A Short History of Guinea and its impact on early British abolitionism
How did the institution of Atlantic slavery and the African slave trade come under attack in the 1780s? One major contributor to anti-slavery discourse in the early stages of abolitionism was the French-born American Quaker, Anthony Benezet. In 1762, he wrote a pathbreaking book on the history of West Africa, in which he used the writings of proslavery advocates and slave traders to construct a very different, and much more positive, portrait of Africa and African slavery than previously available. In Benezet’s rendering, Africans exemplified a whole range of Quaker virtues, none of which had been previously associated with Africans. This chapter assesses the importance of Benezet on Africa in the development of early humanitarian discourse.
Humanitarianism and violence have traditionally been understood as polarised states, one serving as a mitigating response to the other. It is only recently that scholars have begun to align the two terms to consider how state-directed humanitarian interventions can be imbricated with conditions of violence. Similarly, recent work on humanitarianism’s imperial underpinnings has drawn out the ways that its appeals to values of universal humanity have been interwoven with the cultural, political or military violence of colonial state-building. This chapter builds on these themes to consider how humanitarian orientations in British imperial policy adapted to evolving expressions of colonial violence over the course of the nineteenth century as the key period of almost unbridled global expansion. Around the British world, the nineteenth century was notable for the range of humanitarian policy initiatives that were triggered by calls to protect those left most at risk of colonial violence or exploitation. But while the long-term objective of humanitarian policy was to check abuses and misuses of colonial power, the process of generating a culture of humane rule was often directly entangled with the enlistment and justification of violence
Nursing leaders of the League of Red Cross Societies between the wars
The League of Red Cross Societies was formed in May 1919 by the national Red Cross societies of the United States, France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan. One of its early initiatives was the establishment of an international post-graduate public health nursing programme in association with Bedford College, London. This paper focuses on this innovative public health programme and the early Nursing Directors of the League of Red Cross Societies, Alice Fitzgerald, Katherine Olmsted and Maynard Carter, who fought to establish and consolidate the highly successful programme within the highly precarious environment of the League’s early years. It provides us with an insight into the impact of the League of Red Cross Societies on the Red Cross movement and its role as a nascent supranational organisation facilitating the exchange of knowledge and information that led to the development of nursing and public health programmes extending across Europe, the Americas and Asia. In doing so, the paper reveals the geopolitical tensions, the competing and contested agendas of other organisations including from within the Red Cross movement, and the philosophies and inherent conflicts surrounding nursing training more broadly during the interwar period. Finally, it suggests that without the League of Red Cross Societies, there would have been no international public health nursing courses in the 1920s and 1930s, and that the development of public health more broadly would have looked very different.
The case of Rosemary Taylor, Elaine Moir and Margaret Moses
During the Vietnam War, relief agencies and religious organisations were swamped with applications from Australians wishing to adopt refugee children from Vietnam. These appeals to government, religious and aid organisations were framed as humanitarian acts driven by compassion and empathy for children whose lives were devastated by war. Underpinning these campaigns was an understanding of humanitarianism informed by an imagined, fantasised future of happiness for such war refugee children. I argue these campaigns of inter-country and transnational adoption of war refugee children were marked by a humanitarianism which was characterised by several factors. The first was the attainment of an idealised, untainted childhood which had been destroyed by war, but which could how retrieved and reconstructed through adoption. Second, adoptees perceived themselves as saviours and heroes, saving innocent children and providing a narrative of uncomplicated happy resolution, speaking and acting for children. In so doing, they conflated individual motives with altruism and a social imaginary of an idealised family model. Finally, it is argued that the construct of the ‘war orphan’ is never an apolitical practice and a form of humanitarianism based on retrieving an idealised childhood attempts to depoliticise and neutralise the circumstances of violence and war.
This chapter will explore how Britain’s humanitarian priorities in West Africa could be shaped by the demands of people like Crowther, the limitations of those claims on Britain’s philanthropy and how the relationship between the humanitarian promise and its reality affected West African attempts to control diseases like malaria. Ultimately, while British imperial humanitarian policy often responded to British West African subjects’ appeals to intervene in the slave trade, other humanitarian concerns, including famine and disease, were regularly not prioritised by the colonial government, despite lobbying from the same groups. This chapter will contrast British responses to West African calls for anti–slave trade intervention with measures to reduce malaria and yellow fever and promote colonial welfare. Despite the strength of anti–slave trade feeling in the halls of power, humanitarian imperialism was not matched by humanitarian governance.
