Chapter 19 An Era of Expansion and Reform

Section 2 Expansion and Reform in the British Dominions

While Parliament gradually gave British citizens power over their own government, it also began giving some of its colonies control over their own affairs.  The colonies of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand wanted more local control than Britain had allowed them.  Meanwhile, Britain wanted to avoid the economic and political difficulties of retaining tight control over their colonies.  Thus, these dependent British colonies became self-governing Dominions, transforming both their own states and the British Empire.


The reform movements in Britain also had a significant impact on the British colonies.  By the mid-1800s, many Canadian colonists became discontented with their colonial governments, which were ruled by British-appointed officials who were not held accountable to the colonial voters. The colonists wanted responsible government—that is, government that was responsible to the voters.[24]

            Rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada convinced Britain that reform was necessary.[25]  In 1838 the British government sent a new governor general, Lord Durham, to Canada to seek a solution.  A leader of the Liberal Party, Durham was given broad powers to reform Canada's government. 

            In 1839 Lord Durham submitted a report to Parliament proposing that the colonies be given self-rule over internal affairs.  Great Britain would retain control over foreign affairs, trade policy, and public lands.[26]  Durham believed that the Canadian colonies had stagnated, and wanted them to unify to form "a great and powerful people" which "might in some measure counterbalance the...increasing influence of the United States on the American continent."[27] 

            After the submission of the Durham Report, Upper and Lower Canada united into one colony called the United Provinces.  Most of its good farmland, however, was already in use, and many colonists wanted to expand westward into the land owned by the Hudson's Bay Company.[28]  Not only would this provide new farmland, but colonists also believed that expansion would safeguard Canadian territory from the United States.  By the 1850s many people began to believe that a confederation, or union, of British North America would be the best way to ensure prosperity and security for the colonies.

            The Dominion of Canada.  The colonists, however, had to put aside many of their differences before confederation could take place.  Sectionalism, or loyalty to a particular part of the country, became a problem when politicians focused too narrowly on their own provinces and not on all of Canada.  The rivalry between the French- and English-speakers in the United Provinces also continued.[29]

            However, the benefits of confederation soon outweighed the drawbacks.  Confederation would make administering the colonies simpler for Britain, since it would only have to deal with one government.  Britain would also avoid getting entangled in conflicts between the Canadian colonies and other nations.  These entanglements became more problematic during the American Civil War when the activity of American Confederates on Canadian soil threatened to pull Canada (and therefore Britain) into war with the United States.

            In 1867 the British Parliament passed the British North America Act, which united the colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the United Provinces (now Quebec and Ontario) as the Dominion of Canada.

            However, Canada was not fully independent of Great Britain.  As a Dominion, Canada controlled its domestic affairs, including taxation and internal trade.  However, Canada still remained within the British Empire, so Great Britain ruled over defense matters that affected the empire.  Although Canada retained strong ties to Britain, over the next 50 years, Canada gradually grew increasingly more independent of Britain.

            Territorial expansion. Soon after confederation, Canada began to expand.  In the Act of 1867, Canada had gained the territory of the Hudson's Bay Company and planned to open it for settlement by Canadians.  However, they did not consult with the Métis (meh-tee), a group of mixed French and Native American heritage.  The Métis considered themselves a separate nation, and they objected to being transferred from the administration of the Hudson's Bay Company to the Canadian government without being consulted. 

            With the support of the powerful Native American tribes of the Cree and the Blackfoot, the Métis seized control of the settlement at Red River.  This rebellion propelled the Dominion government to create the province of Manitoba, with full protection for both the French and English languages and for the Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths.[30]  However, the rebellion of the Métis had little effect on Canada's march to the west.  In 1871 British Columbia joined the Dominion, and Canada now stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific.[31] 

            In 1896 the discovery of gold at Klondike Creek in northwest Canada prompted a gold rush in which miners poured into Canada.  After the gold rush ended, thousands of them stayed in the Canadian west, attracted by the good farmland.  By 1905 the prairie population had grown so large that the government created the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan to provide government for those regions.

