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movement helped to insure that, if not how, the Empire would matter at
home in one of the world™s most religious as well as imperious nations.

the birth of modern missions
The Biblical mandate for foreign missions is found in the risen Christ™s
admonition to the apostles to ˜go ye into all the world and preach the
gospel to every creature™.15 The pre-eminence of this directive in the
evangelical tradition for the past two centuries obscures its early modern
provenance. British Protestants showed little interest in spreading the
gospel prior to the eighteenth century; the theology of the Reformation
and the trauma of centuries of religious warfare provided little incentive
to proselytise. Calvinists believed that salvation was predestined for an

14
Bernard Porter, The Absent-Minded Imperialists: Empire, Society, and Culture in Britain (Oxford,
2004).
15
Mark 16: 15, King James Version.
SUSAN THORNE
148
elect minority, while the Anglican establishment exhibited an insular
nationalism from its Henrician inception. Thus the early Anglican mis-
sions, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), founded in
1701, and the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK),
founded in 1699, worked within the boundaries of British settlement.
Their prime directive was to maintain the spiritual health of British
settlers, and secondarily to minister to the natives who lived within the
settlement™s immediate proximity. Neither Puritan reformers nor Church
defenders were encouraged much less compelled to bestow the gospel gift
throughout Stuart England™s rapidly expanding world.16
Theology in the form of the Evangelical Revival propelled the modern
missionary project to the centre of Britain™s religious stage. Modern
Protestant missions were distinguished from their predecessors by their
global ambitions. Their expansive vision was an outgrowth of evangelical
theology™s Arminian challenge to Calvinist predestination and Anglican
insular nationalism alike. Evangelical theology, however, is not suf¬cient
to explain the birth of modern missions. John Wesley™s heart was ˜stran-
gely warmed™ in 1738.17 Interestingly enough, Wesley experienced his own
conversion in the immediate aftermath of his dismal failure to convert the
Native Americans he ministered to while working for the Society for the
Propagation of the Gospel in colonial Georgia. Wesley™s conversion was
not in itself suf¬cient inspiration for modern missions. The missionary
societies that were responsible for the global assault on heathenism during
the nineteenth century would not take institutional shape until the 1790s,
on the eve of Wesley™s death.18
What else must we take into consideration when accounting for the
speci¬cally missionary articulation of evangelical faith that distinguishes
nineteenth-century proselytising as well as philanthropy from their
eighteenth-century counterparts? Modern missions differed from the
proselytising practices of the eighteenth century in their institutional form.
By contrast to early missionary organisations such as the SPG or SPCK,
16
John Eliot™s work among the Iroquois in Massachusetts was exceptional in this regard.
D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London
and Boston, 1989), 40.
17
His was not the ¬rst awakening. Welsh schoolmaster Howel Harris and curate Daniel Rowland,
along with Oxford undergraduate George White¬eld, are credited with coming ¬rst to this faith in
England in 1735, while a religious revival along similar theological lines was breaking out in
colonial Massachusetts at the very same time. It was John Wesley, however, whose organisational
brilliance spread the word to audiences unrivalled, at least in Britain, in social breadth as well as
numbers.
18
The Baptist Missionary Society was established in 1792, the London Missionary Society in 1795,
the Church Missionary Society in 1799 and the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in 1813.
Religion and empire at home 149
which depended on gentry and royal patronage, modern missionary
societies were voluntary organisations, funded by the small gifts of large
numbers of people. And their ambitions were, as I™ve said, global in nature.
Their outreach and their organisation alike depended on a new social
geography as well as theology. The very existence of such missionary
institutions assumed an identi¬able and communal boundary between the
saved and the damned. Nineteenth-century missionary societies appealed
for support from communities that took their own salvation for granted, at
least relative to those people missionaries were being sent out to save.
This is a very different spatial distribution of sin and salvation than that
which motivated the early Wesleyan movement. Circuit riders, unlike
missionaries, preached without making qualitative distinctions between
communities far and near. Their targets included regular churchgoers; in
fact, their audience consisted largely of those who considered themselves
Christian but who were worried about their own salvation. In this setting,
sin resided within every listener. The operative word for evangelical
practice in this period was revival.
Modern missions, by contrast, targeted heathens outside the churches.
Their sponsors were increasingly con¬dent in their own salvation. This
was a signi¬cant change in the emotional and social experience of British
evangelicalism. Some of this difference may have been the result of
evangelicalism™s later eighteenth-century revival of Old Dissent, where it
served more to moderate Calvinism than entirely to dislodge it. Calvinists
were obviously more con¬dent in their own election than Wesleyans, but
from the 1780s on, they became more hopeful for the prospects of grace
outside their own communities. This evangelical broadening of Calvinist
horizons was initially manifested in a burst of itinerant preaching. Many
of those involved would later play a leading role in the establishment of
foreign missionary societies.19
Why though did foreign missions in particular capture the imagination
and win the vast majority of the ¬nancial support on offer from the larger
Victorian public? Part of the answer lies with the imperial developments
associated with what historians have referred to as the rise of a second
British Empire. Eighteenth-century philanthropy was more humanitarian
than religious; the focus was on the material needs rather than the spiritual
condition of its bene¬ciaries. Orphanages, Magdalen Societies and the like
addressed the ¬rst British Empire™s ever pressing need for sailors, soldiers

19
Deryck W. Lovegrove, Established Church, Sectarian People: Itinerancy and the Transformation of
English Dissent, 1780“1830 (Cambridge, 1988), Elbourne, Blood Ground, esp. ch. 1.
SUSAN THORNE
150
and settlers. The loss of the American colonies not only diminished
considerably the colonial demand for British bodies; the decline in
opportunities for emigration was suf¬ciently signi¬cant as to raise the
contrary spectre of overpopulation at home. It was, of course, in 1790 that
Thomas Malthus argued that foundling hospitals and other institutions
that saved the lives of the poor simply exacerbated the causes of poverty,
chief among which was overbreeding.20
By contrast to its humanitarian predecessor, missionary philanthropy
ministered to souls and not to bodies, at least during the ¬rst half of the
nineteenth century. It responded to human suffering without the pressure
of population on the home front, where missionaries were initially dis-
patched. The growing emphasis on missionary philanthropy at home was
also serviceable to the nascent industrial economy. As E. P. Thompson
suggested long ago, the evangelical cross had the power to transform pre-
industrial labourers into a more productive proletariat, workers being the
˜moral machinery™ on which the emergent factory system depended.21
None of which is to suggest that missionaries or their supporters were
consciously or even unconsciously motivated by demographic or industrial
factors. It is, rather, to suggest the mission cause owed the scale of its
popular support, at least in part, to its fortuitous exemption from criti-
cisms that discouraged support for rival claims on the philanthropic purse.
Home missions were ¬rst in the ¬eld, but they were not as popular
as the foreign missionary cause, and the foreign ¬eld would remain pre-
eminent for at least the ¬rst half of the nineteenth century. Why then did
foreign missions assume their paramount position in the evangelical
´
charitable pantheon? Elie Halevy has suggested that the Methodist
Revolution more generally and particularly its foreign missionary
emphasis saved Great Britain from a revolution like the one that was,
simultaneously, occurring in France.22 There are, certainly, parallels
worth noting here. The enormous fascination with the South Sea voyages
of Captain Cook no doubt contributed to the exuberant farewells to the
¬rst missionary parties to those exotic untouched (and not yet colonised)
regions of the world.23 In this and other ways, foreign missions may have
20
Donna Andrew, Philanthropy and Police: London Charity in the Eighteenth Century (Princeton, 1989).
21
E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York, 1963), ch. XI: ˜The
Transforming Power of the Cross™.
22
Bernard Semmel, The Methodist Revolution (New York, 1973); for a contrary view see Frederic
´
Stuart Piggin, ˜Halevy Revisited: The Origins of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society: An
Examination of Semmel™s Thesis™, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 9 (1) (1980).
23
Kathleen Wilson, The Island Race: Englishness, Empire and Gender in the Eighteenth Century
(London, 2003).
Religion and empire at home 151
bene¬ted from a social imperial affect, enjoying relatively more toleration
than their home missionary counterparts from understandably wary elites.
As Catherine Hall persuasively demonstrates, imperial preoccupations
including those fomented by the missionary lobby suffused the provincial
heartland of the industrial revolution. The political disabilities suffered by
non-landed wealth prior to 1832 could have been as politically dangerous in
Britain as they were in France. Missions may have functioned as a medium
through which the industrial bourgeoisie acquired a spiritual if not an
economic interest in the British Empire.
Indeed artisans (who like the bourgeoisie would play a revolutionary
role in France) comprised the vast bulk of evangelical converts through-
out the eighteenth century. With rare exceptions (like the Countess of
Huntington) the landed classes would not convert until after the French
Revolution. In fact, they subjected evangelicals to considerable dis-
crimination, both within the Church of England and outside it in Dissent.
Evangelical Churchmen were expelled from their universities and denied
ordination, and it was very dif¬cult for the ordained to ¬nd livings.
The foreign missionary cause re¬‚ected and reinforced the temporary
rapprochement between evangelical Dissent with Evangelical Anglicans
and Methodists. At its founding the London Missionary Society was an
ecumenical body drawing on Evangelical Churchmen, Methodists and
Presbyterians, as well as the Independents or Congregationalists on whom
it would eventually depend. This cooperation did not end when Evan-
gelical Anglicans founded the Church Missionary Society in 1799. With
varying political in¬‚ections, foreign missions were promoted in a language
that implicitly questioned the capacity of the ruling classes to govern, at
home as well as abroad. Insisting that foreign missions were not designed
to bring ˜predatory hordes of savages into the habits and re¬nements of
civil and social life™, for ˜if they be viewed as the principal object of our
exertions, even ancient Rome, or Greece, might peradventure have sent
out better Missionaries than ourselves™. The ˜object which far transcends
them all . . . [is] the preaching of the gospel of the blessed Lord . . .
without which even Athens herself, in the meridian of her literary and
philosophical glory, was in total darkness™.24 Remarks such as these called
24
Rev. William Borrows, ˜Salvation by Christ, the Grand Object of Christian Missions™, London
Missionary Society, 1820, Yale Divinity School, Special Collections. The Rev. John Angell James
seemed to have the Utilitarians in mind when he remonstrated before an assembly of missionary
supporters in 1819 against those ˜men without Christ [who] are in the very depths of misery,
though they may stand in other respects, upon the very summits of civilization, literature and
science, and for such an opinion we can plead the authority of the great Apostle [Paul] of the
Gentiles who bewailed a city of philosophers, with more intense and piercing grief, that any of us
SUSAN THORNE
152
into question the classically educated and religiously apathetic aristocracy™s
own claims to virtue, making it clear that the primary quali¬cation for
wielding worldly authority was an evangelical rebirth.
However, when it came to parliamentary politics, evangelicals were
divided along party political lines that would remain in force during most
of the nineteenth century. The American Revolution separated Dissent-
ing critics of the government from Methodists who under John Wesley™s
direction held themselves aloof from direct involvement. Dissenters were
more supportive of the colonists than other evangelicals; but even they
were mainly concerned to adjudicate colonial complaints in order to
preserve the imperial bond. Dissenters blamed the Anglican gentry™s
leadership for the ¬rst major setback in the nation™s colonial advance. In
their view, the willingness or perhaps the ability to engage in such
urgently needed diplomacy escaped the nation™s governing classes, who
then botched the military prosecution of a potentially avoidable war.
It was in this spirit that Dissenters initially championed the French
´
Revolution as the just desserts of a corrupt and inept ancien regime. The
radicalism of the Dissenting voice is easily overlooked today; it is
important to remember that Dissenting intellectuals were the frequent
victims of Church and King mobs. As the French Revolution took its
Jacobin turn, however, even propertied Dissenters were increasingly
cowed into at least passive acquiescence for counter-revolutionary moves
that constrained their own freedom of action. The counter-revolutionary
reaction was fearless and thorough. Even religious assemblies were suspect
and home missions were widely feared for gathering and giving voice to
the labouring poor. In their struggle to navigate between the dangerous
shoals of plebeian radicalism, on the one side, and gentry Anglicanism on
the other, evangelicals embraced the foreign mission cause as the more
desirable setting in which to exercise their new theological understanding
of the Biblical mandate to carry the gospel message.
This is not to say that evangelical missionaries were welcomed in the
Empire. To the contrary, they were widely viewed as a destabilising
presence in colonies always at least partially dependent on indigenous
collaboration, particularly during the ¬rst half of the nineteenth century.
The ¬rst missionaries were dispatched to Paci¬c islands not yet under
European jurisdiction. However, such opportunities would become

