The British Empire was the biggest formal empire known to the world at its peak and it covered nearly a quarter of the Earth's land. Even after the handover of Hong Kong to China, there are still 13 colonies under the British Administration. However these territories are too small for self-rule. A good example would be Pitcairn Island, which is probably the most remote place on the Earth with a population of 54. The 13 territories are Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctica Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands, St Helena (where Napoleon had been sent into exile) and Turks & Caicos Islands.
Rise of the Empire
The rise of the British Empire begun with capitalism, as the Englishmen wanted a slice of the wealth of the "New World". The primary reason for the existence of imperialism is the slave trade (in the case of Africa), source of raw material for the British industries and also a market for the products of the British industries, based on the economic theory of comparative advantage. A secondary reason was that the local natives were uncivilised, and should therefore be taught to live the civilised way; the European way. This noble notion however, was most of the time just a way of defending colonisation.
Periods of Colonisation
There had been two periods of colonisation for Britain. The first period had been in the late 16th century, when companies such as the British East India Company, had been permitted by the British government to colonisation around the globe. It was in this initial period that Britain slowly obtained many possessions around the globe, including the early American colonies. In the late 17th and 18th century, the weakening of Spanish and Dutch power meant the British could further expand their colonial power. Important additions to the gigantic empire included India, soon to be the jewel of the British Empire, where the British managed to displace their French counterparts from the subcontinent and remain the masters for the next two centuries to come. The loss of the American colonies in the mid-1700s marked the end of the first period.
The second period had been marked by the renewed territorial acquisition in India, Australia and New Zealand. The Napoleonic Wars further added French overseas colonies to Britain's basket of colonies. Humanitarians however, soon pressured the government to take greater care of the local inhabitants, and activities such as slave trading were ended. At the end and start of the 18th and 19th century respectively, New Imperialism sparked off renewed competition among the European powers for colonies. The 'Scramble for Africa' divided the continent among the various powers, and Britain got a slice. Likewise, in China, having lost in the infamous Opium Wars and successive wars was forced to give concessions to Britain. By the end of World War One, where Britain emerged as the victor and took possession of German colonies and the demolished Ottoman Empire, the British Empire reached its peak.
World War II
World War II was a turning point for the British Empire. Though victorious, the Britain suffered great economic difficulties after the war, having vexed all their power to defeat the renewed German threat. They no longer have the resources to hold on the colonies and retain their colonial status. On top of it, there was a rise in nationalistic sentiments in the various British colonies (especially India). Furthermore, Britain was no longer a superpower and was replaced by USA and USSR, both of whom frown upon the idea of imperialism. All these sum up to the fall of the British Empire, which slowly dismantled itself in the Cold War to come. Her colonies joined the Commonwealth, a small reminder of the British Empire that had once dominated the world.
Colonisation of Egypt. © Copyright 2005
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