During the summer of 2011, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge travelled to the Commonwealth Realm of Canada to represent William’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II on their first official trip overseas as a married couple. The newlyweds met with the Governor General and the Prime Minister of Canada, memorialised the Commonwealth war dead at the National War Memorial, inspected recent veterans of the War in Afghanistan, and were entertained by an aboriginal dance put on by First Canadians. They encountered cheering crowds and were heckled by Quebecois separatists. The young royals, particularly the label and style of the duchess’s clothing, enraptured the press in Canada and Britain. Royal onlookers across the globe, continuing their observations from the April wedding at Westminster Abbey, celebrated a British monarchy revitalised by the duke and duchess.
A century earlier in 1901, William’s great-great-grandparents the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, the future King George V and Queen Mary, were on a worldwide tour of the British Empire. The most ambitious royal tour of the empire to date, their travels had been planned by Joseph Chamberlain and the duke himself to inaugurate the new Australian parliament and to convey Britain’s appreciation for imperial service to the ongoing South African War. George and Mary participated in a remarkably similar itinerary of events, from reviews of imperial troops to entertainment by indigenous peoples. Extolling the birth of a new imperial century, newspapers, and subsequently colonial subjects, across the British world carefully and anxiously followed the movements of the duke and duchess.
As young Princess Elizabeth sat on the coronation throne in 1953, she inherited a set of ritual practices that had roots in an earlier period but were developed and perfected over the course of the nineteenth century.1 Empire Day (now Commonwealth Day), jubilees, and royal tours of empire were the ‘inventions’ of a nineteenth-century British state that sought to inspire obedience and loyalty in the Queen’s subjects across the globe. While the tours of the twentieth century – most notably the 1911 coronation durbar and the travels of the Prince of Wales during the 1920s – are the most well-known and impressive examples, the apotheosis of an imperial-ritual state, these moments were products of the Victorians’ ideological work. The royal tour of empire – the subject of this book – remains an essential function of the British monarchy, embraced by the modern Elizabethan monarchy even long after the end of empire. Queen Elizabeth II is far and away the most travelled monarch in history, having visited every country in the Commonwealth save Cameroon, a total of nearly 200 visits.2
Despite the remarkable similarities between the 1901 and 2011 tours, down to the intricate details of their itineraries, they were carried out in vastly different contexts. The future George V and Queen Mary encountered an empire that was still on the march and would not achieve its greatest territorial extent until after the Great War. William and Catherine, on the other hand, interacted with citizens of an independent nation-state who by and large understood their British colonial heritage as secondary to their national story as Canadians. In some sense, the royal tour of today is a relic of a previous age, an antique in a world that has moved beyond both monarchy and empire as legitimate political forms. At the same time, the 1901 and 2011 royal tours both reflect the political settlement that emerged out of the Victorian monarchy, of an imperial monarchy that embraced its ritual function and all but relinquished its political role
The royal tour
Royal Tourists, Colonial Subjects and the Making of a British World examines royal tours of empire, from the first royal visits in 1860 to George V’s 1911 coronation durbar.3 While Queen Victoria herself never travelled farther than Ireland and the Continent, her children and grandchildren travelled the world as soldiers, sailors, and ambassadors. They interacted with her colonial subjects during welcoming ceremonies, parades, balls, dinners, and durbars. Victoria’s sons, the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, and Prince Alfred, were the first royals to visit the British Empire during 1860 tours to Canada and the Cape of Good Hope, planned by Prince Albert and the Colonial Secretary, the Duke of Newcastle. While the royal tours of 1860s had some origins in the royal progress or the grand tour – intended to encourage public visibility of and interaction with the British royal family and to educate young royals in the lessons of empire – they were a decidedly novel political and cultural invention. They were made possible by new modes of transport and communication, the steamship and the telegraph. Royal movements were disseminated by an expanding culture of print in Britain and the empire and through the new medium of photography. By the mid-nineteenth century, royals could travel in comfort and safety by land and sea because of British naval dominance, the expansion of settler communities, and the ‘neutralisation’ of indigenous peoples. During an age of imperial consolidation, the royal tour ‘create[d] a new function, purpose, and justification for monarchy’ at home and abroad.4
