Warwickshire and Empire: Mr Stiles' Settlement Scheme

Part two

"The Rhodes Colossus", cartoon picturing Cecil Rhodes spanning the continent of Africa (a reference to his desire for a Cape to Cairo railway) in Punch, 1902.
Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons, originally uploaded by William Avery

(Continued from part one)

It seems that Newdigate had written to the BSAC on another’s behalf – D. Stiles Esq. of Nuneaton, who had also supplied a pamphlet supporting the emigration scheme. This helps tell us about the methods by which settlers were attracted to go overseas in their millions. Formally printed pamphlets were known as  ‘booster literature’ , and were typically supplemented by the informal encouragement provided in letters sent home to family members extolling the superior quality of life in settler colonies. In its letter to Mr Stiles, the BSAC provided their own pamphlet with some information for individuals wishing to emigrate, which included details of job prospects for potential settlers: ‘you will see that there is a steady demand for skilled artisans who can always command good wages.’ As well as informal organisations seeking to encourage settlement, colonial administrations themselves often supplied detailed booklets with economic and social enticements. There was a diverse and lucrative industry in getting Britons abroad.

A newly agricultural focus

The BSAC mentioned that assisted passages (whereby settlers’ travel costs were partially or fully covered by the Imperial or colonial governments) were only granted to ‘bona fide Farmers of good character who have a capital of not less than £500.’  This reflects the newly-agricultural focus of the BSAC’s settlement initiatives following the disappointments with gold. It is also an interesting reminder of the nature of settler colonial economies in Africa where much menial and non-skilled work was performed by black Africans and whites were instead employed in supervisory or managerial roles. As the letter notes: ‘labour in the Mines in Rhodesia is almost entirely performed by natives, but if any members of your Society who are miners desire it, and will supply me with testimonials as to character, ability and qualifications, I shall be happy to send out their names to Rhodesia and ascertain if there are any vacancies at any of the Mines which could be offered to them. They would, I have no doubt,  have to pay their own passages to Rhodesia.’

In its policy of settlement-related selectivity the Southern Rhodesian administration was far from unique. In Southern Africa in particular, the ‘race problem’ initially referred to tensions between Afrikaner and British settlers, not whites and blacks. The ‘wrong sort’ of whites were seen as a bigger threat to colonial rule than black Africans. This ‘poor white’ problem became something of an obsession in South Africa, and the neighbouring Southern Rhodesians were keen to avoid repeating it by stringently monitoring who was allowed in. Indeed, right up until the 1950s and 1960s, Southern Rhodesia greatly preferred settlers of ‘British’ stock to other Europeans – especially those from Southern and Eastern Europe.

A local archive, global themes

The letter to FA Newdigate demonstrates how we might use the ostensibly local archive to explore transnational and global themes. In the BSAC’s rejection of a group settlement scheme we can get an impression of how British emigration worked in the heyday of empire. It was not simply a matter of leaping onboard a ship destined for a new life in the colonies, there was an underlying element of selectivity which differed from place to place. This was particularly significant in Southern Africa, where settlers were outnumbered by large indigenous populations, this numerical disadvantage made it critical to ensure the ‘right sort’ of settlers were in charge.

Likewise, we can get an impression of the different types of institutions invested in this emigration business (and it was a business) – private organisations and concerns like that of Mr Stiles and the colonial administrations themselves all produced literature to attract people abroad. Finally, the document helps to complicate our understanding of European imperialism by illustrating the discrimination and prejudices which existed within white society – across class and ethnic lines – which conspired to keep the ‘wrong sort’ of settler out.

It is unclear if Warwickshire’s would-be settlers ever made it out to the small central African country of Rhodesia. What is clear is that the stories contained within the vast repository of documents here at the Record Office can often stretch far beyond the county boundaries, as local residents became imbricated in transnational and global patterns.

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