The British Empire 
                                                              1815-1914



Ascension: a volcanic island in the South Atlantic which was garrisoned by the British in 1815, fearing that it might serve as a base for a rescue effort of Napoleon from St Helena. The island was a cable station under Admiralty control until 1922 when it came under the administration of the Colonial Office.


Bahamas: Caribbean archipelago settled by inhabitants from Bermuda in 1629. It was associated with pirates, smuggling and during the US Civil War, blockade running.


Bahrain: an archipelago in the Persian Gulf that became a protectorate in 1861, having previously been an independent emirate that had signed treaties with the British. Treaties on defence arrangements with the British were signed in 1882 and 1892.


Barbados: the island was colonised by British settlers in 1627 together with other nearby islands. It was intended as a tobacco colony with indentured servants forming the labour force but later switched to sugar with negro labour replacing the white indentured servants.


Basutoland: a mountainous enclave that was home to a number of tribes who had fled the Zulus and then the Boers. British protection was granted in 1868 although the territory was absorbed into the Cape Colony in 1871. Direct control from London was restored in 1882 and this remained the arrangement for 70 years.


Bechuanaland: the territory was claimed in 1885 becoming a Crown Colony and the land north of the Molopo was designated to the British South Africa Company in 1889. The Crown Colony was absorbed into the Cape Colony in 1895. The three main chiefs were given an assurance that provided  they gave their assent to a railway from Mafeking to Bulawayo, the region north of the Molopo would remain a protectorate. This arrangement remained for 70 years.


Bermuda: this territory is still a dependant colony. It was inhabited from 1819 after a ship bound for Virginia foundered on its coast and then became part of the territories administered by the Virginia Company in 1612,  becoming  a crown colony in 1684.


British Kaffraria: a region between the Great Kei River and Natal became a Crown Colony from 1847 to 1866 when it was annexed to the Cape Colony.


British Guyana: the only British territory on the South American mainland. It was first settled by the Dutch in 1616 but occupied by the British in 1796 and 1803. In 1831 the settlements were brought together to form the colony of British Guyana. With the abolition of slavery migrants from the East Indies were settled to work the sugar plantations.


Brunei: the Sultanate was a British protectorate from 1888 until 1983.


Burma: the HEIC established three trading stations by 1612. The Burmese had established some of its former power by the early c19th so that by 1824 it was considered a threat to the British trading interests of Assam and Bengal. After the 1st Burmese war of 1824-6, Assam, Arakan and Tenasserim were annexed. Following a second war in 1852, Lord Dalhousie annexed Pegu. In 1862 several of these territories were joined together as British Lower Burma. In 1885 King Thebaw, encouraged by the French, confiscated the property of the Bombay-Burma Company. A strong British army deposed Thebaw and Burma was administered from India as an Indian province until 1937 when it received non-colonial status and was given limited self-government.


Canada: the first British presence in Canada was that of the settlement on Newfoundland established by Gilbert in1583 and then from 1621 a predominantly presence on Nova Scotia. The Hudson Bay Company was incorporated in 1670 and established forts at Fort Rupert and Fort Albany but the British presence was precarious until Wolfe defeated the French at Montreal and the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763 whereby the French territories were ceded to Britain.

The loss of the American colonies led to the flight of more than 40,000 colonists strengthening the British presence. Nova Scotia was recognised as a colony in 1769 and New Brunswick in 1784. In 1791 Pitt's Canada Act created Upper and Lower Canada giving them representative institutions. Settlers were unhappy at the arrangements made and in 1837 there were two rebellions leading to Lord Durham being sent to investigate the causes of the dissatisfaction. The Durham Report recommended responsible government which was agreed to in 1848 leading to the British North America Act of 1867 which formally constituted the dominion of Canada.

The founding provinces were Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and these were joined later by Manitoba (1870), British Columbia (1871), Prince Edward Island (1873), Alberta (1905), Saskatchewan (11905) and Newfoundland (1949).


Cape Colony: The Dutch East India Company founded a settlement in 1662 to act as a re-provision station. During the Napoleonic Wars the British seized the colony in 1795 and restored the colony to the Dutch in 1802 before seizing it again in 1806. It was eventually ceded to Britain in 1814. Administration was at first autocratic before representative government was established in 1853. During this time there was an exodus from 1835 of the Dutch settlers who wanted to escape the British administration and particularly the abolition of slavery in 1834. there were also five military campaigns fought against Bantu Kaffirs and Zulus. In 1843 Cape Colony assumed responsibility for the territory of Natal. In 1852 the British recognised the Boer colony of the Transvaal and two years later recognised the creation of the Orange River colony.

