The British Acquisition of Fiji

Traders and missionaries from Europe, writes Sarah Searight, settled on the islands many years before official annexation.

The story of the British acquisition of Fiji throws light on the contrast between the British Government’s attitude to extensions of empire and that of British nationals. In Fiji itself there was the spread of European settlement, the conflict of interest between European and native, the problems facing British consuls and Fijian chiefs in their various attempts to impose order on a confused situation.

In Britain there was the clash of policies between a tight-fisted Treasury, a Colonial Office besieged by well-meaning humanitarians and a Foreign Office concerned with the wider context of international relations.

Over a period of fifteen years, between 1858 and 1873, successive British Governments opposed any extension of empire in the Pacific, while British subjects built up trade, missions and plantations. As for the Fijians, Consul Jones wrote in 1865: ‘in endeavouring to lead the South Sea Islanders on the path of progress, the chief difficulty is to find some motive to induce them to advance; it is not an easy matter to prove to them that it is for their advantage to adopt the civilization of the whites.’

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