J.C. Byrne, Entrepreneurial Imperialism and the Question of Indigenous Rights

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This is a study of Joseph C. Byrne, an Irish entrepreneur who embarked on a number of colonial schemes and fashioned himself as an emigration expert. In 1848 he published Twelve Years’ Wanderings in the British Colonies. From 1835 to 1847, followed by a number of emigrant guides to the individual Australian colonies, the Cape of Good Hope and Port Natal. Descriptions of indigenous peoples proliferate throughout Byrne’s guides. While his texts were informed by his own travels, he also quoted liberally from official correspondence, newspapers, and other contemporary works. His accounts reflect both his own opinions, and also a broad spectrum of imperial attitudes and approaches towards Indigenous peoples. This article explores Byrne’s ideas of how Indigenous peoples might best serve the interest of British emigrants: that is how they might or might not be made ‘useful’ to British subjects, and also, in some cases, how their inevitable demise would provide ‘peculiar advantages to emigrants’. His accounts of Indigenous people illustrate the problems posed by the ‘native question’ in imperial thinking, and the way in which Britain grappled to envisage the future place of indigenous people within its colonies in the face of growing settler demands for land.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)981-1010
Number of pages30
JournalThe Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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