Posts tagged ‘East India Company’

Aug 27, 2020

Break the Chains of Empire: nationalism and independence

The British Empire lasted some 300 years; about the same length of time that the United Kingdom has existed. The British Empire has gone. It is time the remnants of colonialism within the UK were also relegated to the past.

Good morning, Scotland. What is it you want?

Please, sir, I want some more.

What! More!

Yes, sir. I want more.

There is disbelief all round.

You already have devolution. What more could you want?

Independence, sir. I want my independence.

Independence? What nonsense is this? Not everyone can be independent. If everyone was independent nobody would appreciate it.

That’s not fair, sir. I want to be independent.  

Want! Want! It’s not your place to want! You’ll take what you’re given. Who ever heard of such a thing! There are people who make the rules and people whose duty it is to follow our rules. You are the latter. People who want, don’t deserve independence. And that’s the end of it.

The meaning of empire

The British Empire began as the English Empire although it adopted the name British before the Act of Union. England’s imperial expansion began in the 1500s, enabled by its aggressive navy expanded to break into the slave trade. Union in 1707 was sought by England primarily to remove potential support by Scotland for England’s enemy, France – henceforth Edinburgh was denied decision-making powers over foreign affairs and so has that remained. That the Union gave England control over Scottish trade was an additional, if secondary benefit. The Union of 1707 was not set up to benefit Scotland but to protect England politically and economically. And there was no whiff of democracy anywhere about the agreement struck between a few monied interests in Scotland and England’s parliament.

The Union of 1707 colonised Scotland in much the same way England then the United Kingdom colonised other parts of the world over three hundred years. As with its other colonies the Union parliament never envisaged equality between its heart, in London, and authorities in the peripheral parts of its empire. Power lay with London and there it would remain. That was the intention and nothing changed over three hundred years. Devolution of powers has not altered the conception of hierarchy and subordination within the United Kingdom. Within the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are subordinates which are not provided with the same levers of power provided to England.  

The idea the United Kingdom represents equality between the four nations is a chimera. Power lies with Westminster and in Westminster Scotland’s representatives are outnumbered 10:1. There has never been a time Scotland has been able to influence decisions in Westminster. And there never will be a time Scotland will be able to influence decisions made in Westminster, nor will Northern Ireland and Wales ever be placed on an equal footing with England.  

United does not mean equal

Like empires throughout history which have risen and declined so has the British Empire. Empires establish themselves when in a position to wield power against weaker nations and can crumble when their dictum of might is right is questioned by the powerless within their dominions.  

When under threat empires tighten their grip on the reins of power through brutality, corruption and threat. Opposition is condemned as treachery – anti-patriotic. In the case of the United Kingdom, loyalty means Britishness and Britishness has always been largely based on Englishness.

Not only does Scotland have no power whatsoever at the heart of England’s rump empire, the United Kingdom, for most of the past 300 years of its existence Scotland has scarcely been considered. Similarly with Wales and Northern Ireland – their representation at Westminster is as tokenistic as Scotland’s. Influence they have none. The populations in the three peripheral areas of the England’s rump empire are demeaned, patronised and the butt of humour as demonstrated in national ‘pet-names’- the equivalent of the racist term ‘boy’ in farther-flung parts of the empire – Scots are Jocks; Irish are Paddies; Welsh are Taffies. Jocks, Paddies and Taffies are invariably depicted as lacking sophistication, feckless, mean, chippy, grievance monkeys – ungrateful for the protection the ‘broad shoulders’ of the empire/UK affords them.  Empires evolve cultural myths. Given the hierarchical nature of empires it is the interests and culture of the dominant state that come to embody them.  Cultural values of the peripheries are defined as archaic curiosities and sources of derision and humour which tend to be abandoned in favour of those of the dominant power.  

Faced with ingratitude/challenge from within the peripheral nations the dominant power tends to act more aggressively. Troops might be sent in/ stationed in the troublesome periphery. We see this across the world and within the Union the population of Scotland was threatened and subdued by General Wade’s army in the 18th century. Empires might impose control through more sophisticated means such as installing bureaucracies into peripheral areas for greater control in parts far away from the centre of power. A recent example of this type of imperious incursion is Queen Elizabeth House in Edinburgh, embedding Westminster-rule into the heart of Scotland in defiance of devolution and meant as a visible reminder to Scotland of who really is in charge; and it is not the Scottish people or their own parliament. 

