The Colonies

Like many other European countries, much of Scotland's wealth was made possible through active participation in Colonialism and slavery in Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean.  As early as the late 17th century, Scotland had attempted to build overseas colonies, although with limited finances and little to export, it was always going to prove difficult to compete against the larger European nations. To try and remedy this situation, the Bank of Scotland was founded in 1695 (ironically by an Englishman, John Holland), and the Company of Scotland was chartered with capital raised by public subscription to trade with "Africa and the Indies". The Company of Scotland became associated with several pre-union projects attempting to set up colonies abroad including the Darien Scheme, a venture devised by William Paterson from Tynwald in Dumfriesshire (strangely it had been Paterson, a Scotsman, who had founded the Bank of England), which hoped to establish a Scottish colony in Panama for the purpose of trading with the far east.

Initially the project enjoyed both Scottish support and support from important English merchants who were not able to join the East India Company. The English Government opposed the scheme and forced the English investors to withdraw from the project. Still the company raised 400,000 pounds in a matter of weeks in Scotland alone (a third of the wealth of Scotland!). However, due to English and Spanish interference, ill planning and disease the project had completely collapsed by 1700. Only 300 of the settlers managed to survive; desperate and ill, these survivors were even refused assistance from the English when their ship arrived at Port Royal in Jamaica. 

The failure of the  Darien scheme was one of the main reasons behind the 1707  Act of Union, which saw the creation of Great Britain. It has even been cited as one of the motivations behind the actions of the English Government's actions during the failed adventure. The English Government now agreed to cover the Scottish Government's debt. Although the move to unite the two countries was resisted by the Scottish Government and the vast majority of the Scottish people as they had done for years, this time the English were offering a bribe which the Scots could not refuse, and the two countries were united under one Government. 

The Union with England and Wales in 1707 removed many of the legal barriers that prevented the nation from participating in trade with the New World, and many Scots took advantage of access to the new market to increase their wealth. By the early nineteenth century, Glasgow became known as the 'Second City of the Empire'.

Despite modern Scotland having somewhat of a 'cultural amnesia' about the nation's part to play in Colonialism and slavery,  Scots played a huge role in the moulding of the new British Empire, and benefitted greatly from slave labour's role in tobacco and sugar production. In fact it was a man from Dumfriesshire, Charles Pasley, who wrote the definitive essay on the Empire's 'Military Policy and Institutions', which was to shape how the British would come to think of their Empire in relation to the rest of the world. He laid out a design by which Great Britain would use its colonies as a resource for troops in order to establish and hold Britain's interests abroad, by force where necessary. Using his strategy the Empire grew at an astonishing rate (around 100,000) square miles a year) during the early years of the 19th Century. The  Scottish Enlightenment has been cited as a major factor in the success of the Empire. Scotland had the world's foremost education system, where even the poorest could gain skills which were valued throughout the expanding British-held territories. 

1837, the beginning of the Victorian era, saw Britain with its rapidly expanding interests world wide become host to the largest Empire that the world had ever seen, despite having already lost its colony in America less than a century earlier - dealing a huge blow to Britain's cotton trade. Hong Kong was gained from China in 1839 and their old export, opium (which had been successfully smuggled into the west, for the main part, by Scots!), was replaced with a bustling trade in tea and silver. About the same time Britain was developing settlements in Southern Africa (in areas already claimed by the Dutch Boers). War broke out with Maori tribesmen in New Zealand as Britain 'civilized' another rich land in 1840. The same formula of self-governance that had been introduced elsewhere by Britain (notably in Australia and Canada) was introduced in New Zealand eight years later, creating the foundation for the British Commonwealth. 

One of the most lucrative countries under British rule was India, especially when tea was introduced as a crop. The colonisation of India was carried out largely by Scots including the Governor General, Lord Minto. It was Scots also who largely negotiated (and fought!) for peace with the Persians and the Sikhs and between the Hindus and Muslims. Lord Ramsay, another Scot, was Governor-General between 1848 and 1856 and built miles of railways across the huge country and introduced national postal and telegraph services, as well as improving the local education level and land irrigation. In his attempts to 'civilise' India with 'good Government', he sparked a rebellion by pushing for women's rights in a country where there had previously been none. Governing such a large Empire was never going to prove easy and there were several attempts to oust the British, such as local traditions being banned and the Indian Mutiny of 1857 when attempts to expand the influence of Christianity threatened local religions like Islam and Hinduism. Afghanistan was completely lost when tribesmen rejected similar impositions put on them by the Empire. 

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, her Empire was still growing as Britain claimed land mainly to stop other countries having them; the main threats to Britain at this time were Austria and France. However, it was the Dutch Boers in South Africa who were the first to make a stand against British expansion in the post-Victorian era. The Boer War was fought between 1899 and 1902 and resulted in the two Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal becoming British Crown colonies. 

This opposition to British rule outraged many of the British elite, many of whom had families that had enjoyed a privileged status in the Empire and owed much of their wealth to it. Many now saw it as their unquestionable right to rule what they saw as 'lesser countries' simply because they were British, white and Christian, despite their wealth being made off of the back of their subjugation. This blinkered view and the military ferocity that it could unleash was balanced though as imposing figures of British colonial power like Cecil Rhodes of Rhodesia gave way to more liberal reformers who stood up to those in the elite less willing to accept a changing world, against the horrific maltreatment of indigenous populations and made a massive contribution world-wide in terms of improved education, organised banking, better understanding of native traditions, scientific advancement and healthcare across the entire empire. 

Through these modern thinkers Britain was able to introduce a more limited and liberal form of the Empire than before (including its European rivals), allowing nations to self-govern whilst Britain was still able to reap the benefits of these countries' wealth by lending financial or military assistance when needed. This more relaxed attitude eventually allowed many colonies to gain their independence from Britain whilst still retaining cultural ties. Wherever you go across many of these former colonies you will still see the influence of the British Empire where it has become part of everyday life rather than discarded as a reminder of a colonial past, whether it is a game of cricket in India or rugby in New Zealand

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