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. 8
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See Zadie Smith, White Teeth (London, 2000) for a more optimistic representation of this
inheritance.
c h ap t e r t e n

New narratives of imperial politics in the
nineteenth century
Antoinette Burton


Parliament cares about India little more than the Cabinet. The
English people, too, are very slow and very careless about everything
that does not immediately affect them. They cannot be excited to
any effort of India except under the pressure of some great calamity,
and when that calamity is removed they fall back into their usual
state of apathy. ( John Bright, 18601)

The sentiment of empire is innate in every Briton.
(William Gladstone, 18782)

The trouble with the English is that their history happened overseas,
so they don™t know what it means.
(Salman Rushdie, 19893)

For historians of the nineteenth century, the question is, arguably, not
whether empire had an impact on domestic life and experience, but how.
The realm of high politics is a domain where those in¬‚uences are most
evident, though the role of imperialism in shaping it has received com-
paratively little attention. If historians have been slow to see and to
recognise the impact of empire on ˜domestic™ history, Britons who followed
high politics from the 1830s until just after Queen Victoria™s death in 1901
could not have ignored the ways in which imperial questions impinged
upon and helped to shape Victorian democracy across the nineteenth
century. Swing rioters and other ˜criminals™ were exiled to Australia; opium
debates made their way to the ¬‚oor of the House; and Irishmen and
women together with former Caribbean slaves were involved in Chartist
agitations “ whose spokesmen drew in turn on metaphors of slavery to

1
Quoted in Mary Cumpston, ˜Some Early Indian Nationalists and their Allies in the British
Parliament, 1851“1906™, English Historical Review, 76 (1961), 280.
2
William Ewart Gladstone, ˜England™s Mission™, Nineteenth Century, 4 (1878), 560“84.
3
Quoted in Homi K. Bhabha, ˜Dissemination: Time, Narrative and the Margins of the Modern
State™, in Bhabha (ed.), Nation and Narration (London, 1990), 317.

212
New narratives of imperial politics in the nineteenth century 213
inform their political demands.4 White English middle-class women
entered debates about citizenship through their interest in the plight of
slaves and colonial peoples “ an interest that laid the groundwork for
Victorian feminism.5 Whether the issue was abolition or the extension of
democracy to the new middle classes, parliamentary statesmen and social
reformers understood the linkages between domestic concerns and imperial
problems, in part because they viewed empire as a constitutive part of
national character, national life and national political culture.
Political reform at the highest level was carried out in the context of
tremendous public debate about imperial questions. As Catherine Hall
has shown, the years leading up to the passage of the Great Reform Act “
which did away with ˜rotten™ boroughs and expanded the electorate by
approximately 60 per cent across the United Kingdom in 1832 “ were
preceded by elaborate discussions of citizenship in a variety of ˜colonial™
contexts.6 Ireland was one. Although Britons did not typically use the
word ˜colony™ for Ireland at the time, in Hall™s view it was a colony ˜in
that Irish Catholics in Ireland were treated as a conquered people and
English Protestants in Ireland acted as colonial settlers™.7 Religious dif-
ference carried with it overtones of racial difference, and Irish Catholics
were politically disenfranchised as well as culturally subordinated. Daniel
O™Connell™s work with the Catholic Association and especially his
speeches to parliament placed civil rights for the Catholic Irish at the
heart of political debate and made it clear that the peace and stability of
the whole of the United Kingdom was in peril if political emancipation at
the periphery closest in was not forthcoming. Unrest in Upper and Lower
Canada in this period added to the sense that the Empire was in crisis.8
Jamaica was another very visible colonial context in which debates about
political reform occurred in the 1830s. Parliament was preoccupied with
events in Jamaica in the two years leading up to the passage of the 1832
Reform Act, especially in the wake of the December 1831 Christmas

4
For the latter see Richard Oastler, ˜Slavery in Yorkshire™, in Rosemary Mundhenk and Luann
Fletcher (eds.), Victorian Prose: An Anthology (New York, 1999), 9“11.
See Clare Midgley, Women Against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780“1870 (London, 1992) and
5

Antoinette Burton, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women and Imperial Culture,
1865“1915 (Chapel Hill, 1994).
6
Catherine Hall, ˜The Rule of Difference: Gender, Class and Empire in the Making of the 1832
Reform Act™, in Ida Blom, Karen Hagemann and Catherine Hall (eds.), Gendered Nations:
Nationalisms and Gender Order in the Long Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 2000), 107“35.
7
Ibid., 112. See also Stephen Howe, Ireland and Empire: Colonial Legacies in Irish History and Culture
(Oxford, 2000).
8
See Lord Durham, ˜Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839)™, in Arthur Berridale
Keith, Selected Speeches and Documents in British Colonial Policy, 1763“1917 (Oxford, 1929).
A N T O I N E T T E B U RT O N
214
rebellion, in which free black men and women sought to overthrow
slavery and were brutally repressed.9 As in Ireland, the language of civil
rights and the threat to private property in Jamaica set the stage for a
quite conservative Reform Bill in 1832, one which enfranchised about
400,000 men in the UK but which left the majority of British men and
all British women without the parliamentary vote.
The 1830s was a decade characterised by ˜liberal™ reforms shaped by
imperial pressures, including the Act that abolished slavery in 1833. Indeed,
for all the allusions to their connections across the whole of the nineteenth
century in scholarship from the 1940s onwards, the direct and indirect
connections between imperialism and the slave trade have yet to be fully
documented.10 In any case, some of the men involved at the highest
levels of domestic reform were also involved in promoting legislation that
would have a huge impact on colonisers and colonised alike. One such
man was Thomas Babington Macaulay, who famously supported the 1832
Act by arguing that Britain must ˜reform to preserve™.11 Just three years
later he took quite a different tack when he suggested that Government
of India funds for Instruction in Arabic and Sanskrit should not be pre-
served “ and offered the equally famous opinion that ˜we must at present
do our best to form . . . a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour,
but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect™.12 Debates
about citizenship and belonging in the nation-empire persisted into
the 1840s, once again with Ireland and Jamaica at the fore. O™Connell
continued to press for Irish freedoms, while two of the century™s most
famous men of letters, Thomas Carlyle and John Stuart Mill, engaged in
heated public debate about the impact of the West Indian ˜Negro ques-
tion™ on issues such as labour, virtue and civilisation. Nor was empire
merely debated at the rhetorical level. British imperial ambitions extended
to China and Afghanistan in the 1840s. Contests with Russia over the
limits of British imperial interests led to a war in the Crimea (1853“5),
which in turn led some commentators like Richard Cobden to re¬‚ect on
the extent to which imperial ambition could, or should, de¬ne national

9
Hall, ˜The Rule of Difference,™ 118“19 and Tom Holt, The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and
Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832“1938 (Baltimore, 1992).
10
Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill, NC, 1944/1994).
11
Thomas Babington Macaulay, ˜A Speech Delivered to the House of Commons, 2nd March 1831™,
in The Works of Lord Macaulay: Speeches, Poems and Miscellaneous Writings (London, 1898),
407“26.
Thomas Babington Macaulay, Macaulay™s Minutes Of Education in India in the Years 1835, 1836,
12

