The British Empire 

Egypt 1881-2

In  1869 the Egyptian-French financed Suez Canal was opened. Little interest in  the project had been  taken by the British but when opened it was realised that it shortened by some considerable distance the journey to India. The distance  around  the Cape to Bombay was 10,450 miles but just 6,000 miles through the canal.The opening  of the canal increased the  need for Britain to remain the dominant power in the middle east as it was now India's lifeline. In 1875, Disraeli was able to buy a controlling interest in the company on behalf of the  British government for £4 million by buying the 40% allocation of the ruler of Egypt who had  gone bankrupt. The canal now became part of Britain's strategic interest.

The stability of Egypt was crucial to British  strategic interests in the Middle East, and the ambition of  Khedive Muhammad Ali seemed to be taking  Egypt towards becoming a modern state. There had been investment in railways, cotton plantations, and irrigation as well as schools but by 1882 total debt totalled £100 million. Despite attempts by an international commission to keep the country solvent, internal dissension with international interference led to unrest and a revolt by army officers in February 1881 led by Urabi Pasha. In September 1881 he carried out a coup d'etat and made himself Minister of War with full control of the army.

The British were concerned at the possibility of an  anti-British  government. They sent an armed  ship to Alexandria but this had no  impact. A riot in Alexandria in  June 1882 was interpreted as the first step towards anarchy and Parliament demanded action. The French parliament decided against action but Gladstone's government decided that they had to  take action. The port of Alexandria was bombed and Gladstone declared that he would send an expeditionary force to restore order.

During August two armies, one of 24,000 troops from India and one of 7,000 from Britain and led by Wolseley converged on Egypt. Warships occupied the canal and the military force landed on 18 August at Ismailia. Four weeks later Urabi's camp at Tel-el-Kebir was stormed following a night march and overrun enabling Wolseley to march on Cairo. Urabi was captured and banished to Ceylon. Egypt became a virtual protectorate bwith power in the hands of British senior civil servants who saw it as their task to return Egypt to solvency. A British army of 5,000 men was kept in Egypt and Alexandria became the main Mediterranean base for the Royal Navy.

Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1901

In 1897 Lord Milner was  appointed High Commissioner for South Africa. Already relations between Britain and the Boer republics were poor as a result of the Jameson Raid - a failed attempt at bringing down the Transvaal government. Milner was a  man who was an avowed British race patriot who wanted world supremacy for the British empire-he had no illusions about what was needed and he wasn't taken in by the flag waving and triumphalism that had been part of the 1897 Jubilee celebrations. Milner came to the view that for Britain to reassert her position in south Africa then Kruger's Transvaal would have to submit to British control. The question of the 'uitlanders' would be used as the excuse to achieve this.

In May 1899 the Cape PM, Schreiner and Hofmeyr, leader of the Cape Afrikaners, proposed to Milner that he should meet with Kruger to try and settle matters and so on May 30th Milner found himself steaming north to Bloemfontein to a conference with Kruger. He was determined that it should not succeed.

By this time the 'uitlanders' were paying 5/6th of the country's taxation, were the majority of the population but had no representation. At the conference, Milner was to push for a five year franchise, retrospective, which Kruger resisted until the last day when he agreed but with conditions. Kruger wanted in return negotiations on the Raid indemnity, Boer control of Swaziland and arbitration on rival interpretations on the London Agreement of 1884. The extra conditions were all that Milner needed to end the proceedings. Kruger's comment on the failure of Bloemfontein that what Milner wanted was not the franchise but his country.

In August clutching at straws, the Boers offered a 5 year franchise but still with some conditions including the non-interference by Britain in their internal affairs. Rejection in Britain convinced Pretoria that franchise was not the issue and that both sides were on a road that led to war. By this time Milner had convinced Chamberlain (and Salisbury in turn) that war was  the only course. All that needed to be done was to ensure that the Boers were  the aggressors so as to bring the British public on side.

Kruger decided that war was inevitable and as the Boers had the numerical advantage in October 1899 of 40,000 to 15,000, it was hoped that if they could struck a swift blow they might force the British to the table at which they would acknowledge the full sovereignty of the Boer republics. By throwing all their troops against Natal, they could capture Durban before the first ships brought reinforcements, and this would encourage the Cape Afrikaners to rise up. On 28 September the Transvaal mobilised followed by the OFS on 2 October.

On 9th October Kruger sent the British government an ultimatum demanding that the British withdraw their forces from the Transvaal border and send back forces on the way (8,000). When this ultimatum expired on 11th October the two sides were at war.

Wars of Expansion


Battle of Tel-el-Kebir

Boer commandos

Volunteers played an important [part in the British army in South Africa