Royal rituals, of course, have for some time been an important topic in the historiography of European nationalism and imperialism. Historians seeking to understand the significance and survival of archaic institution in a modern and democratic nation-empire have viewed the monarchy through various optics – from welfare monarchy to ‘democratic royalism’.5 The intersection of empire and ritual politics has emerged as one of the most fruitful and interesting lines of inquiry in recent years.6 Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s Invention of Tradition theorised that historical traditions – in the case of David Cannadine’s essay, the royal rituals of the British monarchy – were invented by European ruling elites to legitimise and perpetuate their political, social, and political power.7 Their work reflected a broader movement in the historiography of modern European nationalism that understood the nation and its ideological superstructure as historical constructions of the recent past rather than as proof of timeless and organic national communities. Much more recently, Cannadine’s Ornamentalism used the grand ritual ceremonies of empire, particularly in the Raj, to explore the reinvention of the monarchy during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.8 In a rather different vein, scholars of historical anthropology and ‘area studies’ have understood colonial rituals as part of a larger effort to acquire and use colonial knowledge for the purposes of rule.9
Royal tourists, colonial subjects and the making of a British world draws from this literature and expands it into a broader imperial context. It suggest that the ritual space of the royal tour was an important site where a British imperial culture was made and remade by a diverse array of historical actors in Britain and the empire. The book is a tale of royals who were ambivalent and bored partners in the project of empire; colonial administrators who used royal ceremonies to pursue a multiplicity of projects and interests or to imagine themselves as African chiefs or heirs to the Mughal emperors; local princes and chiefs who were bullied and bruised by the politics of the royal tour, even as some of them used the tour to symbolically appropriate or resist British cultural power; and settlers of European descent and people of colour in the empire who made claims on the rights and responsibilities of imperial citizenship and as co-owners of Britain’s global empire. The work suggests that the diverse responses to the royal tours of the nineteenth century demonstrate how a multi-centred imperial culture was forged in the empire and was constantly made and remade, appropriated and contested. In this context, subjects of empire provincialised the British Isles, centring the colonies in their political and cultural constructions of empire, Britishness, citizenship, and loyalty.
The Victorian and Edwardian British Empire was a space of political imagination and cultural creativity where imperial politics and cultures were forged not only by colonial administrators and British/English settlers but by ordinary colonial subjects of colour, native princes and chiefs, as well as South Asian, Dutch, Chinese, and Irish subjects of the British monarch who imagined themselves as members of a British imperial community. Royal tourists, colonial subjects and the making of a British world is not a comprehensive examination of the nineteenth-century royal tour as a thing in itself; scant attention is given to the extensive travels Victoria’s son Prince Arthur or to the experiences of Australia, Ireland, or Canada. Instead, it follows moments when the imperial fantasy of the royal tour was challenged or destabilised – by an uncooperative monarch or a pro-empire African intellectual – in order to understand how one particular and underappreciated site of imperial culture was imagined and used by different historical actors in Britain, southern Africa, New Zealand, and the Indian Empire. It argues that within the ritual space of the royal tour, colonial subjects not only remade and appropriated the symbols and traditions of a British imperial culture in ways that subverted or challenged the political and cultural intentions of colonial administrators in London or Cape Town but also actively sought inclusion as citizen-subjects of the British Empire.
The making of imperial culture
Through a combination of technological advances, effective propaganda and the Queen’s longevity, the symbolism and mythology of Queen Victoria was widely and deeply disseminated among subjects of the British Empire. This mythology was very consciously nurtured and disseminated to Queen Victoria’s colonial subjects by administrators at home and abroad and ‘made real’ to her subjects through encounters with Victoria’s children and grandchildren during royal tours of empire. In this context, they often appealed not only to the Queen as a protector and fount of justice but also to the idea of Queen Victoria, as a personification of the body politic.10 Yet despite the efforts of colonial officialdom to control and utilise the Queen’s image, her subjects around the world appropriated, remade, and reimagined this representation through sometimes overlapping, sometimes competing lenses of social class and status; political rights and citizenship; personal experiences; and local histories, traditions, and mythologies.
