New Book on the Aborigines’ Protection Society

10 08 2011

The Aborigines’ Protection Society: Humanitarian Imperialism in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, South Africa, and the Congo, 1837-1909 by James Heartfield


For more than seventy years, a select group of the great and the good fought for the natives of the British Empire. Anti-Slavery campaigner Thomas Fowell Buxton, medical pioneer Thomas Hodgkin, London Mayor Robert Fowler, the ‘Zulu’ Harriette Colenso, Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Shaftesbury were just some of the men and women who campaigned on behalf of the Aborigines’ Protection Society. The Society shaped the British Empire, and fought against the tide of white supremacy to defend the interests of aboriginal peoples everywhere. Active on four continents, the Aborigines’ Protection Society brought the Zulu King Cetshwayo to meet Queen Victoria, and Maori rebels to the Lord Mayor’s banqueting hall. The Society’s supporters were denounced by senior British Army officers and white settlers as Zulu-lovers, ‘so-called friends of the Aborigines’, and even traitors. The book tells the story of the three-cornered fight among the Colonial Office, the settlers and the natives that shaped the Empire and the pivotal role that the Society played, persuading the authorities to limit settlers’ claims in the name of native interests. Against expectations, the policy of native protection turns out to be one of the most important reasons for the growth of Imperial rule. James Heartfield’s comparative study of native protection policies in Southern Africa, the Congo, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, and Canada – and how those with the best of intentions ended up championing colonisation. Pointing to the wreckage of humanitarian imperialism today, Heartfield sets out to understand its roots in the beliefs and practices of its nineteenth-century equivalents.




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