Emigration and Colonies

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Kenneth J. Orosz

Shortly after the first European voyages of discovery brought news of the New World back to the Old, settlers and conquerors began flocking out to the newly claimed territories to begin the process of extracting colonial wealth for the benefit of the metropole. Although the desire for profit remained a constant for the duration of the European colonial endeavor, as the various imperial powers expanded their holdings beyond the Americas, the process of colonial emigration took on new forms and led to the creation of profoundly different social structures in each of the colonial regions. It is these differences that provide the groundwork for a social history of colonial settlement by European emigrants. This essay will address four major regional cases in which colonization was accompanied by significant European settlement: South America, North America, the antipodes, and Africa.

In the Americas different economic imperatives resulted in the transportation of racially homogenous settler populations to the British and French holdings in the north while their Iberian counterparts in the south created colonies comprised of relatively small settler groups ruling over much larger populations of Amerindians, imported African slaves, and mixed-race groups. The eventual loss of its American colonies in the late eighteenth century forced Britain to open up new settlement colonies in the antipodes as a means of divesting itself of growing numbers of convicts. Despite its origins as a penal settlement, over the next several decades growing numbers of free settlers from northern Europe flocked to the region to set up farms and ranches in Australia and New Zealand. Subsequent efforts to shed the region's violent and brutal convict past in favor of middle-class Victorian respectability were complicated by the existence and poor treatment of aboriginal populations, who stood in the way of European-style economic progress. No such problems affected the European settlement colonies in Africa. As the final region of colonial emigration, most of which occurred in the nineteenth century, Africa enjoyed the least complicated colonial society. The advent of social Darwinism and visions of the "white man's burden" necessitated the creation of racially segregated colonial societies in which white settlers unabashedly enriched themselves by systematically divesting Africans of land, wealth, and political independence. Despite the different social structures, in all cases European emigration created new forms of social hierarchy in which Europeans displaced existing ruling elites.


The completion of the Reconquista in 1492 and the end of hostilities in Spain and Portugal eliminated the prospects for the accumulation of loot and social advancement in the Iberian Peninsula via service on the battlefield for a whole generation of Iberians. The Muslim presence had, however, exposed the Spanish and Portuguese to tales of African gold fields and the lucrative Asian trade. In an effort to profit from and possibly control these resources, both powers began equipping a series of merchant vessels for voyages of trade and discovery. Central to these voyages was the search for faster, more lucrative trade routes that would propel the mother country to the forefront of European commerce. These efforts, which focused primarily on attempts to discover shortcuts to Asia, quickly led explorers and conquistadors to the Americas, where a limited number soon found wealth beyond their wildest dreams in the form of plantations and gold mines.

The bulk of these activities fell to Spain, which took an early lead in conquering and exploiting the New World. As news of Inca and Aztec wealth reached Spain in the early sixteenth century, scores of individual conquistadors, including some who lacked royal authorization or approval, flocked to the Americas. Aided by firearms and disease, these small bands of European soldiers quickly defeated the indigenous peoples and began looting their treasures of gold, silver, and gemstones. As they conquered Inca and Aztec villages in pursuit of profit, the conquistadors also turned their attention to reopening local gold and silver mines. This process was greatly facilitated by the creation of the encomienda system. Eager to both reward conquistadors and to secure larger shares of tax and tribute, the Spanish crown granted soldiers serving in the New World an encomienda, or license that allowed the holder to direct and exploit the labor of all native peoples living within the borders of his grant. While some of these forced laborers were put to work growing food on haciendas, the vast majority found themselves performing backbreaking work in mines and coastal plantations for the benefit of their Spanish overlords.

Social hierarchies in Spanish America. The earliest of these overlords were the conquistadors themselves, most of whom stayed on in the colony to oversee their land grants. As a result they formed a new landed colonial aristocracy that quickly came to dominate local politics and economics. Over the next three centuries the conquistadors were joined by an average of twenty-six hundred new emigrants every year. Since labor in the form of Amerindians, African slaves, and mixed-race populations was so readily available in Spanish colonies, there was no need to import a white proletariat. Consequently, the vast majority of the 750,000 Spaniards who eventually emigrated to the colonies were lower-middle-class young men in search of social mobility and economic opportunity. On arrival, these emigrants took up support roles as artisans, clerics, merchants, and civil servants. Since they came from a largely urban environment, the new arrivals tended to join the conquistadors in newly built colonial towns, thereby recreating the social hierarchy of Castile in which an urban upper class lived off the profits of landed estates worked by peasants.

Although this upper-class settler community presented a largely uniform facade, it was actually beset with a wide variety of internal social divisions. Within the settler community of Spanish America, social order was highly stratified according to class, occupation, birthplace, and race. Settlers born and raised in the colonies, known as Creoles, were generally looked down upon as ignorant, backcountry yokels by more recent arrivals who were better versed in current metropolitan culture. Offensive as this was, the Creole population was even more bitter about the Crown's tendency to ignore them, despite their obvious wealth, knowledge, and experience, in favor of candidates from the metropole when it came time to fill the upper echelons of colonial administration. This situation was further compounded by the tendency of royal appointees, most of whom arrived in the colony knowing little of local affairs, to retire to Spain once they had served out their term of office. As a result, tensions between the two groups grew steadily throughout the colonial period and eventually helped contribute to the Creole population's declaration of independence in the early nineteenth century.

