Migration to the Colonies (Part II) – Aboriginal Australia

In the second post of this series on UK emigration, we take a pause to reflect upon Aboriginal family history – and the impact of European colonisation of the Australian continent.

“All people with the same skin grouping as my mother are my mothers… They have the right, the same as my mother, to watch over me, to control what I’m doing, to make sure that I do the right thing. It’s an extended family thing… It’s a wonderful secure system.”

Wadjularbinna Doomadgee, Gungalidda leader, Gulf of Carpentaria, 1996.

(See http://australianmuseum.net.au/Indigenous-Australia-Family for more information)

'Aboriginal family group on the Onkaparinga River near Hahndorf, South Australia, 1870' by William Thomas (http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn4935828)

‘Aboriginal family group on the Onkaparinga River near Hahndorf, South Australia, 1870’ by William Thomas (http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn4935828)

Family is a crucial part of Australian Aboriginal culture, which is strongly connected to the kinship network, which extends far beyond nuclear family structures. But when it comes to looking at Aborigine families, the colonial context can make for disturbing reading.

‘In this Colony, local circumstances have occasioned the total destruction of the Blacks within its limits… The un-matrimonial state of the thousands of male prisoners scattered throughoutthe country amidst females, though of another colour, leads them by force, fraud, or bribery to withdraw the Aboriginal women from their own proper mates, and disease, and death are the usual consequences of such proceedings. The Official return from one district gives only two women to twenty eight men, two boys and no girls!’

So wrote Lancelot Threlkeld, a Congregational minister and missionary in Australia in the years 1824 until his death in 1859. A strong proponent of Aboriginal rights, he placed the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of European emigration:

‘[The] cause of decrease amongst the tribes may be traced to the swelling tide of Emigration which has universally swallowed up the petty strains of Barbarism and the Aborigines have generally been either driven back to the forests, destroyed by force of arms or have become amalgamated with the overpowering people who thus: “Multiply, Replenish and Subdue the Earth.”

If your family has a nineteenth-century Australian connection, there is certainly a possibility that some of your ancestors may well be Aboriginal. Early settlers to Australia had frequent sexual relationships with the local women – often under conditions of force and coercion.

‘I have heard at night, the shrieks of girls, about 8 or 9 years of age, taken by force by the vile men of Newcastle. One man came to me with his head broken by the butt end of a musket because he would not give up his wife. There are now two government men that are every night annoying the Blacks by taking their little girls…’.

This can of course be difficult to confront as a family historian, but should not put you off finding out more about your ancestors.

Many Australian libraries and archives are now making efforts to make Aboriginal history more accessible to the general public – and the ‘good’ news is that the colonial state kept significant records about aborigines in the course of their projects to move, remove and ‘assimilate’ them. These make for uncomfortable reading – particularly when dealing with things like the Stolen Generation of children forcibly removed from their families and housed in residential schools where they often suffered physical and emotional abuse. Nonetheless, their history is an important part of the colonial and postcolonial history of Australia.

Taphoglyph (Aboriginal carved trees). As noted on the State Library of New South Wales' website, carved trees traditionally marked the burial sites of important men.

Taphoglyph (Aboriginal carved trees). As noted on the State Library of New South Wales’ website, carved trees traditionally marked the burial sites of important men.

For a more immersive experience, try these fiction and non-fiction representations of Australia’s early colonial history.

Rabbit-Proof Fence

  • Watch! Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) which is an excellent cinematic depiction of colonial Aboriginal culture, and the history of the Stolen Generations in Australia.
  • Read! English Passengers, a 2000 novel by Matthew Kneale, dealing with the early colonial history of Australia. The novel won the Whitbread Award in 2000.
  • Read! For a more historical account, see Henry Reynolds, This Whispering in Our Hearts (Allen and Unwin, 1998).

– Emily Manktelow

Posted in Information | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Migration to the Colonies (Part I) – Australia

As part of the Colonial Families Research Guide, this week we will be publishing the series of articles I wrote for Family Tree Magazine on UK emigration to imperial destinations. Designed to help you in your family tree search, they include contextual information, and details of relevant online genealogical resources. We start with UK emigration to Australia: Women of the wild frontier (follow the link for a PDF of the original article). Many thanks to Family Tree for all of their original editorial work, and for allowing me to republish them here. 


In the 19th century emigration was a viable option for many people’s ancestors. The emerging empire of British settlement offered opportunities that often weren’t available in Britain – better employment and social prospects, and perhaps the chance to buy (or even be given) land for farming. From 1815 to 1914 around 22.6m people emigrated from the British Isles, but don’t dismiss these ancestors as dead-ends in your family history. Rather, their lives should prove a rich source of interest to genealogists and historians alike – there are numerous resources available in Britain, abroad and online to help you keep track of your emigrant ancestors.

Australia needs women

Australia Invites the British Domestic GirlIn 1922 the Development and Migration Commission published a 24-page pamphlet designed to attract British domestic workers to post-war Australia. Australia Invites the British Domestic Girl promised free passage to domestics approved by the Director of Migration and Settlement in Australia House in London and spoke encouragingly of ‘a bright, genial and exceptionally healthy climate’, ‘numerous large and prosperous cities, set in pleasant surroundings’, and ‘social conditions unexcelled in any part of the world.’ Australia was apparently a land of abundant work, good people and tempting marriage prospects. But if this represented an accurate picture of emigration to Australia, why was the advertisement necessary? And if your ancestor migrated to Australia, what was life like?

