H.M. Hyndman

England For All

Chapter VII
The Colonies

There is happily one portion of our empire which is almost entirely free from the political difficulties we encounter elsewhere. The drawbacks to our great self-governed colonies are common to our age and civilization; their advantages are peculiar to themselves. Notwithstanding the mistakes of both political parties in dealing with South Africa – mistakes which have, to a great extent, overclouded the prospect in that particular region – the colonies are, and will remain, the chief mainstay of Anglo-Saxon dominion outside these islands, when India has returned to native rule, and our other dependencies are held rather as a duty than as contributing to our power. With them, indeed, and the United States, lies the future expansion of our race. For although the Americans were driven into hostility more than a century ago, we may still hope that in time to come the great English-speaking democracies of England, Australia, and North America, may find ground for a common understanding, which will enable them to secure peace and justice; throughout the civilized world, by the overwhelming force they could array against any aggressor. This, however, is for the moment no more than a pleasant vision. [1]

The possibility of a closer connexion with our colonies is an immediate practical business. On this point too, fortunately, men who differ most widely on other questions are often agreed. Taught by the disastrous result of the attempt to tyrannize over the North American colonists, we have carried the doctrine of self-government almost further than the colonists themselves wished. Not content with granting them the most complete home rule, we have at times repulsed their advances towards a closer union, and, on the other hand, wronged our poorer classes by handing over the entire administration of an almost limitless unoccupied territory to the handful of people who first settled there. But even so the result is surely in marked contrast to our relations with Ireland. No portion of our dominions are so loyal to the British connexion at this very time, none so anxious that England should rightfully maintain her position in the world, as the colonists. Left to solve their own social and political problems, they turn naturally to the mother country to keep alive the ideal of a greater political action than any which can be hoped for from mere separation and local ambition. And this feeling grows even at the time when absentees are being denounced, and the power of democracy gains ground each day. There, as at home, centralization and decentralization are working themselves out; though, by the mistake of not maintaining a federal union, great difficulties are now encountered in bringing together colonies which ought never to have lost the common tie, even on matters which could manifestly be handled best by all collectively.

There can be no greater contrast between the relation which Canada now bears to the United Kingdom than that of the North American colonies, when they fought for independence. In that case we insisted upon the right to tax without permitting the colonists the right of representation. Now we have given Canada not only self-government, but the right to impose almost prohibitive duties on our own goods. That this need not have occurred had a better understanding been kept up with the colonists, and free-trade, when commenced, enacted as the law for all self-governed portions of the empire, we can scarcely doubt. The history of Canada, however, since the separation of the American colonies, is creditable to her and to the home country. At first sight it would have seemed impossible that the French colonies of Lower Canada, conquered by a people with whom their nation was at perpetual war, should ever have come to be loyal to the English Crown. But the consideration shown for their language, creed, and customs, the steady determination not to interfere with their local rule, gradually won over the French settlers, until at the present time they are as devoted to the British connexion as any portion of the population of English descent. Troubles at times there have been with the English colonists, and rather more than forty years ago a rebellion was threatened. Yet all settled down; and now it seems that the Dominion of Canada has before her as fine a career in the future as the more energetic democracy on the other side of the border. That the withdrawal of our troops was brought about in a most unmannerly fashion, and in such wise as to offend the best instincts of the Canadians – that also Lord Carnarvon’s plan of federation was rather premature, and carried by doubtful means, have not changed the sentiments of the colonists towards the mother country.

Incorporation with the United States would leave less of freedom for natural expansion than there is at present under England’s light rule. A race of sturdy sober-going men and women have grown up in that rude Canadian climate, who will carry on the best traditions of English Government side by side with the great Republic. There, in the great expanse of the Far West, lies an opening for those who, in the coming changes here at home, may think they see their way to a wider field, still under the name and in connexion with the old country. In Canada, even more than in the United States, the natural inclination of our race for the sea manifests itself. The 4,000,000 who make up the Dominion of Canada own the fourth largest mercantile marine in the world. As, also, the new continental railroad is pushed forward to the Pacific slope, the splendid region of British Columbia will be opened up to colonization, and yet another connexion made with the English colonies in the South Pacific.

