OCCUPATION OF THE EMPTY LANDS OF THE GLOBE WAS VIOLENTLY accelerated by the fall of Napoleon. The long struggle against France had stifled or arrested the expansion of the English-speaking peoples, and the ships and the men who might have founded the second British Empire had been consumed in twenty years of world war. A generation of men and women had toiled or fought in their factories or on their farms, in the fleets and in the armies, and only a very few had had either the wish or the opportunity to seek a new life and new fortunes overseas. Their energies and their hopes had been concentrated on survival and on victory. There had been no time for dreams of emigration, and no men to spare if it had been possible. Suddenly all this was changed by the decision at Waterloo. Once again the oceans were free. No enemies threatened in Europe. Ships need no longer sail in convoy, and the main outlines of the continents had been charted. Once more the New World offered an escape from the hardships and frustrations of the Old. The war was over. Fares were cheap and transport was plentiful. The result was the most spectacular migration of human beings of which history has yet had record and a vast enrichment of the trade and industry of Great Britain.

Of course the process took time to gather way, and at first the flow of emigrants was very small. But the road had been pointed by the grim convict settlements in Australia, by the loyalists from the United States who had moved to Canada, and by traders, explorers, missionaries, and whalers all over the temperate zones of the earth. News began to spread among the masses that fertile unoccupied and habitable lands still existed, in which white men could dwell in peace and liberty, and perhaps could even better themselves. The increasing population of Great Britain added to the pressure. In 1801 it was about eleven millions. Thirty years later it was sixteen millions, and by 1871 it was ten millions more. Fewer people died at birth or in early childhood, and it has been established by a recent authority that despite the Industrial Revolution, London was a healthier place to live in than rural Prussia or Bourbon Paris. The numbers grew, and the flow began: in the 1820’s a quarter of a million emigrants, in the 1830’s half a million, by the middle of the century a million and a half, until sixty-five years after Waterloo no fewer than eight million people had left the British Isles.

The motives, methods, and character of the movement were very different from those which had sustained the Pilgrim Fathers and the Stuart plantations of the seventeenth century. Famine drove at least a million Irishmen to the United States and elsewhere. Gold lured hardy fortune-hunters to Australia, and to the bleak recesses of Canada, where they discovered a more practical if less respectable El Dorado than had dazzled the Elizabethan adventurers. Hunger for land and for the profits of the wool trade beckoned the more sober and well-to-do. All this was largely accomplished in the face of official indifference and sometimes of hostility. The American War of Independence had convinced most of the ruling classes in Britain that colonies were undesirable possessions. They did not even have a departmental Secretary of State of their own until 1854. The Government was interested in strategic bases, but if ordinary people wanted to settle in the new lands then let them do so. It might cure unemployment and provide posts for penniless noblemen, but the sooner these communities became completely independent the better and cheaper for the tax-payer in England. Anyway, Greece was more interesting news than New Zealand, and the educated public were much more concerned about the slave-trade than the squalors of the emigrant ships. Thus, as in India, the Second British Empire was founded almost by accident, and with small encouragement from any of the main political parties.


Of the new territories Canada was the most familiar and the nearest in point of distance to the United Kingdom. Her Maritime Provinces had long sent timber to Britain, and rather than return with empty holds the shipowners were content to transport emigrants for a moderate fare. Once they landed however the difficulties and the distances were very great. The Maritime Provinces lived a life very much of their own, and many emigrants chose to push on into Lower Canada, or, as it is now called, the Province of Quebec. Pitt in 1791 had sought to solve the racial problems of Canada by dividing her into two parts. In Lower Canada the French were deeply rooted, a compact, alien community, led by priests and seigneurs, uninterested and untouched by the democratic ideas of liberal or revolutionary Europe, and holding stubbornly like the Boers in South Africa to their own traditions and language. Beyond them, to the north-west, lay Upper Canada, the modern Province of Ontario, settled by some of the sixty thousand Englishmen who had left the United States towards the end of the eighteenth century rather than live under the American republic. These proud folk had out of devotion to the British Throne abandoned most of their possessions, and been rewarded with the unremunerative but honourable title of United Empire Loyalists. The Mohawk tribe, inspired by the same sentiments, had journeyed with them. They had hacked a living space out of the forests, and dwelt lonely and remote, cut off from Lower Canada by the rapids of the St Lawrence, and watchful against incursions from the United States. Then there was a vast emptiness till one reached a few posts on the Pacific which traded their wares to China.