‘Upon disembarking at any one of the principal ports of Australia, the newcomer is immediately impressed with the general evidence of the well-being and prosperity of the people. From the steamship the visitor is whisked away in a train, electric tram, or motor car, and within a few minutes is in a metropolis possessing all the conveniences and facilities of an English city.’

Free and unfree migration

Colour lithograph of the First Fleet entering Port Jackson on January 26 1788, drawn in 1888. Creator: E. Le Bihan

Colour lithograph of the First Fleet entering Port Jackson on January 26 1788, drawn in 1888. Creator: E. Le Bihan

Australia’s early colonial history is predominantly that of convict transportation. From the first convict fleet in 1788 until the last transportation to eastern Australia in 1853, c160,000 convicts were transported there. Of these 25,000 were women, 60% were first-time offenders (mostly convicted of larceny) and around 11 out of every 1,000 people died. About one third were Irish, just over half were from major cities, and the majority were between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine. More than half were sentenced to seven years, one quarter for life and the rest for fourteen years. Conditions were brutal – manual labour in blistering heat, minimal food and the ever-present danger of disease. For women, conditions were exceptionally dangerous. Overwhelmingly outnumbered by men starved of female company, many women turned to prostitution (if they had the choice), although prostitution was not a transportable offence.

The first free migrants arrived in 1793, but by 1830 90% of the white population were convicts or convict-born. However the tide was turning against transportation and both the colony and the authorities in London were beginning to see a new economic and social future for Australia as an imperial nation built upon a thriving pastoral economy and the promise of the Victoria gold rush (1851). By the end of the 19th century 1.6m free immigrants had made their home Down Under – and 750,000 had received some level of state assistance. The average cost of passage to Australia in the 1820s was £30 per head. This compared unfavourably with passage to America, which only cost £5 per head, largely explaining why migration to America and Canada was overwhelming the most popular route in the 19th century.

Nonetheless, the emerging nation of Australia sought to redefine its social roots by encouraging legitimate and respectable migrants. The colony was turning from a convict to a migrant nation. Respectability, piety and family were seen as crucial to this process. But if you want families you need women, and female convicts were both far fewer in number than men (c15%), and not exactly seen as the ideal mothers of a new imperial nation. Like all of the settler colonies from mid-century, Australia increasingly sought respectable women from ‘home’ to morally and socially ‘civilise’ their bachelor society. From 1884-1914 c20,000 women were dispatched from Britain by charitable emigration societies. Most went to Canada and South Africa, but this number was dwarfed by those who emigrated as part of families – women and men on the colonial frontier.

Convict Resources

Free settler Resources

  • The National Library of Australia has a great guide to starting out on your Australian family history journey http://www.nla.gov.au/our-services/family-history. In particular, check out their selected websites page http://www.nla.gov.au/family-history/genealogy-selected-websites for even more resources, often available online.
  • The Australian Family History Compendium http://afhc.cohsoft.com.au/ is another great resource. Available free and online, it directs you to birth, death and marriage records, as well as materials relating to immigration, landholdings and war. Some of these have to be paid for, but others are freely available.
  • Guess who? Ancestry.com also has a wealth of records relating to Australia, including the Australian censuses and electoral rolls.

Female migration to Australia

Australia wanted women, but why would British women choose to migrate there in the face of the long journey (251 days for the first fleet; five to six weeks by the 1920s), a rude and uncivilised society, and a nation apparently populated by convicts? As with all migration, the factors leading to that decision can be split into two categories: push and pull. Of course the vast majority of women migrated to Australia for the same reason as the men they travelled with – better social and economic opportunities. But women could also have particular reasons for wishing to migrate in the 19th century:

  • The ‘woman problem’: the 1851 Census recorded that 43% of women in Britain were either spinsters or widows. This sent a wave of panic through the country, consolidating fears about ‘surplus women’ that had circulated since the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815). Emigration was seen as a quick fix to this problem, and conveniently addressed the vast demographic imbalance of emerging colonial societies at the same time.

‘Unlike Britain…, which has a surplus of women, the Commonwealth has a surplus of men… The point is that the domestic girl, in coming to Australia, has the certainty not only of a good living while she needs to earn one, but also of improving her chances of satisfactory marriage and ultimate establishment in a home of her own.’

  • Social mobility: the social structure in Britain could of course be extremely confining for both women and men. Migrants could seek a new social standing in the colonies, where there was more room for social advancement – former convicts (or those descended from convicts) had emerged from the transportation system willing and able to make a new life for themselves with the opportunities afforded by colonial settlement.

‘Throughout the social life of the Commonwealth, there is an absence of the stiff conventionality which is, perhaps, the inevitable development of older lands.’

  • Employment: women in particular had better employment prospects in the colonies than in Britain. As teachers, doctors and nurses, women could find the kind of professional value in the colonies that was broadly unavailable at home. While Britain pressed these ‘right sorts of women’ on the colonies through middle-class emigration schemes, most colonies of settlement really preferred women suited to domestic labour: humble, pious and respectable working-class women.

‘…the domestic girl of the right type coming to Australia is on sure ground. There are thousands of homes which need her, and this ensures her the best of wages and living conditions…’

The ‘Right Sort of Woman’

The Proclamation of South Australia 1836 by Charles Hill (c.1856-76). Note the very respectable ladies seated in the crowd.

The Proclamation of South Australia 1836 by Charles Hill (c.1856-76). Note the very respectable ladies seated in the crowd.

