British Colonies


Yuriko Cheng

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Nov 7, 2020
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HI, I've got a question not quite related to the Titanic itself but more about the era in which she existed. What were the attitudes and views of the British people towards the overseas colonies?

I'm particularly interested in the Asian colonies, especially the Straits Settlements (modern-day Southeast Asia, where Penang and Singapore are located). The Straits Settlements were made a Crown Colony sometime in the mid-19th century and at one point they were said to be the crowning jewel in the British Empire. Since the British government recognised the political and economic importance of the Straits Settlements, how did this affect the way the ordinary British people viewed the colonies and their native people?

(Sub-question: I always had the impression that out of all the colonies, India was the 'favourite child' of Britain. Were there any differences in the way India was perceived as compared to the Straits, which were also viewed quite favourably by the British?)
 

Jim Currie

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HI, I've got a question not quite related to the Titanic itself but more about the era in which she existed. What were the attitudes and views of the British people towards the overseas colonies?

I'm particularly interested in the Asian colonies, especially the Straits Settlements (modern-day Southeast Asia, where Penang and Singapore are located). The Straits Settlements were made a Crown Colony sometime in the mid-19th century and at one point they were said to be the crowning jewel in the British Empire. Since the British government recognised the political and economic importance of the Straits Settlements, how did this affect the way the ordinary British people viewed the colonies and their native people?

(Sub-question: I always had the impression that out of all the colonies, India was the 'favourite child' of Britain. Were there any differences in the way India was perceived as compared to the Straits, which were also viewed quite favourably by the British?)
Hi Yuriko.
I am am a fair-skinned octogenarian, born in Scotland in the 1930s I spent a great deal of my life right up until the turn of this century visiting and working in the very areas you mention. Fortunately, I still have most of my "marbles" and my memory is still sharp. My time of knowledge began just after WW2. That event changed the world, but life for ordinary individuals just after it was then, still organised as it was back in the time of Titanic.
In Colonial times the Colonies were run in exactly the same way as was the UK... i.e. on the basis of wealth and class. The what was called "common five eights" did all the work for as little pay as stopped short of slavery. I, as a boy and all "native peasant" boys like me, were taught to tip our caps to our superiors. or as they were termed then "betters".
Company Owners were like Gods and hereditary Aristocrats were just short of living Gods. Those of our class who aspired to higher a position of authority, changed our accents and emulated our betters in the hope that somehow we would get a position in life which would allow us to join the ranks of the "betters".
It might surprise you to know that, apart from port cities where foreign ships were to be found - up until the beginning of the 50's - the majority of ordinary folk who had never served or worked abroad had never even seen anyone who did not look like them. All they knew of foreign lands was from school books, and that they contained foreigners who did not look or talk like us.
In fact, religious bigotry was what passed for racism in the northern British "Colonies".;)
What might surprise you even more is that even to this day, in certain places, the local Landowner is talked of using the revered title "The Laird".

As for the difference attitudes of Colonialists to India as compared to farther East? I suspect that the British political attitude to the people of India was due to the length of association, its value and the methods of Governance. Hpe this helps you quest.
 
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(Sub-question: I always had the impression that out of all the colonies, India was the 'favourite child' of Britain. Were there any differences in the way India was perceived as compared to the Straits, which were also viewed quite favourably by the British?)
Well at least one author decribed it as "The Jewle in the Crown". So yes I believe that many considered it as the favorite. Where it fell on the economic scale for England as compared to China I dont know. A question for Mr Currie...did any british shipping line have a lock on that part of the world or was it too big for one company?
 

Jim Currie

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(Sub-question: I always had the impression that out of all the colonies, India was the 'favourite child' of Britain. Were there any differences in the way India was perceived as compared to the Straits, which were also viewed quite favourably by the British?)
Well at least one author decribed it as "The Jewle in the Crown". So yes I believe that many considered it as the favorite. Where it fell on the economic scale for England as compared to China I dont know. A question for Mr Currie...did any british shipping line have a lock on that part of the world or was it too big for one company?
Hello Steven.
The Jewel in The Crown was word-play alluding to India and a diamond in the crown of the British Monarchs called the Koh-i-Noor.
Many British shipping Companies traded to India but by far the biggest was BI... Brittish India Company. My own company - Anchor Line ,also had regular liner runs to India right up until I left them in 1965.
 

