Popular Science Monthly/Volume 57/July 1900/Colonies and the Mother Country II



THE growth of the relations between a colony and the mother country closely follows the development of the relationship between an organism and its offspring, or (in higher species) between parents and children. When an infusorian subdivides into two cells, the new cell produced swims away and henceforth leads an independent life. Most of the Phœnician and most of the earlier Greek colonies were social infusoria which parted from the parent organism by segmentation and had no further relations with it. As we rise in the animal scale a new relationship, that between mother and young, and a new instinct, the maternal, come into existence. These begin as low down as the mollusks, and expand and heighten, though not without strange lapses, in both insects and birds as species develope; but we need not trace the evolution here. Let it suffice to note that there are successive degrees of specialization; a site is chosen suitable for depositing and hatching eggs; means are found for making them secure; a shelter is built for them; they are deposited near substances adapted to nourish the young; special food is prepared for them; they are reared through food disgorged or brought to them. The accession of the male to the family marks the dawn of the paternal instinct; it appears earliest among fishes. This evolution is repeated in the history of colonies, where, however, the maternal and paternal offices melt into one another insensibly.

The mother country founds and nurtures colonies. Most of the earliest colonies are the work of adventurous bands or navigating merchants or fishermen, who seek their own habitats, carry with them their own equipment and fight their own battles. Then the metropolis settles its surplus or discontented citizens in territories previously chosen, provides them with all that is necessary for their start, and often nourishes them during the infancy of the colony. Hispaniola was a state colony manned with miners and artisans who were provided with tools, and this at the cost of a loan and a draught from the confiscated property of the Jews. Nor was it until gold began to be found in large quantities that the receipts equalled the expenditure on the young colony. Louisiana was founded and fostered with a royal munificence that conferred on it "more than was contributed by all the English monarchs together for the twelve English colonies on the Atlantic." Georgia was a one-man foundation, but the British Parliament twice granted considerable sums to initiate it and carry it on; the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel aided, and the benevolence of philanthropic England contributed largely to its success. Not till 1818—more than half a century after the conquest—did the revenue of Canada balance its expenditure. The convict colony of New South Wales was, of course, entirely of state origin. Stores of every kind, together with cattle and seeds, were sent out at the beginning, and long continued to be sent out to it. The first governor was granted a space of two years to make it self-supporting, but the growth of a convict colony is abnormally slow, and the civil and military establishments for thirty-four years continued to be a drain on the British exchequer to the extent of over ten millions. Even now one of the oldest and best of existing British colonies, with an area of over three hundred thousand square miles, does not produce the breadstuff's needed for its own consumption. The Cape of Good Hope, of mixed Dutch and French origin, was first made a truly British colony by the dispatch of six thousand emigrants at the cost of the mother country—a cost much greater than was anticipated. When the Transvaal was forcibly annexed by England, the stepmother country advanced a sum of £90,000 to rescue the quondam republic from its financial difficulties. In 1895 Parliament voted three millions for the building of a railroad in British East Africa. Uganda is supported by a British subsidy. Algeria is a manufactured colony, which has all along had to be supported by its creator. Apart from the cost of their civil and military establishments, France has to subsidize her colonies to the extent of over four millions sterling, partially expended in reproductive public works. Even tiny New Caledonia costs France half a million, one half of which, it is true, is expended on the convict establishment.

Most colonies at their beginning are burdensome to the mother country. Years after its foundation South Australia fell into such embarrassment that its governors had to draw on the imperial exchequer for nearly a million. In 1831 the expenditure in Cape Colony was still in excess of the revenue. Sierra Leone had to be aided by a parliamentary grant year after year. No wonder the Colonial Office complained that colonies were expensive to keep up. In German Africa the revenue does not meet the expenditure. The Congo Free State does not pay its way. On the other hand, Congo Française has a substantial surplus. Western Australia was another exception to the rule. There the Imperial Government announced that it would contribute nothing to the foundation of the colony, which was to be self-supporting from the first. Private capitalists were to arrange for the emigration of ten thousand persons in four years. Lands were granted to the emigrants on a scale of extravagance which long hampered the progress of the colony. Companies likewise expend large sums in many colonies. French and English companies embarked on American, Indian, African and island adventures at ruinous loss. Law's company withdrew from Louisiana, the New Zealand Company from New Zealand, and the Canterbury Association from Canterbury with a balance on the wrong side of the account. Wealthy individuals bear their part. Mr. Rhodes annually subsidizes the British Central African Protectorate, and King Leopold the Congo Free State. Colonial bishoprics have also been endowed and colonial cathedrals built, largely with the aid of voluntary contributions by sympathizers in the mother country.