ever did a horde of idolatrous savages™. Rev. J. A. James, ˜The Attractions of the Cross: A Sermon
Preached Before the London Missionary Society at Surrey Chapel, May 12, 1819™, London
Missionary Society, Yale Divinity School, Special Collections.
Religion and empire at home 153
increasingly rare over the course of the nineteenth century, and the
missionary project would inevitably become a colonial concern. Colonial
administrators as well as European settlers were often hostile to mis-
sionary initiatives, and they actively sought to close down missionary
operations.25 Missionaries were barred from entering India until admitted
by Act of Parliament in 1813. The powerful slaveowning lobby also
objected to missionaries™ presence in the plantation colonies of the Car-
ibbean and South America.26 While most though not all British mis-
sionaries worked in the Empire, they were not necessarily of it.

˜the characteristic feature of religion™
These tensions in the Empire were profoundly politicising. The dis-
missive indifference to empire too often attributed to Victorian political
culture today would certainly not have been characteristic of evangelicals
who paid rapt attention to missionary reports that were enclosed within
each denomination™s monthly magazines and other missives. And these
reports frequently re¬‚ect upon local colonial conditions. Missionaries
found that religious advance itself required political engagement in the
Empire as it did at home. Even those missionaries who wanted to avoid
colonial politics, to remain politically above its fray, were simply not able
to do so. The Empire would loom large as a result in the propaganda that
the missionary movement disseminated to mobilise its highly politicised
evangelical supporters at home.
This is not to say that the missionary movement conveyed consistent
political directives to the evangelical public. Missionary perspectives on
the general direction of colonial policy varied over denominational space
and mission ¬eld as well as over time. The medium, however, was more
important over the long term than the content of particular messages.
The scale of missionary communication on the Victorian home front was
without contemporary rival, prior to the rise of a mass media. Financial
pressures insured that the channels of communication between the
colonial mission ¬eld and British church or chapel were as free ¬‚owing as
possible. Missionaries spent exhausting furloughs touring provincial
churches to raise money and recruit volunteers to support their work
abroad. In addition, missionary societies published a voluminous body of
printed material appealing for funds and volunteers in support of their
25
Porter, ˜Religion, Missionary Enthusiasms, and Empire™.
Costa, Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood: The Demerara Slave Rebellion of 1823, Turner, Slaves and
26

Missionaries: The Disintegration of Jamaican Slave Society, 1787“1834.
SUSAN THORNE
154
efforts to share the gospel message with the world™s heathen peoples. By
these and other means, the foreign missionary movement constituted an
institutional channel through which representations of colonised people
and sometimes colonised people themselves were displayed to British
audiences on a scale unrivalled by any other source emanating from the
colonies.27
The missionary movement thus encouraged Victorian evangelicals to
think about colonised people on a regular basis; indeed to direct one™s
attention to the welfare of suffering heathendom was the pious evange-
lical™s prime theological directive. Contemptuous contemporaries provide
ample testimony about the obsessive character of the evangelical public™s
˜interest™ in foreign mission ¬elds. Missionary supporters at home were
dismissed as maniacs obsessed with foreign affairs, condemned for being
more familiar with and sympathetic to the heathen savages of the colonies
than with suffering fellow-countrymen. For evangelicalism™s in¬‚uential
critics within the English intelligentsia, foreign missionaries and especially
their home supporters embodied all that was self-righteous and hypo-
critical, effeminate and ineffectual, cloyingly sentimental and culturally
illiterate, about the evangelical bourgeoisie.
Dickens most famously caricatured the missionary public in his
indictment of the ˜telescopic philanthropy™ of Mrs Jellyby and Mrs Par-
diggle in Bleak House.28 These unnatural women and their emasculated
husbands neglected ˜their own™ to care for Hottentots and other thick-
lipped savages in places they would never see. What enraged Dickens was
precisely the extent to which colonised people if not the Empire itself
mattered to evangelicals. The depths to which Dickens sank (i.e. attacking
the character of someone™s mother or an average man™s manhood is pretty
crude even by today™s standard) is suggestive of the imaginative ideolo-
gical labour required to keep colonised people in their proper place “ out
of empathy™s sight and unworthy of cultured attention. Something matters
here and it mattered a great deal at that.


27
F. K. Prochaska, ˜Little Vessels: Children in the Nineteenth-Century English Missionary
Movement™, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 6 (2) (1978), Alison Twells, ˜The
Heathen at Home and Overseas: The Middle Class and the Civilizing Mission, Shef¬eld
1790“ 1840™ (DPhil, University of York, 1998), Alison Fletcher, ˜˜˜With My Precious Salvation and
My Umbrella™™: The London Missionary Society in Early and Mid-Victorian Britain™ (PhD, Johns
Hopkins University, 2003), Annie E. Coombes, Reinventing Africa: Museums, Material Culture,
and Popular Imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (New Haven, 1994).
28
George Eliot similarly condemned the evangelical Bulstrode, the villain of Middlemarch, as one of
those ˜whose charity increases directly as the square of the distance™.
Religion and empire at home 155
At stake in these Victorian culture wars was the very distinction between
home and away, the affective, moral and cultural distance separating
foreign mission ¬elds from their British home front. These ostensibly
spatial boundaries were “ and remain “ contested cultural constructs.29
What was conversion, after all, but an attempt to bridge the divide
between metropole and colony, not only by transforming the heathen
races of the colonies and beyond into fellow Christian subjects but also by
insuring that evangelicals at home would recognise colonial converts and
potential converts as deserving recipients of philanthropic largesse?
It is highly revealing in this regard that foreign missions were not just
one among the many charitable appeals that cluttered the Victorian
evangelical stage. Missions were widely viewed by the Victorian faithful
and their critics alike as the single most important expression of the
Christian faith in action. As one contemporary put it in 1845, the ˜mis-
sionary spirit™ was ˜the characteristic feature of religion™,30 and the reli-
gious public attended to their message and their needs with unrivalled
dedication. Foreign missionary organisations were the institutional
foundations on which Nonconformist religious sects became centralised
denominations. And the missionary contribution to the form as well as
content of Victorian religious practice was amply rewarded in turn.
Foreign missions received the lion™s share of the charitable donations for
which Victorian Christians remain rightfully renowned, enabling mis-
sionary operations in virtually every corner of the British Empire and
beyond. By the end of the nineteenth century, British churches were
sponsoring a missionary ¬eld force of 10,000 missionary operatives,
¬nanced to the tune of two million pounds a year, about what the British
government was then spending on civil-service salaries.31 Whatever else
they may have been, the foreign mission ¬eld and its inhabitants repre-
sented much more than ˜ornaments™ on evangelical mantles.32
Foreign missions did not displace ˜domestic™ concerns as Dickens
seemed to fear, nor did evangelical spirituality preclude more worldly
ambitions. In fact, foreign missions were a domestic ˜event™ as it were.
During the ¬rst half of the nineteenth century ordinary people enjoyed
few opportunities for association outside regular church or chapel