            By the turn of the century, Canada had become a large, unified, self-governing Dominion.  Although Canada was developing its own distinct identity, it still retained close ties to Britain.  The Liberal politician John A. Macdonald showed that the Canadian ties to Britain remained strong when he remarked in 1891, "A British subject I was born, a British subject I will die!" 


The next parts of the empire to seek responsible government were the colonies in Australia, which had a very different history than Canada.  In 1788 the British established New South Wales, its first Australian colony.  Unlike the Canadian colonies, which had been populated by free settlers, New South Wales was a convict colony run by a military government.  From 1788 until 1868, Great Britain transported thousands of convicts to Australia.  They worked many years on government farms or were assigned to private employers, and at the end of their sentences, they received small plots of farmland.

            In the early 1800s five new Australian colonies were founded.  Free colonists from New South Wales first settled the island of Tasmania in 1803, which became a separate colony from New South Wales in the 1820s.  A group of investors led by James Stirling, a British naval captain, founded Western Australia, while South Australia attracted families rather than investors.  New South Wales divided in the 1850s, when the southern part formed a new colony called Victoria, while the northern part became Queensland.

Reforms in government.  In the early years of the Australian colonies, few people had been enticed to move there freely.[32]  In 1831, however, Britain began to subsidize the cost of emigration, and soon people began to view Australia as a place of new beginnings and relief from unemployment and poverty.[33] 

With the large numbers of free immigrants, however, came the need for a civil government, rather than a military one. 

            By 1850, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania began to call for responsible government.  An intensive period of constitution-writing began, and all of the colonies gained responsible governments by 1860.[34]  These constitutions were quite democratic, providing for universal manhood suffrage, the secret ballot, and the separation of church and state.  However, the Australian colonists felt no great desire to form a federation, as the Canadians did in 1867.

Economic development.  While politicians reformed colonial governments, the Australian economy made important changes.  The discovery of rich copper and gold deposits brought great wealth to Australia and attracted thousands of immigrants.  Wool became an important export, and wool production grew dramatically in the mid-1800s as Australian sheep farmers expanded their land holdings greatly. 

            However, this expansion was often at the expense of the Aborigines, the people who lived in Australia before the Europeans arrived.  In the early years of convict transportation, relations between the colonists and the Aborigines were peaceful.  However, when free settlers demanded more land, particularly for sheep farming, the settlers came into direct conflict with the Aborigines. The Aborigines were unable to prevent expansion, and their population declined dramatically after years of conflict.

The Commonwealth of Australia.  In the 1880s Australian politicians began to call for unification.  The motive for federation was defense.  Australians feared that in the worldwide scramble for colonies, other European countries might threaten Australian territory.  If the colonies were united, they would be better able to thwart any attacks.[35]  In 1891 Australian politicians began to draft a constitution, which the British Parliament approved in 1900.  Australia officially became a Dominion when the Commonwealth of Australia was declared in 1901.[36]

            The Australian constitution was a federal one, in which the states (which the colonies had now become) gave only limited powers over defense, immigration, customs, and foreign affairs to the federal government.[37]  One of the first acts of the new government was to give all adult women the vote in 1901.  The colony of South Australia had given women the vote as early as 1894; now all women in Australia had the same right.

            The government also established the "White Australia" policy, which excluded Asians from Australia.   The Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 discouraged Asians from emigrating to Australia by requiring them to pass a test in a European language, while the Pacific Islanders Protection Act of 1901 forced Polynesian agricultural workers to leave Australia.[38] 

            Like Canada, Australians were developing their own distinct cultural identity while retaining strong ties to Britain.  Australian nationalism produced a cult of the icon of the bushman, who was tough and self-reliant, but always eager to help his mates.  However, popular culture remained strongly British, with many novels, songs, and sports following the British model.

