Colonialism 1849-1880

The United Kingdom had outlawed slave trade in 1807, slavery in 1834. France abolished slavery in 1848. The United Kingdom and France cooperated in patroling Africa's Atlantic coast in order to interrupt the Transatlantic slave trade. The United Kingdom had established Freetown (Sierra Leone), and later Lagos (Nigeria) as settlements for liberated slaves; France founded Libreville (Gabon) for the same purpose. In the Americas, slavery was abolished during the period between 1863 (USA) and 1888 (Brazil). For more details, see chapter abolition of slavery.
As slaves used to be Africa's most profitable 'export product', the European merchants' interest in Africa declined. European-African trade was conducted at coastal forts; there the European companies stored their wares and sold them off to the coastal Africans, who often traded them to tribes further inland, in return for raw materials they traded to the Europeans. This intermediate trade was profitable to the coastal Africans, while the Europeans shunned the risk of traveling into the interior, most of all for fear of diseases such as Malaria.

The abolitionist movement had her origins in the Methodist church. The Methodists, and soon other christian congregations, felt responsible for the liberated slaves settled in Freetown, Liberia and elsewhere. From there, missionaries entered into the African interior, to proselytize there. Simultaneously, western geography discovered Africa as a field of exploration - the interior was a huge blank spot on the map, even the position of the source of the Nile was unknown. Missionaries and explorers wrote report, which were printed in newspapers and magazines and found a large audience.
In these reports, previously unknown civilizations with (from a European perspective) peculiar practices were described, among them polygamy, cannibalism, poison proof, mutilation as form of punishment. It was also discovered, that a brutal slave trade was going on in Africa's interior, serving the African and Arab market; the slave traders were armed with rifles.

The last monopolist colonial company, the (British) East India Company, after greatly extending the area under her rule in the 1840es, was bankrupted by the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-1858 (a blunder, for white officers ordered their Indian subordinates to take bullets out of cartridges using their teeth - the bullets were greased with animal fat; the order was taken as an offense by both Hindu and Muslim soldiers). The EIC ceded her rights and assets in India to the government; India became a crown colony.
The nation pursuing colonial expansion the most was France, in Algeria, the Senegal, Benin, Gabon. the Pacific, in Indochina. Britain declared a protectorate over Lagos (Nigeria). The Netherlands expanded her possessions in the East Indies.
Denmark in 1845 had sold her possessions in India, in 1850 her possessions on the Gold Coast, in both cases to Britain. The Netherlands in 1872 ceded her possessions on the Gold Coast to Britain.
Overall, especially when Africa was concerned, the European powers were pursuing a policy of reluctant expansion. The British colonial office received numerous requests from African and Pacific chieftains asking for British protection; many of these requests were denied (for instance from the Cameroon).

Britain used diplomacy to further the cause of the abolition of the slave trade in Africa. On the west coast, she advocated the plantation of palm oils; in Zanzibar Britain helped introduce the clove; Zanzibar soon dominated the world market.

The discovery of the medical qualities of Quinine, in the treatment of Malaria, considerably reduced the risks European travellers faced in Africa. The emergence of steamships considerably reduced the time a journey from Europe to Africa (and beyond, to Asia and the Pacific) took, the time even further reduced through the Suez Canal (opened in 1869).
The discovery of diamonds in Kimberley, Griqualand West, in 1871 (soon annexed by the Cape Colony) and of gold at the Witwatersrand near Johannesburg in Transvaal showed the mineral wealth Africa had to offer.
Most importantly, the industies of Europe and the US competed for both exclusive access to raw materials and (if possible, protected) markets. King Leopold of Belgium was the first statesman to realize the economic potential of Africa's interior. In cooperation with explorer Henry Morton Stanley, he founded the International Association of the Congo, the nucleus of the Congo Free State.

DOCUMENTS African History Sourcebook (little on the period 1849-1880)
Documents on precolonial Africa (Togo, Kamerun, Zanzibar), from psm-data
REFERENCE J.E. Flint, Growth of European Influence in West Africa in the Nineteenth Century, pp.359-380 in J.F. Ade Ajayi and Ian Espie (ed.), A Thousand Years of West African History, Ibadan U.P. 1965 [G}
Colin McEvedy, The Penguin Atlas of African History 1995, pp.98-111 (years 1840-1885) [G]
Colin McEvedy, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Pacific, Penguin 1998, pp.72-78 [G}
Trevor Owen Lloyd, The British Empire 1558-1995, Oxford UP 1997, KMLA Lib.Sign. 909 L793t
Robert Hudson (ed.), The History Atlas of Asia, NY : MacMillan 1998, pp.108-116; KMLA Lib.Sign. 911.5 B261t

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on November 3rd 2003, last revised on November 16th 2004

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