As important as geographical origin was to the social hierarchy in the colonies, Spanish settlers were even more interested in the racial background of community members. The dearth of white women, who made up 6.2 percent of sixteenth-century emigrants before peaking at 28.5 percent a century later, made miscegenation common. Despite the prevalence of this practice, children born of such unions (known as mestizos) represented the lowest levels of settler society and faced significant social discrimination. Efforts to avoid this stigma led settlers to carefully document their racial origins via elaborate genealogies based on marriage and baptism records. While this suggests a fairly rigid color bar within Creole society, in practice things were much looser, particularly for richer community members. Wealth not only bought greater social acceptance, it also enabled individuals to bribe priests and government clerks in an effort to alter official records to hide Indian or, eventually, African bloodlines.

Social hierarchies in Portuguese America. As the Spanish presence in the Americas solidified, Portugal began pressing its own claims to the region and set up a rival settlement colony in Brazil. Although some aspects of Portuguese emigration patterns mirrored those of their Spanish counterparts, colonial society in Brazil contained some notable differences, particularly in regard to racial issues. Part of the reason for this was economic. While Brazil lacked readily accessible mineral resources, its climate lent itself to the creation of sugar plantations, something that the Portuguese had already experienced in the Azores. Despite the lucrative nature of sugar plantations, Portugal's chronic lack of resources and the brutal tropical climate in Brazil meant that emigration to the colony was destined to lag far behind that to Spanish America. This in turn meant that Portuguese settlers were more accustomed to interacting with Amerindians and, eventually, African slaves than were their Spanish counterparts.

Mirroring Spanish colonial emigration, most Portuguese settlers were young men in search of economic opportunity in the New World. While a lucky few created large landed estates and plantations hacked out of the countryside at the expense of native peoples, the majority of Portuguese settlers became small ranchers and farmers concentrated along the coast. This remained true even after the brief population boom generated by the discovery of gold and diamonds in the 1690s. Disturbed by the slow population growth within the largely male settler society, the Portuguese crown began openly encouraging intermarriage with the indigenous peoples. Consequently, and in stark contrast to the Spanish colonies, the Portuguese welcomed the arrival of mixed-race children and easily assimilated them into the larger settler community. As color lines faded, Brazilian colonial society found itself split more by socioeconomics and Creole-metropolitan rivalries than by physical appearance.

Amerindians and African slaves in colonial society. As conscious of their own internal hierarchies as the settlers and mestizos in both Spanish and Portuguese America were, they all agreed that the Amerindian population ranked still lower on the social scale. From the very beginnings of the European presence in the Americas the indigenous peoples were exploited for land, treasure, and, most importantly, manual labor. Amerindians, however, quickly discovered that work on Spanish and Portuguese plantations, haciendas, and mines was harsh and had a high death toll due to poor conditions, exhaustion, mistreatment, and disease. Consequently, many resisted European demands for labor by staging uprisings, fleeing into the bush, and engaging in sabotage. To their extreme frustration, both the Spanish and the Portuguese discovered that the combination of these factors led to chronic labor shortages and delayed the all-important process of extracting wealth from their colonial holdings.

This situation was further compounded by the presence of missionaries and the creation of official native policies. Although all missionaries focused their efforts on converting the masses to Christianity, the missionary presence in the Iberian colonies changed over time. Like their settler counterparts, the first generation of missionaries in Latin America tended to destroy and denigrate indigenous culture, customs, and society. As colonial society took root, however, the missionaries came to believe that the only way to truly root out pagan beliefs and win converts over to Christianity was to study and fully understand the indigenous peoples. As a result of these efforts, missionaries became better informed and often sympathetic about the plight of the indigenous peoples. This in turn gave birth to a running debate in both the Spanish and Portuguese holdings about the nature and extent of Amerindian rights. According to the conquistadors and large landowners, the indigenous peoples were not only uncivilized heathens who had lost the right to govern themselves, they had to be tamed and transformed into useful members of society by the settlers for the good of all concerned. Such lofty goals, so the argument went, justified any and all means, including the brutal slavelike working conditions in the mines and plantations. Missionaries sympathetic to the plight of the indigenous peoples argued instead that they were childlike innocents that could be converted if shown the right behaviors and values. Consequently, in both the Spanish and Portuguese holdings, missionaries set themselves up as protectors and defenders of Amerindian rights, exerting constant pressure on the crowns back in Europe to follow their lead.

