The British Empire was often described as “the empire on which the Sun never sets” when it was at its peak. This was due to the extensiveness of the empire, which stretched across the globe in the form of dominions, colonies, protectorates, and various other territories under British rule.
At the beginning of the British expansion into Asia, the British were faced with immense odds, having arrived in Asia much later than the other European powers such as the Portuguese and the Dutch. However, the British were determined in expanding their trade routes as well as their territories. The British first arrived in India, facing heavy competition from the Dutch East Indian Company, which as well established in India at the time. However, by 1757, the British East Indian Company had dominions in India surrendered to them. Just as these policies were designed to sustain British commercial ties to India, too, were British interests in China largely a result of attempts to maintain the economic well being of the centrepiece of the British Empire in India. Trade with China was desirable for British commerce, and it was also a significant means of supporting colonialism in India.
The British continued their expansion further east, occupying Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The colonisation of these territories was not without a cost. Burma came under British rule after the first Anglo-Burmese War, and Hong Kong was ceded to the British after the Chinese faced several defeats. With the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, Britain gained rights to the deep-water port of Hong Kong as a base for these economic activities.
In this exhibit, we will be looking at the art and architectural pieces that have emerged from the British colonies in Asia during the 19th Century. We will be looking at pieces from India, Burma, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and investigate how each piece reflects the colonial rule, social economic situations and influences at the time.
How did the British establish themselves amongst the locals? Were they their equals or their rulers? Journey with us along the British Asian trade route and discover socio-economic truth behind the British Empire in Asia.
Webster, A. (2000). Business and Empire: A reassessment of the British Conquest of Burma in 1885. The Historical Journal, 43(04), 1003-1025.
Karsh, J. A. (1834). The Root of the Opium War: Mismanagement in the Aftermath of the British East India Company’s Loss of its Monopoly in 1834 (Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania).