Popular Science Monthly/Volume 57/June 1900/Colonies and the Mother Country I

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WE may conceive a country, with its colonies and dependencies grouped round it at unequal distances and in different directions, as a giant organism, which has its laws of growth' and development, its phases of expansion, activity and decay, like all other organisms. We see it enlarging in mass, but to the last remaining amorphous, or assimilable to no known forms. We observe the heart and brain fostering, helping and sometimes hindering, directing, controlling and guarding the evolution of the nearer or remoter portions. We perceive on scrutiny threads of relationship being woven, new nervous, muscular and circulatory systems being developed, which connect the extremities with the center and unite both into an organic whole. We are struck at times with the rupture of the mass and the permanent separation of parts of it; at times we are impressed by an unexpected augmentation in previously unknown areas, as if to repair the loss of the old. We witness the extremities reacting on the original nucleus, to some extent remodeling the heart and brain and thus creating a type of organism unprecedented in Nature. And we find that of a limited number of such colossal types, ever battling for predominance, one or another gains an ascendency and the rest are reduced to a secondary rank, or, being lopped of their colonial extensions, cease to be world-wide organisms and shrink into the merely national organisms from which they sprang.

Snails put out their feelers as they go. The bolder insects and the more adventurous birds fly small or great distances in search of a feeding ground; some are carried out to sea, and become involuntary 'discoverers' of new lands.[1] The social organism puts out its feelers and extends in mass. The community pushes out its scouts, and a portion of it, at longer or shorter intervals, follows their lead. Thus the mother country discovers many of the territories it colonizes. Cadiz was unknown to the Eastern world till a Phœnician merchant ship was blown thither. The West African coast and the mouth of the Rhone were discovered by the Carthaginians. Libya (west of Egypt) was a terra incognita to the Greeks till a Greek sailor who had been driven on its inhospitable coast informed the emigrant Theræans of its existence. The Portuguese discovered the Azores. The Spaniards discovered the West India Islands, Mexico, Peru and Florida. France discovered the country lying along the basin of the St. Lawrence and the valley of the Mississippi. Holland, through an English navigator, discovered the Hudson River and the future site of New York. England, through another alien, discovered the New England coast and that of Virginia; it discovered, or rediscovered, vast Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania and other South Sea islands; in quite recent years it discovered the sources of the Nile. All these countries have been or are about to be colonized by the peoples that discovered them.

Discovery is chiefly the work of private enterprise. It was Phœnician and Greek traders who explored the northern and western coasts of Africa, of Spain, of Gaul, and of Britain. Scandinavian mariners, Norman and English fishermen, discovered North America. Spanish adventurers found the Canaries. The host of travelers have explored on their private account. Yet there are animals, like Mr. Thompson's Lobo, the wolf, and Spot, the crow, able generals and leaders of large bands, who seem to direct exploratory movements. So after a while governments lend their aid when they have ends of their 'own or their aid is needed. The two most memorable exploring expeditions of modern times, and the most momentous in their results, were either in great part or wholly equipped by their respective governments. Two of the vessels of Columbus were impressed ships, and the equipment proceeded from the Castilian treasury, the third being fitted out by merchant mariners of Palos. The expedition of Captain Cook, which practically added a new continent to the globe, was altogether a state enterprise, and its celebrated commander was not, like Columbus, its designer and organizer, but only its director. The Portuguese discoveries of the Azores and the Cape were also state-aided. From this time forward Spanish and Portuguese adventurers received a royal license to discover, and the South American continent, with Mexico and Peru as its brightest jewels, was discovered by just such adventurers. Where a government refuses itself to discover, it may, like the States-General of Holland, assure to the enterprising a terminable monopoly of trade with newly discovered lands, and to this assurance the exploration of New York and its neighborhood and the discovery of Connecticut were due. Merchant companies have naturally a keen eye to the main chance, but those English and Dutch merchants can not be accused of timidity who chartered Cabot, Gilbert, Hudson and other daring mariners to seek a northwest passage to the East. Kings, in their private capacity, newspaper proprietors and rich individuals, from generous motives, sometimes equip and support explorers like Stanley and Winwood Reade.