Yuriko Cheng

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Hi Mr Currie, thanks for the info! I'd love to hear more about your adventures around the world one day, if possible :D

I find it fascinating that religion was the big divisor in Europe rather than skin colour. I would have thought, because of the White Man's Burden, that there would be at least some form of condescension the whites directed towards the natives. Although, perhaps it wasn't as pronounced in the Titanic era because of King Edward's relative open-mindedness. In fact, I remember that one of the Thai kings at the time, King Chulalongkorn I believe, was himself educated in one of England's most prestigious universities. That might have helped to dispel the myth of the 'backward barbarian'—but then again, to be fair he was a king and like you said the Britains worshipped the aristocratic class.

Another question that came to mind, if you happen to know the answer: were there regular passenger runs to the colonies in Asia as well? I vaguely remember something about the P&O, but I believe the only direct routes went to India or Australia. How would one travel from Britain to, say, Malaya, as a passenger/tourist? Would one have to transfer to a different ship halfway, and what lines offered passenger crossings into the Far East?
 

Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Hi Mr Currie, thanks for the info! I'd love to hear more about your adventures around the world one day, if possible :D

I find it fascinating that religion was the big divisor in Europe rather than skin colour. I would have thought, because of the White Man's Burden, that there would be at least some form of condescension the whites directed towards the natives. Although, perhaps it wasn't as pronounced in the Titanic era because of King Edward's relative open-mindedness. In fact, I remember that one of the Thai kings at the time, King Chulalongkorn I believe, was himself educated in one of England's most prestigious universities. That might have helped to dispel the myth of the 'backward barbarian'—but then again, to be fair he was a king and like you said the Britains worshipped the aristocratic class.

Another question that came to mind, if you happen to know the answer: were there regular passenger runs to the colonies in Asia as well? I vaguely remember something about the P&O, but I believe the only direct routes went to India or Australia. How would one travel from Britain to, say, Malaya, as a passenger/tourist? Would one have to transfer to a different ship halfway, and what lines offered passenger crossings into the Far East?
Hi Yuriko,
Perhaps you might get to see The Adventures of Wee Jim - Part 2 - The Captain's heart was roasted" if I ever finish it. :D :D :D
The main Company running east of India were Alfred Holt - The Blue Funnel Line and the one you mentioned - Pacific and Orient Line - P&O. There is anothers aspect of the Titqanic era... it was only a short time since Victoria died and rgw UKand Colonies all had incredible Victorian values...these are the values scorned upon nowadays.
In fact , up until the time of decimalization, UK coins had "Ind Imp" stmped on them (Emperor of India).
 
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Hello Steven.
The Jewel in The Crown was word-play alluding to India and a diamond in the crown of the British Monarchs called the Koh-i-Noor.
Many British shipping Companies traded to India but by far the biggest was BI... Brittish India Company. My own company - Anchor Line ,also had regular liner runs to India right up until I left them in 1965.
Ok thanks for the info. You know I don't ever recall anybody (US Navy guys) ever talking about port calls to India. Everywhere else but never India. I'm sure they probably did but I don't remember hearing it.
 

Yuriko Cheng

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Nov 7, 2020
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Many British shipping Companies traded to India but by far the biggest was BI... Brittish India Company.
So a quick Google search of the BI tells me that the line ran a direct service from the UK to India. From India one could travel to the Straits, stopping at Penang, Singapore, Java or Siam (modern-day Thailand). BI ships also stopped in China and Japan, though the latter was only made a port of call. in 1907. BI ships were primarily mail ships, so not a major passenger line like White Star or Cunard, but some ships did take on a small number of passengers for a fare.

Wow, I just answered my own question! It's amazing how much information you can get from the Internet once you have a name to look for. I'm just gonna leave this here for any curious souls out there...
 
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I don't think the British really thought very much about the empire - it was very much an external matter that had little obvious impact on the day to day lives of ordinary British people. On the other hand those who served in the empire as soldiers or civil servants probably had quite strong preferences.
 
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Stewart Hall

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Hello Steven.
The Jewel in The Crown was word-play alluding to India and a diamond in the crown of the British Monarchs called the Koh-i-Noor.
Many British shipping Companies traded to India but by far the biggest was BI... Brittish India Company. My own company - Anchor Line ,also had regular liner runs to India right up until I left them in 1965.
How about P & O? My Great Grandfather was a P & O officer in the 1890’s.
 

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