and 1837 and Now First Collected From Records in The Department of Public Instruction (London,
1862).
New narratives of imperial politics in the nineteenth century 215
greatness.13 Others, like William Greg in 1851, posed an equally provocative
question about the ¬nancial viability of empire: ˜Shall We Retain Our
Colonies?™14 Though it was not the only uprising to threaten British imperial
stability before mid-century or after, the Indian Mutiny (sometimes called
the Rebellion) of 1857 has become the most famous. Karl Marx, writing
from New York, declared it a ˜catastrophe™ and chastised the colonial state
for its ˜abominations™ against the rebels.15 Nonetheless, the Mutiny brought
images of empire home to Britons like no other event of the century “
thereby revealing the fragility of British imperial rule to a generation of
Victorians for whom the power of the Raj had appeared untouchable.16
The generation of British politicians that oversaw the passage of the
Second Reform Act (1867) was equally preoccupied with imperial ques-
tions “ again in Jamaica, where the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865 exerted
enormous pressure on discussions both in and outside parliament about
who could count as a Briton and how race shaped the de¬nition of a
citizen.17 And once again, Ireland played an important role at this poli-
tical juncture as well: in 1867 the Fenians sought justice through violent
means and an Irish Republic was brie¬‚y declared.18 That year also wit-
nessed the British North America Act, which provided for the federation
of Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, thus
rearranging Britain™s long-standing relationship with one of its chief
white settler colonies.19 More so than in 1832, imperial power was visible
in the legislation that enfranchised 400,000 more British men, some of
them labourers, in 1867. The polity to which they gained entrance was
decidedly white, male and middle-class, despite attempts by English
women to gain access to the vote through voluntary associations, par-
liamentary petitions and direct confrontation at the hustings.20 Perhaps
surprisingly, Victorian feminists were no less wedded to empire than their
male counterparts. As they made their case for the right to participate in
the political nation, they invoked colonial women and other orientalist
images almost casually as part of their case for emancipation.21 In this
13
Richard Cobden, Russia and the Eastern Question (Cleveland, OH, 1854).
14
William Greg, ˜Shall We Retain Our Colonies?™, The Edinburgh Review (April 1851), 475“98.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The First Indian War of Independence, 1857“59 (Moscow, 1975), 82.
15
16
See www.adam-matthew-publications.co.uk (Cultural Contacts: Mutiny Writings).
17
See Catherine Hall, Keith McClelland and Jane Rendall, De¬ning the Victorian Nation: Class, Race,
Gender and the British Reform Act of 1867 (Cambridge, 2000).
18
See John Newsinger, Fenianism in Mid-Victorian Britain (London, 1994).
19
Auberon Herbert, ˜The Canadian Confederation™, Fortnightly Review, 7 (April 1867), 480“90.
20
See Hall et al., De¬ning the Victorian Nation, ch. 3.
21
Millicent Garrett Fawcett, ˜The Women™s Suffrage Bill™, Fortnightly Review, 51 (March 1889),
555“67 and Burton, Burdens of History.
A N T O I N E T T E B U RT O N
216
sense they were little different from the leaders of both of Britain™s
political parties in the Victorian era. William Gladstone and Benjamin
Disraeli (prime ministers and political adversaries) each used British
imperialism, its limits and possibilities, as a platform for party unity and
ideological sparring.22 Although the Tory Party became known as the
party of empire, many Liberals embraced imperialism as the inevitable if
not wholly desirable burden of geopolitical power, especially after the
siege of Khartoum and the death of General Gordon (1884“5).23
The third and ¬nal Reform Act of the century (1884) did little to alter
the basically conservative character of Victorian democracy except by
enfranchising agricultural labourers. But parliamentary debates in its wake “
especially those about Ireland and India “ kept empire visible at home.
Though it had been a consistent feature of political life since at least the
1870s, the question of Irish self-determination came to a head at this same
moment, with the defeat of a Home Rule bill in 1886 ensuring an almost
permanent end to Liberal Party power until the twentieth century.24 The
Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, also made a variety of political
claims on the idea of English democracy.25 Despite its links with Irish
nationalists, it fell short of demanding Home Rule at this stage. One of its
¬rst Presidents, Dadhabai Naoroji, was elected MP for Central Finsbury in
1892, bringing the question of Indian self-representation directly into the
˜Mother of all Parliaments™.26
As Bernard Semmel documented in astonishing detail nearly forty
years ago, the discourses and policies of social imperialism provided the
`
major ideological backdrop for British politics from the ¬n de siecle until
27
the Great War. The so-called Khaki election of 1900 provided an
opportunity for many political constituencies to comment on the nature
and direction of imperial policy. George Bernard Shaw™s con¬dence in
the invincibility of the British Empire was to be sorely tested by the Boer
War (1899“1902), which many Britons supported as a ˜holy war™ intended
to protect the ˜native races™ of its South African Empire from the
22
Benjamin Disraeli, ˜Conservative and Liberal Principles™, in T. E. Kebbel (ed.), Selected Speeches of
the Right Honourable the Earl of Beacons¬eld, vol. II (London, 1882), 523“35 and Gladstone,
˜England™s Mission™.
23
For an excellent account of this through documents, see Barbara Harlow and Mia Carter (eds.),
Imperialism and Orientalism: A Documentary Sourcebook (Oxford, 1999), ch. 8.
24
William Gladstone, The Irish Question (New York, 1886).
25
W. C. Bonnerjee (ed.), Indian Politics (Madras, 1898).
26
See Antoinette Burton, ˜Tongues Untied: Lord Salisbury™s ˜˜Black Man™™ and the Boundaries of
Imperial Democracy™, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 43 (2) (2000), 632“59.
Bernard Semmel, Imperialism and Social Reform: English Social-Imperial Thought, 1895“1914
27

(London, 1960; repr. New York, 1969), 2.
New narratives of imperial politics in the nineteenth century 217
depredations of lesser civilisations like the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch
settlers who posed a threat to Britain™s ambitions on the African continent
at large.28 This kind of competitive whiteness signalled an intensi¬ed
awareness of racial identities at the turn of the century. Indeed, racial
exclusion was the precondition of nation formation as well as empire
building, as is evident in the creation of an all-white citizenship policy
alongside the foundation of Australia in 1901.29 By the time J. A. Hobson
wrote in his famous treatise, Imperialism (1902), that ˜colonialism, in its
best sense, is a natural over¬‚ow of nationality; its test is the power of
colonists to transplant the civilization they represent to the new natural
and social environment in which they ¬nd themselves™, empire was so
natural a fact of life in Britain that it has taken historians until very
recently to rediscover its many in¬‚uences and effects at home.30
What I have sketched above should not, of course, be taken as any kind
of de¬nitive new narrative. It represents one of many possibilities enabled
by students of imperial political culture, many of whom are now refo-
cusing our attention on the role of Britain™s white settler colonies (South
Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) in the metropole in ways that
recontextualise and may in the end mitigate our emphasis on the role of
India and Africa, long considered the dominant colonial in¬‚uences at
home and in the Empire.31 This work, together with the explosion of
visual culture projects in a variety of British metropolitan and provincial
museums in recent years, provides the basis for a number of different, and
perhaps even competing, paradigms for the study of imperial Britain in
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.32 The challenges of periodisation
28
For more on the Boer War see Andrew Porter, The Origins of the South African War: Joseph
Chamberlain and the Diplomacy of Imperialism 1895“99 (Manchester, 1980).
29
The formal beginnings of the Australian nation were also very much a white supremacist
masculine affair, despite the role of women in its creation; see Patricia Grimshaw, Marilyn Lake,
Ann McGrath and Marian Quartly, Creating a Nation (Ringwood, Victoria, 1994).
30
J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (London, 1902).
31
See for example Pamela Scully, Liberating the Family? Gender and British Slave Emancipation in the
Rural Western Cape, S. Africa, 1823“1854 (Portsmouth, NH, 1997); Adele Perry, On the Edge of
Empire: Gender, Race, and the Making of British Columbia, 1849“1871 (Toronto, 2000); Cecilia
Morgan, ˜ ˜˜A Wigwam to Westminster™™: Performing Mohawk Identities in Imperial Britain,
1890s“1900s™, Gender and History, 15 (2) (2003), 319“41; and Angela Woollacott, To Try Her
Fortune in London: Australian Women, Colonialism, and Modernity (Oxford, 2001).
32
See for example the Merseyside Maritime Museum™s collections on slavery at http://www.
liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/slavery/slavery.asp; press coverage of plans for a museum of
slavery in Liverpool in 2007: http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/news/story/0,11711,905368,00.html;
and Durba Ghosh, ˜Exhibiting Asia in Britain: Commerce, Consumption, and Globalization™,
provided courtesy of the author. For two rather different narratives of imperial culture at home
that I have tried to work out, see Antoinette Burton, ˜Women and ˜˜Domestic™™ Imperial Culture:
The Case of Victorian Britain™, in Marilyn J. Boxer and Jean H. Quataert (eds.), Connecting
A N T O I N E T T E B U RT O N
218
nonetheless remain, beginning with the very term ˜Victorian™ which
technically binds us to the years 1837“1901. Few surveys, whether in the
form of textbooks or course syllabi, cleave to either that beginning or end
date. In my primary source reader, Politics and Empire in Victorian
Britain, I suggest as one alternative 1829 to 1905 “ on the grounds that
book-ending the period with Catholic Emancipation on one side and the
Alien Act on the other restores questions of religion and race to the
dominant narratives of both national and imperial histories, offering a
¬‚exible alternative to both the Whig interpretation and the Oxford History
of the British Empire one.33 And yet there are still ˜political™ events and
formations that have left little trace on even alternative narratives of the
Victorian period. Fully ¬‚edged wars in Afghanistan, China and the
Transvaal before the 1890s, and lesser but equally signi¬cant eruptions
and/or rebellions in Canada, South Asia and Africa across the century,
impinged on national consciousness and high politics in ways that have
yet to be fully explored by historians of the period “ even though Vic-
torians themselves left evidence of the politicising in¬‚uence of faraway
battles in distant imperial lands.34 Incidents like the Don Paci¬co affair
(where a Portuguese Jew born in Gibraltar tried to claim British citi-
zenship and sparked an international incident) and events like the
Crimean War (in which Britain sought to contain Russia™s territorial
ambitions in order to protect its Indian empire) also brought imperial
questions before the popular and the of¬cial mind in ways that have yet to
be fully historicised, let alone reconciled with accounts of Britain™s
˜imperial century™. Whether military in the strictest sense or not, such high-
pro¬le imperial episodes helped to gender citizenship as masculine and to
underscore it as presumptively white, the very public work of Florence
Nightingale (the famous ˜Lady with the Lamp™) and Mary Seacole (a
mixed-race nurse who was also in the Crimea) notwithstanding.35 Taking
seriously the intersections between military ideology and ˜domestic™ policy
will likely further erode the distinctions between ˜home™ and ˜empire™ and
may also give rise to a chronology which interrupts the canonical recourse
to the Crystal Palace and the 1857 Mutiny as the twin embodiments of


