Crown Colony

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Crown Colony

A Crown Colony is a British overseas territory under the direct authority of the British Crown. As such, a Crown Colony does not possess its own representative government and is not represented in the British Parliament. The colony is administered by a governor appointed by the Crown and responsible to the colonial office (or its forerunners) and, from 1966 onward, to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The governor has wide-ranging authority and is assisted either by an appointed advisory council or by both a legislative and an executive council. Council members were usually appointed by the governor. Only at a later stage did Crown Colony government in some colonies rely on elected councils.

Crown colonies should be distinguished from other forms of colonial administration such as company rule (overseas territories administered by a private merchant company, e.g., India until 1858), dominions (self-governing territories, e.g., Canada from 1867, South Africa from 1910, protectorates (territories under the protection of the British Empire, many of which later became Crown Colonies (e.g., Aden, Nigeria, Uganda, Zanzibar), or Crown dependencies such as the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

Crown Colony government was devised to put the colonies under closer metropolitan control with little place for local initiative. During the eighteenth century many white settler colonies in North America had made significant advances toward representative government resulting in an increased power of the elected assemblies. After American independence in 1776 this process slowed down and the British tried to limit the power of local elected bodies. The centralized system of Crown Colony government had originally been designed for the colony of Martinique by Lord Hawkesbury (1770–1828) and was quickly introduced to the newly conquered or ceded colonies in the West Indies (Trinidad in 1802, St. Lucia in 1814), Africa (Cape Colony in 1814, Mauritius in 1814), Asia (Ceylon in 1802), and Australia (New South Wales in 1824, Van Diemen's Land in 1825, Western Australia in 1829). Most of these were non-settler colonies with a substantial indigenous population or convict colonies that—to the central government—seemed unfit for representative government.

During the 1820s and 1830s, Crown Colony government in many of these holdings was reformed and the governor's advisory council was replaced by appointed legislative and executive councils. New South Wales, Van Diemen's Land, Western Australia, Ceylon, Mauritius, Trinidad, and Cape Colony were among the reformed colonies. For London, Crown Colony government proved to be a valuable tool of colonial administration and was applied to most of the newly acquired colonies during the nineteenth century. Until the creation of the Common-wealth of Nations in the Statute of Westminster (1931) only the most important Crown Colonies with a significant white population were granted dominion status. Between 1855 and 1890 the six Australian Crown Colonies became self-governing. The Union of South Africa received dominion status in 1910. Lesser colonies with only a small white population often received self-government relatively later on (e.g., Ceylon in 1948 and Belize in 1964). In 1997 Britain handed back its last remaining Crown Colony, Hong Kong, to China.

see also China, After 1945; China, First Opium War to 1945; China, to the First Opium War; Empire, British, in Asia and Pacific; Hong Kong, from World War II; Hong Kong, to World War II.


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