Exempt from the Disaster of Caste

Australia, Canada and New Zealand

Fifteen years after the Australian penal settlement had been established in 1788, and just as Tuckey was indulging in his fantasy, Sydney Smith also imagined a mighty future for the so-called “Colony of Disgracefuls.” The time might come, he wrote, “when some Botany Bay Tacitus shall record the crimes of an emperor lineally descended from a London pick-pocket, or paint the valour with which he has led his New Hollanders*5 into the heart of China.” As it happened the first Governor of New South Wales, Captain Arthur Phillip, did have imperial dreams. But “the Romulus of the Southern Pole,”1 as Smith whimsically dubbed him, did “not wish convicts to lay the foundations of an empire.” Phillip, a naval officer appointed to lead the first fleet (or sent to Botany Bay, his critics said, because he so nagged ministers for preferment), envisaged that felons would merely provide the sinew strength to tame the wilderness. They would not be slaves, said Phillip, because “there can be no slavery in a free land.” But the convicts should be separated from the garrison and from free settlers who might later emigrate to Australia. They should also be subjected to strict discipline and severe punishment. Phillip, a thin-faced man with a large bald cranium and a missing front tooth (which may have endeared him to Aboriginal men, who ritually knocked out one of their own teeth), was a relatively benevolent despot. Yet he proposed to hand over anyone found guilty of murder or sodomy to the cannibals of New Zealand “and let them eat him.”2 Within two months of arrival he approved the execution of a youth aged seventeen for stealing property worth five shillings. As for an Irishman who protested “disrespectfully” that the papers setting the expiry date of his sentence had been left in England, he was given six hundred lashes and clapped in irons for six months.3 Only by coercing and deterring, Phillip believed, could his criminal community of some 750 souls (among them about 190 women and 18 children) be forged into an engine of empire.

Initially some effort had been made to select for transportation convicts who were “ingenious in every branch of English manufacture.”4 But this had been abandoned because of sheer weight of numbers—the mass of depraved and deprived humanity caged on the Thames threatened to turn their rotting prison hulks into literal as well as moral plague spots. In the event most of the convicts in the first fleet were young labourers who had committed minor offences, generally theft. Few of the “yokels” and fewer of the “townies” (to employ their own distinction) were qualified to be pioneers. None had any idea, as they sailed up the coast from Botany Bay, the site recommended by Captain Cook but found to be unsuitable, what it would take to establish a colony in the Antipodes. But hearts lifted as their stinking transports, three-masted, square-rigged, flat-sided, deep-bottomed vessels crammed with plants, seeds and animals like so many Noah’s arks, passed through the “granite gates” of Sydney Harbour and entered a blue “paradise of waters.”5 Here, said Phillip, amid a labyrinth of islands, capes and bays, was the finest harbour in the world. It was, moreover, surrounded by meadows, crags and woods, among which the flight of green parakeets and pink cockatoos made the vista “appear like an enchantment.”6 In fancy one sailor even translated the rocky eminences into pavilions and palaces: he discerned “charming seats, superb buildings and grand ruins of stately edifices.”7 But it was a mirage of bliss. For the convicts were about to experience worse “hardships,” one of them wrote, than any described in “the Crusoe-like adventures I ever read.”8

At Sydney Cove, where disembarkation commenced on 27 January 1788, European order made its initial mark on Antipodean nature. For “the first time since the creation,” wrote the implacable Judge Advocate, David Collins, the silence was broken by the rude sound of the labourer’s axe. The stillness of the ages gave way to the “busy hum” of the land’s “new possessors.”9 They cleared the ground and landed stores and livestock. They began work on a sawpit, a cookhouse and a blacksmith’s forge. They laid out encampments and erected Phillip’s portable canvas house, which had cost £125 and leaked. On 6 February the female felons came ashore and the males were given an extra ration of grog to celebrate. Efforts had been made to keep the sexes apart during the voyage since convict ships were reputed to be floating brothels. But sailors subscribed to the Georgian view that involuntary chastity induced gout and, as a recent chronicler says, in some vessels they had taken no risks.10 Now, with the coupling of whore and rogue (as one convict put it), began the first white orgy to take place under the Southern Cross. The “scene of debauchery and riot” acquired a still more Dionysian character when it was overtaken by “the most violent storm of lightning, thunder and rain.”11Felons shook their fists at the elements and cursed the terms of their captivity. Doubtless all this was a natural outburst of passion. But such defiance was also an incipient challenge to imperial authority, a primal cry of freedom inside a continental oubliette. The following day all (save nine absentees) assembled in a clearing to hear the Governor’s supremacy proclaimed. Flags flew, the Marine band played and Phillip was formally invested with dominion over the eastern half of Australia and adjacent Pacific islands. His commission gave him a “plenitude of power,”12 unlimited by an advisory council. Addressing his charges, the Governor promised to reward industry and virtue and to punish indolence and vice. The Marines fired volleys, toasts were drunk, and Phillip entertained senior officers to a cold collation.

The convicts, many suffering from scurvy, proved intractable. Despite having “experienced every indulgence from the Governor, whose humanity & attention to them whilst at sea & since our arrival here entitles him to their esteem as their best friend,” they remained in general, wrote Lieutenant David Blackburn, “a set of hardened wretches.”13 They were reluctant to work. Some tried to escape, venturing into the bush (China was rumoured to be only one hundred miles away) or seeking passage on the two vessels of the French explorer La Pérouse which, to the amazement of the British, had coincided with them at Botany Bay. Others reverted to crime, ranging from petty larceny to serial murder. Incorrigible villains, as Governor Phillip called them, often made light of the heavy penalties. They displayed their flogging scars like war medals and one convict sentenced to death vowed to “create a laugh” by playing “some trick upon the executioner.”14 At home there was gloom, well expressed by William Cowper in a letter to John Newton: “We mourn for the mismanagement at Botany Bay, and foresee the issue. The Romans were, in their origin, banditti; and if they became in time masters of the world, it was not by drinking grog, and allowing themselves in all sorts of licentiousness.”15

In Australia none seemed to share Phillip’s bright vision that Australia could become “the Empire of the East.” On the contrary, most were soon as disillusioned as the choleric Marine commander, Major Robert Ross. This was the worst country in the world, he said, “so hateful as only to merit execration and curses.”16 Far from offering a “virgin mould”17 more fertile than the exhausted tilth of Europe, as one London journal had hoped, the soil was barren and food was scarce. The vegetation was sparse and unprepossessing: gum trees rotted and warped, while the ironwoods blunted steel. The natives, who wore bones in their noses, fish oil on their naked bodies and dog teeth or lobster claws in their grizzled hair, were “to all appearance the lowest in Rank among the Human Race.”18 The animals were freakish, rivers flowed backwards, the seasons were topsy-turvy and all “nature is reversed.”19

Europeans were strangers in a strange land. They wondered at the scentless flowers and the songless birds. They puzzled over the bronzed Sydney earth, which sustained huge myrtle, mimosa and eucalyptus trees but little undergrowth. What did flourish—wild celery, spinach, samphire, fig—seemed familiar; but “whole tribes of plants”20 proved utterly alien, botanical nonpareils best sent for classification at Kew. Odder still were the fauna: black swans, flying foxes and fish that walked on land. There were weird antediluvian creatures which flouted every norm. The koala was not a bear, more a marsupial sloth. The emu was a flightless bird without a gizzard. The wombat resembled a rodent. The spines on the porcupine anteater (echidna) were really fur and it laid eggs like a bird, hatching them in its pouch. The prize sport in this outlandish bestiary was the platypus, with its mole body and beaver tail, its duck bill and webbed feet (the back ones also equipped with claws and poisonous spurs), to say nothing of its two penises (neither used for urination). The emblematic prodigy, of course, was the kangaroo. Everyone marvelled at this shy herbivore with its spring-heeled, twenty-foot leaps, the mouse-like joey in its pouch and its testicles “placed contrary to the usual order of nature.”21 For Britons, who were soon paying a shilling a head to view a live kangaroo, transported across the ocean and caged in London’s Haymarket, this creature typified the anomaly that was Australia. Fantastic conceits were woven about the land that spawned it. And the kangaroo itself was variously categorised as a “divine mistake”22 and a missing link in the great chain of being.

Scarcely to be distinguished from the wild animals, in the eyes of many Europeans, were the Aboriginal people. Captain Cook had deemed the natives happy because they possessed everything they needed and were free from the artificial wants of civilisation. Their world was all in all, so much so that when the 368-ton Endeavour had sailed into Botany Bay in 1770 the natives in their bark canoes simply ignored it. They were equally incurious about the white settlers led by Governor Phillip. He went out of his way to befriend them but these hunter-gatherers were unmoved by blandishments, indifferent to gifts, nonchalant about clothes (though amused by hats). They were anxious only that the visitors should “go away,” as indicated by the frequent incantation “Warra, warra, warra.”23 Cook might have seen in this stubborn self-sufficiency the noble savage’s commitment to the simple life. A generation later, Marine Captain Watkin Tench scorned philosophers who exalted “a state of nature over a state of civilisation.” Far from enjoying Elysian felicities, the Aborigines were degraded by the nasty, brutish circumstances of their short lives. Paradoxically, though, Tench liked and admired them for their many virtues, notably courage, “humanity and generosity.” Among the women, often the victims of male cruelty (though both sexes were horrified by the alien punishment of flogging), he found “innocence, softness and modesty.” Furthermore, he acknowledged that Aboriginal attacks on Europeans were mostly a response to the “unprovoked outrages” of the more vicious convicts. There was truth in all these observations. But the crucial fact was that the whites had a fatal impact on the blacks. They invaded the sacred sites and the ancestral hunting and fishing grounds of the natives, destroying the essentials of their way of life. They also infected the Aborigines with smallpox, which killed perhaps half their number in the area around Sydney. The community that remained became dependent on the settlers, who prostituted its women and demoralised its men—they were sometimes encouraged to fight each other for buckets of rum. In short, the intruders began to assault the environment and to turn the Aboriginal world upside down. Nothing corrupted “savages” more effectively than “civilisation.”

