The Long Shadow Of British Colonialism And List Of Countries Once Part Of British Empire

King Charles III succeeds his late mother Queen Elizabeth II as the King of United Kingdom. Now limited to the British Isles, it was once an empire ruling a quarter of the world.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh following the Queen's coronation

King Charles III was proclaimed as the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on Saturday.  

Charles succeeds his late mother Queen Elizabeth II who died on Thursday. She was 96 and reigned for over the 70 years, the longest for any British monarch.

While the UK and several other parts of the world mourn the Queen's death and hail the proclamation of the new King, many parts of the world are still dealing with the shadow of colonialism that fuelled the rise of Britain as a world power. 

The British Empire at its height ruled over a quarter of the world's population. Besides economic exploitation, the colonisation involved human rights abuses and massacres that would be unacceptable today, such as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. 

Here we explain the British colonisation exercise, the Western ideas behind it, and list the countries that were once part of the British Empire that gradually attained independence.  

The British Empire

The Europeans began carving empires by establishing colonies outside their territories in the 16th century. 

While other European powers, such as the French and the Dutch, also had their empires, the British Empire was the most widespread. 

The first British colonies were established in North America, which were later expanded to Caribbean islands, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. The National Geographic Society notes that a quarter of the world's population, approximately 458 million people, lived under it in 1922 at the height of the empire.

The British colonised in two broad ways. One, the settler colonialism in which the British settled and eventually overtook the native people, such as in the Americas. Two, economic colonialism in which they did not overtake the natives but used their resources and labour to enrich their homeland, such as in India and Africa where they exploited the native natural resources and labour. 

The motivations for colonisation were varied, ranging from the belief in "white man's burden" which refers to the European belief that they were the civilised people and had to civilise the rest of the world they considered uncivilised. There were also economic and religious motivations, as Christian missionaries often set base in colonised lands. Together, these motivations have often been desribed as "3Gs" — Gold, God, Glory.

Not just the rulers, but the general British public also usually believed in these ideas at the time. 

"When the empire was being built, British people largely believed they were doing the right thing. In their eyes, they were improving and developing lands and bringing order to non-white countries which —due to racist attitudes— they thought were ‘uncivilised’ and ‘backward’. The British also believed they were doing the work of God by spreading Christianity – which they considered to be the ‘right’ religion," notes The National Geographic Society. 

The long shadow of the British Empire

The colonial influence did not end in a snap as colonies gained independence. Instead, decolonisation is a long and ongoing process even in countries like the United States of America which gained independence much before the other colonies.

Many of the social ills in large parts of the world today can be traced to colonialism, such as from economic inequality between different parts of the world, racism, persecution of native people, erosion of native culture, and gender discrimination.

In Americas, native communities were reduced to a minority. Native people still continue to fight for equality and rights over their resources in the USA and Canada. 


In Africa and Asia, the shadow of economic exploitation and seeds of division sown by the British continues to this day. 

One estimate says that the British transferred $45 trillion of wealth from India to UK by 1938. The Council of Foreign Relations notes, "The East India Company [and later British government] set regulations on what crops could be grown, where they could be exported, and at what prices they could be sold. It then charged Indians high taxes on the land they worked. Unlike most taxes, which are invested back into society, money made from the East India Company’s taxes flowed back to Britain."

The British reduced India to a source of raw material and eroded its textile output. The British also used money and men from India to further expand the Empire as soldiers were recruited to fight overseas. 

Much of the racism today and racial tensions tearing the West is also rooted in colonial practices, most notably of slavery and the European notion of White people's superiority over others.

The Europeans are estimated to have bought and sold 12 million slaves from Africa. Of them, the British share is estimated to be 3 million. Slave labour fuelled the overseas British plantations and also fuelled the Industrial Revolution.

"Slavery made Britain incredibly wealthy. It provided slave owners with unpaid labour to farm expensive items like sugar, tobacco and cotton, which they could sell for huge profits – at the expense of the enslaved people and their homelands. It also largely funded Britain’s Industrial Revolution, which only went on to make Britain richer," notes The National Geographic Society.

Even after slavery was formally banned, the notion of White Supremacy stuck and people of colour continued to face discrimination in the West. The racial equality movement is an ongoing one and while rights exist on paper, people continue to strive for equal treatment. Further, the USA remains highly divided and polarised today along racial lines. The US government now believes that White Supremacy is the top national domestic threat. 

The criminalisation of homosexuality by the British continues to exist in several countries today which discriminates against certain sexual orientations.

After centuries of the colonisation's beginning and several decades of its end, the process of decolonisation continues in several countries. Just this week in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the renaming of a major road in the national capital Delhi, saying its previous name was associated with colonialism. 

"Kingsway or Rajpath, the symbol of slavery, has become a matter of history from today, has been erased forever. Today a new history has been created in the form of Kartavya Path," said Modi while announcing the renaming of the road. 

The countries once ruled by the British 

As stated earlier, a quarter of the world's population was under the British rule at its height. 

