British Imperialism and social Darwinism: C.L. Temple and colonial administration in Northern Nigeria, 1901-1916

Alderman, Christopher John Finlay (1996) British Imperialism and social Darwinism: C.L. Temple and colonial administration in Northern Nigeria, 1901-1916. (PhD thesis), Kingston University,


This research examines the concept of Social. Darwinism in relation to British imperialism, with particular reference to Northern Nigeria and the administrative work of Charles Temple during the period 1901 ~ 1916. At the centre of previous portrayals of Temple and his career is the suggestion that he was an introspective and unusually speculative man, whose significance in the history of Northern Nigeria is limited to the contribution of some abstruse ideas of narrow relevance to the practical administration of colonial government. The existing historical accounts, which are often based on uncontextualised and sometimes casual appraisals of his book Native Races and Their Rulers, also suggest that Temple believed in minimal intervention into native communities. The result of these assessments has been that Temple's rationale for colonial rule (in particular his wish to protect indigenous communities from sudden or abrupt change) has been over- emphasised, whilst his advice on the practical implementation of this rationale has been largely ignored. Against this background Native Races can only be properly understood from a detailed analysis of its ideological and historical context. The relationship between British imperialism and Social Darwinism, and particularly the specific aspects of this debate likely to have interested a man of Temple's age, background and profession, are outlined. It is concluded that within such a context, the most likely function of Social Darwinism in relation to British imperialism was to provide justification for intervention into, and for the subjugation of, foreign communities - as well as a means of explaining the racial and other contradictions which this process involved. A detailed analysis of Temple's Native Races establishes that there is a strong contiguity between his ideas and those expressed in the contemporary mainstream debate that combined ideas on British imperialism with Social Darwinist assumptions. It is argued that the techniques which Temple proposed for interpreting specific native customs, beliefs and institutions, as well as his version of the policy of Indirect Rule, displayed Social Darwinist assumptions. It is also clear that Temple required a great deal of practical intervention from British administrators - even if they were cautioned to allow the natives to find their own path of progression. Substantial new evidence indicates that Temple was a man out to make a name for himself as a modern, scientific and liberal administrator and that he had a real, powerful and continuous influence on the administration of Northern Nigeria for nearly sixteen years. Whilst Temple thought detailed and scientific administrative policy was vital, he also realised that without organizational efficiency and continuity in practice, little could be achieved. Temple believed that this stage in the development of Northern Nigerian communities required sustained and rigorous intervention, and he consistently justified this approach in official documents and journal articles from a Social Darwinist interpretation of native societies. The thesis offers considerable evidence, including a detailed appraisal of his wider connections and interests, to support the case that the contribution which Temple made towards British government in Northern Nigeria lay in the translation of administrative theory into actual practice. It is therefore concluded that Temple not only used Social Darwinism to explain racial differences and justify British imperialism, but also caused it to have a direct impact on the practical administration of colonial rule in Northern Nigeria between 1901 and 1916.

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