Engine without a governor: the early years of the British South Africa Company
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In international relations as in household economy, ‘cheapest’ can be most expensive. British Imperial policy in the nineteenth century was consistently dominated by an emphasis on austerity. The consequences were not infrequently heavy impositions on the British taxpayer when the paucity of resources employed by the Imperial government in pursuit of great purposes led to catastrophes. The locale was usually southern Africa. There the contrast between available means and avowed ends was tremendous. Economy measures contributed to a succession of Kaffir Wars each more expensive than its predecessor, culminating in the war of 1850-3 which cost the Imperial government hundreds of thousands of pounds and produced a revulsion in Parliament against further responsibility for those ‘barbarous and sanguinary wretches’, the African tribes on the frontier.1 The resultant withdrawal from the Orange River Territory and the Transvaal would have been economical had it not subsequently collided with the development of British interests and ambitions in the interior of southern and central Africa; the return of the Imperial factor to the area from which it had receded cost thousands of lives and millions of pounds.