It is an observation often made that the farther away populations are from the centre of power the less the centre represents their interests. Westminster’s Queen Elizabeth House may be a recognition of this but given that Scotland has never figured in its consideration of what is best for the Union as opposed to what suits south-east England it is more likely this hub is the equivalent of General Wade’s force – intimidation and reminder that authority rests with London.

Where threats to empire exist but are less threatening to the dominant power degrees of autonomy are sometimes used to diminish calls for independence. This gives an impression of a benevolent centre of power willingly sharing responsibilities but powers transferred are an illusion for the centre of empire retains the ability to withdraw those same powers whenever it decides. Remember the Union like any empire is a hierarchy in which ultimate authority is retained by the dominant nation; democracy is limited to partial self-government in peripheral areas. Democracy under the Union favours England’s needs and ambitions above those of other parts of the UK through the makeup of the Houses of Parliament and chain of command of government based in London.    

India was the British Empire’s greatest source of wealth. Britain’s ransacking of it began when England set up the East India Company in 1599 and by the 1700s Britain was imposing taxes on India. By stealth greater and greater controls were imposed until eventually Britain ruled India directly, governing it with a rod of iron and keeping the ‘peace’ through a policy of divide-and-rule in which divisions between Hindus and Muslims were encouraged.  A period known as the British Raj, notorious for luxury and moral decay lasted from 1858 to 1947. This was rule from London to benefit London, the heart of empire. Rarely were native authorities and peoples consulted on any matter. When the British prime minister declared war against Germany in 1939, the announcement was made without consultation with Indian ministers although India was expected to provide millions of troops and provisions for the war effort. High-handed, disrespectful, racist and xenophobic – qualities demonstrated by the British Empire.

Sick of centuries of exploitation by the racist empire, Indians demanded self-determination instead of being administered by London. In London this was regarded as outrageous ingratitude. Lord Linlithgow, the Empire’s man-in-charge in India at the time, a staunch British unionist, threatened India by further inflaming the very internal divisions that London had so adeptly used in the past to keep India in its place. He and London were implicated in the deaths of millions from famine in Bengal in 1943 because of Britain’s policy of destroying food supplies and requisitioning of boats and other means of transport that prevented the movement of goods and food within India. Ruthless and heartless government by Westminster encouraged support for the Quit India movement that demanded an end to British rule. It’s spokesman Mahatma Gandhi said,   

“I discovered that I had no rights as a man because I was an Indian.”

The Empire struck back. Gandhi and fellow Indian Congress members were arrested and imprisoned. Press censorship intended to silence the independence movement and the Empire’s human rights abuses could not happen now with social media but then lies spread about India’s independence movement were fed to a lackey press.  

There are different forms of nationalism just as there are different forms of democracy in the world. Empires exist to benefit a tiny portion of their populations. When people grow sick of being oppressed for the benefit of the few at the heart of empire they try to change the political structure to better reflect their interests and needs. Empires by their nature are parasitic, sucking the life-blood out of the peripheral areas they govern. So nationalist movements emerge offering hope in the shape of government that will take more cognisance of the desires of the affected people. John Maclean the great socialist advocated Scottish nationalism as the path to socialism and a better world for Scots.  

As more Indians saw through the desperate dirty tricks employed by the British Empire so the clamour for independence grew – for India to govern itself in its own interests, not those of the Empire/UK. The Empire/UK struck out – 1,000 Indians were killed during protests and movement leaders imprisoned (Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, died in jail.)  The Empire/UK lost the people’s respect. Once that has gone it is a matter of time before any empire falls. For 300 years India had been subjugated by the British Empire/UK. Soon, Pakistan, too became independent.