The powerful and lasting image of Queen Victoria demonstrates both the employment of cultural symbolism by British colonial states as a strategy of imperial rule and its appropriation by the Queen’s subjects, from colonial governors to ‘traditional’ political elites, from settlers of European descent to Western-educated respectables of colour. While many historians have focused quite reasonably on the limits and failures of these efforts – on the unimpressed, apathetic, or openly hostile colonial subject – the embrace, appropriation, and bastardisation of Victoria as a symbol offer an equally interesting and important analytic lens through which to study British imperial culture.11 Moreover, Victoria’s malleability and adaptability as a symbol reflects the fragilities and instabilities of a British imperial culture that was made in the movement of people, ideas, and commodities through the networks of the British world and through encounters with local people in the empire.
While Royal tourists, colonial subjects and the making of a British world is about the royal tours, it also makes an argument about imperial culture. In this context, the book suggests that metropolitan society had no monopoly on the cultural construction of Britishness or imperial identities. It provincialises the British Isles, to centre ‘the periphery’ in the political and cultural constructions of ideas about empire, Britishness, citizenship, and loyalty. It thus problematises the role of the British Isles in the history of empire, to show that metropolitan culture could not dictate the contours of imperial culture. The work builds on growing historical literatures about diaspora, citizenship, and the cultures of empire. In particular, it aims to understand the British world as a complex field of cultural encounters, exchanges, and borrowings rather than a collection of unitary and unidirectional paths between Great Britain and its colonies.12
The development and reception of the royal tours was not shaped along a single circuit between the metropole and individual colony but connected across imperial networks.13 Imperial rituals were developed by colonial officials through imperial networks of culture, administration, and colonial intelligence, with India often but not always serving as the model. These practices were not produced in isolation but as part of an effort by colonial officials at home and abroad to develop an imperial culture that would secure the bonds of empire in a period of rather great uncertainty.14 The South Asian durbar, a ritual practice ‘borrowed’ by the British from the Mughals, was adapted for use in other colonial contexts, including New Zealand and the Cape Colony during the 1901 royal tour.
Notions of imperial identity, citizenship, and Britishness were also informed by knowledge of, communication and competition with a multi-centred British world. As I argue in Chapter 4, Western-educated ‘respectable’ people of colour in the Raj and the Cape Colony imagined themselves to be simultaneously British and ‘natives’ and advocated for their rights as citizen-subjects of the British Empire. British and ‘other’ (e.g. Dutch, Irish, and Chinese) settlers across the empire competed with the British metropole and each other to forge ‘better Britains’ on the edges of the earth. Both respectables of colour and non-British (or non-English) migrants used their membership of the British Empire to make claims on a non-racial, non-ethnic definition of Britishness and citizenship.
Global Britishness and imperial citizenship
Moreover, royal tours, both then and now, were interpreted by Queen Victoria’s colonial subjects and Queen Elizabeth II’s Commonwealth subjects respectively on their own terms and often in ways unimagined or unintended by tour architects. During the spring of 2002, the Queen and Prince Philip embarked on a royal tour of the Commonwealth countries of Jamaica, New Zealand, and Australia, to celebrate Elizabeth’s fiftieth anniversary as Queen. In 1999, a few years earlier, Elizabeth’s Commonwealth throne had barely survived an Australian referendum on the monarchy, the pro-monarchy vote beating out the republican cause by only a few percentage points.15 During one carefully planned encounter on this visit, the Queen and Prince Philip met a group of natives wearing loin cloths and body paint at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park, where a fire-lighting ceremony was performed for their benefit. Prince Philip allegedly asked them if they ‘still [threw] spears at each other’.16 From the perspective of the monarchy and the Australian planners, this encounter was meant to convey British and Australian reconciliation with the Aborigine population and evidence of Australia’s modernity and multi-culturalism.17
Yet within the ritualistic order of the tour the fire-lighting Aborigines articulated their own counter-narrative: ‘This opportunity to showcase our culture to the world will perhaps influence at least some people to rethink their attitude to indigenous culture ... We are not a curiosity but a relevant and integral part of 21st-century Australia’, said ‘troop leader’ Warren Clements. ‘We here, represent a new spirit of freedom – freedom from dependence on government handouts, freedom from a century of oppression, freedom from the cycle of poverty.’18 Clements reimagined the royal tour with his own vision – of a renewed future for his people within an Australian nation that, by the twenty-first century, had started to make amends with its native population.
