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Title: Elections in the mid-nineteenth century British Empire
Author: Parkinson, Naomi Gabrielle
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 8469
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis presents a comparative analysis of the operation and significance of elections in the British colonies of Jamaica, New South Wales and the Cape, from 1849-1860, with a particular focus on the creation and reconstruction of ideas of politically-entitled British subjecthood over this period. Beginning with the first elections under a system of representative government in New South Wales and the Cape, and the early elections of the post-emancipation period in Jamaica, it questions how residents within these sites engaged with elections via the cultures of the canvass, public meetings, open nominations and viva voce polling. Through this study, I show how mid-century elections became critical sites for the articulation of social tensions and long-standing rivalries between competing settler groups within each of these colonies. I argue that the franchise, although highly demonstrative of the Colonial Office and settlers’ attempts to reconcile the respective competing histories of and justifications for colonisation, was often frustrated in practice. Cultures of violence, the manipulation of land-values, double-voting and bribery provided avenues through which laws governing the right to vote were transcended during elections. Through this thesis, I show how both residents and officials used such mechanisms to reshape the function and meaning of the franchise. I also show the lasting implications of such changes, particularly for their impact on nascent attitudes to race. Via a close examination of case studies across the three sites, this history broadens understandings of the mid-century as a period in which locally-elected legislatures increasingly became the prerogative of white ‘settler’ colonies and political rights increasingly centred on an individual, defined by his race and gender, as well as his class. Although affirming the importance of the period, it shows the complexities and inconsistencies of attempts to define the boundaries of enfranchisement over this period, and the impact of struggles to achieve it via changes to electoral law and practice. The comparison between New South Wales, the Cape and Jamaica illuminates the manner through which global discourses of reform, including those relating to bribery, privacy and order, would come to be repurposed within each site. It also serves to reinforce the striking role that attitudes to race would come to play in the formation and regulation of electoral practice across the British Empire. In this manner, this thesis aims to advance imperial historiography by highlighting the role of electoral culture as a reflection of and instigating factor in wider reconceptions of political rights across the British colonial world.
Supervisor: Bashford, Alison Sponsor: Cambridge Commonwealth Trusts ; Holland Rose Fund ; SMUTS Memorial Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: British Empire ; Elections ; Franchise ; Colonialism ; Jamaica ; Australia ; South Africa ; Political Rights ; Citizenship