Britannia Rules the Waves:
I have just returned from an extended holiday in Tasmania. Not a place I really wanted to visit – but I am glad I went because it is a well preserved microcosm of British Empire building.
Raised as I was to despise the jingoism, racial predjudice and blind patriotism of the colonialists, the more I travel the World, the more I have come to admire the energy, the vision the bravery of those Empire builders. Just 22 million people from a small mist shrouded island whose maritime skills and initiatives dominated the World, and left in many cases an admirable legacy.
Port Arthur, Tasmania was founded as a penal colony in 1833 and was closed in 1877. In that short 44 years using convict labour it was a timber cutting facility, a coal mine, a flour mill, a foundry and a pententiary for some 2,000 convicts. But even in those far off days while the regime was brutal it was not as primitive as you might imagine.
The penitentiary was a solid 3 story structure of sandstone with shared cells. There was a separate psychological prison for hardened criminals beyond redemption in solitary confinement, and a separate Boys’ prison on an island to keep young offenders away from adult criminals. And later there was a rest home for elderly prisoners that could not be rehabilitated and returned to society that was possibly the model for Britain’s welfare state. How enlightened is all that?
The rehabiltation program was a well established 4 step procedure. A period of hard labour, a period as a trustee, a period as a parollee – and finally release into society with sometimes a gift of free land. So how enlightened was that.
There was a model village with a Governer’s mansion, a house for the Surgeon General, and a lovely sandstone Anglican church – and housing for the military and civilian personnel who ran the settlement. There were frequent dinner parties and social functions (horse racing and whale boat racing) to create a home from home and keep people from “going bush” – an important discipline in the British Empire.
Port Arthur is set in a lovely sheltered bay on what is essentially a heavily wooded island surrounded by rough seas only connected to the Tasmanian mainland by a very narrow strip of land (Eagles Neck). It was easy to defend and almost impossible to escape from because in those days most people could not swim and to enter the bush meant disoreintation, snakes and spiders and eventual death.
I am gobsmacked by how these enterprising people found these wonderful and lovely sites for their developments. The Dutch came first (hence the name Van Diemans land), and French botanists and zoologists later, and both moved on – but it was the British who settled and developed it. Just one small development in a World with a plethra of developments.
Think India, the jewel in The Crown, with the British heritage of a common language, a judical and educational system, and the largest parliamentary democracy in the World . Think Malaysia and Singapore and even Burma, now slowly returning to democracy. And think the USA, also founded by the British (look at the names of the founding fathers and the first Presidents).
So how is it that the American imperialists, and the British before them, have not been able to establish a stable legacy in the Middle East?
If you want insights into The West’s relationship with the Middle East and its complexity from the perspective of the weird and wonderful oilfield trash, expatriate characters who washed up there in the oil patch from 1960 to 2001, preview my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind” at:
www.amazon.com and download it if you have a Kindle.
Or if you prefer a real book you can order the paperback edition from:
Using the ISBN number is 978-1908147097
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