The British Empire was once the alpha power and London the alpha capital. This is no longer the case. The Empire created through violence and threat declined because of its arrogance, corruption, xenophobia and disrespect for its peripheral areas. Yes, it was Scots who largely ran the British Empire. It has been said this was because Scots were better educated than in other parts of the UK. Perhaps there is truth in that. It may also have been because educated ambitious Scots had few career opportunities available to them within Scotland because of how Scotland’s infrastructure was run down so that the majority of high-powered jobs were created/preserved for the centre of UK power, London, and Etonian Oxbridge friends of friends in the capital. That Scots participated to a high degree in the British Empire is neither here nor there. Scotland as a nation was as much a victim of the imperial motivations of London as other peripheral parts of the Empire. And while other colonies have won their independence, Scotland remains trapped in a Union founded on inequality.

The British Empire’s decline left behind a debtor United Kingdom, pressurised by the USA because of world war debt to open up access to its international markets. The rump of Empire/UK that remains – the union of the UK – still exhibits the predatory characteristics shared by all empires. They are ingrained in it. The alpha power lashes out whenever its authority is challenged. Whereas India and other former Empire nations were subjected to brutal repression in response to their demands for independence Scotland it is supposed will be subjected to a thrashing by propagandists for the UK. Threats of disaster and failure; of ingratitude have been and will increasingly be made.

Empires resist their loss of power. The mythical hand of friendship extended from the centre of empire to the peripheries is always in the end a fist. Threats escalate as an empire defends its authority. The UK built on violence and threats will die issuing still more threats meant to undermine confidence in the subordinate nation’s future success.

But as India proved, lying and threats, corruption and moral decay, far from saving a venal order leads to its demise. Once people stop believing the indoctrination; once they see it for what it is propaganda concocted to preserve inequalities of the Union/empire they have won – by realising they are the means of changing the world.

Nov 3, 2017

There’s nothing like the smell of xenophobia in the morning

The Telegraph has run a piece by its digital editor on something very topical, or would have been more than 300 years ago,  under the title  “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” – not many pejorative terms used here, well, not quite all pejorative.

How much the derogatory title is down to a sub-editor with a grudge or the author I’ve no idea and quite why this piece was run is curious for it adds nothing of historical value to the account of this centuries-old venture but with its disparaging title appears as an excuse to have a go at the incompetent Scots. I was not impressed by the character Oliver has chosen to quote in his article on the subject of the Panama isthmus -“you can’t trust the Indians” he says, “with a glint in his eye” as he describes the deaths of hundreds of illegal immigrants in the area. I’m getting that smell again.

The Darien venture runs something like this. Towards the end of the 1600s a group of Scots with some cash behind them planned to establish overseas trading posts with the intention of colonising just like their neighbours the English were doing only the English had got in first and had erected barriers to other nations trading by the imposition of its Navigation Acts.

England’s Navigation Acts of 1651 were protectionism on the high seas. By applying them English colonies and places not colonised had their commerce restricted and were banned from trading in most circumstances except through English vessels and companies. The Acts were enforced by England’s powerful gunboats. The intention was to accrue more wealth for England and to develop London as the world’s powerhouse. Needless to say not everyone was happy with England’s high-handed policies which, in part, stoked resentments among the colonists in America eventually leading to the American declaration of independence from Britain.

While England sought to dominate trade Scotland endeavoured to establish its own merchant enterprise abroad and in 1695 the Company of Scotland for trade with Africa and the Indies was created with monies raised in Scotland and in England. Immediately alarm bells rang in London at the prospect of this mercantile challenge that might impact on the East India Company and aware of the unease south of the border the Scottish company looked at setting up a merchant colony on the other side of the world, around Panama.

The description of the Darien isthmus had been greatly misrepresented by a Welshman with a huge imagination and proved not to be the opportunity he sold it as. If the land was challenging for the Scots who sailed there to establish their trading post the determination of the English to scupper them was as great if not greater for England’s colonies in America and the West Indies were forbidden to trade with the Scots. There is no mention in the piece of the vehemence of England’s active opposition to the Scots e.g that survivors of Darien were denied help when they landed at Jamaica, an English colony, seeking help. When Oliver states “the English still refused to offer any support” he doesn’t quite get to the nub of its wrecking policy.

Oliver refers to the Scots angering “the enemy” not in his view the English but the Spanish who had colonised what England hadn’t in this part of the world. And he can’t help reveal his surprise that in a naval skirmish between the Scots and the Spanish the Scots came out victorious – “an unlikely victory” writes Oliver, dispassionately. Aye, too wee, too feckless.

