“England and Always”
The British, the Empire, and the Faith
Part VI: Imperium et Libertas?
His column was five thousand strong—all mounted men—and guns:
There met, beneath the world-wide flag, the world-wide Empire’s sons;
They came to prove to all the earth that kinship conquers space,
And those who fight the British Isles must fight the British race!
From far New Zealand’s flax and fern, from cold Canadian snows,
From Queensland plains, where hot as fire the summer sunshine glows—
And in the front the Lancers rode that New South Wales had sent:
With easy stride across the plain their long, lean Walers went.
Unknown, untried, those squadrons were, but proudly out they drew
Beside the English regiments that fought at Waterloo.
From every coast, from every clime, they met in proud array
To go with French to Kimberley to drive the Boers away.
Banjo Patterson, “With French to Kimberley”
All across the globe, wherever the British were — and more or less by local or individual effort than by orders from London — it seemed that their boundaries must expand. Sir Stamford Raffles, Charles Gordon, Lord Wolseley, Lord Milner, Lord Lugard, Cecil Rhodes, William Hodson, and so many more — the builders of Empire, carved out ever more territory in Asia and Africa. In the “settler countries” — the Canadian and Australian colonies, New Zealand, Cape Colony, and Natal, ever more colonists came — primarily from the British Isles, but the rest of Europe as well — and settled down, turning frontier land to farms, and making great cities out of small ports and transportation hubs.
Whether settler or native colony, however, the British were determined to make it their own, to impress upon their new countries as much of the Motherland as possible. If the colony in question had a European past — French, Spanish, Dutch, or Portuguese as it might be — then something of past governance and customs would be retained to ease things a bit. If there were already established native rulers — Maharajas, Malay Sultans, Ugandan Kings, or whatever they might be — then these exalted folk, so long as they played by British rules, were inserted into the Empire as more or less feudatories of the Queen–Empress, as Victoria was called following Disraeli’s bestowal upon her of the title “Empress of India.” For the benefit of the first-named set — who, as a rule, would find the British Knighthoods too Christian — a set of Indian honours was devised: the Order of the Star of India, the Order of the Indian Empire, and the Order of the Crown of India. That self-same star of India became the symbol of the British Raj; its portentous motto, “Heaven’s Light Our Guide” could satisfy the religious sensibilities of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian alike. It might be meaningless, but it sure sounded impressive.
The brightest and best graduates of British universities were sent out in the Indian and Colonial Civil Services to administer these territories, and train locals to assist them in lesser jobs. Each colonial capital boasted a “Government House,” where the Governor–General, Governor, or Lieutenant Governor resided in such state as befitted the representative of the Monarch. There would be an Anglican Cathedral, where a quasi-religious sheen would be given Imperial rule (and usually a Presbyterian Church — often called the “Scots Kirk” for officials and soldiers of that nationality). In the British West Indies and the Settler colonies there would be a Parliament House — a courtesy extended to the more advanced of the native colonies as time wore on from the 19th to the 20th centuries. In the halls of such a place, with the Governor standing in for the Monarch, the parliamentary liturgy of state openings, throne speeches, royal assent, dissolutions, red-themed upper house chambers, green-themed lower house chambers, sergeants–at–arms, maces, black rods and their ushers were indulged in. Courts were opened in which barristers and Queen’s Counsels argued before judges — the whole company bewigged and begowned as in England, with the Royal arms staring benevolently down from above the judge’s bench — as they did from a similar perch above the Speaker’s chair in the parliaments. Local regiments were raised in British style (often affiliated with British army units) and given Queen’s and Unit colours. In time the settlers’ colonies would boast of their own Corps of Commissionaires giving jobs to retired soldiers just as they did in Britain; the Crown Agents worked to support officialdom financially throughout the Empire. Many of the settlers’ colonies maintained Agents–General in London.
But this implantation of British ways did not stop with governmental custom. The prevalence of the English language in so many countries is one obvious result. Gentleman’s Clubs in London style could be found in every major city in the Empire and beyond, as could race clubs and courses, country clubs, yacht clubs and the like. Horse racing was not the only sport exported: cricket, rugby, golf, polo, hunting to hounds, football (or soccer) — all went where the British went, and beyond. So too did tea culture, agricultural shows and flower shows. Boy Scouting, the Venerable Order of St. John, and the Legion of Frontiersmen also sprang up. Universities and Preparatory schools modelled after those in Britain were founded to educate local elites. All of these things, whether governmental or social, have been retained since independence — altered to a greater or lesser degree depending upon the country
Given the haphazard manner in which the Empire had grown up, it was no wonder that from time to time both London officials and local politicians had the bright idea of rationalising — of putting a number of neighbouring colonies under a single authority. The first was Canada (1867), followed by Australia (1901), South Africa (1910), East Africa High Commission (1948), Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1953), West Indies (1958), and Malaysia (1963). Of these, only the first two were unqualified successes; South Africa has had more than her share of problems, Singapore seceded from Malaysia two years later, and the remainder of the federations dissolved back into their constituent pieces. But for all of that, it is important to understand that there was (at least from the later years of Queen Victoria until after World War II, and even into the 1960s in some places) an Imperial Patriotism; manufactured, perhaps, but no less real for all of that than that of the United States in her first years as a nation.
