The Britains Beyond the Seas
When Wolfe had won Canada for England, it still remained a French country, though under English rule, and North's wise Quebec Act allowed the people to keep their Roman Catholic religion and their French law. But when the United States had extorted their independence, while many loyalists migrated to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, or Prince Edward Island, about ten thousand came to Canada, and settled on the shores of Lake Ontario, receiving from the English Government free grants of land, with tools and food.
Thus Upper Canada, or Ontario, became chiefly English, Scottish, and Irish; while Quebec, or Lower Canada, was mainly French. So, to prevent quarrels, Pitt's Canada Act of 1791 made them separate provinces with separate governments. Free grants of land drew ever more Americans to Ontario, and after Waterloo distress at home drove many Englishmen to settle there also.
But presently quarrels began between French and English. The very separateness of their governments hindered friendly union. Yet circumstances forced them into constant contact: indeed, the produce of Ontario could reach the sea only through Quebec. French and English alike, too, constantly quarrelled with their Governors, desiring greater independence.
Hence rebellions broke out in both Canadas in 1837. They were easily crushed, but the English Government wisely resolved to remove the causes of discontent by abolishing the separation of the provinces and satisfying the longing for self-government.
So Lord Durham went out as High Commissioner, and planned the system of Government to which Canada traces much of her prosperity. Unhappily, though generous and far-sighted, he was impetuous and rash, and he was soon recalled, to die in England a disappointed man.
But his famous Report speedily bore fruit. Even before he died Upper and Lower Canada were reunited. And soon, not only in Canada, but in all large, well-established English colonies, peopled by white men, governors were forbidden to set up their own will, as in former times, against the will of the colonists. Henceforward, a governor must imitate the sovereign whom he represented. He must not rule, however wisely, as he himself thought best. He must follow the advice of ministers, chosen by him from the strongest party in the Lower House of the colonial Parliament. And only in very serious difficulties would the Home Government itself interfere.
But the union of the provinces failed to secure that combination of unity with local liberty which each desired: also it gave Ontario less influence than its growing population seemed to demand. Hence discontent began again, and continued until an unexpected remedy was found in the British North America Act of 1867. Under this Act the two Canadas, with Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, became a single Federation—something like the United States. This federated Dominion of Canada is ruled by a Governor-General with a Privy Council, a Cabinet, and two Houses of Parliament. But each province has also its own Lieutenant-Governor and Parliament.
The new Dominion rapidly developed. Thousands of immigrants—Englishmen, Americans, Europeans of every race—swelled its population year by year. Vast forests were felled; vast corn-lands opened up. Explorers and settlers pushed ever farther west. Railways spread right across the continent. Goldfields were found in the Klondyke districts of the far west. And, as the country was developed, new provinces were added to the Dominion—British Columbia and Vancouver Island, Manitoba, and the vast North-West Territories, where once the Hudson Bay Company ruled and fought and traded and struggled with rivals, like the old East India Company elsewhere in days gone by. And at last Newfoundland alone—in all British North America—remained outside the frontiers of Canada.
2. Australia and New Zealand
Not long before England lost her American colonies, James Cook, a runaway apprentice who had become a captain in the Royal Navy, laid the foundation of a new and far larger English dominion. Twice he sailed with a small ship right across the world to the two islands of New Zealand and the great continent of Australia, then almost unknown, and wholly unoccupied, by white men.
He himself, indeed, formed no colony there, though he hoisted the English flag over many small islands which he discovered in the Pacific, and on one of which he met his death. But his voyages opened up a new world of adventure to daring Englishmen. And, though the American Rebellion might seem unlikely to make the English Government in love with the idea of colonies, yet it raised a difficult question to which the founding of a new colony seemed the easiest answer.
For, before 1776, prisoners serving long sentences had often been transported to America to save the overcrowding of English prisons. And now this was no longer possible. But Australia might be made to fill the gap. So the east coast of New South Wales (as Cook called the part of Australia which he visited first) became a "penal settlement," or home for convicts. A governor was appointed, and in 1788, over seven hundred convicts landed in Botany Bay, and the capital of the settlement was fixed at Sydney.
The little colony led for many years a stormy life. Convicts—guarded and ruled by soldiers—were not ideal settlers. The home Government gave little help. Once actual starvation threatened the entire community. One governor was too weak to crush disorder. Another was so despotic that the commander of the troops deposed and imprisoned him. And, even when free settlers came out from England, and order was restored, bond and free alike lived under a stern and almost military discipline, which recalled the ways of the old Puritans.
But gradually things grew better. More free settlers arrived. New towns were founded. The whole coast was explored. A settlement was made in Van Diemen's Land, or Tasmania. Small posts were set up elsewhere to prevent French annexations. In 1829 a new colony, Western Australia, with a capital at Perth, was established with its own governor, and, for a time, with a wholly free population.
Meanwhile, the importation of sheep from the Cape had started one great Australian industry—sheep-rearing. And presently the colonial Governments began to assist free settlers to come out from England. After this progress was rapid. South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland, with their capitals, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Brisbane, were founded one after the other, the last two being for a time dependent on New South Wales.