Spheres: Women in a Globalizing World, 1500 to the Present, 2nd edn (Oxford, 2000), 174“84 and
my online essay, with primary text links, ˜The Visible Empire at Home, 1832“1905™, Empire
On-Line: www.adam-matthew-publications.co.uk.
33
Antoinette Burton (ed.), Politics and Empire in Victorian Britain (Palgrave, 2001).
34
Pace Michael Davitt™s boyhood recollection of hawking newspapers which featured coverage of the
Maori Wars and the US Civil War. Life and Progress in Australasia (London, 1898), 344.
35
Mary Seacole, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (London, 1858).
New narratives of imperial politics in the nineteenth century 219
˜mid-Victorian™ political culture.36 Nor has the articulation of political
economy and political culture in national, regional or local landscapes been
as fully attended to as it might be. The story of the unequal competition
between the Lancashire and Indian cotton mills at the height of the
industrial revolution is, for example, among the most celebrated and yet
perhaps least well-integrated instances of Sinha™s ˜combined but uneven
development™ “ one with arguably world-historical rami¬cations, if
Mahatma Gandhi™s embrace and mobilisation of swadeshi in the next
´
century is taken as one indirect, longue duree effect of India™s comparative
eclipse with respect to industrial ˜progress™.37

colonial circuitry and the politics
of social imperialism
Despite the purchase of Bernard Semmel™s argument that imperialism
was a constituent feature of reform politics in the two decades before
World War I, histories of British labour, British socialism and British
progressivism at the turn of the century have not fully countenanced the
impact of empire on those movements. The great exception to this is, of
course, Anna Davin™s germinal 1978 article, ˜Imperialism and Mother-
hood™, which made a persuasive case for the in¬‚uence of the post-Boer
War political climate on the creation of a eugenicist programme of social
reform and state intervention that targeted Britain™s poor and, arguably,
laid the groundwork for the twentieth-century welfare state.38 While
Davin™s piece was remarkable as much for connecting the dots between
an imperial war and state-sponsored social programmes as it was for its
emphasis on the role of women and gender in shaping those connections,
it has not proven unusual in identifying the Anglo-Boer con¬‚ict as
the take-off point for reformers™ engagements with imperialism in the
post-˜scramble-for-Africa™ period. Indeed, Britain™s pyrrhic victory in South
36
This is true despite the proliferation of imaginative new work on both events. See Jenny Sharpe,
Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text (Minneapolis, 1993); Nancy Paxton,
Writing Under the Raj: Gender, Race and Rape in the British Imagination, 1830“1857 (New
Brunswick, 1999); Jeffery Auerbach, The Great Exhibition of 1851: A Nation on Display (New
Haven, 1999); Peter Hoffenberg, An Empire on Display: English, Indian and Australian Exhibitions
from the Crystal Palace to the Great War (California, 2001); Louise Purbrick (ed.), The Great
Exhibition of 1851: New Interdisciplinary Essays (Manchester, 2002); and Lara Kriegel, ˜The Pudding
and the Palace: Labor, Print Cultures and Imperial Britain in 1851™, in Burton, After the Imperial
Turn, 230“45.
37
See Rajnarayan Chandavarkar, The Origins of Industrial Capital in India: Business Strategies and the
Working Classes in Bombay, 1900“1940 (Cambridge, 1994).
38
Anna Davin, ˜Imperialism and Motherhood™, in Cooper and Stoler (eds.), Tensions of Empire:
Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World (Berkeley, 1997), 87“151.
A N T O I N E T T E B U RT O N
220
Africa tends to be the point of departure for past and present work on the
history of the left and empire, as if progressives™ interest in imperial
questions was limited to the duration of that struggle or even its aftermath,
or could be reduced to an anatomy of who supported and who rejected the
government™s aims and military campaigns in the Transvaal.39 There is, in
other words, a back-story about empire and progressive politics before the
onset of the Boer War that remains to be told. Meanwhile, the insularity of
later nineteenth-century liberal-left political culture from imperial in¬‚u-
ences in extant British historiography remains one of the most remarkable
features of British studies after the imperial turn.40
To be sure, social reform histories, and especially those interested in
the late Victorian and Edwardian origins of the welfare state, have long
taken a transnational approach with respect to European in¬‚uences, in
`
part because of the internationalist character of ¬n-de-siecle socialism, in
part because of the attraction of continental models (such as Bismarck™s
Germany) for social insurance and other reform schemes.41 But given the
tremendous mobility of reformers and politicians “ a mobility of people
matched by the cross-pollination of ideas and policy-making, as Ian
Tyrell and Daniel T. Rodgers have shown in the Atlantic context “ the
geographical ambit of that internationalism must be extended to include
the colonies, which many contemporaries frankly admired as a social
laboratory for progressive political and social reform projects.42 The white
settler colonies, especially Australia and New Zealand, were singled out
for scrutiny in the 1890s when a series of socio-economic crises and liberal
government responses there produced a variety of progressive outcomes,
including the passage of a women™s suffrage Act in New Zealand in
1893.43 If feminists the world over could not resist shaming modern

39
See Richard Price, An Imperial War and the British Working Class (London, 1972); Henry Pelling,
Popular Politics and Society in Late Victorian Britain (London, 1968), ch. 5 and Paul Ward, Red Flag
and Union Jack: Englishness, Patriotism and the British Left, 1881“1924, Royal Historical Society
Studies in History (Woodbridge, 1998), ch. 4.
40
See Antoinette Burton, After the Imperial Turn: Thinking With and Through the Nation (Durham,
NC, 2003).
41
Susan Pedersen, Family, Dependence and the Origins of the Welfare State: Britain and France,
1914“1945 (Cambridge, 1993); Seth Koven and Sonya Michel (eds.), Mothers of a New World:
Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States (London, 1993).
42
Ian Tyrell, Woman™s World, Woman™s Empire: The Woman™s Christian Temperance Union in
International Perspective, 1880“1930 (Chapel Hill, 1991); Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social
Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, MA, 1998); and Paul Kramer, ˜Empires, Exceptions, and
Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule Between the British and United States Empires, 1880“1910™, Journal of
American History, 88 (4) (2002), www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah/88.4/kramer.html.
43
Patricia Grimshaw, Women™s Suffrage in Zealand (Auckland, 1972). For the long life of this
phenomenon in feminist circles see Fiona Paisley, ˜Performing ˜˜New Zealand™™: Maori and Pakeha
New narratives of imperial politics in the nineteenth century 221
Euro-American democracies for being upstaged by such an Antipodean
success story, they were by no means alone in pointing to Australia and
especially New Zealand as the place where the true future of democracy
might be glimpsed.44
Although space does not permit me to rehearse this in detail, I would
not like to reproduce the historiographical emphasis on the 1890s where
metropolitan attention to the Antipodes is concerned. Quite apart from
the sustained interest in New Zealand in the 1860s and 1870s in the wake
of the Maori Wars, the periodical press in Britain was attentive to poli-
tical dynamics and developments in the Antipodes, Canada, South Africa
and of course the United States in a concentrated way at least from the
1880s, using all these places as sites for evaluating the successes and fail-
ures of Anglo-Saxon values and ˜colonial™ projects. The Antipodes were
an especially attractive destination for political ethnographers, not least
because the vexed histories of their settlement offered a myriad of com-
parisons with ˜English™ form and practices, whether political, social,
economic or cultural. The familiarity of Australia and New Zealand “
their presumptive whiteness and their apparently recognisable English-
ness, especially in the context of decimated aboriginal populations, whose
virtual extinction was alternately bemoaned or ignored, and Chinese
labourers, whose access to the nation was being restricted “ was also an
attraction, though one that could reveal the vexed nature of ˜identi¬ca-
tion™ with fellow Anglo-Saxons. To take only the most famous example,
Charles Dilke™s Greater Britain (1868) surveyed the white settler colonies
past and present, combining travelogue with political commentary in
ways that put ˜Australasia™ on the map in enduring ways. Greater Britain
(and its successor, The Problem of Greater Britain (1890)) was undoubt-
edly a species of imperial apologia, but in it the young Dilke professed his
admiration for the fact that what he saw in Australia was very much like
what Britain was destined to become in the wake of manhood suffrage.
He described the colony of Victoria as
The most interesting place I have been in, since it probably presents an accurate
view ˜in little™ of the state of society which will exist in England after manhood
suffrage is carried, but before the nation as a whole has become completely
democratic. Democracy “ like Mormonism “ would be nothing if found among
Frenchmen, or niggers, but is at ¬rst sight very terrible when it wears an

Delegates at the Pan-Paci¬c Women™s Conference, Hawai™i, 1934™, New Zealand Journal of History,
38 (1) (2004), 22“38.
44
For a full accounting of this phenomenon see Michael Bassett, The State in New Zealand
1840“1984: Socialism without Doctrines? (Auckland, 1998), esp. 9“11.
A N T O I N E T T E B U RT O N
222
English broad-cloth suit, and smiles on you, from between a pair of Yorkshire
cheeks.45

Dilke™s ambivalence about the image of the future he caught sight of in
Australia was echoed by many of the well-known or well-heeled Victor-
ians who travelled to Australia and New Zealand in the last three decades
of the nineteenth century to engage in the hard work of that uniquely
Victorian genre: reform-minded tourism. Of particular interest here are
those radicals and progressives who sought out the Antipodes in the 1890s
and after, for what political events and legislative experiments there could
tell them about democracy and progress in action, especially of the
socialist variety. The Irish MP Michael Davitt, the SDF leader H. M.
Hyndman, the Labour Party organiser and future Prime Minister Ramsay
MacDonald (with his wife Margaret) and the Fabians Sidney and Beatrice
`
Webb are just a few among the many ¬n-de-siecle reformers who tra-
velled to ˜the Democratic communities of the South Seas™ in search of
˜socialism without doctrines™.46
What impact did such travels have on metropolitan politics in the
making? First and foremost, they brought knowledge about colonial
conditions into the discursive space of reform circles and advertised spe-
ci¬c legislative innovations that were of great interest especially to radical
reformers in the age of Chamberlain and Rosebery. So, for example,
Michael Davitt™s 1898 travelogue, Life and Progress in Australasia, trum-
peted the passage of the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act of
1894 in New Zealand as part of a series of government interventions
covering ˜almost every risk to life, limb, health and interest of the
industrial classes™. In his view New Zealand was ˜the most progressive
country in the world today™, surpassing even Australia in its emphasis on
state responsibility for the problems engendered by a modernising
industrial democracy.47 The case of the Webbs is equally instructive.
Although their diaries are notorious for the general snobbery and
contempt they exhibited over what they viewed as the ˜vulgar™ Australians
and New Zealanders (not to mention Americans) they encountered
on their 1898 tour, Sidney Webb™s public pronouncements were