This book examines the shifting relationship between humanitarianism and the expansion, consolidation and postcolonial transformation of the Anglophone world across three centuries. Rather than exploring this relationship within a generalised narrative, an introductory essay sets out its key features throughout the imperial and post-imperial period, before carefully selected chapters explore trade-offs between humane concern and the altered context of colonial and postcolonial realpolitik with case studies distributed between the late eighteenth and late twentieth centuries. Together, the collection enables us to tease out the relationship between British humanitarian concerns and the uneven imagination and application of emancipation; the shifting tensions between ameliorative humanitarianism and assertive human rights; the specificities of humanitarian governance; the shifting locales of humanitarian donors, practitioners and recipients as decolonisation reconfigured imperial relationships; and the overarching question of who Anglo humanitarianism is for.
The tragic story of theAboriginal prison on Rottnest Island, Western Australia, 1838–1903
Governor John Hutt, a man strongly influenced by British humanitarian thought, played a crucial role in the early 1840s in establishing an Aboriginal prison on Rottnest Island. For him, the ‘improvement and instruction’ of the prisoners mattered more than their punishment, and he appointed an Aboriginal Protector to keep watch. Yet during the sixty years the prison operated, it became a feared and hated place for Aboriginal people, with approximately 3,700 prisoners subjected to regimes of hard labour and harsh physical punishment, of whom 10 per cent died in custody. The island is now a place of great sadness for Nyungar and other Indigenous groups in Western Australia and modes of recognition and remembrance of this history are under continuing discussion. In this paper, I explore this history as a startling case study in the failure of humanitarian principles and policies to translate into humanitarian action on the ground. In particular, I draw out the inherent contradictions in attempting a humanitarian form of settler colonialism.
This chapter places Samuel Moyn's influential argument, that the post-war ascendance of human rights saw it subordinated to a humanitarian optic, into dialogue with a study of Amnesty International’s early years in Australia. Founded in 1961 by London-based lawyer and Catholic convert Peter Benenson, AI quickly found a receptive audience in Australia, with ‘sections’ emerging in cities across the nation. Through exploring two of the group’s early campaigns – that Indigenous Australians and conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War be recognised as ‘prisoners of conscience’ by the group’s London-based headquarters – I identify how two different understandings of rights coexisted within the organisation during this period. One was maximalist and humanitarian: insisting that rights inhering in the person irrespective of the state, while the other was minimalist and closer to a traditional understanding of rights as emerging from citizenship and imposing duties onto a subject. Such schisms were also tied into some of the central debates on human rights during the ‘long 1960s’: particularly the competition for supremacy between collective and individual rights at an international level. The chapter concludes by tracing Amnesty International’s Australian history through to the so-called human rights explosion of the late 1970s, revealing how its ‘human rights proceduralism’ frustrated those motivated by an older, often religiously inspired humanitarian sensibility, providing insights that shed light on the group’s neglected global history.
Humanitarian discourse in New South Wales, 1788–1830
The inaugural governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, was instructed to ‘conciliate the affections of the natives’ in New South Wales in 1788. Phillip also forbade slavery in the colony, in what has been referred to as a humanitarian gesture. By contrast, marine lieutenant Watkin Tench observed in relation to the transportation of convicts, that advocates for humanity in the colony were few and risked being overshadowed by the ‘vile monsters who deride misery and fatten on calamity’. What, then, did it mean to be an advocate of humanity amidst the various calamities of colonisation? Who was considered ‘humane’ among the colonial officials, the recalcitrant Britons and the supposedly ‘savage’ local Indigenous peoples, and why? This chapter will consider the emergence of humanitarian ideals in the late eighteenth century and examine the ways they were evaluated, expressed and practised during the earliest period of the colonisation of New South Wales. Further, it will reflect on the ways historiography of this period has perpetuated a narrative of enlightened humanity, despite the dissonance between the rhetoric of humanitarianism and the practice of colonisation.
Changing the discourse on Indigenous visitors to Georgian Britain
Native Americans had been visiting Britain since the early sixteenth century. Britons always understood them as fellow humans, though admittedly through certain dominant cultural typologies such as savagery. As Britain’s relationship with North America crumbled from the mid-eighteenth century, visiting Native Americans became increasingly problematic. The typologies employed for understanding such people shifted perceptibly during one visit in 1765. When an unscrupulous tailor from New York displayed two Mohawk men at the Sun Tavern in the Strand, no less an establishment than the House of Lords intervened to issue a general edict against the commercialisation of Native American envoys. The Lords confirmed a new way of thinking about Indigenous travellers, one that recognised them as individuals who deserved at least to be free of certain behaviours from Britons. This shift may be seen as a sign of the emergence of humanitarian discourse and simultaneously the erosion of the motif of savagery. What happened next, though, belies usual liberal understandings of what such a shift does for non-Europeans. Native American travellers to Britain now found themselves facing one of two responses: either a complete lack of interest or, ironically, an increased chance of being made into a spectacle. This chapter outlines the ways in which the ameliorative impulse ran parallel to a new comprehension of Indigenous people, one that was more ‘humane’ than what had gone before but also less engaged and thus ultimately less concerned about observing Indigenous rights.