Colony? Whose colony?

Colonialism is a dirty word. It’s not used these days (although it should be). It ranks along with imperialism (which also exists).

But, back to the ‘facts’. Britain no longer has crown colonies. It has two crown dependencies – the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, and 14 British Overseas Territories. The overseas territories have had various name changes (crown colonies, dependent territories) but this is the current one.

They are:

• Anguilla
• Bermuda
• British Antarctic Territory
• British Indian Ocean Territory
• British Virgin Islands
• Cayman Islands
• Falkland Islands
• Gibraltar
• Montserrat
• Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands
• St Helena and St Helena Dependencies (Ascension and Tristan da Cunha)
• South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
• Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia
• The Turks & Caicos Islands

The Overseas Territories

The Overseas Territories are very diverse; with thousands of small islands, vast areas of ocean, but also in Antarctica, land six times the size of the United Kingdom.  They include one of the world’s richest communities, in Bermuda; the most remote community, in Tristan da Cunha and one of the smallest, with only 54 people living on Pitcairn Island. The total population of the territories is roughly a quarter of a million.

Quote from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website.

The UK government published an extremely good white paper (to my surprise) on overseas territories at the end of June. Should you wish to read 90 or so pages here is the link to the Overseas Territories White Paper.

I did in fact read it when I went for my interview at the Governor’s office here in Gib under the misguided illusion it might be relevant. Those of you who read my post on Clouds will know that it was more on the lines of what do you do about an invasion of cockroaches? (Answers: 1) scream and call for husband and 2) grab tin of spray, shut eyes, and spray wildly – hoping someone else will clean up the dead ones).

What about other countries?

I thought a comparison with a few colonial competitors would be useful:

France, of course, likes to make life trés complicated. It has the overseas regions of:

Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Mayotte and Réunion.

overseas collectivities:

French Polynesia, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna. (That last one sounds like a shop)

a sui generis collectivity: New Caledonia

one overseas territory: French Southern and Antarctic Lands

an uninhabited island in the Pacific off the coast of Mexico: Clipperton Island

The Netherlands has the Dutch Antilles (which apparently are no longer called that as they have changed their status too):

Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Sint Eustatius, Sin Maarten, Saba, and Suriname.

Denmark has Greenland and the Faroe Isles.

Norway has Bouvet Island, Jan Mayen and, Svalbard. Wherever they may be.

But what about newer countries? Well Australia and New Zealand have a few far flung outposts.

Australia: Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island.

New Zealand: Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau.

And the USA? Well, they rank up there with the UK and France in numbers:

American Samoa, Baker Island, Guam, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palmyra Atoll, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Wake Island.

As for the other big-hitting world power – China has Hong Kong and Macau. The South China Sea Islands are claimed by China, Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia.

Other multiple claims exist in Antarctica. Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the UK all happily claim their chunk of ice. Apparently the USA doesn’t recognise any of these claims. Why not?

Source: US Department of State fact sheet

On colonisation the United Nations has a list of 16 non-self-governing territories. This is a bizarre list that needless, to state, includes Gibraltar.

There are ten British territories on the list, three American, plus one for New Zealand, one for France, and the Western Sahara.

The UN holds conferences (of course) on decolonisation of these places. Just because we aren’t called a colony any more doesn’t mean we aren’t one – according to the UN. So Gibraltar attends the G24 to state its case. The UK doesn’t like to because it considers the colonies have been decolonised. Cristina Kirchner attends because she wants the Malvinas. Um, Cristina – wouldn’t that be called colonisation by another name?

If people want independence great. If they are happy with the status quo – why fiddle with it?

Anyway, here in British colonial Gibraltar, we held the last ceremonial mounting of the guard this year at the weekend.

The governor and his pals hang out on the balcony, and the huge banner for the jubilee is on the offices of Solomon Levy, a Gibraltarian who is well-known for his British patriotism.

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I must say the band routine has changed. They don’t do that clever trick where they turn round and walk within each other. But nevertheless, I took an acceptable vid so you all can enjoy a little bit of Britishness. From Gibraltar.

46 comments on “Colony? Whose colony?

  1. As usual a well researched piece. Of course the US don’t recognise claims I think that is because deep down in the dark places they believe it all belongs to them. Oops, that’s political thought. The men in masks will be coming for me! :)


  2. More education on a Sunday, I some times do not fully understand, but we (UK) is certainly a shrinking Empire. But still enjoyed your read and your video… Thanks ..;)


    • Sorry G, didn’t mean to make your Sunday too heavy. (Sounds like a Beatles track). It arose out of a comment from another reader, and I thought it would be interesting to look at a few other countries.

      The vid seemed to go with the post as it seems so old-style colonial, especially the band music. Thank you for reading.


  3. How very interesting. I learned a lot, most of which i shall (sadly) immediately forget. :-) I believe Germany no longer has overseas territories because it was stripped of them after losing the First World War.


    • Hi Perp. I probably won’t forget it because of doing the reading around and writing up. I didn’t even get into the fact that Saint Martin (French) and Sin Maarten (Dutch) is the same island split between the two. A bit like Cyprus I suppose.

      Thanks for the comment about Germany. I was looking initially at the classic old colonial powers who owned Africa and Asia, so that was why I expected Germany and Belgium to be in there. Was a bit surprised to see Denmark and Norway with overseas pockets but, seafaring nations I guess.


  4. Nice video – did that last man stop, go back and pick up a bit of litter?
    In terms of economic muscle within the Eurozone Germany probably has Greece, Ireland and Portugal and will shortly have Spain and Italy!


    • Thanks and well spotted there. Not sure what he picked up, he def picked up something maybe something one of the others had dropped? I am hopeless at vids, so was pleased to get a half-way decent one that captured the atmosphere.

      Sharp analysis on Germany’s new territories ;)


  5. I was surprised Spain didn’t get a mention, they have numerous non self-governing territories including Ceuta, Melilla and of course the Canary Islands (which had an established indigenous population before the Castille navy arrived). I did look at the page on wikipedia, but it kind of lost me after the death of Franco.

    I wonder why these are not on the United Nations list. Any historians know why ?


    • Probably because I have whinged about Spain before and Ceuta, Melilla, the Canaries, Isla de Perejil, plus that strange disputed place on the border with Portugal. I could have added Madeira to the list as well for Portugal. What makes one territory a dependency/overseas territory/disputed/colony etc and not another?

      Bizarre. Happy to write about Iberian politics for another post though. I just wanted a quick sweeping broad brush look at the supposed general situation. Without everyone falling asleep before they got to the bottom of the post.

      If you read the UN wiki link you will note that it said it was a controversial list. I suspect it is also a historical list and exceedingly political. So, for example, some previous ‘colonies’ had been taken off the list at the request of the governing country eg Macau and Hong Kong at China’s request. But what is Taiwan’s status? Why is Puerto Rico not on there – an unincorporated commonwealth of the US compared with Guam and American Samoa which are unincorporated unorganised territories? How can France have the odd départment in the middle of oceans miles away? That’s like calling Gib a UK county. Ceuta and Melilla are similar, ie autonomous communidades of Spain.

      I don’t think it is historians you need for the answer as this one can’t provide it, but maybe a lawyer could because it seems to me that the essence boils down to a legal definition. Or political clout.


  6. A great video I reckon. :-)
    I didn’t notice the last man Andrew mentioned, so went back for another look, must have been important for him to stop marching and go back.


    • Thanks V. I should have posted the one where I didn’t realise it was recording under the heading of surrealism and you could have looked at the nice pavement, trees, blue sky, building walls all from an extremely strange angle. In fact the music is quite good, but the visuals leave something to be desired :D

      I couldn’t work out what he picked up. Presumably something one of the others had dropped?


  7. I enjoyed the video. The parade seemed very brisk and British [to me], and they looked very smart :) I had no idea of the extent of overseas regions, territories, collectivities, etc and found your post very interesting, as well as the question of independence vs status quo. I suppose there is no easy answer. I would only hope the “landlord” nations would be responsible in their stewardship, rather than slum landlords but I suppose there’s no easy answer for that either…


    • Thanks E. Some years we seem to have a parade every few weeks but they have been thin on the ground this year :( Maybe cos the GibReg have spent some time in London for jubilee celebrations too. Visiting regiments tend to come around certain dates, eg commemorating Battle of Britain. Or we get Royal Engineers or Royal Marines as they both have a long-standing history with Gib.

      It’s not an extensive list, just the ones I happened to look at to give a cross-section. I picked on the old European land-grabbing exploring nations first, and then thought it would be interesting to see what newer countries had. I wonder if for example, the Australian ones were originally British? Or if they are newer territorial acquisitions? That’s why it’s just a snapshot rather than a serious analysis. It was the weekend after all!

      So long as the ‘landlord’ nations don’t go flogging off their properties without the consent of the tenants – that’s my biggest concern.


  8. I have never learned so much about the world in one blog post than this article – ever. I do not understand why America has not claimed “it’s chunk of ice.” Is there oil in those particular chucks of ice? If not, America most likely would not be interested. That is the first reason that came to my mind. America wants and needs oil. I thought the world knew that U.S. politicians do not have blood, they have oil running through their veins. It is sad, but true. The U.S. only wants oil, pretty much. The U.S. Government does love to have a ton of military bases, everywhere and anywhere we can find a place. Our military bases are generally a huge annoyance to the people in that country that live near the base. The bases do cause quite the activism most of the time. I understand though. I would not like to live near a military base.

    Thought provoking article.


    • Thanks L. Had to laugh at your description of oil instead of blood. There is oil in the South Atlantic hence the Argentinian claim for the Falklands. I’m unclear as to what goes on in the Antarctic apart from ‘research’ although I have a friend who has spent time there – must ask him when next we are in touch.

      You can claim the inspiration for this post after your comment about why does Britain have all these far flung places around the world. I knew the Dutch had places in the Caribbean (eg Aruba that you also wrote about) and I knew the French would still be hanging onto places, so it was just a question of looking for a few more ‘overseas territories.’