These communities, so different in tradition, character, and race, had been rallied into temporary unity by invasion from the United States. French, English, and Red Indians all fought against the Americans, and repulsed them in the three-year struggle between 1812 and 1814. Then trouble began. The French in Lower Canada feared that the immigrants would outnumber and dominate them. The Loyalists in Upper Canada welcomed new settlers who would increase the price of land but were reluctant to treat them as equals. Moreover, the two Provinces started to quarrel with each other. Upper Canada’s external trade had to pass through Lower Canada, and there pay taxes, and disputes occurred about sharing the proceeds. Differences over religion added to the irritations. From about 1820 the Assembly in Lower Canada began to behave like the Parliaments of the early Stuarts and the legislatures of the American colonies, refusing to vote money for the salaries of royal judges and permanent officials. French politicians made vehement speeches. In Upper Canada the new settlers struggled for political equality with the Loyalists. Liberals wanted to make the executive responsible to the Assembly and talked wildly of leaving the Empire, and in 1836 the Assembly in which they held a majority was dissolved.

In the following year both Provinces rebelled, Lower Canada for a month and Upper Canada for a week. There were mobs, firing by troops, shifty compromises, and very few executions. Everything was on a small scale and in a minor key, and no great harm was done, but it made the British Government realise that Canadian affairs required attention. The Whig leaders in London were wiser than George III. They perceived that a tiny minority of insurgents could lead to great troubles, and in 1838 Lord Durham was sent to investigate, assisted by Edward Gibbon Wakefield. His instructions were vague and simple, “To put things right,” and meanwhile the Canadian constitution was suspended by Act of Parliament. Durham was a Radical, brilliant, decisive, and hot-tempered. Wakefield was an active theorist on Imperial affairs whose misconduct with a couple of heiresses had earned him a prison sentence and compelled him to spend the rest of his public life behind the scenes. Durham stayed only a few months. His high-handed conduct in dealing with disaffected Canadians aroused much criticism of him at Westminster. Feeling himself deserted by Lord Melbourne’s Government, with which he was personally unpopular, but which should nevertheless have stood by him, Durham resigned and returned to England. He then produced, or at least lent his name to, the famous report in which he diagnosed and proclaimed the root causes of the trouble and advocated representative government, carried on by Ministers chosen from the popular Assembly, a united Canada, and planned settlement of the unoccupied lands. These recommendations were largely put into effect by the Canada Act of 1840, which was the work of Lord John Russell.

Thereafter Canada’s progress was swift and peaceful. Her population had risen from about half a million in 1815 to a million and a quarter in 1838. A regular steamship service with the British Isles and cheap transatlantic postage were established in the same year. There were hesitations and doubts in England at the novel idea of making colonies almost completely free and allowing their democratic Assemblies to choose and eject their own Ministers, but the appointment of Durham’s son-in-law, Lord Elgin, as Governor-General in 1847 was decisive. Elgin believed, like Durham, that the Governor should represent the sovereign and remain in the background of politics. He appointed and dismissed Ministers according to the wishes of the Assembly. For this he was blamed or applauded, and even pelted with eggs and stones, according to how it pleased or angered either side. But when he laid down his office seven years later the principle had been firmly accepted by Canadians of all persuasions that popular power must march with popular responsibility, that Ministers must govern and be obeyed so long as they enjoyed the confidence of the majority and should resign when they had lost it. There was hardly any talk now of leaving the Empire or dividing Canada into separate and sovereign units or joining the American Republic. On the contrary, the Oregon Treaty with the United States in 1846 extended the 49th parallel right across the continent as a boundary between the two countries and gave the whole of Vancouver Island to Great Britain. How the treaty was concluded is related elsewhere in this volume.

