By C. J. Bartlett
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Extra info for Britain Pre-eminent: Studies of British world influence in the nineteenth century
The Australasian madness subsided into a melancholy of financial gloom. In the 1880s each major imperial territory had seemed similarly capable of providing its own glowing prospects. None outshone the gold and diamonds of South Africa, both now produced by capitaldemanding techniques and both highly speculative. The' Kaffir Circus' - that part of the London Stock Exchange which specialised in South African securities - revolved at exciting speed especially in 1889 and 1892, and then slowed down to cool its overheated bearings.
14 One who rushed was the young Benjamin Disraeli. 15 Had his venture succeeded he might have become another Rothschild; instead he wrote Vivian Grey. The boom and ensuing crash of 1824-6 is the first major landmark in the history of British overseas investment. Interest rates at home, as measured at least by the yield on Consols and by the conversion opera- II BRITAIN PRE-EMINENT tions of the Treasury, had been moving downwards with the full return to a peace economy. Robert Stephenson's trip to Colombia and the emigration of Cornish miners to most South American countries illustrate the range of skills which Britain could provide to foreign borrowers.
On any reading of the facts the nineteenth century differs from any of its predecessors in 34 BRITAIN PRE-EMINENT the sheer amount of British capital invested abroad, representing a huge geographical spread of purchasing power and a spearhead of economic change. What is more questionable is whether the motivation was in any sense novel. Put bluntly the question is whether, to use Sir William Harcourt's language, Britain in the nineteenth century moved into a phase of 'stock-jobbing imperialism'.
Britain Pre-eminent: Studies of British world influence in the nineteenth century by C. J. Bartlett