The discovery of diamonds in 1867 in Griqualand led to a diamond rush and the annexation of the area to the Cape Colony. In 1910 Cape Colony became part of the Union of South Africa.


Ceylon: the island was annexed to the Madras presidency of the HEIC in 1796. Previously Portuguese traders had established settlements but in 1658 lost them to the Dutch East India Company. Ceylon was declared a British colony in 1802 although at that time the central Sinhalese Kandyan Kingdom had not been destroyed. The main products were tea and rubber exported from the main port of Galle.


Cyprus: a small island in the eastern Mediterranean became a British protectorate in 1878,remaining within the Ottoman Empire until it was declared a British colony in 1914.


Egypt: never formally a part of the British Empire but it was a British Protectorate from 1914 to 1922. It was subjected to an element of British control following the British invasion led by General Garnet Wolseley in 1882 which had been sent to Egypt to quell a nationalist revolt led by Arabi Pasha. For four years from 1878 Britain together with France had taken on the administration of Egypt which was virtually bankrupt at a time when British and French investment in Egypt, particularly the newly built Suez Canal, was very high. The revolt by Pasha threatened British interests in the country, now holding a strategic position on the route to India. The military occupation became semi-permanent as a result of a rebellion in the Sudan then occupied by Egyptian forces and the administration of the country particularly its financial arrangements were overseen by British officials. Alexandria became the principal base for the Royal Navy in the eastern Mediterranean, 5,000 British troops were stationed in Egypt and by the end of the c19th over half of Egypt's trade was with Britain.


Fiji: These islands were visited by Cook in 1774 and following the mutiny on the Bounty Bligh surveyed them in 1789. Following talks with tribal leaders, the island was declared a Crown Colony in 1874. Indians were then  brought in to work the sugar plantations.


Gambia: is made up of territory on both sides of the Gambia river extending for 200 miles inland. The area was discovered by Portuguese traders in the c15th and English traders followed  from 1587. British rights were established in 1783 and in 1816 a garrison was established on a nearby island to ensure compliance with the abolition of the slave trade. The Gambia became a Crown Colony in 1843 and its borders were established in 1888 following discussions with the French. The main export was ground nuts but due to the prevalence of disease the colony was never an economic asset.


Gibraltar: captured by Admiral Rooke in 1704 and confirmed in British possession by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713)


Gold Coast/Ghana: the Gold Coat consisted of some 330 miles of coast along the West Africa coast. British interests began with the Royal African Company in 1676 that established trading settlements for the trade in gold and slaves. British power was limited to the coast until Britain acquired the Danish and Dutch forts on the coast which brought Britain into conflict with the Ashante in 1874. The coastal lands were administered directly by Britain from 1821 and from 1896 following the scramble for territory at the end of the c19th Britain annexed the interior.


Hong Kong: the island was taken by the British during the 1st Opium War in 1841. Official annexation came with the Treaty of Nanking, 1842,and the island became a Crown Colony in 1843. Kowloon was acquired in 1860 and in 1898 the New Territories were leased from China.  The colony developed as Britain's main naval and trading base in the far east with a railway to Canton in China opened in 1910.


India: A British presence was established in India following the creation of the HEIC in 1600 but it was in the c18th that British power was established in India by Clive, Governor of Bengal, with the collapse of the Moghul Empire. Conflict with the French and the Nizam of Hyderabad led to the spread of British influence and with the capture of the Mysore capital in 1799, the HEIC controlled Bengal, Bihar, Benares and much of the Bay of Bengal as far as the Coromandel Peninsula. Permanent settlement of Bengal began in 1793. The early c19th saw rapid expanse of the area under British influence, mainly to secure the western regions from the Russian threat. Under Dalhousie, much progress was made with the Grand Trunk Road built and railways and the telegraph extended but attempts to change some Indian traditions eventually led to the Mutiny of 1857 after which the British government took India back under central control. It was accepted that India could never become a colony and was controlled by a Secretary of State for India. In 1876, Disraeli, in an attempt to gain more electoral support made Victoria  Empress of India. The exploitation of India though was to lead to the development of a national pride which became the focus of the Congress Party after its foundation in 1885.


Ionian Islands: islands off the north west coast of Greece including Corfu, most of which were occupied by the British from 1809. The islands were treated as a Protectorate by the British to protect the Christian inhabitants and governed by a High Commissioner. In 1864 the islands were granted to the Greek government.







The Territories of the Empire

Ascension-Ionian Islands


For Jamaica -Uganda click here

Barbados as a sugar colony

Cape Colony 1885

Canada c1800

Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, 1882

Hong Kong c1839

Colombo harbour 1880

General Wolseley on the Gold Coast

British India

British Bechuanaland