The Dark Side of Colonialism: A Q&A Discussion on the Brutality of Colonialism in Africa and India

The Dark Side of Colonialism: A Q&A Discussion on the Brutality of Colonialism in Africa and India


This Q&A text delves into the brutal treatment of indigenous peoples during the colonial period, with a particular focus on the African and Indian colonies of the British Empire. We discuss the violent acquisition of colonies, the exploitation of land and resources, and the brutal treatment of local populations. Despite the negative impacts, reform was seen as the means of bringing stability and order to colonial societies, following conquest, through “Victorian improvement.”

Table of Contents

  • The Violent Acquisition of Colonies
  • Brutal Treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Africa
  • King Leopold and the Congo
  • British Rule in India
  • The Third Anglo-Burmese War and its Consequences


Q: How did colonizers acquire colonies in Africa and Australia?

The acquisition of colonies was marked by violence and a disregard for indigenous populations. In Australia, settlers claimed the land as theirs, leading to retaliation from Aborigines and Governor Brisbane declaring martial law, allowing for the shooting of Aborigines on sight. In Tasmania, Governor Arthur formed a “Black Line” to drive Aborigines away, resulting in their forced relocation to Flinders Island, where most perished. Small-scale killings continued, but government control was established by the mid-19th century.

Q: What was the British Empire’s interest in West and East Africa?

The territories acquired by the British Empire in West and East Africa were of economic importance for production and were directly controlled from the Colonial Office. Chartered companies, such as the Royal Niger Company, established colonies by signing treaties with local rulers, who gave up their land and legal authority in exchange for mining and farming rights while maintaining their own laws.

Q: What was King Leopold’s role in the brutal treatment of indigenous peoples?

King Leopold enforced the harvesting of rubber, which involved extreme cruelty and violence, including severing the hands of those who did not comply with demands for rubber. The desire for profit led to this gruesome exploitation of indigenous peoples and influenced other European powers, such as Britain, to employ violence in their colonization efforts.

Q: Did any European power attempt to maintain some sense of “civilizing mission” in their colonies?

The French attempted to maintain some sense of the ‘civilizing mission’ by conserving certain institutions of the colonized peoples. They tried to create an elite, based on Western education, who would be suitable to run the colonial administration. However, the brutality of colonization often overshadowed these attempts at Westernization.

Q: How did the British Empire rule India?

The principle of indirect rule was employed in India, due to its pre-existing infrastructure of Mughal Empire rule, and its large population and lack of suitability for European settlement or assimilation. During British rule in India, the civil service was an elite organization staffed by British men with Indian civil servants occupying only 5% of the posts as late as 1915. The princely states collected their own taxes and ran their own affairs, but British officials encouraged reform and implemented Western-style education to create a new Indian administrative elite. The Indian Army was used to maintain British control and establish British supremacy over the Indian subcontinent and other colonies.

Q: What were the consequences of British rule in India?

British rule caused disasters, such as devastating famines and the use of indentured labor that led to deaths or serious injuries, some of which were sent as slave labor replacements across vast distances from India. Despite the negative impact, reform was seen as the means of bringing stability and order to colonial societies, following conquest, through Victorian improvement.

Q: What happened during the Third Anglo-Burmese War?

During the Third Anglo-Burmese War, Burma was annexed by the British but was soon pacified through guerrilla warfare. This resulted in vast commercial rice production for the British Empire, and a new Anglo-Burmese elite emerged, similar to the Anglo-Indians on the subcontinent.


Colonialism brought both advancement and bloodshed to the indigenous peoples in the colonies. While the principle of Victoria improvement encouraged the colonial administrators to bring about positive changes in the colonized societies, it was often overshadowed by the ruthless tactics employed in the acquisition and control of colonial territories. The brutal treatment of indigenous peoples in the colonies must be remembered as part of the dark legacy of colonialism.

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