29
¨
Martin W. Lewis and Karen E. Wigen, The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography
(Berkeley, 1997).
30
Rev. Arthur Tidman, LMS Annual Meeting, 1845; quoted in Richard Lovett, The History of the
London Missionary Society, 1795“1895, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1899), vol. II, 675.
31
Porter, ˜Religion and Empire™, 372.
32
David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (New York, 2001).
SUSAN THORNE
156
meetings. The latter divided the community along sectarian lines. Mis-
sionary meetings by contrast were enormously popular, drawing audi-
ences from across the denominational spectrum and even from outside
the already extensive church- and chapel-going public. The arrival of
missionary deputations was eagerly anticipated and widely advertised.
And the public meetings convened to hear their inspiring stories (and to
pass the collection plate) would be remembered for years if not decades as
major events.33
Beyond their considerable entertainment and potentially educational
value, these meetings were also an occasion for the performance of social
relations of power vital to the making of the provincial middle class at
home. Missions thereby provided substantial British audiences with a
direct investment in or, conversely, a bitter resentment of the larger
mission cause. While the audiences reached by evangelical organisations
were probably the largest and most socially diverse of any Victorian
institution, the meetings themselves were far from democratic. The sta-
ging of missionary meetings enabled the provincial middle class to display
its religious virtue and its global vision before enthralled provincial
audiences. In voluntary associations such as these, money talked; the role
of pious plebeians was to watch and listen. What they saw were visiting
missionary heroes, many of whom hailed from lowly social origins
themselves, ¬‚anked by local notables on the podium.
The wider world to which missionary speakers gestured invited the most
humble listeners to contribute their mite if not their life to the global
struggle against heathenism.34 However, the Christian mission on which
the evangelical nation had embarked was clearly led by the missionary
movement™s bourgeois benefactors. The foreign missionary movement
constituted an in¬‚uential site at which empire was imagined in relation to
modernity and through which the modernising classes fashioned them-
selves in relation to the colonies. The bourgeois revolution in values that
constituted industrialisation™s cultural counterpoint was the foundation of
the missionary vision to bring the entire world to Christ. Far from an
instrument of the colonial state, the missionary movement, particularly in
its Dissenting guises, aimed to remake the Empire in its own godly image.35
Missionary imperial godliness bore the distinctively modern markings
of political economy, anticipating the quasi-religious faith in globalisation
33
Fletcher, ˜The London Missionary Society in Early and Mid-Victorian Britain™.
34
Prochaska, ˜Little Vessels™.
35
Susan Thorne, Congregational Missions and the Making of an Imperial Culture in Nineteenth-
Century England (Stanford, 1999).
Religion and empire at home 157
so widespread today. Missionaries spearheaded the enormously popular
campaign against colonial slavery, for example, that culminated in the
abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1834. Missionary
opposition to slavery, unfortunately, cannot be attributed to theological
imperatives. Evangelicals had countenanced slavery for at least two
generations and Christians for at least two centuries. Missionaries tried
initially to do the same. However, New World slavery™s distinctively
modern features frustrated their efforts. Caribbean slave plantations were
not governed according to the paternalistic social relations that char-
acterised slave societies in pre-modern Europe or Islam. At least according
to Eric Wolf, the West Indian plantation looked forward instead; in its
manner of centralised production under close supervision and in its effort
to maximise the amount of surplus labour that could be extracted, it
anticipated the factory system.36 The difference, however, was not that
this labour force could be worked to death and often was, at least until
the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Factory reformers bitterly com-
plained that abolitionists were indifferent to the working-class suffering at
home.37 The problem with slavery for evangelicals was not the human
suffering it caused but its failure to provide suf¬cient incentive to labour.
Slavery™s dependence on coercion instead of wages was not just wrong, it
was economically irrational. Following Adam Smith, evangelicals insisted
that slavery was an expensive form of labour and that abolition would
serve the economic interests of all concerned.38
While violence was never suf¬cient to contain the enslaved, the near
absolute conditions of their hyper-exploitation were suf¬cient to render
the missionary message less useful in the plantation colonies than at home
where employers sometimes valued evangelical workers™ temperate and
disciplined natures. Colonial planters, by contrast, believed that the
missionary message was subversive of plantation labour relations for the
grossly simple fact that conversion acknowledged the slave™s basic
humanity, something West Indian whites were not willing to concede.
Planter elites were therefore implacable opponents of even the most
conciliatory missionary efforts. However much missionaries sought to
make their peace with slavery (as their home-based employers initially
36
Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York, 1985). See
also C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins (New York, 1989), Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic:
Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, 1993).
37
Patricia Hollis, ˜Anti-Slavery and British Working-Class Radicalism in the Years of Reform™, in
Christine Bolt and Seymour Drescher (eds.), Anti-Slavery, Religion and Reform (Folkestone, Kent,
1980).
David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution 1770“1823 (Ithaca, 1975).
38
SUSAN THORNE
158
encouraged them to do), they found it impossible to work with the
planters or their parliamentary representatives. Freeing slave bodies thus
became a prerequisite of saving slave souls. And missionaries were the
anti-slavery movement™s closest observers on the colonial ground. Their
testimony lent divine imprimatur to the colonial state™s eventual eman-
cipation of those enslaved in and by the British Empire.
However, the evangelical assault on slavery was also infused with
equally abiding faith in the new science of political economy. Slavery was
to be replaced by a very speci¬c kind of freedom, the freedom to labour
for wages in the global capitalist marketplace. This article of faith was
challenged by colonial subjects™ determination to de¬ne freedom for
themselves. Resistance throughout the Empire at mid-century “ most
notably in South Africa, New Zealand and India “ paralleled the refusal
of the freed people in the Caribbean to con¬ne their freedom to wage
labour, a refusal that culminated in the rebellion in Morant Bay in 1865.39
Evangelicals professed a profound disillusionment with colonial popula-
tions who failed to show their gratitude for the many gifts they had
received from their missionary friends.
At the very least, this disillusionment passively acquiesced in the
widespread hardening of racial attitudes during the second half of the
nineteenth century. It was easier to question the humanity of rebellious
colonial subjects than to repudiate pro¬table assumptions that the invi-
sible hand governing market relations was divinely ordained. While
missionaries may not have succumbed en masse to this new racism™s allure
(if character is biologically ¬xed, then conversion would be pointless),
neither were they in a position to effectively contest it.

the age of empire
The missionary vision of empire during the ¬rst half of the nineteenth
century was predicated on an implicitly if not consistently anti-racist
universalism. It was not uncommon for missionaries or their children to
marry native converts during the opening decades of the nineteenth
century.40 The interracial intimacies that distinguished missionaries™
colonial encounters from those of most other Europeans, however, did not
preclude racial discrimination on mission stations. Missionaries had
always been constrained by their professional self-interest in their
39
Freda Harcourt, ˜Disraeli™s Imperialism, 1866“1868: A Question of Timing™, Historical Journal, 23
(1) (1980).
40
Elbourne, Blood Ground.
Religion and empire at home 159
mission™s perpetuation, and many would drag their feet when it came to
devolving authority to indigenous converts. Unfortunately, missionaries™
reluctance to promote or adequately remunerate their native Christian
converts would increase not diminish as the nineteenth century wore on.41
Even the Church Missionary Society, which had led the way in such
initiatives during the administration of Henry Venn, retreated from these
policies after his death in 1873, culminating in the forced retirement of
the ¬rst Bishop of the Niger Territories, Samuel Crowther (c. 1806“91), in
1890. The Church would not appoint another African to such a high
position until 1951.42
The reasons for this retreat from the ˜ideal of the self-governing church™
during the last third of the nineteenth century were, of course, complex.
Theology was certainly a factor in the missionary movement™s mounting
dissatisfaction with the native agency on which its operations depended.
The eighteenth-century revival was a religion of the heart, but it was also
rooted in Enlightenment rationalism. Evangelicals insisted that their faith
was the result of observed experience of God™s grace, they followed sci-
enti¬c advances with rapt attention and they were devotees of Lockeian
empiricism. Reason, they believed ˜must conclude in favour of the exis-
tence of a God who could reveal his will™.43 The Enlightened origins of the
evangelical movement had its corollary in the prominence of missionaries
among the founding fathers of so many of the academic disciplines sub-
sequently charged with the ˜science™ of colonial governance. These dis-
ciplines include anthropology and comparative religion, linguistics and
sociology, as well as the area studies. (Interestingly, the foundations of
political science alone are innocent of missionary in¬‚uence, at least so far
as I am aware.) As Peter van der Veer has argued, imperial logic has always
contrasted a West governed by reason to a motley rest ruled by religion.44
This article of Western faith is re¬‚ected in the disciplinary division of
labour. Some people™s history is studied in history departments; other™s
presumably without history are studied in anthropology departments.
This was the academy™s contribution to the cultural divide on which
imperial power was predicated. (It is probably no coincidence that the
distance between home and away, metropole and colony, is being called
41
According to Alison Fletcher, LMS missionaries were thwarted by provincial supporters and the
Society™s Board of Directors, who often supported converts against missionaries during the 1830s
and 1840s; Fletcher, ˜The London Missionary Society in Early and Mid-Victorian Britain™.
42
Porter, Religion Versus Empire?, Andrew Porter, ˜Cambridge, Keswick, and Late-Nineteenth-
Century Attitudes to Africa™, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 5 (1) (1976).
43
Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 57“60.
44
van der Veer, Imperial Encounters.
SUSAN THORNE
160
into question in projects such as ours at a moment when interdisciplinarity
is all the rage.)
The tide began to turn against Enlightenment rationality in some
evangelical quarters during the 1840s. The in¬‚uence of Romanticism found
theological expression in a new Biblical literalism and in premillenarian
predictions of Christ™s imminent second coming. Interestingly, Edward
Irving, one of the leading proponents of this ˜heightened supernaturalism™,
was a friend of Thomas Carlyle, a bitter critic of the anti-slavery movement
and chief defender of John Eyre, the Governor of Jamaica, impeached
for the brutality with which he put down the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865.45
The new fundamentalists repudiated evangelicalism™s prior emphasis on
good works in favour of an almost exclusive reliance on faith. Foreign
missions occupied an intermediary place between the two ends of this
spectrum. Missionary outreach was not opposed for its own sake. To the
contrary, this movement inspired the proliferation of faith missions during
the second half of the nineteenth century, the most notable of which was the
China Inland Mission founded by J. Hudson Taylor in 1865. These faith
missions diverged from their older mainstream or modern predecessors in
their rejection of organised outreach to home supporters. Faith missions
relied instead on faith in God (and their missionaries™ often-considerable
private means) to fund their operations abroad.
This impulse travelled to the United States, where it found fertile soil,
returning to Britain a generation later in the holiness revival led by
Americans Robert and Hannah Pearsall Smith who arrived in 1874. The
¬rst Convention ˜for the promotion of Scriptural holiness™ was held in
1875 in the quintessentially romantic setting of the Lake District village
of Keswick. In addition to its emphasis on personal holiness through
spiritual mastery, the Keswick Conventions urged the rapid evangelisa-
tion of the world as a precipitant of Christ™s second coming. The Keswick
spirit brought new recruits into foreign missionary service. University
graduates, laymen and women with varying kinds of professional exper-
tise, displaced the humble artisans and ordained clergy of the pioneering
era. Like their precursors in the faith missions, these university mis-
sionaries were disdainful of the uninformed masses in the pews at home
as well as abroad. God would fund their missionary operations; they did
not need to appeal to British widows for their mites and they looked
askance at the shortcomings of native Christians and their churches.46

