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The British Empire as a “White Man's Country”—Racial Attitudes and Immigration Legislation in the Colonies of White Settlement

  • R. A. Huttenback

It has been said with at least the spirit of truth that the British Empire was founded in a fit of absence of mind. And certainly the growth of Great Britain into a power on whose possessions the sun literally never set was not the result of clearly conceived policy or of some governmental master plan emanating from the corridors of Whitehall. Religious deviationists, commercial adventurers and jailers in quest of prisons were more often than not the founders of British colonial settlements. Given such a history, it is not surprising that enthusiasm for empire grew but slowly in Britain and that no lofty rationale for imperial advance was for many years forthcoming. Eventually, humanitarianism, evangelical Christianity and the “civilizing mission” associated with “bearing the white man's burden” combined to produce an imperial philosophy of sorts — a rather undefined dedication to “fair play” and an official determination that all subjects of the crown, regardless of race, color, religion or ethnic background, should be equal before the law.

The common conception of Empire was reflected in an article in the April 1896 issue of the North American Review. “Wherever her [Britain's] sovereignty has gone,” the writer, David Wells, contends,

two blades of grass have grown where one grew before. Her flag wherever it has advanced has benefited the country over which it floats; and has carried with it civilization, the Christian religion, order, justice and prosperity. England has always treated a conquered race with justice, and what under her law is the law for the white man is the law for his black, red and yellow brother… If injustice is done him, the English courts are open to him for redress and protection as speedily and impartially as to any white man.

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1. Wells, D. A., “Great Britain and the United States: Their True Relations,” North American Review, CLXII (April 1896), 394403.

2. Gandhi, M. K., The Collected Works of Mahatama Gandhi (Delhi, 1964), XII, 505, quoting the Cape Times, Aug. 20, 1914.

3. Younghusband, F. E., The Heart of a Continent (London, 1896), pp. 396–97.

4. Garvin, J. L., The Life of Joseph Chamberlain (London, 19331935), II, 27, quoting Times, Nov. 12, 1895.

5. Huttenback, R. A., The British Imperial Experience (New York, 1966), p. 103.

6. Dadabhai Naoroji and Sir Mancherjee Bhownagree.

7. The Australian census of 1901 showed 31,836 Chinese (there had been about 50,000 on the Ballarat Goldfield of Victoria alone, circa 1859), 9,841 South Sea Islanders and 4,383 Indians. The New Zealand census of the same year listed only 2,857 Chinese and 1,315 natives of India and Ceylon. The Canadian census of 1911 indicated 27,774 Chinese and 9,021 Japanese (both nationalities residing almost entirely in British Columbia). The Natal Census of 1909 claimed an Indian population of 103,836, and there were 2,292 “Hindus” in British Columbia.

8. Natal Leg. Ass. Sess. Paps., speech by the Prime Minister, L. A. no. 5, 1st Parl., 1897.

9. The property qualification was later made less specific. Rather than prospective immigrants with less than £25, paupers and those liable to become a public charge were denied admission to Natal.

10. Natal Archives, Natal no. 23, Gov. to Sec. of State, Feb. 26, 1897.

11. Ibid., no. 99, Sec. of State to Gov., No. 12, 1897.

12. Ibid., Indian Collection, undersec. Col. Off., to undersec. India Off., Oct. 2, 1897.

13. Ibid., Indian Collection, Govt. House Paps., India Off., to Col. Off., Oct. 2, 1897.

14. Vide. fn. 8.

15. Natal Leg. Ass. Sess. Paps., L.A. no. 19, 2nd sess., 2nd Parl., 1898, July 7, 1898.

16. New South Wales, Hansard, Feb. 16. 1888.

17. C[olonial] O[ffice] 411/1, no. 12, Newcastle to Latrobe, Jan. 29, 1853. CO 202/60, no. 22, Newcastle to Fitzroy, Feb. 5, 1853.

18. CO 202/60, no. 22, Newcastle to Fitzroy, Feb. 5, 1853.

19. CO 236/10, Queensland, Chinese immigration correspondence and proceedings of conference respecting.

20. Victoria, , Hansard, 91, 711 (Aug. 17, 1899).

21. CO 236/164, 1897.

22. CO 234/60, Q. 20190, no. 123, Norman to Ripon, Oct. 8, 1894, encl. Rev. A. C. Smith to Women's Presbyterian Mission Union.

