Old Paul Rance Articles

British Colonization by Paul Rance

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Britain was one of several European countries from the 15th Century onwards that had a thirst to discover and exploit new lands.

Fear of Failure

Fear was also responsible for driving Britain's colonial ambitions. As with all the colonial powers, then the French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch, each country was fearful that what they didn't take one of its rivals would. That would mean that Britain, for instance, would miss out on getting control of precious materials and foodstuffs, and risk becoming less wealthy than other European nations.

Colonization was an issue of national pride also. Being the most powerful nation on Earth became down to not only an individual country's power at home and with regard to its near neighbors. It also related to how much a country had control around the world. Colonies became an extension of the individual countries themselves.

Early Ambition in America

Britain's colonization ambitions really began in the United States, when, under James I. The great explorer Walter Raleigh's earlier tales about America had intensified Britain's interest in the country. Thirteen years before the Pilgrim Fathers reached America in 1620, around a hundred individuals were sent to the country by the London Company, on three ships. This was, effectively, Britain's first serious attempt at colonization, and the group settled in Jamestown, in what they called Virginia, in honor of the English monarch called the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I.

The fact that the Spanish had already settled in an area south of the British was an example of how a nation felt pressurized to respond. Though sixty of the initial hundred settlers had died in the first year, through disease, starvation, and through attacks by the indigenous population, the determination to colonize was not to diminish.

The British went north into Canada to start to colonize there. When America gained its independence in 1776, far from the British taking a backward step, they had their sights set on what was to become the jewel in the crown, India. Captain James Cook had also discovered Australia and New Zealand, and though America had been lost, Britain's power reached its zenith in the 19th Century.

Britain's Rise and Fall

By having control over nations, which included in Africa, other parts of Asia, and in the Caribbean, Britain's empire grew. Colonization helped make Britain rich, which in turn meant it could afford to defend its interests around the world, and not fear invasion at home. But, all empires either fall, or become less powerful. Britain's decline as the world's most powerful country really started when there seemed no others countries left to colonize. By the time India forced its independence in 1946, countries such as the United States and the Soviet Union were the superpowers of the world.


Burmese Days - George Orwell's take on how British colonization affected Burma.


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