For the final blog on Africa, we thought that today – in the absence of many genealogical resources other than those for South Africa – we would focus on the history of the British Empire and Colonial Africa.
It was not until the nineteenth century that substantial British influence in Africa was established and it was confined to several regions which have separate histories. By the turn of the 20th century, British holdings included the West African countries of Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) and Nigeria, the region now composed of South Africa, Botswana, Zambezi, and Zambia in the south, and Uganda and Kenya in the East. British forces also controlled the regions of Egypt and Sudan, although nominally these were still part of the Ottoman Empire.
Although British traders, including slave traders, had operated off the west coast of Africa for several hundred years, they confined their operations mainly to a few coastal trading ports and islands, since the African interior was thought to be uninhabitable by Europeans. Britain did not actually gain control of Capetown in South Africa until around 1800. British colonisation of Africa therefore occurred nearly 100 years after its colonial expansion in Asia and over 200 years since its colonisation of North America.
The British colonisation of Africa proceeded in a much more hesitant manner than that of Asia. While Asia was essentially colonised by trading companies, with just one objective in mind, Britons with imperial interests in Africa included missionaries and humanitarians, as well as traders. Control of the British government changed parties rather frequently and no grand or consistent colonial policy regarding Africa was pursued from above. For this reason, committed individuals who were willing to work over the long term, were often very influential in determining British “African policy”. Some examples of this were Charles Gordon in the Sudan, George Goldie in Nigeria, Cecil Rhodes in South Africa and David Livingstone.
Certainly, by the 1880s when the discovery of both gold and diamonds had caused hundreds of fortune seekers to flock to the region, there was a great deal of greed and exploitation involved in the development of Africa.
Serious colonisation of Africa by Britain did not begin until after the slave trade was outlawed and much of the wrath directed against Britain by the natives was because of its policy of opposing slavery and witchcraft, which were thoroughly ingrained into native African culture.