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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4

The Athenæum, 24th June 1876

The Athenæum, 24th June 1876.

The Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia this year has been organized to celebrate the marvellous progress achieved by the United States during the century which has elapsed since the declaration of independence in 1776. It would be a worthy counterpart of the festivities on the other side of the Atlantic if we were to commemorate the no less extraordinary growth of the English Colonial Empire by the establishment in London of a great museum for the colonies and India.

With the secession of the twelve American provinces, and the two and a half millions of colonists which they contained, it seemed as if the colonial power of England had been for ever broken. The only English colonies of importance were the three islands of Barbadoes, Jamaica, and Newfoundland. What was left of English possessions on the continent of America was poor and thinly inhabited—Nova Scotia and Canada, the insignificant province of Canada, as it was then called, with about 100,000 inhabitants, mostly French. The Cape, Ceylon, and Guiana still belonged to the Dutch. The very name of Australia does not occur in Adam Smith's review of the English colonies, as contained in his great work 'published just about that time. It is exactly 100 years ago that Captain Cook sailed on his third ill-fated voyage of discovery, and it was not till many years afterwards that the first convicts were shipped for New South Wales. The whole population of the colonies, including slaves and aborigines, will have at most amounted to 500,000, of which probably not much more than 50,000 were Englishmen.

In India, at least, although the Mahrattas were still the masters of the greater part of the country, and although Hyder Ali was then preparing, with a fair chance of success, his final effort for the conquest of Madras, the foundation of the English power had already been firmly laid by Clive, and was about to be finally consolidated by Warren Hastings. The territorial possessions of the East India Company, however, were as yet restricted to Bengal, then recently devastated by a frightful famine, and to a few small districts on the coast; and it was only two years later, in 1778, that the famous march of Colonel page 7 Goddard across the, whole peninsula, from Bengal to Bombay, first foreshadowed the possibility of the English appearing one day as the power paramount over the whole continent of India. The utmost number at which the population of the territories possessed by the East India Company in 1776 could be estimated would be about 25,000,000.

Compare now the progress accomplished within one century. In India, the undisputed establishment of the English power over the whole country, and the organization of the most wonderful political dominion since the days of the Romans, with a population increased from 25,000,000 to 240,000,000. The population of the colonies proper now amounts to above 12,000,000 instead of the 500,000 a hundred years ago, the inhabitants of European descent to 6,250,000 instead of 150,000, whilst the colonists of English blood and origin have increased a hundredfold, from 50,000 to 5,000,000.

The indirect effects of this unexampled growth of our colonial empire on our commerce and manufactures, and on the condition of our population, have long made themselves felt in every town and village of England, but it is only of late that we have begun fully to realize the political significance of the fact, and the new responsibilities and duties which it entails. The present times are particularly well suited to bring home, even to the dullest understanding, the large degree in which commerce and finance are controlled by political connection. The unsettled 'state of foreign politics, the reaction against the disastrous system of international financing, and the depression of foreign trade, now no longer artificially stimulated by purchases effected largely with our own money, i.e., with the proceeds of loans raised in this country, all combine to render for the moment the public more alive than ever to the advantages arising from the steady development of our relations with the different parts of the British empire itself. Under these circumstances the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Colonial Institute deserve the thanks of the public for the efforts which they are now making for the establishment side by side on the old Fife House site on the Victoria Embankment of two museums, one for India, and the other for the colonies, which, together, would represent the resources of the whole empire. Those specially interested in the subject should refer to the pamphlet in which Dr. Forbes Watson describes in detail all the proposed arrangements, and discusses some of the probable effects of the undertaking. ("The Imperial Museum for India and the Colonies," by J. Forbes Watson, M.A. W. H. Allen & Co.) The principal features of the scheme will by this time have become tolerably familiar to our readers.

The plan of placing the India Library in the same building as the museum, and of attaching a colonial reading-room and library to the Colonial Museum, will recommend itself to all those who look upon museums in a serious light, who value them because of the facilities which they afford for research and reference, and who know by experience how much the study of museum specimens is facilitated and supplemented by a simultaneous recourse to literary materials. The proposed location of the Royal Asiatic Society, and of the Royal Colonial Institute, will tend alike to the advantage of the two societies and the two museums; whilst the concentration of the offices of the colonial agents in the same building with the Colonial Museum, has an important bearing on the practical influence of the institution on commerce and emigration. On all these grounds the scheme appears to us to deserve cordial support.