That Time Canada Tried to Purchase Greenland

Sir Robert Laird Borden

John C. Mitcham
Duquesne University

President Donald Trump’s recent musings about buying Greenland from Denmark stirred deep emotions abroad.  The idea of acquiring sovereign territory through a real estate purchase seems like a quintessentially American act. As a Canadian writer in the Toronto Star put it, “Whether you love him or hate him, I think we can agree on this: Donald Trump even believing he can buy Greenland is clinically insane.”

Except that Canada also once tried to purchase the Greenland.

At the height of the First World War, the leaders of the vast British Empire assembled in London to lay the foundation for a postwar world dominated by white, English-speaking peoples.  This Imperial War Conference of 1917 included representatives from the overseas Dominions of Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, and New Zealand. It was the kind of Commonwealth gentleman’s club that would make the most romantic Brexiteers swoon with post-imperial nostalgia. Continue reading “That Time Canada Tried to Purchase Greenland”

The curious colonial afterlife of the 1837 Select Committee Report on Aborigines

Penny Edmonds and Zoë Laidlaw

In August 1838 from his base in Cape Town, senior Quaker James Backhouse sent the 1837 House of Commons Report from the Select Committee on Aborigines (British Settlements) to at least twenty-five men and one woman of influence across the Australian colonies The precious package, wrapped in sturdy paper, addressed in purple-black iron gall ink and secured with string, was posted across oceans by ship, and later by road, into the hands of a multi-denominational network of humanitarians, religious figures, colonial officials, police magistrates and powerful settlers. Backhouse attached the highest import to the report as a means of bringing moral reform and humane colonization to violent frontiers, where Aboriginal people fought settlers for their lands.

Short letters were attached to each parcel. Backhouse wrote to Reverend John Espie Keane of Bathurst, New South Wales: “The British Government is now awaking to a sense of its error of conduct towards the Native Tribes of its colonies … I hope that reading the Report may stir up thy zeal … on this interesting and highly important subject.” To George Langhorne, a missionary at Port Phillip, Backhouse write that the report was “a work deeply interesting, and well calculated both to restrain outrage against the Aboriginal inhabitants of our Colonies, and to promote rational sentiments respecting their rights.”

The 1837 Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Aboriginal Tribes (British Settlements) ushered in a new era of Aboriginal protectorates across the Australian colonies and New Zealand that would have far reaching consequences for Indigenous peoples, and its regulations and effects under the rubric of “protective governance” resonate still today.   The report has been frequently invoked by scholars as a touchstone or “blueprint” of British humanitarian policy in new settlements in the 1830s, including in Australia, North America, and New Zealand and the Pacific, at the high point of humanitarian reform. It was released in the wake of the abolition of slavery in British settlements (1834), when humanitarians turned their attention from the abolitionist cause to the fate of Indigenous peoples in Britain’s colonies, and coincided with the violent land rush in these new settlements. Alongside its recommendations, the report contained hundreds of pages of affective testimony delivered to the select committee by Indigenous peoples and humanitarians, as well as colonial and military officials.

The 1837 report is well known to historians. Yet, as our research reveals, it is less widely known that there was not one but three editions of the select committee’s report circulating at that time. As a result, most accounts routinely conflate the different versions of the report, and have paid scant attention to their construction as material, textual artefacts, and even less to their various meanings as textual missives, or their circulation in the colonies. Our research revisits an imperial text that has been regarded as canonical, to ask what its sometimes complicated history, as both an embodiment of knowledge and a circulating paper artefact, might tell us. 

Curiously, Backhouse had chosen to post from Cape Town a version of the report published by the Aborigines’ Protection Society (APS), rather than that published by his own Quaker cohort, the Society of Friends.

Why did he do this? And who repackaged the report and why?

The answers lay within the story of Backhouse’s parcels. Continue reading “The curious colonial afterlife of the 1837 Select Committee Report on Aborigines”

Amanda Nettelbeck (Adelaide) on creating Aboriginal subjects of the Crown in colonial Australia – this Wed., May 3

Protection, conciliation and coercion: creating Aboriginal subjects of the Crown in colonial Australia

Centre for Imperial and Global History Seminar Series

When: Wed. May 3, 4:30pm

Where: Amory 115, University of Exeter

Amanda Nettelbeck
University of Adelaide

Recent scholarship has seen a spike of interest in the politics of colonial humanitarianism and its various expressions around the British Empire from the late 18th century onwards. In particular, the project of Aboriginal ‘protection’ that had its formal heyday between the mid-1830s and the mid-1850s has received renewed focus as one of the most important means through which nineteenth-century strategies of humane governance were put into operation. Once conventionally regarded as a relatively short-lived Colonial Office agenda to extend justice and rights to indigenous people, the mid nineteenth-century project of protection has more recently been reconsidered in terms of its role to help secure the Crown’s practical jurisdiction in unruly colonies, and its motivations to create indigenous people’s colonial subjectivity. Continue reading “Amanda Nettelbeck (Adelaide) on creating Aboriginal subjects of the Crown in colonial Australia – this Wed., May 3”

For Fear of ‘Turning Native’: British Colonialism in Uruguay

PRIZE GIVING. Victoria Hall 1909. Second Prize Giving ceremony of the new school. The theatre was a gift of the British colony in Uruguay to Victoria on her Diamond Jubilee, but was inaugurated long after she had passed away. Constantly in financial problems it was always a problem for the community.
PRIZE GIVING. Victoria Hall 1909. Second Prize Giving ceremony of the new school. The theatre was a gift of the British colony in Uruguay to Victoria on her Diamond Jubilee, but was inaugurated long after she had passed away. Constantly in financial problems, it was always a problem for the community.

Alvaro Cuenca
Montevideo, Uruguay

Uruguay was never really considered part of the formal British Empire,[1] but it is commonly used as the typical illustration of Britain’s informal empire. Most studies on the relationship between Great Britain and Uruguay during the 19th century are economic and political.[2] Missing are the social and cultural responses of the British colonists to what they perceived as an alien and dangerous environment.

The British colony in Uruguay was never more than 2000 strong, but during its apogee, between the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, the colony certainly wielded enormous economic power. This small group of British subjects became immersed in the local population: the native criollos, who, although they were all third- of fourth-generation descendants of European origin, were nonetheless considered culturally inferior. The British leaders of the colony in Uruguay defined the classic cultural and social strategies to combat and defeat the most profound fear of the Late Victorian period: turning native. Continue reading “For Fear of ‘Turning Native’: British Colonialism in Uruguay”