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German and British Imperialism at the end of the 19th Century - Part 2

Nick is a US Army veteran, husband and father of three, and has a BA in History. He is a Civil War aficionado and also enjoys genealogy.

The Madras Army of the Presidency of Madras,  belonged to the East India Company in British India. Native soldiers, known as Sepoys, provided much of the manpower that allowed the East India Company to rule India

The Madras Army of the Presidency of Madras, belonged to the East India Company in British India. Native soldiers, known as Sepoys, provided much of the manpower that allowed the East India Company to rule India

In India, the British occupation presented a conundrum that is still of debate to this very day. The concept of Social Darwinism, that the English were superior clearly dominated the views of the British towards imperialism. The British clearly went in with their own self-interests at heart, but with what they considered a noble intent to enlighten, educate, and bring civility to a backwards people. In 1857, Charles Creighton Hazewell justified the conquest of India by comparing it to the previous dynasties in India. Hazewell argued, “The Moghul dynasty was as foreign to India as the East India Company, or the House of Hanover… [the] Moghuls were deliberate invaders of India…who sought an empire sword in hand… [the] English were forced to assume the part of conquerors, and would gladly have remained traders.”1 It was the East India Company’s power in India that stirred up emotions and just as with Robert Clive and Warren Hastings, enforced that power at the end of a musket. Lord Cornwallis was sent to India to “curtail the rapine and bring Bengal under both British and ‘civilized’ government.”2

It should be noted, however, that the result of British occupation was seen as a mixed blessing to the native Indians. In 1871, Dadabhai Naoroji explained the benefits and the detriments of British rule. Naojori wrote that there were clear benefits to British influence such as the eradication of suttee and infanticide, the control over crime, allowing widowed women (who previously were not allowed to remarry and sentenced to die after the death of their husband) the ability to remarry, and aid during times of famine. He also mentions as benefits of Western education, the aspirations of political knowledge, security of life and property, and equal justice between men and women.3 Naojori does, however, point out detriments to British rule, but his summary is what highlights this text when he states,

…the British rule has been: morally, a great blessing; politically, peace and order on one hand, blunders on the other; materially, impoverishment, relieved as far as the railway and other loans go. The natives call the British system "Sakar ki Churi," the knife of sugar. That is to say, there is no oppression, it is all smooth and sweet, but it is the knife, notwithstanding. I mention this that you should know these feelings. Our great misfortune is that you do not know our wants. When you will know our real wishes, I have not the least doubt that you would do justice. The genius and spirit of the British people is fair play and justice.4

Naojori provides insight into the result of British occupation; a plethora of benefits to provide a justification for their actions but at the sake of the real needs and wants of the people of India.

Robert Clive and Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey, 1757

Robert Clive and Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey, 1757

In 1857, the Sepoys of the Bengal army attempted a mutiny, and after the insurrection was put down, instead of distancing the relationship between the British and the Indians, the British were able to successfully reconstruct the Indian army in a way that would last up until World War I. Sir Charles Wood had the task of removing the Indians from the regular army, but this meant he would have to find a way to make up for the departure from a rigid military structure. The solution was to give the more opportunities to the natives as non-commissioned officers and improved relations with their British commanders. By isolating regiments from each other and populating each from districts, not centrally he would be able facilitate them being a “community, not an army.”5 Robin J. Moore explains that the, “selection of all officers from the same source, whether for the British army or the Indian Army, followed the principle of competitive recruitment that had already emerged for the Indian Civil Service before the Mutiny.”6

In Africa, the German imperialistic efforts would be worse off than the British in India. In a speech to the German Reichstag, August Bebel, Germany’s leading Social Democrat, had misgivings about Germany’s imperialistic endeavors and believed that the Reichstag did not represent the German people in regards to colonialism. He argued that,

…the colonial question leaves the vast majority of the German people cold to the very core [kühl bis ins Herz hinein]. I will take this one step further by saying that if the overwhelming majority of the Reichstag approves the demands of the government, as will undoubtedly happen, you will not be able to say that you are in agreement with the majority of the people. In my view, the German people are not inclined to embark on the types of colonial adventures expected of us here.7

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Bebel points out later in his argument that the Reich was portraying they were spreading European civilization and culture and Christianity and a false pretense of abolishing the slave trade. He points out that the Reich Chancellor specifically points out that abolishing slavery in Africa was a bad idea and would be impossible without compensation. He makes his case in that their efforts were less than genuine by stating that,

…for my part, fail to comprehend why this should be impossible without compensation. I would just like to remind you that when the United States abolished slavery, it occurred without any compensation, as the consequence of a great war.8

