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Mistress of Everything: Queen Victoria in Indigenous Worlds.

Mistress of Everything: Queen Victoria in Indigenous Worlds.

Edited by Sarah Carter and Maria Nugent, Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2016. Pp. 280

Price: 75 [pounds sterling]

Non-European peoples had reason and opportunity to learn the structure and disposition of the authorities that colonised them. Under British rule, they had time to get to 'know' Queen Victoria, for she reigned from 1837 to 1901. 'Queen Victoria' was not only an individual but a 'synonym for the Crown, for the British government and for the Empire' (p.2). In Mistress of Everything ten historians of British settler-colonial southern Africa. Australia, Canada and New Zealand richly illustrate how Victoria was 'known' to the colonised.

Few met Victoria in person, as she did not visit any part of her Empire (though she was interested in certain Indians, Maori and Zulus especially if they were of their own societies' upper crust, as Barbara Caine explains). Through their 'royal tours' Victoria's sons were sometimes her substitutes. In 1860 her son Prince Alfred visited southern Africa while another son, the Prince of Wales, toured Canada, meeting indigenous people and projecting ideas of British supremacy. Hilary Sapire points to the ritual inventiveness of teenage Prince Alfred's month-long tour and to the diplomacy of the African leaders--black loyalists, recently defeated in battle, who hoped Britain could counter the growing Boer threat.

Some indigenous subjects visited the Queen. In 1863, accompanied by three of her children, Victoria received thirteen carefully selected Maori (mostly Ngapuhi) who explicitly distinguished themselves from Maori then lighting British troops. Chanel Clarke's chapter draws attention to the vital question of Maori dress. Victoria was the third British monarch to be visited by Maori. Two rangatira met King George IV in 1820 while working on a Maori-English dictionary; they believed the King to have promised to send more missionaries. In 1831 and 1835 some Maori petitioned King William IV for protection. The Treaty of Waitangi (1840) stated British concerns for Maori as Queen Victoria's personal interest in them. In some Maori oral traditions such face-to-face (kanohi ki te kanohi) meetings between native nobles and monarchs confirmed the reciprocal relations of Maori tribes with the British state. Neil Parsons' account of visits to Victoria by King Chetswayo of the Zulu in 1882, and of Bechuanaland Kings Khama. Sebele and Bathoen in 1895 develops the theme of royal-to-royal courtesies with a sharp eye for these encounters' comic incongruities; he also locates the visits in the rivalries among corporations in southern Africa. Africans' royal diplomacy contributed to preserving from white settler colonial rule the kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland and the Bechuanaland Protectorate.

In the absence of direct contact with Victoria or her sons, oral, written and visual representations of the Queen were abundant in Empire's panoply, tokens of its benign promise. Penelope Edmonds is attentive to the circulation of Queen Victoria's image on currency, by 1843, in south eastern Australia; a colonist was obliged to explain to Kulin that this was not just another 'white woman'. Mediated in this and in other ways, 'Queen Victoria' could signify the humanitarian and 'civilising' aspect of British Imperial rule that might temper the violent securing of Empire. As Edmonds reminds, Victoria reigned from the same year (1837) in which a House of Commons committee declared protective, civilising guardianship to be Britain's imperial duty. Soon (in the 1850s) her Parliament authorised the Colonies' self-government. As Indigenous subjects became aware of this layered structure, (hey sometimes appealed to the woman on the coin over the heads of the settlers with whom they were clashing. What did they say when they invoked or appealed to this figure of Imperial maternal love?

Michael Belgrave describes how a Maori political culture--with its own notions of personal mana, of loyally and of reciprocity among leaders--made sense of 'Queen Victoria'. For decades after the Treaty of Waitangi, Victoria was a 'passive participant' (p.55) in Maori debates about how to project their sovereignty in a political field of Imperial promises and settlers' increasing entitlement. Some took up arms against the Queen's troops. Some established a Maori King and then debated whether this sovereign was allied with or a threat to Victoria's sovereignty. Victoria did not receive King Tawhiao in 1884. but--displeasing New Zealand's government--the Colonial Secretary did. Tawhiao and his supporters were encouraged in their belief that any settler government that sought control over them would anger Victoria. By the end of the 1880s, there was almost universal Maori support for the Queen' who they understood as assuring their treaty rights (p.67). Miranda Johnson's chapter on the 'loyalty' of the Kotahitanga parliaments (1892-1902) continues the theme of Maori appropriation of 'Queen Victoria". Many members demanded Maori self-government, authorised by Victoria. In Johnson's account, 'loyalty' was less an emotion than an answer to a Maori constitutional question: 'who indeed authorises the "people" in the moment of their sovereign creation?' (p.234). Victoria's 1840 contract with Maori chiefs was one answer to that question: 'expressions of loyalty to Queen Victoria was a narrative device that allowed Kotahitanga members to express their political will in terms that made sense to them' (p.235). Settler colonial history could be understood as a series of betrayals of Victoria's will for Maori to be a people. The narrative also enabled Maori women to assert a customary right to vote based on their role as owners and managers of land on behalf of their families.

Among those propagating helpful notions of 'Queen Victoria' were missionaries and vice-regal Governors and Governors-General. Along with officials charged with treaty negotiation, such figures are prominent in Sarah Carter's account of the monarch's image, among Canadian Indians, as a 'tender and watchful mother": through treaties she had adopted Indians as her children (p.86). Although Indian invocations of the 'Great Mother' 'were generally accompanied by censure, indictment, and denunciation of broken promises ... these calls for justice were excised from the Canadian memory and narrative, while their declarations of loyalty are warmly remembered' (pp.94-95), as Canadians repeatedly compared their nation favourably with the United States. Gifts mediated the bond between indigenous colonised and their Queen, but as Amanda Nettelbeck reminds us, donors and receivers may interpret gifts differently. Hurons who visited George IV in 1825 subsequently wore the bracelets and medals he gave them; addressing the Governor-General in 1896, they referred to these gifts as evidence of their enduring customary authority as chiefs. The Governor-General effectively contested this by designating the gifts merely as rewards for Indian loyalty in the war of 1812. Governors in Australian colonies bestowed 'kingplates', and when Mickey Johnson asked for one in 1896 he courted press derision by asserting 'affiliation with Queen Victoria' (p.216). Queen's birthday (24 May) feasts in Australia and Canada, were occasions for the indigenous colonised to assemble in her name and receive food and blankets as her subjects; in settler ideology such rituals came to mean charity to the destitute.

Aboriginal oral tradition in south-east Australia says that 'Queen Victoria gave us the land' (p. 101). According to Maria Nugent, that story evokes for Aborigines the moral standard that settler Australians could and should have lived up to. The story has had three phases: as an element of late nineteenth century 'oral petitioning' (p. 103) by Kulin leader William Barak; as an argument in the first half of the twentieth century against the revocation of reserves in New South Wales and Victoria; and. from the 1960s, with the rising influence of the assertion of a customary right to land, as a discarded rationale for 'land rights'. 'Queen Victoria' is nonetheless likely to endure in some regional traditions as signifying past Aboriginal agency in seeking justice over the heads of settler colonists who have persistently failed to deliver it.

DOI: 10.1002/ocea.5153

Tim Rowse

Western Sydney University
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Author:Rowse, Tim
Publication:Oceania
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2017
Words:1298
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