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British Empire

British Imperial Century: Africa

West Africa in 1839, showing British settlements West Africa in 1839, showing British settlements British interest in Africa began at the end of the 18th century with the founding of Sierra Leone, a settlement for black Britons and freed African American slaves. The first British settlers arrived in southern Africa after the British Empire took over the Cape Colony from the Dutch at the beginning of the 19th century. Apart from a few trading posts on the coast of West Africa, British colonization of the continent began in the 1880s, firstly through the establishment of a British Protectorate in Egypt and Sudan, and then as part of the "Scramble for Africa". By the early years of the 20th century, the British Empire had annexed a significant portion of African territory.


British East Indiamen ships off Cape Town in 1819British East Indiamen ships off Cape Town in 1819

South Africa

The Dutch East India Company founded the Cape Colony, named after the Cape of Good Hope, on the southern tip of Africa in 1652. It served as a port for its ships travelling to and from its colonies in the East Indies. The port and surrounding land rapidly expanded into a colony for Dutch and Huguenot (French Protestant) settlers, who became known as Afrikaners. In the winter of 1794-95, during the French Revolutionary Wars, French troops invaded the Dutch Republic. Britain occupied Cape Colony in 1795 to prevent it falling into French hands. The British occupation continued until the Peace of Amiens in 1802, when it was returned to the Dutch. In 1806, during the Napoleonic Wars, the British re-occupied the colony. This time its control was confirmed at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

A map of Cape Colony in 1806A map of Cape Colony in 1806

The Voortrekkers on the Great TrekThe Voortrekkers on the Great TrekBritain inherited Cape Colony's large Afrikaner (or Boer) population as well as the indigenous Khoisan people. British immigration began to rise after 1820. Thousands of Boers, who were resentful of British rule, migrated inland during what was called the Great Trek in the late 1830s and early 1840s. The Boers eventually established two permanent republics: the South African Republic or Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State. Their attempt to establish a third, the Natalia Republic, around the British settlement of Port Natal (now Durban) on the southeast coast failed when, in 1843, the British annexed it, proclaiming it the Colony of Natal.

Cecil Rhodes, businessman and ardent champion of the British Empire, was one of the wealthiest men in the world. On his death in 1902, he Ieft instructions in his will to use his wealth to create a Secret Society that would bring the whole world (including the "recovery" of the United States) under British rule, and its colonization by British subjects. He believed the foundation of such a great power would "render wars impossible, and promote the best interests of humanity."

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