Charles V. Reed. Royal Tourists, Colonial Subjects and the Making of a British World, 1860-1911

Charles V. Reed. Royal Tourists, Colonial Subjects and the Making of a British World, 1860-1911. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016. 221p. ISBN 9780719097010. £70.00 (hardcover).

If you enjoyed Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet or saw the PBS TV version called Jewel in the Crown, this book gives you the opportunity to learn more about what life in British India, South Africa, and New Zealand was really like for colonial subjects in the years prior – to be specific, from 1860 to 1911. Reed is a historian of modern Britain and the British Empire. He teaches at Elizabeth City University, a part of the University of North Carolina system. His book, a revision of his dissertation, is the ninth title in the publisher’s series Studies in Imperialism. Favorably reviewed in Times Higher Education (March 24, 2016), it finds a place amidst SHARP News reviews because of its fulsome use of colonial newspapers of India, South Africa, and New Zealand as primary sources, along with English papers, personal accounts, and British government documents.

The point of the work is to demonstrate how British colonial subjects in these places – native chiefs, princes, and kings, white colonists, colonial governors and their staffs, native peoples, and “Respectables” (Western educated native people) – made sense of their political, social and cultural worlds. The author juxtaposes the events associated with Queen Victoria’s family members’ royal tours to these Empire places with the writings about them in the local presses by the “Respectables.” Think Hari Kumar from Jewel in the Crown here. Reed’s original fascination was with the royal tours themselves. The welter of details presented are well-nigh overwhelming, but Reed is clearly quite at home with it all. He has researched at the British Library, the Bodleian Library, the National Archives at Kew, the Royal Archives, University of Nottingham, Auckland Public Library, University of Cape Town Archives, Archives of New Zealand, and the Queensland Women’s History Association. The details do speak and nicely demonstrate how patterns and rituals of British royals visiting their subject peoples in South Africa, India, and New Zealand became established and how this helped create the notion of Empire citizenry. However, it was mostly show.

One chapter covers British Royals at home with the Empire. Another is about naturalising British rule. A third is on building new Jerusalems, exploring global Britishness and settler cultures in South Africa and New Zealand. The fourth is entitled “‘Positively Cosmopolitan,’ Britishness, Respectability, and Imperial Citizenship.” Reed’s last chapter is about what happened, and did not, when significant Empire natives tried to improve their lot by journeying to England to petition Parliament and meet with English dignitaries. Not a pretty picture, any of it. Moreover, we see here all too well how rebellions, apartheid, independence movements, and annihilation of native cultures were bound to develop and how third vs. first world difficulties had their roots in those conflicts that persist today.

The author is careful to provide introductions, conclusions, and summaries of his details as he goes along, and his prose is quite comprehensible. Is there anything that would have made this a better book? Maps, illustrations, a Royal family genealogical chart, a dictionary or glossary (of personal names, places, people groups, and newspaper titles), a chronology of events, and footnotes at page bottoms rather than at chapter ends would have been very useful. Many libraries own the book already. This reviewer recommends it to all who wish to understand how life in these British Empire places in the second half of the nineteenth century played out on the ground amidst the locals.

Agnes Haigh Widder
Michigan State University