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activists presented women as consolidating empire through the creation
of settled communities, tempering the masculine frontier mentality with
feminine domesticity. In¬‚uenced by social Darwinism and eugenics, they
developed the concept of ˜imperious maternity™, expressing concern for
emigrating ˜the right sort of women™ who would become ˜nursing mothers
of the English race to be™ and spread the English way of life.33 Tensions,
however, arose between women-run voluntary societies, who were keen
to place middle-class women as teachers and governesses, and the British
imperial government and colonial authorities, who wanted working-class
women to be sent as domestic servants and potential farmers™ wives.
If female emigration societies focused on exporting the English way of
life, the women of the Primrose League concentrated on fostering public
support for empire at home as part of the agenda of popular
Conservatism. Concerned to gain support from the expanding working-
class male electorate, the League set out to promote Conservative values,
31
Julia Bush, Edwardian Ladies and Imperial Power (Leicester, 2000). For earlier in¬‚uence by
aristocratic women on politics see K. D. Reynolds, Aristocratic Women and Political Society in
Victorian Britain (Oxford, 1998); Amanda Vickery (ed.), Women, Privilege and Power: British
Politics, 1750 to the Present (Stanford, 2001), esp. chs. 1, 2, 4.
32
The standard history of female emigration societies, A. James Hammerton, Emigrant Gentlewomen:
Genteel Poverty and Female Emigration, 1830“1914 (London, 1979), does not directly address the issue
of the societies™ support for empire.
33
J. Bush, ˜ ˜˜The Right Sort of Woman™™: Female Emigrators and Emigration to the British Empire,
1890“1910™, Women™s History Review, 3 (1994), 385“409. Bush is quoting Mrs Chapin in Imperial
Colonist, 2 (August 1903), Dora Browne™s poem ˜To England™s Daughters™, Imperial Colonist,
3 (December 1904) and Susan Countess of Malmesbury in Imperial Colonist, 1 (January 1903).
CLARE MIDGLEY
242
de¬ned as ˜the maintenance of Religion, the Estates of the Realm, and of
the unity of the British Empire under our Sovereign™. While the League
was not a female-led organisation, women comprised nearly half its
membership, which reached two million by 1910.34 Its Ladies™ Grand
Council undertook its own propaganda initiatives, and established local
˜habitations™ in which women were frequently more active than men,
forming an army of unpaid canvassers and organisers. These women were
vital to the League™s agenda, which Matthew Hendley describes as an
attempt to ˜domesticize politics™, acting as a bridge between the remote
world of Westminster politics and everyday life in family and local
community and creating ˜an arena in which politics were never com-
pletely absent but were conducted subtly in a non-confrontational
atmosphere and absorbed almost unconsciously™.35 The provision of free
social entertainments was central to this: lantern slide shows, tableaux
vivants and speakers promoted the cult of the hero, patriotism and
militarism, and the report of one such event, in which a platform speaker
was sandwiched ˜between a nigger song and a conjuror™,36 is suggestive of
the casual racism which imbued popular imperialism at this period.
Leading Dames were highly politically engaged women and at times
their activities had major repercussions for the Conservative Party™s male
leadership. This happened in the 1900s over Tariff Reform, when leading
Dames defected from the League to form a Women™s Committee of the
Tariff Reform League in 1904, contributing to a crisis in the Party over
the policy by stoking fears that the popular support base of Conservatism
would be undermined. Less controversially, Dames played an important
role in promoting the maintenance of Union with Ireland, seen by the
Conservative Party as crucial to the survival of the Empire. Liberal
introduction of a new Home Rule Bill in 1912 led Dames to launch a
˜Help the Ulster Women™ committee to aid those expected to ¬‚ee Ulster
in the event of civil war. The League™s ˜most notable pre-war political
philanthropic endeavour™,37 it provided a way for unenfranchised women
to show their strong views on a key political issue.
In contrast to the Primrose League, the Victoria League prided itself
on its ˜non-political™ stance, numbering Liberal Unionists and Liberals as

Martin Pugh, The Tories and the People, 1880“1935 (Oxford, 1985), 13, 27. See also G. E. Maguire,
34

Conservative Women: A History of Women and the Conservative Party, 1874“1997 (London, 1998).
35
Matthew Hendley, ˜Patriotic Leagues and the Evolution of Popular Patriotism and Imperialism in
Great Britain, 1914“1932™ (PhD, University of Toronto, 1998), 105.
36
Primrose League Gazette, 24 May 1890, quoted in Pugh, The Tories and the People, 35.
37
Hendley, ˜Patriotic Leagues™, 107.
Bringing the Empire home: women activists in imperial Britain 243
well as Conservatives among its leadership. Developing innovative pro-
paganda methods, it sought to maintain imperial unity not through
˜male™ political, administrative or military means but through the pro-
motion of ˜imperial sentiment™ among the general public in both Britain
and its empire. A key aspect of its work was the imperial education of
children and the cultural spread of pro-imperial ideas in both Britain and
the Dominions. Its branches organised lectures, lantern slide talks,
reading circles, essay competitions and Empire Day celebrations. It also
fostered personal ties between British and white colonial children through
extensive school linking and pen-friend schemes. However, it never
became a mass organisation in the way that the Primrose League was,
gaining support mainly from the upper and middle classes.38
One way in which the Victoria League attempted to appeal to the
working class and draw in a wider social and political spectrum of female
activists was through the promotion of social imperialism. Linking social
reform at home with the strengthening of the Empire overseas in varying
ways this, as Keith McClelland and Sonya Rose discuss, became a
dominant element of British political culture in the late nineteenth
century. Female social imperialism, which combined women™s imperial
interest with their established role in philanthropy, social reform and
local government, remains an under-researched area. Violet Markham
was a pivotal ¬gure in this regard. A leading ¬gure in the Victoria League,
she combined a radical Liberalism with Milnerite imperialism, public
prominence with opposition to women™s suffrage. In 1905 she was
involved in forming the League™s Industrial Committee, on which she
worked in cooperation with leading female social reformers, feminists and
Fabian socialists including May Tennant and Maud Pember Reeves. The
Committee collected together material for a 1908 handbook comparing
factory laws in Britain and the self-governing colonies. Markham™s
interest in the issue was tied to her social Darwinist and eugenicist
concerns: protective legislation, she believed, would safeguard the welfare
of mothers of the ˜imperial race™. She followed up the Committee™s
initiative by organising the Victoria League Imperial Health Conference
and Exhibition, which focused on town planning and housing, and on
infant health and ˜mothercraft™.39 Markham, together with Flora Shaw
(Lady Lugard), the colonial editor of The Times from 1893 to 1900,
38
Eliza Reidi, ˜Women, Gender, and the Promotion of Empire: The Victoria League, 1901“1914™,
Historical Journal, 45 (2002), 569“99.
39
Eliza Reidi, ˜Options for an Imperialist Woman: The Case of Violet Markham, 1899“1914™, Albion,
32 (2000), 59“84.
CLARE MIDGLEY
244
emerged as leading public ˜crusaders for empire™ in late Victorian and
Edwardian Britain, breaking into hitherto male preserves with their
journalism and their authoritative studies of South Africa and Nigeria.40
In keeping with its concern for sustaining the ˜imperial race™ and main-
taining imperial unity, the upper-class ladies of the Victoria League also
drew on their traditional role as society hostesses to organise extensive
hospitality for white female colonial visitors, to help them feel at home
at the heart of empire.41 However, relations between metropolitan and
colonial women were not always smooth. While colonial women increas-
ingly demanded a relationship of equal sisterhood to women in Britain,
British women were accustomed to seeing themselves in a superior maternal
role in relation to Britain™s overseas empire and were not always sympathetic
to white settler women™s role in the nation-building process which
accompanied the shift to Dominion status.42 By 1914, Angela Woollacott
argues, Antipodean feminists in the metropole were positioning themselves
as ˜an imperial feminist vanguard™, having already won the vote in advance
of women in Britain itself.43 This challenged British women™s view of
themselves as the leaders of the women of the Empire. Despite these ten-
sions, however, white women in Britain and the settler colonies articulated a
strong familial bond based explicitly on assertions of a common cultural
heritage and less openly on white racial solidarity and anti-black racism.44
During the First World War, while feminist activists divided between a
pro- and anti-war stance, female imperialist and patriotic organisations
united in organising practical contributions to the ˜home front™ and
promoting the war effort in patriotic and imperial terms.45 The Primrose
League urged women to use their power as household consumers to
support the Empire by purchasing imperial produce. The Victoria League
set up clubs in London for imperial soldiers and nurses, organised public
40
Helen Callaway and Dorothy O. Helly, ˜Crusader for Empire: Flora Shaw / Lady Lugard™, in
Nupur Chaudhuri and Margaret Strobel (eds.), Western Women and Imperialism: Complicity and
Resistance (Bloomington, 1992), 79“97.
41
Reidi, ˜Women, Gender and the Promotion of Empire™, 585. For women and ˜Society™ in Victorian
and Edwardian Britain see Leonore Davidoff, The Best Circles, new edn (London, 1986).
42
Bush, Edwardian Ladies and Imperial Power, ch. 6.
43
Angela Woollacott, To Try Her Fortune in London: Australian Women, Colonialism, and Modernity
(Oxford, 2001), 119. See also Angela Woollacott, ˜Australian Women™s Metropolitan Activism:
From Suffrage, to Imperial Vanguard, to Commonwealth Feminism™, in Fletcher, Mayhall and
Levine (eds.), Women™s Suffrage in the British Empire, 207“23; Bush, Edwardian Ladies and
Imperial Power, ch. 6.
44
Bush, Edwardian Ladies and Imperial Power, ch. 7; Reidi, ˜Women, Gender and the Promotion of
Empire™, 197“200.
45
For feminists and the war see Johanna Alberti, Beyond Suffrage: Feminists in War and Peace,
1914“1928 (Basingstoke, 1989).
Bringing the Empire home: women activists in imperial Britain 245
lecture series on ˜the Empire and the War™, and mass-produced pamphlets
which stressed the vital contributions of colonial troops to the war effort.
Both organisations saw the war as a crucial time for determining the
future of the British Empire.46
The organisations continued to be very active after the war, a period
when, as Matthew Hendley points out, the militaristic and acquisitive
imperialism promoted by many male-dominated organisations had lost its
appeal to the public. It was also one when there was a renewed emphasis
on domesticity within British society as a whole, and in this context,
women activists, with their ˜domesticated imperial message™ were well
placed to take a central role in ensuring the continued success of organised
patriotism and imperialism.47 This message was directed at the new
mass electorate, particularly women, re¬‚ecting the importance of securing
female support for empire at a time when communism, socialism and anti-
colonial nationalism were on the rise. The new social imperialist agenda
developed at government level recognised ˜the importance of women to
any comprehensive strengthening of empire™ and was concerned to address
the new ˜surplus woman™ problem, as the large numbers of single women
facing unemployment at the end of the war led to fears of a revival of
militant feminism.48 Single women were targeted for assisted emigration
to the colonies through the Society for the Oversea Settlement of British
Women, a hybrid voluntary“state organisation representative of the way
in which women, now full citizens, promoted welfare agendas in coop-
eration with an increasingly interventionist state.49
The Primrose League helped promote the Conservative government™s
Empire Settlement scheme while also targeting the new female electorate,
urging them to vote for a candidate who ˜stands as representative of the
British Empire and as imperialist™.50 Its promotion of Empire Shopping
targeted women as imperial consumers who ˜as the shoppers of the
empire, could insure that trade followed red routes™.51 The Victoria