The British Empire permanently changed national borders in several parts of the world, such as in the Americas and Asia. While American colonies came together to form the United States of America, three countries were carved out of British India — India, Pakistan, and later Bangladesh. 


The following is the list of countries once ruled by the British along with the years they attained Independence, according to World Atlas.

1    Aden Protectorate               1967
2    Anglo-Egyptian Sudan        1956
3    Auckland Islands                1931
4    Bahamas                            1973
5    Bahrain                               1971
6    Bangladesh                        1971 (From Pakistan)
7    Barbados                           1966
8    Basutoland (Lesotho)        1966
9    Bechuanaland (Botswana)1966
10    Bermuda                          1995
11    British Borneo (Brunei)    1984
12    British Cameroon             1961
13    British East Africa
        (Kenya)                            1963
14    British East Africa
        (Uganda)                          1962
15    British Egypt                     1922
16    British Guiana                   1966
17    British Honduras (Belize)  1981
18    British India                       1947
19    British Malaya (Malaysia) 1957
20    British Solomon Islands    1978
21    British Somaliland
        (Somalia)                          1960
22    British Togoland                1957
23    British Western Pacific 
        Territories                          1976
24    Burma (Myanmar)            1948
25    Ceylon (Sri Lanka)            1948
26    Colonial Fiji                       1970
27    Colonial Nigeria                1960
28    Colony of Newfoundland  1949 (Became a province of Canada)
29    Cyprus                              1960
30    Emirate of Transjordan
        (Jordan)                            1946
31    Gambia Colony
        and Protectorate              1965
32    Gilbert and Ellice Islands 
        (Kiribati and Tuvalu)        1978
33    Gold Coast (Ghana)        1957
34    Helgoland                        1890 (Now part of Germany)
35    Hong Kong                       1997 (part of China)
36    Ionian Islands                   1830
37    Ireland                               1921
38    Island of St. John 
        (Antigua and Barbuda)       1981
39    Jamaica                              1962
40    Kingdom of Rarotonga 
        (Cook Islands)                    1965 (self governing island state in free association with New Zealand)
41    Kingdom of Sarawak          1963 (now a state of Malaysia)
42    Leeward Islands                 1983
43    Malta                                   1964
44    Mandatory Iraq                    1932
45    Mandatory Palestine 
        (Israel, Jordanian annexation 
        of the West Bank, 
        Palestine Protectorate)        1948
46    Menorca (Spanish Island)    1802 (now part of Spain)
47    Mosquito Coast                    1860 (now part of Nicaragua and Honduras)
48    Muscat and Oman                1951
49    Nauru                                    1968
50    New Hebrides (Vanuatu)       1906
51    New South Wales                  1901 (state in Australia)
52    Nigeria                                   1960
53    Niue                                       1974 (from New Zealand)
54    Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) 1964
55    Nyasaland (Malawi)               1964
56    Oregon Country                     1846 (became a US territory, then a state)
57    Pakistan                                 1947
58    Phoenix Islands                      1979 (now part of Kiribati)
59    Province of East Florida          1783 (became a Spanish colony, later a US territory
60    Province of Nova Scotia          1867 (one of the founding provinces of Canada)
61    Province of Quebec                 1867  (one of the founding provinces of Canada)
62    Province of West Florida          1783 (became a Spanish colony, later a US territory
63    Qatar                                        1868
64    Queensland (state in Australia)1901
65    Rupert's Land                            1869 (became part of the Canadian confederation)
66    Sheikhdom of Kuwait                 1961
67    Sierra Leone                              1961
68    Singapore                                  1963 (became a state of Malaysia, then separated in 1965)
69    Solomon Islands                         1978
70    South Africa                                1931
71    South Arabia                               1932
72    South Australia                            1901 (state in Australia)
73    South-West Africa                        1931 (South Africa territory until 1990)
74    Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)  1980
75    Straits Settlements 
        (Singapore, Malaysia, Borneo)    1946 (Separated and passed to other nations)
76    Sultanate of Zanzibar                   1963
77    Swan River Colony                       1901 (Western Australia, state in Australia)
78    Swaziland                                     1968
79    Tanganyika Territory (Tanzania)   1961
80    Territory of New Guinea               1975
81    Thirteen Colonies (USA)              1776
82    Tokelau                                        1949 (Became a territory of New Zealand)
83    Tonga                                           1970
84    Trucial States (Oman)                 1951
85    Uganda Protectorate                   1962
86    Unfederated Malay States           1957
87    Van Diemen's Land                      1856
88    Victoria (State in Australia)           1901
89    Western Samoa                            1970
90    Windward Islands                         1979


While these countries have attained independence from the British rule, there are 14 self-governing countries that still have the British monarch as the head of the states. These 14 states, besides the UK, comprise of the Commonwealth realms, such as Australia and Canada.

There is another separate group of countries called the Commonwealth of Nations, or just the Commonwealth. Most of the members are former British colonies which come together for the promotion of human rights, democracy, and developmental goals among other objectives. This group is separate from the Commonwealth realms and member states of these groups do not necessarily have the British monarch as the head of state, such as India which is a republic.

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