Nor, when the distance by sea is spoken of, and the impossibility of a permanent connexion insisted upon, should we forget that Canada and the other colonies of the Atlantic slope are nearer to us to-day than Aberdeen or Cork were a century ago. Canada is now wholly self-supporting, costs the people of England not one farthing of expenditure, whilst the increasing power of democracy would find a help and offer valuable assistance to a similar growth with us at home. The Dominion will, we may hope, as time passes on, bind together closer the various settlements. Already the Parliament at Ottawa – sitting in the finest block of buildings on the American continent – worthily represents the Federal Union of a magnificent group of peoples. Let them also find representation here in England, and thus bring to bear upon all international arrangements the ever-increasing force of a united democracy of English-speaking peoples. At the crisis of the Eastern question when it seemed as if England might be involved in continental warfare, the Canadians were not slow to offer their assistance in a cause where their own interests were in no way involved. Surely it is for the great mass of the people of England to hold out their hands in fellowship to those who wish nothing better than to work together on the same lines for the strengthening and improvement of all. There is something in great ideas which vivifies and enlarges the national imagination. We here at home have indeed much to carry out ere we can achieve our own full government of ourselves, or place ourselves on the same level which the Canadians have already happily attained to in many respects. Reason the more that we should endeavour to make common cause in the direction of further progress.

But if this applies to Canada, still more true is it of the Australian colonies and New Zealand. These colonies are the growth of the present generation. In the last thirty years they have sprung up from mere settlements to be great and prosperous communities. In Australia – Victoria and New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, and West Australia, form a group of states unsurpassed in any part of the world for energy, enterprise, and growing consideration for the education and well-being of the rising generation. That the distribution of wealth is here also sadly faulty is indeed too certain. In Melbourne and Sydney, cities large out of all proportion to the population engaged in agriculture or mining, the contrast between the wealth of the few and the poverty of the many, is at times very serious. Here, too, is felt the alternation of inflation and stagnation consequent upon our capitalist system, and the large capitalists, either English or native, are gradually acquiring excessive preponderance. But the possibility of a man taking himself out of the wage-earning class is, of course, as in Canada and the United States, far greater than in England. The abundance of virgin soil, the rapid increase of wealth in proportion to the population, keep wages at a higher level than in old countries. Both politically and socially, however, the Australian colonies are passing through a phase in their history which is of the highest importance, and corresponds to similar changes here at home. In purely political matters the democracy is increasing in strength day by day; but unfortunately these colonies have not, until of late years, had anything to compare to the admirable school system of America which should bring the whole population within reach of education. This, however, is being remedied; and in Victoria, the most democratic colony of all, the people are beginning to learn that a sober combination to deal with existing difficulties – which may well perplex the ablest statesman – is in the long-run better for the interests of all than a hasty agitation which overthrows confidence in present arrangements without substituting anything in their place. Those who fasten their attention on Victoria, and declaim against the folly of a democracy because it favours protection, conveniently forgot that New South Wales, where the people are equally masters, is in favour of free trade, and South Australia shows a growing tendency in the same direction. Nothing, indeed, is more absurd than to gauge the political intelligence of a country by such a test. If protection can keep up the relative wages of the mass of the working people above the level which they will obtain under free trade, then beyond all question protection is, on the whole, the policy best suited to the welfare of the mass of that community. Theorists who reason as if the only object of all human society were to make the rich richer and the poor poorer would, of course, not admit even that.

But it may be reasonably allowed as absurd that colonies founded by men of the same nation, and living under the same government, in the same territory, should deliberately set up tariffs against one another, and against the mother country. This is what we see in Australia, and it shows clearly how important a better understanding is between the various colonies on matters which concern the interests of all. The difficulty of bringing about a federation in Australia, even on this simple matter of customs, seems insuperable. Time after time have representatives met, but on each occasion have separated without coming to any definite arrangement. Local interests and local ambitions shut out the view of the general advantage which would be gained by a closer understanding. But the completion of a railroad between Sydney and Melbourne, and the rapid extension of the other Australian railways, must bring this question again to the front. It may be that the solution will be found in that wider federation which, without in any way sacrificing the local administration, may bring about the full representation of Australia in a general council where the interests of all will be fully considered. There are, in these days, many matters which can be better settled when dealt with as a whole than when regarded piecemeal, and few can doubt that such enterprises as the railways and public works of Australia could be better and more cheaply handled together than separately.

In these Australian colonies also, and particularly in New Zealand, may be seen the system of State management carried out under the most democratic form of government. Railways, posts, telegraphs, public works, schools, public lands, are all entirely under the control of the bureaux appointed by the State, and managed by a responsible Minister. Where the appointments also are kept clear of political influence, the system works well. There are temptations to grave jobbery, doubtless, but they are kept under restraint by universal publicity; and the mass of the population have abundant opportunities of making themselves felt. A graver danger than any arising from over-officialism is that of over-borrowing from the mother country. In New Zealand especially this danger is very great. Not only is the Government largely pledged to pay the produce of the 400,000 colonists to home lenders, but the settlers themselves have pledged their resources to an enormous extent to English capitalists. These vast payments out of the country for money borrowed can scarcely go on for ever. Labour expended on virgin soil will no doubt produce enormously; but slack times come even there, and the difficulties which we have seen in India will be reproduced on a smaller scale. This vast tribute, in the shape of interest on money lent, which the English colonists have to transmit out of their labour to the mother country, is one of the least pleasant features of the colonial connexion.

