A Boy's Empire: The British Public school as imperial training ground, 1850-1918

Winslow Jr., Stanley Blakeley, Department of History, University of Virginia
Department of History, University of Virginia

Britain's great Public schools were intimately connected with the growth and maintenance of her empire. This dissertation attempts to determine how particular aspects of a Public school education were instrumental in preparing students for imperial careers. With their militaristic discipline, rigorous promotion of sport, patriotic headmasters, and through the influence of popular literature, Victorian Public schools were ideally suited to produce imperial-minded graduates. The relationship between the schools and the Empire remained close even after World War I, and arguably as long as the Empire flourished, the schools connected to it prospered as well. The first section of the paper, examines the martial aspects of public school life including corporal punishment, harsh living conditions, and organizations such as the Volunteer Corps. The hierarchical organization of the students, which took on military overtones, is also discussed. The next segment of the dissertation studies one of the most salient aspects of the Victorian public school, the ―games cult.‖ Team sports such as rugby, cricket, and association football became central to the curriculum at most schools from the 1850s on. Sports were considered invaluable in promoting discipline, and educators also viewed sports as useful preparation for imperial service. The empire wasn't just promoted on the playing fields, but also in the classroom. Many Victorian headmasters were firm imperialists, and they imparted these views to their impressionable young pupils. The curriculum of the schools is noteworthy for being designed with the empire in mind, with history texts being especially biased. I will also examine the effects of literature, including the ―school story‖ and popular boys' magazines which often identified the Public schools as having an imperial mission. In 3 conclusion I will try to assess the extent to which the schools not only fostered support of the Empire, also try to ascertain how durable these imperial ties proved Specifically the challenge posed by the Great War provides an opportunity to investigate how the schools weathered this greatest threat to the British Empire. 4 A Boy's Empire: The British Public school as imperial training ground, 1850-1918 Blakeley Winslow "While I was at Harrow I awakened to the glorious magnificence of the British Empire. It filled me with immense satisfaction and pride." 1 -Richard Meinertzhagen, at Harrow 1891-1895 "As to the Public Schools, they are vital: we could not have run the show without them. In England universities train the mind; the Public Schools train character and teach leadership." 2 -Sir Ralph Furse, head of Colonial Service recruitment, 1960. Richard Meinertzhagen and Ralph Furse, although speaking in different centuries both recognized the powerful symbiosis that existed between the Public schools and the British Empire. As a Harrow student, Meinertzhagen had fallen under the influence of a unique scholastic environment, in which everything from the textbooks read to the games boys played was imbued with imperial significance. He absorbed these influences and reflected them in his career choice, by joining the British Army and serving in India. Ralph Furse, on the other hand, promoted the schools from his position at the head of Colonial Service recruitment.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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