Cash, Convicts and Christianity

  • Robert D. Grant


The British government and its colonial administrators, settlers in Britain’s colonies and their governments forged complex, contingent and constantly changing relations with the indigenous peoples of the lands they occupied and, in the white settler world, the ‘native’ often inhabited a liminal zone between civilised and savage. It was, for example, frequently the incongruous or humorous aspects that featured in nineteenth-century descriptions of indigenous peoples in European costume. William Burchell reported Khoikhoi were grotesque in such clothing, ‘[t]heir dark African visage … at variance with their clothes of European fashion’. Charles Bunbury thought such dress on Xhosa chiefs ‘did not become them at all’ and, wholly ignorant of fashion, Joel Polack observed, New Zealand Maori inevitably had defective ideas about wearing European clothing:

Stockings or shirts worn round the throat; shirts turned into trousers, the arms answering for the legs; crownless hats; a jacket put on, the front buttoned behind; a stocking on the arm; trousers put on, the seat in front, and buttoned behind; shirts pendant as aprons; the arms being tied round the waist, &c., are the effects of a taste in dress, decidedly uncontemplated by the original manufacturers.

In the British metropolis itself, during the first half of the nineteenth-century, indigenous presences were generally seen as spectacular or morbid intrusions: European crewmen who deserted their vessels or were kidnapped in Africa, South America or New Zealand, returned to Britain with tales of survival, along with bizarre curios such as preserved heads, which they displayed for sale in London shop windows or at local fairs.


Indigenous People Indigenous Population Select Committee European Colonist Indigenous Inhabitant 
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© Robert Grant 2005

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  • Robert D. Grant

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