45
Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 79.
46
Porter, ˜Cambridge, Keswick, and Late-Nineteenth-Century Attitudes to Africa™.
Religion and empire at home 161
The existence of a theological rationale for the missionary retreat from
convert self-governance does not, however, remove this development
from the larger history of racist thought of which it was a part. Perfec-
tionism certainly diminished Christians™ toleration of sin. However, they
applied their high standards unevenly to say the least. Faith missionaries
were far more interested in the splinters in the eyes of native Christians
than in the logs blinding their own. Of course, native Christians were not
perfect; some no doubt engaged in scandalous behaviour. So did many
European missionaries, as a cursory reading of their private correspon-
dence makes abundantly clear. However, no one drew from this a parallel
conclusion that Europeans were not ¬t to minister. Invoking the failure of
individuals in order to discriminate against a collective is never an
objective response to abstract standards. Unfortunately, the propensity for
such ethnic pro¬ling grew dramatically during the second half of the
nineteenth century. European missionaries™ growing insistence upon the
necessity of white control over missionary administration was ultimately
driven by the pursuit of professional power, not by disinterested piety.
This is underscored by the fact that not all missionaries succumbed.
There were exceptions, such as Frank Lenwood, Robert Ashton, Henry
Budden and his daughter Mary, who served with the LMS in north India.
Their outraged refusal to participate in missionary conspiracies to block
the advancement of their native Christian brethren testi¬es far more
readily to theological inspiration than does their colleagues™ collective
capitulation to racialised self-aggrandisement.47
Exceptions like the Buddens remind us that where individuals are
concerned, you just never know. The fact that the Buddens were
exceptional, however, also proved the rule. The political tide had turned
against race liberals, at least for the time being. For a variety of reasons,
missionaries found it easier to indulge in racial discrimination during the
new imperial age. Jumping on the racialist bandwagon was not suf¬cient,
however, to avert declining missionary incomes. The missionary move-
ment™s in¬‚uence at home receded during the second half of the nine-
teenth century. Patrick Dunae has shown how soldiers and explorers
displace missionary heroes in boys™ literature during the 1880s.48
Catherine Hall has charted the erosion of the missionary lobby™s in¬‚uence
even within the evangelical corridors of evangelical Dissent. No longer do
47
Rhonda Anne Semple, Missionary Women: Gender, Professionalism and the Victorian Idea of
Christian Mission (Rochester, NY, 2003).
48
Patrick A. Dunae, ˜Boys™ Literature and the Idea of Empire, 1870“1914™, Victorian Studies, 24 (1)
(1980).
SUSAN THORNE
162
foreign missions enjoy ¬rst claims on the evangelical purse. Foreign
missions do not disappear, of course, but they are overtaken by rival
causes. In terms of foreign policy, the evangelical community™s attention
shifts back to the colonies of white settlement. Nonconformity™s foreign
policy during the second half of the nineteenth century increasingly
focuses on the cause of white rights to national self-determination “ e.g.
Italy, Hungary, Ireland and South Africa.49

the rise of professional society
The mainline missionary societies retained the modernising thrust that
had characterised evangelicalism from the outset. Their emphasis shifted,
however, from the free market liberalism of the ¬rst half of the nineteenth
century to a cult of expertise. The salvation of heathen souls would
increasingly be pursued through programmes designed to improve health,
education and welfare. This social gospel was no less ˜religious™ than its
more evangelical predecessor was. Religious motives were uppermost in
the minds of its practitioners who were every bit as willing to sacri¬ce
their all in God™s service as their faith mission counterparts. Where they
diverged was in the method by which they carried the gospel message.
The widespread apathy towards organised religion in Britain was a subject
of mounting concern during the second half of the nineteenth century,
re¬‚ected in the growing support for home missions at the inevitable
expense of their foreign counterparts. Foreign missions remained one of
the favoured bene¬ciaries of evangelical largesse but their share was
considerably less than the foreign ¬eld enjoyed during the early
nineteenth century. Home missions achieved an urgency of purpose with
the rise of a potentially anti-clerical socialism, encouraging some among
the missionary minded to rethink methods that had failed to convert the
British working classes. Advocates of a more social gospel reminded
evangelicals that Christ himself had healed the sick, taught the ignorant
and fed the hungry. The church need not stand by while its secular
enemies took credit for what were essentially Christian values.50
Foreign missionary advocates of the social gospel argued that its pre-
cepts could be applied in the foreign ¬eld ˜almost as it stands™. This quote
is from Frederick Booth-Tucker™s Darkest India: A Supplement to General
49
See especially Hall, Civilising Subjects. Although note that Nonconformists would be divided on
many of these issues; Birmingham™s R. W. Dale, for example, left the Liberal Party over the Irish
Question. The LMS chose not to discuss the Boer War so as not to offend pro-Boer sensibilities.
Dale Johnson, The Changing Shape of English Nonconformity, 1825“1925 (New York, 1999).
50
Religion and empire at home 163
Booth™s ˜In Darkest England and the Way Out™ (1890). The reciprocal
in¬‚uence of the domestic and foreign ¬elds of missionary endeavour
upon one another is evident in the title of this Salvation Army tract. The
Salvation Army had modelled its original campaign on David Living-
stone™s assault on heathenism in ˜darkest Africa™, hence the title of its
founding text. The Salvationists found the social gospel methods they
evolved in darkest England readily applicable in the furthest reaches of the
British Empire, as their ministry to India™s ˜criminal™ castes seemed to
represent.51
In terms of the politics of empire as well as the domestic politics of
class for that matter, the social gospel contained contradictory potentials.
The social gospel was, at the very least, an alternative to scienti¬c racism.
The inferiority of subaltern peoples in the colonies as well as at home
was accepted, but its causes were attributed to environment not nature.
The solution lay in social reforms designed to improve a corrupting
environment.52
Some social gospellers in the Empire as at home, however, were suf-
¬ciently affected by their engagement with social problems to embrace
political solutions of an anti-colonial and/or socialist nature. Funda-
mentalist fears about the social gospel trajectory were fully realised during
the LMS™s Bangalore Controversy, involving missionary removal of the
name of Jesus from their literature because it aroused needless offence.
And the Society™s own Frank Lenwood, who served as the Society™s
Secretary during the interwar period, would resign after the publication of
Jesus, Lord or Leader? in which he questioned the divinity of Christ.53
Social gospel practice also encouraged professional specialisation.
While this closed down opportunities for the labouring classes to follow
Christ in ministry in foreign mission ¬elds, it vastly increased the
opportunities available to educated laypersons, and particularly to single
women. The earlier dependence on preaching the Word had
excluded women from professional employment as missionaries, though