23. Queensland, Hansard, July 20, 1897.

24. Ibid.

25. New South Wales act 41 of 1896, “The Coloured Races Restriction and Regulation Act, 1896,” article 1.

26. Sydney Daily Telegraph, Oct. 14, 1896.

27. 4 Hansard, LXXXIII, 46-75 (May 14, 1900), quoted in Garvin, Chamberlain, III, 564.

28. C. 8596, Proceedings of a Conference between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Premiers of the Self-Governing Colonies at the Colonial Office, June and July, 1897.

29. CO 418/4, Aus. 9910, Col. Off. to For. Off., Aug. 17, 1897.

30. Ibid., draft no. 47, Col. Off. to New Zealand, Aug. 17, 1897, minuting by Anderson, July 14, 1897.

31. Ibid., minuting by Wakefield, July 17, 1897.

32. Ibid., minuting by Chamberlain, July 19, 1897.

33. Ibid., For. Off. to Col. Off., Sept. 6, 1897.

34. South Australia, Hansard, No. 11, 1896.

35. New Zealand, Hansard, June 23, 1896.

36. Ibid.

37. New South Wales, Hansard, Nov. 24, 1897.

38. New South Wales act 3 of 1898, “The Immigration Restriction Act, 1898.”

39. New Zealand act 33 of 1899, “The Immigration Restriction Act, 1899.”

40. Western Australia act 13 of 1897, “The Immigration Restriction Act, 1897.”

41. Tasmania act 69 of 1898, “The Immigration Restriction Act, 1898.”

42. South Australia Parl. Paps., 1898, no. 24, Conference of the Premiers, Melbourne, March, 1898.

43. Western Australia act 30 of 1904, “The Mining Act, 1904,” contained a similar provision in its 24th article.

44. Colonial Office minuting by E. H. Marsh, a second class clerk in the American and Australasian Department, is revealing. “This is rather unsatisfactory,” he wrote, “but so is the whole situation, and now that we have gained our main point about the Immigration Act we shd. perhaps let the Colony have its way about details. It wd. be no kindness to insist on the issue of licenses to Asiatics if this leads to riots in WA they would come off second best. We might save appearances by asking the Gov. to tell the petitioners that if a person able to prove himself a Br. subject is refused a license he shd. seek the legal remedy.” CO 18/225, WA. 3501, Col. Off., to Ind. Off., Feb. 22, 1898, minuting by Marsh, July 6, 1898.

45. CO 18/225, WA. 4570, Smith to Chamberlain, Jan. 27, 1898, end. Bishin Singh and 46 Sikhs of Perth to Chamberlain, Jan. 20, 1898. The India Offio; was not prepared to take a very strong stand on behalf of Indians in Australia. It wrote the Colonial Office urging that Indians be exempted from immigration restriction legislation, but the tone was not one of great concern. C. 418/4, Aus. 15889, Ind. Off. to Col. Off., July 21, 1897.

46. Article 51 of the Constitution Act awarded the Commonwealth government jurisdiction over external affairs, naturalization and aliens and people of any race for whom it was deemed necessary to make special laws. John LaNauze places the non-European population of Australia (apart from Aborigines) at the time of Commonwealth at 54,000 — 31,000 Chinese and 9,000 Pacific Islanders being the most significant groups. LaNauze, John, Alfred Deakin (Melbourne, 1965), 1, 233.

47. Australia act 10 of 1910, “The Immigration Restriction Amendment Act, 1910,” extended the period during which an immigrant might be given the dictation test to two years and Australia act 51 of 1910. “The Immigration Restriction Amendment Act, 1920,” raised it to three years.

48. CO 418/10, Eitaki to Barton, Sept. 20, 1901.

49. University of Birmingham, JC /14/1/1/17, Chamberlain to Sir John Forrest, private, Nov. 13, 1901, Joseph Chamberlain Papers.

50. CO 418/10, Aus. 41695, Eitaki to Barton, Sept. 11, 1901.

51. Ibid., Eitaki to Hopetoun, Oct. 5, 1901.

52. India Office Library, Reports of the Native Press, Bengal, Sanjivani, Nov. 15, 1900. The article was referring to the Natal formula bills passed by several Australasian colonies in the last years before Commonwealth.