The European community, clinging to the rim of the continent like a clutch of limpets, was itself lucky to survive the first few years. It dwelt in a “few hundred hovels built of twigs and mud.”24 It was slow to become self-sufficient in food, despite the cultivation of more fertile ground a few miles inland at Parramatta. Meanwhile supplies from England failed to arrive. Rations were cut and there was little to eat except salt beef or pork, known as “mahogany,” which shrank almost to nothing when cooked, and rice, every grain of which “was a moving body from the inhabitants lodged within it.” By 1790, Tench noted, famine was “approaching with gigantic strides.”25 Men sold their convict garb, blue kersey jackets and raven pantaloons, to buy bread and worked as naked as the Aborigines; women traded sex for sustenance; some felons died of starvation. The advent of the second fleet, in June, scarcely improved matters. After a voyage which made the Middle Passage seem “merciful,”26 it disgorged a convict cargo that was itself in desperate straits. Unlike slaves, these prisoners were worth nothing on delivery, so the owners and masters of the ships that transported them had “no interest in their preservation.” On the contrary, “the dead were more profitable,” they calculated, “than the living.”27 Their provisions could be saved and sold on arrival, as the Captain of the Neptune demonstrated. He had kept his five hundred convicts, who were shackled in solid slave irons which made movement a torture, on such short commons that about 170 died during the voyage. Survivors had stolen swill from the hogs, taken “chews of tobacco from the mouths of men that lay dead on deck,”28 and concealed the fact that they were chained to corpses (until the stench gave them away) in order to get an extra allowance of victuals.

Some of those who lasted the course expired as they were brought ashore from their floating Devil’s Island. Of the rest, living skeletons covered “with their own nastiness, their heads, bodies, clothes, blankets, all full of filth and lice,”29 many could barely stand and few were fit to earn their keep. Governor Phillip accused commanders of the second fleet of “murdering”30 their charges and he feared that the influx of such “helpless wretches” as remained would prove an intolerable burden to the colony. But by the time he returned home in 1792 more aid had arrived, the seeds of prosperity were beginning to germinate and a number of women, previously too debilitated to conceive, bore children. Everyone extolled the climate, if not the fruitful earth, and some now praised the exotic scenery. Among the “mangrove avenues” and “picturesque rocks” on the way to Parramatta, for example,

Arcadian shades or classic bowers present themselves at every winding to the ravished eye. Overhead the most grotesque foliage yields a shade, where cooling zephyrs breathe every perfume…In short, were the benefits equal to the specious external, this country need hardly give place to any other on earth.31

The benefits accrued slowly and unevenly. Food supplies remained precarious for another twenty years, though the exploitation of nature and humanity became more ruthless. If every prospect pleased, the conduct of man became increasingly vile.

Phillip’s successors were not of his calibre and they permitted officers of the New South Wales Corps to crack the whip. This force was raised to take over from the Marines, who refused to be warders. It consisted of soldiers and soldiers of fortune who were the dregs of their profession. Among them was a set of the “most atrocious characters,” one Governor wrote, “superior in every species of infamy to the most expert in wickedness among the convicts.”32 Nevertheless, they gained legal powers. They were given land as well as seed, tools and convict workers. They were also encouraged to engage in trade. The aim was to spur on private enterprise in the public interest and to some extent it succeeded. But officers acquired commercial rights and established monopolies which earned them huge profits, sometimes more than 1,000 per cent. In particular the “Rum Corps,” as it was aptly called, controlled the liquor traffic. Indeed, its officers turned rum into a currency, paying in gallons and stimulating an insatiable thirst for wealth. They aggravated what one Governor called the “passion for ardent spirits” that prevailed among all classes.33Antipodean society was said to consist of “those who sold rum and those who drank it.”34 In 1808 the officers even staged a rebellion against Governor William Bligh (survivor of the more famous mutiny on the Bounty and known in Sydney as Caligula), who had condemned the ruinous rum monopoly. Thus for almost two decades the Corps established an oligarchy in New South Wales, against which Governors struggled in vain. The military shaped and ordered society. High in the hierarchy came free settlers, who began to trickle in during the 1790s and were also given incentives—free land and labour. At the bottom were the convicts who, despite Phillip’s good intentions, were virtual slaves.

There were, though, degrees of slavery. A convict assigned to work for a settler might fall into good hands. But “in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred,” the Sydney Gazette reported, his employer would be a blockhead or a despot,

cursing and abusing, and getting him flogged for no reasonable cause…He may be harassed to very death. He may be worked like a horse and fed like a chameleon. The master, though not invested by law with uncontrolled power, has yet great authority which may be abused in a thousand ways precluding redress.35

More hardened felons, fit for “double irons and single rations,” were consigned to chain gangs, on which buggery was as inescapable as brutality. Irishmen, who made up a quarter of the convict population by 1801 and were detested as rebels and idolators, received especially rough treatment. Joseph Holt, leader of the revolt of the United Irishmen in Wicklow in 1798, compared the persecutors of his countrymen to “human tigers, who tortured and killed those within their power, according to the caprice of the moment.” Like others convicted of additional crimes or deemed so vicious that they would only submit to terror, Holt was banished to one of the subordinate penal colonies which spread like a cancer across the face of the southern ocean. Norfolk Island, a thousand miles east of Sydney, had once been hailed as a vegetable “paradise.”36 Holt described it as “the dwelling place of devils in human shape, the refuse of Botany Bay, the doubly damned.”

Its commandant, when he arrived, was Major Joseph Foveaux, whom Holt called an iron-fanged ogre worse than “the offspring of the Patagonians, that eat human flesh and drink blood.”37 It was Foveaux’s sadistic delight to flay men alive and he found any excuse, or none, to hand out “feelers”—two hundred strokes of the cat. According to one flagellator, fifty strokes left a man’s back resembling “a mass of bullock’s liver,”38 while two hundred exposed his shoulder blades “like two ivory polished horns.”39Foveaux also enjoyed subjecting females to the scourge. But he would remit half their “Botany Bay dozen” (or twenty-five lashes) if they agreed to take their punishment unclothed. Women, immured in vice yet cursed for being “instruments of corruption,”40naturally occupied the first circle of this Pacific inferno. They were bought and sold for rum, passed from hand to hand and, under Foveaux’s dispensation, forced to perform nude corybantics in the soldiers’ barracks. They were the slaves of slaves.

Yet the system was less apt to break the convict spirit than to provoke implacable resistance. There were even instances of female insubordination, the most notorious of which took place in front of the Governor of Tasmania, Sir John Franklin, at the Hobart House of Correction. When the Rev. William Bedford began preaching to three hundred women, they all “turned round and at one impulse pulled up their clothes showing their naked posteriors which they simultaneously smacked with their hands making a loud and not very musical noise.” At this spectacular piece of cheek, so to say, the Governor’s aide laughed, the Governor’s wife “pretended to faint” and the Governor himself raised his hands to heaven and concluded that most female convicts were prostitutes “in whose bosoms every spark of shame has perhaps long been extinguished.”41 Their treatment did not improve as a result and they were “often reduced to government-subsidized whoredom in assignment.” The penal satellite of Tasmania was in some ways even more of a purgatory than Norfolk Island, especially under its most dictatorial governor, Franklin’s predecessor, Sir George Arthur. He was a granite-faced Evangelical who established “the closest thing to a totalitarian society,” wrote Robert Hughes, “that would ever exist within the British Empire.”42 He worked assiduously “to render transportation a painful punishment, and to make the convict feel his position to be a disagreeable and degraded one.” Arthur supervised and regulated everything minutely, laying down seven levels of punishment. The fifth was the chain gang, whose torment continued from sunset to sunrise when batches of between twenty and thirty men were locked up in boxes “in which the whole number can neither stand upright nor sit down at the same time.”43 The seventh was double exile in hellish outstations such as Macquarie Harbour or Port Arthur on the Tasman peninsula, which was guarded by a line of ferocious dogs. Convicts stopped at nothing to escape. In the process some were driven to murder and cannibalism.

During Arthur’s administration, moreover, the last serious resistance of the Tasmanian Aborigines was crushed. By now the victims of burgeoning racial prejudice against the “ignoble savage,” they were destroyed like vermin. Sometimes they were hunted for sport and used for dog meat. “One European had a pickle tub of black men’s ears, whom he had shot; another had the wife of a black carrying round her neck with a string the head of her own murdered husband, killed while defending his own pasture grounds.” However, concluded the Hobart official who chronicled these atrocities against the “seven thousand” original inhabitants, “probably it is as well that they have, by the order of the Great Disposer of Events, given way to the white man in Tasmania, because it is too clear that they would never assimilate.”44 Seldom has the guilt of man been so smugly attributed to the will of God. And science would soon rival religion in supplying, through its evolutionary “laws,” a specious justification for crimes against races deemed unfit to survive. Charles Darwin himself, while noting the “train of evil” involved, said that the colony now enjoyed “the great advantage of being free from a native population.”45 Actually some Aborigines did survive on nearby islands. But the myth of their complete extermination was a useful one. It offered a final solution to an awkward problem. And it raised “the value of Tasmanian skulls”46on the curio market. In any event, what took place in Tasmania amounted to “the only true genocide in English colonial history.”47 It confirmed the fact that Australia’s penal archipelago was far more savage than the main settlement of New South Wales. Convicts sentenced to death on Norfolk Island actually thanked God that they would be delivered from further agony and sometimes “men committed murder in order to be sent to Sydney…with the certainty of being hanged.” Noting this fact in 1837, Sir William Molesworth’s parliamentary committee condemned the whole system of transportation and recommended instead free emigration. In Molesworth’s words, Britain had emptied its “vast and fomenting masses” of moral filth into Antipodean pest-houses, which thus “stank in the nostrils of mankind.”48 The penitentiary should now become a colony.