46
Hendley, ˜Patriotic Leagues™, chs. 2 and 4.
47
Ibid., 11, 415, 8. For interwar gender relations and domesticity see Susan Kingsley Kent, Making
Peace: The Reconstruction of Gender in Interwar Britain (Princeton, 1993).
48
Brian Blakely, ˜The Society for the Oversea Settlement of British Women and the Problems of
Empire Settlement, 1917“1936™, Albion, 20 (1988), 421“44, quote from 421.
49
Dane Kennedy, ˜Empire Settlement in Postwar Reconstruction: The Role of the Oversea
Settlement Committee, 1919“1922™, Albion, 20 (1988), 403“19.
50
˜The Vote: What I Want Before I Get It™, Primrose League Gazette, 26 August 1918, 4, quoted in
Hendley, ˜Patriotic Leagues™, 161. For female support for the Conservative Party in the interwar
period see David Jarvis, ˜˜˜Behind Every Great Party™™: Women and Conservatism in Twentieth-
century Britain™, in Vickery (ed.), Women, Privilege and Power, 289“316.
51
Blakely, ˜The Society for the Oversea Settlement of British Women™, 432.
CLARE MIDGLEY
246
League organised thousands of lectures on imperial topics, many of them
to Women™s Institutes, intended to bolster interest in empire among
newly enfranchised rural women.52 The League also offered support to
Malayan students studying in London. This decision to move beyond its
earlier exclusive focus on white settler visitors was promoted by concern
at the rise of anti-colonial activism in London. The League hoped to
create a new generation of imperial subjects who were loyal to empire
while avoiding over-close social contact with those of ˜other™ races: it set
up a student hostel rather than offering home hospitality.53

anti-imperial and anti-racist activists
Women™s pro-empire activism thus took place against a background of,
and was in part a defensive response to, the rise of anti-colonial nation-
alisms, the growth of Pan-Africanism, and critiques of Western imperialism
from communists and those on the labour left. London began to become
the hub of nascent anti-colonial nationalist activism at the turn of the
century and by the interwar period it was the home of a number of
transnational organisations and a crossroads for international contacts.54
While such organisations tended to be male-dominated, partly
re¬‚ecting the disproportionate number of men to women in the black
British population at the period, a number of individual women rose to
prominence. White British women, newly empowered through winning
the vote and the right to stand as Members of Parliament, responded to
such development in diverse ways. Some, like the activists discussed
above, opposed them outright; others, notably Margery Perham, one of
the ¬rst British women to become recognised as an academic expert on
colonial issues, promoted of¬cial attempts to preserve empire through
remoulding colonial administration in more ˜progressive™ but still fun-
damentally paternalistic directions. Another set, on the political left,
aligned themselves with the new radical movements.55

52
For the history of the WI see M. Andrews, The Acceptable Face of Feminism: The Women™s Institute
Movement (London, 1997).
53
Hendley, ˜Patriotic Leagues™, 463“4, 446.
54
Peter Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (London, 1984), 262“97; Hakim
Adi, West Africans in Britain, 1900“1960: Nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Communism (London,
1998); Jonathan Schneer, London 1900: The Imperial Metropolis (Newhaven, CT, 1999), chs. 8“9;
Ron Ramdin, The Making of the Black Working-Class in Britain (London, 1987).
55
Barbara Bush, ˜ ˜˜Britain™s Conscience on Africa™™: White Women, Race and Imperial Politics in
interwar Britain™, in Clare Midgley (ed.), Gender and Imperialism (Manchester, 1998), 200“23;
A. Smith and M. Ball (eds.), Margery Perham and British Rule in Africa (London, 1991).
Bringing the Empire home: women activists in imperial Britain 247
Anti-racist and anti-imperialist activism began to develop in Britain in
the late Victorian period, partly connected with the earlier anti-slavery
movement, but mainly associated with the increasingly organised demands
for racial equality and self-government by black people themselves. In
response, more radical white women began to move from a philanthropic
approach to cooperation with black activists. One of the pioneers in this
regard was English Quaker Catherine Impey. Her magazine Anti-Caste,
launched in 1888, campaigned against racism throughout the world, with a
dual focus on the USA and the British Empire, and Impey also organised
British lecture tours by African-American anti-lynching campaigner Ida
B. Wells.56 In the 1910s another white woman activist, the feminist and
theosophist Annie Besant, played a pivotal role in cementing organisa-
tional links between Indian- and British-based supporters of nationalism.
Her India: A Nation, a Plea for Self Government was published in London
in 1915.57 Radical women™s interest in Indian nationalism persisted into
the interwar period. Socialist feminist MP Ellen Wilkinson was one of a
group of 100 MPs who pledged their support for the India League, which
campaigned for complete self-rule within the Commonwealth. In 1932
Wilkinson, Leonard Matters (another Labour MP) and Monica Whately,
a spokeswoman of the ˜equal rights™ feminist Six Point Group and an
Independent Labour Party activist, went on a long fact-¬nding mission to
India for the League. Their subsequent report, Condition of India (1934), is
described by Rozina Visram as ˜a searing indictment of the Raj in India™.58
Pan-Africanism was also a major political current in interwar Britain,
with many transnational organisations having their bases in London.
Such groups combined opposition to racism within Britain with pro-
motion of anti-colonial nationalisms, pan-African cooperation, and
opposition to racial discrimination within the USA. Organisations, many
of which were formed by student activists, ranged in focus from the
welfare-orientated to the overtly political, and in political orientation
from reformist to communist.59 Among the most prominent of women
56
Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism and History (London, 1992), ch. 4, quote from
215; entry on Catherine Impey by David M. Fahey in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
(Oxford, 2004).
57
Nancy Paxton, ˜Complicity and Resistance in the Writings of Flora Annie Steel and Annie Besant™,
in Chaudhuri and Strobel (eds.), Western Women and Imperialism, 158“76.
58
Visram, Ayahs, Lascars and Princes, quote from 163. Visram (178“9) points out that by 1934 there
were 100 Indian female students studying in Britain, but it is unclear how many were involved in
any form of political activity.
59
Hakim Adi and Marika Sherwood, Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the
Diaspora since 1787 (London, 2003); Adi, West Africans in Britain; Imanuel Geiss, The Pan-African
Movement, trans. Ann Keep (London, 1974).
CLARE MIDGLEY
248
active in the radical wing of the Pan-Africanist movement was Amy
Ashwood Garvey, who played a crucial role in linking West African
activists to West Indians and African-Americans. Garvey, drawing on her
experience in Jamaica and the USA in founding and running the Universal
Negro Improvement Association with her ex-husband Marcus Garvey,
assisted in forming the Nigerian Progress Union in London in 1924.
Through this organisation she sought to forward her agendas of pro-
moting education as a necessary precursor to black political emancipation,
encouraging self-help and improving the lives of black women. In the
1930s she was vice-president and spokesperson of the International African
Service Bureau, an organisation combining Marxism, anti-imperialism
and Pan-Africanism. The Florence Mills Social Parlour in Carnaby Street,
which she set up as a social centre for black people in London, formed part
of a web of social support sustained by black women which was vital both
to cementing black political networks and in creating homes-from-home
within an alien and racist environment.60
Another leading black woman activist in 1930s™ Britain was Una Marson,
described by Delia Jarrett-Macauley as ˜the ¬rst black British feminist to
speak out against racism and sexism in Britain™. The Jamaican playwright,
poet and journalist became editor of The Keys, the journal of Harold
Moody™s League of Coloured Peoples, and a leading spokesperson for
the League. In contrast to Garvey, she was a reformist and opponent of
communism, who participated in many British women™s organisations,
particularly those with an internationalist and paci¬st focus. These inclu-
ded the British Commonwealth League, formed in 1925 to encourage the
development of women™s groups within the Commonwealth. She brought
feminist ideas into black-led organisations and simultaneously pressed the
white-dominated British and international women™s movement to treat
black women on terms of equality and take their concerns seriously.61
The Ethiopian cause was one which united black and white women
activists of varying political hues from 1935, when Italy under Mussolini™s
fascist regime invaded the only African country hitherto free from Eur-
opean imperial conquest. Amy Ashwood Garvey organised fund-raising
in defence of the people of Ethiopia, while Una Marson became the
secretary to the Ethiopian minister in London, and after Emperor Haile
Selassie™s exile to London she accompanied him as a personal secretary to
60
Adi and Sherwood, Pan-African History, 69“75. For racism in interwar Britain see Fryer, Staying
Power, 298“366; Laura Tabili, ˜We Ask for British Justice™: Workers and Racial Difference in Late
Imperial Britain (Ithaca, 1994).
Delia Jarrett-Macauley, The Life of Una Marson, 1905“65 (Manchester, 1998).
61
Bringing the Empire home: women activists in imperial Britain 249
Geneva to plead for help from the League of Nations. Ethiopia also
became the central focus of activism for white British feminist Sylvia
Pankhurst (1882“1960). She had already turned her focus to anti-racism
and anti-imperialism in her paper the Workers™ Dreadnought. Jamaican
poet and activist Claude McKay, who wrote for the paper, later recalled
that ˜whenever imperialism got drunk and went wild among native
peoples, the Pankhurst paper would be on the job™.62 To promote the
Ethiopian cause she launched a new paper, the New Times and Ethiopian
News, which at its height sold 40,000 copies weekly in Britain, West
Africa and the West Indies. While better known in Britain today as a
feminist and socialist, on her death in Ethiopia in 1960 the leading
African-American activist W. E. B. DuBois asserted that ˜the great work
of Sylvia Pankhurst was to introduce black Ethiopia to white England™.63
Other white women active in socialist and feminist politics also sup-
ported the Ethiopian cause and combined anti-racist, anti-imperialist and
anti-fascist agendas in the 1930s, among them Ellen Wilkinson, Monica
Whately, the former militant suffragist Charlotte Despard, the writers
and close friends Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby, and Nancy Cunard.
Cunard came out of a very different social milieu from Pankhurst, and
was representative of a new generation of ˜modern™ women, in¬‚uenced by
the modernist movement in the arts and espousing alternative bohemian
lifestyles, for whom personal liberation and political commitment were
closely intertwined. From a privileged upper-class background, the
rebellious Nancy took advantage of her ¬nancial independence to escape
England in 1920 for a bohemian life on the Parisian left bank, an avant-
garde milieu within which African art and jazz music were espoused as
rejections of bourgeois European values. Cunard™s relationship with
African-American jazz musician Henry Crowder caused a scandal in
Britain, tapping into eugenic concerns which placed white women as the
insurers of racial purity and condemned interracial relationships.64
Cunard™s major achievement was the compilation of Negro: An
Anthology, an 850-page tome published in 1934, a record of ˜the struggles
and achievements, the persecutions and the revolts against them, of the
Negro peoples™. Its Pan-Africanist perspective was combined with explicit
endorsement of the Communist Party line on the question of race,

62
Claude McKay, A Long Way from Home (New York, 1970), 27, quoted in Mary Davis, Sylvia
Pankhurst: A Life in Radical Politics (London, 1999), 105.
63
Ethiopia Observer, 5 January 1961, quoted in Davis, Sylvia Pankhurst, 116.
64
Lucy Bland, ˜White Women and Men of Colour: Miscegenation Fears in Britain After the Great
War™, Gender and History, 17 (1) (2005), 29“61.
CLARE MIDGLEY
250
re¬‚ecting the strength of black Marxism in this period. As Maureen
Moynagh discusses, the volume included written and visual material by
key African-American, West Indian and West African intellectual and
cultural workers and members of international modernist circles in Paris
and London, exposing the extent to which modernism was dependent on
black labour and cultural production.65

conclusion
Research on women™s empire-based activism in Britain between the 1790s
and the 1930s remains patchy and incomplete, despite the burgeoning
of scholarly interest in the topic since the early 1990s. In particular, more
work needs to be done on the ˜rank and ¬le™ female membership of
the diverse range of organisations discussed, on local activism outside the
imperial capital, on the impact of women™s activism on the broader public,
and on white working-class women™s relationship to imperial campaigns.
What is clear is that empire-focused activism was a central component
of middle- and upper-class white women™s public work and political
engagements throughout the period of study, and that for women imperial
and domestic concerns were intermeshed. Women of colour also made
crucial contributions to debates on race and empire throughout the per-
iod. The form that women™s imperial activism took varied in response to
shifts in imperial politics and changes in the position of women within
British society. However, anti-slavery and missionary women, female
imperialists and female anti-imperialists all contributed in vital ways to
shaping public debate on empire, to bringing empire home to the British
public and highlighting its relevance to their everyday lives, and to forging
links between women based in the imperial metropole and the colonies.
Seeking to bring the speci¬c concerns of women to the fore in imperial
politics, women claimed a place in the imperial nation. In the process, they
were involved in shaping gendered class identities through articulating
feminine visions of racial and ethnic belonging within imperial Britain.

65
Maureen Moynagh, Essays on Race and Empire: Nancy Cunard (Peterbrough, ON, 2002),
introduction, 11.
chap ter t we lve

Taking class notes on empire
James Epstein




The impact of empire on British class formation and identities was
uneven, varying across different social groups and at different historical
moments. Unfortunately, the scholarship on the relationship between class
and empire is itself fragmented and sometimes inadequate for answering
some of the most pressing questions. In part, this has to do with the
disciplinary division between domestic history, including ˜history from
below™, and imperial history in its more traditional guise; a separation
which a new generation of scholars has challenged, although class has
not been high on the agenda of the new imperial history. Moreover, as a
category of historical understanding, class has been under ¬re for some
time. And yet like an earlier generation of Marxist historians against whom
they have set their sights, scholars most intent on undermining class™s
status as a master category of British history have themselves left the
division between domestic and imperial history largely undisturbed,
recon¬rming (at least implicitly) the assumption that empire had little
impact on metropolitan society and political culture.1 Nonetheless, in
revisiting class from the perspective of empire, we should acknowledge the
arti¬ciality of pulling class out of a matrix of hierarchically ordered
identities “ gender, ethnicity, nation, race, etc. “ that impinged on peo-
ple™s lives. We must also take care not to treat empire as a unitary object or
static formation; different sties of empire were subject to different forms of
rule and thus differing connotations for class identities.
A further dif¬culty arises from the range of approaches available for
discussing both how and to what extent imperialism affected British class
relations. So, one of the classic questions of imperial history concerns the
bene¬ts of empire: in whose interests did the maintenance and expansion
of empire operate? The question has obvious implications for wealth and

1
See Catherine Hall, ˜Remembering Edward Said™, History Workshop Journal, 57 (2004), 240“1. My
own published work on nineteenth-century popular politics re¬‚ects the same implicit assumptions.

251
JAMES EPSTEIN
252
class formation. The issue of imperial bene¬ts may in turn be linked
cautiously to party politics, government policy, popular movements,
manifestos and the like; to how imperial issues were translated into
political action and ideology, and to how such political manifestations
may or may not express class feeling or interest. The most dif¬cult
questions, however, relate to broader cultural understandings of empire,
to how empire was perceived more generally and what bearing such an
´
imperial mentalite may have had on class identities. While it may well be
that members of Britain™s ruling elite viewed empire in what David
Cannadine has termed ˜ornamentalist™ terms, as elaborate ¬gurations of
sameness based on status hierarchy, we cannot assume that such was the
view of the British public at large.2 Indeed, this vision of hierarchically
ordered society, one that British colonial administrators found mirrored
in subject colonial settings, can itself be regarded as a class ideology, part
of the common sense of a ruling elite identi¬ed in the ¬rst instance with
landed wealth.
By way of introduction, something should be said about my chosen
period, the ˜long™ nineteenth century. The 1780s corresponds to the
quickened pace of domestic industrialisation and the emergence of class
discourses; it also corresponds to the beginnings of what C. A. Bayly
identi¬es as an imperial regime characterised by a form of ˜aristocratic
military government supporting a viceregal autocracy, by a well-developed
imperial style which emphasised hierarchy and racial subordination, and
by the patronage of indigenous landed elites™.3 The nineteenth century
takes in important changes, including the ˜new imperialism™ of the ¬nal
third of the century, and the formation of cultural and social patterns
which to some extent remained in place to the Great War, and beyond.4
The chapter is divided into four parts, designed to illustrate different
instances of class, or ways in which class was manifest in the mutual
constitution of imperial and domestic social formations. The ¬rst part of
this essay offers a schematic view of empire™s role in the foundation and
sustaining of elite rule, in both material and cultural terms. The second
section considers the anti-slavery movement as an example of the complex
ways in which interchanges between imperial and domestic sites could
shape class meanings. In the third section, I consider how the experience of

2
David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (London, 2001). The broad
claim that distinctions based on class prevailed over race, even if restricted to the ruling elite,
remains questionable.
C. A. Bayly, Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World 1780“1830 (London, 1989), 7“15.
3

See P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins, British Imperialism, 1688“2000 (London, 2001), 30“1, 48“9.
4
Taking class notes on empire 253
empire itself, in the case of military service, might affect class identities of
ordinary people. The essay concludes with a brief consideration of the late
nineteenth century, as an intensi¬ed moment when the culture of empire
produced not only feelings of national and imperial belonging but also
generated terms of social exclusion.