Something of what the emigrant experience was like for women can be inferred from the objectives of the British Ladies’ Female Emigrant Society (founded in 1849). This charitable organisation was designed to ‘protect female emigrants from the moral dangers incident to a long voyage’ through the ‘selection of judicious matrons’ for their superintendence, ‘to relieve the weariness of their life on board by furnishing them with useful employment, [and] to procure for them the protection and advice which they may be in need of on arrival at their destination’ (‘Women and Emigration’, Englishwoman’s Review, 1881).

Indeed, emigration was no pleasure cruise for women in the 19th century. On the voyage itself they had to negotiate sea-sickness, cramped (and foul) conditions, plus the lasciviousness of sailors starved of female company. On arrival they entered a world overwhelming populated by men – and frontiersmen at that. Drinking, gambling and whoring were common amusements and diversions from tough frontier life. Of course, the nature and make-up of colonial towns changed markedly over time, aspiring to Victorian standards of civility and respectability; women were seen as a crucial part of this process, shipped in to ‘civilise’ the colony through their supposedly greater moral worth.

What was required for the colonies were suitably educated, middle-class women from the motherland: the ‘right sort of woman’. Charitable institutions in Britain wished to use women to morally and socially develop these ‘backward’ colonial spaces – and numerous societies were founded to encourage women to emigrate. What the colonies most needed in the female line, however, were domestic workers: respectable, humble and well-trained working-class women. Here was both a mismatch between metropolitan and colonial expectations, but as importantly for family historians, a social breadth of emigration. Your female emigrant ancestor could be anything from the wife of the colonial governor, to a charwoman from the industrial north; once in Australia, her economic and social status could dramatically change in this new land of opportunity.

Female Migration Resources

  • The Women’s Library in London has records relating to the Female Middle Class Emigration Society, including letters from emigrants newly arrived at their destinations. The Women’s Library has recently relocated to the London School of Economics and information can be found here: http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/newsandinformation/womenslibraryatLSE/home.aspx
  • For something a bit different, why not get the flavour of female migration to Australia with some entertainment options? The incredible journey of Mary Bryant TV mini-series (2005) offers a good idea of life for an early female convict and is available on DVD; while Mrs Aeneas Gunn’s We of the Never-Never gives a fascinating account of being a cattle rancher’s wife in the turn-of-the-century Northern Territories. A great read!
  • A copy of Australia Invites the British Domestic Girl is freely available online: http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/aushispam/0/0/9/pdf/ag0096.pdf Enjoy!

Women in the colonies

Jeannie Gunn's autobiographical book 'We of the Never-Never' was published in 1908. It told the story of her early married life in rural Australia.

Jeannie Gunn’s autobiographical book ‘We of the Never-Never’ was published in 1908. It told the story of her early married life in rural Australia.

Class and location are key determinants in the female migrant experience: women in the towns bustling between the shops and social engagements in their heavy clothing and the sweltering heat; women in the bush carving out a homestead in a potentially barren landscape – making their own soap and candles, relying on infrequent supplies from the town, and making good use of the ‘tea billy’ (open-fire kettle) in the midst of wagon-life and frontier disarray; barmaids drawing ale for the local farmers or miners or sailors, batting away their advances and joining in their jocular cussing; teachers, doctors and nurses making a place for themselves in a man-made world. All of these women would have had diverse experiences of empire and migration, and have left behind them differing legacies of families, businesses, and institutions; towns, nations and empires.

And what of those women lured by Australia Invites the Domestic Girl? Needless to say the new land of opportunity was not always what they had envisaged. Working hours were longer than they expected and promises of good pay were not always fulfilled. The work was hard, sometimes even harder than for domestic workers in Britain. After all, these workers were mimicking western domestic respectability in the heat and dust of the bush (or even the city). Opportunities to meet their new husband also seemed few and far between, and even Miss Ball, superintendent of the Market Harborough Domestic Training Centre (for women bound for Australia) noted in 1929 that there were ‘few opportunities for the girls to meet men of their own kind, especially in the towns’.

So how much has changed? In August 2008 the mayor of Mount Isa, an isolated and demographically imbalanced mining town in north-west Queensland state, got himself in a whole heap of trouble when he commented to a local newspaper: ‘May I suggest if there are five blokes to every girl, we should find out where there are beauty-disadvantaged women and ask them to proceed to Mount Isa.’ (see http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/aug/18/australia). Plus ça change!

– Emily Manktelow


Posted in Information | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Call for Papers: Transgressing Racial Boundaries, 1857 to the Present Day

I’m sure many readers of the blog will be interested in this Call for Papers for a conference in Cape Town in November. You may wish to particularly note the suggested theme of ’emotional currencies’, and the deadline for paper submission: 1st July 2014.

Transgressing Racial Boundaries, 1857 to the Present Day
Institute for Humanities in Africa
University of Cape Town
28-29 November 2014

For a long time imperial historians writing on relationships that transgressed racial boundaries wrote almost exclusively of sex. More recently this work has started to open onto wider concerns, framed around the family, intimacy, emotions and affect. This symposium aims to think in new ways about relationships that cross racial bounds. These relationships were – variously – pragmatic and political, transactional, instrumental and, sometimes, deeply emotionally entwined. Most often, they combined elements of all of these. Almost always they contained conflict, not least because they were liable to stretch or subvert the same imperial or colonial ideologies from which they were produced. Sometimes these relationships were long lived; at others they were so fleeting they can scarcely be described as relationships at all.

