In 1852, British chancellor of the exchequer, Benjamin Disraeli, described the colonies as a ‘millstone around our necks’. The abolition of slavery in the West Indies and costly anti-slavery naval patrols off West Africa were draining the Empire’s economic resources. By 1848, Britain had gained direct and indirect control over the Indian sub-continent and been ceded Hong Kong after the first Opium War in 1842. New Zealand had become a British possession in 1840. Britain’s other colonial possessions, such as Canada, Australia and the West Indies, dated back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Compared to the other imperial powers, such as the Ottoman, Russian, Qing, Holy Roman and Brazilian empires, Britain was still the wealthiest and most dominant. Before long, the introduction of free trade practices, better transport systems and innovative technologies (such as steamships and the telegraph) led to economic boom and a second phase of British colonial expansion known as ‘New Imperialism’.
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