Vast amounts of Scottish wealth were lost with Darien. Lost to those who had money which excluded the majority of the Scottish population and if there’s something that drives those with fortunes it is the need to preserve if not build on those fortunes so they were open to persuasion to offer up Scotland’s independence as a nation in return for personal gratuities. Even today’s tawdry politicians neck-deep in sleaze and corruption might not quite sell out a whole nation. Well, might.

What the people of Scotland wanted did not come into the reckoning when there was an opportunity to recoup some of the assets lost through Darien. What the people wanted was for Scotland to retain its independence but when did the people matter?

Oliver ploughs on. “The English were blamed for the expedition’s abject failure.” Perish the thought. Surely they must have looked at the evidence. Perish the thought twice.

As I wrote at the outset I don’t know why this article was written other than to take another pop at Scotland – to highlight the ineffectual Scot not quite up to the mark. As for that misguided rascal William Paterson, a director of the Company of Scotland, he went on to found the Bank of England – but Oliver makes no mention of this – well it would be a shame to spoil the damning narrative.

Oliver dismisses suggestions from historians that Darien might have been a success were it not for the fierce opposition it faced from England- he doesn’t explain why so readers are left to surmise it was because Scots have failure built-in.

Not highlighted in the piece:

1) England’s wars with France had seriously damaged Scotland’s mercantile economy.

2) England’s Navigation Laws were aggressively protectionist and rigorously upheld on the high seas by its vast navy preventing Scots pursuing trade.

3) Initially individual English people were found keen to invest in Darien (presumably they weren’t all ineffectual failures) but were strongly pressurised by the government in London to withdraw their money so that England could keep Spain as an ally while it (England) was at war with France (again.)

The financial shock felt in the pockets of Scottish nobles, many of them parliamentarians, took Scotland into a Union with England. There was no popular support for this, quite the contrary, and it was a cynical self-serving betrayal of the Scottish people. As for the London government it was keen on the union because Scotland was too friendly with France for England’s liking and Scotland was seen as a potential backdoor into England for France. And for those who argue the union was of greater value to Scotland than England the response is that if that were true England would not have entered into it. England was fiercely protective of its own power and status. England wanted to shut down Scotland’s relationship with France, it wanted to absorb Scotland’s exports and it wanted that immensely valuable resource it has been exploiting for 300 years Scotland’s strapping young men to fight in its never-ending wars with the enemies it kept making.

Those same people sneered at in “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” went on, as Paterson did, to start up the Bank of England and become core administrators in the vast East India Company till eventually Scots ran it along with many of the colonies that shaped the British Empire which is strange for a nation that was a ship of fools a few short years before.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/central-america/panama/articles/darien-scheme-scotland-only-colony/

Jan 14, 2017

Good subjects, good men and good Christians – Dr Andrew Bell’s Madras system of education (and the blackguard Joseph Lancaster)

dr-bell-portrait

Andrew Bell was born in St Andrews in 1753 to a wig maker and his wife. He graduated from St Andrew’s University in mathematics and natural philosophy became a minister with the Church of England and is best known for pioneering a teaching method known as the Madras System.

Whereas in times previous educated Scotsmen took themselves off to the Continent to further their education their lesser educated counterparts were often found in foreign parts fighting wars in defence of Britain’s interests abroad. Andrew sailed to America, working as a tutor in Virginia before returning home to Scotland to avoid becoming embroiled in America’s war for independence from Great Britain in which many of his fellow Scots fought (on both sides.)

Early in 1787 Bell turned up in Madras in India where the East India Company was trying to establish a school to educate the many orphans and ‘distressed’ male children of European soldiers garrisoned there. The East India Company coughed up half the amount required to establish a school with the remainder coming from voluntary subscriptions.

bells-madras-school

East India Company school run by Dr Andrew Bell

Dr Andrew Bell was appointed its superintendent and being a nice sort of guy he refused to take any salary for the job which was a reasonable 1200 pagodas or £480. Without further ado he set about his task to instil into his young charges the virtues of diligence, industry, veracity, honesty and, hopefully, a little bit of knowledge.