The mother state sometimes gives the colonies the benefit of her financial good name. In 1869 England withdrew her regiments from New Zealand when the colony was still at war with the Maoris, and to salve the wounded feelings of the colonists she agreed (under pressure) to guarantee a loan of a million in aid of emigration and public works. Before the Canadian Pacific Railway could be completed the Imperial Government had to guarantee a loan of £3,600,000. Mr. Rhodes proposes (unsuccessfully, it now appears) that the Imperial Government, which contributed £200,000 to the cost of a railway from Kimberley to Buluwayo, should guarantee a loan of an enormous amount for the continuation of the African trunk railway from Buluwayo to Lake Tanganyika.

The mother country supports or aids its self-governing colonies through its capitalists. In order to execute public works—roads, bridges and railways—to assist immigration, to build fortresses, and sometimes to pay the interest on previous loans, all the colonies have habitual recourse to the British Stock Exchange. There are good reasons for this. The colonies have little capital of their own, for all their money has been used up from day to day. The English investor has an almost unlimited amount—the savings mainly of one industrious century—and he is prepared to lend it at a lower rate of interest than would content the colonial capitalist. Of over two thousand millions sterling which John Bull has out at usury all over the world, the total public and private indebtedness of the seven Australasian colonies alone, with a population of four millions, is stated to exceed three hundred and twenty millions, or at the rate of eighty pounds per head of these daring colonists. One half of this sum is due from colonial governments for the purposes already named. The half of it, due from banks, building companies, mercantile associations and mortgage agencies, excites no misgivings; these institutions can always go bankrupt, as many of them did in the financial collapse of 1891-'93. But it is not open to a British colony to file its schedules, or at least so we used to think; and so the Times said till the oldest of British colonies went bankrupt the other day. At all events, it is harder, and we contemplate this enormous pile of public indebtedness in young and scantily peopled communities with the same feelings as made alarmists foresee impending ruin in the growing augmentation of the gigantic public debt of the United Kingdom. It is commonly said that while the imperial debt has been accumulated as the cost of "just and necessary wars," or of wars that were neither just nor necessary, the colonial debt has been contracted for the execution of reproductive public works. This is not altogether so. Eleven million pounds of the public debt of New Zealand were contracted to carry on war with the Maoris, who were defending their territory. The Seven Years' War, which was begun on the part of England to gain possession of the Ohio Valley and thus increase the extent of her colonies, doubled her public debt. Where is the difference between the two classes of expenditure? Then most of the self-governing colonies have expended large sums in fortifying ports, some in partly supporting a fleet, and one at least in purchasing war ships of its own. Nor has all the remainder been reproductively expended. The building of schools is a wise way of spending money, one's own or another's, but it can not be called a materially reproductive way. Governors' and ministerial residences, parliamentary and departmental buildings, are indispensable, but they can not be called 'assets,' especially if built of perishable and inflammable timber. Even railways, most profitable of public works, are not always true assets. In many of the colonies they are light railways, and when traffic increases and a higher speed is required they will have to be built over again and new rolling stock procured. Not a few of them, too, are 'political railways,' running through a sparsely populated country no-whither, and built to capture votes. Roads are only less valuable, but they were made (sometimes by graduates and men of scientific antecedents who were afterward cabinet ministers) at the wage rate of from two guinas to four pounds ten per week, and are an inadequate return on the outlay. Last century British loans were issued as prizes to friends of ministers, and a much reduced amount found its way to the treasury. Deduct an analogous, though not quite similar, item of waste in colonial loans, add this to all the other non-reproductive elements, and the genuinely reproductive proportion will shrink considerably. Every one of the colonies, even with the fee simple of territories only less than Europe in extent in their hands, would have sunk under the increasing burden. Happily or not, the ever-growing wealth of England has so cheapened money that the interest charge on the whole Australasian indebtedness sank in five years (1890-'96), mainly through conversion of loans, from fourteen millions to twelve and a quarter. It may be added that the colonies which have borrowed most recklessly have not been the most populous or those with largest resources, but rather the socialistic colonies with big schemes on hand.

A father may assist his son by supplying him with the capital needed to carry on his business. Thus it is entirely with the mother country's money that the first colonial banks are founded. As the colony grows wealthier and the business of the banks extends, colonial shareholders purchase stock in it, but the number of British shareholders remains considerable. A typical example is that of the Bank of New Zealand, from two fifths to one half of whose shares are (or in 1888 were) held in the United Kingdom. In the older or wealthier colonies of New South Wales and Victoria the number of English shareholders may be smaller, though still large. A still larger proportion of the shares of the great colonial steamship companies, amounting possibly to three fourths or nine tenths of the whole, is held (chiefly by commercial men and firms) in Great Britain. Many commercial undertakings in all the colonies are engineered entirely by English capital (not included in the two thousand millions). The Canadian transcontinental railway; railways, electric tramway lines and silver mines in Tasmania; the Midland Railway and also copper mines in New Zealand; the gold mines in western Australia to such an extent that much more English capital is said to pour into that colony than gold flows out of it—are only a few colonial enterprises that would never have been undertaken but for the mother country's aid. Some of these are lucrative, others not; some have been abandoned, and others belong to a still darker class. "Uncounted millions of capital have been raised in the central money market of London, only to be fooled away in ill-conceived and misdirected enterprises abroad," says Lord Brassey. Nor are the losses confined to questionable undertakings. Two great Australasian banks have frittered away their entire capital of four and three millions, respectively, and it may he assumed that the British investor has borne one half of the losses. Of half a dozen smaller colonial banks a similar tale might be told. Father and son have to share in one another's adversity, as in one another's prosperity.