We welcome contributions that adopt counter-intuitive approaches to the relational history of race and empire – from any part of the imperial and post-imperial British world. Our starting point is 1857, the year of the Indian rebellion when, according to a well-worn historical narrative, a new and deepening racial consciousness began to take hold amongst Britons both at home and abroad. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, so this story goes, racial borders were embryonic and deeply porous. Europeans ‘went native’ with frequency and élan. But from the mid-nineteenth century, racial attitudes became more entrenched. Boundaries hardened. Distance and difference separated citizen from subject, white from black. This symposium looks to complicate this linear narrative by considering the kinds of human contact that can exist within social landscapes forged from empire and its attendant racial codes. By working through the period of decolonisation, we hope to provide new opportunities for rethinking aspects of continuity and change across the colonial/postcolonial divide.

We are particularly interested in work that speaks to the following themes:

  • Emotional currencies: Besides fear and loathing, what was the emotional content of relations between European ‘colonisers’ and those they claimed to rule? What does it do to talk of love combined with hate or of kindness as an ancillary to colonial domination? How did racial theory convert to racial practice? And what kinds of visceral energy did race possess?
  • Disaggregating race: colonial encounters were configured differently according to historical context and social locale. What kinds of contacts developed during war-time, for example, as opposed to during peace? How did economic depression or flux shape the nature of cross-racial intimacies? And how can we adequately capture the porosity of racial borders that were themselves in constant motion?
  • Shifting boundaries: How did changing racial ideologies alter the ways in which boundary-transgression was perceived and acted upon? To what extent did the very idea of transgression dissolve during decolonisation? And how does a focus on race-as-practice advance existing understandings of imperial ideology during the long imperial decline?

To enter a proposal, please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words and a 1-page CV to Will Jackson: W.Jackson@leeds.ac.uk before 1 July 2014. Accepted papers will be notified by 15 July 2014.

The symposium forms part of a collaboration between the School of History at the University of Leeds, the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town and the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA). It is enabled by support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and HUMA

Posted in Information | Leave a comment

REVIEW: Macaulay and Son: Architects of Imperial Britain by Catherine Hall (Yale University Press, 2013)

I have recently been reviewing Catherine Hall’s Macaulay and Son: architects of imperial Britain for the journal History. As usual, you will have to wait for them to publish the formal review, but as has become my recent habit, I have drawn out the aspects most relevant to followers of this blog here. I’m afraid it turned out to be rather long, but you can skip to the end for a final verdict!

Cover ImageThe Macaulays were an imperial family in the most profound sense – despite relatively limited time in the colonies themselves. They embodied, created and mediated the ideological underpinnings of early nineteenth-century imperialism – from evangelical empire to liberal imperialism.

Zachary Macaulay was most famously Governor of Sierra Leone from 1794-99, and was thereafter a key part of the Clapham Sect’s anti-slavery campaign. His son Thomas Babington Macaulay (referred, brilliantly, by Hall as ‘Tom’ throughout the book) is most famous to imperial historians as the author of a ‘Minute on Education’ in India in 1835. The ‘Minute’ espoused the creation of ‘a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect’ – a cadre of ‘brown Englishmen’ who could mediate between the British and the mass population. Tom was of course even more famous for publishing The History of England in five volumes (one published posthumously) between 1848 and 1859.

As architects of empire they were engaged in creating ‘sites for demarcating difference’ (p. xx), and in mediating Britain’s imaginative and literary engagement with empire. Through their writings and their imperial careers, both Zachary and Tom Macaulay came to recognise the importance of ‘difference’ in their divergent, but interconnected, ideas of imperial responsibility. For both, difference was cultural (rather than explicitly racial), and was something that could theoretically be overcome. But equally for both, the shortfalls between ideal and practice were key, and shaped the way they structured their imperial discourses in the heart of empire.


The famous Wedgewood anti-slavery image, succinctly demonstrating the tensions between evangelical universalism, and ideas of racial and cultural hierarchy.

The famous Wedgewood anti-slavery image, succinctly demonstrating the tensions between evangelical universalism, and ideas of racial and cultural hierarchy.

Zachary’s imperial vision was a universalist one, based upon his evangelical faith. But his vision was compromised by his strict paternalism, meted out in the case of Sierra Leone while he was Governor there, which also flowed directly from his strictly evangelical belief in familial hierarchy – here mapped onto the hierarchies implicit in cultural, spiritual and indeed racial difference. For Tom, the realities of his experiences in India hardened his understanding of colonial difference, something that was carried through in his History through its treatment of Ireland, but also through the unacknowledged absence of colonial history in his books, which took for granted the wealth and power generated from the American and Caribbean colonies, Atlantic mercantilism and the slave trade. Indeed, Tom Macaulay’s total refusal to engage with the history of the slave-trade and slavery are seen in Hall’s narrative as a conscious rejection of his father’s authoritarian evangelicalism and compulsive obsession with the anti-slavery campaigns of the early nineteenth century. Macaulay’s rejection of anti-slavery as important, his personal rejection of faith and spirituality, and his insistence on a secular vision of liberal imperialism were all a conscious effacement of his father’s dogmatic and sometimes emotionally destructive influence upon his early life.

Biography, intimacy and affectivity

Indeed, Hall’s critical biographical approach to the lives of the Macaulays allows us a unique insight into their world of imperial-nation-making, and to the importance to family to these self-consciously ‘public’ men. Tom Macaulay’s life in particular was structured around the shifts and changes in his domestic and affective relationships, primarily with his sisters Hannah and Margaret (ten and twelve years younger than him). Tom, Hannah and Margaret all adored one another, forming a smaller intimate family unit after the death of their parents. The domestic scene was a critical support to Thomas Babington Macaulay: public man. With his sisters he found a home in which to enjoy ‘the pleasures of domestic life without its restraint’ (according to Margaret) – ‘sexuality, children, financial responsibilities’ (according to Hall, pp. 119-20).

