By Ronald Hyam
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Additional resources for Britain’s Imperial Century, 1815–1914: A Study of Empire and Expansion
In its best year, 1837, the royal navy had been able to capture and liberate only 8,652 slaves in transit - probably less than ten per cent of the total. The average figure intercepted annually was about eight per cent, but the navy's presence had a deterrent effect much greater than this figure suggests. Perhaps 43 per cent more slaves might otherwise have been shipped between 1811 and 1870. From 1850 Brazil began enforcing her own anti-slave trade legislation and this by 1852 broke the back of the Atlantic slave trade.
Or had it, on account of the large non-European population, to be treated as another India? After many hesitations and afterthoughts and changes of approach, it was easy to conclude by the l880s that South Africa was perhaps an insoluble problem. So at least Gladstone thought, and Sir Charles Dilke agreed that the task of ruling it was all but impossible. To withdraw, however, could lead to anarchy, endangering British interests, whether strategic, economic or h umani tarian. The Great Trek of Boers out of the Cape Colony occupied almost a decade after about 1835.
There were rumours that France aimed to establish herself in Irrawaddy navigation, and improvements in the French commercial position might enable her to put pressure on British India. The region was becoming more important politically and economically, and no chances could be taken. By the time the third Burma war broke out in 1885, it may have been felt that the French threat was lessening; the government's aim (though not Viceroy Dufferin's) has been described as trying, as in Egypt, to restore the working of informal influence.