The socialistic movement in England has lately so strongly reacted on the relations of the Imperial Government with the colonies that the Secretary of State is believed to be willing to employ the resources of the empire to assist backward colonies. He has invited English capitalists to aid the declining West Indies, and a leading firm has offered to invest a million in the sugar industry if a guarantee of sufficient returns is given. The constitution of the projected Australian Federation contains a novel analogous provision, permitting the commonwealth to aid its needy provinces. The growing unity in the social organism as a whole is accompanied by an increasing unity in its component parts.

The mother country continues to defend its colonies, as animals defend their young and parents their children. But the polyp does not defend its offspring, nor did the earliest colonizing powers succor their colonies. While not even the armed persuasion of Cambyses could induce Tyre to make war against Carthage, neither seems to have helped the other in its need. Carthage fought savagely for her Sicilian colonies, but in her own interests, not in theirs. Though the ties between a Greek metropolis and her colonies were closer, the one did not invariably defend the other. Corcyra refused the aid her daughter city Epidaurus sought, and the latter had to find it in the grandmother city of Corinth, who considered it her colony no less than that of Corcyra. The Dorian city was celebrated for her typical Greek patriotism, and she gladly assisted Syracuse to expel her Carthaginian conquerors. Rome fought for her colonies while her power lasted. France and England fought for their colonies, or rather for the possession of them, all through the eighteenth century. Spain has just fought for her last colonies, but as much against the colonists as against the foreign state that came to set them free. The mother country is also at the cost of keeping her colonies in a state of defence. The sum of £9,000 was in 1679 annually expended on the maintenance of English soldiers in Virginia and two West Indian colonies, and £1,000 on the fortifications of New York. Troops were often dispatched to assist the American colonies in special expeditions. The colonial military expenditure of Great Britain in 1859 amounted to nearly £1,200,000. In compliance with the findings of a Royal Commission, repeatedly reaffirmed by resolutions of Parliament, to the effect that the self-governing colonies ought to suffice for their own military defense, the troops were finally withdrawn in 1873, but she still maintains a garrison at Halifax and in. Natal and a fleet in Australian waters, to which last the adjacent colonies contribute a fraction. Most of the self-governing colonies have at their own cost erected fortresses, and they maintain a defensive force. Two of them have stationary ships of war. They are willing and eager, moreover, to aid the mother country when she is in difficulties. When England was embroiled in Egypt or danger threatened in India and South Africa, several of these colonies offered to send, and one actually sent, troops to engage in wars in which they were not directly concerned. The head and the extremities are sometimes at variance because their interests conflict. The heart of such an empire is one. A stride has been taken toward organic unity.

Animals evolve special organs for the nursing of their young, and all colonizing countries seem to have created special departments for the supervision of their colonies. As the lacteal glands are only modified skin-glands, are in certain lower genera (the Monotremata) at first without teats and only in higher species develop into true mamma?, so the colonial department in the mother country is originally a mere adaptation of existing agencies. A rather perfect example of this stage is presented by the earliest of modern colonizing powers. The Casa de la Contratacion de las Indias, established soon after the discovery of South America, was organized in 1503. It granted licenses, equipped and despatched fleets, received merchandise for export and cargoes imported and contracted for their sale. It controlled the trade with Barbary and the Canaries and supervised the shipping-business of Cadiz and Seville. Taking cognizance of all questions concerning marine trade, it was advised by two jurists. It also kept the Spanish government informed of all that concerned the colonies. It was a general board of colonial marine trade, and such it remained even when, a few years later, its more important colonial functions were absorbed by a higher department.