In the mid-century a movement for the federation of all the Canadian Provinces began to grow and gather support. The Civil War in the United States helped to convince Canadians that all was not perfect in their neighbours’ constitution, and the victory of the North also aroused their fears that the exultant Union might be tempted to extend its borders farther still. Canada had already turned her gaze westwards. Between the Province of Ontario and the Rocky Mountains lay a thousand miles of territory, uninhabited save by a few settlers in Manitoba, a roaming-place for Indians, trappers and wild animals. It was a temptation, so it was argued, to the land-hunger of the United States. Discharged Irish soldiers from the Civil War had already made armed raids across the border which Congress had declared itself powerless to arrest. Might not the Americans press forward, occupy these vacant lands by stealth, and even establish a kind of squatter’s right to the prairies? The soil was believed to be fertile and was said to offer a living for white men. In 1867 America purchased the remote and forbidding expanse of Alaska from the Russians for the sum of 7,200,000 dollars, but here, on the door-step of the Republic, lay a prize which seemed much more desirable and was very easy of access. No one ruled over it except the Hudson’s Bay Company, founded in the reign of Charles II, and the Company, believing that agriculture would imperil its fur-trade, was both hostile to settlers and jealous of its own authority. Eleven years before however the discovery of gold on the Fraser River had precipitated a rush of fortune-hunters to the Pacific coast. The Company’s officials had proved powerless to control the turmoil, and the Government in London had been compelled to extend the royal sovereignty to this distant shore. Thus was born the Crown colony of British Columbia, which soon united with the Island of Vancouver and demanded and obtained self-rule. But between it and Ontario lay a No-man’s-land, and something must be done if it was not to fall into the hands of the United States. How indeed could Canada remain separate from America and yet stay alive?

These considerations prompted the British North America Act of 1867, which created the first of the self-governing British Dominions beyond the seas. The Provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were the founding members. They adopted a federal constitution of a very different shape from that of the United States. All powers not expressly reserved to the Provinces of Canada were assumed by the central Government: the Governor-General, representing the monarch, ruled through Ministers drawn from the majority in her Canadian House of Commons, and Members of the House were elected in numbers proportionate to the population they represented. Thus the way was made easy for the absorption of new territories and Provinces, and on the eve of her Railway Age and westward expansion the political stability of Canada was assured.

When the Parliament of the new Dominion first met, its chief anxiety was about the Western lands. Its members looked to the future, and it is convenient here to chart the results of their foresight. The obvious, immediate step was to buy out the Hudson’s Bay Company. This was done two years later for the sum of £300,000. The Company kept its trading rights, and indeed retains them to this day, but it surrendered its territorial sovereignty to the Crown. The process was not accomplished without bloodshed. There was a brief revolt in Manitoba, where wild Indian half-breeds thought that their freedom was endangered, but order was soon restored. Manitoba became a Province of the Dominion in 1870, and in the next year British Columbia was also admitted. By themselves however these constitutional steps would not have sufficed to bind the broad stretches of Canada together. The challenging task that faced the Dominion was to settle and develop her empty Western lands before the immigrant tide from America could flood across the 49th parallel. The answer was to build a transcontinental railway.

When the Maritime Provinces joined the federation they had done so on condition they were linked with Ontario by rail, and after nine years of labour a line was completed in 1876. British Columbia made the same demand and received the same promise. It proved much more difficult to fulfil. Capital was scarce, investors were timid, politics were tangled, and much of the country was unknown. At length however a Scotsman, Donald Smith, better known as Lord Strathcona, carried out the plan. His Company demanded ten years. Helped by Government funds, they finished their work in half the time, and the Canadian Pacific Railway was opened in 1885. Other lines sprang up, and corn, soon counted in millions of bushels a year, began to flow in from the prairies. Canada had become a nation, and shining prospects lay before her.


South Africa, unlike America, had scanty attractions for the early colonists and explorers. As the half-way house to the Indies many broke their voyage there, but few cared to stay. The Gulf of St Lawrence made it easy to reach the interior of Canada, but the coastline of South Africa, short of natural harbours and navigable rivers, mostly consisted of cliffs and sandhills washed by strong currents and stormy seas. Inland a succession of mountain ranges, running parallel to the coast, barred the way. From the west the ascent was comparatively gradual, but the country was barren and waterless. From the south and east range after range, in many places sheer and precipitous, had to be climbed. Few lands have been more difficult for Europeans to enter than South Africa, and for them it long remained the “Tavern of the Seas,” a port of call on the route to the East.

