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Realizing Greater Britain

The South African Constabulary and the Imperial Imposition of the Modern State, 1900−1914


Scott C. Spencer

In anticipation of victory over the two Boer republics in the South African War (1899–1902), British imperial policymakers formed the South African Constabulary (SAC, 1900–1908) to lead reconstruction efforts. Uniquely, policymakers injected two goals of imperial management into the force and its 10,000 men, recruited from the British Isles and settler colonies: integrate the conquered territories into the British Empire and foster an imperial-national adherence to a Greater Britain. Following the war, offi cers and constables attracted the Boers to the empire by suppressing Africans more thoroughly, consistently and systematically than their prior regimes ever had. While some SAC men remained in South Africa following their service, most carried their enhanced white, imperial-national allegiances to the Isles, empire and beyond.

Combining traditional archival with innovative digital research, this book narrates global integration and imperial governance through individuals, from Boy Scout founder Robert Baden-Powell and imperialist Alfred Milner to Canadian Mountie Sam Steele, Irish doctor Edward Garraway and, foremost, thousands of SAC men. The author argues that opportunistic British agents carried the apparatus of the coercive, legible and bureaucratic modern state across the British Isles, the empire and the world, leaving challenging legacies for successor governments and former subjects to confront.

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Notes on Usage


Scholars use a number of terms for the same concepts in British, British Imperial and Southern African history. This book will attempt to stay consistent to the below terms throughout.

The British Isles refers to the islands of Great Britain, Ireland and lesser surrounding isles off the northwestern coast of the Eurasian landmass. Great Britain refers to the island off the northwest coast of Europe, containing the political entities of England, Scotland and Wales. Ireland refers to the island just west of Great Britain. And the United Kingdom comprises the state centered on Parliament at Westminster and the Crown in London. The United Kingdom’s government bureaucracy is centered upon Whitehall in London. British finance is centered upon the City of London.

The white, self-governing settler colonies of the British Empire (Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, Cape Colony and Natal) officially became known as dominions following the 1907 Imperial Conference. As most of this book deals with the pre-1907 period, it refers to these colonies as settler colonies throughout. Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and the (British) East Africa Protectorate (Kenya), while settler colonies, were never dominions and are therefore not included when the collective term settler colonies is used unless specifically noted.

When referring to the desired, increased relationship between the British Isles and settler colonies, no contemporary spoke of the British World, a recent academic neologism. They rather used the term Greater Britain. So will this book.

Contemporaries referred to southern...

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