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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 2 Assembling a British-Imperial Constabulary, 1900–1901


Chapter 2

Assembling a British-Imperial Constabulary, 1900–1901

The work of organising with a scratch staff, and under agreement to produce and train a large and efficient force of mounted men for either military or police work, within eight months, was undoubtedly a tough job; at the same time it was a most interesting and joyous one, seeing that the force was to be entirely self-contained, with its own auxiliary branches for its feeding supply, housing, medical treatment, payment, transport, remount, criminal investigation, and this in a far-off country in the midst of a difficult campaign going on around one.

We were asked to have our force complete and in the field, if possible, by June, 1901. Well, we raked in men and officers wherever we could get them, all over the Empire; stock-riders from Australia, farmers from New Zealand, North-West constables and cowboys from Canada, planters from India and Ceylon, R.I. constables from Ireland, and yeomen from England …

In addition to these British contingents we enlisted some six hundred friendly Boers and two thousand native Zulus for police work. A fairly mixed lot, but all of first-class quality.1

— Robert Baden-Powell, initial South African Constabulary Inspector-General, 1933

One of those Australian stock-riders was Harry Freame Trew.2 Born in 1872 in Stawell, Victoria, Trew had planned to join a British Army regiment as an officer. He passed the exams but, with the growing depression in Australia in the early...

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