Expansion of the Empire was linked to trade
The expansion of the British Empire in Victoria's reign was very much linked to an expansion in trade and to the development of the Industrial Revolution. Steam engines to power the textile industry had been invented in Britain in the late c18th, but from the ending of the Napoleonic Wars, a number of factors came together which brought a rapid expansion in British manufacturing industry.
There was a population boom in the years after 1810 with the population growing from nine million in 1810 to 18 million in 1851.
Minimal wages ensured that there were profits to invest
This ensured there was a sufficient labour force and with the introduction of the workhouse with the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, a labour force that had to work for minimal wages allowing profits to be invested.
The creativity of the British inventors meant that machines were being invented which allowed for the mechanisation of many industries so that with ample supplies of coal and iron, huge amounts of manufactured goods could be produced. They could not be sold within Britain as the workforce was too poor to buy many of them so more markets had to be found abroad.
Developments in communications transformed the world bringing people closer to each other. The steamship and the telegraph meant that journeys were cut by weeks and information could be sent in hours.
A growing consensus that mercantilism was out of date
There was a growing consensus among a number of groups that the prevailing economic
orthodoxy of mercantilism was out of date and holding back industrial development
and limiting Britain's ability to sell abroad. In the years after 1815 there was
growing pressure on Parliament to abandon the laws enforcing mercantilism and free
up trade. The argument was that if duties on imported goods were abolished raw materials
would be cheaper and so the exports of manufactured goods would be cheaper. This
in turn would encourage other countries to buy more from Britain. The Anti-
Duties were gradually repealed
In the 1820s, William Huskisson at the Board of Trade allowed foreign countries to trade with colonies, then lowered duties on a number of imports. He also relaxed shipping regulations to allow foreign ships into Britain's and the colonies' ports. In the 1830s deregulation continued under the Whig government and in the 1840s the Conservative government of Peel reduced import duties on a wide range of products, and then following the famine in Ireland repealed the corn laws. In 1849 the Navigation Acts were repealed and in the 1850s Gladstone removed the remaining tariffs on imported goods.
With trade being freed up by the deregulation of duties and with Britain having
a commanding lead in the manufacture of factory made goods, Britain's industrialists
sought new markets and expanded production. In the 45 years following the end of
the Napoleonic Wars Britain was responsible for 60% of the world's trade with Britain
producing 50% of the world's trade in coal, cotton and iron. Despite the repeal of
the Navigation Acts, a third of the world's trade was carried in British ships. Much
of this increase in trade for Britain was with the USA and Europe which accounted
for over 60% of the £50 million earnt in 1827. The pattern of trade for Britain continued
for much of the century with new markets being found not in the British Empire but
in Latin and South America, the Middle East and China. In 1867 when exports from
Britain amounted to £181 million, exports to non-
The Impact of Free Trade on the Empire
With the expansion of trade in the mid-
Free trade was good for Britain
Free Trade was good for Britain because Britain had the advantage of having industrialised
first and dominated every aspect of trade but was not necessarily adopted by other
countries. The British supported her merchants as they sought new markets -
China was forced to accept free trade
In China Britain fought three wars to ensure that opium could continue to be imported into China. Using the full might of her military machine China was no match for her men o'war and well armed armies. Following the bombardment and occupation of cities like Canton, China was forces to sign unequal treaties guaranteeing access to five treaty ports as well as ceding Hong Kong and Kowloon in perpetuity and the New Territories for a hundred years.
Gunboats were used in the West Indies
In the West Indies, Commander Loraine commanded the gunboat, Niobe based at Jamaica
in the 1870s and used the gunboat on many occasions to support British interests
and ensure that actions were being taken by local rulers which accorded with the
wishes of the British government. When in 1873 the Governor of the Dominican Republic
broke in to the British consulate to arrest some asylum seekers, Lorain ordered the
Governor to personally release the prisoners and then give a 21 gun salute to the
Niobe. When in 1874, a local commander in Honduras looted British property, Loraine
bombarded his fortress until the loot was handed over. Again in 1874 a number of
British subjects had been murdered in Cuba. The Niobe sailed in to Santiago harbour
and Loraine announced that if another British subject was executed he would sink
a Spanish ship -
Military force was used to control the Ashanti
In West Africa when the Ashanti began to hinder British trade in 1873, a military expedition was sent to enforce free trade under the command of General Wolseley, the outstanding imperial General of the era. The Ashanti were defeated and their capital, Kumasi was destroyed.
The debate on tariff reform
In the late c19th with the competition from the USA, Germany, France and Italy there was political debate about whether to abandon Free Trade and adopt protectionist measure to protect the colonies but there was strong support to retain free trade and it was only following the Wall St Crash that preferential tariffs were used to protect the colonies.
The Repeal of the Corn Laws signified the move from Mercantilism to Free Trade
Repeal of the Corn Laws 1846 was prompted by the potato famine in Ireland which led to large scale evictions
British people were encouraged to buy goods from the Empire yet in reality 60% of
British trade was with non-
Canton was bombarded and occupied several times during the three Opium Wars 1839-