Lastly—partly by conquest, partly by purchase from the native Maori chiefs—New Zealand was secured for England just in time to prevent its becoming a French possession.
Each of these colonies passed through a period of depression and disaster. In New Zealand disputes with the Maoris, for which the colonists were largely to blame, started a "Maori War," which dragged on for nine years. In Australia, town and country interests clashed, and the goldfields were for a time the scene of great disorders. In Tasmania, the settlers struggled with the blacks. And everywhere alike there were commercial troubles.
Nevertheless an immense advance was made. The abolition of convict settlements changed the character of one colony after another. In spite of droughts and disease, and the scarcity of shepherds when the supply of convicts ceased, the wool trade grew ever larger. Then cattle-breeding was tried, and presently a vast frozen-meat export trade sprang up. Above all, gold discoveries attracted immigrants in tens of thousands, so that the population doubled twice over in the twenty years 1850-70.
And increased population and prosperity brought increased political liberty. Free colonists could claim rights with which convicts could never be trusted. And slowly—South Australia leading, and Western Australia, as in other matters, coming last—the colonies rose to the dignity of self-governing States, subject indeed to the English Crown, but very rarely interfered with by the Imperial Government.
Meanwhile from time to time a federation of all Australasia, on the Canadian plan, was discussed. It was foreshadowed by occasional meetings of colonial representatives, by suggestions of a commercial union, by the actual creation of a Federal Council to deal with important questions of common interest. And in 1900 the five Australian States, with Tasmania, united in the Commonwealth of Australia, with a Governor-General, Council, Parliament, and High Court of Justice of its own. Each, State kept a separate Government, as in Canada, for its home affairs. But matters of general importance—military and commercial questions, the control of immigration, railways, posts and telegraphs, etc.—were assigned to the central authority, whose powers are likely to increase as a national Australian sentiment develops.
New Zealand alone remained outside the Commonwealth. Lying far away and looking to England rather than to Australia for defence, she feared to lose more by sacrificing independence than she would gain by union. So the Dominion of New Zealand is still a separate unit of the Empire, and claims to rank next in importance to Canada, Australia, and South Africa.
3. South Africa
When Holland ceded the Cape of Good Hope to England in 1815, it was but a small settlement of Dutch farmers, greatly outnumbered by the black natives, the Kaffirs. But presently five thousand Englishmen came out, and the colony began to grow, new towns springing up here and there along the coast.
The Dutch, or Boers, however, disliked English government. They loved the ancient customs of their forefathers. They hated new inventions. They were disgusted by Government interference with their treatment of Kaffir slaves. They were still more disgusted by the abolition of slavery in 1835—which indeed ruined many farmers, English as well as Dutch, since far too little money was granted to make up for the loss of slaves.
So, like the Israelites fleeing from Egypt, the Boers left Cape Colony, and journeyed, as it were, into the wilderness, away from the Englishmen and all their ways. Travelling in great wagons with long teams of oxen, they wandered on through lands unseen before by any white men, except a few adventurous hunters. Some, after bitter quarrels with the natives, settled south of the River Vaal, in the present Orange Free State. Others pushed eastwards through the Drakenberg Mountains into the fertile country of Natal, though there the first comers were massacred by the fierce Zulu tribes. And others, crossing the Vaal, settled on the farther side—in the Trans-Vaal.
But again and again the English power followed in their track and set up its rule over them once more. First Natal was declared a British colony. Then the Orange River district was annexed, and a Boer attempt to regain independence was crushed. For a time, indeed, England shirked the task of protecting the Boers against their native neighbours, and, drawing back, allowed the Transvaal and the Orange Free State to become independent Dutch Republics. But soon she advanced once more. She took the Basutos, dwelling between Cape Colony and Natal, under her protection. She annexed Griqualand West when the discovery of priceless diamond mines drew thousands of miners there from every quarter of the globe. And, when the powerful Zulu king, Cetewayo, threatened the Dutch of the Transvaal, she declared their land once again British territory, so to remain "as long as the sun should shine."
Thus the defence of the Transvaal against the Zulus fell to English soldiers. The Zulu War of 1879–80 began badly, with the slaughter of over a thousand men out of thirteen hundred caught in an unfortified camp by a force ten times their number.
But a Zulu raid into Natal was stopped by the heroic defence of Rorke's Drift, the only point where the invaders could cross the River Tugela. For here, behind a rampart of biscuit-boxes and bags of food, two English officers and about a hundred men held at bay an overwhelming Zulu force all through the night, until the main English army appeared. And at last the Zulus were defeated, their king captured, and their country annexed to the Cape.
But meanwhile the Transvaal Boers had regained their independence. First they asked for it, and were refused. Then, taking up arms, they defeated the English in three small engagements. The last and most famous was the battle of Majuba Hill. Here the heroic bravery of the Boers, and the foolish self-confidence of the English, brought disaster on the English force. Yet reinforcements speedily arrived, and soon the tide of victory must have turned.
