Conservation and colonial expansion : a study of the evolution of environmental attitudes and conservation policies on St. Helena, Mauritius and in India, 1660-1860
The approach adopted in this thesis is essentially chronological. The first chapter aims to provide a fairly superficial survey of the development of European perceptions of the environment in the early phases of mercantilist expansion, before much in the way of colonial settlement was undertaken. It highlights the connections between expansion and changes in perception with regard to the symbolic importance of islands, botanic gardens and early state responses to timber shortage. It also draws attention to the importance of medical perceptions of the extra-European environment. In the second chapter a comparison is drawn between Dutch and English approaches to the tropical environment in the early years of expansion. Considerable space is devoted to the case of St Helena. This is because it was the first location in which European colonists first acquired a notion of the full environmental implications of their rule and for which detailed documentary evidence is available. The story of the developing ecological crisis on St Helena emphasises how inadequate European precedents were in the encounter between the early colonial state and the tropical environment. It demonstrates, too, the early divergence in perceptions between colonists and the metropolitan power. Early attempts at counteracting the process of ecological deterioration on St Helena underlined the contradictions between the European image of the tropical island and the reality of capital investment in plantation agriculture and 'improvement'. The experience of St Helena was also important in a longer-term way. Many scientists important in the later development of conservation ideas in other parts of the world were specifically influenced by their knowledge of the problematic history of land-use on St Helena and the attempts made there to impede ecological degradation. These included Alexander Beatson, J.R. Forster, Joseph Hooker, F.A. Dalzell and G.P. Marsh. In the third chapter much attention is devoted to the history of eighteenth century Mauritius, partly for comparative purposes and partly to emphasise the attitude of the French state to scientific information and its greater readiness to intervene in environmental matters. The development of an environmental consciousness on Mauritius was significant both as a phenomenon on its own and because of the example which it set. The role of the colonial government naturalist was pioneered there. Concepts of species extinction also emerged clearly, for the first time, on Mauritius and the island also saw the emergence of a legislative conservation policy rooted in a desiccation theory which linked deforestation and soil erosion to hydrological and climatic conditions. Notions of environmental moral economy and the significance of the tropical island are also explored in the chapter, in the context of the emergence of pre-Revolutionary radicalism, Physiocracy and early Romantic thinking. Chapter Four attempts to deal in some depth with the intellectual background to the early nineteenth century response of the British to ecological change in India. The importance of German science and a German 'romanticist' critique of ecological change is outlined and some emphasis is given to the emergence of a 'global' approach to the interactions between people (especially Europeans) and the environment. In particular the significance of the intellectual links between the Cook Voyages and the careers of J.R. Forster, Sir Joseph Banks and Alexander Von Humboldt is stressed. A beginning is also made in the task of surveying the way in which German professional naturalists and doctors deliberately sought out British colonial employ, a phenomenon that was to be important in the emergence of state conservation in India, the Cape, Australia and in other colonies. The chapter makes clear the continuing importance of small island environments during the nineteenth century in stimulating an awareness of environmental vulnerability, particularly for Alexander Beatson, William Burchell and J.B. Boussingault.