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Maritime Trade and Imperialism, 1801-60

From 1750, India and China were falling behind the West in mechanization. Their share in world manufacturing and trade was shrinking, while their populations continued to grow.

In Muslim countries, populations had also been growing, with jobless peasants migrating to cities. And Muslim enterprises had remained small. (Under Islamic law nothing could be inherited by a single heir.) While non-Muslims had been building bigger private institutions, Islamic law had been preventing this. "Only in the 19th century did Mid-East governments begin adopting secular commercial laws that allowed Muslim-owned enterprises to grow." (NYT Nov 8, 2001)

It was the industrially advanced British who had become most assertive abroad. In 1788 eleven British ships unloaded 1,372 people, 732 of them convicts, at a place they named after Lord Sydney, secretary of state for Britain's colonies. There, in 1796 a naval dockyard was built, providing the Royal Navy a good port, to be visited by whaling ships.

In 1814 the Dutch ceded their colony in South Africa — Cape Colony — to the British. The Dutch became displeased by Britain building a port on the island of Singapore in the early 1820s, close to their possessions in what today is Indonesia.

Around this time, the Burmese Empire was expanding into what today is Bangladesh. The British East India Company was expanding into the same territory, and in 1824 the First Anglo-Burmese War erupted. The Burmese lost. In February 1826, they made peace with the British, giving the British a foothold in Burma.

The British, meanwhile, were settling more people into their Cape Colony. They introduced rudimentary rights for the Cape's black African population and, in 1833, abolished slavery. Dutch farmers in the Cape Colony resented the change and imposition of English language and culture, which started them on what was to be called the Great Trek northward and east out of Cape Colony, taking with them their slaves, their rifles and their one book – the Bible. They believed that whatever land they wanted – taken by violence if necessary — was theirs. And wars with tribespeople — Zulus and others — would follow.

The French in the Pacific

Trade was picking up in the Pacific. In the Hawaiian Islands, war between local kings ended in 1795 after King Kamehameha I invaded Oahu with an armada of 960 wars canoes and 10,000 soldiers and unified the islands (except for the island of Kauai). In 1820, missionaries arrived from the United States, and by 1825 Honolulu was a busy port of trade. US, French and British warships stopped at the islands for supplies, sometimes staying during the winter months.

Regarding the island of Tahiti, it was back in 1789 when the British ship Bounty of mutiny fame visited there. In the early 1800s, war erupted involving Tahiti and surrounding islands (the Society Islands, named by Captain Cook supposedly in honor of Britain's Royal Society). Islanders were passing to each other diseases that had arrived with the Europeans. Arriving also were Protestant missionaries from London. Distress from disease and war won the missionaries serious attention to their teaching, and there were mass conversions in hope of supernatural protections.

In 1817, Tahiti acquired its first printing press, and, in 1819, cotton, sugar and coffee crops were planted. In Tahiti, the missionaries set up a sugar refinery and a textile factory.

France was eager to catch up with the British and Americans in the Pacific. Catholic missionaries supported by France's government and navy carried a message into the Pacific about the Gospels and the glories of France. In 1834, the French navy landed Catholic missionaries in the Gambier Islands, 14 small mountainous islands more than 1600 kilometers (1000 miles) southeast of Tahiti. In 1836, two Catholic missionaries from the Gambier Islands arrived in Tahiti, and the two were arrested and deported. France was displeased and demanded reparations. Six years later a French warship arrived at Tahiti to arrest and deport the English missionary responsible for the deportation of their missionaries. Tahiti's Queen Pomare IV, educated by Protestant British missionaries, resented her loss of power to the French.

The French would declare the Society Islands a French protectorate in 1843. Between 1844 and 1847 bloody battles were fought for freedom from French rule, a war that involved every kingdom in the Society Islands. The freedom fighters requested help from the British, which was not forthcoming. With their superior firepower the French crushed the rebellion.

More Imperial Power by France and Britain

In 1830, France invaded Algeria, until then ruled by the Ottoman Turks. The French were refusing to pay for wheat they had imported and instead took power in Algeria's capital city, Algiers, and they rapidly took control of other coastal communities, claiming its aggressions to be a civilizing mission. In 1840 the French sent in more troops. They described Algeria as an outlet for France's surplus population and a market for France's manufactured products in exchange for Algerian agricultural products. According to Wikipedia, between 1830 and 1872 Algeria's indigenous population was to decline by "nearly one-third.

