At its height, the British Empire was the largest to have ever existed. Aside from covering most of the globe, it was responsible for some of the greatest advances in engineering, art, and medicine that the world will ever know. The Empire gave us steam engines, penicillin, radar, and even television.
However, life under the British wasn’t all just incredible inventions. Alongside the good stuff the Empire did sat a whole ream of not-so-good stuff, critics point to massacres, famines and the use of concentration camps by the British Empire.
1. BOER CONCENTRATION CAMPS
During the Second Boer War (1899-1902), the British rounded up around a sixth of the Boer population – mainly women and children – and detained them in camps, which were overcrowded and prone to outbreaks of disease, with scant food rations.
Of the 107,000 people interned in the camps, 27,927 Boers died, along with an unknown number of black Africans.
2. AMRITSAR MASSACRE
When peaceful protesters defied a government order and demonstrated against British colonial rule in Amritsar, India, on 13 April 1919, they were blocked inside the walled Jallianwala Gardens and fired upon by Gurkha soldiers.
The soldiers, under the orders of Brigadier Reginald Dyer, kept firing until they ran out of ammunition, killing between 379 and 1,000 protesters and injuring another 1,100 within 10 minutes.
Brigadier Dyer was later lauded a hero by the British public, who raised £26,000 for him as a thank you.
3. PARTITIONING OF INDIA
In 1947, Cyril Radcliffe was tasked with drawing the border between India and the newly created state of Pakistan over the course of a single lunch.
After Cyril Radcliffe split the subcontinent along religious lines, uprooting over 10 million people, Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India were forced to escape their homes as the situation quickly descended into violence.
Some estimates suggest up to one million people lost their lives in sectarian killings.
4. MAU MAU UPRISING
Thousands of elderly Kenyans, who claim British colonial forcesmistreated, raped and tortured them during the Mau Mau Uprising (1951-1960), have launched a £200m damages claim against the UK Government.
Members of the Kikuyu tribe were detained in camps, since described as “Britain’s gulags” or concentration camps, where they allege they were systematically tortured and suffered serious se-xual assault.
Estimates of the deaths vary widely: historian David Anderson estimates there were 20,000, whereas Caroline Elkins believes up to 100,000 could have died.
5. FAMINES IN INDIA
Between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation while it was under the control of the British Empire, as millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain as famine raged in India.
In 1943, up to four million Bengalis starved to death when Winston Churchill diverted food to British soldiers and countries such as Greece while a deadly famine swept through Bengal.
Talking about the Bengal famine in 1943, Churchill said: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.”