Hannah (Macaulay) Trevelyan

Hannah (Macaulay) Trevelyan

For the sisters too, Tom provided  a window into the world ‘bringing new ideas and knowledge and connections into the house, important excitement and variety’ (p. 115). For evangelicals, domesticity was crucially important, centring and modelling good behaviour removed from the temptations and trials of the public world, which must themselves be dutifully navigated. But an intimate home life such as that enjoyed by Tom, Margaret and Hannah had its own temptations – namely putting love of family above love of God. ‘“As the time is short’, wrote Hannah in 1830, ‘we should idolise nothing on earth – I felt there was one I idolised, one I loved more than God, one on whom I depended alone for happiness, & in one moment we might be separated for ever. And yet I cannot endure the thought of ever loving him less than I do at this moment, though I feel how criminal it is”’ (p. 121).

Nonetheless, Margaret married in 1832, leaving their domestic circle for the more ‘natural’ domesticity of marriage and children. ‘This loss was felt by Tom Macaulay as an absolute loss’ (p. 125), such that he wrote of Margaret as if she had died, and did little to spare her conflicted feelings. A year later in 1833 he was offered a place on the Supreme Council of India. Such a post would solve all of the family’s financial difficulties, Zachary’s colonial investments having crashed in the 1820s, but what of his increasingly important relationship with his remaining Hannah? He insisted that she go with him, emotionally blackmailing her to leave the sister who had abandoned them (in his formulation). The irony here was that it was in India that Hannah met her future husband, George Trevelyan; the point is that Tom Macaulay’s emotional world was intimately bound up with his natal family, and that though he did not himself marry and have children, his public life was nonetheless facilitated by the emotional work of his sisters – and particularly the Trevelyans, whom he adored, and whose son of course went on to write his first biography in 1876.

Architects of empire

The Macaulays engagement with imperialism was both practical and ideological. Individual members of the family spent time in the colonies – experiences that would shape their mediation of colonialism to the British public. Zachary was a plantation book-keeper and under-manager in Jamaica – ‘one of the lowliest employees on an estate, supervising the enslaved in the fields, keeping the keys for the stores and attending the boiling house and distillery in the crop season’ (p. 3). Later he was more famously Governor of Sierra Leone, the so-called ‘Province of Freedom’ for recaptured slaves. His time there did not fit up to either his or the settlers’ expectation, but it was a role he had seemingly been fit for due to his own evangelical conversion and increasing ties with the social and political agenda of the Clapham Sect. His settlement in Africa was forestalled by his intended wife’s refusal to move there in 1795/6. Gradually Zachary came around to the idea that ‘Selina should not be expected to share in “the unpleasantness of our unquiet and restless state”’ and thus ‘gradually abandoned the idea of permanent settlement for himself’ (p. 37). Selina Mills’s refusal to enter the colonial frontier did not stop her playing a crucial role in forming and facilitating an imperial home for husband and children, and Zachary later praised her attention ‘”to the implantation from the earliest dawn of reason, of those principles of piety, truth, reverence, love, devotion, and all kindly affections”’ (p. 91).

Fort William, home of the Governor-General's Council in India, painted by William Wood in 1828.

Fort William, home of the Governor-General’s Council in India, painted by William Wood in 1828.

From a very young age, Tom Macaulay was socialised into an imperial world – through the direct contact with empire experienced by many of his relatives (uncles, cousins, friends and neighbours), by his own imaginative engagement with their imperial exploits (in India in particular, where his Uncle Colin was a general in the Indian army), and of course through the anti-slavery activities of his father. He famously spent time in India from 1834-1838, a time that codified his understanding of colonial difference.

It is no coincidence that Tom decided to write his history while in India – rather it reflected his homesickness for England (note: England), and the sense of alienation expressed in his increased articulation of Indian difference. Faced with what he perceived as the extreme and problematic differences between Indian and English culture, and equally importantly suffering the grief of his sister Margaret’s death (in 1834), he sought to reconstitute himself as an Englishman, and a liberal imperialist, through his history writing – co-constituting the imperial nation and the imperial man. Macaulay’s personal and professional activities in India and upon his return were about forming and performing the politics of difference – ‘the gap between imperial men and their colonised others’ (p. 258). ‘That space of difference structured the national history that he set out to write’ (p. 258). Macaulay’s History was as much about empire as about England – and as much about his journey to become an imperial man, as to become an historian.

*    *    *

Imperialism thus inflected both the personal and the professional lives and scholarly outputs of both Zachary and Tom Macaulay. The Macaulays – father and son –inhabited and constructed a spectrum of imperial discourse that moved between Christian universalism and liberal imperialism, but which at both ends relied implicitly upon ideas of difference, hierarchy and superiority. Hall’s book makes a powerful argument for once again positioning Britain and empire within one ‘analytical frame’, but also, of particular resonance with this blog, of bringing together the public and the personal – the professional and the familial. Macaulay and Son reconstructs the dominant political discourses of the imperial centre, but as it planned to do all along, it also decentres that history, taking the forum of high political discourse and placing it firmly in the family, in the colonial periphery, and in the emotional and affective worlds of white public men. One has the feeling of Hall tying together all of her previous works and situating her histories firmly in the unreconstructed heartland of traditional history. That she has done so by deconstructing the life of Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose History was a fundamental part of the Whiggish construction of history that social, feminist and postcolonial writers have rallied against over the last forty years is not only a delicious irony, but is in fact the whole point of the book itself. Macaulay and Son is thus a powerful engagement with what it means to write history, and a meta-narrative of how history writing has been transformed. Macaulay’s feelings on writing history may well chime with our own: ‘“What labour it is to make a tolerable book”, he wrote wearily on one occasion, and “how little readers know how much the ordering of the parts has cost the writer”’ (p. 276). Reading a book like this reminds us of why we write history in the first place.

