empire and colonialism

History of Empire and Colonialism

The British Empire and Colonialism historic theme starts with 16th century exploration. Use the timeline to chart the course of British expansion, entwined with the history of overseas trade routes. Use the map to discover the extent of British imperial growth. The timeline will help set the context of this complex historical theme. British Empire and Colonialism Timeline

1497John Cabot's explorationsJohn Cabot reaches Labrador, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland from Bristol.
1498John Cabot and his ship are lost during an expedition to look for North West Passage.
1516Ottoman Empire won Egypt in 1516 (Turks)The territorial holding of Eqypt by the Ottomans which is challenged by Britain in the early 20th century had deep roots.
1600East India Company founded.James Lancaster is put in charge of the first fleet.
1601Jamestown Virginia the first British Settlers arrive in Virginia America.How did the Jamestown colony survive?
1602James Lancaster's fleet welcomed as trading alternative to Portuguese.Lancaster is successful setting up trading posts in Java and Sumatra.
1606The Banda Islands just off Java are occupied, meanwhile Plymouth Company ships scout Maine and New England, London Company ships scout VirginiaShips from various trading companies are looking for new trading posts and settlements.
1607The Popham Colony established, named after George Popham. Virginia Colony established, Flight of the Earls from Ireland, Henry Hudson sets out for find NW Passage to ChinaThe Popham colony failed, lack of resources and a failure to establish a mutually beneficial trading partnership with the indigenous people made it certain not to succeed.
1608The Hector is the first East India Company ship to reach India. A trading concession is granted from Mughal EmperorThe beginning of the East India's footprint in India.
1610The Virginia Colony was abandoned but restarted when fresh supplies and settlers meet the fleeing colonists. Hudson's fourth voyage to search for NW Passage - reaches Hudson's BayThe re-establishment of the Virginia colony was critical to sustaining the area as a trading settlement.
1614Bermuda becomes a Colony. John Rolfe marries Pocahontas and Virginia settlers resist French settlement attempts at Maine and Nova ScotiaIn a relatively short time trade has been established between the settlers and the traders. Other countries are trying to establish settlements which
1630sPuritan ‘Great Migration’ of the 1630s to Massachusetts; their intention was to establish a theocracy
1773Britain commences highly lucrative Opium export via East India Company from Bengal
1798-1801French Expeditionary force takes Egypt under Napoleon but forced to retreat by BritainNapoleon was forced to retreat following defeat by Britain, the Ottoman and Mamluk forces.
1801-1807Egyptian period of anarchy with British failed attempt to invade in 1807Britain vainly attempted to invade Egypt and defeat the Ottomans in 1807 on behalf of the defeated Mamluks.
1811- Ottomans defeated MamluksOttomans led by Muhammed Ali and continued in the ensuing years with European influence as Archaeology of Egypt thrived. European trained Army unde Ibrahim pasha extends Egyptian rule via Sudan and Middle East
1813Cape of Good Hope becomes a British colony.
1813East India Company loses its monopoly.
1814British sack and burn Washington DC.
1815Battle of Waterloo.
1839-1841 Convention of London 1840 and Treaty of London marks European intervention in Middle EastAll of the Middle East is restored to the Ottomans excluding Egypt and Sudan.
1859-1869Suez Canal Developed as Franco-Turkish ProjectCanal shortened major trading routes on long-hauls to Asia Australia and INDIA from 3 months to 3 weeks as example.)
1875Disraeli and Cabinet make lightening raid to purchase Suez SharesRothschilds secure the loan needed to purchase the shares from heavily indebted Khedive Ismail (the Egyptian Viceroy. Britain secures crtical control of route to India as wella s active interest in Egypt.
1882British Military Intervention in Egypt due to Anti-European Uprising.The British intervention was executed without any other international interference.
1884-1907British advisor to Khedive appoint Eveleyn BARINGBaring was appointed as Consul General in advisory role but securing British hand in government and stability of Egypt.
1900 Australia becomes a dominion
1907 New Zealand becomes A DOMINION
1910Union of South Africa formed includes Swaziland and becomes a dominion.
1920-1922 Gandhi as Nationalist leader launches Civil Disobedience Campaign against British1920-22 - Nationalist figurehead Mahatma Gandhi launches anti-British civil disobedience campaign.
19221st Cairo Conference
1931Statute of Westminster 1931 grants Legislative Autonomy to certain Dominions.Canada Newfoundland South Africa Australia and New Zealand become legislatively autonomous
1932Iraq granted independence 1932.
1936Anglo-Egyptian Treaty 1936 grants independence but Britain retains control of Suez CanalSuez remains critical to Britain and its overseas interests with unrest with Germany building access to oil and the Middle East and colonial forces in India are a high priority.


The colonial period started in the 16th century and is a very important part of modern British history. The Empire began chiefly for the purposes of trade and gradually evolved into a complex web in which new nations were eventually projected out into an independent existence, by the actions of the old nations.

Within a global concept, the British Empire represented a large proportion of European expansion but at what point in history did the Empire turn into the Commonwealth and why does it endure?

In different parts of the world 'Empire' took on a very different meaning and although it is not possible to disinherit the past there must surely be some times, looking back on the British Empire and colonialism, when it would be very nice to be able to do so.

This is an evolving theme that will grow over time. It is easy to use and search, with links and entries being frequently added and updated. A tool to use with our interactive maps and take your own voyage across the history of the British Empire.

Britain's colonial past has in many ways, made us more connected to the present.

We have connections and responsibilities in parts of the world that might otherwise be strangers to. Britain is part of The Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II is head of the Commonwealth and is recognised by the members of the Commonwealth of Nations as the "symbol of their free association" . It is an important part of Britain and as a nation the responsibility towards the Commonwealth is taken very seriously.

We are a nation of migrants and all the richer for it. As long as we face our history we should be brave enough not to deny it and in this theme we hope we can show some of the less known aspects to colonialism that have shaped our past.

Take a look at some of our other themes, migration and Business and Occupations, that connect with Empire and Colonialism



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