In fact this transformation had been going on for some time, perhaps ever since 1791 when Governor Phillip gave selected convicts land grants and implored the British government to send out “a few honest, intelligent settlers.”49 But it was pushed forward by Lachlan Macquarie, who succeeded Bligh in 1810 and remained Governor until 1821. A simple Scottish soldier with a face like a claymore, Macquarie described himself as an “awkward, rusticated, Jungle-Wallah.”50 He had served in America, Jamaica and India, twice fighting against Tipu Sultan and acquiring from the final victory at Seringapatam seventeen ruby rings, worth £1,300. In Australia Macquarie found a community that was “barely emerging from infantile imbecility” and its development was impaired after the Napoleonic Wars by unprecedentedly large “annual importations…from Newgate, and other similar nurseries.”51 Macquarie had no doubt that felons should be duly punished and, when provoked, he could even subject free settlers (illegally) to the lash. Sydney Smith deplored Macquarie’s “Asiatic and satrapical proceedings.”52 Others condemned an “absolutism”53 compounded by gullibility, irritability and vanity. Macquarie commended Foveaux, was cordial only to those who agreed with him, and attached his name to an inordinate number of natural and man-made objects. But the colony’s self-appointed poet laureate, Michael Massey Robinson, hailed Macquarie as an Augustus who was turning Sydney into “a second Rome.”54 And Macquarie certainly employed his power to achieve enormous improvements. He created a police force, constructed roads, erected public buildings, extended settlements, explored new territory and even tried to protect the natives. Under his aegis the wool trade began to flourish, sheep vastly outnumbering black sheep. Whalers and sealers benefited the economy (at the expense of the ecology, as even contemporaries lamented). Provisions were plentiful and if people grumbled about “sour smiggins (cold meat hash)” they were soon reminded of the hungry years when many an “ill-fated cat” was sent virtually “mewing down their throats.”

Despite its noxious slums, Sydney was becoming a dignified metropolis. A square mile inhabited by ten thousand people, it was full of handsome residences and smart shops, neat cottages and extensive warehouses. Along its broad streets (not yet paved or lighted) walked fashionably dressed women as well as convicts in arrowed motley and naked Aborigines, known as “dingy dandies,” wearing their trousers around their necks. Although the town awaited a theatre and a library, it contained churches, schools and civic amenities that would not have disgraced an English provincial city. America itself could not match such progress, wrote an enthusiastic English visitor, who was surprised to find “little crime”55 in Australia. It was, and remained, a rough, tough frontier land, of course. It was a breeding ground for bushrangers and beachcombers, flotsam and jetsam that eventually polluted the entire Pacific. Australia’s critics were candid. One called it “a sort of moral cloacina, debased, burglarious, brutified, larcenous and pickpocketous.”56 Another would describe its daughters as “dowdy hussies” and its sons as “lanky, lean, pasty-faced, blaspheming blackguards, drinking rum before breakfast, and living by cheating one another out of horses.”57 But Macquarie helped to civilise the country by accepting freed convicts as full citizens. Many of these “emancipists” were ambitious, productive and wealthy people, and the Governor promoted some to official positions. As the “champion of all meritorious persons who have been convicts,” Macquarie tried to transform a province of “Satan’s Kingdom”58 (as the hellfire parson Samuel Marsden termed Australia) into a respectable part of Britain’s Empire.

Only in a head-over-heels hemisphere, contemporaries carped, could vice be elevated into the position of virtue. Free settlers, known as “pure merinos,” were outraged that ex-convicts, who still bore the stigma of bondage, should be treated as their equals. Nothing on earth, in the opinion of Marsden, could purge their sin. Many of Charles Dickens’s contemporaries concurred, reckoning that a transported Artful Dodger would grow into a Magwitch rather than a Micawber. British ministers also had qualms about a policy which might diminish the “salutary terror”59 of transportation. A punishment that ought to seem worse than death, said one Secretary of State for the Colonies, Edward Stanley, was being turned into a new lease of life. Moralists dismissed Macquarie’s ambition to make Australia a Land of Promise as a dream. But they considered that the desire to make it a nation, cherished by colonial patriots such as W. C. Wentworth, was a nightmare. Think “what stuff this people will have been made of,” exclaimed Archbishop Whately of Dublin, “and who is it that posterity will then curse for bringing this mildew on the social intercourse of the world?” Macquarie himself could not be blamed: he was an autocrat, not a democrat, and the idea of Australian independence was entirely alien to him. However, no emigrants lusted for liberty more than convicts and Governor Lachlan Macquarie encouraged them, once unshackled, to make the most of their emancipation.

By exporting a social problem, then, Britain created a colonial problem. Soon Australian delinquency seemed to be another version of American contumacy. As early as 1791 emancipists held a meeting to challenge the authority of Governor Phillip. By the end of Macquarie’s time Australians were agitating for trial by jury, the rights of Englishmen and no taxation without representation. There was talk of an Australian Declaration of Independence, even a war of independence which “the United States of Australia” would fight in the Blue Mountains. Noting the spirit of Yankee revolt (to be exacerbated by the advent of more political prisoners, such as Chartists), the Supreme Court Judge Barron Field prophesied that Australia would “end in declaring itself a nation of freebooters and pirates.”60 Others made more optimistic forecasts. “Australia Felix” would arise, replace decaying empires and win, like Rome, immortal fame. Indeed, the convenient circumstance that the scum of the earth had “laid the foundations of the Eternal City” was mentioned so often that it became a cliché and a joke.61 Nevertheless, by 1840, when convicts ceased to be transported to New South Wales (though the system survived in Western Australia until 1868), the colonies extending from the beachheads of Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth were making distinct progress towards self-government. It arrived at a gallop during the 1850s, when prospectors struck gold. The first response of the Governor of New South Wales was to conceal the discovery “or we shall all have our throats cut.”62 But the secret could not be kept and convicts as well as policemen joined in the rush. The Australian population tripled during the decade (to 1.1 million) and gold helped to pay for the separate elected assemblies which were established with Britain’s approval, though federation had to wait until 1900.

For longer still Australians remained heavily reliant on, and fiercely loyal to, the mother country, unimaginably distant though it was—Charles Lamb said that writing to the Antipodes was like “writing for posterity.”63 Many emigrants, whatever their origins, aspired to create a down-under Britain. It would be socially hierarchical, culturally deferential and politically submissive. It would even be topographically imitative. In that arsyversy landscape Barron Field rejoiced to find settlements which had become “so English…downs, meadows and streams in the flat—no side-scenes of eucalyptus.”64 But many other Australians took a radically different view of what was implied by their genesis and exodus. Emancipists tried to discard their origins with their chains, but insofar as the convict stain was indelible it denoted a passion for freedom. Large numbers of free settlers, who had supported a crusade for liberty in Britain during the era of reform, helped to create in Australia a “paradise of dissent.”65 Once new emigrants had landed they waxed mightily republican.66 They no longer called gentlemen “Mr.” or touched their hats to ladies. According to Dr. Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby School, they became Jacobinical in the true sense of the term. They participated in a “culture of opposition”67 spread around the globe by the French Revolution and epitomised by Victor Hugo’s dictum, “Je suis contre.68 By the mid-Victorian period the island continent was acquiring what it had hitherto lacked—a distinctive history, a comprehensive geography and a positive identity. Its people were beginning to espouse an Australian nationalism which would inevitably diverge from imperial patriotism. They were making a virtue of contrariness, even of bloody-mindedness, and looking forward to a golden age of independence.