45
Quoted in John Rickard, ˜The Anti-Sweating Movement in Britain and Victoria: The Politics of
Empire and Social Reform™, Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand, 18 (1979), 596.
´
46
This phrase was coined by Andre Metin in his book of the same name, Le Socialisme sans doctrines:
´
Australie and Nouvelle Zelande (Paris, 1901).
47
Davitt, Life and Progress, 366, 373.
New narratives of imperial politics in the nineteenth century 223
much more positive. In an interview in the Echo in 1898 he was quoted as
saying:
We have got to wake up to the fact that Australia must be taken seriously, and
studied, not as an infant community just out of the gold-diggings stage, but as an
adult Anglo-Saxon Democracy, full of interest and instruction to the political
world. We have a vast amount to learn from Australia, especially in the sphere of
government. Our statesmen are always running over to the United States, which
is essentially a foreign country, as unlike England as Germany itself. But, with
the notable exception of Sir Charles Dilke, they seem to know nothing of, and
learn nothing from, the Democratic communities of the South Seas, whose
experience of Cabinet administration is extensive and peculiar . . . Australia sadly
needs studying, as Mr Bryce studied the American Commonwealth, and such a
work would be of enormous value.48
Sidney admired Australia in direct proportion to the fact that it was so
unlike America; in that sense Australia was for him an attractive Fabian
alternative to the dominant Liberal tendency to look to the United States
for refractions of Anglo-Saxon ideals. Australia was to be admired, in
short, because it was not about abstractions or ˜arbitrary psychology™. It
was here, in its English-inspired disposition towards practicalities, that
˜the extraordinary interest of Australian political experience to the English
student™ lay.49 Even more remarkable was Beatrice Webb™s take on New
Zealand. Not known to wax enthusiastic about many subjects, Beatrice
declared that if she had to raise a family outside Great Britain she would
choose New Zealand. While not totally uncritical, as with Sidney on
Australia she took America as her main point of comparison. In contrast
to both Britain and the United States, she found in New Zealand ˜no
millionaires and hardly any slums . . . a people characterised by homely
re¬nement, and by a large measure of vigorous public spirit™.50
The Webbs™ experience in Australasia may have been a wake-up call for
them about the pedagogical value of colonial experiments, but, as I have
suggested, they somewhat belatedly joined a growing group of metro-
politan politicians and reformers for whom the view from the Antipodes
was less a mirror than a kind of visionary political possibility. In any
event, the story of the Webbs™ Antipodean experience has several rami-
¬cations for the provocation about reverse ¬‚ow that animates this volume.
In the ¬rst instance, it™s quite likely that the Webbs™ determination to
visit Australia and New Zealand was the result of their encounter with

48
Quoted in A. G. Austin (ed.), The Webbs™ Australian Diary (Melbourne, 1965), 113.
49
Ibid., 114“15.
50
Quoted in Bassett, The State in New Zealand, 9 and 93.
A N T O I N E T T E B U RT O N
224
two New Zealanders in London: William Pember Reeves and his wife
Maud Pember Reeves. Reeves had been a member of the Liberal
government in New Zealand that oversaw much of the progressive
legislation Britons admired in the early 1890s (especially, in his capacity
as minister for Labour, the Arbitration Act), and from 1896 he became
the New Zealand Agent-General in London. Maud had political creden-
tials in her own right, having participated in the agitation for women™s
suffrage in New Zealand resulting in the franchise in 1893. William
Pember Reeves had been an admirer of Fabian Socialism since reading
Essays in Fabian Socialism, published in 1889; he had corresponded with
Sidney from New Zealand and when he came to London the two met and
he and Maud were quickly taken into the Fabians™ circle.51 Reeves™ bio-
grapher intimates that the Webbs™ visit to New Zealand in order to get
¬rst-hand impressions of a socialist state in action was one consequence of
their friendship.52
In addition to whetting the Webbs™ appetite for what he would later
call ˜experiments in state socialism™, Reeves was an active contributor to
the dissemination of information about New Zealand, its political
accomplishments and its imperial allegiances in metropolitan opinion
forums like the National Review and several Fabian tracts as well.53 So
con¬dent were the Webbs in Reeves™ bona ¬des, they entrusted him with
the directorship of their most enduring Fabian product of all, the London
School of Economics.54 In terms of direct in¬‚uence on Fabian Socialism,
however, Maud™s role was even more signi¬cant, though perhaps still
largely underappreciated. For not only did she become a member of the
Fabian executive committee, taking H. G. Wells™ side in his failed bid to
take control of the Society in 1906“7, she was instrumental in getting and
keeping ˜the woman question™ on the Fabian agenda into the early years
of the twentieth century, as evidenced in her contributions to the eventual
formation of the Fabian Women™s Group in 1908.55 Nor was her role
limited to the suffrage question per se. Maud Pember Reeves was the
author of a celebrated Fabian pamphlet, later expanded into a book,
which documented the struggles of English working-class mothers and
became a best-seller and a classic in both liberal-left and feminist circles
51
See Keith Sinclair, William Pember Reeves, New Zealand Fabian (Oxford, 1965).
52 53
Ibid., 249. 54 Ibid., ch. 21.
Ibid., 270.
55
Sally Alexander (ed.), Women™s Fabian Tracts (London, 1988), 5“7. See also Ruth Fry, Maud and
Amber: A New Zealand Mother and Daughter and the Women™s Cause, 1865 to 1981 (Canterbury,
1992); Patricia Pugh, Educate, Agitate, Organize: 100 years of Fabian Socialism (London, 1984),
ch. 10; and Ruth Brandon, The New Women and the Old Men: Love, Sex and the Woman Question
(London, 1990).
New narratives of imperial politics in the nineteenth century 225
down until the end of the twentieth century: Round About a Pound a
Week.56 As late as the 1990s historian David Vincent was still citing it as
an authority on the Victorian social welfare mind, its aspirations and its
strategies for reform.57
Maud Pember Reeves was not, of course, alone in her efforts to propel
women™s issues to the centre of the Fabian platform. But her experiences
in the New Zealand suffrage struggle undoubtedly helped her to strategise
the necessary ways and means for ¬ghting the con¬dent but ultimately
sexist sexual liberation programme at the heart of Wells™ version of
socialism, at any rate. Nor was she the only Fabian woman to draw on
colonial experiences to make her case for the necessity of state support for
working women and mothers. In 1907 B. L. Hutchins wrote Fabian Tract
no. 130, Home Work and Sweating: The Causes and Remedies, in which she
extensively referenced legislation in Australia and especially New Zealand,
and in which the Arbitration Act ¬gured prominently in her case for the
regulation of sweating. As John Rickard has shown, this was part of a
larger cross-relay between Australia, New Zealand and Britain over the
question of labour policy and social reform in the ¬rst decade of the
twentieth century.58 Once again, although the heightened attention
brought to these questions by, for example, the Exhibition of Sweated
Labour at Queen™s Hall in 1906, has given them prominence in twentieth-
century narratives, this should not occlude the late Victorian roots of these
imperial networks. In 1890 Lady Emilia Dilke, in her capacity as President
of the Women™s Trade Union, had used the example of striking women
in Melbourne in 1882 to make her point to English women about the
importance of tenacity in their labour struggles as well as the object lesson
their colonial ˜sisters™ could teach them about the path to unionisation.59
What we see, then, is a pattern not just of reference but of example from
colonial to metropole: a discursive universe of cross-relay with pedagogical
effects on the political culture of Britain “ persuasive evidence of what
Lester calls ˜diverse and dynamic but interconnected imperial terrain[s]™
across considerable geographical space “ and, most signi¬cantly perhaps,
equally powerful evidence of the movement of ideas and policies not from
home to empire but the reverse. For some the evocation of this discursive
terrain may not be suf¬cient ˜proof ™ that empire was constitutive of

56
Brandon, The New Women, 200“23; see also Sally Alexander, ˜Introduction™, in Maud Pember
Reeves, Round About a Pound a Week (London, 1979), ix“xxi.
David Vincent, Poor Citizens: The State and the Poor in the 20th Century (London, 1991), 10.
57
58
Reprinted in Alexander (ed.), Women™s Fabian Tracts, 33“52.
59
Lady Emilia Dilke, ˜Trades Unionism for Women™, in Burton (ed.), Politics and Empire, 265.
A N T O I N E T T E B U RT O N
226
˜domestic™ politics. For sceptics, the accomplishments of Maud Pember
Reeves may well seem marginal, despite the impact of a book like Round
About a Pound a Week on shaping the culture of care at the heart of
the emergent late-Victorian/Edwardian welfare state.60 In this respect, the
political work of William Pember Reeves in London is a useful counter-
point. Although he was best known then, and remains so now, chie¬‚y
for his promotion in Britain of information about the New Zealand
Arbitration Act, he also played a role in the creation of a crucial piece of
social welfare legislation: the Old Age Pensions Act. New Zealand™s
Pensions Bill “ ¬rst proposed in 1896 and passed after several failed starts
in 1898 “ was lauded as the ¬rst such provision in the British Empire.61
This was virtually simultaneous with the publication of the Report of the
Committee on Old-Age Pensions in Britain, chaired by Lord Roths-
child.62 Though not mentioned in that Report, the New Zealand bill was
much talked about in the metropolitan press in the years leading up to the
1908 British Act, with particular emphasis placed on the means tests that
the government of New Zealand had applied.63 Reeves contributed
actively to this public discussion, providing valuable evidence about the
workings of the New Zealand scheme and thereby contributing to the
debate about what kind of pension model should be enacted in Britain.64
Clearly Reeves was not directly or even indirectly responsible for the
provision of Old Age Pensions, which grew out of a discussion that had
been going on in Britain at least since the 1880s; it had deep roots in
Victorian Poor Law and Elizabethan pauper relief systems as well.65 At the
same time, the Pension Act that eventuated in Britain in 1908 borrowed
from the Antipodean model rather than the German one (by relying on a
redistribution of income rather than taxes to pay for the outlays).66 Nor is