51
˜The gospel of social salvation, which has so electri¬ed all classes in England, can be adopted on
this country [India] almost as it stands.™ Cited in Cox, Imperial Fault Line. See also Walker, Pulling
the Devil™s Kingdom Down.
52
These developments in the mission ¬eld exacerbated the growing tensions between liberal
proponents of the social gospel and evangelical fundamentalists at home. See Thorne,
Congregational Missions. On the professionalisation of social work, see Martha Vicinus, Independent
Women: Work and Community for Single Women, 1850“1920 (Chicago, 1985), and Anna Davin,
˜Imperialism and Motherhood™, History Workshop Journal, 5 (1978), and Robert James Scally, The
Origins of the Lloyd George Coalition: The Politics of Social-Imperialism, 1900“1918 (Princeton, 1975).
53
Thorne, Congregational Missions.
SUSAN THORNE
164
many women did the work of missionaries in the guise of dependent
wives and daughters. The social gospel, however, rested on practices that
had become the ˜natural™ preserve of respectable women: teaching, caring
for the sick, providing for the poor. By the end of the nineteenth century,
women outnumbered their male counterparts. The latter were almost as
concerned, perhaps more in some instances, to block women™s advance in
missionary administration, as they were to contain competition from
native workers.54
The professionalisation of foreign missionary work encouraged a more
circumspect relation to the colonial state. Missionary services were
increasingly secular in nature that directly impinged on the colonial social
order. Missionaries were more likely to see themselves as providing
important social services for which they sometimes received of¬cial
remuneration. Understandably enough, previously marginalised mis-
sionaries were sometimes eager to publicise this newfound of¬cial
approval. Even when critical of colonial policy they increasingly couched
their criticisms of policy from within the belly of the beast as it were.
Excesses had to be curtailed because the British Empire was divinely
ordained. Abuses of power were assailed as exceptions to a bene¬cent rule
that contradicted and even threatened the Empire™s otherwise rightful
claim to divine approval.

iron cages
In the ¬nal analysis (or at least the second half of the twentieth century),
the missionary movement chose God over mammon, Christ over nation,
accommodating itself to the rise of colonial nationalism with surprising
rapidity. Indeed, some missionaries were active supporters of nationalist
movements, echoing their forefathers™ opposition to slavery a century
before. Unfortunately, by this point missionaries™ in¬‚uence on popular
culture on their British home front had waned beyond all recognition.
The interwar period saw a dramatic reduction in church and chapel
attendance that would snowball after the Second World War. The centre
of Christianity had begun its dramatic migration from global north to
south, from Europe to its (former) colonies.
As I hope I have made clear, the nineteenth century presents a very
different picture than is visible today. Ultimately, however righteous, mis-
sionary ideals then constituted a double-edged sword that the defenders of
54
Semple, Missionary Women.
Religion and empire at home 165
empire were able to wield more successfully at home. The more passionately
missionaries condemned colonial practice in light of sacred ideals, the more
Britain™s imperial mission would be associated with the intentions of the
divine. The point for our purposes here is less the missionary failure to
realise the gospel™s universal promise than what that promise incited.
Foreign missionary organisations not only carried the Christian reli-
gion throughout the British Empire. More importantly for our purposes,
they also brought that empire home. The centrality of organised religion
in British political culture, its unrivalled social reach and its hegemonic
status as cultural practice insured that missionary utterances enjoyed a
wider and more authoritative hearing than those of perhaps any other
colonial lobby. However laughable to critics like Dickens or Carlyle, the
missionary propaganda disseminated in provincial assemblies, magic
lantern shows and missionary exhibitions would insure that ˜many a small
tradesman or rustic knows more of African or Polynesian life than
London journalists™.55 The visions of Africa and Polynesia disseminated
by the missionary movement were bathed in the stream of the most
closely held of Victorian values. It was precisely because of the ubiquity
and depth of their religious faith that the evangelicals were preoccupied
with the foreign mission ¬eld, where they found imperial considerations
if not conclusions simply unavoidable. The missionary project didn™t just
place the Empire under the skin of religious Victorians, to use Geoff
Eley™s evocative phrase; the Victorian evangelical™s own eternal salvation
was rendered dependent upon it.56 While the form that the Empire
should take was subject to considerable dispute, evangelicals found it
theologically impossible to avoid engagement of the most intense nature.
The Empire™s status at home was thus far more than ornamental in this
most religious of modern worlds.
55
London Quarterly Review, 7 (1856), 239. This was true in the United States as well; Daniel H. Bays
and Grant Wacker (eds.), The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home: Explorations in North
American Cultural History (Tuscaloosa and London, 2003), 2.
56
Geoff Eley, ˜Beneath the Skin: Or: How to Forget About the Empire without Really Trying™,
Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 3 (1) (2002).
chapter eight

Metropolitan desires and colonial connections:
re¬‚ections on consumption and empire
Joanna de Groot


There is now a body of writing and debate on the constitutive role of
colonial and imperial elements in the material and cultural as well as
political history of the United Kingdom, and on the interactions of
material, political and cultural developments in that constitutive process.1
This work has been helped by the growth of studies by economic and
social historians of consumption as a dynamic agent in processes of
material change since the eighteenth century, rather than just an effect of
changes in production or marketing. Interest in histories of consumption
in relation to those changes has converged with interest in such histories
as a feature of social and cultural change signalled in publications like the
volume edited by Brewer and Porter, Consumption and the World of
Goods, and those edited by Berg on luxury.2 Earlier studies of demand,
retailing and spreading use or ownership of different products, tended to
focus on providers (from large enterprises to corner shopkeepers) rather
than customers. Now studies of income levels or standards of living are
allied to analyses of the views, values and preferences which have in¬‚u-
enced decisions to buy or use particular goods.3 This convergence is part
of the opening up of the study of consumption across a much broader

1
See Chapter 1, above.
2
J. Brewer and R. Porter (eds.), Consumption and the World of Goods (London, 1993); M. Berg and
H. Clifford (eds.), Consumers and Luxury: Consumer Cultures in Europe 1650“1850 (Manchester,
1999); M. Berg and E. Eger (eds.), Luxury in the Eighteenth Century (London, 2002); D. Miller
(ed.), Acknowledging Consumption: A Review of New Studies (London, 1995).
See for example L. Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain 1660“1760
3

(London, 1988); C. Shammas, The Pre-industrial Consumer in England and America (Oxford, 1990);
S. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (Harmondsworth, 1985);
B. Lemire, Fashions Favourite: The Cotton Trade and the Consumer in Britain, 1660“1800 (Oxford,
1991); E. Kowaleski-Wallace, Consuming Subjects: Women, Shopping, and Business in the Eighteenth
Century (New York, 1997); W. H. Fraser, The Coming of the Mass Market 1850“1914 (London, 1981);
R. Williams, Dreamworlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth Century France (Berkeley, 1982);
J. Burnett, Plenty and Want: A Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present (London, 1989)
and Liquid Pleasures: A Social History of Drink in Modern Britain (London, 1999); J. Giles, The
Parlour and the Suburb: Domestic Identities, Class, Femininity and Modernity (London, 2004), ch. 3.

166
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 167
front. From considering it as a discrete area of practical human activity,
historians, social scientists, and cultural theorists have enlarged the range
of approaches used to understand it, shifting attention from acts of
consumption to the persons (˜consumers™) undertaking them, and
developing different insights and methods of enquiry. They draw on
work on gender, ethnicity, consciousness and identity within social and
cultural studies of both past and present.
Recent studies open three important new perspectives on the history of
consumption. Firstly, that history has been extended chronologically.
Many scholars have applied the notion of ˜consumer society™ fairly spe-
ci¬cally to the developed capitalistic societies of western Europe and
North America in the twentieth century, and recent texts still discuss it in
that framework.4 However, since the 1980s historians have explored the
role of consumption in earlier periods. Their work suggests that the
involvement of wider and more diverse social groups in the purchase of
goods available in a range of markets was a signi¬cant feature in the
history of parts of western Europe and its Atlantic colonies from the
eighteenth century. Rather than being exclusive to restricted elites, these
activities can be shown to have spread to less privileged or af¬‚uent groups.
Although there are, as Styles notes, real dangers in unre¬‚ective use of
notions of ˜consumer society/revolution™, the available evidence for
quantitative and qualitative shifts in participation in consumption alters
our understanding of its history.5 From the emergence of new styles of
household, urban and family life to the establishment of new patterns of
global exchange there is evidence of growing means and opportunity for
commercialised consumption among those with modest incomes or sta-
tus. While heeding warnings about overuse of the term ˜consumer
revolution™ “ ˜before frequent repetition secures for it a place in that used-
car lot of explanatory vehicles reserved for historical concepts that break
down directly after purchase by the passing scholar™6 “ this evidence
indicates an important shift. Signi¬cantly for the discussions in this book,
much of it relates to ˜colonial™ products.
Secondly, consumption is now studied in a more holistic and active
way. Recognising that products have both physical and social properties,
so that for example food, in Barthes™ phrase, ˜has a constant tendency to

