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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 5 Establishing the New States, 1902–1903


Chapter 5

Establishing the New States, 1902–1903

Each Troop Head Quarters when settled at its permanent station will fly the Union Jack daily from sunrise to sunset.1

— South African Constabulary General Orders, 21 June 1902

We travelled for about one hundred miles through a wild and lonely country, and during that four days’ trek, putting aside the Constabulary at the posts, we encountered only three white men. Of Kaffirs, however, we saw a fair number on the road, and we passed several kraals full of women and children. It seemed to us that we were in a purely black man’s country. Of the few Boers whose farms are scattered over this region the majority … had so far been afraid to return to their homes. The roofless, gutted homesteads which we passed were, with few exceptions, deserted. No attempt had yet been made to put them in repair, and no crops had been sown. As far as the white population was concerned we were traversing a completely desolated and empty land …

In the Kaffir districts the only Boers who have returned are those whose homesteads are in the immediate vicinity of a police post. The others so far have not ventured to come back to regions which they rightly regard as dangerous to them.2

— E. F. Knight, South Africa After the War: A Narrative of Recent Travel, 1903

As a special correspondent for the Morning Post,...

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