60
The Reeves are still probably best known for being the parents of Amber Reeves, who had a liaison
and a daughter with H. G. Wells. See Brandon, The New Women, 181ff. and Andrea Lynn, Shadow
Lovers: The Last Affairs of H. G. Wells (Boulder, CO, 2001).
61
Bassett, The State in New Zealand, 99.
62
See Report of the Departmental Committee on Old-Age Pensions, British Parliamentary papers (Aged
Poor), 1898. I am most grateful to Danielle Kinsey for tracking down this reference for me.
63
Vaughan Nash, ˜The Old-Age Pension Movement™, Contemporary Review (April 1899), 503.
64
See Anne Freemantle, This Little Band of Prophets: The British Fabians (New York, 1959), 149 and
William Pember Reeves, ˜The New Zealand Old-Age Pension Act™, National Review, 32 (February
1899), 818“25. This was part of the larger Fabian in¬‚uence on the development of Old Age
Pensions and of course the reform of the Poor Law. The former was heavily in¬‚uenced by the
New Zealand case. See A. M. McBriar, Fabian Socialism and English Politics, 1884“1918
(Cambridge, 1962), 128“9.
65
See Nash, ˜Old-Age Pension Movement™, 495“504 and Vincent, Poor Citizens, 27ff.
66
See Peter J. Coleman, Progressivism and the World of Reform: New Zealand and the Origins of the
American Welfare State (Lawrence, KS, 1987), 82.
New narratives of imperial politics in the nineteenth century 227
this the full extent of colonial in¬‚uence on the making of the social welfare
state in Britain. Although the ˜native™ English roots and the European
contexts of that debate have been scrutinised, the ways in which public
discussion in Britain was imprinted with imperial reference points, as
writings by Canon Samuel Barnett and others in the press at the time
testify, have not been fully considered.67 Reeves is not, in the end, the
proverbial smoking gun, proof positive that imperial experience ˜made™
the proto-welfare state in Britain, as Peter Coleman has claimed for New
Zealand™s role in US Progressivism.68 And his role in imperial social
reform politics is in many ways ˜¬tful™ if not tenuous with respect to the
larger story of political imperial culture writ large, especially given the
unrepresentativeness of the Fabians in the socialist and the larger political
landscape.69 But Pember Reeves™ post-1896 career in London does offer
persuasive evidence that politics and even some policy outcomes in
modern Britain were in¬‚uenced by colonial encounters ˜at home™, if not by
the total experience of imperial power abroad as well.70
Such evidence does not mean that the ˜domestic™ and European contexts
of incipient welfare statism are to be eclipsed by new imperialised narratives,
though this seems often to be one fear-effect of the new imperial studies.
And yet the imperial context of continental references and borrowings
should not be discounted either. Recourse to German examples can easily be
seen as a re¬‚ection of larger imperial competitive anxieties in the aftermath
of the partition of Africa. In any case, Reeves himself was a political poly-
glot, gleaning what he knew and valued about progressive politics and
reform from contemporary English, German, French, American and
Australian writers and practices, so that it would be a mistake to see his
contributions to metropolitan debates as purely ˜colonial™ “ or to view the

67
Samuel Barnett referred to the views of Sir Harry Johnson, the African colonial administrator and
botanist, as grounds for the kind of remedies he thought Poor Law reform could accomplish.
Johnston, ˜who speaks with rare authority, has told us how negroes with a reputation for idleness
respond to treatment which, showing them respect, calls out their hope and their manhood. Treat
them, he implies, as children, drive them as cattle, and you are justi¬ed in your belief in their
idleness. Treat them as men, give them wages and money, open to them the hope of better things,
and they work as men.™ Contemporary Review, 94 (1908), 565. See also Sidney Low, ˜Old Age
Pensions and Military Service: A Suggestion™, Fortnightly Review, (n.s.) 73 (April 1903), 606“16.
68
Coleman, Progressivism and the World of Reform.
See Royden Harrison, The Life and Times of Sidney and Beatrice Webb 1858“1905: The Formative
69

Years (London, 2000), esp. ch. 8, ˜Squalid Opportunism: Fabianism and Empire 1893“1903™.
70
As Rickard has shown, Reeves was not a one-off example: Charles Dilke credited Alfred Deakin,
whose practical discussions with him about a wages board scheme resulted in the Trades Board Act
of 1909 (which Rickard says was derivative of the earlier Victorian model in Australia as well). This
was part of a larger cross-relay between Britain and the white settler colonies over wages and
sweating more generally. See ˜The Anti-Sweating Movement™, 585.
A N T O I N E T T E B U RT O N
228
vectors of imperial political culture as linear (rather than multidirectional or
˜web-like™, to invoke Ballantyne™s metaphor).71 It is also worth remarking
that, as did his late-Victorian and Edwardian contemporaries, Reeves
articulated colonial whiteness as a ˜component of imperial governmentality™
(at least in his metropolitan self-representations), in ways that underscore
`
the racialist agendas of ¬n-de-siecle liberal and reformist thinking.72
Indeed, much remains to be said about how the suppression of evidence
about ˜aliens™ and treaty work with aboriginal peoples both erased evidence
of racial practices in Australasia and encoded the social-experiment dis-
courses in the metropole with a certain ¬ctive, if powerful, claim to Anglo-
Saxon purity and white supremacist triumphalism.
Given the fact that, together with democracy, the provision of services of
the kind that the incipient welfare state sought to institutionalise is thought
to be one of the legacies of the Victorian state to the present (and by
implication, to the world), it is worth lingering on the signi¬cance of
colonial contributions to social insurance schemes of the kind which Reeves
championed during his residence in Britain. This is especially warranted in
light of recent work on India and Egypt which points to traditions of both
colonial/state-sponsored philanthropy and indigenous forms of provision
that belie the highly naturalised and historically ungrounded assumption
that Britain and/or the West is the original home of ˜welfare™ broadly
conceived. Although he does not pursue this line of questioning, Sanjay
Sharma™s work on north India, for example, opens the door to future
scholars interested in tracing the connections between famine relief on the
subcontinent and in Ireland in the 1830s and 1840s.73 He and the late Mine
Ener both excavate examples of poor relief provision by local elites in north
India and Cairo/Alexandria respectively, thereby implicitly challenging the
chronology of ¬rst-the-West-then-the-rest when it comes to concerted
efforts at managing the indigent in self-conscious and systematic ways.74
Relocating the Pember Reeves and their contemporaries in the long story of
imperial state formation “ in the combined, uneven, geographically dis-
persed but ideologically and practically linked imperial developments that
Sharma™s and Ener™s work points to “ is admittedly an enormous project,
but it is essential to the counter-narratives of political history that we must

71
Bassett, The State in New Zealand, 97; Sinclair, William Pember Reeves, 209“10.
72
The phrase is Ian Fletcher™s. See his ˜Double Meanings: Nation and Empire in the Edwardian
Era™, in Burton (ed.), After the Imperial Turn, 254.
73
Sanjay Sharma, Famine, Philanthropy and the Colonial State: North India in the Early Nineteenth
Century (Oxford, 2001).
See Mine Ener, Managing Egypt™s Poor and the Politics of Benevolence, 1800“1952 (Princeton, 2003).
74
New narratives of imperial politics in the nineteenth century 229
develop if we are to challenge the persistent insularity of Whig history in
toto. It is equally crucial for combating the archaic but still powerful idea
that Britain™s empire was acquired and sustained in a ˜¬t of absence of
mind™.75 By understanding the workings of imperial political culture (which
I intend as an analogue of Sinha™s ˜imperial social formation™), we can, I
think, appreciate the ways in which imperial ideologies and practices were
not orchestrated or coordinated in any necessarily deliberate way, even as we
understand how a variety of local, unlooked-for and ultimately quixotic
events and players helped to suture it together “ with authority as well as
with the kind of porousness and ¬‚exibility which allowed for contest and
resistance “ across space and place.
In the end, the concept of ˜reverse ¬‚ow™ that the Antipodean example
illustrates may not prove the most useful metaphor for understanding
how imperial political culture was made, in so far as it proceeds from a
home/empire imaginary rather than evoking a multiplicity of in¬‚uences
(English, colonial, continental) which could account for what modern
Britain looked like at the turn of the century. Indeed, the very question of
˜¬‚ow™ has come in for some criticism for the way it allegedly reproduces
˜durable liberal conceptions™ of movement, though it need not, and I
would say does not, perforce do so in the new scholarship.76 Whatever
model we adopt, the history of imperial political culture “ its uneven
development, and the convergences and divergences of people, ideas and
power it produced “ is surely in the details. Of course, there will always
be connections that cannot be cemented, outcomes whose genealogies we
can but imperfectly trace, and evidence that the archive, however nimbly
we negotiate it, and even exceed it, cannot yield. To admit as much is to
acknowledge that, in Jed Esty™s evocative words, ˜we must chart imperial
presence not only as visible and narrative data but as unexpected formal
encryptments and thematic outcroppings™ in presumptively ˜domestic™
contexts.77 It is these unanticipated codes and recurrent if fugitive
instances that require our attention. And this is the terrain on which anti-
imperial histories of the British Empire “ political or otherwise “ can,
should and doubtless will be written.
75
For the persistence of this view in contemporary analyses see Gore Vidal, ˜Requiem for the
American Empire™ (11 January 1986), in Perspectives on The Nation, 1865“2000 (New York, 2004),
115 and Martin Walker, ˜America™s Virtual Empire™, World Policy Journal, 19 (2) (2002), 149.
See Tim Pratt and James Vernon, ˜ ˜˜Appeal From this Fiery Bed . . . ™™: The Colonial Politics of
76

Gandhi™s Fasts and their Metropolitan Reception™, Journal of British Studies, 44 (1) (2005), 92. See
also Michael Fisher, Counter¬‚ows to Colonialism: Indian Travellers and Settlers in Britain, 1600“1857
(Delhi, 2004).
77
Jed Esty, A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton, 2004), 6.
c h a p t e r el ev e n