Likewise, Queen Victoria’s subjects at home and abroad made sense of the royal presence in complicated and profoundly different ways. Colonial administrators and local elites imagined the royal tours as instruments of imperial rule and social control, as methods of inspiring obedience and loyalty to empire; transcending the divisions of wealth, status, and class at home and in settler societies; naturalising British rule in African, Asian, and Pacific societies; and creating an illusion of consent with the ‘ruled’. However, the meanings that colonial subjects attached to the tours and imperial culture itself, made in the empire, could not be dictated to or controlled by Whitehall, Windsor, or Government Houses in Cape Town or Bombay. Like Victor Frankenstein’s monster, they had a life of their own and produced unintended consequences. This work is about these complex processes of reception and appropriation.
Royal tourists, colonial subjects and the making of a British world posits that colonial actors, from African and South Asian intellectuals to the neo-Britons of settlement colonies, were legitimate contributors to British culture. Against the telelogy of emerging nationhood in which the stories of both the colonies of settlement (e.g. New Zealand and Australia) and the ‘dependent’ empire (e.g. India and Africa) have been traditionally framed, it argues that imperial culture and identities figured importantly in the everyday lives of British subjects the world over. I argue that colonial subjects in the empire were as important to the creation of nineteenth-century British politics and culture as anyone at ‘home’. Colonial subjects abroad had a formative influence on discourses on Britishness, citizenship, and empire that was as important as, or more important than, that of metropolitan society.
In particular, the book identifies the ways in which colonial subjects of colour, from princes and chiefs to the Western-educated middle class, imagined their places in a British imperial world. Recent work by scholars of the British diaspora has reconceptualised Britishness as made in the networks and movements of British and ‘other’ (e.g. non-British) settlers across the global space of empire, but little attention has been paid to people of colour. My work argues that imperial culture was an important, even the primary means through which some British subjects of African, Asian, and Maori descent ascribed their political, cultural, and social identities and status. By examining the role of empire – particularly in the construction of citizenship and social status – for colonial subjects in the Cape Colony, South Asia, and New Zealand, the book contributes significantly to a developing historiography on imperial networks and a global Britishness.19
Britishness, and ideas about British liberty and constitutionalism, informed how many colonial subjects imagined their political, cultural, and social universes. This work proposes that a notion of imperial citizenship, a brand of loyalism that made claims on the rights and responsibilities of Britishness and a co-ownership of a global British Empire, profoundly shaped the politics and identities of many colonial subjects. ‘Respectable’ people of colour in the empire, such as colonial subjects of African and Asian descent, appealed to their status as loyal subjects and imperial citizens to challenge the injustices of imperial rule and to appeal to the unredeemed promises of imperial citizenship (Chapter 4). For white and ‘other’ settlers, such as people of South Asian or Chinese descent living in South Africa or New Zealand, manifestations of Britishness and imperial citizenship were used to make and claim community identities and mythologies and to challenge perceived injustices, whether its source was the imperial government, land-hungry settlers, or a competing colony or settlement (Chapter 3).