Geographical, like scientific, discovery is often accidental. Phœnician and Greek traders, Spanish adventurers, Norman and English fishermen were blown by a succession of gales to Cadiz and Cyrene, the Canaries, Mexico and Newfoundland. Diaz was storm-carried southward to the Cape, where two shipwrecked mariners long afterward induced the Dutch to settle. Columbus, Cabot and Hudson sought a passage to India or China. The day comes, however, when chance gives way to a systematic art of discovery. The voyage of Columbus was the first where the end was deliberately aimed at and patiently worked up to. Under Ferdinand the Catholic maritime discovery was raised to an art. A board of eminent Spanish navigators, with Vespucci at its head, sat to construct charts and trace out routes for projected voyages. The primary object of Cook's first voyage was astronomical, and he was scientifically equipped for discovery on that, as of course also on the two later voyages, whose sole end was the one so gloriously gained.

Prior discovery confers an indefeasible title to occupy as against any other colonizing power. Misled by a false statement, a British man-of war entered the Mississippi presumably to take possession of Louisiana, but turned aside on being informed of the earlier French occupation. In the thirties two naval expeditions were exploring at the same time in Spencer Gulf, South Australia. Though the French gracefully yielded the pas to the prior English ship, they left a mark on a number of points that still bear French names. There seems to be now no doubt that Brazil had been discovered and rediscovered by Spanish navigators before the Portuguese carbajal set foot on it, but, owing to an international agreement, the discoverers ceded their claim.

Discovery does not necessarily issue in colonization. The more or less mythical discoveries of the coasts of North America and Australia in the ninth and sixteenth centuries interest the antiquarian rather than the historian. They resemble the so-called anticipations of scientific discoveries—Cesalpino's, of Harvey; Vico's, of Wolf and Niebuhr; Swedenborg-'s, of Kant; and a host of guessers, of Darwin. As proof alone is discovery in science, so only exploration is discovery in geography. For lack of this essential element even well-certified discoveries are apt to be fruitless. Tasman's frightened glimpse of New Zealand and his more careful coasting of Tasmania left durable marks on both countries, but only in nomenclature. They led to nothing. No Dutch settlement seems ever to have been made south of New Guinea; no northern nationality is more conspicuously absent among the colonizers of the South Seas. The earlier Portuguese discovery of the Cape of Good Hope was regarded as that of a halfway house to a more distant goal; they stopped to recruit, then hurried off to rich Cathay. The French left their names to a dozen headlands and rivers on the coast of Western Australia, but, though they often excited the suspicions of New South Wales, they made no attempt to settle.

Discovery, to assure sovereignty over the discovered country, must be followed, among animals as among men, by effective occupation. The Portuguese were roused into warlike excitement a few years ago by the advance of the Chartered Company into Mashonaland, where their settlements had long ceased to exist. Their claims to the basin of the Congo were on the same ground equally disregarded—this time by all the powers. A bit of seacoast can more easily be kept, and Delagoa Bay was assured to them by the French arbitrator. Mere occupation has at various times given a valid right to a territory. The Puritans found several islands off the New England coast to be destitute of inhabitants, and the shores so thinned of Indians by an epidemic as to be practically uninhabited. Yet they were careful to assure their title by purchase. The Manowolko Islands of the Malay Archipelago were without indigenes when the first settlers arrived. Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands were found by the mutineers of the Bounty and the convicts from New South Wales to answer to Defoe's notion of a desert island. The first English settlers in Australia and the first French settlers in New Caledonia met with no resistance from the blacks at the initial stages of occupation. When the Boers trekked across the Vaal they entered on a country that had been left, through exterminating native wars, to the beasts of the field and the forest. The situation is very different when a rival civilized power lays claims to the territory. When Great Britain forcibly took possession of West Griqualand in 1871 she had to salve, without satisfying, the claims of the Orange Free State to one of the richest diamond fields in the world by a payment differently stated at £90,000 and over £100,000. Having to deal with a European power, she was constrained to submit to arbitration her pretensions to the so very useful and convenient Delagoa Bay. In attempting to extend British Guiana, so as to gain command of the Orinoco, she came into collision with the mightiest of American peoples, which now guards the interests of all the others. The United States refused to acknowledge the doctrine of 'squatter sovereignty,' and one of the preliminaries of the Venezuela arbitration was the addition to international law of the rule that a period of fifty years' uninterrupted occupancy was required to constitute valid sovereignty. England has gone through the world, like Sir Tantalus's man with his iron flail, beating down the weak and robbing the helpless. Yet few countries can show an equal record of honorable renunciations. It long refused to annex New Zealand, now one of the finest of its colonies. It long refused Fiji and Natal. It refused Samoa. It refused Bechuanaland for a time. It refused Angra Pequena. It would not listen to the discoverer who called on it to occupy equatorial Africa. It disavowed the action of Queensland in annexing New Guinea. It surrendered the Ionian Islands. Its constant injunction to its high commissioner in South Africa was not to advance the line of conquest. It surrendered, in 1854, its sovereignty over the Boers of the Orange River. That surrender was condemned by British governors, is still condemned by historians, and was disliked by the wealthier and more intelligent Boers; how wise and just it was is shown by the jealousy with which the republic has since watched over its independence. To its eternal honor—or rather to that of Gladstone—it nobly gave back the Transvaal to its stalwart farmers. France long relinquished Algeria and Madagascar, which her missions and commercial stations in the seventeenth century gave her a prescriptive right to occupy two centuries later. It refused to support De La Tours, and abandoned Labourdonnais and Dupleix. Through mere inertia Portugal has let slip from her hands a grand inheritance. The Dutch repressed the extension of their colony at the Cape. Java flourishes, but Dutch New Guinea lies rotting.