If Australians found their passage towards self-government surprisingly easy, so did Canadians at much the same time; for throughout Britain’s colonial history, even when enthusiasm for overseas expansion was at flood tide, there was always a strong countercurrent which threatened to erode the fabric of empire. During the 1830s, far from trying to hang on to the colonies at all costs, the political elite at Westminster was coming to the conclusion that they might as well leave the nest—preferably on more amicable terms than the South American fledglings of Spain and Portugal. As the Colonial Secretary Lord Grey later wrote to the Governor-General of Canada, “There begins to prevail in the House of Commons, and I am sorry to say in the highest quarters, an opinion (which I believe to be utterly erroneous) that we have no interest in preserving our colonies and ought to make no sacrifice for that purpose.”69 Among those who shared that erroneous opinion were both Peel and Gladstone. Even the permanent head of Grey’s own department, Sir James Stephen, thought colonial emancipation both sensible and inevitable. Canada, for instance, would be “a good loss if parted with kindly and graciously.”70

Nothing better symbolised these adverse sentiments, which require some explanation, than the Colonial Office itself. It was accommodated in 14 Downing Street, a large, dingy, ramshackle brick dwelling, built over an old sewer at the end of the prime ministerial cul-de-sac, which looked “less like a centre of State affairs than a decent lodging-house.”71 It became less decent during the Victorian age, when the furniture was sparse—an assortment of rickety chairs and old, baize-covered tables—and the fabric steadily decayed. Indeed, from the basement, so damp that it had to be pumped out twice a day, to the attic, which officials used illicitly as a fives court, this Hogarthian rookery was fundamentally unsound (and was condemned as such in 1839). The fives players were discovered because they shook the balconied house to its foundations—whereupon they took to darts, made from office pencils tipped with needles tied on by red tape and weighted with sealing wax. Paper was stored in the basement to prevent the building from collapse but it groaned and shuddered with the effort of standing upright. The Duke of Newcastle hoped it would “fall (for fall I believe it will) at night.”72 Actually, it was demolished in 1876. Meanwhile the staff, who numbered forty-eight by 1862, only worked in the afternoons. Appointed through jobbery, they regarded their posts as a kind of property. And often the confidential clerks as well as the lowly quill drivers lacked the most basic qualifications for their task: one recruit was given “a month’s leave of absence that he may endeavour to learn to write.”73 Still, little effort was required in this “sleepy and humdrum office.”74 One man offered to bet that on a quiet day he could transact its entire business by himself, but nobody would take the wager. Another, Sir Henry Taylor, later “conducted his official correspondence from a convalescent home in Bournemouth.”75

The rot started at the top. Colonial Secretaries were hard to find, frequently bored or incompetent (sometimes both), and they seldom stayed long in the department. Sir John Pakington’s reluctant appointment in 1852 provoked ribaldry, not least when he allegedly expressed the hope that, wherever they were, the Virgin Islands were situated as far as possible from the Isle of Man. A predecessor, Sir George Murray, told parliament: “I have always supposed until this moment that to abstain from any extraordinary activity in the measures to be carried into effect with respect to the colonies was a merit rather than a defect.” Even a diligent Colonial Secretary could hardly fulfil his far-flung responsibilities despite traversing the terraqueous globe, as Sir William Molesworth said in a famous philippic, like the Wandering Jew.

For instance, one day the Colonial Secretary is in Ceylon, a financial and a religious reformer, promoting the interests of the coffee planter and casting discredit on the tooth and religion of Buddha; the next day he is in the West Indies, teaching the economical manufacture of sugar; or in Van Diemen’s Land, striving to reform the fiends whom he has transported to that pandemonium. Now he is in Canada, discussing the Indemnity Bill and the war of races; anon he is at the Cape of Good Hope, dancing a war dance with Sir Harry Smith and his Kaffir subjects; or in New Zealand, an unsuccessful Lycurgus, coping with Honi Heki…or in Labuan, digging coal and warring with pirates…or in the Mauritius, building fortifications against a hostile population.76

The Colonial Office was only saved from complete chaos by a series of outstanding permanent under-secretaries.

Sir James Stephen (1836–47), for example, did much to shift his Tite Barnacles from the official practices satirised in Dickens’s Circumlocution Office—the first title of Little Dorrit was Nobody’s Fault. Wilberforce’s nephew (and Virginia Woolf’s grandfather), Stephen was imbued with a stern Evangelicalism. Being his child, said Stephen’s daughter, was like being “brought up in a great cathedral.”77 His son Leslie, whom he reluctantly exposed to “the temptations and the impurities and the profaneness and the gluttony” of Eton,78 called him “a living ‘categorical imperative.’”79 Stephen was neurotically abstemious, taking a biscuit and sherry for lunch, an egg for tea and nothing for dinner. He abhorred worldly vanities, despising “man milliner” colonial governors who were preoccupied with “coats and buttons and bows and all that sort of trumpery.”80 Red-haired, lofty-browed and sharp-nosed, Stephen had a mouth “compressed as if cut with a knife”81 and he often appeared with a gashed face because even when shaving he refused to look at himself in a mirror. He shunned pleasure, abstaining from plays and balls. Finding his first cigar too agreeable, he never smoked another. Lonely, clever, modest and sardonic, Stephen laboured with unrelenting zeal, dictating so rapidly that shorthand writers could not keep up with him. He was equally voluble to visitors from the colonies, hiding his acute shyness behind a relentless monologue. Shutting his weak blue eyes and knitting his long clumsy fingers, he would talk without a pause, eventually rising, bowing, thanking them for their “valuable information,”82 and ringing the bell to have them ushered out. Stephen was thus guilty of the conduct which he condemned in W. E. Gladstone, “the poorest and feeblest…of all my Downing St. Rulers,” namely “bestowing his subtlety and fostering advice on [colonials], and treating them like children.”83 But even the resulting attacks on Stephen, to say nothing of the famous nicknames, “Mr. Oversecretary,” “Mr. Mothercountry” and “King Stephen,” were tributes to his dominance. Contemplating abuse heaped on him by The Times, agony to someone so sensitive that his wife called him a man “without a skin,”84 he acknowledged to his journal that the Colonial Office was “in truth little more than a periphrasis for the noble JS and his bird of passage chief for the time being.”85

Both Stephen’s long-serving successors agreed with him that “the destiny of our colonies is independence.”86 The reason was simple: self-government was a natural adjunct of maturity. But the Colonial Office consensus also reflected the momentous change in the fortunes of John Bull, who could now stand alone without overseas appendages. Having become the globe’s paramount power after the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo, Britain was consolidating its position as the workshop of the world. The first and the only industrial nation, it reached the peak of economic pre-eminence in about 1860. Then Britons mined two-thirds of the world’s coal and generated a third of its steam. British factories produced a third of all manufactured goods. This included half the iron and half the cotton cloth—it was said that the nation clanged like a huge smithy and that the sound of its mills was like the boom of the Atlantic. A third of the merchant ships plying the seven seas flew the Union Jack and they carried a fifth of all trade. London was the capital of an invisible financial empire, involving banking, insurance, brokerage and investment, which gave it a stake in almost every country on earth. This colossus no longer needed the protection of tariff barriers and colonial monopolies. It would be better served by free trade. Adam Smith’s gospel gained new converts when preached by the charismatic Manchester radicals Richard Cobden and John Bright, who led a middle-class crusade against duties on grain imports during the hungry forties.

It triumphed when Sir Robert Peel’s Tory government repealed the Corn Laws in 1846, just as the catastrophic Irish famine was raging. The repeal ushered in an era of cheap food for the masses and Cobden hailed it as the most important event since the coming of Christ. Laissez-faire was nothing less than “God’s diplomacy.”87 It would accomplish a global revolution, Cobden thought, producing not only economic advance but peace on earth and goodwill towards men. Like every individual, every nation would cooperate through the global division of labour and harmonise competing interests in the open market. Free trade would act in the moral world, said Cobden, like “the principle of gravitation in the universe—drawing men together and thrusting aside the antagonism of race, and creed, and language.”88 Colonies, burdensome relics of the old coercive and corrupt order, would escape from Britain’s planetary pull and describe new orbits of their own. They would thus, Cobden and his acolytes reckoned, follow the course of America, which in boom years took over a third of British exports. As one free trader said, “we have derived ten times more advantage from the United States”89 since 1782 than before—and without drawbacks. Canada, by contrast, which cost the mother country £2.36 million in 1833–4, was a perpetual drain on Britain’s exchequer.

Beside the U.S. behemoth, of course, British North America was a minnow in everything except geography. By 1860 the population of the United States (31 million) had overtaken that of the United Kingdom (29 million), while the provinces that would form the Canadian confederation contained 3.3 million people—fewer than the city of London. They took 3 per cent of Britain’s exports and their own productions were not worth those of “the single island of Jamaica.”90 Canada’s so-called “sedentary” militia could no more have resisted an American incursion than (as a Fredericton newspaperman put it) “a fish could walk up a beanpole.”91 The only way to create a compact and defensible border, a Canadian remarked, would be to tow Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island up the St. Lawrence and sink them in Lake Ontario. But was this “howling wilderness”92 worth invading? The radical journalist William Cobbett remarked that if the United States were to seize British North America it would be the act of a thief who should “steal a stone for the pleasure of carrying it about in his pocket.” For the most part, indeed, the land was a frozen waste filled with monstrous natural barriers that separated one white community from another (the native peoples having largely succumbed to disease, drink and exploitation). The scattered outposts in British Columbia, on the prairies and around Hudson’s Bay (where letters might arrive once a year) were virtually marooned. The impoverished maritime provinces were remote agglomerations of forest, swamp and rock. Their frugal inhabitants, mostly Scots and Irish, were reliant variously on lumbering, shipbuilding, fishing and farming, but they had to import food from Maine. These rugged territories were, to quote Cobbett’s forthright opinion again, “the offal of North America; they are the head, the shins, the shanks and hoofs of that part of the world; while the UNITED STATES are the sir-loins, the well-covered and well-lined ribs, and the suet.”93

Lower Canada was hemmed in by the Canadian Shield, that barren crust of pre-Cambrian magma contorted by volcanic fire and scarified by glacial ice which covered the north-eastern part of the continent. The French settlers hugged the St. Lawrence and its tributaries. Their strip farms stretched back from the riverside, where women could be seen beating clothes with large mallets in front of white-washed, rough-thatched, one-storey cottages dotted, every hundred yards or so, along the banks. The homespun-clad husbandmen carried on a subsistence agriculture which had hardly advanced from that of medieval Normandy. And during the worst years of the 1830s, years of “brass money and wooden shoes,”94 some were reduced to eating their horses or leaving home to beg for bread. Only in the temperate, fertile crescent around Lake Ontario was there a degree of dynamism and prosperity. Upper Canada grew five-fold between 1830 and 1850 and its well-clothed farmers were “the most independent and contented people.”95They had “food in abundance, including sugar from their own maple bush.” And they drove their eight-spring wagons through improving townships such as Toronto, which had one gravelled street at the beginning of the 1830s, when it was transformed from wood to brick, and bore “a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon cast.”96 Nevertheless Lord Durham, who became Governor-General in 1838, contrasted the backwardness of the British province, most of which possessed “neither roads, post-offices, mills, schools or churches,” with the “activity and progress” of the United States.97 The difference was apparent to anyone who glanced at the opposite sides of the Niagara River. One was sleepy and stagnant, with a few stores, a tavern or two and natural landing places—the boundary of a colonial backwater. The other was a hive of industry, with new towns, ships, wharfs, warehouses, roads—the frontier of an empire in embryo. Visiting its nucleus, around Pittsburgh, in 1835, Richard Cobden forecast that “here will one day centre the civilisation, the wealth, the power of the entire world.”98 Yet while America was, for the most part, minding its own business, the Canadian provinces were a constant trouble to govern.

