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Response to Review no. 1045

It is not exactly fortuitous that our book Migration and Empire and the essays edited by Robert Bickers, Settlers and Expatriates: Britons over the Seas, have been published pretty much at the same time and that both appear in the OHBE’s ‘Companion Series’. The matter of migration and settlement crops up in several chapters of the volumes making up the original OHBE, including some parts specifically dedicated to that theme, but there was no sense in which the totality of the topic could be encompassed even in those five volumes.

These two volumes contain not just more information. They were prompted, certainly in our case, by a desire to develop the agenda, at least with respect to the 19th and 20th centuries. Given the series for which our book was commissioned, we took as our brief the need to examine the relationship between migration and the formal Empire, becoming Commonwealth, and we are pleased that Dr Jackson recognises that focus. That’s why it ends when it does, not of course with the cessation of mass migration, but in the 1960s by which time British imperial migration and settlement had in effect ebbed away, and a period of, in effect, world history had come to a close. Of course, we also insist on the obvious, that migrants with British Empire origins were never contained even within the empire’s expanding frontiers, and that many arrived temporarily or permanently from outside, often in substantial numbers – though we were particularly pleased to discover that the population of Natal in 1904 included five ‘American Indians’ (p.129).

Did empire matter? The theme which Dr Jackson identifies is the one upon which we place particular store, namely that empire was about power. We interpret that to mean more than the methods used by imperial, colonial and dominion governments to control some of the flow and direction of empire migration, positively with subsidised passages and negatively by immigration regulations. Incentives to migrate as settlers or sojourners were also affected by laws, investment patterns, trade links, communications, and, for some, common languages and cultures. These were also consequences of the exercise of political authority over territories in the overseas regions of the British World, though, as essays in Robert Bickers’s volume remind us, not all migrants, not even all settlers, were contained within formal empire spaces.

As a gloss on what Dr Jackson has written, we would also stress that the authority granted by imperial power to some agents, such as labour-hungry entrepreneurs, certainly increased, if it did not always solely cause, the migration of non-white migrants. Dr Jackson recognises a theme which we did not think had been sufficiently examined before, namely the relationship between the different intra-empire migrant flows. Hence we have considered how different empire markets for empire migrants help explain not just migrant types and origins but also volumes, more particularly in relation to the presence or absence of sufficient local supplies of labour and skills (different, for example, in Nigeria than in Queensland).

Dr Jackson suggests that we have delivered a ‘challenging beast’, but we hope that the ‘density’ of our text improves, rather than impedes, its worth. Numbers may not be ‘sexy’, but they are necessary to our overall objective of providing a measurable context within which to evaluate the multitude of ideological and practical factors that made up the life-changing decision to migrate. Volumes matter, because comparisons between the different flows suggest relationships, which require exploration, between white and non-white migration. But since we have also given consideration to the transfer of cultures and to the (re)construction of migrant identities overseas, we hope that readers will find, woven through the text, rather more social and cultural history than Dr Jackson advertises. We have deliberately included voices, expressed in letters, diaries and oral testimony, in order to unearth the human histories buried within 200 years of demographic upheaval. While migrant flows were indeed structured, experiences were personal, and we have sought to put flesh on the bones of political and economic analysis by telling the stories of individual participants in the process. Good histories based substantially on such sources can and should be written, not least to emphasise further the variety of persons who made up the flows of empire migrants and the many types contained within the category of ‘settler’. In two centuries they changed the demographic make-up of substantial parts of the world.