In the seventeenth century the fleets of the Dutch East India Company, sailing for the Indies or returning home to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, were the most frequent visitors to the Cape, and Table Bay was their halting-place. The establishment of a permanent settlement was discussed, but nothing was done till 1652, when, at the height of their power and in the Golden Age of their civilisation, the Dutch sent Jan van Riebeek, a young ship’s surgeon, with three ships to take possession of Table Bay. Colonisation was no part of the plan: they merely wanted to found a port of call for the Company’s ships, and almost all the inhabitants were servants of the Company, forbidden to strike out into the new land. After twenty years there were no more than sixty-four free burghers at Table Bay.

The change came at the turn of the seventeenth century, under the Governorship of Simon van der Stel and his son William Adriaan. They encouraged settlers to come out from Holland and take up grants of land, and by 1707 there were over fifteen hundred free burghers. Not all were Dutch; many were Huguenots, Germans, or Swedes, driven into exile by religious persecution; but the Dutch gradually assimilated them. The little community was served and sustained by a local population of Negro slaves.

Throughout the eighteenth century the colony prospered and grew. In 1760 the first European crossed the Orange River, and by 1778 the Fish River had been made its eastern boundary. By the end of the century the population numbered about fifteen thousand, and there were three areas of settlement. Cape Town, or “Little Paris” as the settlers called it, was a town and port of five thousand inhabitants, and the Company’s headquarters. The agricultural coast-belt near the Cape peninsula offered the farmers a limited prosperity, and life was easy, though primitive. Finally there was the inland plateau and remoter coast-belt, where dwelt the frontiersmen, restless, hard, self-reliant, narrow-minded, isolated from society, and impatient of the restraints of civilised government—the forerunners of the Trekkers and the Transvaal Boers of the nineteenth century.

But Holland had now been slowly overtaken by Britain, and as the century drew to its close it became clear that the Imperial future lay, not with the Dutch, but either with the British or the French. Napoleon’s wars ruined the Dutch trade, swept the Dutch ships from the seas, and overthrew the Dutch state. In 1782 the Dutch East India Company had paid its last dividend, and twelve years later declared its bankruptcy, with a deficit of ten million pounds. The consequences were serious. Holland had no longer the power to protect her possessions, and when the Dutch were defeated by the French, and the puppet-state of the Batavian Republic was established the British seized Cape Colony as enemy territory. It was finally ceded to them under the peace settlement of 1814 in return for an indemnity of £6,000,000.

At first they met with no great hostility. The Dutch company had been unpopular, there was no deliberate policy of Anglicisation, and the Cape kept most of its Dutch customs and traditions. The British dealt forcefully with the eastern frontier, where the settlers were in contact and conflict with a great southward migration of the Bantu peoples from Central Africa. This extended right across the continent, from the Hereros and Damaras in the west to the Nguni coast peoples in the east. There was much cattle-raiding along the line of the Fish River, and fighting between the Dutch and the natives had broken out in 1779. Thus began a long succession of Kaffir wars, lasting for a hundred years. The settlers, scattered in isolated farms over vast stretches of country, found it difficult to defend themselves, and had demanded help from Cape Town. The far-away Dutch authorities had given them no support. It was now the turn of the British.

They decided that the only way to secure the line of the Fish River was to colonise the border with British settlers, and between 1820 and 1821 nearly five thousand of them were brought out from Great Britain. This emigration coincided with a change of policy. Convinced that South Africa was now destined to become a permanent part of the British Empire, the Government resolved to make it as English as they could. English began to replace Dutch as the official language. In 1828 the judicial system was remodelled on the English pattern, Dutch currency was replaced by English, and the English began to dominate the churches and the schools. Thus was born a division which Canada had surmounted. With the same religion, a similar language, a common stock, and kindred political and social traditions, British and Boers nevertheless plunged into racial strife. British methods of government created among the Boers a more bitter antagonism than in any other Imperial country except Ireland.

Anglicisation was not only ill-conceived, it was unsuccesful. The English were to discover, as the Spaniards had learnt in the sixteenth century, that no race has ever clung more tenaciously to its own culture and institutions than the Dutch, and the only result of the new policy in the 1820’s and 1830’s was to harden those differences of opinion, especially on the native question, which were already beginning to appear. At this time there was much enthusiasm in England for good works, and English missionaries had been active in South Africa since the early years of the century. The missionaries believed and preached that black men were the equals of white men; the settlers regarded the natives primarily as farmhands and wanted to control them as strictly as possible. When the missionaries got slavery abolished in 1833 the settlers were indignant at such interference, which meant scarcity of labour, a weakening of their authority and prestige, a risk that large numbers of the Bantu would become beggars and vagrants. At first the English settlers agreed with the Dutch, but as soon as the influence of the missionaries, especially Dr John Philip and the London Missionary Society, came to sway the Government and the Colonial Office the Dutch were left alone to nurse their grievances against the English authorities.

The first crisis came in 1834. The settlement of the Fish River area brought no security, and hordes of Bantu swept over the frontier, laying waste the country and destroying the farms. The Governor, Sir Benjamin D’Urban, drove them back, and to prevent another attack he annexed the territory between the rivers Keiskamma and Kei, expelled the native raiders, and compensated the settlers by offering them land in this new province, which was named after Queen Adelaide. This roused the missionaries, and they persuaded the Colonial Secretary, Lord Glenelg, to repudiate D’Urban and abandon the new province. The settlers lost all compensation, and insult was added to injury when it became known that Glenelg considered that the Kaffirs had an ample justification for the war into which they had rushed. Thus was provoked the Great Trek.

In small parties, accompanied by their women and children and driving their cattle before them, about five thousand Boers set out into the unknown, like the Children of Israel seeking the Promised Land. They were soon followed by many others. Some journeyed over a thousand miles to the banks of the Limpopo, many were attacked by the Matabele and the Zulu, all endured thirst and famine, yet in the unyielding spirit of their Calvinist religion they marched on. The Great Trek was one of the remarkable feats of the nineteenth century, and its purpose was to shake off British rule for ever. “We quit this colony,” wrote Pieter Retief, one of the Boer leaders, “under the full assurance that the English Government has nothing more to require of us, and will allow us to govern ourselves without its interference in future.”

For long their fortunes looked dark. It was the time of the Mfecane, the “crushing” of the other native tribes by the military empire of the Zulus under Chaka and his successor Dingaan. The Zulu massacre of thousands of natives gave the Boers room to move, but they moved in great peril. In many lonely places within the laager of their ox-wagons they faced the wild onslaught of the Zulu warriors, and not until December 1838 did they crush Dingaan’s forces in a great battle at Blood River. After their victory they established the Republic of Natal around the little town of Pietermaritzburg, with Andries Pretorius as its first President.

Their freedom was brief. The British refused to recognise the republic, and after a short struggle in 1845 made it a province of Cape Colony. There remained the Voortrekkers on the plateau farther west, now reinforced by many refugees from Natal. Here too the British intervened. In 1848 Sir Harry Smith, a brave and energetic soldier who had served under Wellington, annexed the country between the Orange and the Vaal Rivers, defeated Pretorius at Boomplaats, and left only scattered Boer settlements across the Vaal outside the colony.

Soon afterwards there was trouble with the tribes beyond the Orange River, and in particular with the Basuto. In Natal the problem had been met by creating native reserves and reestablishing the old tribal hierarchies under the indirect supervision of the Government. But the Government in London did not care to extend its responsibilities, and in 1852 it recognised the independence of the Transvaal settlers. Two years later, in accordance with the Convention of Bloemfontein, the British withdrew from beyond the Orange River and the Orange Free State was formed. Political dissolution went farther: both Queen Adelaide Province and Natal were made into separate colonies administered directly by the Colonial Office. By 1857 there were five separate republics and three colonies within the territory of the present Union of South Africa. The old colony of the Cape meanwhile prospered, as the production of wool increased by leaps and bounds, and in 1853 an Order in Council established representative institutions in the colony, with a Parliament in Cape Town, though without the grant of full responsible government. Here we may leave South African history for a spell of uneasy peace.

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