New Zealand

New Zealand was the third colony to achieve Dominion status.  The first Europeans who had settled in New Zealand were traders who sought profits from seal skins and whale oil.  They encountered the Maori (mow-ree), a Polynesian people who had lived on the island for centuries.  In the early years of European settlement, relations between the Maoris and the Europeans were peaceful.

            In the 1820s and 1830s, missionaries began to move into New Zealand in large numbers, which changed the Maori way of life.  Disease and warfare killed many of them, and their contact with European culture destroyed much of their traditional way of life.  One Maori chief said, "Now this land is mixed up with the customs of the Europeans.  New thoughts or habits have been imbibed and darkness has ensued in consequence."[39]

            In 1840 New Zealand was declared British territory.[40]  The Maori chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi gave the British sovereignty over the North Island.  The treaty required that the Maoris would sell land only to the British government, while the British would guarantee the Maoris' well-being. However, a wave of immigration soon damaged relations between the Maoris and the British government.  New settlers in the 1840s often seized Maori lands illegally, and the Maoris opened warfare against the British settlers.  British troops finally quelled the violence in 1847.

            Soon after Britain annexed New Zealand, the colony made rapid progress toward responsible government.  In 1854, New Zealand politicians demanded responsible government.  The British granted it almost immediately.[41]

            The Maori wars.  Unlike Australia and Canada, however, the New Zealand government did not gain full responsibility over its own internal affairs.  The British government oversaw Maori affairs, which resulted in increased hostility between the colonists and the Maoris.  When the colonists' demand for land increased, the British government pressured Maori chiefs to sell more land.  The Maoris resisted, first by interrupting land surveyors, then by resorting to violence.

            In 1860 warfare erupted on North Island.  A Maori nationalist movement had united many of the tribes, and they fought British troops and settlers throughout the island.  As the fighting wore on, Britain tired of paying for troops and supplies, and it gradually forced New Zealand to defend itself against the Maoris.  By 1870 the wars had concluded.  Thousands of Maoris had died, and 7 million acres of Maori lands were confiscated as punishment.[42]

            Economic development.  In 1870 Julius Vogel, the colonial treasurer, launched an ambitious program of economic development.  A London-born Jew, Vogel developed an immigration program which attracted 100,000 immigrants to New Zealand, and he established a program to build roads, railways, and telegraph links across New Zealand.[43]  Although Vogel can be credited for building the foundation of efficient communication and transportation in New Zealand, his schemes left the colony deeply in debt.  During the 1880s the country experienced unemployment and depression.[44]

            During the 1890s the spirit of reform that was sweeping through Europe encouraged reformist New Zealanders.  The Liberal government encouraged the development of meat, dairy, and wool production.  It bought land from the Maoris to sell to colonial farmers, provided credit for land purchase and development, and built a network of roads.

            In addition, Liberal politicians attacked social injustice.  In 1893 New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote.[45]  New land laws helped more people own small family farms.[46]  In addition, the government provided state pensions to the elderly, enacted factory laws to protect workers, and encouraged the development of labor unions.[47] 

Section 2 Review

IDENTIFY and explain the significance of the following:

Lord Durham







Julius Vogel

LOCATE and explain the importance of the following:

United Provinces

New South Wales




North Island

1.      MAIN IDEA  How did political events in the United States influence the Canadian colonies' path toward confederation?

2.      MAIN IDEA   How did Australia's history of settlement differ from Canada and New Zealand?

3.      GEOGRAPHY   What impact did the locations of the Dominions have on the development of their separate national identities?

4.      WRITING TO PERSUADE  Imagine that you are Julius Vogel, planning to embark upon an ambitious plan to develop New Zealand's economy.  Write a letter to convince investors to invest their money in New Zealand.

5.      SYNTHESIZING  How did the development of the Dominions change the structure of the British empire?