In the Spanish case this led Charles V (1500–1558) to finally abolish Indian slavery in 1542. Although the Portuguese rulers were generally sympathetic to the missionary point of view, pressure from wealthy plantation owners and their lobbyists at court delayed them from taking similar action until the mid-1700s. In both cases, however, abolition was in name only. While Indians were transformed from slaves into wage laborers, they were crushed by heavy taxes, demands for tribute, poor wages, and work conditions. These pressures collectively forced the indigenous peoples into debt peonage—they took on the role of serfs. Consequently, despite the change in their legal status, Amerindians enjoyed no corresponding changes in their socioeconomic position for the duration of the colonial period.

When the Spanish and Portuguese discovered shortly after their arrival in the New World that the indigenous peoples were incapable of and unwilling to provide sufficient labor for the process of extracting wealth from the colonies, both powers resorted to the importation of large numbers of African slaves. While insufficient records make it impossible to determine exactly how many Africans suffered this fate, by 1810 some 10 million had been enslaved and shipped to the New World. Most were sent to South America where they were expected to spend their lives toiling in European-owned economic enterprises. Treatment of slaves, while better than that meted out during transatlantic journies, was still poor. In addition to the loss of their liberty, harsh working conditions, and mistreatment, slaves faced brutal punishments and short life expectancies. Since few women were brought to the New World as slaves, and since those who did make the journey were often the victims of unwanted sexual advances from their white owners, most blacks either lacked family lives or found them by intermarrying with the Amerindian population. The result was the creation of a mulatto community, which, along with slaves and free blacks, made up the lowest echelons of colonial society and faced constant discrimination and exploitation.


While both France and England also relied to some extent on slave labor in their American possessions, they encountered far fewer racial problems and were able to construct more homogenous settlement colonies built primarily around small farmers. France and England were relative newcomers to colonization; this in part explains why they created colonial societies so different from those of their Iberian counterparts. When news of the wealth pouring into Spain and Portugal from their American holdings finally roused the British and French into action, the most lucrative pieces of the New World had already been claimed. The remaining pieces of North America lacked readily accessible mineral wealth, easily exploitable supplies of Amerindian labor, and, with the exception of the Carribean and the southernmost portions of the mainland, climates suitable for plantations. Britain and France therefore contented themselves with piracy and occasional forays into North America for furs, timber, and fish.

This situation swiftly changed in the early seventeenth century due to changing conditions at home in Europe. The resumption of steady population growth as the religious wars of the Reformation wound to a close made land increasingly scarce. At the same time the rise of political and religious dissenters presented intolerable challenges to increasingly absolute central governments. Political leaders in both France and England quickly came to see the creation of colonies in the remaining portions of North America as simple solutions to both problems. The wide-open spaces and temperate climate of North America not only provided ample opportunity for quenching the masses' thirst for land, but they could also serve as dumping grounds for religious and political opponents. Moreover, once established, these resident populations could further serve the state by providing the metropole with markets and raw materials.

French versus British settlements. France began the process of colonization in 1609 when Louis XVI (1754–1793) shipped four thousand peasants from western France to Quebec at crown expense. Over the next century and a half, they were joined by an additional six thousand men and women, including soldiers, convicts, orphans, and free settlers. Although the French hoped that emigration to Canada would take off and lead to the creation of a large colony capable of serving as both a guaranteed market for metropolitan manufactured goods and a supplier of cheap timber, furs, and other colonial commodities, the region's cold climate and the existence of more lucrative Caribbean colonies discouraged many potential emigrants from making the journey. The bulk of those who did emigrate were landless young men who signed on for three-year contracts as indentured servants working to clear land, cut timber, farm, and trap animals for their furs. Most saw their time in the colony as temporary and tried to return home as soon as their period of service ended. When coupled with the small number of women present in Quebec, this trend ensured that the French colony remained small and widely dispersed.

Although similar motives lay behind the creation of Britain's North American colonies, local climatic conditions ensured that the resultant settler societies were much more complex than their French counterparts. Like its scattered Caribbean holdings, Britain's southern colonies possessed climates suitable for the creation of a plantation economy. Instead of sugarcane, however, the southern colonies focused their efforts on harvesting cotton and tobacco with the help of indentured servants shipped out from the metropole in large numbers. Indentured servants were similarly responsible for helping the middle colonies of the Chesapeake region produce timber, grain, and other farm products. Unlike their French counterparts, British indentured servants included both craftsmen and landless farmers. Moreover, most chose to stay on in the colonies after their service was up in hopes of attaining social mobility and access to cheap land. Nevertheless, population growth in the early years of colonial development was slow due to high death rates and the relative lack of female emigrants. Reductions in the number of emigrants after 1680, caused by changing economic conditions back in Britain, also took their toll on population growth. As the supply of labor began to dry up, the southern plantation colonies turned to the use of imported African slaves to make up the difference. Although large, the size of this slave population never approached that of either the Carribean or Iberian colonies in South America.

