The 18th century saw revolutionary changes in Britain -- it was the beginning of the Agrarian and Industrial Revolution which took place in Europe and America. From the second half of the 18th century onwards there is a wealth of documentation on Britain and India by Englishmen. There is no such documentation on Britain and India by Indians. Only now is the history of 18th century India being researched and written about in depth.
Within Britain the early 18th century was much the same as the second half of the 17th century. Major changes began to occur in the middle and second half of the 18th century. Britain was now beginning to be wealthy and powerful. Scotland had been conquered and joined with England in 1701, forming Great Britain. The British navy was the strongest in the world. The slave trade and the Atlantic coast colonies were thriving. The "Navigation Act" of Britain in 1651 which mandated that all goods flowing to or coming from British colonies must be carried on British ships added to Britain's wealth.
The American colonists propensity to use smuggled goods from the West Indies and thus avoid paying duties to the British government was a thorn in the side of the British government, The squabble over duties went to the very heart of the British system of colonial financing, and was therefore not a minor matter.
The same financing system together with land taxes and plunder, was used to an extreme later in India for massive wealth transfers from India to Britain. Gandhi's "salt march to the sea" was the equivalent of the Boston Tea Party in popularizing the unpopularity of certain taxes. .
Britain's government revenue was made up in large part by excise taxes and stamp duties from transshipment of colonial goods. English companies and individuals made their profits principally on the three way trade between Britain, North America and Africa. England became dependent on the profits from the slave trade.
As a result of the slave trade and the massive profits for individual Englishmen from the West Indies and India, the mercantile class in England experienced a sharp increase in wealth and began investing in land and peerages. They rapidly became part of the “landed gentry” of England and formed a powerful lobby. Most of the peerages purchased at this time were from merchants from the West Indies and later from India.
These nouveau riche “nabobs” were able to initiate and pass powerful “Enclosure” laws which enclosed large areas of the common land of England creating a large class of newly poor landless peasants.
The English countryside was transformed between 1760 and 1830 as the open-field system of cultivation gave way to compact farms and enclosed fields. Despite massive increases in agricultural output, British per capita income fell in the period 1770-1820. the rich got much richer and the poor became penniless.
|Britain after 1760
The population of England and Wales nearly tripled in the century between 1750 and 1850 due to falling death rates. After 1750 there was a surplus of labor which provided the fodder for the Industrial Revolution. As an example, the population of Manchester increased by an order of magnitude in the two plus generations between 1760 and 1830 -- 17,000 to 180,000. For another example, in 1800 more than 15% of the population of London were domestic servants.
There is an excellent focused web site on the Industrial Revolution in England, at http://www.cottontimes.co.uk written recently by a teacher in England who lives in Lancashire. The site covers a wide field of Lancashire Industrial Revolution history and I hope the entire site is available for a long time. I have copied three of his pages in the side bar on Children, Housing and Weavers. The site is particularly interesting because the Lancashire textile industry and the Manchester Board of Trade were largely responsible for much of the famine in India's Deccan in the late 18th century, and for the destruction of the native Indian textile industry. One of the huge crimes committed by the British government against India was the decimation of the Indian textile and agrarian industry by the protection and feeding of the Lancashire cotton industry. Gandhi's "swadeshi" movement in the early 20th century was a move against the import of British textiles. It had a significant impact on a Lancashire textile industry which was struggling mightily during the depression of the 1930's..
Britain sacrificed at least two generations of its peasants and laborers during the late 18th century through the mid 19th century. The increase in population in England, together with the increasing gap between rich and poor, the demands of the Industrial Revolution, coupled with the rigors of the Napoleonic wars (1793 - 1815) and the paranoia about revolution in England, made England into a two society nation.
As an example of the plight of the poor, between 1790 and 1796 the price of bread rose from 54s a qtr in 1791 to 90s in 1796. This was in a period when per capita income was falling. There were bread riots throughout the country. The government under William Pitt passed several laws restricting civil liberties. In May 1792 "seditious meetings" were outlawed. In Dec 1792 Pitt told the militia to be ready for rebellion. In 1794 Parliament suspended habeas corpus—indefinite jail without trial. In 1795 the seditious meetings acts and the treasonable practices act allowed transportation to penal colonies for anyone who spoke against the king or tried for reforms. In 1798 labor unions were outlawed by the “combination act".
The Penal Code (the "Bloody Code") in England was based heavily on its provisions for capital punishment. In 1688, the death penalty was the standard punishment for about fifty crimes, but by 1765, the number rose to around 165 crimes, and it finally reached 225 before the system of law was abolished in 1815.
Not only was the population of Britain exploding, the Industrial revolution was increasing productivity. The textile industry provided the most jobs, and it was natural that new machinery would be applied to cost reduction there. By 1812 the cost of making cotton yarn had dropped nine-tenths, and by 1800 the number of workers needed to turn wool into yarn had been reduced by four-fifths. And by 1840 the labor cost of making the best woolen cloth had fallen by at least half.
One of the many workers protests during this time was the Luddites in 1811. The movement was crushed by the government using spies and provocateurs.
In addition to a new factory-owning bourgeoisie, the Industrial Revolution created a new working class. The new class of industrial workers included all the men, women, and children laboring in the textile mills, pottery works, and mines. Often skilled artisans found themselves degraded to routine process laborers as machines began to mass produce the products formerly made by hand.
This was the context in which Roberts and Blanchett chose to join the Army. Roberts was probably a displaced agricultural laborer, and Blanchett was probably a skilled wool worker with no future.