gentleman capitalists and empire
If the most striking characteristic of the Empire™s contribution to British
constructions of class was its unevenness, it was among sections of Brit-
ain™s ruling elite that empire™s in¬‚uence was most strongly manifest,
producing an imperial ethos that was in turn related to the creation and
maintenance of economic power linked to class rule. However, rather
than following Joseph Schumpeter in viewing imperialism as incompa-
tible with a ˜purely capitalist world™, and thus necessarily ˜atavistic™ in
character, it makes better sense to follow Mrinalini Sinha in stressing the
uneven and contradictory impulses and intersections within what she
terms a modern ˜imperial social formation™.5
P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins provide the most sophisticated and wide-
ranging interpretation of the class character of such an ˜imperial social
formation™. To summarise a highly nuanced and learned argument, they
trace the origins of ˜gentlemanly capitalism™ and the impetus behind
imperial expansion and policy to its origins in the eighteenth century
and to a commercially oriented oligarchy of landowners who became
increasingly allied to metropolitan ¬nanciers and merchant capital. Not
only did this impart an aristocratic tone and style to imperialism as it
turned from North America to India and beyond, it served to broaden and
consolidate the ranks of a gentlemanly elite who came to dominate British
economic life and policy. Cain and Hopkins thus shift economic emphasis
away from industrialisation and industrial wealth to non-industrial forms
of capitalism, particularly in the commercial and service sectors, to the
City of London rather than the industrial north and midlands.6 While
during the second half of the nineteenth century landed wealth yielded its
predominance to wealth generated from the service or ¬nance sector, ˜a
5
Joseph Schumpeter, Imperialism and Social Classes: Two Essays, trans. Heinz Norden (New York,
1955), 64“9; Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The ˜Manly Englishman™ and the ˜Effeminate
Bengali™ in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester, 1995), 2, 182“4.
6
Also see W. D. Rubinstein, Men of Property: The Very Rich in Britain since the Industrial Revolution
(New Brunswick, NJ, 1981). For a critique of their thesis, see Andrew Porter, ˜ ˜˜Gentlemanly
Capitalism™™ and Empire: The British Experience since 1750?™, Journal of Imperial and
Commonwealth History, 18 (1990), 265“95.
JAMES EPSTEIN
254
tight bond™ had been forged between elements within this sector, resulting
in a gentlemanly elite possessed of ˜a common view of the world and how
it should be ordered™. ˜The imperial mission™, they continue, ˜was the
export version of the gentlemanly order. In some respects, indeed, the
gentlemanly code appeared in bolder format abroad in order to counter
the lure of an alien environment.™7
Such an interpretation owes an obvious debt to J. A. Hobson™s
Imperialism: A Study (1902), and Hobson™s recognition of the role of
¬nance capitalists “ capitalists rooted in a pre-industrial mercantilist class “
in modern imperialism, although Cain and Hopkins not only extend
Hobson™s chronological reach, but strip his thesis of its conspiratorial
theories and his identi¬cation of imperial expansion with economic and
social backwardness. Cain and Hopkins demonstrate that by the second
half of the nineteenth century the City and the south of England were
established as the epicentre of British economic activity, with steady
increases in earnings from trade in services and overseas investments. Still,
the importance of exports of manufactured goods to the Empire, parti-
cularly to the settlement colonies and India, is also clear. As Hopkins
points out, many sectors of private wealth were directly linked to empire,
including the tobacco lords of Glasgow, the jute manufacturers of
Dundee, the steel manufacturers of Shef¬eld, the mill owners of Lanca-
shire, along with the ¬nanciers and merchant princes of London. Despite
vicissitudes over the long nineteenth century, imperial earnings made a
signi¬cant contribution to the wealth of Britain™s industrial and non-
industrial elites.8
Of course, the empire had to be ruled and recruitment into colonial
service provided a signi¬cant source of employment for aristocrats, milit-
ary of¬cers and gentlemen. The most lucrative colonial of¬ces were usually
¬lled from the highest reaches of the British aristocracy. Imperial service
also provided avenues of advancement for well-connected or talented
members of the Scottish and Anglo-Irish gentry, helping to integrate
these groups into the ranks of the British upper class through their
strong connections to empire.9 By the early nineteenth century an
7
Cain and Hopkins, British Imperialism, 43, 47.
8
Ibid., ch. 5, particularly tables 5.2, 5.3, 5.8; A. G. Hopkins, ˜Back to the Future: From National
History to Imperial History™, Past and Present, 164 (1999), 210; P. J. Cain, ˜Economics and Empire:
The Metropolitan Context™, in Wm. Roger Louis (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, 5
vols. (Oxford, 1998“9), vol. III: The Nineteenth Century, ed. Andrew Porter (1999), 31“52.
Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707“1837 (New Haven and London, 1992), 127“32; John
9

M. MacKenzie, ˜Essay and Re¬‚ection: On Scotland and the Empire™, International History Review,
15 (1993), 714“39.
Taking class notes on empire 255
ever-closer alliance was forged among traditional landed interests, the
Church, a reinvigorated monarchy, and increasingly powerful ¬nancial
and commercial interests.10 At the same time, attitudes to Indian service
softened. Thus P. J. Marshall observes that ˜some of the esteem which
service in India gained was no doubt a rationalization of class interest. For
the British upper class to continue to revile service in India into the
nineteenth century would have been a quixotic luxury.™11 Correspondingly,
there was a shift in of¬cial morality within the service that discouraged
interracial mixing and was underpinned by the force of evangelical
Christianity.
Along with the consolidation of elite power, an ˜aristocratic reaction™
developed in response to a crisis in ruling-class legitimacy and to revo-
lutionary upheavals spread not only throughout Europe but on a global
scale, including Ireland, the West Indies and India. During the French
Wars (1793“1815), Britain™s aristocratic and gentlemanly elite became more
´´
militarised, recreating, according to Bayly, a noblesse d™epee.12 Colonial
regimes magni¬ed reactionary and military trends, as they did earning
power.13 The repressive authority of the aristocratic state, which found
expression at ˜home™ in treason trials, the suspension of habeas corpus, the
infamous ˜Two Acts™ and anti-trade-union legislation, was more fully
manifest at the ˜peripheries™ of the imperial state, visited most violently on
the Irish peasantry following the insurrection of 1798 and the enslaved
rebels of the Caribbean.14 So, for example, in the newly seized island of
Trinidad, the colony™s ¬rst British governor, General Thomas Picton
(himself a member of the Welsh lesser gentry), imposed order through a
regime of tyranny and punishments so brutal that it led to his removal and
proceedings brought against him in Privy Council.15

10
See David Cannadine, Aspects of Aristocracy (New Haven and London, 1994), ch. 1, for what he
terms, ˜the making of the British upper class™.
11
P. J. Marshall, ˜The Moral Swing to the East: British Humanitarianism, India and the West
Indies™, in Kenneth Ballhatchet and John Harrison (eds.), East India Company Studies (Hong
Kong, 1986), 84“5.
12
See Bayly, Imperial Meridian, 133“4, 164“6, and Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire
(Cambridge, 1988), ch. 3, for the ˜crisis of the Indian state™; Colley, Britons, 184“5.
13
See Douglas M. Peers, Between Mars and Mammon: Colonial Armies and the Garrison State in Early
Nineteenth-Century India (London, 1995), ch. 1.
14
See Marianne Elliot, Partners in Revolution: The United Irishmen and France (New Haven and
London, 1982); Michael Craton, Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies
(Ithaca, 1982), particularly parts 3“5; Michael Duffy, ˜War, Revolution and the Crisis of the British
Empire™, in Mark Philp (ed.), The French Revolution and British Popular Politics (Cambridge,
1991), 118“45.
15
William Fullarton, Substance of the Evidence Delivered before the Lords of His Majesty™s Most
Honourable Privy Council, in the Case of Governor Picton (London, 1807).
JAMES EPSTEIN
256
The imperial ideal was sustained by more than the prerequisites of of¬ce
and an expanding system of colonial honours conferred by the imperial
state. Over the long nineteenth century, as imperial authoritarianism was
tempered by pragmatic reform, the codes and bonds of imperial service
were reproduced within an evolving culture and distinctly class-based
milieu. This milieu was inextricably linked to a gender regime based on
ideals of ˜adventure, male comradeship, and licensed aggression™.16 Central
to this masculine culture was the reformed and enlarged system of public
schools of mid-Victorian Britain. The values of muscular Christianity,
patriotism, fellowship, and chivalric visions of honour and loyalty were
forged on the playing ¬elds, in the sixth forms and houses of the ancient
and newly founded public schools. Fostering an elite code of service based
on classical models and ˜the habit of authority™, public schools staffed the
Empire. While Eton produced cabinet ministers, viceroys and ¬eld mar-
shals, newer schools like Clifton more typically trained the larger cadre of
gentlemen who moved into lesser positions in the military and imperial
service. The public schools played a critical role in blending the broadened
ranks of Britain™s gentlemanly elite. As preferment shifted from patronage
to merit, the public schools helped to rig the reformed system of exam-
ination and recruitment.17 Below this level, a group of minor public
schools emulating the public-school ethos catered to a wider range of
middle-class boys, helping to sustain multi-generational patterns of recruit-
ment.18 The lodges of public-school freemasonry spread throughout the
Empire and became part of its power structure.19
The public schools formed part of a network of associations sustaining a
gentlemanly ethos of privilege manifest in the practice of elite domestic
and imperial rule. For example, like the public schools, ˜clubland™
expanded during the nineteenth century, including clubs such as the East
India United Services Club and Oriental Club which owed their existence
solely to empire. As Mrinalini Sinha argues, the model of elite masculinity
associated with the concept of clubbability ˜leads beyond the network
of power relations produced by the internal politics of Britain to include

