This essay focuses on the British Empire – how it began in Barbados in 1627, thrived through Britain’s industrial revolution (which started in the 1780s), centered on India (the Jewel of the Crown), and ended with the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. I offer a dozen case studies, written from the perspective of the colonized regions. In each colonized area, I discuss how and why imperial Britain imposed its rule, how the colony contributed to British wealth, and why Britain eventually granted independence.
The British Empire began with slave-based sugar production in Barbados (the richest colony from 1650 to 1710) and slave-based rice production in South Carolina (Britain’s most valuable colony until 1770). India was the heart of the British Empire from the 1770s until 1948. Britain either established settler colonies (Barbados, South Carolina, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa) or imposed its rule (India, Burma, Hong Kong, Egypt, East Africa, and the Middle East). In the 20th century, two world wars and the Depression undercut the basis for empire. I append a time line, a bibliography, and descriptions of twelve British imperial sites that I visited.
Bridgetown, Barbados, South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, Canada, Halifax, Nova Scotia, India, Delhi, India, Burma, Rangoon (Yangon), Burma, Hong Kong, China, Hong Kong, China, Australia, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Auckland, New Zealand, South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa, East Africa, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Port Said and the Suez Canal, Egypt, Jerusalem, Israel, London