But Gladstone had already offered terms which the Boers now accepted, and, rightly or wrongly, he would not withdraw them in order to restore English prestige. So the Transvaal became once more independent, except for certain rights which England still claimed, but which were very vaguely defined.
Yet after this the English power in South Africa grew even faster than before. For, when the Germans settled on the south-west coast and the Boers attempted to enlarge the Transvaal in one direction after another, it was feared that British South Africa might be quite cut off from the interior of the continent, which would have ruined its prosperity. On the other hand, certain Englishmen—especially the famous Cecil Rhodes—dreamed of an English empire in Africa stretching from Cairo to the Cape—Egypt and the Sudan, British East Africa, and the southern colonies being the three links in the chain.
So in 1895 all the eastern coast up to the Portuguese possessions was annexed, and thus the Boer Republics were cut off from the sea. And meanwhile Rhodes, guiding the South African "Chartered Company," paved the way for English dominion in one sphere after another, till British Bechuanaland and the region called, after him, Rhodesia joined Cape Colony with British Central Africa, and the solid block of English territory, from the Cape to the land beyond the River Zambesi, was broken only by the Transvaal and the Free State.
And at last, in 1899, another Boer War began. The discovery of gold-mines in the Transvaal had brought in thousands of English and other miners, who soon far outnumbered the Dutch farmers. The Boers—disgusted at the intrusion, and fearing to lose control over their own country—refused to these "Outlanders," or foreigners, all political rights. The Outlanders, taxed without being represented in the assembly that taxed them, appealed to the "suzerain" Power, England, to interfere. Long and difficult negotiations followed. The Boers clung to their independence: many Englishmen, on the other hand, longed to make the English "suzerainty" something more than a mere name.
At Christmas, 1895, the world was startled by the "Jameson Raid"—a wild attempt by certain members of the Chartered Company to overthrow the Boer supremacy by an invasion, which they hoped would encourage the Outlanders to revolt. The Raid failed miserably; and the English Government had to punish its leaders. But the relations between Boer and Briton grew more and more strained.
The Boers secretly armed. When all was ready, and before the English troops in South Africa could be adequately reinforced, they presented an ultimatum, or final demand; and, failing to receive an answer at the appointed time, invaded Natal.
The Orange Free State allied with the Transvaal. The feeling of Europe was all in favour of the Boers—for England, never very popular abroad, looked like a big man fighting a small boy.
In reality, however, she had a far weaker position than the Boers when the war began. Her forces on the spot were smaller, her preparations far less complete; and she had to defend a long frontier against an attack which might come from any quarter.
The Boers, too, were first-rate marksmen and clever fighters, who knew the country far better than their opponents. Soon English forces were besieged at three points—Ladysmith, Kimberley, and Mafeking. Nor did the first reinforcements from England turn the scale. In December, the "black week" in December, 1899, news came of three British reverses, one after another.
But Boers had done foolishly in devoting their strength to sieges instead of pressing on to rouse the Dutch population through all the British colonies. For the garrisons resisted magnificently, and early in 1900 Lord Roberts came out as Commander-in-Chief with large forces, and Lord Kitchener as his Chief of Staff. Then the tide turned. Kimberley on the west, Ladysmith on the east, was relieved. A large Boer force was surrounded and compelled to surrender at Paardeberg. And then the relief of Mafeking, and the occupation of the two capitals—Bloemfontein and Pretoria—brought the great events of the war to an end, and Dutch the Republics were again annexed.
Guerilla warfare dragged on for two years more, but in June, 1902, the last Boers surrendered.
And then an unexampled thing happened. Within five years of the peace both the Orange River and the Transvaal colonies received self-government, and in 1909 both were united, with Cape Colony and Natal, in the Union of South Africa. Thus Boer and Briton, friend and foe, joined together in a single State. For the Union was note merely—like the Dominion of Canada, or the Commonwealth of Australia—a Federation, leaving to each separate State a Government of its own. On the contrary, one Governor-General represented the Crown in all four colonies. One Council, one Cabinet, one Parliament of two Houses, stood for all alike. And the head of the first ministry of the Union—the official adviser of the Governor who represented the King, was a brave Boer soldier, who had led his countrymen in their last struggle for independence, General Botha.
At the coronation of George V the Prime Ministers of all the great Dominions in the Empire were summoned to attend. There were the representatives of Canada and Newfoundland, of the Australian States, and of New Zealand. The sight of them reminded Englishmen how, in the darkest hour of 1899, these "Britains beyond the Seas" had of their own accord come to the aid of the old Mother Country, and sent their sons to do her yeoman service in the long and dreary South African campaigns. But there also was the Boer Premier of South Africa itself. And his presence showed, by the finest object-lesson in history, how generosity in the victor and wisdom in the vanquished might sweep aside the memory of the longest and bitterest struggles, and change the fiercest foemen into the firmest friends.