There was a conscious effort on the part of such as Rudyard Kipling, Lord Meath, Sir Evelyn Wrench, Margaret Polson Murray, and the Primrose League (whose motto, Imperium et Libertas “Empire and Liberty” — the League shared with South Africa’s Imperial Light Horse Regiment) to cultivate such a patriotism. Queen Victoria’s birthday, May 24, was transformed into Empire Day, fervently celebrated wherever the Union Jack fluttered. To this after World War I was added Remembrance Day, with its Two Minute silence, and concomitant cult of the Unknown Soldier. In 1917, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and Sir Fabian Ware founded the Imperial War Graves Commission to care for the graves of British and Imperial soldiers throughout the World; it continues its work today. So too does the British Empire Service League, founded in 1921. Even Boy Scouts were expected to do their bit, as Lord Baden-Powell wrote in Young Knights of the Empire.
Long before that time, of course, Imperial fervour was at such a high pitch that many both in Britain and in the “Dominions” (as the self-governing nations — Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Newfoundland — within the Empire came to be called) saw the need for “Imperial Federation,” whereby such countries and Great Britain would have a common Parliament, currency and customs union, and unified army and navy; it was heavily pushed, unsurprisingly, by the Imperial Federation League. For some of these theorists, membership in such a Federation would be open eventually to the remaining territories of the Empire as they reached certain benchmarks in literacy, political and economic development, and so on. For others, Federation was unnecessary. As the 1911 Encylopaedia Britannica put it in the article on “Empire”: “The British Empire is, in a sense, an aspiration rather than a reality, a thought rather than a fact; but, just for that reason, it is like the old Empire of which we have spoken; and though it be neither Roman nor Holy, yet it has, like its prototype, one law, if not the law of Rome — one faith, if not in matters of religion, at any rate in the field of political and social ideals.”
Nevertheless, it had its religious side too, especially among Anglicans. Here is a sample of the sorts of prayers circulated “For the Unity of the British Empire:”
Let us pray for the British Empire.
V. This God is our God for ever and ever;
R. He shall be our guide unto death.
ALMIGHTY God, who rulest in the kingdom of men, and hast given to our Sovereign Lord, King GEORGE, a great dominion in all parts of the earth: Draw together, we pray thee, in true fellowship the men of divers races, languages, and customs, who dwell therein, that, bearing one another’s burdens, and working together in brotherly concord, they may fulfil the purpose of thy providence, and set forward thy everlasting kingdom. Pardon, we beseech thee our sins and shortcomings: keep far from us an selfishness and pride: and give us grace to employ thy good gifts of order and freedom to thy glory and the welfare of mankind; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all glory and dominion, world without end. Amen.
O LORD God of our fathers, Who in thy goodness hast led this people hitherto by wondrous ways: who makest the nations to praise thee, and knittest them together in the bonds of peace; we beseech thee to pour thine abundant blessing on the Dominions over which thou hast called thy servant George to be King, Grant that all, of whatever race or colour or tongue, may in prosperity and peace be united in the bond of brotherhood, and in the one fellowship of the faith, so that we may be found a people acceptable unto thee; through 1esus Christ our Lord. Answer. Amen.
ETERNAL God, who rulest in the kingdoms of men: Grant, we most humbly beseech thee, honour and safety to our Sovereign Lord, King George; peace throughout the Commonwealth of his peoples; promotion to true religion; encouragement to learning and godly living; a patient service to the concord of the world; and, by all these, glory to thy holy name; for his sake, to whom thou hast given all power in heaven and earth, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
However, the Empire was not without its critics in England. Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton were very much enemies of the whole idea. The latter, in his masterful book, Heretics, has an incisive criticism of Kipling’s lines with which we opened this series, opining that love of the Empire meant necessarily a lack of love for England. Belloc said much the same thing in various places, and the duo were as one (in this as in so many areas) in denouncing British excesses in the Boer War. At the same time, however, Kipling’s writing about Sussex in Puck of Pook’s Hill is very reminiscent of Belloc’s own in The Four Men.