Bringing the Empire home: women activists in
imperial Britain, 1790s“1930s
Clare Midgley


This chapter focuses on women™s metropolitan-based activism on imperial
issues in the period between the 1790s and the outbreak of the Second
World War. The women concerned are mainly British-born, white and
middle or upper class as it was from this sector of the population that the
leadership for most empire-focused campaigns came. However, there is
also some consideration of white working-class women™s relationship to
these campaigns, and of both white colonial women and black and Asian
women who were active within or without these movements, and often
challenged hegemonic discourses. Discussion concentrates on women™s
activism within organisations with a speci¬cally imperial focus, rather than
imperial activism within the organised feminist movement or the rela-
tionship between feminism and imperialism, aspects of which are covered
in chapters by Jane Rendall and Keith McClelland and Sonya Rose.1
The chapter covers a long time-span, which saw major developments
both in the politics of empire and in women™s relationship to public life
and politics.2 It explores the interconnecting dynamics of these two arenas
of change through discussing women™s involvement in movements aim-
ing to reform the Empire and the colonised, in organisations promoting
support for imperialism, and in anti-imperial and anti-racist activism.
Chronologically, these campaigns overlapped with each other, but they
peaked in succeeding periods: the nineteenth century, the Edwardian
period and the interwar period respectively. The chapter explores the
diverse ways in which a range of female activists, varied in their ideolo-
gical stance towards imperialism, played a crucial role in bringing
imperial concerns ˜home™ to the British public. In the process, it will be
1
The most in¬‚uential study of the relationship between British feminism and imperialism is Antoinette
Burton, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women and Imperial Culture, 1865“1915 (Chapel
Hill, 1994). Barbara Caine, English Feminism, 1780“1980 (Oxford, 1997) is a pioneering attempt to
incorporate consideration of imperialism within a general history of British feminism.
Susan Kingsley Kent, Gender and Power in Britain, 1640“1990 (London, 1999) devotes considerable
2

attention to the impact of empire in shaping the politics of gender in Britain.

230
Bringing the Empire home: women activists in imperial Britain 231
shown, they opened up new roles for women in public and political
spheres and contributed to shaping gendered class identities constituted
through whiteness, Englishness and Protestantism in imperial Britain.

imperial philanthropy and social reform
Women activists were crucial to the successful operation of both the anti-
slavery and the foreign missionary movements. The discursive dimensions
of women™s engagement with these two movements are discussed by Jane
Rendall: here, the focus will be on women™s organisations, campaigns and
imperial agency. Interconnected enterprises, the movements were among
the most widely supported networks of voluntary organisation of the
¬rst half of the nineteenth century, drawing a large portion of the public
into engagement with imperial issues.3 They also lay at the heart of the
development of female philanthropy and women™s involvement in social
reform: there were close links between the domestic and imperial
dimensions of middle-class women™s public activism.4 A study of
women™s empire-focused activism thus throws new light on the inter-
sections between gendered ideologies of race and class in early nineteenth-
century Britain.5 It also complicates our understanding of the relation-
ships between ˜public™ and ˜private™ spheres, between ˜domestic™ and
political™ life and between evangelicalism and feminism.6
Women™s roles were vital to both anti-slavery and missionary movements
despite the fact that they were excluded from the national committees of
3
For the anti-slavery movement see: Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to
Abolish Slavery (London, 2005); J. R. Old¬eld, Popular Politics and British Anti-Slavery: The
Mobilisation of Public Opinion Against the Slave Trade, 1787“1807 (Manchester, 1995); David Turley,
The Culture of English Anti-slavery, 1780“1860 (London, 1991); James Walvin (ed.), Slavery and
British Society, 1776“1846 (London, 1982). For differing interpretations of the missionary movement
and its relationship to empire see: Andrew Porter, Religion Versus Empire? British Protestant
Missionaries and Overseas Expansion, 1700“1914 (Manchester, 2004) and Susan Thorne,
Congregational Missions and the Making of an Imperial Culture in Nineteenth-Century England
(Stanford, 1999).
F. K. Prochaska, Women and Philanthropy in 19th Century England (Oxford, 1980); Alison Twells,
4

˜ ˜˜Let Us Begin Well at Home™™: Class, Ethnicity and Christian Motherhood in the Writing of
Hannah Kilham, 1774“1832™, in Eileen Janes Yeo (ed.), Radical Femininity: Women™s Self-
representation in the Public Sphere (Manchester, 1998), 25“51; Alison Twells, ˜ ˜˜Happy English
Children™™: Class, Ethnicity and the Making of Missionary Women, 1800“50™, Women™s Studies
International Forum, 21 (1998), 235“46.
5
Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination (Cambridge,
2002), a key exploration of these issues, focuses on the period when ideologies were shifting and
concentrates on male activists.
6
Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle
Class, 1780“1850, rev. edn (London, 2002); Sue Morgan (ed.), Women, Religion and Feminism in
Britain, 1750“1900 (Basingstoke, 2002).
CLARE MIDGLEY
232
the main societies, which attempted to channel all women™s activities into
local support groups under the supervision of local men™s auxiliaries.
These local ladies™ societies actually became crucial to the spread of pro-
paganda and the raising of funds for both causes. In addition, women
organised themselves into separate societies at both local and national
levels. An independent women™s society in Birmingham acted as the
national organisational hub for female abolitionism, while the London-
based interdenominational Female Education Society organised the
sending out of single women as Christian educators to British India and
elsewhere independently of the main missionary societies, and developed
its own network of auxiliaries.7
Women™s commitment to the two movements also pushed them into
their earliest concerted attempts to directly impact on British parlia-
mentary politics. Women™s petitions against sati (widow-burning) in
India and their much more extensive petitioning against slavery predated
the earliest petitions calling for British women™s legal and political rights
by several decades. Such overtly political acts, which apparently posed a
direct challenge to the ideology of ˜separate spheres™, were successfully
justi¬ed as an exceptional response to exceptional circumstances, moti-
vated by women™s special empathy for female suffering, a matter of
humanity and morality rather than politics. They were framed as appeals
to men in power to extend their paternal protection to their suffering
fellow subjects rather than as open challenges to male authority. Women
activists thus placed their concerns before the imperial parliament while
avoiding an explicit assertion of their own political rights.8
In the anti-slavery movement, middle-class white British women, in
contrast to the radical women abolitionists in the USA, generally stopped
short of asserting their own right to equal participation in the movement.9
However, they did at times directly challenge gender and class hierarchies.
Quaker campaigner Elizabeth Heyrick™s controversial pamphlet Immediate,
not Gradual Abolition was in¬‚uenced by the rights-based agenda of 1790s™

Clare Midgley, Women Against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780“1870 (London, 1992), esp.
7

43“50; Margaret Donaldson, ˜ ˜˜The cultivation of the Heart and the Moulding of the Will . . . ™™:
The Missionary Contribution of the Society for Promoting Female Education in China, India and
the East™, in W. J. Sheils and Diana Wood (eds.), Women in the Church (Oxford, 1990), 429“42.
8
Clare Midgley, ˜Female Emancipation in an Imperial Frame: English Women and the Campaign
Against Sati (Widow-burning) in India, 1813“30™, Women™s History Review, 9 (2000), 95“121;
Midgley, Women Against Slavery, 62“71.
9
Kathryn Kish Sklar, ˜ ˜˜Women Who Speak for an Entire Nation™™: American and British Women
at the World Anti-Slavery Convention, London, 1840™, in Jean Fagan Yellin and John C. Van
Horne (eds.), The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women™s Political Culture in Antebellum America (Ithaca,
1994); Clare Midgley, ˜Anti-slavery and Feminism in Britain™, Gender and History, 5 (1993), 343“62.
Bringing the Empire home: women activists in imperial Britain 233
radicalism, one of the main roots of opposition to slavery. It called for
direct action by ordinary people to bring about the rapid downfall of the
slave system. By abstaining en masse from slave-grown produce, Heyrick
argued, ordinary people, particularly women in their role as purchasers of
consumer produce, had the power to bring about the eradication of slavery,
bypassing the cautious male leadership of the Anti-Slavery Society “ the
˜worldly politicians™ who had ˜converted the great business of emancipation
into an object of political calculation™. Moral and ¬nancial pressure from
ladies™ anti-slavery associations who backed Heyrick was an important factor
in pushing that leadership to shift from their policy of promoting ameli-
oration and gradual abolition.10
While male campaigners sought support through public meetings and
sermons and debated issues in parliament, middle-class women were
largely responsible for systematic door-to-door visiting, reaching work-
ing-class women in the home and drawing them into penny-a-week
support for foreign missionary societies, anti-slavery petitioning cam-
paigns and the boycott of slave-grown produce. Such activities were
crucial in broadening popular support for, and bringing in vital funds to,
male-led national organisations. Women of all classes were shown that
their private role as consumers was one which bore public responsibilities.
Consumer power could be used to achieve imperial reform, tea parties
transformed from trivial social events into political statements by the use
of free-grown sugar and tea sets bearing images of female suffering under
slavery. In addition, women™s feminine skills were channelled into the
production of anti-slavery work-bags and goods for missionary bazaars.11
Although the main foreign missionary societies did not directly employ
women until the second half of the nineteenth century, women played
a crucial role in the mission ¬eld overseas as missionaries™ wives and
as single women employed by women-run societies to undertake the
Christian education of ˜native females™. Women activists in the imperial
metropole presented such women™s work in ways which emphasised
female imperial agency and encouraged middle-class women to broaden
their vision of appropriate feminine roles beyond the domestic, the
voluntary and the locally based. Jemima Thompson™s 1841 Memoirs of