The final pieces of Britain's colonial puzzle in the Americas were New England and Canada. While emigration to other colonies was spaced out over a century and a half and frequently was composed of young male indentured servants, the Puritan migration to New England was limited to 1629–1642 and consisted of whole families fleeing religious persecution and economic hardship in England. On arrival, the Puritans created small, religiously based independent farming communities mirroring those they left behind in England. Canada, on the other hand, was more diverse, particularly since it was acquired as the result of Britain's ongoing wars with France. After seizing the last vestiges of French Canada during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), the British decided that they had spent too much time and money just to give it all back. While most French settlers chose to emigrate to other colonies in the New World rather than fall under permanent British political control, a sizeable portion remained, thereby presenting their new rulers with the difficult and delicate task of absorbing them into Britain's American Empire. Early efforts to buy the loyalty of these French settlers by granting them local autonomy and accommodating their cultural, linguistic, and legal differences quickly broke down, particularly after loyalists flocked northward into Canada in the wake of the American Revolution. The resultant Anglo-French tensions gradually intensified over the course of the nineteenth century as Britain opened the rest of Canada to settlement by emigrants eager to flee land shortages and poverty in Europe.

Despite their different origins, the British and French settlement colonies in the Americas shared a number of important similarities. In each case, the nature of the climate and the resultant colonial economy meant that the slave population remained small and was confined largely to the Carribean and southern colonies. When coupled with the small and widely dispersed Amerindian population in North America, this presented very few opportunities for either miscegenation or the creation of racially stratified colonial societies. Instead, the British and French settlement colonies in the Americas were composed almost exclusively of European emigrants bent on recreating metropolitan style communities of yeoman farmers. As a result, colonial communities imported European social hierarchies in which social status depended almost exclusively on the accumulation of landed wealth. Those who managed to acquire this wealth were accorded deference, respect, and quickly came to dominate both local politics and society. As in the Iberian colonies of South America, however, these Creole gentlemen farmers were denied representation in Parliament and had to submit to governors sent out from the metropole.

Although Canada proved to be an exception, by the end of the eighteenth century settlers in the British and Iberian colonies were chafing under the economic restrictions of mercantilism and the lack of political representation. Tensions eventually rose to the breaking point, triggering a series of successful political revolutions. Despite new-found independence, the emigration and basic social patterns of each former colony remained largely unchanged throughout the nineteenth century.


The winning of independence by the American colonies presented Britain with a major social problem. Prior to the revolution Britain had sold convicts to its American colonies as cheap sources of labor. When the newly independent United States made it clear that it would no longer accept shipments of convicts, Parliament began contemplating the creation of a penal colony as a means of coping with Britain's dangerously overcrowded prison system. After toying with several potential sites in Africa, the British finally settled on Australia, possibly in hopes that it would yield a wide variety of colonial spin-offs, ranging from timber and lucrative cash crops to strategic military and trading bases.

Settlement in Australia. Britain's first shipment of 750 convicts arrived in New South Wales in January of 1788 and immediately fell on hard times. Although they were expected to create a self-sustaining farming community shortly after arriving in the antipodes, most convicts were urban dwellers with no farming or construction experience. Worse still, they were ignorant of the southern hemisphere's seasons and rain patterns. As a result, the colony faced disease and chronic shortages until subsequent fleets arrived bearing more convicts, supplies, and the first in a growing wave of free settlers.

As the new colony took shape, it quickly assumed a highly stratified social structure. At the apex were the free settlers, colonial administrators, and soldiers sent to guard the convict population. These figures not only regarded themselves as paragons of civilized society and looked down upon all other social groups, but they also took advantage of their position to acquire and develop the largest and most lucrative land grants, which they worked with convict labor. After serving out their sentences, former convicts took on the title of emancipists and occupied the middle level of Australia's settler society. Although many became quite wealthy and eventually acquired large land grants and positions of authority within the community, their social mobility was generally restricted by their convict past. Finally, Australia's large convict population naturally occupied the lowest level of white society where they faced extensive discrimination, hard labor, and brutal punishment for any additional offenses committed in the penal colony. Paranoid personal feuds, drunkenness, brawls, floggings, and public hangings were all common features of early colonial life and served to create an atmosphere of violence and social division. Further divisions came in the form of Anglo-Irish and Protestant-Catholic rivalries imported from the metropole.

The aboriginal population, a group that received the worst treatment meted out to any indigenous people in the entire British empire, constituted the very bottom of Australia's social hierarchy. While Lachlan Macquarie (1761–1824), who served as governor of New South Wales (1810–1821), made some early efforts to assimilate the aborigines and transform them into European-style farmers, the bulk of settlers concentrated on dispossessing the aborigines of their land as quickly as possible. Resistance was met with military reprisals and forced relocations. As settlers expanded deeper and deeper into Australia's interior, they initiated a campaign of genocide in which the aborigines were denied access to water holes, shot, driven off their land, given poisoned food, and deliberately infected with smallpox. While most survivors retreated even further into the interior, some drifted into the newly created towns to beg or take jobs as prostitutes or menial laborers.