But with all of that, what was the place of Catholicism in the British Empire? The most obvious point is that Ireland was really one of the four rocks upon which the Empire eventually foundered (the other three being India’s Congress Party — co-founded, ironically, by the Englishwoman Annie Besant, later head of that most Anglophone organisation, the Theosophical Society — and the two world wars). It was a constant boiling pot of discontent. But a lot of the Nationalist agitation was organised by Protestants. Sadly, the one British chief secretary of the country, George Wyndham, was perhaps the only government official who really understood the country — hence the Wyndham Land Act. Under his guidance the trips to Ireland of Edward VII (first reigning King since James II to attend a public Mass, and rumoured to have been reconciled to the Church on his deathbed by Msgr. Vaughan) were extremely successful. Wyndham — a descendant of both English Jacobites and Irish nobility, and a friend of Belloc — believe that the rightful place of Catholics in general and Irish in particular was the Conservative Party, given its history. No doubt, had he been allowed to do what he wished, something of that sort might have happened. But it was not to be.
Nevertheless, the Irish outside of Ireland played a big part in the history of the Empire. Antony Macdonnell, Baron Macdonell, who, before serving as Wyndham’s Secretary, had a distinguished career as an administrator in India, culminating with his Lieutenant Governorship of the United Provinces. Sir John Pope–Hennessy was successively Governor of the Windward Islands, Hong Kong, and Mauritius, as well as (while an MP) a zealous defender of the temporal sovereignty of the Pope. Thomas D’Arcy McGee was a Father of Confederation in Canada, while Sir John O’Shanassy was a leading statesman in Victoria, Australia. The Connaught Rangers in Barbados were responsible for the building of St. Patrick’s Cathedral there; other Irish soldiers patronised St. Mary’s Cathedral, Cape Town. Across India, Irish troops were responsible for the building of innumerable churches, including those in Deesa, Bangalore, and Karachi. Irish settlements in the settler countries were large enough for regiments to be raised of local Irish.
But the Irish were not the only Catholics to play important roles in the Imperial story: Alexander Macdonnell, a Scots Catholic priest, led a band of Catholic Highlanders to Ontario; he was the first Bishop of Kingston. Sir Frederick Weld was Prime Minster of New Zealand and Governor of several colonies in succession. Lord Ripon was Viceroy of India. Desire Girouard was a French-Canadian politician and jurist; his son, Sir Edouard, was successively Governor of Northern Nigeria and Kenya. Nor was it only individuals who took advantage of the Pax Britannica. Franco-Mauritian sugar planters left their native island to plant sugar in Natal — coincidentally founding the Church in that Province by starting such parishes as St. Louis, Durban.
As noticed, the British acquired at the end of the Napoleonic Wars several territories where the Catholic Church had some sort of Establishment, and to a greater or lesser degree they had to continue the role that French, Spanish, or other Catholic rulers had played, while trying to extend the influence of Anglicanism. This had first occurred with the seizure of Gibraltar in 1704. In Canada both the Quebec Act and the Constitutional Act of 1791 retained the collection of tithes for the Catholic Church, while safeguarding the Jesuits’ lands and establishing “Clergy Reserves” for the Anglican Church (the Presbyterian and Methodist ministers would argue long and ultimately successfully for their share of that pie). Grenada and St. Vincent, which also fell to Britain in 1763, followed a similar road to Quebec’s (though without the outcry from the Thirteen Colonies). In Malta, long the seat of the Grand Masters of the Knightly Order that took its name from the Island, the new rulers took the place of the old, however grudgingly, as regarded support of the Church — the British Governor sat in the throne of the Grand Master in the Valetta’s Cathedral; the Governors-General of Malta continued the practise for the decade after independence, until the island became a republic in 1974. Formerly Spanish Trinidad became British in 1797, but the Church retained its status; it was not until 1844 that the British established the Church of England, relegating the Catholic Church to secondary importance. In Dominica and St. Lucia, oaths for office holder that could not be taken by Catholics were imposed soon after acquisition; but churches, properties, and the life of the Church were not disturbed. Similar conditions prevailed in Mauritius, where not only the rights of the Church were preserved, but the government recognised the French titles of nobility held by a number of the inhabitants. The Seychelles underwent a similar experience; in both countries, however, the 1849s and 50s saw the government attempt to favour the Church of England, albeit with little success.
