Investigating Empire: Humanitarians, Reform and the Commission of Eastern Inquiry

Zoë Laidlaw

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In the wake of the Napoleonic wars, British debates about colonial rule and, in particular, the treatment of subject peoples brought practical, financial and religious concerns together. As a means of addressing these problems, the British government despatched a series of travelling commissions to survey and reform the governance of its empire. British-based humanitarians and abolitionists drew on anxieties about the corrupting influence of empire on metropolitan society to press for commissions as vectors of imperial probity; their colonial counterparts harnessed the commissions' authority to inform and persuade a metropolitan audience of the need for specific colonial reforms. This article explores humanitarian attempts to influence colonial and imperial policy by considering the Commission of Eastern Inquiry, appointed in 1822 to investigate successively the Cape Colony, Mauritius and Ceylon. The Commission's history underscores links between networks of metropolitan and colonial humanitarians, and between anti-slavery activists and supporters of indigenous rights.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)749-768
Number of pages20
JournalThe Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Issue number5
Early online date19 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012

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