in 1795 to prevent the French acquiring it. British immigration to the Cape Colony area started to increase after 1820 and the Boers were pushed northwards to establish their own independent republics. The Suez Canal was opened in 1869 and once its strategic value became apparent it became an important route way of the Empire.

Political changes also occurred within the British Empire in the 19th century since the empire had a big influence on Britain’s international relations; imperial issues and foreign policy were often inseparable and commitments in Asia and Africa were as likely to increase Britain’s power as to create difficulties. Developments in Britain’s position as colonial rulers encouraged political inventiveness among rulers and ruled and there was a rise in variety of government institutions and practice at home and abroad. In 1801 most colonial business was brought together under the secretary of state for war and colonies until 1854 when responsibilities were distributed between separate war and colonial offices. The work in this office changed in the 19th century; until 1840 issues associated with slavery and the administration of crown colonies was undertaken, in the mid-century problems of white settler colonies and practice of self-government was handled and in the later century they coped with territorial consequences of African partition.

It is clear that there were huge changes in British Imperialism throughout the 19th century, some more significant than others but all having an impact nonetheless. One of the main ways that British Imperialism changed was the area in which the empire expanded during the 19th century. There was a step back from imperialism in the America’s and the West Indies, especially after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, and large expansions were undertaken throughout Africa and Asia, in particular south-east Asia and India which became Britain’s most valuable colony. However there were also significant economic changes, after the abolition of slavery the West Indies were no longer producing such a significant amount of trade for Britain while the abolition of the slave trade also impacted cities back home such as Bristol since they had played an important role in the triangular trade.

 

 

[1] A.L. Conklin and I.C. Fletcher, European Imperialism 1830-1930 (United States of America, 1999) p1

[2] A.L. Conklin and I.C. Fletcher, European Imperialism 1830-1930 (United States of America, 1999)

[3] A. Porter, The Oxford History of the British Empire Volume III The Nineteenth century, (Oxford,  1999) p5

[4] Harlow, Second British Empire,

[5] A.L. Conklin and I.C. Fletcher, European Imperialism 1830-1930 (United States of America, 1999) p3

[6] A. Porter, The Oxford History of the British Empire Volume III The Nineteenth century, (Oxford, 1999) p 6

[7] A. Porter, The Oxford History of the British Empire Volume III The Nineteenth century, (Oxford, 1999) p 6