16
John Tosh, ˜Masculinities in an Industrializing Society: Britain, 1800“1914™, Journal of British
Studies, 44 (2005), 342.
17
A. P. Thornton, The Habit of Authority: Paternalism in British History (Toronto, 1966); Anthony
Kirk-Greene, Britain™s Imperial Administrators, 1858“1966 (Basingstoke, 2000), 9“22, 97“8; Mark
Girouard, The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman (New Haven and London,
1981), ch. 11, also ch. 14; Cain and Hopkins, British Imperialism, 45“7, 119“21.
18
Elizabeth Buettner, Empire Families: Britons and Late Imperial India (Oxford, 2004), 163“80.
19
Paul J. Rich, ˜Public-school Freemasonry in the Empire: ˜˜Ma¬a of the Mediocre™™?™, in J. A.
Mangan (ed.), ˜Bene¬ts Bestowed™?: Education and British Imperialism (Manchester, 1988), 174“92.
Taking class notes on empire 257
the wide set of class, gender, and race relations that was produced and
enabled by British imperialism™.20 Looking beyond the domestic context
for understanding how social and cultural relations were enabled by
imperialism, we must also recognise that various cultural manifestations of
rule “ found in modes of education, sociability, architecture, etc. “ were
marked not merely by a desire for af¬nity but by differential or asym-
metrical modes of authority and subjugation, by difference between
˜home™ and ˜away™.

anti-slavery and class politics
Turning from those who ruled, most bene¬ted from and most clearly
identi¬ed with empire to consider imperialism™s broader reach and
impact on the experiences and representations of class, we move on to
more dif¬cult and more contested ground.21 What follows is a provi-
sional, three-part sketch of broader, popular notations and intersections
between class and empire, stressing the conjunctional, uneven and often
fragmented character of such moments of intersection.
The anti-slavery campaign fused dual concerns of domestic and
imperial reform. The movement was sustained organisationally by the
provincial middle class; it embodied middle-class aspirations for social
and political recognition; and the ultimate triumph allowed middle-class
men and women to identify with the nation in its virtue. In conjunction
with a wider complex of middle-class reform, it did much to foster a sense
of class identity among its supporters.22 At its height, however, anti-
slavery mobilised national support across a broad social spectrum, from
sections of the ruling elite, including Pitt as Prime Minister, to artisans,
shopkeepers, labourers and domestic servants; women were especially
active in the movement, particularly in its later stages. Judging from
subscription lists, from the wide support for consumer boycotts of West
Indian sugar and rum and from anti-slavery petitions, anti-slavery
mobilised extraordinarily large numbers.23 The abolition of British slavery

20
Mrinalini Sinha, ˜Britishness, Clubbability, and the Colonial Public Sphere: The Genealogy of an
Imperial Institution in Colonial India™, Journal of British Studies, 40 (2001), 489“521, 496“7 (quotation).
21
See John M. Mackenzie, ˜Empire and Metropolitan Cultures™, in Oxford History of the British
Empire, ed. Porter, III, 270“93. Cf. Bernard Porter, The Absent-Minded Imperialists (Oxford, 2004).
David Turley, The Culture of English Anti-slavery, 1780“1860 (London, 1991), ch. 5; J. R. Old¬eld,
22

Popular Politics and British Anti-Slavery: The Mobilisation of Public Opinion Against the Slave
Trade, 1787“1807 (Manchester, 1995), ch. 5.
23
Seymour Drescher, Capitalism and Anti-slavery: British Mobilization in Comparative Perspective
(New York and Oxford, 1987), 93“4 and chs. 4“5; David Turley, ˜British Anti-slavery Reassessed™, in
JAMES EPSTEIN
258
in 1833 became a hallmark of British national identity: as a nation, Britain
was redeemed by an act of disinterested, Christian benevolence.24
However, if the abolition of slavery was seen as a distinguishing act of
British humanitarianism, this hardly exhausts the complex meanings
associated with anti-slavery, a movement whose character was multi-
faceted, often contradictory and shifted over time. Although opponents
continued to associate the anti-slavery campaign with subversion, the
taint of ˜Jacobinism™ was relatively short-lived; anti-slavery in its of¬cial
guise purged itself of radicalism; its national leaders emphasised support
for traditional authority and hierarchical order.25 Operating outside the
bounds of such authority, planters™ power was condemned in abolitionist
writings as unauthorised and arbitrary; planters became the incarnation of
imperial avarice, licence and excess. The image of the fabulously wealthy,
degenerate planter inverted the presumed norms of ˜English™ civility and
moral restraint.26 Such images cannot in themselves account for the
abolition of British slavery, but they suggest an aspect of the ideological
work of anti-slavery, allowing Britain™s ruling elite to legitimate its own
authority by disavowing connections to the social world of Caribbean
slavery. It was no accident that when successful abolition of the slave trade
¬nally came in 1807, the bill originated in the House of Lords. Given a
fundamentally conservative and oligarchic political system, abolition of
the slave trade became, as Robin Blackburn argues, ˜not so much the most
urgent, as the least controversial, reform that could be undertaken™.27
The intersection between domestic industrialisation, the British slave
system and the abolition of slavery has preoccupied historians ever since the
publication of Eric Williams™ seminal work, Capitalism and Slavery (1944).
Developing a thesis ¬rst articulated by C. L. R. James, Williams linked the
investment of pro¬ts from slavery to the requirements of early industrialism
and attributed slave abolition to the declining economic prospects of the
British West Indies after the loss of the thirteen North American colonies
and the eventual demise of mercantilism.28 In contrast to Cain and

Arthur Burns and Joanna Innes (eds.), Rethinking the Age of Reform: Britain, 1780“1850 (Cambridge,
2003), 182“99; James Walvin, ˜The Rise of British Sentiment for Abolition, 1787“1832™, in Christine
Bolt and Seymour Drescher (eds.), Anti-Slavery, Religion, and Reform (Folkestone, 1980), 149“62;
Clare Midgley, Women Against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780“1870 (London, 1992).
24
Colley, Britons, 354“60.
David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770“1823 (Ithaca, 1975), ch. 8.
25
26
Kathleen Wilson, The Island Race: Englishness, Empire and Gender in the Eighteenth Century
(London, 2003), 130.
Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776“1848 (London, 1988), 295; chs. 8, 11.
27
28
Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill, NC, 1944/1994), particularly chs. 7“9.
Taking class notes on empire 259
Hopkins™ gentlemanly capitalists, the debate over what made abolition
politically possible has turned on con¬‚icting assessments of the shift towards
capitalist industrialisation and the ideological character of humanitarianism.
The most compelling case for linking anti-slavery to class rule and capi-
talist hegemony has been offered by David Brion Davis. In his The Problem
of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, and subsequent writings, he argues that
while serving ˜con¬‚icting ideological functions™, abolition reinforced the
normative requirements of industrial capitalism. Without discounting the
religious sources of anti-slavery thought and ˜the profound sense of religious
transformation™, Davis stresses the centrality of class and social context to
understanding anti-slavery™s full ideological implications.29 He writes:
˜The new hostility to human bondage cannot be reduced simply to the
needs of particular classes. Yet the needs and interests of particular classes
had much to do with a given society™s receptivity to new ideas and thus to
the ideas™ historical impact.™30 How, for example, are we to interpret the
fact that the ˜humanitarian triumph™ of 1807 coincided roughly with the
parliamentary attack on the last vestiges of legislative protection for
various trades and to their full exposure to capitalist market forces?
According to Davis, the connection between the two forms of ˜abolition™ was
not direct or causal, but was rather to be found in an emerging mindset and a
transitional (and highly unstable) class alliance, including sections of the
landed elite, commercial and merchant interests and provincial manu-
facturers. At this point Davis™ argument links to E. P. Thompson™s detailing
of the steady erosion of working people™s independence, the introduction of
new forms of labour discipline and manufacturers™ desire for greater control
over the work process and its rewards.31 Davis™ analysis helps to explain the
coincidence between the ˜benevolence™ extended by the reformed British
parliament to distant Afro-American slaves and the same assembly™s utili-
tarian indifference to human suffering encoded in the provisions of the new
Poor Law (1834).32 The same parliament that abolished Caribbean slavery