The main problem was a bone in the colonial throat which could neither be spat out nor swallowed. The French Canadians, 450,000 strong in 1837, could no more be absorbed into the British Empire than could the South African Boers, whom in some ways they resembled. Cut off from France, they were further isolated in Canada by race, religion and language—their speech was increasingly old-fashioned, harking back to the age of Louis XIV. They lived in a cultural cocoon, in a state of permanent alienation from their surroundings. They had no chance of escaping through a great trek into the interior. Nor could the British “unfrenchify” them, as some particularly wanted during the Napoleonic Wars, when “our arch-enemy is straining every nerve to Frenchify the universe.”99 And as Canadian solidarity weakened during the 1820s and ’thirties, in response to the fading of the American threat, so the huge influx of British immigrants strengthened the French sense of identity. This was a compound of peasant tradition and bourgeois aspiration. Most French Canadians were tillers of soil on which they paid feudal and ecclesiastical dues as heavy as those of ancien régime Europe. Few, including schoolteachers, could even sign their names and their Anglo-Saxon neighbours regarded them as pitiful primitives. Writing during the 1830s, a British officer described “the Canadian French” as

the most wretched set I ever saw; they are a small, sallow, wizened, high cheeked, tobacco smoking race; their being so shrivelled I attribute to their stoves, which hot or cold are kept at their full power, so that it is really quite awful. They jabble out their patois, which of itself is horrid enough, in the most twangy stile imaginable.100

Yet, as Lord Durham wrote, it was vain to think that French Canadians had “enjoyed representative institutions for half a century, without acquiring any of the characteristics of a free people.”101

French-Canadian discontent, though aggravated by racial hatred and rural hardship, was really the product of frustrated nationality. That malaise, indeed, afflicted the whole of British North America, where every province was more or less restive under its Crown-appointed Governor. The Irish “Liberator,” Daniel O’Connell, actually called the country “a miniature Ireland,”102 identifying himself particularly with the champion of “La Nation Canadienne,”103 Louis-Joseph Papineau. It is true that both these middle-class lawyers inspired their followers with a heavenly vision of national independence expressed in brimstone phrases. But whereas O’Connell aimed to achieve Home Rule under the British Crown without bloodshed, Papineau belonged more to the American revolutionary tradition. He strove for democratic institutions, denouncing the legislative council (selected not elected, the colonial equivalent of the House of Lords) as “a putrid cadaver.”104 He stirred up French republicanism, demonstrated in the parish of Contrecoeur when worshippers walked out of the church in defiance of the Bishop of Montreal’s order to celebrate Queen Victoria’s coronation. The leader of the revolt, a radical merchant, pronounced: “It is painful to have to sing the Te Deum for the damn Queen, damned whore with her legs in the air.”105 If the episcopal flock was rebellious, the patriotes followed Papineau so meekly that they were known as “moutons.”106 As he pursued his campaign for French-Canadian self-determination, advancing from increasingly bitter political dispute in the assembly to a Yankee-style economic boycott of British merchandise in the countryside, they rallied against the government like the Sons of Liberty. The patriotes even designed banners with American symbols, stars and eagles, as well as Canadian maple leaves and pine cones, and French tricolours and red flags emblazoned with the word “Liberté.” Coercive measures, such as the Governor’s summary removal of office-holders and unauthorised seizure of revenue, provoked protest meetings and declarations of independence. Violent disturbances followed, culminating in armed insurrection. The last was soon quelled, though Papineau himself managed to flee, disguised as a peasant, to the United States—he was branded by history as “a braggart in the forum and a coward in the field.”107 But French-Canadian exiles continued their struggle, prompting further conflict and greater repression north of the border. There “bloodthirsty” British troops, as one of their officers acknowledged in 1838, “punished the rebels severely by burning and plundering.”108

As if to demonstrate the need for conciliation throughout British North America, the French patriotes took up their rifles at the very moment when a miniature revolution occurred in ultra-loyal Upper Canada. This too was prompted by a desire for more democracy, for the sovereign’s Governor effectively ruled as well as reigned, at the expense of the elected assembly. So, as the writer Goldwin Smith observed, Canadian institutions of government, theoretically modelled on those of Britain, were “somewhat like the Chinese imitation of the steam-vessel, exact in everything except the steam.”109 Most Canadians wanted reform though extremists sought the grail of self-rule—“freedom from the baneful domination of the Mother Country.” That phrase, which the radical MP Joseph Hume formulated in London, outraged United Empire Loyalists when it was published in Toronto. But it was used to rabble-rousing effect by the province’s populist leader, William Lyon Mackenzie, who said that “our wrongs and those of the old thirteen colonies were substantially the same.”110 He too aspired to be “the O’Connell of Canada.” But this astute, idealistic journalist-turned-politician, who as Mayor of Toronto had designed the city’s arms and motto (“Industry, Intelligence, Integrity”), was also a wild-eyed pothouse brawler. He measured “five feet nothing” and looked “very like a baboon.” He was too erratic and fanatical to inspire confidence. “You could trust him with your life but not with a secret,”111 it was said and, according to the Governor of Upper Canada, Mackenzie lied “from every pore in his skin.”112 That such a firebrand could muster hundreds of rebels, armed with fowling pieces, pikes and cudgels, in Toronto’s Yonge Street was a measure of the province’s discontent. That the militia could disperse them with a whiff of grapeshot reflected its fundamental allegiance—though Mackenzie’s force was little more than a mob and he himself was quick to gallop to the frontier. At any rate, this failed British coup, coming on top of the abortive French revolution, caused serious concern in London. Lord Brougham surmised that it had cost the lethargic Colonial Secretary, Lord Glenelg, “many a sleepless day.113 Certainly Lord Melbourne’s government felt that it must act to stop Canada going the way of the United States. It was not that the separation of the colony from the mother country would be a material loss, wrote Melbourne, but his ministry could hardly survive such “a serious blow to the honour of Great Britain.”114 Accordingly the Prime Minister appointed a troublesome rival, Lord Durham, as Governor-General of Upper and Lower Canada. Durham received such full powers that he was hailed as “the Dictator”115 and the “great Mogul.”116

“Radical Jack” and the “Dissenting Minister”117 were other nicknames, for Durham was more left-wing than his colleagues, though he did not go so far as to support the Chartists. However, he managed to be at once a political democrat and a social autocrat. He advocated egalitarian reform while treating all humanity as his inferiors. Once the richest commoner in England—he was of the opinion that anyone should be able to “jog along on £40,000 a year”118—the Earl of Durham combined the arrogance of inherited wealth with the insolence of acquired rank. He assaulted waiters and insulted ministers with equal violence; once a tearful Grey protested that he would “rather work in the coal-mines than be subject to such attacks,” on which the black-browed Durham muttered, “and you might do worse.”119 Melbourne said that there could be no peace or harmony in any cabinet to which he belonged. Yet if Durham was vain, overbearing and brutal, he was also shrewd, charming and high-minded. He took an enormous entourage to Quebec, rashly including a couple of notorious reprobates (one of whom, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the champion of colonial emigration, had been imprisoned for kidnapping an heiress), and won the devotion of all its members. He arrived in splendid state—several days were needed to unload his luggage, which included a plethora of musical instruments whose purpose, Sydney Smith quipped, was to enable Durham “to make overtures to the Canadian people.”120 And he paraded through Quebec wearing the uniform of a full general embellished with silver lace and riding a long-tailed white charger. Yet despite subsequent displays of pride to match this pomp—Durham evicted all other guests from his Kingston hotel and refused to permit even the mails to share his steamer—he attained remarkable popularity in both provinces of Canada. Moreover his Report became “the Magna Charta of the Dominion.”121

Even so, Durham’s stint as Governor-General was a fiasco. He only lasted six months, ruining himself through a characteristic combination of liberality and autocracy. Keen to achieve reconciliation, he issued an amnesty to the rebel rank and file. But determined to mark the guilt of the ringleaders, whom juries would probably have acquitted rather than condemned to death, he banished them to Bermuda. Melbourne refused to endorse this just but illegal act and Durham at once resigned. Before quitting Canada, where his party had spent much time engaged in experiments with mesmerism, he issued a proclamation virtually accusing the ministry of betrayal. His hope had been dashed, he said, of conferring “on an united people a more extensive enjoyment of free and responsible government.”122 Durham’s departure from Quebec, which took place before his resignation had been accepted, was even more ceremonious than his arrival. In freezing cold, under a sky that promised the first real snow of winter, his open carriage made its slow descent from the Château of St. Lewis to the Queen’s Wharf. Spectators crowded the dirty narrow streets, lined with guardsmen, and filled the windows of the high stone houses. They watched in gloomy silence punctuated by occasional outbursts of cheering. As the lumber steamers towed Durham’s frigate, the Inconstant, down the St. Lawrence, cannon boomed from the citadel in a valedictory salute. And through the dusk, when the ropes were finally cast off, echoed the strains of “Auld Lang Syne.” Meanwhile, Durham himself, as one witness observed, was “inwardly nursing that corroding gangrene which terminated in his premature death,—the bitter consciousness that he was returning to England…A DEGRADED AND DISAVOWED GOVERNOR.”123

