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A Month of: Brief Histories of British Empire Territories – Tristan da Cunha

Tristan da Cunha


Tristan da Cunha along with Saint Helena and Ascension, are part of the British Overseas Territory.

The island was annexed in 1816 in a bid to prevent the French from using the island as a means from which to rescue Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile on Saint Helena.

One of its neighbours, the wildlife reserves of the aptly named Inaccessible Islands, was attempted to be colonized which failed.

As a base to prevent a French base, the island was populated by a garrison of British marines, which gradually was supplanted by a civilian population, including a group of whalers who used the island’s strategic location as a base for their operations in the south Atlantic. The islands had also been used as a stop-over point to re-fuel and re-supply ships on long international voyages, however with improvements in ship technologies and with the opening of the Suez canal, the mid-way base was decreasingly needed and the island grew more isolated.

tristan da cunha

A Letters Patent in January 1938 declared the islands to be a dependency of Saint Helena.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, the island again was used as a base of operations, this time as a top secret weather and radio station for the Royal Navy coded named HMS Atlantic Isle. The base’s task was to monitor, and relay information, on the movements of U-Boats and German shipping in the South Atlantic.

1961 saw the entire population unexpectedly evacuated to Surrey in England after a volcanic eruption. Most of the population did return in 1963.

Executive authority over the island of Tristan da Cunha continues to be vested in the Queen and through her representative by the Governor of Saint Helena.


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A Month of: Brief Histories of British Empire Territories – Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is not only one of the world’s least explored countries it is also one of the most culturally diverse, with for example c. 841 different recorded languages.

The Colony of Queensland, in 1883, desired to annex the southern half of eastern New Guinea. In turn the southern coast and its adjacent islands became a British protectorate in November 1884. On September 4th 1888, the protectorate was annexed outright becoming British New Guinea.papu-LMAP-md

Europe’s desire for coconut oil led to German interest in the northern quarter of the island. In 1884, the German Empire formally took possession of the region and put the administration into the hands of the chartered trading company, the German New Guinea Company. The German imperial government assumed direct control of the territory in 1899. The region was now known as German New Guinea.

British New Guinea was placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1902. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Australian troops occupied German New Guinea and remained under Australian military control until the end of the war.

Under the League of Nations, New Guinea was mandated to the Commonwealth of Australia until the Japanese invasion in December 1941, where much of the territory was occupied by Japanese forces. The region was retaken by Australian and American forces during the final months of the Second World War.

New Guinea gained its independence from Australia, as an arm of the British Empire, in 1975 when a peaceful independence occurred on September 16th under the watchful eye of the United Nations. While close ties remain and it is still a Commonwealth realm, actual executive powers lies in the hands of the Prime Minister.

Today, many people still live in extreme poverty.


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A Month of: Brief Histories of British Empire Territories – North Borneo

North Borneo


North Borneo was a British Protectorate under the sovereignty of the North Borneo Chartered Company from 1882 to 1946 after which it became a Crown Colony until 1963.

In July 1881, the British North Borneo Provisional Association Ltd, formed by Alfred Dent and his brother obtained a Royal Charter. A year later the Association was replaced by the North Borneo Chartered Company which proceeded to organize the settlement and the administration of the territory despite protests by the Dutch, the Spanish and the Sarawak governments. Borneo, like Malaya, was a small fragile independent state who were keen to obtain British ‘friendship and armed assistance’.[i]

The Company acquired further sovereign and territorial rights from the Sultan of Brunei.


James Brooke, ‘another romantic swashbuckler’ established a foundation which would enable economic growth by restoring peace to a land where piracy and tribal feuds had dominated.[ii] Anti-piracy operations were an extension of the wider effort to break into the Far Eastern markets (like Borneo and others).[iii] But the suppression of coastal piracy was not an easy task, as the Borneo and Malay pirates were ‘persistent and elusive’.[iv] It abolished slavery, set up transport, health and education services. Local and immigrant (mainly Chinese) labour worked hard to allow the towns and farms to thrive. Industries such as timber, tobacco and rubber boomed.

The Company oversaw the administration of the Protectorate from 1881, with only foreign relations being in the control of the crown.