      At one point Gibraltar was nearly all military base (British) and vast areas of the Rock were no-go areas for civilians. It’s changed enormously over the last few decades but we still have bases here, naval dockyard, RAF Gibraltar, and the Royal Gib Regiment – but it’s almost unnoticeable in a strange sort of way.


  9. I agree with the other readers.. Very interesting..Loved the video too even without the turn around..


    • Thanks L. I think overseas territories are not something any of us ever hear about, we’re aware there is something there in the middle of wherever, but apart from that we know little. Given I live in one, seemed worth a post, but hunting out others too.

      I don’t usually post (my) vids, and when I do I try to ensure they are short. But this one was timely (weekend) and topical (colonialism).


  10. I love marching bands. And no one does pomp and ceremony like the Brits. (In the US, we don’t think of them as colonies…we like to think of them as friends…with benefits….)


    • I think a lot of other countries do some ceremonial stuff well too, I guess I’m thinking mainly European but I went to a parade in India that was pretty spectacular – well, they have elephants so that’s a good start! I think Britain does have a reputation for doing it well, and maybe we do. i haven’t got over the novelty of having military bands and parades going past my home. I could see hanging out of the window, but more fun to walk up and watch.


  11. This was really interesting!

    I’ve often thought it’s funny with those two, little islands, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon here right outside Canada … if I were to go there, I’d be in the E.U. all of a sudden.. :)

    Even Sweden had a colony — Saint Barthélemy — but that was long time ago. It was given to Sweden in 1784, but 1877 they gave it back to the French. The town there is still named Gustavia.


    • Actually the Caribbean was what started me thinking, with France, Netherlands and UK all having their spot of home turf among the islands. I’ve never noticed any controversy about other overseas territories apart from British ones, but maybe it doesn’t get reported in non English speaking news, so I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the others. And France has all those different definitions too!

      I didn’t know about Saint B – but there again I didn’t look up the history of all the ones I mentioned – I would still be here now, writing it up :D Interesting the Swedish name, I assume Swedish is still spoken there (now I’ll have to look that up too).

      I did notice however that the US Virgin Islands used to be the Danish West Indies and were sold less than a hundred years ago to the USA. Amazing.


    • Yeah I think the history of ‘ownership’ is interesting too. Trouble was I would have ended up writing a novella if I had gone down that road. I know Gib and the Falklands, but I’ve no idea about any of the others but well worth a bit of light research I think.

      I did notice New Caledonia is having a referendum on status in 2014 (I think) and they are on the UN funny list of 16 so it will be interesting to see if they vote for the status quo or for more independence from France.



    • An archipeligo 400 miles north of mainland Europe, midway between Norway and the North Pole. Apparently.

      Thanks. Britain seems to get a lot of flack for colonialism so I figured a comparison might even out the score a bit. The French were the obvious ones to look at, but I thought ‘newer’ countries would be interesting to look into too.

      I could have written more, needless to state, but my readers put up with enough lengthy posts, so I figured that was enough to give a snapshot.


      • Midway between Norway and the North Pole, eh? Sounds delightful. I’m surprised it hasn’t been the source of constant struggle and strife for centuries with so much to offer.

        Seriously, it is interesting that so many countries still have litte outposts of the realm scattered around the globe. Of course, if you go back 70 years, a large part of the globe belonged to one of about a dozen countries.


        • There is a Russian community there it seems too, although only around 12% of the population if memory serves me correctly. I guess if you like cold weather, hunting animals, permanent daylight for part of the year and lots of darkness for the rest it could be a paradise one earth. Speaking Norwegian may help too.

          One of the perks of doing history in sixth form (UK) was getting a historical atlas. I was fascinated to look at the changing countries over the years, and the colours of those who ‘occupied’ them.


  12. A really interesting post thank-you. I wasn’t surprised about the number of American territories. Quite a lot for a country that is always for freedom and self-determination :-) I quite like all these little quirks, it is one of the things that make maps interesting.


    • The American ones did surprise me, I thought all the old ‘colonies’ or bits of ’empire’ would be the old stuff. France has hung on rather tenaciously to its bits, but for American to acquire so many and carp on about democracy and freedom and blah boring blah is just unbelieveable.

      I enjoyed writing this post actually, it was interesting to discover how many other overseas territories, remnants of colonialism/empire – or in the case of USA, new empires – still exist.


      • Yes it is unbelievable. Sometimes I think colonies were only “bad” if they were British or French. How can America be evil colonists :-) Also how South Africa, Australia and New Zealand have kept little outposts that the U.K. gave to them nearly a century ago.

        Also interesting how sea based empires are definitely politically incorrect but land based empires that just conquer their neighbours like the USA, Russia or China are not at all empires!


        • What I also find interesting is that people don’t seem to recognise that colonialism or empire still exist – just in a different form. I guess that’s your comment about land-based v sea-based. Invading other countries (eg USA) strikes me as being pretty imperial and arrogant.

          And don’t even start me on the so-called concept of territorial integrity.


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