The triumph of pragmatic imperialism: Lord Minto and the defence of the Empire, 1898-1910

Gillon, Benjamin Thomas (2009) The triumph of pragmatic imperialism: Lord Minto and the defence of the Empire, 1898-1910. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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While relatively neglected in the historiography, the 4th Earl of Minto, who achieved the distinction of serving consecutively as Governor-General of Canada and Viceroy of India from 1898-1910, is more truly representative of the methods Britain adopted to govern its Empire than his more illustrious contemporaries. He was one of the many aristocrats who, while increasingly marginalised in other aspects of British political life, were believed to possess important qualities that made them ideally suited to the highest levels of imperial service. As part of the governing elite, Britain’s aristocrats shared many of the assumptions held by politicians, civil servants and military officers, about imperial governance. Vague notions circulated about Britain’s duty to civilize its possessions, but most policy-makers eschewed ‘ideological’ visions in favour of a more pragmatic approach based on recognition that protecting the empire from both internal and external threats was vital to maintaining Britain’s leading position amongst its rival Great Powers. The pragmatism of its governors provided an element of continuity in the diverse territories of Britain’s empire.

This thesis examines the role of Lord Minto in the formation of defence and foreign policy to illustrate the centrality of the pragmatic approach to British imperialism. He held his posts at a time of transition for the Empire. Ideas about the duties of imperial governors were changing, as power shifted either to local governments in the self-governing colonies or back to the metropole from the periphery. Yet as Britain faced an increasing range of challenges, governors remained able to influence many of the decisions made in response. Like most governors Minto worked under a series of constraints. He was forced to repair the damage caused by his predecessors and contain the unrealistic aspirations of his superiors, although, a soldier himself, he found his military colleagues a valuable source of support throughout his career. In Canada Minto worked hard to ensure that Laurier’s government accepted its imperial responsibilities, most notably during the South African war, but also that his British superiors understood Canadian attitudes towards the Empire and rapprochement with America. As Viceroy, Minto’s priority remained protecting the security of the Raj, particularly the strategically vital North West Frontier, often against the insistence of a Liberal government focused on economic retrenchment. That he was able to achieve these aims and restore stability to previously troubled territories is a tribute to the effectiveness of pragmatism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Lord Minto, British Empire, historiography, imperialism, defence, aristocracy, British foreign policy, civil-military relations, army reform, Canada, India, Raj, North West Frontier, Afghanistan, Anglo-American relations, Anglo-Russian relations, Boer War, Imperial Federation, Alaska Boundary Dispute, Canadian Militia, Indian Army, frontier expeditions, arms traffic, Viceroy, Governor General, proconsuls, Colonial Office, India Office, Secretary of State for the Colonies, Secretary of State for India, Joseph Chamberlain, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Sir Frederick Borden, Major-General E.T.H Hutton, Lord Dundonald, Lord Aberdeen, Lord Curzon, John Morley, Lord Kitchener, St. John Brodrick
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > DS Asia
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Ball, Dr. S.J. and O'Brien, Dr. P.P.
Date of Award: 2009
Depositing User: Mr Benjamin Gillon
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-643
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Apr 2009
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:20

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