Yet in 1839, the year before he died, the earl restored his reputation by publishing the Report that bears his name. It provided an incisive analysis of Canada’s difficulties together with proposals for resolving them which were so universal in their application that the Durham Report became a handbook of white colonial development under the Union Jack. British settlers felt a natural pride in being part of the world’s most powerful, civilised and glorious empire. But they also felt an understandable aversion to the tutelage of its rulers at Westminster, who denied them a proper say in their own affairs. Canadians contrasted their state with that of Americans, who had become masters of their own destiny. And like others throughout imperial history who were embittered by the apparent denial of their rights, some British North Americans were prepared to rebel against their mother country in the name of loyalty. That loyalty, supposedly to the true principles and real interests of Great Britain, was often excited by intransigent bodies such as the Orange Lodges exported from Ulster and pitched in place of the wigwams of the Iroquois. According to one die-hard loyalist whom Durham quoted, “Lower Canada must be English, at the expense, if necessary, of not being British.” Durham’s solutions to these problems were not especially original but, taken together, they were an ingenious attempt to combine colonial autonomy with imperial unity. In order to dilute the French, he recommended the merging of Upper and Lower Canada. He sought to bind the incipient nation together with blood and iron—state-aided immigration from Britain and inter-colonial railways. Finally he aimed to preserve transatlantic affection through “a veritable union of hearts.”124 This would be achieved by trusting Canadians to rule themselves, leaving London in control of external affairs, constitutional matters and public land administration. Durham believed that Canada would thus remain an intensely patriotic element within the British Empire. On the contrary, critics maintained, his Report prepared the way for complete independence. It assisted Canadian traitors and their American allies, who had already “engraved the name of Lord Durham on the blades of their bowie knives in demonstration of the certain result of ‘Responsible Government.’” It was a “manual of treason.”125

In fact Durham’s “healing policy,”126 which was partially implemented during the 1840s, helped to foster Canadian loyalty. It strengthened the colonial tie by easing the imperial yoke. It is true that the fusion of Upper and Lower Canada (1840) did not so much dispel French animus as compel French acquiescence, but unification and responsible government, introduced gradually and with difficulty, created an Anglo-French community of interest. One Premier, Sir Etienne Taché, declared that the “last gun in defence of English power in America would be fired by a French Canadian.”127 It was significant that he expressed solidarity in the face of an external threat, since the history of Canada—and, indeed, of the British Empire—can only be understood in the context of the United States. Nothing epitomised the tripartite relationship better than the medal struck in Upper Canada in 1813 featuring the British lion and the Canadian beaver guarding Niagara, which was menaced by the American eagle.

To be sure, after the conflict which that medal commemorated few Americans nursed designs against Canada. But disputes did occur, notably during the American Civil War, and they stoked fears that Uncle Sam intended to march to the “North Pole.”128 John Bull occasionally put his foot down. When William Seward, later Lincoln’s Secretary of State, said that Britain would never dare to fight for Canada, the Duke of Newcastle replied:

Do not remain under such an error. There is no people under Heaven from whom we should endure so much as from yours; to whom we should make such concessions. You may, while we cannot, forget that we are largely of the same blood. But once touch us in our honour and you will soon find the bricks of New York and Boston falling about your heads.129

Seward remained convinced that, as he said at the time of the Alaska purchase in 1867, Nature intended the whole continent to come within “the magic circle of the American Union.”130 And he was determined to “cage the British Lion on the Pacific Coast.”131Hostilities were avoided but rivalry was endemic. Well before the British Empire reached maturity, Victorians recognised that the United States was “a youthful empire,”132 destined to supersede it. As a London journal wrote in the year of the Great Exhibition, “the superiority of the United States to England is ultimately as certain as the next eclipse.”133 One way of delaying the American rise was to create a counterweight north of the border in the shape of a Canadian confederation. Durham himself had wanted a provincial union and during the middle years of the century most British politicians came to agree.

Actually the federation of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1867 (other provinces joined later) did little, if anything, to bolster Canada’s defences. The consolidation, said the future Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, provided about as much protection against the United States as an eggshell against a bullet. Anxious not to provoke the Great Republic, the sceptr’d isle rejected the term “Kingdom” of Canada in favour of “Dominion”—the first of its kind. Empire loyalists, especially in Canada, convinced themselves that the confederation augmented both national and imperial might. Canadian politicians were distressed, though, by the manner in which the British North America Act was passed: it was treated as “a private Bill uniting two or three English parishes,”134 the parliamentary clerk gabbled through the clauses and MPs took much more interest in a measure to tax dogs. Furthermore, as the former Premier of Nova Scotia, Joseph Howe, discovered, there was an “almost universal feeling” in England that “uniting the Provinces was the easy mode of getting rid of them… and the sooner the responsibility of their relations with the Republic is shifted off the shoulders of John Bull the better.”135 British views would change as competing powers prospered and the dominions came to seem more of a source of strength—integral parts, perhaps, of a federated empire that would master the globe. This was a dream; the reality was that Canada had taken a giant stride towards independence. As yet few Canadians wanted complete separation from the mother country. Their capital, Ottawa, retained the trappings of Britain’s monarchical constitution, the mimic majesty of robes, ceremonies, titles and decorations. But those who pushed through the false front found inside a self-governing “federal republic after the American model.”136

Just as Canada seemed set to leave the British Empire, New Zealand fell into its embrace. It was even said in April 1839, at a meeting of the New Zealand Company, which had been founded to advance colonisation in the Antipodes, that the sun of England’s glory was setting in the west only to rise again in the south. Lord Durham, who was present, vehemently denied it. His Report recommended self-government in Canada to make its tie with the mother country “indissoluble.”137 Durham acknowledged that Britain’s glory might be in eclipse across the Atlantic, but said he would rather lose his right arm than see British North America lost to the Crown. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the promoter of the New Zealand Company, agreed. A distant relation of the historian, after whom he was christened, Wakefield deplored “the miserable despondency of those who contend that the decline and fall of England have commenced.”138 British power would be sustained, he argued, by judicious and systematic colonisation, by bringing (as Florence Nightingale later put it) “the landless man to the manless lands.”139 Nowhere was better suited to the planting of little Englands than fecund, salubrious New Zealand. Wakefield, who was bluff, burly and articulate, won influential converts. Lord Durham, who liked to get a return on his benevolence, was especially helpful, puffing the New Zealand Company because its object was “the civilization of a savage people & the acquirement of a fine field for the employment of British industry.”140Despite the prevailing anti-colonial sentiment, Wakefield’s advocacy of emigration had a potent appeal during an era of social unrest, high unemployment and Malthusian fears about overpopulation. These were so acute that Thomas Carlyle, the most influential social commentator of his day, ironically suggested the appointment of Parish Exterminators supplied with a reservoir of arsenic. In lieu of this fantasy, he insisted that the poor, some of whom preferred to starve rather than enter workhouses where conditions were akin to slavery, should seek salvation abroad. Carlyle pictured “a whole vacant earth” crying out to be reaped by Chartist “Sanspotatoes.” They should be led, in the hierarchical spirit of Wakefield, by “briefless Barristers, chargeless Clergy, taskless Scholars” and “Half-pay Officers.” So would the stream of world history flow towards a “BRITISH EMPIRE,” gloated Carlyle; “Romans are dead out, English are come in.”141

The Whig government, assisted by the Colonial Office, tried at first to divert the stream of world history from New Zealand. Scarcely anyone apart from Durham trusted Wakefield, who was as much a charlatan as a visionary. “His deceptiveness was ineradicable, and, like the fowler, he was ever spreading his nets; always plausible, and often persuasive, he was never simple and straightforward.”142 James Stephen refused to have anything to do with Wakefield, deliberately courted his enmity and opposed his colonisation scheme. Acquiring sovereignty over New Zealand, he said, would “infallibly issue in the conquest and extermination of its present inhabitants.” However, even Mr. Mothercountry could not stop his compatriots sailing to New Zealand and, as Melbourne remarked in a delicious double entendre, Wakefield and Co. were “quite mad to go there.” By 1839 at least two thousand settlers had preceded him and conflict with the Maoris, always endemic, seemed likely to result in another Aboriginal genocide. Warnings to this effect were exaggerated. But they were compounded by horror stories about cannibal feasts, the Maori worship of muskets, the spread of venereal and other diseases, and the trade in women and tattooed heads. The British nation’s conscience was pricked at a time when its humanitarian impulse, focusing especially on the abolition of slavery in the West Indies and attempts to suppress it elsewhere, had reached its apogee. Even Melbourne acknowledged that something must be done: New Zealand afforded “another proof of the fatal necessity by which a nation that once begins to colonize is led step by step over the whole globe.”143 Nothing but annexation, apparently, could protect natives from whites and vice versa. In the event, however, it proved almost impossible to reconcile the interests of the races.