In India, Ceylon, and the East Indies, however, the British encountered a very different situation. These areas had initially received the Faith from the work of the Portuguese, spearheaded by St. Francis Xavier and financed by the King of Portugal through the padroado — the terms of which allowed him to make ecclesiastical appointments. Goa, Cochin, Bassein, Bandel, Korlai, Ceylon, Malacca, Flores, Ambon, Manado and many other places became flourishing centres of Catholicism.
But in the late 17th century, the Dutch East India Company erupted onto the scene. In short order they pushed the Portuguese out of what is now Indonesia (except Timor and Flores), Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and South India. They outlawed the Faith and did all they could to force native Catholics to become Protestants, and seized ancient Catholic churches such as the ones in Cochin and Malacca, They were successful in so doing in Ambon and Manado; but many Catholics held firm in the face of persecution in other areas, helped as they were by men like Fr. Joseph Vaz. At the same time, in areas of India un-menaced by the Dutch, the18th century saw the arrival of missionaries appointed by and chosen from the Propaganda Fidei in Rome. These outdid the padroado clergy in funding and missionary zeal. There were soon jurisdictional disputes between Bishops subject to the Portuguese King and those of the Propaganda — and between laymen loyal to both. In the 19th century, this would break for a while into open schism, some parts of which unhappily remain to–day.
Into all of this stepped the British — gradually becoming supreme in India, annexing Ceylon in 1795, founding Singapore in 1819, and buying Malacca in 1829. They strove to play equal broker among the patchwork of peoples, religions, and native peoples they found — and under their aegis, British settlers came, often marrying into native Christian (and other) families. The Catholic Church, if not established, was at least able to function openly and safely; many of the various communities were already Catholic. Some were converted. Thus, under British rules, all sorts of Catholic or primarily Catholic ethnicities either grew or came to be: Goans, Catholic Brahmins, Catholic Kshatriya, East Indians, Anglo–Indians, Mangaloreans, Karwari, Telugu, Marathi, Samvedi, Ceylon Burghers, Malaysian and Singapore Eurasians, and on and on. Not only did all of these groups develop their own manners, customs, and ways of living the Faith, they assisted mightily the growth of the Church in their countries of origin and throughout the Empire — especially East Africa.
British Africa and the frontiers of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand presented a huge challenge to the Church. But the Empire provided two things essential for her acting to save souls in those places: the physical security brought by British troops and administrators on the one hand, and permission for religious orders to work freely for conversions. Now, there can be no doubt that in particular places at and particular times colonial administrators showed favouritism toward Protestant missionaries. But this was not very different from our own government’s policies. Of 38 Indian tribes in the American West evangelised by Catholic priests, only 7 of those missions were allotted to the Church by the Board of Indian Commissioners in 1869; Catholic Indians on the remaining 31 reservations were not allowed to practise their Faith until 1881. Similarly, during Reconstruction, the Freedmen’s Bureau subsidised the American Missionary Association to attempt — with some success — to seduce Catholic ex-slaves away from the Church in Louisiana and the Gulf States. But these orders came from Washington; the Colonial Office had no use for anti-Catholicism as a political policy.
It certainly showed in the results. British and Irish-based orders of men and women sought converts throughout the Empire — both old ones like the Jesuits, and new ones such as the Mill Hill Fathers and the Patrician Brothers. But neither were foreign foundations excluded from such a wide field. On the heels of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police followed the Oblates of Mary Immaculate; the Marists worked in New Zealand and among the British Islands of the Pacific; the Spanish Benedictines founded the monastery of New Norcia to evangelise the Australian aborigines; German Trappists started Marianhill, while the French Oblates of St. Francis de Sales founded Pella Mission — both for the African natives of South Afrrica.
Little thought of to-day, these titanic efforts made possible by the British Empire did not merely result in the salvation of millions — they continue to do so to in our time. The lack of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in Europe and North America (that more traditional orders and dioceses have no problem finding vocations; that diocesan seminaries often routinely reject scores if not hundreds of traditionally minded youths; and that altar girls often help to discourage young lads from going into the Church is another story for another time). But from India and Africa a literal army of priests and religious have descended upon the West — keeping religious orders alive and parishes staffed. For that great gift, under God, we must thank the enlightened policy towards the Church of the later Imperial officials. From the ranks of such post-colonial clergy have come the like of Cardinals Ranjith, Napier, and Arinze, whose work and witness are so important to the maintenance of orthodoxy in the Church to-day. Great as these gifts, are, however, they could save neither the Empire nor the World from the unpleasantries that lay ahead.