Where the colony has been founded by a commercial or by a colonizing company, the mother country controls the colony through the directors of the company; the office of the company is pro tanto the Colonial Office. Yet the later colonial department, as an organ of government, is not a development of these shipping, commercial or colonizing boards. It is a delegation of the sovereign authority. This is at first exercised directly by the sovereign as it was notably by Isabella and Ferdinand. It is next delegated, like almost all functions of the ruler, to his privy council, which assigns the business of colonies to a committee, which again may be set apart as an independent administrative body. The Spanish Council of the Indies, the separate English privy council for colonial affairs contemplated in the first Virginian charter, the Council of Nine appointed by the States-General of the Netherlands, the Swedish royal council, were such bodies. Their powers are everywhere the same. The superintendence of the whole colonial system is entrusted to them. They have supreme jurisdiction over all the colonies. They appoint and may recall viceroys, governors-general, governors and other local officers. They can veto laws and ordinances made by colonial rulers or legislatures. They frame constitutions for the colonies and enact laws. Through the governors and other officers sent out by them, they minutely supervise and incessantly interfere with the whole internal administration of each colony. The tendency of this supreme council is to divorce itself evermore from the privy council and become independent, till at last it is transformed into a ministerial department. Yet an amicable relationship (such as sometimes survives the divorce court) long remains. The Colonial Committee of the privy council in England was summoned as late as 1819, and the Judicial Committee still hears appeals from colonial courts of justice. The government of the commonwealth was naturally averse to the king's council, and a body of special commissioners (Cromwell and Pym and Vane among them) was appointed to govern the colonies.

The Restoration did not at once return to the old system. On the contrary, a remarkable democratic advance was made. Recognizing that though 'politics lie outside the profession of merchants' (as the Swedish and British governments declared), yet trade is eminently within their scope, the restored monarchy set up a Council of Trade and Plantations, of whose forty members twenty were elected representatives of the five merchant companies and the incorporated trades. But there was ever a tendency, at least under the despotic rule of the Stuarts, to revert to the privy council, and in 1674 a standing committee of it was appointed Lords of the Committee of Trade and Plantations. The change appears to have been unimportant. Trade still governed the committee and shaped its policy.

The Board of Trade set up in 1696, rather by the House of Commons than by the Ministry, marked the more popular character of the revolution of 1688, and lasted for ninety years. As if foreshadowing the despotic character of the English reaction against the greater French revolution, this board was abolished by an act introduced by the chief reactionary—Edmund Burke. A committee of the Privy Council for Trade and Plantations was in 1786 again resorted to, and this committee in a shadowy manner survived (perhaps it still survives) till 1849, when it was for the last time summoned by Earl Grey. But the real administration of the colonies had long been in the hands of a department of state, directly responsible to Parliament, though it was still a department that dealt with other affairs as well. Specialization began in 1702 by the colonies being assigned to the Secretary for the Southern Department. In 1768 a separate department with a secretary was created for America, where almost all of the colonies were then situated. After the loss of most of the American colonies the new department was abolished in 1782. The colonies were then annexed to the home department. In 1794 the newly created war department nominally included the colonies, though these were not actually united with it till the Committee for Trade and Plantations ceased to act, seven years later. In 1854 a separate colonial department, with an independent secretary of state, was finally created.[1]

As there were twenty-three secretaries in forty-one years, it will be readily understood that the practical work of administration remained with the permanent officials. With a longer tenure of office, previous training and thorough mastery of details, they held all the threads of colonial administration in their own hands. A newly appointed minister, with little knowledge of the colonies and no acquaintance at all with the business of his department, was no match for an experienced officer who had colonial affairs at his fingers' ends.

A mere clerk, unknown outside his office, though well known in literature, could recall a governor; another, whose very name was unknown till he died, recommended (that is, commanded on pain of dismissal) a recent Governor of New Zealand to give away to his ministers on a crucial exercise of the prerogative.

Nor is it in matters of routine alone that the permanent officers shape the course of colonial administration. A strong-minded minister with a policy of his own, like Lord Grey or Lord Carnarvon, will force his subordinates to carry it out, hut even here a still stronger-minded Under-Secretary will often have his way. In 1848 Lord Grey, then Secretary for the Colonies, summoned the aged and moribund Committee (of the privy council) on Trade and Plantations to advise with him on the policy to be adopted towards the Australian colonies. The report was drafted by Sir James Stephen and we have no difficulty in discovering in its far-sighted proposals and masculine style the mind as well as the hand of the author of the essay on 'Hildebrand.' It is often said that a state department is inevitably wedded to routine. In the report just mentioned the striking feature is the outline of a system of Australian federation that is only now on the point of being realized. So far was the pedantic Colonial Office then, as it has often been before and since, ahead of its subject colonies.

The other colonizing countries have followed the same line of development. Beginning as direct delegations of the sovereign power to a branch, first constituent and then separated, of the sovereign's council, the department of colonies has been in course of time made an independent ministry directly answerable to parliament. In bureaucratic France the colonies since 1854 have been associated with the navy. On the first of January, 1899, the empire on which the sun never set, having lost the last of the dependencies that were once its glory, abolished its colonial office. The sun had set on Spain to rise no more.

  1. The history of the relations between the government of Great Britain and her colonies will be found many books, but best in Mr. Egerton's comprehensive survey of British colonial policy.