It may be that under a better arrangement the colonists in all our great free-governed dependencies will be able to combine with the mother country for the more adequate development of their magnificent territories, in the interest of the whole of the federated portions of our empire. In their temperate climate, and with their unrivalled soil – in Canada, Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand – millions on millions of our race might find happiness and comfort, which would re-act upon the welfare of our people at home. As our home arrangements undergo modification, we ought to carry with us the people of the colonies in aiding to bring about, without disturbance or bloodshed, a more equitable distribution of wealth than that which now we see. Those who desire to leave our shores to try a fresh life in another country, might then feel sure, not of the coddling of a maternal government, but of assistance, encouragement, and capital, where now all these are lacking. The great disparity between the sexes in England in one direction, and in the colonies in the other, alone shows how faultily the present arrangements have worked. It is with a view to bringing about a more complete understanding on all such questions, a regulation of the mere laissez-faire system which up till now has found favour, that a nearer connexion is so essential. Friendly democracies can always help each other. They have no real ground of mutual distrust. But when we see in the United States such misery as that produced by the late stagnation; when we know that in New South Wales, Victoria, and New Zealand, men were thrown out of work and clamouring for employment, though millions of unoccupied fertile land lay at their disposal all round them, then it becomes more clearly apparent than ever how mischievous is the system which refuses to make the most of such enormous advantages, and supposes that stagnation and depression are really inevitable because those who hold the capital choose to make it so.

It is because social matters are kept so carefully in the background, and the real producers of wealth, whether in England, Ireland, or abroad, are shut out from comparing notes on matters which so nearly concern them, that these serious errors are made. Even as it is the colonies, with their marvellous power of recovery, have been our best customers, and have enabled the English working class at home to pass through the long period of crisis with less of pressure than would otherwise have been felt. Here, even in business, where sentiment is said to have no play, we find the trade follows the flag – that men prefer to deal with their own people. Surely those who are in favour of a unity of all peoples, who hold that in the near future the men who have hitherto worked for others will see that in common action lies the hope for humanity, cannot fail ere long to understand that the first step towards this great end must be a closer and yet closer union of peoples of the same race, language, and political traditions, working together for the good of all portions of that noble federation. Leaving freedom to all, and enforcing none – holding up before us a high ideal in which all may share and all may find full development – thus, and thus only, shall we gather them in.

But it is not merely in relation to their own individual interests that it would be of the highest importance that our great democratic communities beyond the sea should be represented. Difficulties affecting all portions of the empire have to be considered, which can never obtain proper attention save by the personal discussion of those who have a direct interest in their wise settlement. The questions of tariff and trade have already been spoken of. No complete arrangements on these heads can possibly be arrived at so long as the hide-bound bureaucrats of the Colonial Office, with their encrusted traditions of meddling and muddling, have full swing. Only when men see for themselves that local selfishness can fitly be merged in a greater and more enlightened common interest, will they abandon ideas which they have adopted almost as an evidence of free judgment. A Customs Union of the British Empire will be the outcome of the representation of our colonies in the Great Council which will take the place of our present worn-out second chamber. Or it may be even that we shall follow the French system, and invite colonies to send representatives to the popular House, when local business has been properly handed over to local authorities. Whichever course may be adopted, there is a growing opinion, both in the colonies and in England, that in such representation lies the true solution of many problems which now seem most thorny. A complete Union thus brought about could scarcely fail to have a peaceful influence on the whole civilized world. Such an overwhelming combination of naval strength as could then be relied upon, could be made by no conceivable alliance of despotic powers.

This, however, brings us at once to the question of general defence, which is now being discussed by a Royal Commission. On that Commission the colonies are inadequately represented, yet it is of the last importance that they should enter completely into any plans that may be suggested. For on the due ordering of our Imperial defences, and the security of our lines of communication, can we alone depend for maintaining in time of trouble that connexion with our countrymen across the sea, and for the certainty of obtaining our food supplies, which are essential not only to our influence but to our safety. These matters have been sadly neglected under the happy-go-lucky régime of the past twenty or thirty years. Men who are always looking to throw off what they call the “burden of empire,” regardless of the help and encouragement we can obtain in coming political changes from the democracies of our own race, naturally looked askance at any measures which should tend to unite and not to separate, to bring together and not to drive away. It is well that at this particular time another view should be taken. By a careful organization of our resources, and a judicious strengthening of the many ports we possess, it would be made quite impossible for any enemy or enemies to interfere seriously with our affairs even in time of war, whilst the denunciation of the Declaration of Paris would make us more powerful than we ever were before. In these days coal and coaling-stations, the opportunity to go into port and refit at all times, are essential. And these advantages we possess to such an extent, that it may almost be said that all the rest of the world together could not rival us. In the Atlantic and Pacific, in European waters and the China seas, from the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Horn, and from the British islands to Australia and India, we hold a chain of posts which will enable us to exercise at the fitting moment an almost overwhelming pressure, if in time of peace we take the means to prepare for any difficulty. Halifax and Vancouver’s Island, Bermuda and the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Malta, and Aden, Sydney, Melbourne, King George’s Sound, and Auckland, to say nothing of the Indian ports, and scarcely less valuable possessions elsewhere, such as Hong-Kong, Fiji, and the Mauritius, constitute an array of maritime citadels which, maintained in proper defence by our ourselves and our colonies, must, in conjunction with a fleet proportioned to our maritime interests, render future naval war against us almost impossible. Nor should we hold or exercise this truly enormous power for our own selfish advantage. English ports are open to the ships of all nations without let or hindrance; we throw open to the world the advantages we possess, asking nothing in return. Here, then, when fully represented, our colonists may fairly take their share in arranging with us the defence of the common interest, and organizing the national defence.