By the early 1840s the influx of free settlers, which had risen to fifteen thousand 15,000 per year, and the introduction of sheep and cattle changed the nature of Australian society. The impatience and intense land hunger of most new arrivals led many to bypass the colonial administration's land-grant system, preferring instead to raise sheep and cattle on illegally occupied crown lands. Government efforts to halt the proliferation of squatters led to the abolition of land grants in favor of leases and land auctions. Proceeds from these auctions and leases were then put toward assisted emigration in the hopes that subsidized tickets to Australia would enable the administration to exert some control over who was permitted to emigrate to the colony. While well intentioned, this effort proved to be a dismal failure. Most new arrivals lacked the necessary funds to purchase or lease crown land and chose instead to squat illegally. In the process they deprived the colonial administration of both income and the ability to control the nature and pace of colonial emigration.

In addition to creating squatters, the settlers' intense land hunger drove many of them into other regions of the Australian continent where they set up independent and autonomous colonies alongside New South Wales. Although some of the new colonies were founded exclusively by free settlers, the chronic shortage of labor forced some of them to begin accepting shipments of convicts. Others turned instead to the policies of the English colonist Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796–1862), who in 1829 proposed colonization by the sale of small farms to ordinary citizens. According to Wakefield, the solution to Australia's labor shortage was to make land prices so high that new arrivals had no choice but to obtain paying jobs in order to earn the necessary funds to buy land. As in the government's assisted emigration schemes, the proceeds from these land sales were to be used to pay for the passage of the next wave of emigrants. In theory this would not only ensure a constant labor supply, it would also allow the settlers to choose a better, more suitable class of migrants. Although the preponderance of squatting and the general lack of funds rendered Wakefield's schemes a failure, they did help to attract increasing numbers of lower-middle-class farmers and ranchers. As they grew in number, these free settlers increasingly sought to shed the region's jailhouse image and to create more respectable colonial societies.

Settlement in New Zealand. While Australia's free settlers began to struggle with the continent's convict past, a few chose instead to move to nearby New Zealand. From the beginning the growing European presence disrupted the lifestyle of New Zealand's indigenous Maori population. Settlers and merchants from Australia not only brought their arrogance, brutality, and lawlessness with them, they also alienated the Maori by cheating them in trade negotiations. The presence of rival missionary societies and denominations further confused and alienated Maori converts. Finally, and of even greater importance, was the decision of early settlers and merchants—motivated by the pursuit of profit and the desire to support those Maori seen as potential allies—to provide their Maori neighbors with firearms, leading to the eruption of a series of deadly and highly destructive civil wars among the Maori.

News of these events scandalized the British public and led to calls for immediate government intervention to protect the Maori from further brutality and exploitation. Intervention was also justified on the grounds that it was necessary to protect Europeans from possible massacre at the hands of alienated and enraged Maori warriors. These calls for action eventually led Britain to formally annex New Zealand in February 1840 via the Treaty of Waitangi with some of the Maori tribes of North Island. According to the terms of the treaty, Britain assumed full administrative control and acquired a monopoly on land purchases in exchange for granting the Maori full citizenship and recognition of their land rights.

Shortly after the treaty was signed, settlers began flocking to North Island, site of the largest Maori settlements. In addition to land grants and travel subsidies provided by the Crown, settlers were also assisted by private ventures. As the Crown was in the process of negotiating the Treaty of Waitangi, Wakefield and his followers established the New Zealand Land Company to promote emigration of free settlers to North Island. Within a decade he convinced the Anglican and Presbyterian churches to follow suit and found denominational settlements in South Island. As in Australia the idea behind each of these private ventures was to sell land bought from the government at high prices so that the proceeds could be used to subsidize the travel of respectable lower-middle-class settlers eager to recreate an English-style farming and sheepherding community in the South Seas. Although Wakefield's schemes failed just as dismally in New Zealand as they had in Australia, they did help to attract large numbers of educated lower-middle-class settlers to the colony. Thus, unlike Australia with its convict population and propensity for violence and brutality, New Zealand's settler community tended to be more peaceful and "civilized." This image not only affected their relations with the Maori, it also enabled the settlers to obtain local self-government in 1852.

The position of the Maori within New Zealand's colonial society was ambiguous at best. Thanks to the protection of the Crown, their status as full citizens, and their reputation as fierce warriors, they avoided becoming the victims of genocide. Nonetheless they were still regarded by most settlers as "noble savages" to be civilized and as common laborers to be exploited. As a result, the Maori became the targets of ongoing assimilation campaigns as early as the mid-1840s. These campaigns, which attempted to teach the Maori to become farmers and adopt British culture, instead left them hostile and bitter about the growing European colonial presence. While the Maori were also upset about settler violations of Maori law and customs and the high property qualifications that denied them a voice in New Zealand's new governmental structures, their greatest complaint by far stemmed from the issue of land ownership and sales. The Maori argued that the Treaty of Waitangi confirmed their ownership of all the land and consequently felt betrayed when the British disagreed. According to the British, the Maori owned only the land that they physically occupied. All remaining lands were considered unoccupied and hence under governmental control. The Maori also came to resent the government's monopoly on land purchases and the poor prices that it paid for undeveloped Maori land.

