Much of the world today is governed by the clock. The project to incorporate the globe within a matrix of hours, minutes and seconds demands recognition as one of the most significant manifestations of Europe's universalising will. This book is an examination of the ways that western-European and specifically British concepts and rituals of time were imposed on other cultures as a fundamental component of colonisation during the nineteenth century. It explores the intimate relationship between the colonisation of time and space in two British settler-colonies and its instrumental role in the exportation of Christianity, capitalism and modernity. Just as the history of colonialism is often written without much reference to time, the history of time is frequently narrated without due reference to colonialism. Analysing colonial constructions of 'Aboriginal time', the book talks about pre-colonial zodiacs that have been said to demonstrate an encyclopedic oral knowledge of the night sky. Temporal control was part of everyday life during the process of colonization. Discipline and the control of human movements were channelled in a temporal as well as a spatial manner. In the colony of Victoria, missions and reserves sought to confine Aboriginal people within an unseen matrix of temporal control, imposing curfews and restrictions which interrupted the regular flow of pre-colonial patterns, rituals and calendars. Christianity had brought civilised conceptions of time to the Xhosa. Reports of Sabbath observance were treated by Britain's humanitarians as official evidence of missionary success in planting the seeds of Christianity, commerce and civilization.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book seeks to add new depth to our understanding of imperial power and of the ways in which such power was exercised and limited. It provides a broad historical introduction to the socially dominant time-consciousness of nineteenth-century Britain. The book examines how the colonial curtailment of Aboriginal temporalities complemented this logic of elimination by helping to contain, absorb and effectively remove an Indigenous presence in the colony of Victoria. It illustrates how time played a different but nevertheless crucial role in planting the first seeds of a European cultural order in that part of the world. The book offers an anthropological commentary on Indigenous knowledge systems; the object is rather to understand how Europeans themselves viewed Indigenous temporalities.
Europeans who travelled to and from the colonies, with or without clocks at their disposal, carried a set of internal temporal values and beliefs that were intrinsically connected to the convictions of their age. This chapter investigates how to generate a rhythm of life that was quite distinct from any other in the world, the clock and the seven-day week reinforced the colonisers' sense of who they were: a modern, God- and time-aware civilisation. Before the invention of the first European mechanical clocks, monastic communities relied on a host of relatively inaccurate devices and contraptions designed to keep track of time. In the emerging temporal landscape that was gradually shaped by the mechanical clock, time also helped forge social boundaries within European communities. The trend towards the centralisation of time did not stop at the geo-graphical borders of Europe but continued until it had encompassed the entire globe.
The original inhabitants of Australia challenged the very limits of nineteenth-century European conceptualisations of humanity on a number of counts. This chapter describes the ways in which colonial constructions of 'Aboriginal time' helped to bolster the fiction of Australia as terra nullius by portraying its inhabitants as a natural, rather than a cultural with temporary attachment to the land. The perception that Europeans had introduced time, calendars and seasons to Australia was forged during the infancy of British settlement. Maureen Perkins notes that the term 'walkabout' entered Australian colonial discourse around 1828, and soon became a common expression for describing the perceived irregularity inherent in Aboriginal life. The introduction of a developed European industry, full-scale pastoralism and sedentary agriculture loudly drummed out a new 'beat', which at times complemented, and at times conflicted with, the older, pre-colonial rhythms of Aboriginal societies.
The contestation of time in settler-colonial Victoria
In the colony of victoria, missions and reserves sought to confine Aboriginal people within an unseen matrix of temporal control, imposing curfews and restrictions which interrupted the regular flow of pre-colonial patterns, rituals and calendars. The colonisation of time and space in victoria unfolded in three general phases in relation to the Aboriginal population: confrontation, containment and assimilation. Although missionaries and Protectors sought to shield Aborigines from the physical assault of settler-colonisation, they also perceived the 'irregularity' of nomadic movements as a hindrance to their mission. The mission environment confined the inmates both temporally and spatially through rules and regulations which privileged the time-tables of agriculture, pastoralism and Christianity, whilst curtailing the 'irregular' movements, calendars, rituals and economies of pre-colonial society. A common belief among both missionaries and settler-colonial society was that the surviving population of Aborigines might eke out a living by becoming a landless proletariat.
An historical account of the colonial construction of 'African time' will enable us to define the discursive boundaries and ideological context wherein colonial reformers set out to remould African temporal cultures. In documenting the manner in which Europeans perceived 'African time' we ought to note that travellers to the colonies were themselves undergoing profound cultural changes in the process of adjusting to a new life. The pace of life in the colony was certainly different from that which was experienced in the bustling urban centres of Britain. Even sensitive colonial observers perceived but a tenuous margin separating the humanity of Bushmen from the savageness of the fauna which they pursued. The reverend J. Campbell, recorded the story of a Bushman who had diagnosed the condition of a man wounded by a poisoned arrow, predicting that the victim would die 'immediately on the going down of the sun'.
This chapter presents the quest to establish the dominance of the seven-day ritual in the Cape Colony, exploring the significance of its cultural impact and of the ways in which it was received, resisted and reinterpreted by Christian converts. In the Cape during the first half of the nineteenth century, many of the early missions were located well beyond the official limits of the colony, often far from the protection of their government and patrons. The Sabbath allowed missionaries to subvert any competing ritualised activities; for theirs was a mission to enforce a Christian monopoly of time at seven-day intervals. The visible effects of the Sabbath provided missionaries with a tangible means for gauging and conveying the extent of their influence on the lands and its peoples. For missionaries, the extension of the sphere of temporal influence was of great importance and assumed a quasi-military tone in missionary rhetoric.
Missionary schools and the reform of ‘African time’
Time was encoded in the equation of power that regulated and maintained the flow of African workers entering and exiting the colony. Far from being ignorant of computing exact periods of time, African workers demonstrated that they could be just as resentful of delays in wages being paid on time as their white employers were of 'African time'. Transposed to the colonies, however, the ritual carried added cultural weight, seeking totally to reshape African time-consciousness. And this was precisely the intent of statesmen such as Grey and of missionaries such as James Stewart, who clearly possessed a strong desire to reorient the cultural axis of Africa through the medium of education. Situated near the town of Alice, the Lovedale Institution was the most successful of the Cape's educational establishments.
The official deployment of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in 1884 indeed heralded a new era of global timekeeping, allowing people, towns, cities, ports, railways and colonies to connect with metropolitan centres, and between each other, through a single space-time matrix. In the same year that the Cape Colony adopted GMT, Melbourne hosted an 'Intercolonial Survey Conference' which campaigned heavily for the adoption of standard time in the local media. The shared temporal discourse which connected Britain and its colonies with one another in turn reflected and reinforced dominant notions of religion, civilisation and modernity, thus helping to construct the colonisers' own identities and civilities. Nineteenth-century colonial constructions of Indigenous temporality have indeed trickled down into government policy, affecting the lives of Aboriginal people in Australia well into the twentieth century.