Still more necessary, however, is colonial help in considering the bearing of treaties which we may negotiate with foreign powers, or the action which the colonists themselves may take in their own interest. At present there is no special consideration given to the effect which may be produced on our existing artificial system by any fresh arrangement so far as it affects colonies or colonists, and our greatest dependency counts for still less in such matters; whilst as to the colonists themselves, it is sufficient to note their action with regard to the Chinese to recognize at once that questions may arise which can only be dealt with from the point of view of general interest. This Chinese question is indeed one which by itself needs the gravest consideration, as a political, social, and international problem of the greatest difficulty. Here we are in fact threatened with a conflict of races and civilization, the like of which has never yet been seen on the face of the planet. China has awakened from her long sleep of centuries, and is fast breaking from her isolation, and entering into the full stream of the political and social life of our times. What the results of this may be no man can foretell. A people who have been civilized for ages, who yet retain vigour, capacity, and physical qualities, whose bearing on the future we do not yet fully understand, are now absorbing the newest truths of Western investigators. The effect upon us so far has been to bring the industrious Chinese, with their ideas of individualism only modified by their secret societies, into direct competition with our own colonists. There are thousands on thousands of Chinamen under our rule in the East alone, and as workmen and merchants they are most formidable rivals. But with the emigration to the free-governed colonies and America a new feature begins. Our colonists positively will not put up with them, any more than the Americans will. At this very time the people of British Columbia, as well as the colonies of Australia, have decided to keep out the Chinese. They are to our modern industrial colonists what shells are at sea – missiles to be kept out, at any cost to theory or beauty of design. But the result is at once seen to be serious. It is the recognition of a perturbing element in all calculations – of an incapacity on the part of our race to face a nation of protectionists who regard themselves as mere passers-by in every country they enter. That our colonists should have the right to tax every Chinaman who lands, surely carries with it the right of Chinese to tax every Englishman who lands in China. As our relations with China grow, and these points come more prominently forward, the absolute necessity for some general understanding will become apparent. Perhaps ere another generation has passed away the question of our relation to China will completely dwarf all others in importance. Meantime the commercial connexion between Australia and Asia is rapidly growing; and in view of the unfitness of the northern portion of that great island-continent for colonization by men of our race, it is even possible that immigrants from India or China may find place in that vast unpeopled region.

These, however, are the possibilities of the future. What most concerns us now is, to lay the foundation of a cordial understanding between all portions of our great colonial empire – to bring together on the wider field of a wide-reaching policy of the commonwealth those who in their own several spheres, are striving to bring about a better social and political system than that which now presses upon all portions of the empire, though less in the colonies than elsewhere. The natural and wholesome pride of a Canadian, an Australian, or a New Zealander in the growing greatness of his country, need in no way be irreconcilable with a deep love for the old home, and a yet higher pride in sharing in a general improvement which shall embrace and welcome all. The Anglo-Saxon race, which has shown the world how to reconcile freedom and order with steady progress, can by combination and determined effort secure for themselves and their children the leadership in the social changes and reforms which are close at hand. Those great democracies of English-speaking peoples, who now have complete control over their own affairs, will find that in permanent union with the more ancient democracy of England lies the best hope of securing the fullest development in the future.


1. “Blood is thicker than water,” said Admiral Farragut when he stood by our sailors in the China seas. Years later, after the grand old man had been the soul of the Northern navy during the Civil War, he was in port in the Mediterranean with his wooden flagship. A fleet of British ironclads was there at the same time. As he weighed anchor and sailed out to sea, the English ships also left their moorings and made two lines for him to pass through. The compliment was wholly unlooked-for, but it thoroughly expressed the feelings of the nation towards that noble seaman.

Last updated on 30.7.2006