Race and British Colonialism in Southeast Asia, 1770-1870: John Crawfurd and the Politics of Equality, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Race and British Colonialism in Southeast Asia, 1770-1870

John Crawfurd and the Politics of Equality, 1st Edition

By Gareth Knapman


278 pages | 8 B/W Illus.

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The idea of "race" played an increasing role in nineteenth-century British colonial thought. For most of the nineteenth century, John Crawfurd towered over British colonial policy in South-East Asia, being not only a colonial administrator, journalist and professional lobbyist, but also one of the key racial theorists in the British Empire. He approached colonialism as a radical liberal, proposing universal voting for all races in British colonies and believing all races should have equal legal rights. Yet at the same time, he also believed that races represented distinct species of people, who were unrelated. This book charts the development of Crawfurd’s ideas, from the brief but dramatic period of British rule in Java, to his political campaigns against James Brooke and British rule in Borneo. Central to Crawfurd’s political battles were the debates he had with his contemporaries, such as Stamford Raffles and William Marsden, over the importance of race and his broader challenge to universal ideas of history, which questioned the racial unity of humanity. The book taps into little explored manuscripts, newspapers and writings to uncover the complexity of a leading nineteenth-century political and racial thinker whose actions and ideas provide a new view of British liberal, colonial and racial thought.


"a serious contribution to the history and the historiography of empire and Southeast Asia", Michael D. Barr, History Australia

Table of Contents


1. The East India Company’s Scottish Critic of Empire in Asia

2. Land, History and the Source of Civilisation

3. Searching for the Aboriginal Pre-History of the Savage

4. Race and the Natural History of the Savage

5. Singapore and Competing Visions of Colonialism

6. Protecting and Civilising Savages in Sarawak

7. Resisting Colonialism in Sarawak

8. Civilisation, the Savage and Equality


Appendix: Identifying John Crawfurd’s Writings in The Examiner

About the Author

Gareth Knapman is a researcher at the Australian National University.

About the Series

Empires in Perspective

This important series examines a diverse range of imperial histories from the early modern period to the twentieth century. Drawing on works of political, social, economic and cultural history, the history of science and political theory, the series encourages methodological pluralism and does not impose any particular conception of historical scholarship. While focused on particular aspects of empire, works published also seek to address wider questions on the study of imperial history.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General
HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain
HISTORY / Modern / 19th Century
HISTORY / Asia / Southeast Asia