– Emily Manktelow

Posted in Book Reviews, Family Stories, Information | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

REVIEW: The Colonisation of Time by Giordano Nanni

Today’s ‘spring forward’ in the UK (clocks changing one hour to British Summer Time) suggests it’s a good moment to post the following, a review of Giordano Nanni’s wonderful book The Colonisation of Time.

Cover ImageIn 1884 Greenwich Mean Time was ‘officially’ deployed, from the heart of the British Empire, to, supposedly, the rest of the world. This ‘temporal hubris’ (p. 3) was not only practical and mechanical – based on scientific knowledge tethered to imperial advance through the discovery of longitude and thus imperial seafaring – but both created and relied upon a particular culture of time: a temporal ideology that linked the harnessing of time with enlightenment and productivity. The west’s mechanical mastery of timekeeping ‘created the necessary culture of time for building empires’ (p. 3), and capitalist/British/western/colonial timekeeping, and the moral ideologies associated with productivity vs. idleness, were thus exported throughout the world as an elemental part of colonial culture. ‘At the most fundamental level, therefore, time was both a tool and a channel for the incorporation of human subjects within the colonisers’ master narrative; for conscripting human subjects within the matrix of the capitalist economy, and ushering “savages” and superstitious “heathens” into an age of modernity’ (p. 4).

To some extent, this is a familiar narrative: longitude, seafaring, imperialism; but in this engaging and thought-provoking book, Giordano Nanni takes us much further, delving into the complex cultural history of time through an exploration of both time-practices and temporal ideas in the colonial context. Indeed, time and its regulation was not only implicitly linked to the technology of imperialism, but to its moral economy: ‘the widespread belief that non-European societies were somehow “not attentive enough” to the passage of time, for instance, functioned as a powerful legitimising discourse for colonial and missionary projects, and therefore European hegemony’ (p. 2). At the same time, ‘it was partly by imagining itself as a time-conscious civilisation in opposition to a time-less Other, that western Europe staked its claim to universal definitions of time, regularity, order; hence also to definitions of knowledge, religion, science, etc.’ (p. 3). ‘Clocks, it is often forgotten, do not keep the time, but a time’ (p. 1). Perhaps even more to the point, Indigenous peoples’ ‘savagery’ and ‘primitiveness’ were directly constructed around their perceived inability to harness, utilise and quantify time as an abstract notion based upon mathematics, rather than a practical tool based upon nature. Temporal moralities both shaped and reflected colonial discourses of difference.

Time was thus both Othering, and a tool of colonialism. As this book explores, colonial Others were made and fashioned through complex perceptions of temporal morality, and were then un-made and re-fashioned through colonial and humanitarian attempts to ‘reform’ Indigenous understandings of time. Missionaries were crucial to this process – as the harbingers of ‘bells, bibles and the civilising mission’ (p. 16), and as the gatekeepers of western civilisation in colonial and frontier contexts. Often seeking to ameliorate the impact of imperialism and colonisation through the seemingly beneficent effects of the civilising mission, missionaries imported and instituted western time-practices with particular ideological roots, and practical effects. Through mission stations, ‘native schools’, reserves and institutions, Indigenous peoples were enclosed into a western timetable – the seven-day week, the 24-hour day, and perhaps most significantly, the moral underpinnings of time’s ‘correct’ use: productivity vs. idleness, regularity vs. irregularity, time-thrift vs. ‘timelessness’. Time was thus dislocated from nature and hitched to scientific ideas of rationality and moral conceptions of usefulness. The mission bell in particular marked out both temporal and spatial boundaries, delineated around who could hear its ringing, and who would respond to its moral imperatives of work, useful leisure and worship. ‘Colonisation was about temporal, as well as spatial, invasion and displacement’ (p. 14).

Nonetheless, time was not imposed without differing levels of resistance from pre-colonial peoples, and Nanni is here particularly good at teasing apart the history of Indigenous resistance to ‘colonial time’. This resistance ranged from outright rejection (through, for example, ‘walkabout’ or leaving colonial space and time for traditional practices), through everyday negotiation and subversion (such as lateness, ‘stubborness’, use of Indigenous time-practices to reckon payment schedules etc.), to re-appropriation (through negotiating work contracts, or insisting on the Sabbath as a day of rest). This is not a history of imposition and resistance, but of negotiation and interculturation. ‘Time, like colonialism in general, was not coherently imposed, nor coherently resisted; it functioned, rather, as one of the many sites of cultural exchange, tension and negotiation which came to characterise nineteenth-century relations between colonisers and colonised across the British Empire’ (p. 180). This is not to downplay the strength or power of imperialism, Nanni insists, but rather to recognise Indigenous agency and resistance in the formation of colonial cultures – to recognise, in the words of Franz Fanon, that ‘colonialism must accept the fact that things happen without its control, without its direction’ (cited p. 210).

