Welding the Empire
In the beginning of the nineteenth century, communication was slow and difficult, not only between town and town, but also between country and country. The introduction of penny post, railway, and telegraph ushered in a new era into the world's history—a new era, too, in the history of England, whose Empire plays so large a part in the progress of the world to-day.
Into the position she now holds, she has sprung within the memory of man, by reason of her success in colonisation.
If communication between town and town was difficult, between the mother country and the colonies it was laborious indeed. In early Victorian days, the colonies were regarded as "inconvenient encumbrances"; indeed, one Colonial Secretary had so little idea of the geography of the colonies he had undertaken to govern, that he begged a friend to get some maps and show him "where the places were." When a British emigrant left his native shores he sailed in the old wooden three-decker, never to return. It was the ready substitution of steamers for sailing-ships, that gave England a rapid lead over other nations. With her ready reserve of coal and iron, large commercial interests, her realm "bound in with the triumphant sea," she built hastily and competed successfully with Europe and America. This bridging over of the rough ocean seas, this shortening of distance from shore to shore, brought the colonies within measurable distance of the mother country, until to-day Canada can be reached by steamer in seven days, South Africa in fifteen days, India in sixteen days, and Australia in thirty-five days.
With this growing annihilation of space, England was free to carry on her great mission for which she was so well fitted—of carrying freedom, justice, and equity across the broad seas. She sent forth her sons to their distant homes, knowing they would be true-born Britons to the end. France had her colonies, Germany had hers; but for various reasons, they had not the vigorous growth permitted to those, which to-day form so large a part of the British Empire. Still England seemed utterly indifferent to her colonies at this time: even the union of Canada in 1867 stirred no enthusiasm in the mother country. Australia, India, New Zealand, and the lesser possessions were treated as foreign countries.
It was the Queen herself, who led the way to the new idea of welding the colonies closer to the mother country: she was one of the first to realise the glorious heritage upon which she had entered, with its great message of freedom and hope,—
Her proclamation as Empress of India in 1877 brought that country into closer touch with England. Dusky Indians were brought over to guard their Empress, which they did to the end with the most faithful devotion; while, among her manifold pressing duties, she laboriously tried to learn their language.
In 1884 Canadian boatmen took part in Lord Wolseley's expedition up the Nile to the relief of Gordon, while the following year New South Wales enthusiastically offered a contingent.
"Men, horses, and guns are ready to start," they wrote, "and we desire to pay the cost."
From this time onwards, the colonists have bravely taken their share in the troubles of their mother country. Yet a further step was gained, when the Indian and Colonial Exhibition was opened in London in 1886, at which an amazing display of the vast resources of the Empire revealed the unknown to wondering Britons. Great enthusiasm prevailed, and more than one poet burst into song:
A new spirit of brotherhood dawned, and past indifference gave way to an ever increasing interest well described by Kipling—
As time went on the idea of union grew and grew, till in 1887, at the Queen's Jubilee, an Imperial note was struck, and the bond of Empire immensely strengthened.
In the magnificent procession through the great capital of the British Empire at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, passed subjects from every corner of the vast inheritance on which "the sun never sets." There were richly-clad Indians, stalwart Maoris from New Zealand, lancers from Tasmania and the Australian colonies, troops from Canada, Cape Mounted Rifles, Natal volunteers. There were yeomen from Trinidad, artillery from Malta and Jamaica, Haussas from West Africa, Dyak police from North Borneo, men from the Straits Settlements, Hong-kong, and Ceylon, while the Premiers from the self-governing colonies were cheered to the echo by their grateful countrymen in England. When war broke out, two years later, between England and the Republics in South Africa, offers of help poured in from the colonies, to be gratefully accepted by the mother country.
Meanwhile science too was at work welding this great Empire. By means of submarine cables, already messages were rapidly transmitted from country to country. The scheme for an All-British submarine cable had long been under discussion, but it had been coldly looked upon till Mr. Chamberlain, as Colonial Secretary, regarded it as part of his Imperial policy. Then suddenly was fulfilled the prophecy of Shakspere's Puck: "I'll put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes." At three o'clock on October 31, 1902, the last link in the All-British Pacific submarine cable was completed, and messages from Australia to England can be transmitted in an hour instead of a day. The practical use of electricity, as a means of communication, is rapidly annihilating space to-day; while one of the most wonderful inventions of the age is Marconi's wireless telegraphy, by which ships at sea can be communicated with, and the fleet summoned in case of danger.
Thus briefly we have sketched the change of feeling, that came over the relation of the mother country to her colonies during the nineteenth century. Distant and isolated possessions are fast developing into a united Empire, the bonds of which must of necessity be drawn closer and closer.
But an Empire "broad-based upon the people's will," resting not alone on arms or force or trade, but on the men who have created it, is perhaps the finest example of Imperialism yet known to mankind.
Let us now see how it lies with the men and women of the future—joint heirs and partners in the glories and traditions of the British Empire, to be good citizens of their vast inheritance.