Decorated initial P

ower was extended in its subtler forms — prestige, cajolery, threat, the dangled loan reinforced occasionally with blockade, bombardment or expedition. By such means foreign tariffs and monopolies were broken down, the gouty empires of China and Turkey opened to British influence, and innumerable lesser sheikdoms, sultanates and chieftaincies were drawn into the invisible empire of informal sway.

But the results of this imperialism of free trade among non-European peoples were disappointing, even disquieting. By the eighteen sixties, and seventies the Victorians were less sure of their panacea for the East and Africa. Neither the Son of Heaven nor the Commander of the Faithful had been attracted along the narrow ways of liberal reform. Among the invincibly conservative Confucian and Islamic rulers, no effective westernising collaborators had been found. Their responses had not been what the political economists had foretold. It appeared from the Tai’ping rebellion in China and growing chaos in the Muslim states that European agencies could destroy as well as re-create. No waves of regeneration such as Palmerston and T. F. Buxton had dreamed of had rolled along the trade routes across tropical Africa nor into the central Asian steppe. In China after 1860 Victorian governments relaxed their pressure for reform lest they should become involved in governing a tottering empire. In Turkey a decade later, their eagerness to improve had been swallowed up in concern to preserve its integrity. . . .

The experience of governing Hindus and Muslims strongly prejudiced the later Victorians against acquiring more Oriental possessions. The grand schemes of the early Utilitarian administrators for anglicising India had gone down in the Residency at Cawnpore. Other optimistic designs for endowing the Chinese and Ottoman empires with progressive rulers had blunted against the crassness of mandarins and pashas. The Indian Mutiny and the social upheavals which followed hard on the heels of European penetration throughout the Near and Far East left a lasting disenchantment in London and Calcutta about the possibility of westernising the Oriental.

The Victorians had learned that westernisation was a dangerous and explosive business. Perhaps non-Europeans after all were not potential English gentlemen who had been unluckily retarded, but races inherently different and apart. Victorian rulers had learned much more about the depths of reactions and racial fanaticisms which too much meddling could stir up in Oriental societies. They were becoming aware for the first time of the disturbing effects of one culture upon another. In India, the more cautious ‘Guardians’ prevailed over the apostles of anglicisation, as the administration became more institutional and formalised. Perhaps it was safer to take native society for what it was, and concentrate on honest government and raising living standards. The white rulers became increasingly absorbed with the mechanics of administration and sought to solve their problems less in social and more in narrow, administrative terms. Even before the Mutiny, ministers were growing acutely aware of the high risks of rebellion and racial feeling, the enormous military burdens, the huge liabilities which had been undertaken so lightly in subjecting India to British rule. Their uneasiness about India, coupled with the success of their white colonies and wider commercial empire confirmed the preference for the modes of free trade and settlement and the prejudice against adding to the number of non-European jewels in the Crown. As late as 1883 the axiom was that ‘the policy of England discourages any increase of territory in tropical countries already occupied by native races’ (Cotton and Payne 114). [5-6, 10-11]

Related material


Buxton, C. Memoirs of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. 1849.

Buxton, T. F. The Remedy ... to the Slave Trade. 1840.

Cotton, J. S. and E. J. Payne. Colonies and Dependencies, Part II, 114.

Emerit, M. ‘La Crise syrienne et l’Expansion economique française en 1860,’ xxRevue Historiquexx, (207): 217-21.

Pelcovits, N. A. Old China Hands and the Foreign Office. New York, 1948.

Robinson, Ronald, John Gallagher, and Alice Denny. Africa and the Victorians: The Climax of Imperialism (1961). Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1968.

Stokes, E. The English Utilitarians and India (1959), 47-81, 140-233.

Last modified 9 August 2020