The last straw came in the 1860s when the government, responding to settler demands that Maori land be seized and sold, sent teams of surveyors to map out all land plots. Feeling that they had been pushed too far, the Maori rose up in open revolts known as the New Zealand Wars, which raged intermittently for the next decade. During the course of this conflict the colonial government punished Maori rebels by seizing and selling their land. The government also abolished its monopoly on land purchases and established Native Land Courts to resolve disputes arising from land sales. Over the next few decades, the bulk of Maori land fell into European hands as the result of sales or legal action, or as payment for taxes and other fees.

Colonial society after the gold rush. While the basic structure of British colonial society in the antipodes seemed to have been set by the mid-nineteenth century, the discovery of gold in both Australia (1851) and New Zealand (1861) had profound effects on both colonies. News of the discoveries triggered a massive influx of settlers eager to try their luck in the gold fields. Among these settlers was a contingent of foreign laborers, many of whom were Chinese, imported by mining companies. As miners began competing for lucrative claims, xenophobia and racism rose dramatically, resulting in violent pogroms against foreign laborers and calls for immigration quotas. In Australia the gold rush was further compounded by an upsurge in violence, vigilantism, and chaos that amounted to a class war between squatters and land prospectors eager to invest their gold profits and secure access to new potential claim sites. Observation of the effects of the Californian and Australian gold rushes prompted the colonial administration in New Zealand to take prompt regulatory action that enabled it to avoid a similar bout of lawlessness.

Overall the gold rushes created wealth, urbanization, limited industrialization, and furthered the impulse to create respectable Victorian societies in both colonies. In Australia this included both the end of its status as a penal colony and new efforts to protect the aborigines from possible conflicts with the growing settler population. The result was an official ideology of protection, segregation, and control that reflected contemporary social Darwinism and its vision of the "white man's burden." Central to this new campaign were efforts to force aborigines onto reservations, ostensibly to provide them with a safe haven free from European interference. In reality the reservation movement, which peaked in the 1890s, pushed the aborigines even further onto the margins of Australian society. Poor conditions on the reservations increasingly forced aborigines to hire themselves out as wage laborers; as such, they faced constant discrimination and had no control over their working conditions.

In New Zealand the gold rush sparked a new population boom as European emigrants flocked to the colony in the hopes of striking it rich. The land hunger of the European population intensified as the new arrivals settled in. Having learned from the New Zealand Wars that armed force only made their plight worse, many Maori chose to retreat into the interior. Others turned toward assimilation and accommodation with the settlers, reasoning that cooperation would give them some protection from loss of their land and rights. This policy quickly paid off in the form of four seats in New Zealand's parliament that were reserved for Maori candidates. The Maori used this parliamentary representation in conjunction with an ongoing series of lawsuits to try to prevent further land seizures and loss of their rights. While they still faced discrimination and hostility at the hands of settlers, who perceived the Maori as annoying obstacles to land development, overall the Maori emerged from the nineteenth century much more independent, affluent, and politically powerful than the Australian aborigines.

In addition to affecting the treatment of the indigenous peoples, the wealth and population booms triggered by the gold rushes enabled both Australia and New Zealand to demand increasing degrees of independence from Britain. In Australia this process occurred gradually, with each of the independent colonies gaining local autonomy in the 1850s. This was followed in the 1890s by calls for federation, resulting in the end of British imperial rule in January of 1901. These events were mirrored in New Zealand, which gained its independence in 1907. Although emigration to both former colonies continued throughout the first half of the twentieth century, little changed in their social makeup until the end of World War II.


European settlement in southern Africa dates from the mid-seventeenth century, when the Dutch decided to establish a permanent base at the Cape of Good Hope in order to resupply passing ships with food and water. While the original settlement consisted of only a few hundred whites, by the 1680s the Dutch were actively recruiting settler families. Within a hundred years these Dutch settlers, also known as Boers (a Dutch term meaning "farmers"), had grown in number to almost twenty thousand. Since the best farmland around the Cape had long since been claimed by their predecessors, most new arrivals moved into the interior where they seized cattle and land from the indigenous peoples to create small European-owned farms and ranches. As the Boers pressed deeper and deeper inland, they not only aroused increasing waves of hostility among the displaced native peoples, they also developed a reputation as highly individualistic and quarrelsome people.

