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British Empire

Second British Empire

The British Empire annexes the Cook Islands, 1900The British Empire annexes the Cook Islands, 1900The loss of the Thirteen Colonies, which declared their independence as the United States of America in 1776, was the first major setback in the development of British Empire. The American colonies were, at the the time, Britain's most populous overseas possession. Some historians today see the event as marking the end of the "first" and the beginning of the "second" empires. Britain would now shift its attention away from the Americas towards Asia (where the British East India Company's trading activities in India were reaping huge profits), the Pacific and the newly discovered lands of Australia and New Zealand, and, later in the 19th century, Africa.


The The "founding of Australia" in 1788Since 1718, Britain had been transporting thousands of convicts to the American colonies. With the loss of America, Britain was forced to find an alternative destination. The newly discovered land of Australia appeared to provide the answer. Captain James Cook had discovered the eastern coast of Australia in 1770 while on a scientific voyage to the South Pacific Ocean, and claimed the land—which he named New South Wales—for Britain. Botany Bay, Cook's landing place, was deemed suitable for the establishment of a penal settlement, and so it was that in 1787 the first shipment of convicts set sail, arriving in 1788.

The Treaty of Waitangi of 1840 was intended to ensure that, when British sovereignty over New Zealand was declared, the Maori would not feel that their rights had been ignored. Translated into Maori, it was signed by hundreds of Maori leaders. However, the English text and the Maori text were not the same, leading to disagreements over what was meant by “sovereignty”. The New Zealand Wars of 1845–72 were the result.

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