53. C[ommonwealth] A[rchives] O[ffice], CP. 235, Atlee Hunt to Collector of Customs, Fremantle, 1903. Quoted in Yong, C. F., “The Chinese in New South Wales and Victoria, 1901-1921, with special Reference to Sydney and Melbourne” (Ph.D. thesis, Aust. Nat. Univ., 1966), p. 20.

54. CAO, A-61, Imm. Rest. Act, Dept. of Ext. Affs., 09/6012, Atlee Hunt, Sec., Dept. of Ext. Affs., to J. A. Nuno do Cunha, June 16, 1909.

55. CAO, AC and E 03/0513, Atlee Hunt to collector of customs, Brisbane, June 24, 1903.

56. CO 562/15, Dept. of Ext. Affs., minute paper, July 27, 1904, signed Atlee Hunt.

57. Article 4(a) did, however, stipulate: “No regulation prescribing any language or languages shall have any force until it has been laid before both Houses of Parliament for thirty days and, before or after the expiration of such thirty days, both Houses of Parliament by a resolution of which notice has been given, have agreed to such regulation.”

58. CO418/37, Aus. 44643, minuting, no date.

59. Commonwealth, Hansard, Nov. 10, 1905.

60. Ibid.

61. Sissons, D. C. S., “Attitudes to Japan and Defense, 1890-1903” (M.A. thesis, Univ. of Melbourne, 1956). p. 69.

62. Canada, Hansard, quoted in Andracki, S., “The Immigration of Orientals into Canada with Special Reference to Chinese” (Ph.D. thesis, McGill Univ., 1958), pp. 2627.

63. P[ublic] A[rchives] of C[anada], Off. of the Sec. to the Gov. Gen., Corres. re. Asiatics, file no. 226, Canada no. 181, Edw. Stanhope to Lansdowne, Aug. 5, 1886, end. Lew Tajên to Rosebery, July 13, 1886.

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid., file 226, Canada, Emigration, Derby to Lansdowne, May 31, 1884.

66. Statutes of British Columbia, chapter 15 of 1884, “The Chinese Immigration Act, 1884.”

67. Ibid., chapter 22 of 1885, “The Chinese Immigration Act, 1885.”

68. PAC, Orders in Council, R.G.2, series 1, v. 317, March 28, 1885.

69. Ibid., v. 566, George Gagan, sec., Vancouver Trades and Labor Council to George Dower, sec.-treas., Dominion Trades and Labor Congress, Toronto, Sept. 1892.

70. CO 44/144, Statutes of Canada, chapter 71 of 1885, “The Chinese Immigration Act, 1885.”

71. Can. Sess. Paps., 1886, Returns Concerning Chinese. Average arrivals between Jan. 1886 and Dec. 1889 fell to 700 per annum (not including departures).

72. PAC, Off. of the Sec. to the Gov. Gen., Canada no. 186, Col. Off. to Canada, July 9, 1903, end., J. B. Whitehead to Salisbury, May 19, 1903.

73. Wynne, R. E., “Reaction to the Chinese in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia (Ph.D. thesis, Univ. of Washington, 1970), p. 498.

74. Ibid.

75. Tien-Fang, Cheng, Oriental Immigration in Canada (Shanghai, 1931), p. 70.

76. PAC, Records of the Imm. Branch, Dept. of the Interior, R.G. 76, 69/17, P.C. 2059/2060.

77. CO 42/919, no. 211, Grey to Crewe, May 6, 1908, encl., memo, by Lemieux, May 5, 1908.

78. Within a few weeks the order in council was judged ultra vires of the legislature in the case re. Behari Lal because in it the Governor General delegated power granted solely to him by Parliament. The continuous journey clause was consequently added to the act of 1906 as an amendment.

79. Andracki, , “Immigration of Orientals into Canada,” p. 103.

80. Ibid., p. 117.

81. Quote (from Sir James Connolly) in Hunt, Fraser, “White Australia and Pink Australia,” Nineteenth Century, 193 (Dec. 1921), 307314.

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Journal of British Studies
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