Boers versus English in South Africa. By the dawn of the nineteenth century, the Napoleonic wars caused control over Cape Colony to shift from the Dutch to the British. Eager to exploit the colony's strategic location, Britain quickly dispatched five thousand settlers to the Cape to bolster their ownership claims. The Boer population viewed these arrivals with some alarm. In addition to being forced to adopt a new language, customs, and legal system, the largely pastoralist Boer population was suspicious of the British settlers' predominantly urban background. The biggest source of tension between the two settler groups was, however, their different approaches to native relations. The Boers had long held the view that Africans were not only inferior, but were ordained by God to serve South Africa's white population as poorly paid manual laborers. As allegedly inferior competitors for pasture land and cattle stocks, Africans were also subject to repeated Boer seizures of their land and livestock. While the British were tainted by their own racism and belief in social Darwinism, they were uncomfortable with the naked exploitation of the African masses perpetuated by the Boers and worried that it might erupt into racial violence. These fears became particularly apparent when the migrating Boers came into contact with the fierce and expanding Xhosa and Zulu peoples.

British attempts to legislate better treatment for Africans in the 1830s and 1840s infuriated the resident Boer community and unleashed the Great Trek in which some ten thousand Boers gathered their belongings and migrated into the interior of the African veld in search of pasture land. After taking up residence in Natal, the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State, the Boer migrants declared these areas independent republics. While Boer expansion and independence ran contrary to British aims for the development of the colony, official responses repeatedly vacillated between accommodation and demands for immediate annexation of the self-styled republics. In particular, the British demonstrated their conciliatory attitude toward the Boers when the Boers' chronic demand for land and labor provoked the indigenous peoples into further armed insurrections. Fearful that the resultant conflicts might spread and engulf the entire tip of southern Africa, the British repeatedly stepped in militarily to aid their fellow Europeans. For their trouble, the British met with renewed colonial expansion by the Boers, who fled even deeper into the African interior.

While the Boers were moving inland during the Great Trek, the Cape itself was becoming increasingly prosperous, urbanized, and populous. As in other settlement colonies, rising prosperity led to the creation of local self-government and desires for social respectability. This in turn helped give rise to the position termed Cape liberalism, which sought to educate and gradually integrate Africans into colonial society. This provided a stark contrast to the treatment that Africans received in Boer-controlled areas, where they were second-class citizens with no prospect of ever acquiring the right to vote or to hold political power. Worse still, in Boer-run areas, Africans continued to be treated as a labor force to be exploited and stripped of its land. Clear though these goals were, the relatively low density of the resident African population resulted in chronic labor shortages that were only partly relieved by importing indentured servants from India. This naturally served to further complicate the racial landscape by adding a new "colored" group to the mix.

Indians were brought into South Africa in the 1860s. Most were sent to Natal, which, although officially annexed by the British, was dominated by Boer settlers. The Indians were brought in for five-year terms during which they were supposed to work in "industrial" sectors. This included railroad construction, coal mining, and other forms of heavy labor. When their term of service was up, Indians were free to sign contracts with any employer for a further five years. After a total of ten years in South Africa they were entitled to free passage back to India or a land grant worth an equivalent amount. Most chose to stay despite the fact that they were routinely given the poorest land, forcing many to find work as tenant farmers or domestic servants. At the same time, growing numbers of Indian businessmen paid their own passage to South Africa and set up shop as merchants, small traders, and low-level government clerks.

The discovery of diamonds in the latter half of the nineteenth century compounded South Africa's increasingly complex racial hierarchy by bringing in large numbers of European prospectors and shifting the financial balance of power to the Boer Republics. The need for increased agricultural output to feed this growing settler population led to new rounds of land seizures in the 1880s and 1890s. While the Boer farmers and ranchers prospered, Africans were progressively impoverished as they lost land and were forced into poorly paid positions as manual laborers on Boer farms. Similar scenes unfolded in the newly discovered gold and diamond fields, where Africans toiled as diggers and unskilled laborers on white-owned claims. As monopolies were created in the mining industry, Africans' wages plummeted still further, causing them to spend even more time away from their families in a desperate bid to make ends meet. The resultant labor patterns, which kept men out of the villages and prevented them from practicing or passing on their local traditions and ancestral way of life, eventually had a catastrophic effect on the structure of South African family life, culture, and society.

Eager to continue and expand the gold rush, settlers in southern Africa began migrating ever deeper into the interior in the hopes of finding even richer veins of ore. Led by agents of the great financial titan Cecil Rhodes (1853–1902), these settlers found their way blocked by the increasingly restrictive Boer Republics, which sought to limit the financial and civil rights of all non-Boer inhabitants. Frustrated, Rhodes eventually tried to topple the Republics in the ill-fated Jameson Raid (1895), which ruined his own political career and finally convinced the Boers that the British would stop at nothing short of permanent annexation. The resultant Anglo-Boer tensions eventually erupted into the short but brutal Boer War (1899–1902). A scant eight years after the war's end, all of South Africa's settler communities were finally united in an independent, albeit Boer dominated, Union of South Africa. Once free of London's control and oversight, the new Union's government began passing a series of discriminatory laws to force Africans and mixed-race populations into clearly defined professions, relocate them onto reservations, and restrict their movements via the creation of internal passports. The restrictive nature of these policies enabled the settler community to continue their exploitation of African laborers and greatly facilitated South Africa's ongong industrialization campaign. In the process, however, they sowed the seeds of the post-World War II apartheid regime.