4
R. Bocock, Consumption (London, 1993); D. Miller, Consumption (London, 2001).
5
J. Styles, ˜Manufacturing, Consumption, and Design in Eighteenth Century England™, in Brewer
and Porter, Consumption, 530“5.
6
J. deVries, ˜Between Purchasing Power and the World of Goods: Understanding the Household
Economy in Early Modern Europe™, in Brewer and Porter, Consumption, 107.
JOANNA DE GROOT
168
transform itself into a situation™, historians of consumption now consider
the use and exchange of products from that perspective.7 As Brewer and
Porter observe, their task is to ˜investigate in the most comprehensive way
the links connecting this material culture . . . to the political and social
systems with which it has become symbiotic™, and to consider its ˜value in
interpreting the central transformations in the histories of Europe and
America over the last several centuries, not just in economic history or the
history of material culture, but across a far wider spectrum of human
affairs™.8 Such a task implies a number of ˜re-visionings™ of the notion of
consumption. It considers consuming activities not just as outcomes of
movements in prices and incomes, but as embedded in the whole range
of economic activity. It repositions consumption as an active element in the
complex processes of material change, interacting with labour, skill and
entrepreneurship, physical and ¬nancial resources, and forms of organisa-
tion of investment and production. It attends to relationships between the
exchange, purchase and use of goods and the social relations, cultural forms
and political institutions shaping those activities, and therefore to the
interaction of material, political and cultural aspects of past human
experience. To consider the role of corner shops in the evolution of
working-class or immigrant communities and households in Salford or east
London, or of clothing and entertainment in ethnic, gender, class and youth
cultures in Birmingham, Manchester or Lewisham, illumines larger political
and social histories of those topics.9 Histories of the politics and economics
of famine and agriculture in nineteenth-century Ireland have opened up
similar stories of colonial and consumer activities.10 This approach to
consumption has imperial and global dimensions, whether in the role of
eighteenth-century coffee houses in making the masculinised spaces of
˜modern™ political and commercial activity, or of exotic and racialised
images in marketing everyday twentieth-century products.
Thirdly, extended and interactive approaches to the study of con-
sumption and its histories have been deepened by the use of multi- or
7
See B. Fine, ˜From Political Economy to Consumption™, in D. Miller (ed.), Acknowledging
Consumption (London, 1995), 144; R. Barthes, ˜Towards a Psychology of Consumption™ (1961),
repr. in R. Forster and O. Ranum (eds.), Food and Drink in History (Baltimore, 1979), 15.
8
J. Brewer and R. Porter (eds.), ˜Introduction™, in Consumption, 3“4.
9
deVries ˜Between Purchasing Power and the World of Goods™, 85“132; C. Chinn, They Worked All
Their Lives: Women of the Urban Poor in England 1880“1939 (Manchester, 1988) and Poverty Amidst
Prosperity: The Urban Poor in England 1834“1914 (Manchester, 1995); A. Davies, Workers™ Worlds:
Cultures and Communities in Manchester and Salford 1880“1939 (Manchester, 1992); L. Young, Middle
Class Culture in the Nineteenth Century (London, 2003); A. Kidd and D. Nicholls (eds.), Gender, Civic
Culture and Consumerism: Middle Class Identity in Britain 1800“1940 (Manchester, 1999).
10
See C. Kinealy™s chapter in this volume.
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 169
cross-disciplinary insights. One of the most important effects of this has
been to consider consumption as not only meeting particular needs, but as
expressing social and cultural meanings. The work of Bourdieu on the
establishment of social boundaries and identities through the use of
material goods or space, and that of Barthes on leisure and material
culture, bring theoretical and cultural readings to supplement anthro-
pological work on the symbolic social meanings which humans attach to
acquiring, using and exchanging material objects.11 While acts of con-
sumption have physical and practical dimensions, they also express values,
identities and the contests around them. Langer argues that the capacity
to create and meet needs for symbolic meaning in the world is as much
part of the human condition as the capacity to satisfy bodily needs for
food, warmth and shelter, or personal needs for security, intimacy and
learning. De Certeau draws attention to the productive work of those who
see, hear or read the media, choose goods in a shop, adopt religious rituals
or respond to teachers, seeing them as opportunities for subaltern agency
within dominant economic, cultural or political structures.12 Consuming
behaviours can be understood as cultural practices or languages involving
human creativity as well as material activities. Histories of the tea room
as a place for respectable public female and family consumption, or the
political role of tobacco smoking (˜smoke-¬lled rooms™), or the sugar
boycott as a strand in anti-slavery campaigns, are enriched by this per-
spective. Signalling respectability and social hierarchy around a tea table,
or the desirability of goods by association with patriotism, virtue and
status, or political agency and shared identity by using particular products,
were integral to the whole process of consumption with its global and
colonial dimensions. Such enlarged views of consumption show how it
involves human agency rather than just being a symptom or effect of other
actions, and that it has political and cultural, as well as material, bases.
This more developed view of consumption has obvious relevance for
histories of empire, and in particular for the notion of the Empire in
Britain. British imperial history, while partly a story of competition
between European states and its associated strategic interests, and of
11
P. Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. R. Nice (Cambridge, 1977); R. Barthes, Empire
of Signs (London, 1983) and The Fashion System (New York, 1983); see also M. Douglas and B.
Isherwood (eds.), The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption (rev. edn)
(London, 1996); A. Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things (Cambridge, 1986).
12
S. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key (Cambridge, MA, 1951), 45, 53; M. de Certeau, The Practice of
Everyday Life, trans. S. Randall (Berkeley, 1984), xii“xiii. Like Bourdieu, who used re¬‚ections
about Kabyle culture in French-ruled Algeria, de Certeau draws on colonial relationships in Latin
America to develop his propositions.
JOANNA DE GROOT
170
overseas settlement and investment, has equally importantly been a his-
tory of the role of commerce and imported products within Britain. The
role of spices and textiles in the earliest imperial ventures, of consumer
goods from colonial plantations (tobacco, sugar, coffee) since the eight-
eenth century, of tea, wheat and cocoa since the nineteenth century, and of
Antipodean meat and butter as well as petrol from the British mandate in
Iraq in the twentieth century, established direct links between consump-
tion and empire. More indirectly, consumer products like textiles, soap
and clothing since the nineteenth century or bicycle and car tyres in the
twentieth century made extensive use of materials produced in colonial
settings (Indian and Egyptian cotton, Australian and South African wool,
West African palm oil, Malaysian rubber). While access to any of these
varied signi¬cantly across time, place and social groups, the well-docu-
mented growth in the use of consumer goods within British society from
the eighteenth century onwards had a large ˜colonial™ dimension.
One paradox explored in this chapter is how the powerful everyday
presence of colonial products in metropolitan lives was both pervasive
(the role of sugar, tea or tobacco in mass consumption) and invisible (the
unseen commercial and exploitative structures of colonial power or
labour which delivered the products). Sometimes contrasts and links
between locations of colonial production and domestic consumption
became powerful images in the marketing of some consumer goods.
Similarly, contradictions created by the entangled commitments of
British colonialism to commerce, dominance and progress became poli-
ticised around sugar and slavery, free trade, tariffs on consumer goods and
competition between ˜empire-produced™ and other imports. The mean-
ings of everyday activities like dressing, eating or cleaning were part of
experiences and ideas of home, community, family and gender roles and
differences, but also had powerful, if implicit, associations with patri-
otism (the use of ˜empire™ goods) and exotic pleasures (the glamour of
familiar tropical or oriental products). As the image of milk and cocoa
together in Cadbury™s Dairy Milk chocolate advertising suggests, it is the
combination of the domestic (indigenous rural purity) with the colonial
(tropical exotic ¬‚avour) which had cultural power and impact.

interactions of colonies and metropole
In the colonial dynamic of histories of consumption the creation and
movement of products became a constitutive element in relationships
between the British and the areas of conquest, settlement and commercial
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 171
or political control which they established beyond Europe, contributing to
new forms of culture and consciousness. By tracking the entry of consumer
goods with colonial origins into general use in the UK, it is possible to
explore the processes whereby the British developed both intimate and
extended links with a growing number of colonies, links based on inter-
actions between capital and consumption. New household and workplace
habits shaped, and were shaped by, the evolution of plantation slavery and
European settlement in the Atlantic colonies, the structuring of the East
India Company™s trade and territorial expansion in Asia, and the growing
in¬‚uence and institutionalisation of these developments in the commer-
cial, ¬nancial, social and political lives of people in Britain.
The qualitative shift in British consumption patterns from the eight-
eenth century onward involved the expanded and regular use of imported
products by various income groups. During the eighteenth century,
tobacco, sugar and tea, originally specialised luxury products, became
articles in widespread use (using Shammas™ benchmark of use by over 25
per cent of the adult population).13 Tobacco exports from British colonial
settlements to the UK rose from around 30 million lb in 1700 to about 76
million lb in 1800. Consumption of sugar produced on colonial planta-
tions was 4 lb per head in the 1690s and 24 lb per head by the 1790s. The
annual consumption of tea imported through the largest British eight-
eenth-century colonial trading enterprise, the East India Company, rose
from about 0.5 lb per head in the 1730s to over 2 lb per head in the 1790s.
Evidence for a steady fall in prices, and for the growing dominance of
these products in the sales of grocers across the country, suggests that tea
and sugar consumption was spreading across the social spectrum. Both
moralising commentators and analytical observers of lower-class diet in
the later eighteenth century re¬‚ected on the growing presence of these
commodities.14 Commitments to pro¬table production and trade in these
products lay at the core of the development of the Atlantic colonies of
settlement, and also of the territorial and political construction of the
colonies of commerce in the Indian subcontinent, and later Hong Kong,
West Africa and south-east Asia. Other areas of food production for UK
consumers (wheat, meat, fruit, dairy produce) played a role in the
13
C. Shammas, ˜Changes in English and Anglo-American Consumption from 1550“1800™, in Brewer
and Porter, Consumption, 177“205: 179, 199, 202 n. 5.
14
See Mintz, Sweetness and Power, ch. 3; J. Goodman, Tobacco in History (London, 1993); Shammas,
Pre-industrial Consumer; J. Hanway, Letters on the Importance of the Rising Generation of the
Labouring Part of our Fellow Subjects (London, 1767); D. Forbes, Some Consideration on the Present
State of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1794), 7; Sir F. Morton Eden, The State of the Poor (London, 1797),
vol. I, 496“7; D. MacPherson, The History of the European Commerce with India (London, 1812), 132.
JOANNA DE GROOT
172
development of colonies of European settlement in Australasia, South
Africa and Canada in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By 1913 UK
consumers obtained 80% of their wheat and 45% of their meat and dairy
produce from foreign, including colonial, sources.15
Alongside this shift in food consumption there was comparable expan-
sion in the market for cotton and cotton-based textiles, initially fabrics
imported from India, and then, following restrictions on those imports,
English-made calico, fustian and cotton using imported raw materials. The
appeal of light, fast-dyed, colourful, washable Indian cottons spread across
the social spectrum, generating a demand which continued after their
importation was banned from the 1720s. British manufacturers of dyes and
textiles applied themselves to the production of equivalent goods to meet
these established preferences and desires. Lemire™s work shows how the
ownership of these fabrics was not con¬ned to an af¬‚uent minority, and
how the challenge of Indian textiles stimulated productive innovations in
the UK as textile production and printing emulated and replaced eastern
imports, in an expanding market. As she says, ˜East Indian textiles were an
archetype of popular consumer merchandise . . . [which] permanently
changed the dynamics of textile production and sale . . . altering forever
western decor and western dress.™16
This initial transformation of consumption to include signi¬cant
quantities of colonial goods continued and diversi¬ed. The emergence of
an independent USA removed the main sources of tobacco and raw
cotton production from the British colonial orbit, although the impor-
tance of India as a supplementary source for cotton played an important
role in the British relationship to India into the twentieth century
(Indian raw cotton being 15“20 per cent of Indian exports between the
1870s and the 1930s). Cotton production was also signi¬cant in British
involvement in Egypt from the 1820s, which became actual governance
there (and in the Sudan, another source of cotton) between the 1880s and
the Second World War. The levelling off of per capita tobacco con-
sumption at around 2 lb annually during the nineteenth century changed
with the rapid expansion of a new smokers™ product, the cigarette, which
grew faster in the UK than elsewhere from the 1880s. This marked a