This is an excellent book – well-crafted and written, thought-provoking and filled to the brim with fascinating detail, extensive research and numerous well-chosen illustrations. Looking at the colonial view of Indigenous time-systems in both Victoria (Australia) and the Cape (South Africa), and the attempted imposition of ‘colonial’, ‘sacred’ and ‘capitalist’ time by colonial reformers and missionaries, the book makes the overall argument that the attempted imposition of western time onto colonial landscapes was a temporal, spatial and ideological project. Ideas of western time, stacked against its Indigenous antitheses on a moral, cultural and ultimately racial hierarchy, legitimised imperialism (for example, in the way that terra nullius also became ‘terra sine tempore – a timeless land’, p. 60), was practised in accordance with the demands of the colonial state (such that in Australia, where settler-colonialism was directed at the appropriation of land, seasonal time was adopted; whereas in South Africa, where settler-colonialism was directed at the appropriation of labour, capitalist time was key), and fundamentally aimed to destroy Indigenous cultures at a social, ideological and psychological level. Stripping away Indigenous time took away, and de-legitimised, Indigenous culture – with dire social consequences in Australia (the ‘lost generations’) and South Africa (apartheid).

It is ironic that having spread ‘western time’ around the world, there is now such anxious debate and worry over the dictates and demands of what has become ‘global time’ – exacerbated apparently by the internet, smart phones and ideas of instant accessibility. Time is, as this book so powerfully demonstrates, always encoded with moral meanings that shape and underpin its practical effects. ‘Indigenous time’, more often than not linked with nature, the movement of the stars and flexibly-defined seasons, is now romanticised, and having spent most of the nineteenth century trying to eradicate it, it is now westerners who dream of going ‘walkabout’: leaving the temporal matrix of modernity behind. Without wishing to join this romanticisation too completely, it seems only fitting to leave the last words to the Australian Aborigines of the Northern Territory, from whom the following poem was transcribed in the 1950s:

White man properly different kind,
Watch on wrist, then wind… wind… wind;
Pull up sleeve and look all day,
Look when work and look when play.

My man listen and then him say,
‘No time sleep,’ and ‘No time stay,’
Too much hurry down the street,
Terrible place when, ‘No time eat.’

(cited p. 227-8).

– Emily Manktelow

Posted in Book Reviews, Information | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Call for Papers – Hard and Soft Power: questions of race, intimacy and violence in the comparative colonial toolkit

Readers of the blog will hopefully be interested in submitting an abstract for the below conference, held at the University of Kent in July. See strand 3 on ‘colonial intimacy’ in particular. First deadline for proposals is 16th March, but don’t worry – there’s a second deadline on 20th April too!

Hard and Soft Power: questions of race, intimacy and violence in the comparative colonial toolkit

7th – 8th July 2014, University of Kent, Canterbury

Casta Painting by Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz (1713-1772). Oil on canvas (c. 1760). Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Casta Painting by Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz (1713-1772). Oil on canvas (c. 1760). Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

As historians of empire, we often find ourselves confronted with the ever-perplexing question of how European empires managed to rule over such large swathes of land, and such large numbers of people. Recent research has circled around this question in a variety of ways – looking at the role of technology, power and its performance, and the ideologies that underpinned colonial rule in different spaces and places around the world. These elements of colonial rule were both powerful and contested, interlaced with the tensions, anxieties and ambiguities of European imperialism. It is the contention of this workshop that what we are calling ‘the colonial toolkit’ can be split into three main categories, and we are inviting papers on each of these overarching themes for in-depth discussion.

  1. Colonial violence: Violence, both large-scale and quotidian, has recently reoccupied centre stage in imperial studies. This renewed scholarly interest calls for historiographical reflection. Papers are also solicited that address any or all of the following themes: indigenous resistance and accommodation to colonial violence; settler colonialism and genocide; the ‘dirty wars’ of decolonisation; liberation movement dynamics; the legacy of colonial violence.
  2. Ideologies of difference: In recent years, as imperial historiography has entertained themes such as networks, transcendence and connectedness, ideologies of difference and practices of disaggregation have gathered new urgency and meaning. This strand seeks contributions which explore the various ways in which ideas of difference were generated and acknowledged in the colonial and postcolonial histories of caste, tribe, race, religion, nation and partition, self and the Other, identity and political movements.
  3. Intimacy and empire: Colonial intimacy is a vibrant area of current research, working with, but also moving beyond ideas of sexuality and interracial relationships to think more broadly about colonial intimacy and affectivity, and its relationship with colonial power, paths of accommodation and levels of contestation. This strand is interested in papers that deal with any or all of these topics: sexuality, love, and friendship; gender, family, and children; intimacy, affectivity, and contestation; boundaries, contact zones and colonial interfaces; the extra-ordinary and the “everyday” in the lived experiences of colonial rule.

This two-day workshop will examine race, intimacy and violence as ambiguous elements of European colonialism: consolidating, contesting and questioning imperial power. Hosted by the new Centre for the History of Colonialisms at the University of Kent, it is interested in taking an explicitly comparative approach to these areas – and will be selecting papers from across the geographical and chronological range of the history of empires (though individual papers do not need to be comparative). We are also seeking to establish and promote fruitful research relationships with contributors, and the workshop will include a methodological element addressing the question of: where next in the history of colonialisms?

Abstracts of c.250 words should be sent to e.manktelow@kent.ac.uk, along with a short biography, by 16th March 2014 for the first round, and 20th April 2014 for the final round. It would be helpful if you could indicate which theme you envisage your paper being a part of.

The Centre for the History of Colonialisms looks forward to welcoming you to the University of Kent!