As usual, a few caveats are in order. Because royals, colonial administrators, and colonial subjects recognised the comparability of different groups and colonies across the empire and because the royal tours were developed within this larger context, the book’s analysis is framed in such a way as to compare the experiences of different ‘kinds’ of colonies and their populations and to explore their interconnectedness through the imperial networks of the British world. An eagerness to engage with a comparative approach should not be confused with a belief in the interchangeability of these sites. For instance, British India was an empire in itself, a rather different beast, comparatively speaking, from sparsely populated islands at the end of the world. But to restrict our imaginations and see these sites as incomparable does not harmonise with how the historical actors presented here imagined the royal tours. From the perspective of colonial subjects, for example, Prince Alfred’s ‘small’ visit to the frontiers of southern Africa was as important as the grand ceremonies of the Raj. Categories of inclusion and exclusion – of whiteness or indigeneity, Britishness and respectability – transcended these colonial boundaries.
Chapter 1 examines the conceptual space between the projection of Queen Victoria as a symbol of empire and nineteenth-century royals’ often ambivalent attitude toward the empire and, particularly, the royal tours. Nineteenth-century colonial administrators and imperial activists sought to use the vision of a justice-giving Great Queen during the royal tours in order to promote imperial solidarity and to encourage loyalty and obedience on the part of colonial subjects. Queen Victoria herself was a reluctant participant in the tours and had little to do with the political and cultural fashioning of the Great (White) Queen as a symbol. Using the extensive correspondence of Queen Victoria, I argue that the royal tours went forward in spite of her rather than because of her. It also describes the experiences of royal tourists of empire between the first royal tours of 1860 and the coronation durbar of 1911. Using correspondence to, from, and about travelling royals – including two future kings – the chapter examines Victorian and Edwardian royals’ encounters with the empire from their daily routines to their participation in Mughal-inspired durbars with Indian princes. Through the writings and experiences of royal travellers such as Prince Alfred or the future George V, I argue that Queen Victoria’s children and grandchildren were generally bored as royal tourists and rarely considered the tours’ political and cultural implications for empire. They complained of the tedious and demanding ritual practices and often remained, mentally, ‘at home’ in Britain. Nevertheless, I also show that it was also over the course of these visits that young royals were educated in the idea of imperial monarchy and came to accept their purely symbolic role in the political and social worlds of Britain and the empire, a development that Queen Victoria had long resisted.
Chapter 2 examines how ‘native’ princes and chiefs in Africa, South Asia, and New Zealand encountered the empire and British royals during the tours of empire. In particular, the chapter focuses on the ways that princes and chiefs, through the royal tour, symbolically resisted British appropriation of local political traditions or used connections with the British to invent or accentuate their own status and authority. At the same time, it also explores how colonial administrators, such as Lord Lytton in India or Theophilus Shepstone in Natal, sought to naturalise British rule by reimagining themselves as Mughal governors or African chiefs within an imperial hierarchy. When these ‘imagined traditions’ confronted complicated and messy realities of colonial rule, as they did during the royal tours, the results reflected the degree to which British colonial administrators were captives of their own fantasies about ‘native’ political cultures and how local elites could capitalise on, or suffer at the expense of, this captivity of mind. Moreover, they demonstrate the conceptual dissonance between the imagined traditions of rule, as products of colonial knowledge, and the slippery and elusive nature of local political cultures, which could never be fully grasped or controlled.
Chapter 3 examines how colonial settlers imagined their relationships with a British ‘homeland’ and a larger British world. By examining the robust English-language print cultures in South Africa and New Zealand, the chapter explores how colonial settlers used the forum of the royal tour to self-fashion communal mythologies and identities in the languages of Britishness and imperial citizenship not only in individual colonies – in New Zealand or the Cape Colony – but also in provincial and urban cores – in the Eastern Cape or Dunedin, for instance. While the royal tours were used by colonial officials and local elites as instruments of propaganda and social control, colonial subjects in the empire often used the languages of Britishness and imperial citizenship to protest at injustices, whether local or imperial, or to challenge racial or ethnic determinism. Irish, South Asian, and Chinese ‘other’ (i.e. non-British, settlers not from the British Isles) settlers used visits as an opportunity to contest their political and social exclusion and to claim the rights of imperial citizens. Over time, political and technological change ended the localism and provincialism that undermined the role of the ‘imperial factor’ in southern Africa and New Zealand, and discourses of nationalism and whiteness came to dominate local politics and traditions at the expense of imperial identities. Nevertheless, British and imperial identities remained – and remain – culturally relevant long past the end of empire.