15
R. Floud and D. McCloskey, The Economic History of Britain (Cambridge, 1994), vol. I, 303.
16
Lemire, Fashion™s Favourite, 94“108, and ˜Fashioning Cottons: Asian Trade, Domestic Industry and
Consumer Demand 1660“1780™, in D. Jenkins, Cambridge History of Western Textiles (Cambridge,
2003), 493“512; S. Chapman and S. Chassagne, European Textile Printers in the Eighteenth Century
(London, 1981); M. Berg, ˜Manufacturing the Orient: Asian Commodities and European Industry
1500“1800™, in Prodotti e technicie d™oltramare nelle economie Europee (Prato, 1997).
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 173
gender shift in tobacco use, as women took to cigarettes, as well as a
general rise in tobacco consumption, which took 4% of consumer
spending in 1939 compared to 2% in 1913. It is notable that it was in the
later nineteenth and twentieth centuries that ˜colonial™ sources of tobacco
in Egypt and ˜Rhodesia™ were actively developed to supplement US
sources. In the latter case, vigorous campaigns to promote an ˜empire
grown™ product developed between the two world wars, like similar
promotions of Kenyan coffee or Australian butter.17
These processes need to be situated in the global material structures
through which they functioned. Circuits of capital, exchange and con-
sumption depended upon and in¬‚uenced one another. Machinery made
in Glasgow supported sugar re¬ning in the West Indies and sugar and
syrup consumption in the UK, just as the tools, guns and chains pro-
duced in the English Midlands supported the capture, transport and
control of slave labour upon which sugar production depended. During
the nineteenth century these circuits were expanded and elaborated,
whether through use of UK ¬nance and technology to build the railways
to transport Canadian wheat, Egyptian cotton, South African fruit and
wool or Indian tea for UK consumption, or the ˜informal™ dominance of
UK investment and trading interests in Argentinian meat production,
Iranian oil and Anatolian opium. They were supported by ¬nancial and
commercial systems linking the stages of the circuit through investment
and credit, and by the ship building on which trade depended, and which
was a key industry in the UK in modern times. Historians have traced
complex relations between demand for consumer goods, formal and
informal imperial power, and the modernising of manufacture, trade and
¬nance which underpinned the industrial and commercial transforma-
tions in the UK after 1700.18

On cotton see P. Nightingale, Trade and Empire in Western India 1784“1806 (Cambridge, 1970);
17

P. Harnetty, Imperialism and Free Trade: Lancashire and India in the 19th Century (Manchester, 1972);
A. Silver, Manchester Men and Indian Cotton (Manchester, 1966); R. Owen, Cotton and the Egyptian
Economy 1820“1914 (Oxford, 1969); on tobacco see Goodman, Tobacco in History; M. Havinden,
Colonialism and Development: Britain and its Tropical Colonies 1850“1960 (London, 1993);
S. Constantine, The Making of British Colonial Policy 1914“1940 (London, 1984) and ˜˜˜Bringing the
Empire Alive™™: The Empire Marketing Board and Imperial Propaganda, 1926“33™, in J. MacKenzie
(ed.), Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester, 1986), 192“231; B. Alford, W. D. and H. O. Wills
and the Development of the UK Tobacco Industry (London, 1973); see also A. Ramamurthy, Imperial
Persuaders: Images of Africa and Asia in British Advertising (Manchester, 2003).
18
See P. O™Brien and S. Engerman, ˜Exports and the Growth of the British Economy™, in B. Solow
(ed.), Slavery and the Rise of the Atlantic System (Cambridge, 1991); R. Davis, The Industrial
Revolution and English Overseas Trade (Leicester, 1979); D. Richardson, ˜The Slave Trade, Sugar,
and Economic Growth™, in B. Solow and S. Engerman (eds.), British Capitalism and Caribbean
Slavery (Cambridge, 1987); R. Austen and W. Smith, ˜Private Tooth Decay as Public Economic
JOANNA DE GROOT
174
Most pervasive of these developments were those associated with sugar
and tea. The emergence of beet sugar and the ending of slavery on West
Indian sugar plantations placed older colonial structures of production and
trade in a new competitive situation, further modi¬ed by the rise of colonial
production centres elsewhere (Natal, Australia, Mauritius). Similarly the
shifting patterns of British imperial power in India, as the commercial
monopoly of the East India Company was replaced and its political
authority brought under government control and abolished in 1857, had
their effects on the provision of tea for UK consumers. The tea trade with
China was opened to competition from 1834, while continuing and
growing demand for tea encouraged the development of production in
India and Sri Lanka. By 1900 ˜Assam™ and ˜Ceylon™ teas accounted for over
90% of UK tea imports, and those from China 10%, reversing the pro-
portions of thirty years earlier and embedding tea consumption in the
structures of imperial authority, investment and trade. Per capita sugar
consumption rose from around 18 lb annually in the ¬rst decade of the
nineteenth century to 50 lb in the 1850s, 90 lb by the end of the century, and
100 lb in the later 1930s, while per capita tea consumption rose from 2 lb
annually in the early nineteenth century to 6 lb at its end, and 8 lb by 1940.19
Such quantitative markers indicate more complex processes and rela-
tionships embedding colonial consumption in Britain. Just as the
potential for mass consumption could be realised only through the
creation of retail and marketing networks reaching more and more
communities, so actual consumption practices involved the reshaping of
everyday life. Evidence that tea-and-bread-based meals ¬‚avoured with
sweet products (sugar, jam, syrup) became predominant in poorer peo-
ple™s diets in the nineteenth century also shows the accessibility of the
products in question. This was the effect both of cheaper production and
transport, brought about by the restructuring of labour, investment,
taxation and transport in the colonies and the UK, and of the evolution
of new forms of retailing in British slums and suburbs.20 At one end of

Virtue: The Slave-Sugar Triangle, Consumerism, and European Industrialisation™, Social Science
History, 14 (1990), 95“115.
19
On sugar see N. Deer, The History of Sugar (London, 1949“50); Mintz, Sweetness and Power; on tea
see D. Forrest, Tea for the British (London, 1973) and A Hundred Years of Ceylon Tea (London,
1967); P. Grif¬ths, History of the Indian Tea Industry (London, 1967).
20
On diet see S. Rowntree, Poverty: A Study of Town Life (London, 1901) and Poverty and Progress
(London, 1941); M. Pember Reeves, Round About a Pound a Week (London, 1913); J. B. Orr, Food,
Health, and Income (London, 1937); Burnett, Plenty and Want and Liquid Pleasures; D. Oddy and
D. Miller, The Making of the Modern British Diet (London, 1976); on retailing see P. Mathias,
Retailing Revolution (London, 1967); J. Benson and G. Shaw (eds.), The Evolution of Retail Systems
c. 1800“1914 (Leicester, 1992); J. Benson, The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain 1880“1980
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 175
the process the ¬‚ow of colonial products into consumer baskets was
characterised by consolidation, oligopoly and vertical integration in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At the other end distribution and
selling linked small shops into marketing networks in which the ˜brand
name™ (Players and Wills cigarettes, Keiller and Crosse and Blackwell
jams, Brooke Bond and Lipton teas, Tate and Lyle sugar and syrup) was
associated with affordable and accessible products sold in affordable
quantities. By 1911 branches of the Co-op and chain stores accounted for
16% of all shops, rising to 19% by 1939.21 The imperial connections of the
burgeoning retail grocery trade ran through chains like Lipton™s and the
Home and Colonial Trading Association, which established over 100
shops and 4,000 agencies based on tea and margarine sales between its
founding in 1885 and the end of the century.
These developments in the material fabric of daily life had wider social
roles and meanings. The sweetened cup of tea which came to play a
central role in British diets also shaped patterns of work and social
activity, and many public and private rituals. The tea break and the tea
shop, like drinking tea at family events such as Christmas or funerals, and
at gatherings of neighbours, clubs or charity organisations, became
established forms of social interaction, workplace life and personal
refreshment. They offered a surge of warmth and calories which alleviated
distress, lubricated social events and provided a focus for respectable
leisure and entertainment, or welcome breaks in daily work. The social
signi¬cance of tea consumption included tea drinking as an aid to tem-
perance, invitations to ˜tea™ as settings for social exchange, emulation and
competition, tea as part of employees™ wages, or as the ˜break™ or canteen
provision offered by employers, and ˜tea™ as the term for the meal at the
end of the working day in many working-class homes. The role of
tobacco smoking in work breaks, leisure time or sociable settings, and the
use of ˜sweets™ as rewards and incentives for children, similarly gave acts of
material consumption personal, social and moral meanings. Just as there
were complex structures of production and distribution behind the corner
shops and grocery stores which provided daily access to colonial con-
sumer goods, so consumption was enmeshed with family, social and
household relationships. Women™s decisions about weekly budgeting,
contact with neighbours (˜borrowing a cup of sugar™) or sociability, and

