The British Empire in Kipling's Day
In Kipling's day, it was said "the sun never sets on the British Empire". Indeed, by the late 19th century, it covered nearly one quarter of the land surface of the earth, and counted more than a quarter of the world's population.
Author: David Cody, Associate professor of English, Hartwick College
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The British Empire
We ought to acquire some sense of the size of the British Empire during Kipling's day. During the late eighteenth century, the British Empire already included England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and large parts of India and North America — including of course the thirteen American colonies which revolted in 1775, and, in a war lasting until 1783, eventually won their independence.
Loyalists who emigrated from the new United States to Canada greatly increased the population there, however, and by 1788 the settlement of New South Wales in Australia by transported convicts (who could no longer be sent to the United States) was well underway.
Walter Crane's Imperial Federation: Map Showing the Extent of the British Empire in 1886, published by Maclure & Co. as a Supplement to The Graphic, 24 July 1886. Credit: Daniel Crouch Rare Books.
England's wars with the French under Napoleon (1799-1815) added more territory - most notably the Cape of Good Hope in Africa - to the Empire, and various treaties with France and with other nations in succeeding years resulted in the acquisition by the English of islands and territories in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific: they gained, for example, control of Trinidad, Ceylon, Tobago, Mauritius, St. Lucia, Malta, Malacca, and Singapore, and the British East India Company, by hook and by crook (which is to say by conquest and by treaty) continued to gain control of more and more of India.
New Zealand came under formal British control in 1840, though the native Maoris resisted - as the Boers did in South Africa in 1881 and 1899-1902, and as the Mahdi did in 1884 in the Sudan. Fiji was acquired in 1874, Papua in 1884, and Tonga in 1900.
After the Great Mutiny in 1857, the authority of the East India Company was superseded by direct government control, which was extended over the Punjab, British Baluchistan, and Burma.
British influence expanded in the Mediterranean, and among the sheikdoms of Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Through Cyprus, Gibralter, and Malta, Britain maintained a link through the Mediterranean with India. In the Far East the Empire developed the federated Malay states, established itself in Borneo, acquired Hong Kong, and trading rights in territories on the Chinese mainland and at Shanghai.
In Africa, after 1882 Britain ruled Egypt and controlled the Sudan and parts of Nigeria: various British companies operated in and effectively controlled what are now Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi.
By the end of the nineteenth century, then, during the period when Kipling became the great Imperial poet, propagandist, and apologist — or, as George Orwell put it, "the prophet of British Imperialism during its expansionist phase," the Empire extended over nearly one quarter of the land surface of the world, and included rather more than a quarter of the world's population.
Nearly all of the component parts of the Empire, however, either before or after the World Wars, would eventually acquire some degree of political autonomy (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, for example, became "dominions" rather than colonies) and, eventually, independence: after the end of the Second World War the Empire had effectively ceased to exist.