A species, extending beyond its original habitat, has often to battle with lower species already in possession of that portion of the earth or water. So, except in rare cases, occupation means the necessity of conquest. The Puritans, as they advanced into the interior, had to fight for the possession of New England. The nomadic Australian blacks offered no resistance to the earliest settlers, but as they were driven inward they disputed, and are still fiercely disputing, every foot of territory. As the indigenes rise in the scale, have clearings and cultivate the soil, the resistance increases. No savage peoples have cost the invaders so much in disturbance, blood and treasure as the Indians, Maoris, Kaffirs and Algerian Arabs. Mashonaland was occupied by the Chartered Company without firing a shot or losing a life, but it had soon to fight for possession. The incessant turmoil, though the waves of it spread to the remote mother country, affects the settlers mainly. The blood shed is both colonial and metropolitan. The North American settlers fought their own hard battles; though British troops engaged, to their cost, with the Indians, it was against these as allies of the French; in recent years the British garrison in Canada has been employed against the half-castes. In New Zealand colonial volunteers joined with the regular troops to defeat the Maoris, and 'the former were sometimes found the more efficient.

The most picturesque conquests in history were effected by private enterprise. Mexico was conquered by local recruits. Pizarro was authorized to conquer Peru in the name of the Spanish crown, and, besides various other encouragements, he received a modest sum from the Spanish treasury. But it was again by local recruits, not one of them furnished by the Spanish Government, that the conquest was made and maintained. Algeria has a very different story to tell. The troops employed in effecting a difficult conquest spread over thirty years were French from first to last. In general, it may be said that where there have been regular campaigns and pitched battles the metropolitan troops bear the brunt of the fighting. Where there is a guerrilla warfare, as with the Australian blacks, it is carried on by the colonial police or by the settlers, sometimes with the aid of the natives themselves. The Carthaginians built up their empire by native auxiliaries. The French and English conquered Canada with the Hurons and Iroquois as auxiliaries. The English mastered New Zealand with Maoris for allies, and defeated the Kaffirs with the help of the Fingoes (a related variety of the Bantu race). Rhodesia was won by a force half Kaffir. Peruvians aided Pizarro. India has been made British by armies of which four fifths were Indian. A people, like a man, contributes to its own subjugation. The expense is likewise distributed. Fifty years of intermittent war with the Kaffirs cost Great Britain twelve million pounds, and it may safely be assumed that a no smaller sum was expended in New Zealand. The colonists honorably bear their share. The premier of the latter colony told a London audience in jubilee year that it was now cheerfully paying the interest on a debt of eleven millions incurred in "holding the colony for the empire." After a Kaffir war Cape Colony was saddled with a debt of three or four millions. Other losses fall more directly on the settlers. Probably none have borne such disasters and so much suffering as the early colonists of North America. The destruction of property in a single New Zealand campaign amounted to £150,000, and the farmers on the frontiers of Cape Colony have suffered far more severely, as those on the frontier of Queensland are suffering now. If blood and money, poured forth like water, can furnish conquest with a valid title to territory, not a few British and French colonies have been justly annexed.

