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British Empire/Addendum

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This addendum is a continuation of the article British Empire.

Changes of constitutional status

Many of the early colonies were first claimed by privately-financed explorers and "merchant venturers" but their claims were always made in the name of the British Crown, and some were granted royal charters, awarding exclusive rights of exploitation. Some, such as the East India Company created their own systems of governance and maintained their own armies, but responsibility for their governance was always eventually taken over by the Crown. The relinquishment of that responsibility in favour of local interests began in the late 19th century with the establishment of the concept of a self-governing "Dominion status" and its application to Canada and subsequently to Australia , New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland. In 1926, the 6th Imperial Conference[1] established the Dominions as equal communities within the British Commonwealth, with a common allegiance to the Crown. That definition was incorporated into British law in 1931 as the Statute of Westminster[2]; and in 1949, the London Declaration , established the concept of the Commonwealth of Nations that would also include independent countries that did not owe allegiance to the Crown. Membership of the Commonwealth of the Commonwealth of Nations was adopted by most of the remaining colonies when they were granted independence.

Countries of the Empire

(brief outlines of their relations with Britain)


In 1155 the Pope granted Henry II of England, authority over Ireland. Sporadic armed conflict between the two countries thereafter culminated in the 1601 defeat and surrender of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, after which the Irish were deemed to owe formal allegiance to the English Crown. The ensuing civil conflict was aggravated by the forced settlement of Scottish Protestants in the northern part of what was a predominantly Catholic country. During the following two centuries, opposition to British rule was violently suppressed, but there was no abatement of the Irish struggle for independence, and in the 19th century serious parliamentary consideration came to be given to what was termed "Irish Home Rule". After the bloody suppression of the 1916 Easter Rising, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was concluded in 1921, followed by the creation of the Irish Free State as a British Dominion. The constitutional link with Britain was finally severed in 1949 at the time of the London Declaration with the creation of the independent Republic of Ireland.

The Thirteen Colonies

Britain's North American colonies were founded in the name of the Crown. and had Governors appointed by the Crown; but they were the product of initiatives by private companies and individuals, not the Crown; and the motives for their establishment were economic and religious, not imperialist. They were subject in principle to British law and to British parliamentary legislation, but each had its own legislature and each was free to levy its own taxes. For over 150 years, the only significant interventions in their affairs by British governments were the imposition of mercantilist restrictions on their overseas trade, and the engagement of the British Army in conflicts with their French and native American neighbours. In the latter half of the 18th century, however, the British Parliament passed and repealed a number of Bills intended to raise revenue from the colonies, culminating in the imposition - in the face of furious opposition - of a tax on legal transactions. Violent opposition to British taxation resulted finally in the Declaration of Independence, the defeat of the British army in the American War of Independence, and effective British recognition of an independent United States of America by the Treaty of Paris.


A British colony was established in Newfoundland towards the end of the 16th century and much of the remainder of what is now Canada was settled by British and French immigrants in the course of the 17th century. The Treaty of Paris of 1763 ceded the French colonies to Britain, with the exception of the small islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. In 1867 the British North American Act conferred Dominion status on Canada as part of the British Commonwealth.

The West Indies

Britain's Caribbean colonies had a major influence upon the British economy for over a century. During that period their exports and imports accounted for an important part of Britain's international trade, and the profits from their enterprises made their British owners rich, and helped pay for the investments that powered Britain's industrial revolution. About thirty Caribbean island colonies were acquired by conquest from their French and Spanish occupiers, including Barbados in 1605, Anguila in 1650 and Jamaica in 1655. Early British settlers were mainly subsistence farmers, but that activity gave way to the intensive farming and refinement of sugar. The sugar plantations came to be manned by imported African slaves and managed for their owners by hired overseers.


In the 17th century, England's East India Company maintained trading posts in India's immensely prosperous Mughal empire with the permission of its Emperor. In the 18th century, when the Mughal empire was in decline, the Company's army fought and won battles for the control of the Indian market, and it subsequently gained effective control of most of India. Following the Rebellion of 1857-58, the British government abolished both the Mughal Dynasty and the East India Company and control of India became the responsibility of a government-appointed Governor-General. Reforms were instituted, Indians were recruited to the colony's civil service, and peaceful rule was largely maintained until the granting of independence in 1947.

Other Asian countries


Australia was claimed for the British crown by Captain James Cook in 1770. One penal colony was established at what was then Port Jackson (and is now Sydney) in 1788, and another was established in what as then Van Diemen's Land (and is now Tasmania) in 1803. Free settlers began to arrive in the colony from the 1790s, and wheat and merino sheep were also introduced in the late 18th century. Self-government was largely granted in 1850 by the passage of the Australian Colonies Government Act, which enabled the Australian colonies to amend their constitutions, determine electoral franchise and fix tariffs. The six British colonies on the continent federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.

New Zealand

New Zealand was claimed for the British Crown by James Cook in 1769, and was formally established as a crown colony by the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

Other Pacific countries

South Africa

For most of the 17th and 18th centuries, South Africa's settlements were a Dutch possession, but Britain seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1797 and the Cape Colony in 1805. In 1826, some thousands of Dutch ("Afrikaner"} settlers undertook a mass migration ("Great Trek") from the Cape Colony to the coastal strip of land to its East, where they established the "Natalia Republic". Britain annexed it as the Colony of Natal, however, and the Afrikaners moved on into the Cape's interior hinterland where they established the South African Republic (also known as the Transvaal), and the Orange Free State. After the defeat of the Afrikaners in frontier conflicts that came to be known as the "Boer War", sovereignty over all of the South African republics was ceded to Britain by the provisions of the Treaty of Vereeniging.

Other African countries

The Mediterranean islands

Imperial policy and conduct


The Slave Trade