Imperial Federation: Map Showing the Extent of the British Empire in 1886. Colour lithograph. Published by Maclure & Co. as a supplement to The Graphic, 24 July 1886. Images produced here by courtesy of Daniel Crouch Rare Books. Text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

This remarkable map was published to mark the Indian and Colonial Exhibition of 1886, and to serve as a kind of souvenir for the event. For visitors to an exhibition at Tate Britain, where the map is on display at the time of writing, Felix Driver explains that it uses a Mercator projection, and is centred on Greenwich, as other British maps of that time would have been, thus "presenting Britain at the centre of the world" with "the parts of the Empire under British rule ... in pink or red which would have been quite conventional at that time." He adds that it shows "economic flows and infrastructure and communications on the one hand, very factual data and little tables, but on the other hand ... this great explosion of peoples from across the Empire as though they are bringing tribute to Britannia." The figures in the margins therefore represent the peoples of these lands, sometimes familiar from Crane's other illustrative work, as "being part of the British family of nations." Here, for example, we see a North American Indian in full regalia (left border, top) and a much more scantily dressed Maori with a boomerang and a wallaby (right border, bottom).

Close-ups of figures in the border. Left: The trapper and, just below him, the fashionable lady in furs. Right: The poor Indian with his bale.

However, as a socialist who had been converted to the cause by William Morris, Crane also introduces his reservations about the "Imperial Federation," using this exotically peopled border to show some figures clearly suggestive of exploitation. Of the two figures in the middle of the left border, for instance, the uppermost is a trapper with a dead animal slung round his shoulders, and the lower is a fashionable woman dressed in furs, the product of his labour. On the same side, at the top left of the map, is a female figure with a banner reading "Freedom." But almost directly below her, in the lower left-hand corner, is a poor Indian in a loincloth sandwiched between smartly uniformed representatives of the Empire. He is bent completely double under a heavy bale. Is this freedom? Most obviously, though, the figure of Britannia herself, prominent at the centre of the lower foreground, sits on top of the globe supported by a straining Atlas, who has "Human Labour" written across his chest.

Britannia sitting pretty while "Human Labour" bears the load.

Discussing this map, Alison Smith sees Crane as asserting "the role of socialism within an imperial framework" (34). This seems ungainsayable. But Crane could also be seen as questioning empire itself. Recalling his visit to India in 1906, Crane wrote later on:

it is not a comfortable thought for an Englishman, loving freedom, and accustomed to the principles of popular and representative government at home, to realise that this vast empire is held under the strictest autocratic system; and that the national aspirations that are now beginning to make themselves heard and felt should be entirely ignored, and the voice of native feeling sternly suppressed. [ix]

Crane was quick to feel for the oppressed. On the voyage out to India he would note the "coal-slaves" at Port Said (5) and on this same trip he showed his understanding of the Cingalese (Sinhalese) worker who refused to change his ways "simply for the benefit of foreign settlers whose chief object is to exploit him" (310).

It is true that the Graphic map was intended to celebrate and instruct, on the special occasion of the exhibition, and also that it was published twenty years before Crane and his wife went to India. It was really the heyday of empire. Nevertheless, there are these subtly discordant notes in the margins. How far it is "an exemplary imperial map" (Driver, "In Search of the Imperial Map") — specifically, how far Crane really endorses imperialism here — is still a matter of debate.

Related Material


Crane, Walter. India Impressions, with some notes of Ceylon during a winter tour, 1906-7. London: Methuen, 1907. Internet Archive.

Driver, Francis. "Imperial Federation Map." Artist and Empire' Audio Insights. Tate. 6 February 2016.

_____. "In Search of the Imperial Map: Walter Crane and the Image of Empire." History Workshop Journal. 69 (Spring 2010): 146-157. Available on Project Muse. Excerpt.

Smith, Alison. Artist and Empire: Facing Britain's Imperial Past. Ed. Smith, David Blayney Brown, and Carol Jacobi. London: Tate Publishing, 2015. 34.

Created 6 February 2016