Another voice against German colonialism was Friedrich Kapp, deputy of the National Liberal Reichstag. He points to the German imperialists as “colonial chauvinists” and further expounds on the suspicions by the rest of the world, Great Britain in particular, and that the continued prospects of colonialism would lead Germany to war. He argues that his “frank conviction that we can never found a colony, let alone maintain it, unless we are permanently prepared for war… do you mean to say that it would not have a detrimental effect on the mother country as well?”9

Comparing German colonialism and British colonialism outcomes is looking at two polar opposites. The Germans, latecomers to the concepts of colonization, unfortunately left little heritage behind that either the Germans, or the Africans wish to remember. The Africans were suppressed, subjected to forced labor, their culture and religious practice were outlawed and many of the African women were abused by the Germans. It’s clear that all of these things led to the many revolts that took place under German rule. This includes the Herero revolt in 1904, where somewhere between 40,000 to 100,000 people were murdered. Then there was the Maji-Maji Rebellion that saw the systematic killing of upwards to 300,000 people.10 Ultimately, the German incursion into Africa was for naught. Germany’s defeat in World War I would result in the loss of its protectorates, and Great Britain would move in to fill the void. But the damage had already been done. As A. Adu Boahen argues,

…important as the development of nationalism was, not only was it an accidental by-product, but it was not the result of a positive feeling of identity with or commitment or loyalty to the new nation-state, but a negative one generated by a sense of anger, frustration and humiliation caused by some of the oppressive, discriminatory, humiliating and exploitative measures introduced by the colonial rulers.11

German colonialism, having been removed, left the rulers of the African states with this hostility that in turn has been a detriment to the growth of these nations as part of the world order.

German troops fight the Herero, circa 1904. Painting by Richard Knötel (1857-1914)

German troops fight the Herero, circa 1904. Painting by Richard Knötel (1857-1914)

Conversely, the British outcomes in India turned out far more different than the Germans in Africa. The British impact on India affected every single aspect of life for the Indians, from religion, economic, constructive and most notably, social and cultural. While some of these had negative impacts, such as British rule economically draining the native populace to the point of draught as well as making “India an agrarian country that would supply an industrialized England… Each passing year further tightened the economy… products were sold in tremendously cheap rates in Britain, making the native money-making policy even harder,”12 the end result can only be seen as beneficial to the future of India. Because of British colonization, the essential knowledge of English allowed the natives to be able to hold a place within the British systems such as business, bureaucracy, and even the military. Infrastructures, such as railways, postal services, legal and judicial systems, which are in place today, were outcomes of British rule. Most importantly, the introduction of a comprehensive educational system, that prepared the natives to be in the place the hold today as a well-educated people.

While it is true that the Indians strived for self-governance, without the British influence, that would have been harder to achieve and quite possibly end up like the German colonies in Africa. Left in disarray and having no foundation to truly move their nations into the world as a legitimate and useful nation, they continue to struggle. Apartheid became a result of imperialism in Africa, causing a dumbing down, if you will, of the native peoples in regards to how to effectively govern themselves at the loss of their European benefactors. To use the analogy of giving a man a fish and he eats for a day or teaching him how to fish and he eats for life. The effect of colonialism was nothing more than giving Africa the fish. But the British indeed taught the Indians how to fish. When they achieved their independence they were able to effective self-govern, provide education and economic benefits to their people and have become a legitimate participant in the affairs of the world.

A notice indicating that a certain public premises solely for the use set by whites in South Africa

A notice indicating that a certain public premises solely for the use set by whites in South Africa


1. Charles Creighton Hazewell. "British India." Atlantic Monthly, 1857: 89.
2. Andrew Porter. The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 399.
3. Dadabhai Naojori, Essays, Speeches, Addresses and Writings (Bombay: Caxton Printing Works, 1887), 131.
4. Ibid. 136.
5. Andrew Porter. The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Nineteenth Century, 428.
6. Ibid., 429.
7. August Bebel, Reichstag Speech against Colonial Policy in German East Africa. (Berlin, January 26, 1889), 1.
8. Ibid., 3.
9. Friedrich Kapp, Report of the Proceedings of the 19th Congress of German Economists in Berlin. (Berlin: Kapp, Friedrich, 1880).
10. Humanity in Action, "Facing the Past to Liberate the Future: Colonial Africa in the German Mind" Accessed November 30, 2014.
11. Boahen, A. Adu, General History of Africa VII: Africa Under Colonial Domination 1880-1935 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 786.
12. IndiaNetzone, “Impact of British Rule in India.” Accessed November 30, 2014.

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