French settlement in Algeria. While the British were solidifying their hold on South Africa, France was busy promoting emigration to its new settlement colony in Algeria. Initially invaded by Charles X (reigned 1824–1830) in 1830 in an effort to divert the Parisian masses from his bid to restore absolutist power, Algeria quickly came to be regarded by both the Second and Third Republics as a potential bread-basket, a source of labor, and a dumping ground for the more radical elements of French society, where it was hoped their revolutionary zeal would be blunted by the availability of cheap land. As settlers moved in, however, their plans to assimilate the local Arab-Berber population met with resistance, which quickly took on the form of an anticolonial jihad (holy war). Over the next half century the French army, convinced that its honor was at stake, insisted on pushing ever deeper into the Algerian interior in hopes of defeating the indigenous rebels. The result was a costly and bloody guerilla war, which the French met with scorched-earth tactics and systematic terrorism.

Despite the hostilities that continued to rage on the frontier, thousands of French settlers, known as pieds-noirs (black feet), began pouring into Algeria, eventually constituting 10 percent of the colony's total population. They were soon joined by equally large numbers of foreigners who migrated into the new colony from all over Europe. As they arrived in Algeria these settlers, including the newly assimilated foreigners, forcibly evicted the Algerians from the fertile coastal region and relocated them in poorer lands deeper in the interior. Within a few years, however, most settlers moved from their purloined farmlands into urban coastal communities where they set about recreating metropolitan French society. These efforts were ultimately paid for by the labor of displaced and impoverished Algerian farmers, who worked the otherwise empty landed estates for their absentee French landlords.

France's official revolutionary doctrine of assimilation assured that the settler community, although composed of diverse elements, was transformed into a homogeneously French one that saw itself as a distant French province. To this end, Algeria was subject to the same parliamentary decrees formed in Paris as the rest of France. It also enjoyed parliamentary representation in the form of deputies elected by all those holding French citizenship. While citizenship was theoretically open to the colonized Algerians, few acquired it despite official efforts to "uplift"the indigenous people. These efforts included compulsory French language education and official discrimination against natives who failed to assimilate in the form of heavy taxes, forced labor, and the indigénat, an arbitrary legal code that allowed colonial officials to impose nonjudicial fines and short prison terms on colonial subjects for a host of minor offenses. The only escape from these oppressive measures was to abandon Islam, traditional Algerian customs, and the Arabic language in favor of assimilation into French culture and society. While some tried, most Algerians preferred instead to resist, both passively and militarily.

By the turn of the century the French, responding to social Darwinism and the racist atmosphere prevalent throughout late-nineteenth-century Europe, abandoned the colonial policy of assimilation in favor of accommodation. While the distinction between the two policies was frequently blurred in practice, in theory accomodation was geared toward the economic development and exploitation of colonial areas, while leaving their indigenous populations free to operate within their own cultural and social patterns. While this may seem a benevolent effort to safeguard indigenous cultures and traditions in the face of European cultural imperialism, it was in fact motivated at least as much by the desire to insulate French culture from foreign and allegedly inferior influences. In Algeria this shift in colonial ideology manifested itself by 1918 in the decision to allow native rulers in the southern sections of the colony to exercise complete local autonomy, provided that they followed the general outlines of official French policy. This decision granted long-simmering Algerian nationalism what appeared to be a harmless political outlet. In practice, however, it spelled doom for French colonial rule in north Africa.

The collapse of France and its occupation by the Nazis in World War II sent shockwaves through both the metropole and the colonial empire. When the war finally ended, nationalist leaders all over the French Empire began to claim that the war had proved France's weakness and unsuitability to rule any foreign possessions. For their part, the French just as loudly demanded the retention of their colonial empire as a means of reviving their shattered economy and retrieving their national honor. By the mid-1950s these conflicting impulses finally erupted into a nasty and brutal war for independence in which both sides frequently resorted to torture and terror. The war weariness of the French, coupled with the realization that they could not win, finally forced them to give in and grant Algeria its independence on 3 July 1962. Although they felt betrayed by the French decision, most settlers seized the opportunity to flee back to France, leaving behind an enormous economic and political vacuum from which Algeria has yet to fully recover.


From the beginning of the European colonial endeavor, settlers migrated to the colonies in pursuit of new economic opportunities and social mobility. Efforts to realize these dreams invariably entailed interaction with racially diverse groups of indigenous peoples, imported slaves, and other foreign laborers, resulting in varying degrees of accomodation and exploitation. In the process, settlers created highly complex colonial societies that were curious and unique mixtures of rigid social stratification and upward mobility. These trends, while best demonstrated in the Iberian colonies of the Americas, are also evident in subsequent settlement efforts by Europeans in Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, thus proving that the more colonization and emigration changed, the more it remained the same.

See alsoWar and Conquest Migration (volume 2);Social Mobility; (volume 3); and other articles in this section.


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