Whether from necessity or because Bell did not get on with adults nearly so well as he did with children he established an ingenious method of teaching using the best pupils, taught by him, to disseminate what they learnt to their fellow scholars. In Scotland we know this method as pupil-teacher practice common in the 19th century which, presumably, was based on Bell’s scheme.

Children taught by Bell initially learned to write in sand, something he had seen done elsewhere in India, in a school in Malabar. All instruction was done slowly and methodically, ensuring each pupil mastered the first elements before being allowed to go onto the next. Reading was taught using single syllable words and only when they were mastered could the pupil advance to double syllables and beyond. Perhaps there are lessons for schools today in this approach.

Possibly out of expediency Bell encouraged the children to do things for themselves and so they learned self-sufficiency and simple skills ; they had to rule their own paper to help keep their writing straight and made their own pens – quills from feathers for dipping into ink. Each pupil kept a register of his own progress which helped with keeping a track of how well each was doing but also informed the teacher who could not have kept so precise a record with so many under his supervision.

A black book was kept by Bell in which offences were recorded and each week these would be read out and the children asked to judge what should happen to the offenders. The very process of establishing responsibility meant that the system worked as a preventative method of keeping control so that there were few cases ever requiring punishment.

madras-college-bells

Three bells on Madras College’s school motto

There is no doubt that when Bell took up this role in Madras he never approached it as simply a job with a decent salary attached but as a vocation through which he took children whose futures were precarious as orphans and provided them with a basic education which was an opportunity for him to create: good subjects, good men, and good Christians.

Dr Bell’s system of instruction came to be known as mutual instruction or the monitorial system because of the drip-down methods of teaching he employed.

He stayed at his Madras school for seven years but was forced to give up and return to Britain when his health began to suffer in India. He clearly loved the children in his care, referring to them as his own.

 ‘These children are, indeed, mine by a thousand ties!’

Years later forty-four of his former pupils signed a letter thanking him for the care he showed them as their school teacher.

madras-bell

Back home, Bell published a pamphlet called, An Experiment in Education, based on his experiences at the Male Asylum in Madras with the intention of promoting his method of teaching more generally – suggesting what came to be known as the Madras system could be adopted both by schools and parents undertaking instruction.

From Scotland Bell moved to England and there his ideas were picked up by a couple of schools at the end of the 18th century and from that point the Madras system had people talking.

One man who was listening to the talk was a fellow called Joseph Lancaster. In 1803 this Lancaster published a pamphlet called,

Improvements in Education, as it respects the Industrious Classes of the Community; containing a short Account of its Present State, Hints towards its Improvement, and a detail of some Practical Experiments conducive to that End.

A Quaker, Lancaster saw Bell’s methods as a way of educating the children of mechanics in England in reading, writing and arithmetic cheaply. He adapted Bell’s scheme, adding incentives to learn – prizes and badges of merit and through promoting some boys to become monitors.

Then he got above himself and went onto claim he had invented the whole system with the ‘blessing of Divine Providence’ no less! and referred to his as the ‘British or Royal Lancasterian System’. And he had the audacity to warn off others from pirating ‘his’ work – and as he had pirated Bell’s work in the first place he knew the risks.

His Lancasterian system he suggested could mean 1000 kids could be taught by one master alone and naturally schools took up his system and it became very popular.

As for Bell he continued teaching in a quiet way and, still thinking of the interests of others, he and his wife were instrumental in inoculating people in the area of Dorset in which they lived with the recently discovered smallpox vaccination. Despite Lancaster’s attempt to claim Bell’s system of education, Bell’s was recognised and adopted for the teaching of the poor through Church of England schools in England and around the British Empire.

madras-college-st-andrews

Madras College in St Andrews

Bell died wealthy and used his wealthy to establish schools in Scotland; Madras College in his native St Andrews and the High School in Cupar, initially called Madras Academy. Various other schools were named after him.

He died on 27 January 1832 aged 80 years and was buried in Westminster Abbey by which time his method of education was employed in 10,000 schools.

Bell’s innovatory teaching methods, founded in India, became important planks in the education of children during the 19th century until the Education Acts came early in the 1870s. In Scotland the Bell’s monitorial system was replaced by the Glasgow system but that’s another story.