Soldier settlements: Christian K. Melby, ‘”Of Paramount Importance to Our Race”: H. O. Arnold-Forster and South African Soldier-Settlement’, History, 102, 352, 2017, pp. 597–616


Abstract: In the aftermath of the opening months of the South African War, British imperialists considered the settling of retired soldiers in South Africa as an efficient way of creating a loyal colony. This article explores the 1900 South African Lands Settlement Commission, and specifically the role of its chairman, the Liberal Unionist politician Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster. It shows how the findings and recommendations of Arnold-Forster’s commission were presented as a way of keeping the British empire together through government involvement rather than private initiative. While often ignored because of its failure, the commission and the ideas behind it illustrates the link between imperialism, military planning and nationalism in British politics. Proponents of soldier-settlement in South Africa argued that only by creating a majority population of British veterans, combining the roles of farmers and military reservists, could the colony be secure. The article examines the commission and the settler plan in conjunction with Arnold-Forster’s background and imperial ideology, arguing that the commission’s failure does not mean that such ideas were unimportant. The opposition to the settler scheme could utilise the language of anti-imperialism alongside criticism of Arnold-Forster’s views on Ireland, showing how the soldier-settlement idea could be larger than the sum of its conclusions. Rather than seeing the soldier-settlement scheme in isolation, the article argues that the case of Arnold-Forster and the Lands Settlement Commission provides a valuable insight into wider British political debates at the turn of the century.

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