29
David Brion Davis, ˜Re¬‚ections on Abolitionism and Ideological Hegemony™, in Thomas Bender
(ed.), The Anti-slavery Debate (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1992), 161“2, 171. Also see David Brion
Davis, Slavery and Human Progress (New York and Oxford, 1984), chs. 5 and 6; Thomas C. Holt,
The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832“1938 (Baltimore,
1992), ch. 1.; cf. Christopher Leslie Brown, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism
(Chapel Hill, NC, 2006).
30
Davis, Problem of Slavery, 49.
31
Ibid., 453, 455“68; E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963), ch. 6,
and Customs in Common (London, 1991), ch. 6. Also see Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged:
Crime and Society in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1992), ch. 11; David Eltis, Economic Growth
and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (New York and Oxford, 1987), ch. 2.
32
Davis, Slavery and Human Progress, 122.
JAMES EPSTEIN
260
was also concerned with reform legislation and institutions (workhouses,
penitentiaries, schools, reformatories) aimed at disciplining recalcitrant
members of Britain™s own labouring class.33
Signi¬cantly, Davis does not propose a conscious or coordinated
attempt merely to de¬‚ect public attention away from harsh domestic
policies aimed at disciplining Britain™s labouring poor. The relationship
between anti-slavery and the search for domestic social order was more
¬nely tuned, more con¬‚icted and perhaps more akin to an instance of
ideological ˜misrecognition™. Although the rise of anti-slavery sentiment
coincided with new regimes of labour discipline and support for the
campaign to reform working-class habits, Davis notes that abolitionists
were themselves often ambivalent towards social changes associated with
industrialisation. He goes on to argue that because the slave system was
˜both distinctive and remote, it could become a subject of experimental
fantasies that assimilated traditional [i.e. paternalist] values to new eco-
nomic needs . . . By picturing the slave plantation as totally dependent
upon physical torture, abolitionist writers gave sanction to less barbarous
modes of social discipline.™34 What is important here is the double move
of separation and projection: on the one hand, the abolitionists™ sharp
distinction between the plantation system of slave labour and domestic
practices linked to free-wage labour; and on the other hand, their fan-
tasies of a new, post-emancipation order projected on to an idealised
regime of free labour at once distanced and returned ˜home™.35
From the 1790s, plebeian radicals contested abolitionists™ insistence on
slavery as a singular and remote manifestation of inhumanity, drawing
parallels between the cause of liberty in Europe and the West Indies.
Thus John Thelwall, the most talented ˜Jacobin™ orator and theorist,
admonished William Wilberforce: ˜seek not so wide for the objects of thy
benevolence . . . If we would dispense justice to our distant colonies, we
must begin by rooting out from the centre the corruption by which that
cruelty and injustice is countenanced and defended.™36 The frontispiece to
William Hodgson™s Commonwealth of Reason (1795), his utopian vision of
an egalitarian society, pictures a classically robed black man and a white
33
Holt, Problem of Freedom, 37.
34
Davis, Problem of Slavery, 466.
35
Also see David Eltis, ˜Abolitionist Perceptions of Society after Slavery™, in James Walvin (ed.),
British Slavery and Society, 1776“1846 (Baton Rouge, LA, 1982), 195“213.
36
Quoted in James Walvin, ˜The Impact of Slavery on British Radical Politics: 1787“1838™, in Vera
Rubin and Arthur Tuden (eds.), Comparative Perspectives on Slavery in New World Plantation
Societies, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 292 (1977), 347“8. Also see Marcus Wood,
Slavery, Empathy and Pornography (Oxford, 2002), 172“7.
Taking class notes on empire 261
man hand in hand. The standing ¬gures hold aloft a cap of liberty along
with a banner reading ˜Liberty Fraternity Equality™, and proclaiming
˜Liberty is the Right and Happiness of all, for all by Nature are equal and
free, and no one can without the utmost injustice become the Slave of
his like.™ The iconography and French Revolutionary symbolism contrast
to Wedgwood™s famous abolitionist seal of the supplicant slave kneeling
in chains with the motto ˜Am I not a man and a brother?™ Hodgson was a
leading member of the London Corresponding Society. Radicals were
alive to the forms of unfree or coerced labour on which Britain™s Atlantic
empire relied. Thus Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker draw attention
to circuits linking plebeian radicalism to the transatlantic world of sailors,
displaced workers and slaves.37 The involvement of black writers and
activists in metropolitan radicalism is well documented. Olaudah
Equiano, the most famous member of London™s black community, joined
the London Corresponding Society in 1792; on his book tours he recruited
supporters and linked London™s artisans to radical abolitionists outside
London.38 The next generation of radicals included the cabinetmaker
Thomas ˜Black™ Davidson and the mulatto tailor Robert Wedderburn;
both men were Jamaicans and ex-sailors active in London™s revolutionary
circles. Davidson died on the gallows in 1820 for his part in the Cato Street
conspiracy. Wedderburn gave a distinctly West Indian tone to radicalism;
he frequently compared the fate of British workers to that of West Indian
slaves and used the Haitian revolution to inspire audiences. He also
adapted Thomas Spence™s communitarian theory to a model of free black
smallholders as an alternative to both slave and wage labour.39
As Catherine Hall has shown, in both 1832 and 1867 the construction of
the white British citizen and black colonial subject were mutually con-
stituted, and they were constituted partially in class terms.40 Matters of
class, gender, race and ethnicity, as well as domestic and colonial security,
37
Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and
the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston, 2000).
38
Ibid., 334“41; Vincent Carretta, Equiano the African (Athens, GA, 2005), 297, 349“50, 353, 361“2.
39
Iain McCalman, ˜Anti-Slavery and Ultra-Radicalism in Early Nineteenth England: The Case of
Robert Wedderburn™, Slavery and Abolition, 7 (1986), 99“117, and McCalman (ed. and intro.), The
Horrors of Slavery and Other Writings by Robert Wedderburn (Edinburgh, 1993); Linebaugh and
Rediker, Many-Headed Hydra, ch. 9.
40
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; Catherine
Hall, Keith McClelland and Jane Rendall, De¬ning the Victorian Nation: Class, Race, Gender and
the British Reform Act of 1867 (Cambridge, 2000); also Miles Taylor, ˜Empire and the 1832
Parliamentary Reform Act Revisited™, in Burns and Innes (eds.), Rethinking the Age of Reform,
295“311.
JAMES EPSTEIN
262
converged during the ¬rst reform crisis. In 1829, confronted by a mass
mobilisation of the Irish population under the leadership of Daniel
O™Connell and the Catholic Association, the Tory government of
Wellington and Peel conceded Catholic Emancipation. Yet violence
directed against landlords and the established church remained endemic
to rural Ireland; in 1833 the Whig government introduced the Irish
Coercion Bill aimed at pacifying the countryside of this ˜internal™ col-
ony.41 At ˜home™, the Whig ministry sent Special Commissions to agri-
cultural districts throughout England to punish agricultural labourers
who had destroyed threshing-machines and burnt corn ricks in the
˜Swing™ riots of 1830.42 At the end of 1831, slave rebellion in Jamaica left a
landscape of burnt sugar factories and devastated cane ¬elds. Just as the
implications of the Haitian revolution for Britain™s Caribbean empire
helped frame debates over the abolition of the slave trade, the Christmas
slave revolt (or ˜Baptist war™ as it became known) forced the issue of
abolition.43 ˜Our brethren of Jamaica™, announced the Poor Man™s
Guardian, ˜have revolted, and taken into their hands the abolition of that
slavery which a Christian people has imposed, and a Christian govern-
ment of Whig liberals has countenanced.™ The journal went on to com-
pare the treatment of slave rebels to domestic reform rioters, ˜being
savages, their lives were not their own but the property of their masters,
and that, therefore, it was wrong to let the bloodhounds destroy them in
the same manner as if they were so many civilised fellow-country-men of
Bristol or Nottingham™.44 Working-class radicals were quick to see cor-
respondences among these multifaceted challenges to elite authority and
in repressive government measures to quell popular resistance in urban
and rural Britain, Ireland and the West Indies.
Undoubtedly, large numbers of working people opposed slavery. Ple-
beian radicals and abolitionists shared a language of natural or God-given
rights, equality and liberty, although accented differently. Historians
differ as to whether abolitionism served to sharpen or ameliorate class
antagonisms. In part, differing interpretations are sustained by genuine
ambivalence on the part of working-class radicals and the overtures of a

Galen Broeker, Rural Disorder and Police Reform in Ireland, 1812“1836 (London, 1970), ch. 11;
41

Stanley Palmer, Police and Protest in England and Ireland, 1780“1850 (Cambridge, 1988), 316“31.
´ ´
42
E. J. Hobsbawm and George Rude, Captain Swing (London, 1969), ch. 13; George Rude, ˜English
Rural and Urban Disturbances on the Eve of the First Reform Bill™, Past and Present, 37 (1967),
87“102.
43
Holt, Problem of Freedom, 13“21; Craton, Testing the Chains, ch. 22; Drescher, Capitalism and
Antislavery, 100“10.
44
Poor Man™s Guardian, 25 February 1832, 289“90.
Taking class notes on empire 263
small group of middle-class abolitionists sympathetic to popular radic-
alism™s programme.45 Nonetheless, by the early nineteenth century, the
emergent working-class movement turned increasingly hostile to of¬cial
abolitionism due in large part to anti-slavery™s close identi¬cation with
political economy and evangelicalism, as well as its role in helping to
de¬ne a ˜permissible limit™ to reform demands and a ˜respectable™ style to
reform agitation.46 In the event, the emancipation of West Indian slaves
sharpened working-class resentment. Parliament™s grant of twenty million
pounds compensation to the planters, along with the introduction of the
apprenticeship system, undercut any moral claims. James Bronterre
O™Brien, the most sophisticated ultra-radical writer of the day, main-
tained: ˜The people of England would doubtless give liberty to the negro,
but they never proposed doing so at the expense of mortgaging their
industry to the planter.™ He opined that West Indian proprietors would
continue to live off the fruits of others™ labour. As for the blacks, pre-
viously ˜free from the deadly effects of competing with each other as
labourers™, they soon would become like British workers subject to the
˜tyranny of capital™. But a just legislature ˜would begin by abolishing
domestic slavery™ and passing the ten-hours bill to protect children
working in factories. O™Brien expressed his disgust for ˜that bastard
philanthropy which, while it affects to weep over well-fed negroes abroad,
has the baseness to connive at child-murder at home™.47 Middle-class
advocates of political economy, such as Henry Brougham and Daniel
O™Connell “ who opposed protective legislation for factory workers,
supported the new Poor Law and championed slave abolition “ became
targets of working-class scorn. Thus the ¬nal triumph of abolition was
linked to a system of domestic oppression separating working-class
democrats from middle-class, ˜sham™ reformers.
For most working-class radicals, ˜freedom™ meant freedom from wage
labour, expressed as a desire for lost independence associated with self-
employment on the land or in the workshop. Certainly critiques of
plantation slavery and the factory system drew on a common stock of