10
Midgley, Women Against Slavery, 103“20. The quotes are from Elizabeth Heyrick, Immediate, not
Gradual Abolition (London, 1824), 18.
11
Clare Midgley, ˜Slave Sugar Boycotts, Female Activism and the Domestic Base of Anti-slavery
Culture™, Slavery and Abolition, 17 (1996), 137“62; Charlotte Sussman, Consuming Anxieties:
Consumer Protest, Gender and British Slavery, 1713“1833 (Stanford, 2000), esp. ch. 4; Prochaska,
Women and Philanthropy, 47“72.
CLARE MIDGLEY
234
British Female Missionaries, a manifesto promoting female missionary
endeavour, began with a strong assertion that ˜missionary biography
ought not . . . be limited to . . . laborious and apostolic men™. Ques-
tioning evangelical prescriptions of appropriate roles for women, the text
lamented that many girls ˜spend several years of their most valuable part
of their lives in a kind of restless indolence™ and argued that ˜had they
before them some great and benevolent object, such as taking a share in
the regeneration of the world, they would be much happier, and much
more amiable™. Here a much wider sphere of activity is envisioned for
middle-class British women than that laid out in Sarah Lewis™ recently
published Women™s Mission. Women™s different but complementary
qualities to men, which Lewis argued were best cultivated and properly
utilised from a domestic base, were presented in Thompson™s tract as
particularly suiting them to missionary work among the ˜heathen™. In the
mission ¬eld, where the boundary between preaching and teaching was
blurred, women were presented with new opportunities at just the time
when their roles within mainstream Protestantism at home were being
constricted.12 From the 1860s onwards, the major missionary societies,
¬nally acknowledging the vital work of women, began to directly employ
female missionaries and, when the continuing important work of mis-
sionary wives is also taken into account, by the late nineteenth century
women formed the majority of those sent out as missionary workers
overseas: what had initially been seen by British evangelicals as an
exclusively male role had become feminised.13
In missionary writings directed at a British female audience a global
comparative framework which contrasted the privileges of Christian women
with the sufferings of ˜heathen™ women formed the basis of the assertion of
British women™s duty towards their less privileged sisters. British women™s
Christian duty was linked to a sense of female imperial responsibility and
British women were presented as ˜the natural guardians of these unhappy

12
Clare Midgley, ˜Can Women Be Missionaries? Envisioning Female Agency in the Early
Nineteenth-century British Empire™, Journal of British Studies, 45 (2) (April 2006). The quotes are
from Jemima Thompson, Memoirs of British Female Missionaries (London, 1841), preface, ix, xxvi.
For women and preaching see Jocelyn Murray, ˜Gender Attitudes and the Contribution of
Women to Evangelism and Ministry in the Nineteenth Century™, in John Wolffe (ed.), Evangelical
Faith and Public Zeal: Evangelicals and Society in Britain 1780“1980 (London, 1995), 97“116; Beverly
Mayne Kienzle and Pamela J. Walker (eds.), Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millennia
of Christianity (Berkeley, 1998).
13
Rhonda Anne Semple, Missionary Women: Gender, Professionalism and the Victorian Idea of Christian
Mission (Woodbridge, 2003); Steven S. Maughan, ˜Civic Culture, Women™s Foreign Missions, and
the British Imperial Imagination, 1860“1914™, in Frank Trentmann (ed.), Paradoxes in Civil Society:
New Perspectives on Modern German and British History (New York, 2000), 199“219.
Bringing the Empire home: women activists in imperial Britain 235
Widows and Orphans in British India™. Their missionary work was placed
as part of providential imperialism “ the belief that Britain™s imperial
expansion was a God-given opportunity to spread Christianity through
the world. Paradoxically, then, evangelical discourse, generally seen as
encouraging women™s con¬nement within the domestic sphere, could,
through the marriage of concepts of woman™s mission, Christian female
privilege and providential imperialism, be deployed to create an expansive
vision of independent British female agency on the global stage, enacting a
maternalist Christian imperial mission to ˜heathen™ women.14
In highlighting the sufferings of colonised women and presenting them
as passive victims of colonial slavery or of ˜heathen™ patriarchy, British
women activists played a key role in justifying a reformed imperialism,
and presenting this to the British public as a civilising project in which
women could play a vital part. Anti-slavery, it should be stressed, was not
an anti-imperial movement, but rather about the reform of empire to
accord to British middle-class de¬nitions of freedom based around the
promotion of male waged labour and female domesticity.15 In this con-
text, female abolitionists presented themselves as saviours of, and ideal
models for, ˜other™ women. While encouraging empathetic identi¬cation
with enslaved black women through adopting the slogan ˜Am I not a
woman and a sister™, they simultaneously reinforced a sense of white
women™s maternalistic and superior position as saviours through the
visual image of the keeling enchained black woman appealing to an
invisible white female audience. This double-edged message is very
apparent in ˜The negro mother™s appeal™. Addressing the ˜white lady,
happy, proud, and free™ and urging her to ˜Dispel the Negro Mother™s
fears™, the poem was illustrated with the image of a white woman taking
coffee in her home with her child on her lap; an enchained black woman
has entered the room appealing for help and in the background this
woman™s child is shown being dragged away into slavery by a white man.
Anti-slavery women thus brought the horrors of slavery home to British
women while stressing their own superior domesticity.16

14
Midgley, ˜Can Women Be Missionaries?™; the quote is from the British and Foreign School
Society™s ˜Appeal in Behalf of Native Females™, Missionary Register (1820), 434. For the concept of
providential imperialism see Brian Stanley, The Bible and the Flag: Protestant Missions and British
Imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Leicester, 1990).
15
Hall, Civilising Subjects; Thomas C. Holt, The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in
Jamaica and Britain, 1832“1938 (Baltimore, 1992).
16
An example of a roundel with the illustrated slogan ˜Am I not a woman and a sister™ can be viewed
in the Wilberforce House, Hull, England; ˜The negro mother™s appeal™ in Anti-Slavery Scrap Book
(London, 1829).
CLARE MIDGLEY
236
Women active in the foreign missionary movement aligned with anti-
slavery women in asserting non-Western women™s potential to be edu-
cated, civilised and Christianised. However, they also widely disseminated
visual images of non-Western women which associated cultural inferiority
with physical appearance: ˜immodest™ dress was associated with dark skin,
in contrast to images of the angelic white female missionary teacher,
armed with bonnet and Bible.17 The dissemination of such imagery by
middle-class women to working-class families may have helped bridge the
class divide around which domestic philanthropy was structured through
offering a vision of shared cross-class ethnic and racial identity based on a
sense of superiority to, and a maternalistic ˜helping™ stance towards, black
and brown women in Britain™s empire. Working-class women, however,
were con¬ned to supportive roles in both movements. Chartist women,
making analogies between their own position and that of slaves, chal-
lenged the hypocrisy of the privileged who focused on the ill-treatment of
British subjects abroad while ignoring injustice at home.18
White middle-class activists™ gendered ideologies of race and class were
also called into question by black and Asian women activists in Britain.
Such individuals, while small in number, brought the Empire home to
British people in the most literal sense. As women of colour from the
colonies they made spaces for themselves within the metropole and their
varied backgrounds and self-presentations challenged racial and ethnic
stereotypes of colonised women. Their very presence unsettled essentia-
lised notions of ethnic and racial difference and easy equations between
colonised peoples in the Empire and the labouring poor at home.
Mary Prince, an enslaved African-Caribbean woman brought to Brit-
ain by her owners, petitioned parliament for her legal freedom and dic-
tated her life-story in order to promote the emancipation of all slaves,
providing evidence not only of the victimisation of enslaved women but
also of their resistance.19 Her petition asserted a black woman™s right to
freedom over thirty years before white women began to petition for their
own legal rights. However, Prince™s movement from slave-servant to paid
servant in a leading British abolitionist household, her treatment by white
abolitionist women not as a fellow activist but as a victim of slavery,

17
For a fascinating discussion of the signi¬cance of bonnet-wearing as a marker of civility and
Christian conversion see Anna Johnston, Missionary Writing and Empire, 1800“1860 (Cambridge,
2003), 147“54.
18
Jutta Schwarzkopf, Women in the Chartist Movement (Basingstoke, 1991), esp. 95.
19
For the lives of other enslaved men and women in England at this period see Gretchen Gerzina,
Black England: Life Before Emancipation (London, 1995).
Bringing the Empire home: women activists in imperial Britain 237
whose suffering had to be con¬rmed through examination of the whip
marks on her body, and the suppression of elements of her story relating
to extra-marital sexual relationships, are together suggestive of the limits
of expression and opportunity for black women in early nineteenth-
century Britain. Such boundaries were framed by hierarchies based on
class as well as race, and by middle-class notions of respectability which
hinged on the rigid control of female sexual behaviour.20
Rather similar obstacles confronted another African-Caribbean
woman, Mary Seacole, in the post-emancipation period. Positioning
herself as a loyal British imperial subject, she travelled to Britain in the
1850s to offer her help in the Crimean War effort. However, she was
turned down for employment as a nurse by Florence Nightingale, who
was endeavouring to transform nursing into a ˜respectable™ profession for
middle-class English women. She ascribed this rejection to her race but,
as a free woman with ¬nancial resources, she was far less dependent on
white patronage than Mary Prince had been. Through her self-¬nanced
work running a hotel for soldiers near the front line, and later through
her autobiographical Wonderful Adventures, Seacole was able to success-
fully challenge her marginalisation within Britain and its empire. An
interesting shift in her image in Britain is discernible, from the motherly
and down-to-earth brown-skinned ˜doctress™ of the 1857 Punch cartoon,
presented in contrast to the angelic image of Florence Nightingale as the
˜lady with the lamp™, to the digni¬ed Victorian lady of the marble bust
produced by the royal sculptor Count Gleichen in 1871, a sculpture which
monumentalised Seacole™s public recognition at the heart of empire.21
In the late Victorian period a number of educated black and Asian
women came to Britain as students, and some were active in opening up
new opportunities for women in the Empire, interacting with British
female reform and feminist circles. In the 1880s Pandita Ramabai, a
widowed woman from a Hindu Brahmin family, travelled to Britain to
gain a medical training with the aim of serving Indian women as a doctor.

