British Empire
Living in the British empire - Africa
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Photograph of colonial police officers in about 1900
(Catalogue ref: COPY 1/445 f519)
  • This photograph was taken in 1900. It shows police officers in Natal, one of the provinces of South Africa, which was under British rule at that time.
  • The officers are Africans, but they are in uniforms similar to that of British police back in Britain.
  • The photograph shows that Africans were involved in the day-to-day process of enforcing British rules and laws. These men were probably trusted and responsible members of their particular nations.
  • The picture also reminds us that British rule relied heavily on native peoples to make it work. It would be easy to find similar pictures of Indian police in India, Chinese police in Hong Kong and so on.
  • Admirers of British rule point out that British rule did help to stabilise situations in areas which had seen a lot of conflict before the British arrived. There is evidence that British officials were seen as honest and reliable judges and local people often asked them to make judgements in disputes.
  • Critics of British rule point out that native police officers never rose to positions of authority. There is also some evidence that poor pay and bad treatment of the officers sometimes led to corruption. The British presence could create conflicts as well as settle conflicts.
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