Fragment of an eighteenth-century casta painting by an unknown artist, Mexico.  Museo Nacional del Virreinato, Tepotzotlán, Mexico

Fragment of an eighteenth-century casta painting by an unknown artist, Mexico.
Museo Nacional del Virreinato, Tepotzotlán, Mexico

Posted in Calls for Papers, Information, News | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Family History and the History of the Family in Colonial Burma

Guest post by Dr. Jonathan Saha, University of Bristol (UK). Jonathan’s excellent blog on colonial Burma can be found here: http://jonathansaha.wordpress.com/ Enjoy!

In 1871 Annie Pereira was admitted to the Rangoon lunatic asylum. She was a young woman, in her late teens, the daughter of a Burmese woman and a British soldier. Her mother had died several years earlier and Annie had been cared for by a local church. When her disruptive behaviour became too much, she was taken to the newly opened asylum. This caused some difficulties for the asylum’s management. No thought had been given to how women of mixed British and Burmese parentage should be housed. New accommodation in the asylum had to be found. In addition, Annie destroyed her clothing, adding to the mounting costs of her upkeep. In an attempt to recoup some of the money spent on her, the Government of Burma tracked down her father, who had now returned to England. In dry, dispassionate correspondence he haggled with the authorities over what constituted an appropriate payment.[1]

This sad episode illustrates a number of aspects of the history of Anglo-Burmese families in nineteenth-century Burma. Firstly, it was common for British men to find companionship with Burmese women. The high-raking members of the Indian Civil Service did not approve of these ‘temporary marriages’, as the informal arrangements were referred to. Nevertheless, throughout the duration of British rule, these relationships continued.[2] Burma was a particularly notorious province of the Raj for liaisons that crossed the otherwise ubiquitous racial divide. The lack of European society, the solitude of remote jungle postings, and the eviscerating effects of the climate, were all cited as explanations for what was regarded by many as a ‘lapse’ in moral standards. More concerning for the upper reaches of the Service were actual marriages between British officials and local women. It has been estimated that there were over 400 of such formal marriages between 1880 and 1947.[3] These included some prominent couples, such as the celebrated colonial scholar George Luce and Tee Tee Luce, who is remembered in her own right for her philanthropic activities helping destitute boys. Relationships between British men and local women were certainly not unique to colonial Burma, but they became a focus of prominent administrative concern there, and may have been more common.

Figure 1: Frederick Alexander Charles Trutwein (Advocate at the Chief Court in Rangoon) family portrait. From, Vincent Clarence Scott O'Connor, The Silken East (1904)

Figure 1: Frederick Alexander Charles Trutwein (Advocate at the Chief Court in Rangoon) family portrait. From, Vincent Clarence Scott O’Connor, The Silken East (1904)

Secondly, Annie’s case illustrates the religious communities the Anglo-Burmese population were associated with. The connections between the growing duel heritage population and the Christian churches of was apparent to British observers in 1850s, and their presence was entirely welcome. Despite some misgivings, Church-supported education enabled them to get work in the colonial administration. Finally, the chaos caused by Annie’s apparent breakdown highlights the particular concern about caring for ‘abandoned’ Anglo-Burmese children. In the early twentieth century there were attempts to educate, and Anglicise, these children. Although often left in the care of their Burmese mothers, they were labelled as ‘abandoned’ because of their estrangement from British culture. But however much the children picked up British attitudes and behaviours, they were never accepted as fully British.[4] Just as in the asylum, there wasn’t a clear place for them in colonial society.

What the documentation on Annie’s admission to the asylum does not tell us about is the emotional nature of these family ties. A surface reading of her father’s correspondence with the Government of Burma would make it seem that he was callously indifferent to her fate. This would be an unfair assumption. Very often the nature of bureaucratic paperwork does not allow for much expression of sentiment. The topic of the correspondence was strictly financial; it is unsurprising that the tone of the letters reflected this. This leaves us with a series of unanswered questions. Did Annie’s father choose to leave her behind in Rangoon with her mother, or was this decision forced by the demands and circumstances of his military posting? Either way, did he miss his daughter and suffer from pangs of pain at their enforced distance? This last question may prove unanswerable if we look for answers in the colonial archive.

Here family history and family historians might be able to help. A few months ago I published a blog post about a much celebrated colonial official called Bernard Houghton who on retirement wrote fierce diatribes against British imperialism in India and Burma. To my surprise, his great granddaughter commented on the piece to say that she was related to him through a child who resulted from a liaison he had with a Burmese woman. Although Bernard went on to marry an English woman, he ensured that his Anglo-Burmese daughter was privately educated in Darjeeling. His ties to this earlier, less legitimate family, at least in the eyes of his peers, were not severed. Whatever the emotional toll of this separation, knowing about his continued support for his daughter helps us understand the strength of his impassioned attack on the racist ‘group think’ of British imperialism in Asia.

– Jonathan Saha

[1] I have written about her case previously in Jonathan Saha, “Madness and the Making of a Colonial Order in Burma,” Modern Asian Studies 47, no. 2 (2013): 406–435.

[2] K. A Ballhatchet, Race, Sex and Class Under the Raj: Imperial Attitudes and Policies and Their Critics, 1793-1905 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1980).

[3] Chie Ikeya, Refiguring Women, Colonialism, and Modernity in Burma (Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 2011), 123.

[4] Penny Edwards, “Half-Cast: Staging Race in British Burma,” Postcolonial Studies 5, no. 3 (2002): 279–295.

Posted in Information | Tagged , | 1 Comment