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Our Colonies

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Until the vast commercial expansion of recent years, the population of Great Britain was obviously in excess of the means of subsistence. Employment was often difficult to be obtained; wages were scanty; food was scarce. To aggravate the evil, the country refused to receive food from abroad, and men were suffered to go fasting in time of peace, lest they should become dependent on foreign supplies, and so be obliged to starve in time of war An isolated, self-sufficing national life was the prevailing idea, and a relationship with foreign countries hostile when it was not neutral. In Britain were multitudes of half-employed, half-famished men and women. Beyond the sea were continents of rich land lying unused by man. The idle people and the waste lands had merely to be brought together, and the giant evil of the time would be redressed. But this expedient was too simple and natural to be readily adopted.

During the earlier years of the century there was so little emigration, that in 1815 only two thousand persons quitted the kingdom. From that time, when peace had been restored with America, and increase of misery came as the result of the long European war, the tendency to emigrate grew in strength year by year. In 1852 it had reached its great maximum of three hundred and sixty-eight thousand. During the sixty years beginning with 1815, seven and a quarter million of persons have left the British Islands to find homes beyond the sea. Of these, the larger proportion, probably three-fourths, have passed away from British citizenship, and settled in the great republic. The remainder have gone to our own colonies. While the thirteen American states were still dependencies, England was in the practice of sending a few of her convicts there. Occasionally political offenders were disposed of thus, but more frequently they were mere vulgar criminals who were sent. The war of independence stopped this convenient outlet, at the same time that the wretchedness which that war caused stimulated the increase of criminals. The efforts of John Howard had disclosed the insufficiency of prison accommodation. Some new method of disposing of criminals had to be found. England had just taken possession of a huge territory, to which the name of New South Wales was given, and she determined to send her criminals there. For half a century this unwholesome practice was continued, and the foundations of new empires in the Southern Seas were laid by the very refuse of the population. Colonization became in consequence discredited. Reputable people would not take up their abode in a land whose inhabitants had for the most part committed grave crimes.

In course of years, as the colonies increased in strength, the honest inhabitants refused to allow their territory to be longer denied by the convicted ruffianism of the parent state. The idea of convict settlements abroad was finally abandoned. Colonization recovered its respectability, and the stream of immigration assumed at once important dimensions.

The largest of our colonial possessions are on the North American continent, where we rival in area the great republic itself. The Dominion of Canada is destined in process of years to become a powerful empire (It is probable that the progress of Canada in the future will be greatly more rapid than it has been in the past. A few years ago the Dominion of Canada acquired from the Hudson Bay Company a territory situated far in the north-west, and covering an area equal to three-fourths that of Europe. This enormous region proves to be of marvellous fertility. Cultivated plants are said to attain their maximum of productiveness near the extreme northern limit of their growth. The production of wheat in Manitoba illustrates this natural law. In the valley of the Mississippi the average yield of wheat is fourteen bushels per acre. The soil of Manitoba yields forty bushels under careless tillage, and without the application of manure. During recent years the capabilities of this magnificent region have attracted much attention. The population has grown rapidly, and the inflow of settlers continues to increase. The Canadian Pacific Railway, which crosses the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific, now places this region in direct communication with both seaboards. In the not remote future Britain may draw her supplies of grain mainly from her own dependency; and Canada may rise to importance and authority by the development of the boundless resources which have been intrusted to her); but thus far her progress is extremely inferior to that of the states which touch her frontier on the south. As yet she bears a population little larger than that of London, scattered over an area greater than that of all Europe. She has never been able to make herself so attractive to men in quest of a new home as the United States, and even as the Australian colonies do. Of late, few persons have left the mother country for Canada (The number has increased greatly since 1875, when it was only 17,378. In 1887 it was 44,424), and even of these a considerable proportion cross the frontier, and settle finally in the United States. For the number of her people, Canada maintains an important foreign commerce. She supplies the world with grain, timber, and other products of her soil; receiving in exchange the iron manufactures and textile fabrics of Europe. Her exports are sixteen million sterling; her imports, nineteen million. So free are the colonies to frame their own commercial arrangements, that not more than one-half of this trade is done with the mother country.

The extension by Great Britain of her dominion over vast subjugated populations is without parallel in the history of the human family. She bears rule over fully one-seventh of the surface of the globe and one-fourth of its population. Her possessions abroad are in area seventy-six times larger than the parent state. She owns three million and a half of square miles in America, one million and three quarters in Asia, half a million in Africa, and three and a quarter million in Australasia. These enormous acquisitions have been gained chiefly within the last hundred years. There are fifty-four separate colonies or groups of colonies - varying in area from Gibraltar with its two square miles, to Canada with three million, and a half. Their population aggregates eighteen million, and continues steadily to increase. At one time they were all governed in London, and it was held that they existed solely for the advantage of the parent state. But all this has been long abandoned. In all colonies where self-government is possible, the colonists elect their own parliament, ordinarily by universal suffrage. The chief executive officer is a governor appointed by the crown.

Our important colonies have almost ceased to be burdensome to us, as they now bear the charges of their own government and defence. They have also ceased to be specially advantageous to us, and they do not scruple to impose protective duties upon our products when it seems good to them. In an age when the lust of territorial conquest has died out, they do not require that our strength should guarantee them against invasion. Schemes for combining Great Britain and her colonies in one grand federation have lately been discussed. These proposals may never have any practical result; but they are valuable as indicating a desire to preserve and draw closer the bonds of union between the mother country and her dependencies in all parts of the world. In the meantime the connection has ceased to be of political value. But so long as a perfectly good understanding exists between the mother country and those of her children who are building up new empires abroad, so long the alliance will be a source of pleasure to both. When it ceases to be agreeable to either, its discontinuance will be unattended with difficulty. The vast folly of 1776 will not be repeated.

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Pictures for Our Colonies

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