Although the Company had had a great impact on the region by predominantly restoring peace, the local population sometimes resented the imposition of British rule. They opposed the taxes and the loss of land to European plantations. It was the British, not the native chiefs, who held the top posts, with the chiefs managing people at the grassroots level. However, this was not an attempt at indirect rule.

The Company continued to rule until part way through the Second World War, when from January 1st 1942 the Japanese invaded and captured the region. As the Company only had 650 men at their disposal in the North Borneo Armed Constabulary, the Japanese swept through the region with very little resistance.

During the military occupation by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945, the Europeans were interned, public services ceased and poverty, disease and malnutrition became widespread concerns.

Before the end of the war the Australian 9th Division landed in Brunei and liberated much of North Borneo. Until the restoration of the civil government at the end of the war, North Borneo was placed under British Military Administration.

As the Company could not afford to reconstruct Borneo which had been devastated by the war by Allied bombing, the Company sold its interests to the British government and the territory was transferred under the control of the Colonial Office, becoming a Crown Colony on July 15th 1946.

The system of administration remained much the same as under the Company with the added benefit of having access to the British government funds needed for reconstruction.

High ranking posts continued to be held by the British. In fact it was not until 1957 that the first non-European filled an administrative officer’s post.

British North Borneo was granted self-government on August 31st 1963. Just over two weeks later the state united with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore to form the Federation of Malaysia. This took place on September 16th 1963.


[i] James, Lawrence The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, 1994 page 244

[ii] Ibid page 245

[iii] Ibid page 177

[iv] Ibid page 245

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A Month Of: Brief Histories of British Empire Territories – Malta



Above: Flag of Malta from 1943-1964


Malta is a southern European country in the centre of the Mediterranean, it is one of the world’s smallest states but also one of the most densely populated. Malta has long been an island of strategic importance not just for the British but for the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Knights of St. John, to mention a few.

Malta became part of the British Empire under the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Malta became a shipping station and fleet headquarters under the empire due to its halfway location between the Strait of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal. It was not until the opening of the Suez Canal that Malta enjoyed a tremendous boost in its economy. But the benefits did not last forever. The 1940s saw Malta’s economy suffer due to its dependence on shipping and with technological improvements ships tended to have longer ranges, and so Malta’s strategic position was no longer needed.


However, its proximity to shipping lanes did mean that Malta played an important role in the Second World War. But Malta did not just remain a strategic position during the war. The Siege of Malta brought the war directly to her shores. King George VI awarded the people of Malta collectively the George Cross for their bravery during the siege.

‘To bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will be long famous in history’.

The 1960s saw intense negotiations between the Prime Minister of Malta George Borg Olivier and the United Kingdom, after which Malta was granted independence on September 21st 1964. Malta retained Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state. A governor-general exercises effective authority on her behalf.

Upon independence Malta became the Republic of Malta but was still heavily influenced by British rule. Their parliamentary system and public administration were modelled on the Westminster system of the UK.

Major sources of limestone, a favourable geographical location and a productive labour force as well as foreign trade, manufacturing and tourism and film production all contribute to the nation’s economy.

malta flag

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A Month Of: History Blogs – British Empire Territories – Hong Kong

Hong Kong


Hong Kong was ceded to the British Empire after the First Opium War (1839-1842) and the Union Jack was raised on 26th January 1842 formally at Possession Point. Hong Kong had become a Crown Colony. Not satisfied with merely controlling the island and its harbours, the British extended their area of control to encompass the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 and the New Territories in 1898. They claimed this extension was undertaken for defensive purposes.

From the beginning of British rule Hong Kong was a free port, an entrepot of the British Empire; the area was industrialised and improved and the population increased dramatically. A real benefit of acquiring Hong Kong was that it provided firms with a base for their opium-smuggling operations[i] and to provide access to the long sought after China trade.[ii]

hong kong

The area was occupied briefly by Japan during the Second World War, when British and Canadian forces were over run and forced to surrender. Hong Kong fell to the rapidly advancing Japanese army on 25th December 1941. The success of the Japanese army which soon spread throughout the region threatened to turn the tide of the war.