(London, 1994); J. Jefferys, Retail Trading in Britain 1850“1950 (Cambridge, 1954); Fraser, The
Coming of the Mass Market.
21
Benson, The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain, 62.
JOANNA DE GROOT
176
the association of pubs and music halls with smoking, like that of the tea
shop with modest and respectable public eating and drinking, were quite
particular classed and gendered consumer practices.
The histories of these products which became everyday components
of British lives are paralleled by others which established similar, if less
pervasive, links between British consumers and empire. West African palm
oil and cocoa in soaps, candles, drinks and confectionery, Australian wool
on women™s knitting needles, Malaysian rubber for tyres, clothes and
condoms, New Zealand butter, or Kenyan coffee competing with that
from Brazil, are instances of such links. Furthermore ˜the Empire™ itself
became a consumer product. The readership for narratives of imperial
travel, conquest, adventure and settlement, which began with educated
elites in the eighteenth century, spread to wider middle-class audiences
during the nineteenth century, and to literature aimed at children by its
end.22 Kipling, Rider Haggard and Henty are just iconic and successful
examples of a whole spectrum of ˜empire writing™ in ¬ction, journalism,
verse and travel narrative, as well as missionary journals, pamphlets and
lantern shows.23 Depictions of glamorous, comic or threatening ¬gures
of colonial people (˜wily™ or sexy orientals, ˜unfortunate™ slaves, loyal or
dangerous Indians, ˜sambos™, Zulu warriors) in plays, cartoons, panto-
mime, music hall and other forms of entertainment brought a whole cast
of imperial characters for purchase and consumption in the mainstream of
British culture.
Similar images were used by advertisers to market actual colonial goods
and to associate pride in empire with other products, for example by
attaching the term ˜empire™ to those products. Just as British tobacco
22
On travel see D. Spurr, The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing,
and Imperial Administration (Durham, NC, 1993); M. Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and
Transculturation (London, 1992); L. Franey, Victorian Travel Writing and Imperial Violence
(London, 2003); E. Said, Orientalism (London, 1978); on ¬ction see P. Brantlinger, Rule of
Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism (Ithaca, 1988); D. Bivona, Desire and Contradiction:
Imperial Visions and Domestic Debates in Victorian Literature (Manchester, 1990) and British
Imperial Literature 1870“1940: Writing and the Administration of Empire (Cambridge, 1998); on
children™s literature see M. Logan, Narrating Africa: George Henty and the Fiction of Empire (New
York, 1999); J. Richards (ed.), Imperialism and Juvenile Literature (Manchester, 1989); J. Bristow,
Empire Boys (London, 1991).
A. Johnston, Missionary Writing and Empire, 1800“1860 (Cambridge, 2003); C. Hall, ˜Missionary
23

Stories: Gender and Ethnicity in England in the 1830s and 1840s™, in her White, Male, and Middle
Class (Cambridge, 1992) and ˜˜˜From Greenland™s Icy Mountains . . . to Afric™s Golden Sand™™:
Ethnicity, Race and Nation in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England™, Gender and History, 5 (1993),
212“30; S. Thorne, Congregational Missions and the Making of an Imperial Culture in Nineteenth-
Century England (Stanford, 1999) and ˜˜˜The Conversion of Englishmen and the Conversion of the
World Inseparable™™: Missionary Imperialism and the Language of Class in Early Industrial
Britain™, in F. Cooper and A. Stoler (eds.), Tensions of Empire (Berkeley, 1997).
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 177
traders signalled their reorganisation to confront American competition
at the start of the twentieth century by allying in the Imperial Tobacco
Company, so other entrepreneurs marketed empire typewriters, or used
images and stories of empire to sell Eno™s Salts, Pear™s Soap, Beecham™s
Pills or Bovril.24 Between the 1880s and the 1930s, railway companies
named locomotives after dominions, colonies and other imperial refer-
ences, as well as after royal personages, military heroes, classical and Sha-
kespearian characters, and famous battles. Railways, which were a key
feature in the expansion and manifestation of power ˜out™ in the Empire,
had imperial associations ˜at home™ in Britain.25 The popular name
˜Empire™ for music halls, theatres, dance halls and cinemas between the
1880s and 1930s signalled the new and self-conscious public cultural pre-
sence of an imperial identity accompanying new political concerns with
empire in the era of Boer and Afghan Wars, Irish and Indian nationalism,
and the rhetoric of Disraeli, Chamberlain and Churchill. Empire ˜sold™
aids to pleasure and self-improvement, everyday products and high ideals,
newspapers and medicines, pride in modern technology, fun and fantasy. It
literally and ¬guratively marked the growth of ˜modern™ consumer prac-
tices from the development of new working-class diets to the commer-
cialisation of services and leisure, and the marketing of culture and politics.

interactions of the ˜material™ and the ˜cultural™
The visible presence of ˜imperial™ images and references across a spectrum
of consumption wider than that of particular colonial products suggests
that the ˜consumption of empire™ was a matter of more than material
histories of the ¬‚ow of West Indian sugar, Assam tea, Rhodesian tobacco,
Middle Eastern petroleum or Australian wool into British households. As
noticed already, the use of colonial products met a variety of needs and
social relations as well as satisfying dietary and other practical demands. It
therefore makes sense to examine consumption as a set of practices in
which cultural meaning and creativity combine with material interests
and social exchanges. Such practices involved the expression or manip-
ulation of choice, desire and aspiration, and played a part in the shaping
of human relationships and identities and of social structures and insti-
tutions, as well as satisfying hunger and other material needs. A fuller

See D. and G. Hindley, Advertising in Victorian England 1837“1901 (London, 1972); Alford, W. D.
24

and H. O. Wills, 258“77.
25
H. Casserley, British Locomotive Names of the Twentieth Century (London, 1963), 19“20, 21, 58,
79“80, 97, 122. I thank Peter Breeze for this reference.
JOANNA DE GROOT
178
analysis of the ˜consumption of empire™ should approach it as a composite
of material and cultural elements with combined, uneven and shifting
interactions.
These interactions and their imperial dimensions can be explored
through speci¬c examples. The adoption of new consumer products with
colonial origins (sugar, tea, cotton clothing) in Britain during the eight-
eenth and nineteenth centuries produced lively comment on the spread of
those products to poorer, less privileged sections of society, and anxious
satirical depictions of the new phenomenon of upper- and middle-class
women presiding over social events centred on the consumption of tea.
For some (including tea enthusiasts like Dr Johnson), new lower-class
consumption patterns expressed a dubious spirit of equality and emula-
tion, unravelling old distinctions of rank and status based on the ˜proper™
restriction of access to ˜luxuries™ which, from the mid-eighteenth century,
were being used by ˜the common people™. For others, the expense and time
involved in the preparation of meals consisting of sweetened tea with bread
and butter and the time taken up in ˜defamation and malicious tea-table
chat™ undermined lower-class industry and economy “ and lower-class
girls™ attractiveness (˜the very chambermaids have lost their bloom by
drinking tea™). For yet others the appearance of new diet patterns among
the poor was evidence of their dif¬culties amid the challenges of a com-
mercial capitalistic society with its competing interests of trade, taxation,
production and social stability.26
In the comments of analysts like Young and Eden in the late eighteenth
century, of political and medical commentators and statisticians in the
mid-nineteenth century, and of social observers in the twentieth century,
the association of tea and sugar with the changing and distinctive patterns
of working-class life was a dominant theme. It could be seen as a marker
of the boundary between relative and absolute poverty, as a measure of
dietary preference (˜the acquired habits and tastes of the people™), as
women and children™s compensation for protein and fat that went to
male wage earners, or as a snatched moment of comfort with a calorie
boost during a working day.27 Modern historians argue that the adoption
26
J. Hanway, ˜Essay on Tea™, in his Journal of Eight Days Journey (London, 1767); D. Davies, The
Case of the Labourers in Husbandry (London, 1795), 35“9.
27
Arthur Young, A Farmer™s Tour Through the East of England (London 1771), vol. II, 180“1, vol. IV,
352; Eden, The State of the Poor, 496“7, 770; Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England
in 1844; Burnett, Plenty and Want, 56“9, looks at the 1840™s budget analyses of W. Neild;
E. Smith, Practical Dietaries for Families, Schools and the Labouring Classes (London, 1875), 99;
Rowntree, Poverty; Pember Reeves, Round About a Pound, 103; J. B. Orr, Food, Health, and Income
(London, 1936); W. Crawford and C. Broadley, The People™s Food (London 1938).
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 179

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