45
My own view is close to that of Patricia Hollis, ˜Anti-Slavery and British Working-Class
Radicalism in the Years of Reform™, in Bolt and Drescher (eds.), Anti-Slavery, 294“315; also Turley,
Culture of Anti-slavery, 181“95. Cf. Betty Fladeland, ˜ ˜˜Our Cause Being One and the Same™™:
Abolitionists and Chartism™, in Walvin (ed.), British Slavery and Society, 69“99; Drescher,
Capitalism and Anti-slavery, ch. 7.
46
Davis, Problem of Slavery, 350; James Walvin, ˜The Public Campaign in England against Slavery,
1787“1834™, in David Eltis and James Walvin (eds.), The Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade
(Madison, WI, 1981), 65.
47
Poor Man™s Guardian, 15 June 1833, 189“90.
JAMES EPSTEIN
264
assumptions and discourses.48 And no one did more to popularise the
interchangeable terms ˜wage slavery™ and ˜white slavery™ than Richard
Oastler, himself an evangelical and abolitionist. The champion of York-
shire™s factory children, he admonished, ˜in this boasted land of liberty™
tender children ˜are Hired “ not sold “ as Slaves, and daily forced to hear
that they are free™.49 As they opposed liberalism™s association of free-
wage labour with ˜progress™, popular radicals walked an uneasy line in their
construction of hierarchies of oppression; as they appropriated the
humanitarian rhetoric of suffering pioneered by abolitionists, working-
class radicals often downplayed the horrors of slavery in comparison to
their own plight.50 At their most extreme, claims made about the miseries
of Britain™s labouring poor in contrast to the comfort of colonial subjects
exposed populism™s ˜dark side™. This was most evident in the rabid racism
of William Cobbett, the period™s most popular radical writer.51 Moreover,
as Marcus Wood argues, Cobbett™s ideas on race, miscegenation and
colonialism should not be written off as merely eccentric; on the contrary,
they provided a framework for Thomas Carlyle™s insistence on the unique
suffering of British industrial workers and his view of Afro-Americans as
un¬t for non-coerced labour.52

imperial encounters: two soldiers™ stories
Anti-slavery was the most sustained and visible movement in which
class and imperial relations converged. Certainly we can discern imperial
themes in other nineteenth-century social movements. Thus Chartists
supported the Canadian rebels of 1837; the Chartist press developed a class-
based critique of the British government™s pursuit of the First Opium War
against China; the second National Petition (1842) demanded the repeal of
the Act of Union with Ireland along with the Charter™s six points; and
Chartist activists faced transportation to the convict settlements of
Australia and the Cape.53 Moreover, Miles Taylor has recently traced the

Robert Gray, The Factory Question and Industrial England, 1830“1860 (Cambridge, 1996), 37“47.
48
49
Leeds Times, 16 October 1830, 4; also see Marcus Cunliffe, Chattel Slavery and Wage Slavery: The
Anglo-American Context, 1830“1860 (Athens, GA, 1979), ch. 1.
50
See, for example, the speech of the sawyer and trade union leader, John Jackson, Poor Man™s
Guardian, 22 June 1833, 199.
51
W. D. Rubinstein, ˜British Radicalism and the ˜˜Dark Side™™ of Populism™, in his The Elite and the
Wealthy in Modern British History (Brighton, 1987), 339“73. For Cobbett at his worst, see Cobbett™s
Weekly Political Register, 16 June 1804, cols. 933“7.
52
Wood, Slavery, Empathy and Pornography, 152“69, and ch. 7.
53
Dorothy Thompson, The Chartists: Popular Politics in the Industrial Revolution (London, 1984), 46,
264; Shijie Guan, ˜Chartism and the First Opium War™, History Workshop, 24 (1987), 17“31; George
Taking class notes on empire 265
complex ways in which imperial policy helped to stabilise British society
in 1848: middle-class loyalty was partly secured by displacing the domestic
tax burden on to the colonies themselves; colonial emigration may have
provided a safety valve, reducing social tensions by absorbing surplus
population; the transportation of political protestors, most notably Irish
nationalist leaders, as well as many of the more ˜dangerous™ criminal class,
removed troublemakers. However, the cumulative effect of government
policy radicalised colonial politics, with the result that by the 1850s the
elective franchise was far more popular in most settlement and Crown
colonies than at ˜home™. It proved dif¬cult to separate modes of metro-
politan and colonial authority, and in 1866“7 democratisation at the
periphery shaped debate over metropolitan parliamentary reform.54
But the impact of empire varied enormously; if the lives of many were
touched more indirectly, the lives of others were indelibly marked by
empire. The more than six million who left Britain between 1815 and 1914
for the colonies, men and women mostly drawn from the labouring poor
and bound predominantly for Australia and Canada, often transformed
their lives for the better.55 Letters home commonly drew attention to the
differences in social relations. ˜Dear Brother, we have no overseers to tred
us under foot™, wrote one such emigrant.56 Thousands of Christian
missionaries, many of them women, were intimately involved in the
imperial project; their encounters with colonised peoples were not only
intense and often subject to con¬‚icting sympathies, but served to mediate
imperial and domestic identities, including those of class.57 As the Empire
expanded over the course of the century, the number of colonial
administrators grew, with district of¬cers increasingly recruited from the
ranks of the professional middle class.58 Moreover, despite the Raj™s image

´
Rude, Protest and Punishment: The Story of the Social and Political Protesters Transported to
Australia, 1788“1868 (Oxford, 1978). Also see Andrew Charles Messner, ˜Chartist Political Culture
in Britain and Colonial Australia, c. 1835“1860™, unpublished PhD thesis, University of New
England, Australia (2000).
54
Miles Taylor, ˜The 1848 Revolutions and the British Empire™, Past and Present, 166 (2000), 146“80.
55
A. N. Porter (ed.), Atlas of British Overseas Expansion (London, 1991), 85“6; Robin F. Haines,
Emigration and the Labouring Poor: Australian Recruitment in Britain and Ireland, 1831“60
(Basingstoke, 1999); A. James Hammerton, ˜Gender and Migration™, in Philippa Levine (ed.),
Gender and Empire (Oxford, 2004), 156“80.
56
Quoted in K. D. M. Snell, Annals of the Labouring Poor: Social Change and Agrarian England,
1660“1900 (Cambridge, 1985), 13.
57
See, in particular, Susan Thorne, Congregational Missions and the Making of an Imperial Culture in
Nineteenth-Century England (Stanford, 1999); Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and
Colony in the English Imagination, 1830“1867 (Chicago, 2002); also Jeffrey Cox, ˜Were Victorian
Nonconformists the Worst Imperialists of All?™, Victorian Studies, 46 (2004), 243“55.
58
Kirk-Greene, Imperial Administrators, 15“16, 99“101.
JAMES EPSTEIN
266
of itself ˜as a relatively homogenous elite™, it also included a substantial
European population of ˜poor whites™.59 To these groups we might add
travellers, journalists and businessmen. Yet by far the largest number of
British people directly participating in empire, besides settlers, consisted
of ordinary soldiers. In a sense, the making of the English working class
was, as Linda Colley points out, ˜a phenomenon acted out on a global
scale™.60 The army™s rank and ¬le represented a sampling of the lesser
skilled working class, including large but relatively declining numbers
from rural districts and Ireland.61 While living conditions and terms of
service slowly improved, soldiers remained poorly paid, drilled to mono-
tonous routine and subject to privations, high mortality rates and until
1881 the lash. The continuous warfare of the last third of the century,
the ˜small wars™ against the Maoris, Ashanti, Afghans, Zulus, Boers and
Dervishes, together with the introduction of short-term enlistment,
necessitated an increased number of recruits.62
A brief comparison of two soldiers™ memoirs of Indian service offers
some insight into the implications of military service for class and
imperial understandings. John Pearman served in the King™s Own Light
Dragoons between 1843 and 1856, ¬ghting as a cavalryman in the Sikh
Wars (1845“6 and 1848“9) that preceded the annexation of the Punjab.63
Portrayed as an exotic country where adventurous young men might
make their way, India possessed an appeal that should not be under-
estimated.64 A sawyer by trade, Pearman was working as a railway guard
when a dispute with his supervisor, together with a desire ˜to travel and
see other Countries™, impelled him to enlist in the army. Pearman
probably wrote his ˜memoirs™ in 1881“2, on retiring from a long career in
the Buckinghamshire Constabulary. There is no evidence that he inten-
ded to publish his story; indeed, until 1988 the full text remained
unpublished. As Carolyn Steedman shows, the imperial events of the late
1870s and of 1880“1 ˜gave contemporary shape™ to his memories of serving



59
David Arnold, ˜European Orphans and Vagrants in India in the Nineteenth Century™, Journal of
Imperial and Commonwealth History, 7 (1979), 104, and ˜White Colonization and Labour in
Nineteenth-Century India™, ibid., 11 (1983), 133“58; Buettner, Empire Families, 7“8.
Linda Colley, Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, 1600“1850 (London, 2002), 334“5, and ch. 10.
60

Edward M. Spiers, The Army and Society, 1815“1914 (London, 1980), 46“7, 50“1, and ch. 2
61

generally, and The Late Victorian Army, 1868“1902 (Manchester, 1992), 129“31, and ch. 5.
62
Spiers, Army and Society, 35“9.
63
Bryon Farwell, Queen Victoria™s Little Wars (New York, 1972), chs. 4“5, for the two Sikh Wars.
Peter Stanley, White Mutiny: British Military Culture in India, 1825“1875 (London, 1998), 13.
64
Taking class notes on empire 267
in ˜John Company™ in India.65 Pearman was an anti-imperialist, yet he
recorded that soldiering was the part of his life ˜the most worth living™.
Against the army™s hierarchical authority, Pearman juxtaposed death™s
ultimate reversal of class relations. ˜We oftentimes had to face Death in
the worse form,™ he explained. ˜But there is a pleasure in that for it places
the great man and the poor on a footen. I have oftimes put my foot on a
Dead of¬cer as we put his body under ground and said to myself where is
your Rank now.™ Rather than regretting his loss of personal freedom,
Pearman recorded that ˜India was to the White man a free Country we
Could go where we liked no Trespass out there and John Company
behaved well to us shared some of the Plunder.™ He re¬‚ected that ˜with all
the faults of a Military life there is more to live for then the poor man
who in England is a free paid Slave™.66
By the late nineteenth century, as Steedman writes, there was ˜an
increased and general expectation that the private soldier would personally
embrace the principles of imperial expansion™, and the small but growing
˜literature of working-class military autobiography came increasingly to
frame its narrative by this assumption™. But by the time he came to write
his account, Pearman understood ˜that the wars against the Sikhs were
not his wars: that they were wars of capital, of the landed interest, of the
rich and powerful, of of¬cial Christianity™.67 In his memoirs, the romance
narrative of a soldier™s life gave way under the pressure of his anti-
imperialism; unable to resolve the contradictions in his own experience,
he failed to produce a coherent narrative. As his memoirs shift to a more
re¬‚ective engagement with his past in terms of his freethinking and
republican beliefs, India offers the site for transforming his earlier
experience through the ¬lter of new ideas. Thus Pearman remembered
conversations that he had had in the Punjab. ˜Were I an Englishman™, he
was told, probably by a Zoroastrian (perhaps a servant or camp follower
from Gujerat), ˜I would worship the gun and Bayonet only. See what it
had brought your country. All her possessions, all her liberties all her
money, all her commerce all her advantages.™68 Pearman™s reading of
secularist publications such as the Republican, the Freethinker and Charles
Bradlaugh™s National Reformer clearly helped to shape his ideas about
empire, land redistribution, religion and class “ about what constituted