During the Japanese occupation, the citizens of Hong Kong were treated abominably and brutally and by the time the war was over and Britain had reclaimed the region in 1945, the population of Hong Kong had plummeted from 1.6 million to just 600,000 in the space of three years.

In 1983, after years being a Crown Colony the debate between Britain and China opened over the future sovereignty of Hong Kong, after the ninety-nine-year lease under which the region was acquired was coming to an end.[iii] As a result the Sino-British Joint Declaration was agreed in 1984 which formally transferred sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China. The hand-over date was set to take place in 1997. July 1st 1997 marked the end of the 156 year British colonial rule with the final transfer of power being marked with a ‘display of imperial theatre’.[iv]


[i] Ferguson, Niall, Empire How Britain Made the Modern World, 2002 page 166

[ii] James, Lawrence, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, 1994 p241

[iii] Ibid p629

[iv] Ibid p636

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A Month Of: History Blogs – Countries of the British Empire – Ceylon


A Brief History of Ceylon During the British Empire


Better known now as Sri Lanka, which lies on the southern tip of India and remains a strategic naval link for the area. Back in the beginnings of the British Empire it was an important spot for the silk road trade, now however, the country is famous for its diversity. It boasts an immense wealth of cultures, religions, languages and exports included tea, coffee gems, coconuts, rubber and cinnamon.


Prior to 1638 the Portuguese occupied the coastal regions, after which they signed a treaty with the Dutch East India Company, when Dutch explorers arrived in the area. With the rise of Napoleon, the Dutch, as they were elsewhere, were worried that the region would fall into French hands and so they handed over the control and the protection of the region to England. The British easily occupied the region and in 1796 renamed the region Ceylon.

The rulers of Ceylon were unable to halt Britain’s advance from the coastal regions, and by 1814 Ceylon lost its independence and was brought under the control of the British Empire.


The Colebrooke-Cameron Reforms in 1833 marked the beginning period of British control, in which it amalgamated the Kandyan and maritime provinces creating a single unit of government, and saw the introduction of a utilitarian and liberal political culture and the establishment of an executive and a legislative council.

The economy was at first dominated by coffee when plantations were introduced and initially thrived, however following the 1847 depression which forced prices down, an influx of a leaf disease literally killed the industry in 1869. Tea production became the substitute. After the loss of Malaya during the Second World War to the Japanese, Ceylon swiftly raised its output of rubber.[i]

The nineteenth century saw the creation of a new professional class under British rule to transcend cultural and caste differences in order to encourage more people into the Ceylon Civil Service.

From the early twentieth century the push for more constitutional reforms came. Major Sinhalese and Tamil political organisations in 1919 united to form the Ceylon National Congress, however it collapsed within a year after failing to win mass support from the people.

Despite this collapse, changes did come. Universal suffrage was introduced in 1931 through the Donoughmore Reforms. The reform was unpopular and was opposed by the Tamil political organisations as universal suffrage, for them, ran the risk of reducing them to a minority.

Another reform came in 1944-5 with the Soulbury Reforms. These reforms brought Dominion Status to Ceylon. Independence soon followed on 4th February 1948 as a result of the reform.


[i] James, Lawrence, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, 1994 page 508

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Blogging Themes


Over the next few months I’m going to be concentrating on monthly blogging themes for a while. Hopefully this will bring a degree of fluidity to my blog posts that I’ve been searching for, and now the end of a month is (almost) here, my next post will be a themed post and I’ll start from the beginning of April.

Not only will it give my blog focus, it’ll give my mind at bit of focus too, hopefully. An issue at work has been somewhat stressful to say the least, and I’m focusing on my current project which is coming together nicely, so with work and my project sometimes I lack the get-up-and-go to blog.

So soon you’ll see more order here and more themes – whether it’ll be a month of book reviews (general or specific), a month of history, a month of all things libraries, a month of all things writing, top tens, and how to’s….etc etc

[Luckily though, seen as I don’t blog every day (although that may be one of the future monthly themes), you won’t feel inundated with blog after blog of that month’s theme.]



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