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The Reign of Queen Victoria by  M. B. Synge

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THE BRITISH EMPIRE

IT only remains for us to review very briefly the past, and by its strong light to peer tentatively forward into the dim and unknown future.

We have noted the chief forces at work, without which the Empire could never have existed—the use of steam and the discovery of coal and iron, which had already turned Britain from an agricultural to a manufacturing and wealthy country; the consequent and rapid growth of her population, necessitating expansion; the existence of that old Viking spirit to do and dare which urged Englishmen of the nineteenth century to go forth and colonize new [213] lands beyond the seas: the mutual trading between the mother country and her daughter nations that naturally followed; the development of rapid communication, and the triumph of British ship-building.

These are but the leading features of this "live and throbbing Age", which has seen the growth of the British Empire, the burden of which will rest upon the shoulders of the children of to-day. It will be well, then, to glance for a moment at the government of these possessions in order to rightly understand that responsibility.

As each colony grew in strength, it demanded the right of self-government. Britain conceded this right at once, and local government was granted by Act of Parliament, while a British Governor was sent from home to uphold English traditions, and, on important matters, to consult the British Government.

But as communications grew closer by reason of railway and telegraph, it became inconvenient for each colony to have its own Governor and its separate code of laws, friction ensued, and the separate States in each continent found it better to unite under one Governor-General.

Canada, at the Queen's death, had a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom, at the head of which was the Queen, represented by a Governor-General, a Privy Council, a Senate, and a House of Commons, composed of members from the States of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, and the North-West territories.

[214] Australia, at the Queen's death, had decided on a federation, to be managed by a Governor-General, an Executive Council, a Senate, and a House of Representatives, consisting of members from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania. New Zealand was invited to join this federation, but she could not see her way; so she had a Governor, who was also her Commander-in-Chief, a Legislative Council, and a House of Representatives.

The Federation of the States of Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange River Colony, the Transvaal, and Rhodesia was not even foreshadowed in South Africa on the death of the Queen.

Though based on the constitution of the mother country, each of these English-speaking nations was free and their independent freedom was shown in many different ways. None of them adopted Britain's system of Free Trade, none of them instituted a State Church, two of them gave votes to women, and most of them paid their members of Parliament.

On the other hand, they looked to Britain for their defence by sea, to Britain's wealth and support in commercial enterprise, to Britain's industry for their railways, telegraphs, clothing, and other luxuries.

And above and beyond this material dependence, the colonists still looked on Great Britain as Home. It was still the land of their forefathers, and though divided by thousands of miles of sea from each other and from the Mother Country, they felt they were all one land.

[215] "The snows of the Canadian Rockies, the woods of New Zealand, the great plains of Australia, the lonely veldt of South Africa, the crowded streets of London—the heart of the Empire—belonged to one People. Their pleasures and troubles—their glories and misfortunes, their riches and poverty, their men and women, above all their problems, belonged to all."

But there were other parts of the Empire which did not manage their own affairs, whose people were not English-born, but who were under the direct control of Great Britain.

Of these Dependencies, the most important was India, with its three hundred millions of dark-skinned races. The Englishman who lived in India was there either to govern, to defend, or to trade. The country was governed by a British Viceroy representing the Queen, Empress of India, assisted by two Governors, four Lieutenant-Governors, and several Chief Commissioners, but in no sense was it a home for the English.

Burma, too, was included under the Viceroy of India, with a Lieutenant-Governor of her own.

The Straits Settlements were not under the Viceroy, but under a British Governor, who was also High Commissioner for the Federated Malay States and for North Borneo.

The West Indies had six British Governors, the Falkland Islands had one, British Guiana one, British Honduras one, Fiji and the Western Pacific Islands had one; while the many "stepping-stones" of the [216] Empire—Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Aden, St. Helena, Mauritius, Ceylon, Hong Kong, and Wei-hai-Wei—had each their British Governor or High Commissioner.

The British Protectorate of Uganda was under a Commissioner, the East Africa Protectorate was under a High Commissioner, Zanzibar under a Consul-General, Nigeria under two High Commissioners, Bechuanaland and Basutoland under Resident Commissioners.

Egypt was not a generally recognized Protectorate; she occupied an entirely unique position. Britain inspired her government, officered her army, managed her military occupation, and guided her finance. An Englishman represented the Queen in Cairo, a British Governor-General ruled the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. And because the whole world, as well as Egypt herself, benefits by this control, the great Powers agreed to this arrangement.

It is hard to realize at home what the Empire owed to the men guiding the destinies of these distant lands beyond the seas. Some of them were, at the Queen's death, ruling over countries far larger than England; some lived on lonely islands far from home, some were spending their lives amid unhealthy surroundings; all were statesmen upholding the best traditions of Great Britain, facing dangers, solving problems, giving to others what Englishmen had through long centuries won for themselves, ever mindful of Britain's glory, ever true to Britain's Queen.

[217] Such was the varied collection of Colonies, Dependencies, Islands, and Protectorates which gradually fell under British sway, and were known after the Queen's death as the "Dominions beyond the Seas".

Toward the end of the Queen's long reign the word "Empire" was more often used for these overseas possessions, for it included the Mother Country—it included also a future of wonderful possibilities.

For the government of Britain was passing into the hands of the People, and the spirit of individual citizenship, with its great responsibilities, was breaking over the country even as the breathless Victorian age was passing away.


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