Carolyn Steedman, The Radical Soldier™s Tale, John Pearman, 1819“1908 (London, 1988), 15. The
65

following paragraphs are heavily indebted to Steedman™s superb introduction to Pearman™s
memoirs.
66
Ibid., 208“9. Quotations from Pearman™s text are in their original form. 67 Ibid., 20, 42.
68
Ibid., 49“50, 212 (quotation).
JAMES EPSTEIN
268
social and moral justice in an unfair world. Bradlaugh™s own military
service, as a private stationed in Ireland during the early 1840s, had
deepened his sympathy for the Irish peasantry, and perhaps drew Pear-
man to Bradlaugh™s publications.69 Pearman came to see common
humanity among the dispossessed, including the peoples of India, Africa
and Ireland. His imperial service fostered a social critique based on class
and imperial subjugation, focusing particularly on questions of land-
ownership.
Pearman™s re¬‚ections may not be ˜typical™, but they serve to unsettle
easy assumptions about how ordinary soldiers felt, restoring imaginative
complexity to their worldview.70 Frank Richards™ Old Soldier Sahib,
published in 1936, conforms more closely to the dominant narrative of
imperial soldiering. At the turn of the century, the era of high British
imperial culture, Richards served a seven-year stint as a private in India.
Born in 1884 and orphaned at a young age, he was raised by his uncle and
aunt in the South Wales™ mining and iron region of Blaina. Having
worked in the coal mines and followed his uncle into the local tin works
as a lad, he became captivated by India and the stories told by an old
soldier about life there. Unlike most working people in a district that
became a Labour stronghold (previously a major Chartist centre),
Richards embraced his family™s Conservative politics, commenting: ˜in
spite of all the Socialist propaganda that goes on about me I remain a
rank Imperialist a heart™.71 However, for most working people, ˜to go for a
soldier™ was not seen as a desirable option or higher calling “ on this point
Richards™ family conformed to social type. Thus he recorded his aunt™s
dismay in 1898 when his cousin, out of work due to the South Wales
miners™ strike, joined the army. Although there was a strong correlation
between military recruitment and unemployment, the memoirs of work-
ing-class volunteers often stress motives other than those of sheer des-
peration or economic need. Like Pearman, Richards was a restless young
man, discontented with his working life and in search for adventure. In
1900, during the Boer War, Richards joined the Welch Fusiliers.72
Richards was a diehard, Tory imperialist. Nonetheless, he had no
doubt as to the class hierarchy of the British army in India: ˜It was class
69
Ibid., 86“103. For Bradlaugh™s experience in Ireland, see Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner and
J. M. Robertson, Charles Bradlaugh: A Record of His Life and Work, 2 vols. (London, 1895), I, 33“4, 40.
70
Cf., however, Corporal John Ryder™s indictment of the brutalities of imperial soldiering in his
Four Years™ Service in India (Leicester, 1853), particularly 128“30.
71
Frank Richards, Old Soldier Sahib (London, 1936), 30. Thanks to Philippa Levine for drawing my
attention to this work.
72
Ibid., 26, 30“1. Cf., for example, Robert Blatchford, My Life in the Army (London, 1904), 13“14.
Taking class notes on empire 269
distinction with a vengeance.™73 His disdain for native people, whom he
insisted must always be kept down, was unquali¬ed, as was his reiteration
of the military adage ˜that what is won by the sword must be kept by the
sword™.74 In fact, Richards and Pearman agreed that imperial rule was
fundamentally based on military conquest and subjugation; it was just
that Richards saw imperial dominion as part of the world™s natural order.
He also cherished the freedom this ˜land of milk and honey™ accorded the
working-class soldier with their own ˜cleaning-boys™ paid a few rupees
per month to care for their uniforms and equipment and a medley of
native barracks servants: the ˜punkah-wallahs™, ˜tatty-wallahs™ and ˜bhisti-
wallahs™ to help cool rooms, ˜dhobis™ to do the washing, the sweepers and
cooks. Richards gave a graphic account of the brothels and native pros-
titutes reserved for British soldiers™ cheap pleasure.75 It was a life that he
liked. On returning to South Wales in 1907, Richards writes, it was not
long before ˜My delight with home wore off™, as he drifted back into the
mines, working as a timberman and longing for India. After work, he
spun yarns about India; he told his workmates, ˜what I was thinking of
when I left it to come back home here and work again deep in the bowels
of the earth, I™m damned if I know™. At the local pub, he socialised with
fellow veterans, who concurred that they had been ˜utter fools™ to have
ever left the service.76 Looking back from the depths of the Depression,
his military youth in India took on an understandably warm glow.
What then are we to make of these two soldiers™ life stories? First, their
memories of Indian service were marked by more than nostalgia for lost
youth and exotic lands. While their ˜freedom™ in India was a product of
empire™s racial and gender hierarchies, the masculine freedom they
enjoyed was set against domestic life as ˜a free paid Slave™, against working
the night shift underground as a timberman. What became explicit cri-
tique for Pearman remained oblique in Richards™ memoirs; in both cases,
however, domestic class relations and working-class subordination were
refracted through their experience of empire. Both men experienced the
dislocation of returning home and remained on the margins of local
working-class culture and community. Yet they told stories to their
families, to their workmates, at the pub or working-men™s club, to anyone
willing to listen to a soldier™s tale of India; they wrote memoirs, and in

73 74
Richards, Soldier Sahib, 150. Ibid., 79“80, 136, 310.
75
Ibid., 179“89. For prostitution in the colonial-military context, see Philippa Levine, Prostitution,
Race, and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (New York, 2003), part 2.
76
Richards, Soldier Sahib, 306“10. Cf. Robert Bickers, Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in
Shanghai (London, 2003).
JAMES EPSTEIN
270
this they were unusual. Like many soldiers, Pearman and Richards
conveyed impressions of empire to a broader audience, although it is
extremely dif¬cult to assess how they were received.77 But we must allow
that sharpened class awareness, feelings of resentment and injustice at
˜home™ were not necessarily incompatible with allegiance to nation and
empire.

ways of belonging
The last thirty years of the century witnessed major territorial expansion
of Britain™s overseas empire; the era of ˜new imperialism™ shifted the tone
of metropolitan imperial culture, as empire™s appeal became more deeply
embedded within British society. The late nineteenth century was also a
period of renewed class antagonism, gender crisis and rising concerns
about the urban underclass, the residuum, and the advent of modern
˜mass™ society. The 1880s and 1890s were decades in which many middle-
class intellectuals, social reformers and urban missionaries discovered that
they had lost touch with a large and increasingly estranged population of
outcasts, slum dwellers subject to chronic unemployment and moral and
physical degeneration.78 The extent to which the labour movement,
socialists or working people more generally identi¬ed with late nineteenth-
century empire or to which ˜social imperialism™ undercut the politics of
class remains an open question.79 Nonetheless, during these decades
languages and ways of belonging “ to society, nation and empire “ were
reworked. Like all codes of inclusion, the rhetoric of imperial belonging,
articulated in part as an alternative to class, was predicated on terms of
exclusion, although the controlling boundaries remained insecure. By way
of conclusion, I want to suggest how some of those terms of belonging
were reconstituted.
77
For the broader cultural resonances, see John M. MacKenzie (ed.), Popular Imperialism and the
Military, 1850“1950 (Manchester, 1992).
78
Gareth Stedman Jones, Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship between Classes in Victorian
Society (Oxford, 1971), part 3; Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual
Danger in Late Victorian London (Chicago, 1992), ch. 1; Jose Harris, Private Lives, Public Spirit: A
Social History of Britain, 1870“1914 (Oxford, 1993), ch. 1.
79
See Richard Price, An Imperial War and the British Working Class: Working-Class Attitudes and
Reactions to the Boer War (London, 1972); Henry Pelling, ˜British Labour and British Imperialism™,
in his Popular Politics and Society in Late Victorian Britain (London, 1968), 82“100; Gareth
Stedman Jones, ˜Working-Class Culture and Working-Class Politics in London, 1870“1900:
Notes on the Remaking of a Working Class™, in his Languages of Class: Studies in English Working
Class History (Cambridge, 1983), 179“238; Neville Kirk, Comrades and Cousins: Globalization,
Workers and Labour Movements in Britain, the USA and Australia from the 1880s to 1914 (London,
2003), ch. 3.
Taking class notes on empire 271
During the later Victorian period, the Empire was often imagined
metaphorically as a family, with Queen Victoria (empress of India) as its
mother. However, the language of kith and kin was itself constructed
against an enlarged exclusionary ¬eld, as imperial Britain expanded into
vast new territories in Africa and Asia. This aggressive expansion con-
founded notions of empire as one of settlement as opposed to conquest.

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