The Maoris, Polynesians who had voyaged across the Pacific during the Middle Ages to colonise Ao Tea Roa, the Long White Cloud, were a warlike people. When Abel Tasman discovered what he christened New Zealand in 1642 their unambiguous aim was to kill and eat him, not necessarily in that order. Captain Cook was greeted in the same spirit, though the Maoris thought his sailors gods, their gunfire thunderbolts and the Endeavour a white-winged whale. Europeans, who established tenuous contact with New Zealand after 1769 through explorers, traders, whalers, sealers and so on, also wove fantasies around the Maoris. With their blue scroll-worked faces and red ochre-daubed bodies, their white gannet feathers and green-stone ornaments, their Neolithic tomahawks (meré) and necklaces of human teeth, they became demons in a thousand South Sea romances, naked grotesques set in an exotic landscape of volcanic peaks, vertiginous fjords, belching fumaroles, matted forests, freezing torrents and grassy dales. In fact, the Maoris (whose population Cook estimated to number 100,000) were well adapted to their environment. Although wanting in political cohesion, they had developed tight kinship groups which could resist severe stress. They lacked script, metal, livestock and lucre. But they possessed abundant oral lore, practised incantatory rituals (karakia), respected the moral authority (mana) of their chiefs, and lived “from infancy to old age enveloped in a cloud of tapu” (or taboo, sacred injunction). Wooden spades, obsidian adzes, bone fish-hooks and spears tipped with the barbs of stingrays supplied their needs. Moreover, the Maoris proved adept at commerce, eagerly learning every trick of trade from Europeans and inventing some of their own.

They first sold timber and flax, then potatoes and pork, later several kinds of grain, much of it exported to New South Wales. Up to three tons of scraped flax would purchase an old Brown Bess, perhaps bearing the U.S. coat of arms stamped over the mark of the Tower of London, which indicated that it had probably been surrendered at Yorktown. Once armed with muskets, the Maoris were formidable warriors, none more so than Hongi, Napoleonic chief of the Ngapuhi, who fought in a suit of armour personally given to him by King George IV. They were accustomed to internecine conflict, spending their lives “in a scene of battle, murder, and bloodthirsty atrocities of the most terrific description, mixed with actions of the most heroic self-sacrifice and chivalric daring.” But shooting wars were more destructive still, until a balance of power was reached in 1830. Maoris even involved whites in their hostilities. The Ngatiawa tribe forced the captain of the trading brig Rodney to take an invasion force to the Chatham Islands, 450 miles into the Pacific, most of whose inhabitants they murdered and devoured. However, the Maoris themselves had often fallen victim to the first European exploiters of New Zealand who, according to one pioneer, lived in “a savage-and-a-half state, being greater savages by far than the natives.”144 Most vicious of all were the foul-mouthed, rum-sodden, pox-ridden “knights of the harpoon,”145 many from America, which possessed the largest whaling fleet in the world. Their work, spearing leviathans twenty-five times the size of elephants and extracting blubber oil for street lamps, spermaceti wax for candles, whalebone for corsets and ambergris (precious as gold) for perfumes, was inconceivably hard, dangerous and disgusting. Their whaling stations, where Maori men were enslaved and “aboriginal Messalinas”146 were bartered, spread like chancres on the epidermis of New Zealand. Such “devil’s missionaries”147 were guilty of what the Rev. Samuel Marsden, self-proclaimed “beacon for the godly” in the Australian “brothel of felons,”148 called “wanton cruelties, robberies and murders of the natives.”149 Early in his ministry this flogging parson concluded that New Zealand was entirely in thrall to the Prince of Darkness. Only the Gospel could save it.

Marsden evidently had a real regard for the Maoris who, despite their heathen abominations, were “a noble race.”150 One contemporary was surprised to find that he sat in their verminous huts, “inhaling their intolerable stench, and beholding their filthy habits with as much composure as if he had been in the midst of the most elegant circle of Europe.”151 Even their habit of eating human flesh he seemed to interpret as some kind of sacramental rite. However, Marsden did not share the view of many colonial officers that the pristine “savage” was spoilt by civilisation and that “the warrior who had eaten his man as a quasi-religious act was a far more estimable person than the town-bred, mission-educated native.”152 He was committed to the Maoris’ conversion, initiating the process with a stentorian sermon preached in the open at the Bay of Islands on Christmas Day 1814. From an improvised pulpit made from part of a carved canoe, he addressed four hundred people seated under the Union Jack and the white missionary flag featuring a cross, a dove and an olive branch. He took as his text, “Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” But apart from prompting an instant war dance, the good news at first had little effect. The natives stubbornly insisted that their own god had created New Zealand, fishing it from the bottom of the sea with three hooks. They even managed to turn one of Marsden’s grim-visaged, black-coated evangelists, the Rev. Thomas Kendall, “from a Christian to a Heathen,” his mind having been seduced by the “apparent sublimity”153 of their religious ideas and his “vile passions inflamed” by miscegenation. But Marsden, apparently believing himself to be the Moses of this new “Promised Land,” was not discouraged. When Maoris fell asleep during divine service, of which they understood not a word, he said that he had never seen a more orderly congregation.

It was clear, though, that the surest way to their hearts was through commerce—that the Maoris would “buy and sell anything” confirmed Marsden’s view that they were the lost ten tribes of Israel.154 Commerce would bring civilisation in its train. And it would enable Marsden to lay up treasure on earth as well as in heaven. Once a blacksmith, this hammer-headed, barrel-bellied cleric had grown financially as well as physically fat in Parramatta, and he was not always scrupulous in his dealings. He probably sold the Maoris muskets, possibly rum. And on at least one occasion he bought a mummified human head—merchandise that was outlawed by the Governor of New South Wales in 1831 since traders had taken to bidding for finely engraved heads still attached to shoulders, which were duly delivered. Missionaries following in Marsden’s footsteps, whom he frequently excoriated for their errors and crimes, were as impoverished as he had once been. Sydney Smith famously said that “if a tinker is a devout man, he infallibly sets off for the East”155 and this was not just a joke; for, in the echoing words of the vice-consul in Tahiti, missionaries to the Pacific were “a set of Tinkers having no bread to eat in England.”156 Accordingly they did business with the Maoris to support their families, buying land with axes and cloth, guns and grog. In fact the missionaries, who numbered nearly a hundred in 1831, about a third of the white population, became colonists for Christ. And the Maoris, who were intent on acquiring everything of value that foreigners (Pakeha) had to offer, became devotees of a cargo cult.

However, the missionary position was by no means straightforward. It combined theocratic pretensions and exploitative inclinations with a genuine desire that “The word of the Lord may truly be…glorified among the New Zealanders.”157 The New Zealanders recognised the mixture of motives. They appreciated that the missionaries tended to consider them “an inferior race of beings”158 and suspected that they had been sent “to tame the Maoris as we break in a wild horse.”159 They feared that the ultimate purpose of these foreign men of God was to sanctify their extinction. Certainly the gifts of the whites were as demoralising as they were enticing. Iron axes facilitated homicide, especially in the home—though it is hard to square horrifying reports of domestic violence with equally graphic accounts of the Maoris’ happy family life, the “fun and gaiety” of their disposition, the “pleasing” manner in which they rubbed noses.160 The blanket, which got damp, was less healthy than the flaxen cloak (kakahu). This was particularly apparent when the Maoris moved from their hill-top fortresses (pas) to marshy lowlands in order to do business with Europeans, though distance may have helped to quarantine them from imported diseases that proved lethal elsewhere. Potatoes gave Maoris “prominent paunches.” Christian ethics also undermined their way of life. The proscription of polygamy sapped male prestige and female security. The ban on cannibalism produced protein deficiency in their diet, though in truth Maoris disliked “salt and disagreeable” European flesh and chiefs had generally been content to eat only the left eye of their enemies, “the seat of the soul.”161 More seriously, the erosion of such core beliefs as mana and tapu weakened the foundations of their culture.

Still, as Charles Darwin noted when he visited New Zealand in 1835, “the lesson of the missionary is the enchanter’s wand.” He was particularly impressed by a children’s Christmas party at the house of the Rev. Mr. Williams, never having seen “a nicer or more merry group”—and this in “the land of cannibalism, murder, and all atrocious crimes.”162 With uncanny speed such evangelists imparted scientific knowledge, technical skills and humane values. Darwin thought that they were good men working for a good cause and he suspected that those who “abused and sneered at missionaries, have generally been such as were not very anxious to find the natives moral and intelligent beings.”163 Actually the Maoris, who were shocked by white customs such as flogging and waltzing, quickly acquired literacy from the Scriptures. Perhaps they regarded the Bible as a talisman, though in subsequent wars they used its pages for gun-wadding, asking the missionaries for fresh supplies. But the New Testament, translated during the 1830s, was also their first recorded literature. And there is no reason to doubt Maoris’ hunger for Holy Writ, which they paid for with food even when they were still unable to read. At Cloudy Bay, for example, the Rev. Samuel Ironside accepted six hundred “baskets of potatoes and Indian corn,” each worth sixpence or more, in exchange for “the bread of life.”

I think I never shall forget the moment—that, indeed, would have been a great scene for a painter!—so many hundreds of once-cannibal New Zealanders straining their eyes towards me, and the heap of books, as the distribution was going on; looking as though they would devour the heap.164

Maori Christians, who numbered many thousands by the 1840s (though missionaries claimed more souls than the entire population), profited from their conversion. Sometimes they played rival denominations off against each other and sometimes they evolved cults of their own, one involving the ritual eating of lizards, another the sacrifice of an Anglican clergyman. But generally they gained the patronage of those who had redeemed them from paganism. Missionaries resisted Pakeha who tried to fleece their flocks, still more those who might slaughter them. Serving God as well as mammon, they were often deeply subversive to the colonising enterprise. In fact, “Christian imperialism” often proved a contradiction in terms.

