King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
From Empire to Nationhood

The British Empire

Boer womenBoer womenCovering a third of the world's land surface and incorporating a quarter of the world's population at its height, the Empire posed formidable logistical, administrative and other challenges.

Underpinning the Empire lay the power of the Royal Navy. Spanning the globe, the Navy protected trade routes and the resupply of colonies and guaranteed security.

Britain's Army was conventionally much smaller though its numbers swelled in time of crisis such as during the Crimean War (1854-1856).

Boer War soldiersBoer War soldiersBritish colonial administration therefore often depended on the support of powerful local allies, notably in India.

Hockey in Tibet 1904Hockey in Tibet 1904Such assistance was vital in the pursuit of regional objectives including the containment of Russian imperialism in Central Asia that led to unsuccessful British invasions of Afghanistan from the 1840s and even Tibet in 1903.

Technological superiority was deployed elsewhere to dramatic effect, notably at Omdurman in Sudan where machine gun fire cut down the Mahdi's forces in 1898.

Maharaja ScindiaMaharaja ScindiaThe Boer War, 1899-1902, however, raised serious question marks over the future battle-readiness of the British serviceman compared with rivals such as Germany whose rapid rearmament threatened British naval supremacy and whose economic growth risked leaving the British Empire trailing.

The war anticipated the guerrilla campaigns of the twentieth century while internment camps established by the British to house Boer civilians were a chilling precursor to the Second World War concentration camp.

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