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Realizing Greater Britain

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

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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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Prologue: Stampeding Across Borders, 1895–1899

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Prologue

Stampeding Across Borders, 1895–1899

Then there was my English friend who had just been recruited for the mounted police, who said he knew all about the Boers: ‘They are a beastly lot of coarse and ignorant peasants; they are just as bad as the natives. It is outrageous that the [British] government allows them to have their absurd republic. They stand in the way of progress; they never wash; their beds are full of fleas; they are cruel; they commit abominable crimes; they are degenerate, and can’t shoot any more as they once did.’

That man was sincere in what he said, so was my Boer friend … ‘These damned English … think that no one has any rights but themselves. They come into my country like pirates and adventurers; they care for nothing but gold, and when they have got their pockets full they go away again to spend it in England. We don’t want people like that; they may threaten and bully all they like, but they sha’n’t get what they want so long as I can prevent it … They stole our land from us when we were weak. Now we are alive to our danger; we are united; we have plenty of ammunition; we can shoot straight; we know our country. So let them come on …’1

— Poultney Bigelow, ‘White Man’s Africa’, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, November 1896

New York Times correspondent Poultney Bigelow left Southampton for...

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