Chapter 4 explores how a modern politics and mass culture were mobilised by Western-educated respectables of colour in southern Africa and the British Raj to make claim on Britishness and imperial citizenship. In particular, it explores how historical actors such as Francis Z. S. Peregrino, Viswanath Narayan Mandalik, John Tengo Jabavu, and Mohandas Gandhi participated in the networks of a British imperial world and in the making of a British imperial culture. Through the circuits of empire, respectables of colour came to identify themselves as members of a global community of ‘natives’ and Britishers and invested their notions of respectability in the promises of an imperial citizenship. Using the rich resources of independent African and South Asian newspapers, which covered and editorialised the royal tours with enthusiasm and at length, the chapter examines how South African and South Asian respectables claimed a more genuine understanding of British constitutionalism than the governments in Cape Town or Calcutta and through this understanding advocated a non-racial respectable status and an imperial citizenship. It claims a political and intellectual space for colonial subjects of colour in a British imperial world.
Chapter 5 brings the book’s conceptual framework full circle by examining a different kind of ‘royal tour’, the pilgrimage of colonial subjects ‘home’ to Great Britain in order to petition the Queen/King for justice. Culturally imbued with the notion of the Great (White) King/Queen, colonial subjects brought their cases against British or settler governments in the colonies to the metropole in hopes of inspiring imperial intervention against colonial injustices and abuses. Through an examination of two visits by British subjects – the 1884 visit of the Maori King to London and the 1909 delegation in opposition to the Union of South Africa – and their failures to inspire change in imperial policy (in the case of the Union of South Africa) or even an audience (in the case of the Maori king), the chapter demonstrates how ‘imperial networks’ short-circuited when the empire came home. Moreover, the chapter explores the ways imperial culture failed – contrary to the traditional narrative – as a result of the lack of interest and ambivalence of metropolitan politics and culture.
Note on terminology
I have chosen to consistently use ‘British’ and ‘Britishness’, rather than ‘English’ and ‘Englishness’, throughout the work to reflect the general historiographic consensus. Conceptually, Britishness has been understood as more open-ended and less prone to ethnic or racial determinism. Englishness is seen as more ethnically and racially exclusive, representative of a ‘Little Englanderism’ that ignores or rejects the role of the Celtic fringe, of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, in the making of modern Britain and the British Empire as well as the ways that Britishness was appropriated and claimed non-white and non-British people around the world.
I use the term ‘people of colour’ to cover a wide array of origins and ancestries, to explain what might be construed as a negative category of people who understood themselves or were seen as by settlers as non-white and non-European, including indigenous people (who themselves were often the product of ‘mixing’), Indians, and people who saw themselves as a product of multiple ancestries (e.g. Cape ‘Coloured’). Even so vaguely defined, these groupings are still unstable and uncontained, so I will attempt, whenever possible, to use more specific terms and to use identifiers, such as status or profession, that are not racial or ethnic in origin.
It is also important to recognise that group identifications were self-fashioned and imposed by different historical actors. They also changed over time. In the Cape Colony, the chattel slaves of the early nineteenth-century colonial culture were the ‘Cape Malays’ of the second half of the nineteenth century and the ‘Cape Coloureds’ of the twentieth century. I sometimes use contemporary language, both to reflect historical usage and to challenge the ethnic and racial determinism of twentieth-century ethnography. For instance, I describe Moshoeshoe, the paramount chief of modern-day Lesotho, as the ‘Basuto’ king to destabilise Sotho as a natural category and to reflect on the role of Moshoeshoe in the invention of a ‘Basuto’. When I use Xhosa or Zulu, I am referring to a language group and not a timeless tribe of Xhosa or Zulu peoples. I also use ‘South Asian’ and ‘Indian’ interchangeably, not to impose a colonial construct on ‘the colonised’ but to identify someone as a subject of British India, which included the modern nations of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.