In 1835, fearing an impending French settlement, Māori people in what today is New Zealand sent a message asking Britain's monarch, William IV, for protection — while also declaring their independence. The British responded by claiming sovereignty over New Zealand and negotiated a treaty with the Māori. New Zealand became a British colony in 1841, while immigration from Britain increased.

The British were selling opium to the Chinese. And, in 1839, China's Manchu government seized 20,000 chests of the stuff (thought of by many as a medicine). The party in power in London, the Whigs, did not want to be accused of failing to protect Britain's commercial interests and it sent a punitive expedition against the Chinese, starting the first Anglo-Chinese war. The greater range of cannon abroad British warships won the war for the British. Despite heroic efforts against the British, China was forced to acknowledge the superiority of Western weaponry, to acknowledge defeat and to concede to British demands. China opened five treaty ports to the British, ceded them control of Hong Kong Island and gave them extraterritoriality (exemption from local law).

But British were not militarily successful in Afghanistan — a ground operation. In 1839, a force of 12,000 British and Indian troops, with elephants, 38,000 camels and a horde of followers, including families, prostitutes, and sellers of opium, rum and tobacco, had reached Kandahar, Ghazni in June and Kabul in August. The British were concerned about a growing Russian influence and presence in Afghanistan, and some of the British soldiers were hoping to show their courage against the Russians. Instead, the British were helpless against incidents of hostility from the Afghans. It is said that the Afghan people had been hospitable to foreigners before the invasion but events and had turned were xenophobic. Britain's appointed political resident at Kabul and been hacked to death. An uprising in that city left 300 of Britain's detachment dead, and when the British pulled out of Kabul their troops applied revenge by blowing up the city's covered marketplace and by going on a spree of looting.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan was in 1843. To a coalition of Sikhs in India the British appeared weak. The Sikhs were confident and well-trained fighters, better armed than other Indians had been. The British had been suspicious and unfriendly toward the Sikhs, and the Sikhs disliked having the British as neighbors. In December the Sikhs attacked the British, beginning the First Sikh War. In three months of tough fighting, Britain's forces won, and in 1846 the Sikhs signed a treaty obliging them to disband most of their military. In 1849, the British defeated a second Sikh rising and annexed the Punjab and territory as far as Peshawar and the Khyber Pass.

In the 1850s, conflict between the British flared up again in China, and it involved the French. There had been hostile attacks against British subjects. The British were dissatisfied concerning improved trade with China. They demanded a renegotiate the treaty and demanded that British merchant companies be allowed in and the opium trade legalized, among other things. In making its point, the British in 1858 captured forts near Tianjin. The Manchu government gave in and signed the Treaties of Tianjin with Britain and France, with Russia and the United States joining in the agreements. The new treaties held that tariff barriers were to be adjusted downward further than previously agreed. China was to pay Britain and France indemnities. The British, French, Russians and the United States won the right to have embassies in Beijing. Eleven more ports were to be open to Western trade, and the Western powers were to have the right to navigate the Yangzi River. The opium trade was legalized. Christians were to be allowed to proselytize and to be guaranteed protection, and Westerners, including businessmen, were to be allowed to hold property in China.

In September 1858, fourteen French gunships, 3,000 men and 300 Filipino troops provided by the Spanish, attacked the port of Tourane (today Da Nang). The French were under orders from Emperor Napoleon III to stop the persecution of missionaries and assure the unimpeded propagation of the Catholic faith. In February the fleet sailed south and captured the poorly defended city of Saigon, with orders to protect the Catholic faith but refrain from territorial gains for France.

In China, the Emperor Xianfeng (in his late twenties) remained hostile to the Westerners. He refused to ratify the treaties of 1858 and he forbade the creation of foreign legations in Beijing. In the summer of 1859 the British returned for treaty ratification, and the Chinese attacked, killing more than 400 Britons and sinking four ships. The British were forced to withdraw while under the cover of fire from a United States naval squadron. A larger British and French force returned in 1860, ransacked the emperor's palaces and took control of Beijing. Queen Victoria was given a Pekingese dog that had been confiscated from one of the palaces, a dog she named Looty. A disappointed Emperor Xianfeng became weakened by debauchery and drugs and died in 1861 at the age of thirty.

CONTINUE READING: the Taiping Rebellion

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