The expansion of an organism or a species is determined also by its struggle with other equal organisms or species which conflict with it. The hardest fight is with individuals of the same or similar species. So are rival colonizing powers usually more formidable opponents to the acquisition of a country than its indigenes. The Carthaginians were robbed of some of their colonies by the more numerous Greeks, and the Greeks of many of theirs by the all-conquering Romans. The Swedes lost a colony to the Dutch. The short but decisive struggle between the Dutch and the English was followed by the loss of the Dutch colonies in North America and the West Indies. In the eighteenth century, after every great war a group of colonies fell into the hands of the victorious power. The West India Islands and those of the Indian Ocean were for many years tossed as in a game of battledore and shuttlecock between France and England. The possession of Canada was a bone of contention between the two countries for several decades. Seeley even maintains that the hundred years' war ending in 1815 was a long rivalry between France and England for the New World and India. If so, it was marked by striking acts of generosity. Conquests made in Canada by England, with the efficient aid of the American colonies, were more than once given back to France. When all but. two of the West India colonies were surrendered in 1814 the Foreign Minister explained that it was desired to open to France the means of peaceful expansion, and it was not the interest of England to make her a military and conquering power. The rivalry did not end with the Napoleonic wars. According to one historian, Australia was saved to the English in 1788 by six days, and for long afterward there was a constant jealousy of French occupation. Ships were sent by Australian governors to take possession of Van Diemen's Land, of southern, western and northern Australia when it was believed that the French had designs on them. An English war ship, sent by the governor of the North Island of New Zealand to annex the rich and fertile South Island, anticipated by only a few hours a French ship dispatched for the same purpose. The rising of the French Canadians in 1838 has been described as "the last convulsion of despair of a sinking nationality." The English, French, and now the Germans are still rivals in present and future colonizing grounds in Africa, China, and the South Seas. But no British colonist doubts that further pacific defeats (if only by being bought out of their possessions) await the French in different quarters of the globe, for it is the colonies that press forward. The North American colonies were at all times more aggressive than the mother state, as the Australasian are now. They are unconsciously on the way to become the suns of new systems. Conquests may be made on various pretexts. The Cape was twice seized by the English to prevent it from falling into the hands of the French, and a few years later the Dutch were constrained to cede the colony to its temporary possessors. Gambetta schemed to annex and colonize the whole North African coast from Egypt to Morocco, and thus to create a France nouvelle along the northern shores of the Mediterranean in place of the New France lost in Canada more than a century before, or of that still older New France on the shores of the Bosporus. In pursuance of this policy, the powers at the Berlin Conference in 1878 permitted France to occupy (not to annex) Tunis, prohibiting her, however, from fortifying its chief port. But no one doubts that the 'regency' there, as in Madagascar, will speedily give way to undisputed sovereignty, and Bizerta is already fortified. Writers are said to be dreamers, and Locke's constitution for Carolina, Rousseau's for Corsica, Bentham's for Russia, with many another quixotic proposal, furnish proof of their simplicity or their wrong-headedness. It is nevertheless a fact that most of the new ideas that are being carried into effect are the suggestions of publicists—journalists who stand midway between men of thought and men of action. Sometimes the former contribute immediately practicable proposals. Russia, Germany, France, and Great Britain—the four grasping powers—along with Italy and Belgium, are now, after a digestive interval of thirty years, carrying out a suggestion made by Kenan in 1871. The Chinese, who threw off the yoke of the conquering Mongols, belong (it appears) by ordination of Nature to the subject races. The people that produced Confucius and Lao-tze consist of laboring men who need direction and organization. China, therefore, calls for conquest. The powers have obeyed the call, and that vast and peaceful land is now undergoing dismemberment, with a view to final wholesale partition. It is a parallel to the conquest of Peru by the Spaniards. In both countries a more perfect civilization of a lower type was or will be superseded by a less perfect civilization of a higher type. In this alone lies its assumed justification. Evidently the argument may be carried far. It would justify Russia in occupying Turkey, the United States in conquering not only Spanish colonies but Spain itself. It was the moral justification of the Gothic invasions of the early Christian centuries. It is a sentence of death or (it may be) of new life to all moribund nationalities.

Other modes of acquiring colonies are by cession and by purchase. The former is often disguised conquest, like that of the Cape to England. The latter may be so as well, like that of the African diamond fields by England. Colbert bought, for less than a million francs, certain of the West India Islands and the Antilles. The United States has bought her last colonies from dying Spain for four million pounds. At no distant time the Australian colonies will probably buy France and Germany out of the Pacific, and Holland and Germany out of New Guinea. It will be none the less a moral conquest. The right of the stronger, or the more fit to colonize, will still be, as it ever has been, the sole title to possess.

By these various means habitats have been found for future colonies, spheres for future colonial expansion.


[To be continued.]

  1. Examples of insects are given in Darwin's 'Journal,' and of birds in Wallace's 'Malay Archipelago.'