Company Colonisation and the Settler Revolution, 1820–1840

Birchall, Matthew 

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This dissertation examines the cluster of agricultural trading and colonisation companies that emerged in the wake of the Napoleonic wars. It argues that company colonisation in Britain’s settler empire was driven by developments in the City of London. While scholars have long studied emigration and colonisation in relation to the so-called colonial reform movement, 1820–1840, the role of private enterprise has only been obliquely addressed. This thesis offers the first synoptic account of company colonisation at the dawn of the Pax Britannica. Taking the City as its focus, it shows how institutional and social forces in the Square Mile converged with broader debates about the future shape of the empire, and in so doing propelled a wave of company speculation that influenced the trajectory of settler colonial expansion after 1815.

The thesis grounds itself in a close study of several colonial companies: the Australian Agricultural Company (1824), the Canada Company (1825), the Van Diemen’s Land Company (1825), the South Australian Company (1835), the New Zealand Company (1839), and the Western Australian Company (1840). Drawing on a wide range of materials in archives across the world–published writings, parliamentary testimony, company minute books, personal correspondence, and Colonial Office memoranda–the dissertation shows how the company men at the centre of these enterprises imagined, and briefly realised, a corporate empire that stretched across the oceans.

Companies and colonisation have frequently been linked together in analyses of modern world history, but Britain’s sprawling settler empire has conventionally been omitted from such accounts. This dissertation offers a wide-ranging examination of company colonisation in a spirit of challenge to historical treatments of the period that privilege the imperial state. In so doing, it connects the history of Britain’s colonies of settlement to the new history of global capitalism, while challenging the conventional periodisation and spatial parameters of chartered enterprise.

Bell, Duncan
Company Colonisation, Australia, New Zealand, Capitalism, Colonisation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge