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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 3 Securing Winning Strategies, 1901–1902


Chapter 3

Securing Winning Strategies, 1901–1902

The Hats are expensive in their first cost, but I estimate that by their superior quality they will outlast the ordinary ‘shoddy’ hat, in a proportion of 1 to 4, and so will be no more expensive in the end. It is essential that the Police should have a Headdress that will distinguish them at once from any other Military force, and this distinction is obtained in the pattern of hat under consideration … These hats had to be obtained in haste, none being available in Army Store, and the men having nothing to wear on their heads … The costs of those items was foreseen in the estimate for clothing and equipping the force, which was submitted to His Excellency.1

— South African Constabulary Inspector-General Robert Baden-Powell to Col. John Hanbury-Williams, military secretary to High Commissioner Milner, 16 February 1901

The ‘Hats’ in question here were the Stetson campaign model, derived from the John B. Stetson Company’s ‘Boss of the Plains,’ the prototypical ‘cowboy’ hat. In 1865 as the American Civil War was ending, Philadelphia hatter John Stetson designed and marketed a new hat for the opening West. Made of durable felt, with a high crown for coolness and a wide brim for protection from the sun and rain, the ‘Boss of the Plains’ soon spread across western North America.2 Today we best know the Stetson campaign model as the hat of the Royal Canadian Mounted...

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