20
The History of Mary Prince was originally published in London in 1831. Two recent editions
contain extensive new critical introductions: Moira Ferguson (ed.), The History of Mary Prince, a
West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, rev. edn (Ann Arbor, 1997); Sarah Salih (ed.), The History of
Mary Prince, updated edn (London, 2004). See also Jennifer DeVere Brody, Impossible Purities:
Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture (Durham, NC, 1998).
21
Ziggi Alexander and Audrey Dewjee (eds.), Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands
(Bristol, 1984), which includes reproductions of the Punch cartoon of 30 May 1857 and the
Gleichen sculpture. See also Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, ˜Mrs Seacole™s Wonderful Adventures in
Many Lands and the Consciousness of Transit™, in Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina (ed.), Black
Victorians, Black Victoriana (New Brunswick, 2003), 71“87.
CLARE MIDGLEY
238
However, as Antoinette Burton observes, ˜imperial England proved to be
inhospitable ground for Ramabai™s developing female reform conscious-
ness™. Amid pressure from her white patrons not to undertake public
speaking in order to safeguard her respectability, and attempts to remould
her into a Christian missionary to Indian women, she sought her own path,
questioning Anglican orthodoxy and asserting her own agenda of social
reform. Two years after her departure Cornelie Sorabji, a single woman
from a Parsi Christian family, also came to Britain to study, becoming the
¬rst women to qualify as a lawyer in this country, a pioneering ¬gure in
the feminist campaign to open up new educational and employment
opportunities for women in the late Victorian period. As highly educated
women Ramabai and Sorabji™s very presence in the imperial metropole
called into question both missionary and Western feminist representations
of Indian women as passive, ignorant and superstitious.22

female imperialists
From the late Victorian period, public activism in Britain increasingly
focused less on the social reform of empire than on promoting support for
it in the face of threats to British imperial supremacy from the growing
power of other industrialising Western nations, and on strengthening
imperial bonds through cementing links with the self-governing white
settler colonies of ˜Greater Britain™. Imperialist and patriotic organisations
proliferated in the Edwardian period, fostered by the impact of the South
African War of 1899“1902. Historians have remarked on the very mas-
culinist and militaristic imperial ethos of this period.23 However, this did
not preclude an important role for female activists, and female imperialism
gained increasing signi¬cance after the First World War. The discussion
that follows, focusing on female imperial activism between the 1880s and
the 1930s, complements Keith McClelland and Sonya Rose™s discussion
in this volume of the politics of gender, citizenship and empire over this
period.24

22
Antoinette Burton, At the Heart of Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian
Britain (Berkeley, 1998), quote from 109. See also Rozina Visram, Ayahs, Lascars and Princes:
Indians in Britain, 1700“1947 (London, 1986).
23
John M. Mackenzie, Propaganda and Empire (Manchester, 1984); John M. Mackenzie (ed.),
Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester, 1986); Dane Kennedy, Britain and Empire,
1880“1945 (London, 2002); John Tosh, ˜Manliness, Masculinities and the New Imperialism, 1880“
1900™, in his Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Harlow, 2005), 192“214.
24
For comparative material on German women imperialists at the period see Lora Wildenthal,
German Women for Empire, 1884“1945 (Durham, NC, 2001).
Bringing the Empire home: women activists in imperial Britain 239
As Paula Krebs has noted, in the new, more virulently racist envir-
onment of the late Victorian period, public criticisms of British
imperialism, even in progressive circles, were more likely to take the form
of advocacy of the Boer cause in South Africa than concern over racism
towards Africans. Olive Schreiner, the South African feminist writer,
wrote a series of articles for major British periodicals in the 1890s which
put a sympathetic view of Afrikaners before the public and sought to
justify their genocide against indigenous peoples. In a chilling passage she
mocked ˜the fair European woman™ for criticising Boers from the safety of
her drawing-room in the metropole:
But if, from behind some tapestry-covered armchair in the corner, a small,
wizened, yellow face were to look out now, and a little naked arm guided an
arrow, tipped with barked bone dipped in poison, at her heart, the cry of the
human preserving itself would surely arise; Jeaves would be called up, the
policeman with his baton would appear, and if there were a pistol in the house, it
would be called into requisition! The little prehistoric record would lie dead
upon the Persian carpet.25
Schreiner™s social Darwinist language contrasted sharply with the
sympathetic anti-slavery image of the black woman entering the English
woman™s home in the ˜Negro mother™s appeal™, and instead evoked images
which had circulated during the Indian Rebellion of 1857“8. This event,
widely interpreted by historians as marking a shift to much more negative
attitudes to colonised peoples, saw a threat to British imperial dominance
presented to the public as a threat to helpless English women, under attack
in their colonial homes by wild Indian men.26
A few years later, when the concentration camps controversy became
the biggest scandal of the South African War, it was the sufferings of
Boers, not the substantial number of Africans who were also con¬ned to
camps, which was the focus of debate. This controversy is a key moment
in the history of British women™s imperial activism: it was the ¬rst time
that women were the leading public advocates on opposing sides of a
major debate concerning British imperial policy. Emily Hobhouse, who
visited the camps for the anti-war and pro-Boer South African Women
and Children™s Distress Fund, published a highly critical report in 1901
which gained widespread coverage in the press and stimulated anti-war


25
Olive Schreiner, Thoughts on South Africa (London, 1923), 154, quoted in Paula Krebs, Gender,
Race and the Writing of Empire: Public Discourse and the Boer War (Cambridge, 1999), 132.
26
Christine Bolt, Victorian Attitudes to Race (London, 1971); Sara Suleri, The Rhetoric of English India
(Chicago, 1992).
CLARE MIDGLEY
240
activism and heated parliamentary debate. The government responded by
setting up its own Ladies Commission, led by leading women™s suffrage
campaigner and Liberal Unionist Millicent Fawcett, to investigate the
camps and suggest reforms.27 It was the ¬rst government commission
made up entirely of women and is suggestive of the way in which well-
connected white middle-class women, even before they gained the vote,
were becoming a part of the political nation, accepted as experts on issues
relating to the treatment of women in the Empire, as British feminists
had hoped. As Paula Krebs points out, the question of racial difference
was central to the debate between Hobhouse and Fawcett: were Boer
women more like ˜us™, the English, or more like ˜them™, the Africans?
Hobhouse sought to evoke empathy for digni¬ed suffering mothers under
threat from sexually predatory Africans; in contrast, Fawcett sought to
blame deaths in the camps on ignorant inadequate mothers who were
part of a backward enemy ˜race™.28
The South African War was a major catalyst for the emergence in
Edwardian Britain of an imperialist women™s movement. One organisa-
tion directly stimulated by the war was the Girl Guides, which developed
from 1909 as the female wing of the Boy Scouts, founded by the hero of
the siege of Mafeking, Robert Baden-Powell; it was a patriotic movement
aiming to encourage ˜womanly™ qualities at home and on the imperial
frontier.29 Another in¬‚uential organisation set up in the aftermath of the
war was the Victoria League, the only women-run empire propaganda
society in Britain. At its foundation in 1901 its president Lady Jersey
asserted that ˜they were English women and the impulse of their race was
not to sit with folded hands and tremble for the future™, presenting
women as active rather than passive in the face of a threat to empire.30
Women™s organisations founded in the late Victorian period, including
the Girls™ Friendly Society (f. 1874) and the British Women™s Emigration

27
For Fawcett™s pro-imperial politics, including her opposition to Irish Home Rule, see David
Rubinstein, A Different World for Women: The Life of Millicent Garrett Fawcett (Columbus, OH,
1991), ch. 10. For the perspective of another leading ˜imperial feminist™ on the war see Antoinette
Burton, ˜ ˜˜States of Injury™™: Josephine Butler on Slavery, Citizenship, and the Boer War™, in Ian
Christopher Fletcher, Laura E. Nym Mayhall and Philippa Levine (eds.), Women™s Suffrage in the
British Empire: Citizenship, Nation and Race (London, 2000), 18“32.
28
Krebs, Gender, Race and the Writing of Empire, esp. 64“6, 69“79.
29
Allen Warren, ˜ ˜˜Mothers for the Empire™™ ? The Girl Guides Association in Britain, 1909“1939™, in
J. A. Mangan (ed.), Making Imperial Mentalities: Socialisation and British Imperialism (Manchester,
1990), 96“109.
30
Lady Jersey, ˜The Victoria League™, National Review, 52 (1909), 317“18, quoted in Eliza Reidi,
˜Imperialist Women in Edwardian Britain: The Victoria League 1899“1914™ (PhD, University of
St Andrews, 1998), 29.
Bringing the Empire home: women activists in imperial Britain 241
Association (f. 1884), also adopted an increasingly imperialist agenda in
the Edwardian period. As Julia Bush points out, this imperialist women™s
movement was led by upper middle-class and aristocratic ladies, often
politically Conservative and High Church, with close links to leading
male imperialists. They were adept at using their social position to exert
informal in¬‚uence on powerful men and asserting a ˜womanly™ imperi-
alism to complement the approach of the masculine imperial elite.31
Female emigration societies combined woman-oriented and empire-
oriented agendas.32 White settler colonies were promoted as alternative
homes for British women who lacked opportunities in the metropole, and
female migration was presented as a solution to the shortage of white
women, and a way of strengthening the British settler community at the
expense of Afrikaners in South Africa. Female emigrators took it for
granted that Britons had a right to settle in lands over which they had seized
control from indigenous peoples, and in their propaganda the violence
of male conquest and land appropriation was rendered invisible. The

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