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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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Chapter 1 Planning Reconstruction, (Southern Hemisphere) Winter 1900


Chapter 1

Planning Reconstruction, (Southern Hemisphere) Winter 1900

The position here is so interesting, and so important, for the whole future of the Empire … The struggle has been severer, and for a long time more critical, than any of us foresaw (though I always took a much graver view of it than others) and the world at large will never know quite all the risk we ran. Even now, the war is, in my opinion, not over. The very rapidity of Roberts’s movements, which was necessary, and really saved the situation, involved a certain amount of incompleteness … We shall do it, of course. And then comes the question, how shall we use our opportunity? We can make South Africa British now, if we set the right way to work about it, and there is no sentimental folly at home.1

— High Commissioner Sir Alfred Milner to Sir Edward W. Hamilton, ‘intended for the eye of King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales’, 24 June 1900

With his army behind him, Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, Baron Roberts of Kandahar entered Pretoria, the capital of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR), on 5 June 1900. Five days earlier, his troops had captured Johannesburg, the Transvaal’s largest city. Many of the cities’ inhabitants had already left. The ZAR had called up its citizens into its commando militia system nine months earlier to defend itself by conducting an offensive against the neighboring British self-governing settler colonies of Cape...

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