At any rate, by the end of the 1830s Marsden’s disciples in the field, like Stephen’s minions in the Colonial Office, came to support Britain’s annexation of New Zealand. The dual purpose of the missionaries was to assert their authority over the natives while protecting them from exploitation, for only a properly constituted government could secure law and order. Crucially, too, it would control any transfers of Maori land. To pre-empt the state’s interference, the New Zealand Company, which had been refused a charter to colonise the country, rushed out a land-sharking expedition in May 1839. “Acquire all the land you can,” Wakefield urged. “Possess yourselves of the soil & you are secure.”165 His brother William accordingly went through the form of purchasing twenty million acres (nearly a third of the whole country) for goods worth rather less than £9,000, including twelve shaving brushes and sixty red nightcaps. He knew perfectly well that the Maoris, who regarded humans not as owners but as guests of the earth, were unused “to any dealing in land according to our notions.”166 He was also aware that they had no conception of the number of settlers who would arrive as a result of organised emigration, promoted by a company which advertised a cheap stake in a land of limitless dreams, giant vegetables and immense “banana orchards.”167 However, the Colonial Office could also play the pre-emption game. It appointed as Governor of New Zealand a blunt sailor, Captain William Hobson, who habitually referred to the New Zealand Company “as if it were composed of rogues and swindlers.”168

Charged with obtaining Maori assent to the establishment of British sovereign authority, Hobson arrived in January 1840. With missionary help he persuaded some five hundred chiefs to sign the Treaty of Waitangi (Water of Weeping). Effectively, this appropriated New Zealand for the Crown, though no compact in colonial history was more ambiguous. In essence, though, the British believed they were acquiring sovereignty in exchange for civilisation and protection, particularly the safeguarding of native land rights. The Maoris thought they were getting access to a white cornucopia while granting a vague overlordship. “The shadow of the land goes to Queen Victoria,” concluded one chief optimistically, “but the substance remains with us.”169 Since the treaty relied on good faith rather than legal precision it turned out that, despite some early restoration of territory, the reverse was true. For the two principles that lay at the heart of Waitangi—white rule (initially from London but as soon as possible from Auckland) and guardianship of the natives—were impossible to reconcile. With the advent of more settlers (between 1841 and 1861 New Zealand’s Pakeha population rose from 3,000 to 100,000) pressure mounted on the Colonial Office literally to give ground. The New Zealand Company stirred up opposition to “the ‘Stephen’ ascendancy in Downing Street,” its Antipodean emanation in Hobson and their “paralysing influence” on colonial enterprise.170 Gradually the Company gained its point, while Stephen fulminated in his diary, “I hate N. Zealand.”171 In 1846 the Colonial Office acknowledged that the land guarantee given at Waitangi could not be scrupulously observed because it was “a bar to sound colonisation.”172 Writing in the 1890s, a historian of New Zealand explained the situation with brutal simplicity: missionaries and officials could not be allowed to leave “a fertile and healthy Archipelago larger than Great Britain” in the possession of “a handful of savages—not more, I believe, than sixty-five thousand in all, and rapidly dwindling in numbers.”173

Such greed prompted clashes during the 1840s. The antagonism hardened during the 1850s when the settlers got provincial autonomy under the forceful governorship of Sir George Grey—one said that he would rather be ruled “by a Nero on the spot than by a board of angels in London” since the former could be decapitated.174 By now the whites outnumbered the Maoris and they acquired about half New Zealand’s total area, paying a halfpenny an acre. This was a kind of Roman occupation of a country “much in the state that Britain was when Caesar landed.” Moreover, readers of Gibbon discovered, the natives resembled the Attacotti, Caledonian cannibals who so delighted in the taste of human flesh that they attacked “shepherds rather than sheep.”175 Such creatures were hardly suited to the modern world and the Maoris’ doom seemed imminent. A humanitarian remarked, “Our plain duty, as good, compassionate colonists, is to smooth down their dying pillow.”176 However, when war broke out in the 1860s, the Maoris showed themselves to be anything but moribund. They defended their pas with the skill of Vauban and invented a form of trench warfare which would have educated Sir Douglas Haig. In fact they easily matched British officers in “quality of leadership,”177 inflicting a series of humiliating reverses on their foes. Ultimately they were not so much defeated as deluged and demoralised, facing as many as eighteen thousand British soldiers. These were sent in response to exaggerated accounts of Maori aggression, relayed by Sir George Grey (in his second term as Governor), a fierce paternalist who enjoyed provoking wild bulls and shooting them down as they charged. But London resented the expense, especially as the settlers seized further tracts of territory from the natives. So the troops were withdrawn (the last in 1870) while the Pakeha fused their local governments into a centralised state whose capital was Wellington. Its white citizens, “the most John-Bullish” of John Bulls, who considered their country “to be the cream of the British empire,”178 felt utterly betrayed by the departure of the imperial legions.

Many of the new New Zealanders cherished a seminal myth, eagerly fostered by Edward Gibbon Wakefield, to the effect that their colony was a reincarnation of old England. As distant in time as in space from a motherland now blighted by dark satanic mills (on which New Zealand’s wool-exporting economy depended), the Britain of the south was a rural Elysium. It had attracted “the most valuable class of emigrants”179 since the foundation of “the Cavalier settlements of Delaware and Virginia.” Among them were noble and landed families, members of the professions, merchants and tradesmen of good standing, as well as the occasional retired officer, a “‘vieux moustache’ of the line or Indian service.”180 Thus New Zealand, ethnically homogeneous, socially well ordered and morally wholesome, would resist the prevalent colonial tendency to “Americanise.”181 Such resistance was reflected in an unpublished letter from a hard-up British immigrant, George Thornhill, who commented on the “regular deluge of dukes” arriving in 1890:

though people here pride themselves on being so democratic it is wonderful how much trouble they will take even to see a sprig of the nobility. Only yesterday a large crowd waited most of the afternoon to catch a glimpse of the Earl of Kintore who passed through on his way to Dunedin.182

New Zealand was, in short, a “gentleman’s colony.”183 But this creation myth, which linked the country to its transoceanic parent while denying any bond with its felonious sibling across the Tasman Sea, was balanced by a powerful counter-myth.

Containing as much (if not more) truth, it represented New Zealand as “a new Great Britain,”184 a Britain of the future not the past. Despite the “wooden boxes of houses”185 that disfigured Christchurch, the crude “shedifices”186 of the Canterbury settlement and the squalid gold-mining camps of Otago, here was a progressive paradise. Its pioneers, many of them stiff-backed Scots and hard-fisted Irish, others resembling “the Kentucky variety of the Anglo-Saxon race,”187 were egalitarians. They were hostile to the practice of tipping and ill suited to the occupation of domestic service. This was not a colony for people who regarded “the flunkey as an institution, and who, like the Oxford man, would not save you from drowning because you had not been ‘introduced.’” Snobs were as out of place “as a dancing dog in a fox hunt.”188 Even ethnic pride was unacceptable to those who wanted to make all things new. The mixing of Caucasian and Maori blood would create a fine new people. For, as one advocate of interbreeding concluded, “it is every day becoming more probable that the once visionary hope of the illustrious Gibbon will be realised, and the Hume of the Southern Hemisphere spring from among the cannibal races of New Zealand.”189 Samuel Butler, who read the Decline and Fall on the voyage to New Zealand (especially recommending volumes two and three for anyone considering taking holy orders) and based his novel Erewhon (1870) on this southern Utopia, sympathised with the young radicals. On arrival they were

so delighted with the prospect of the untrammelled life before them that they felt it necessary to make some gesture of contempt for the conventions they had left behind, so the first evening ashore they built a huge bonfire, piled on it their top hats and tail coats, and danced in a ring round the blazing fire.190

Such emigrants (like all colonists, according to Sir James Stephen, “exempt from the disaster of Caste”)191 naturally aspired to full nationhood for New Zealand. Paradoxically, though, they were all the more resentful when Britain left them to fight the Maoris alone. But the flight of the imperial eagles was a portentous event, which seemed to augur the sickness of the British lion. In his inimitable fashion the poetaster Martin Tupper conjured with the notion that a virile New Zealand would succeed it in a world turned upside down.

Even should Britain’s decay be down-written

In the dread doom-book that no man may search,

Still shall an Oxford, a London, a Britain

Gladden the South with a Home and a Church!192

Macaulay’s famous trope about some future traveller from New Zealand taking “his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s,”193 first rehearsed on a Gibbonian visit to Rome,194 was repeated so often that it became the subject of parody. When an earthquake wrecked Wellington in 1855, one Australian newspaper visualised a Cockney gazing on its ruins. The Positivist Frederic Harrison offered a particularly elaborate variation on Macaulay’s theme. He advocated the creation of a British Pompeii, a subterranean city under Skiddaw or Stonehenge, to preserve the treasures and trivia of each century. This time capsule, to employ the modern term, would contain pictures, photographs, instruments, encyclopaedias, manufactured goods, Bradshaw Railway Guides, Whitaker Almanacs and the correspondence of Mr. Gladstone, which would require an entire vault to itself. All would entrance the globetrotter from New Zealand who, a millennium hence, might “moor his electric balloon on the last broken arch of London Bridge.”195 Seeing the dawn of a lambent destiny, New Zealanders, like white settlers elsewhere in British dominions, talked of issuing a declaration of independence. They even considered applying to join the more vigorous civilisation of the United States. Mid-Victorian Britain accepted the idea of a self-liquidating empire. When colonists insisted on “being independent in form and in name as they are already in truth and reality,” said Sir James Stephen rhetorically, “is there a man among us who would discharge, I do not say a single cannon, but so much as a single lucifer-match, to resist it?”196

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