My research explores the little-known story of how company colonisation propelled the settler revolution. Characterised by mass emigration to Britain’s settler colonies during the long nineteenth century, the settler revolution transformed Chicago and Melbourne, London and New York, drawing all into a vast cultural and political network that straddled the globe. But while the settler revolution is now well integrated into recent histories of the British Empire, it remains curiously disconnected from the history of global capitalism.
Prising open what I call the inner lives of colonial corporations, I tell the story of how and why companies remade the settler world. It takes a fresh look at the colonial history of Australia and New Zealand in an attempt to map a new history of chartered colonial enterprise, one that is as sensitive to rhetoric as it is to ledgers documenting profit and loss. We tend to understand companies in terms of their institutional make-up, that is to say their legal and economic structure, but we sometimes forget that they are also cultural constructions with very human histories.
The story that I narrate takes us from the boardrooms of the City of London back out to the pastures of the colonial frontier: it is a snapshot of settler capitalism from the inside out. From the alleys and byways immortalised in Walter Bagehot’s Lombard Street (1873) to the sheep-runs of New South Wales and the South Canterbury plains, company colonisation has a global history – a history that links the Atlantic and the antipodes, Māori and metropolitan capital, country and the City of London. My study marks a first attempt at bringing this history to light.
In digging deep into the social and cultural history of company colonisation, I focus in particular on the legitimating narratives that underwrote visions of colonial reform. How did these company men make sense of their own ventures? What traditions of thought did they draw on to justify the appropriation of indigenous lands? How did the customs and norms of the City shape the boundaries of what was deemed possible, let alone appropriate in the extra-European world? I aim to show that company colonisation was as much an act of the imagination as it was the product of prudent capital investment.
My research engages with large questions of contemporary relevance: the role of corporations in the making of the modern world; the relationship between empire and global capitalism; and the salience of social and cultural factors in the development of corporate enterprise. I hope to enrich these debates by injecting the discussion with greater historical context.
The enormous horse drawn society of 1900 was new. An unprecedented amount of goods and people could only be moved by trains and ships between terminal points and therefore, horses were required by anybody and for everything to reach its final destination. But, the moment the need for horsepower peaked, new technologies had already started to make the working horse redundant for everyday economic life. The disappearance of the horse was a rapid process in the urban areas, whereas the horse remained an economic necessity much longer in other areas of use such as agriculture. The horses decline left behind deep traces causing fundamental changes in soundscapes, landscapes, and smells of human environment and economic life.
Against prevailing narratives of a laissez-faire approach, the British government monitored and shaped this major shift in the use of energy source actively. The exploration of the political economy of a disappearing commercial good examines the regulatory practices and ways the British government interacted with producers and consumers of markets. This demonstrates that governmental regulations are inseparable from modern British economy and that government intervention follows the careful assessment of costs and benefits as well as self-interest over the long time period.
Public pressure groups such as the RSPCA as well as social and business elites were often strongly connected to government circles embracing the opportunity to influence policy outcomes. For instance, the Royal Commission on Horse Breeding was formed in December 1887 is telling because it shows where policy making power that passed through Westminster originated. The commissionaires were without exception holders of heredity titles, members of the gentry, politicians, or businessmen, and all were avid horsemen and breeders. To name but two, Henry Chaplin, the President of the Board of Agriculture, had a family background of Tory country gentlemen and was a dedicated rider, and Mr. John Gilmour, whose merchant father grew rich in the Empire, owned a Clydesdale stud of national reputation. Their self-interest and devotion to horse breeding seems obvious, especially in the context of the agricultural depression when livestock proved more profitable than the cultivation of grain.
Although economic agents of the horse markets were often moving within government circles, they had to face regulations. For example, a legal framework was developed which fashioned the scope of manoeuvre for import and export markets for horses. The most prominent case during the transition from horse to motor-power was the emergence of an export market of horses for slaughter. British charitable organisations such as the RSPCA, the Women’s Guild for Empire, and the National Federation of Women’s Institute pressured the government to prevent the export of horses for slaughter on grounds of “national honour” since the 1930s. However, though the government never publicly admitted it, the meat market was endorsed to manage the declining utility of horsepower. With technologies becoming cheaper, horsemeat markets were greeted by large businesses such as railway companies as way to dispose of their working horses without making a financial loss. Hence, the markets for working horses were not merely associated with the economic use and demand for their muscle power but were linked to government regulation.
Ultimately, an analysis of governmental coordination can be linked to wider socio-cultural and economic systems of consumption because policy outcome indeed influenced the use of the horse but likewise coordination was monitored by the agents of the working horse markets.
Is high inequality destiny? The established view is that societies naturally converge towards high inequality in the absence of catastrophes (world wars or revolutions) or the progressive taxation of the rich. Yet, I show that rural Japan, 1700-1870, is an unexpected historical case in which a stable equality was sustained without such aids. Most peasants owned land, the most valuable asset in an agricultural economy, and Japan remained a society of land-owning peasants. This contrasts with the landless laborer societies of contemporary Western Europe which were highly unequal. Why were the outcomes so different?
My research shows that the relative equality of pre-industrial Japan can partly be explained by the widespread use of adoptions in Japan, which was used as a means of securing a male heir. The reasoning becomes clear if we first consider the case of the Earls Cowper in 18th century England where adoption was not practiced. The first Earl Cowper was a modest landowner and married Mary Clavering in 1706. When Mary’s brother subsequently died, she became the heiress and the couple inherited the Clavering estate. Similar (miss)fortunes for their heirs led the Cowpers to become one of the greatest landed families of England. The Cowpers were not particularly lucky, as one quarter of families were heirless during this era of high child mortality. The outcome of this death lottery was inequality.
Had the Cowpers lived in contemporary Japan, they would have remained modest landowners. An heirless household in Japan would adopt a son. Hence, the Claverings would have an adopted son and the family estate would have remained in the family. To keep the blood in the family, the adopted son may have married a daughter if available. If unavailable, the next generation could be formed by total strangers but they would continue the family line. Amassing a fortune in Japan was unrelated to demographic luck.
Widespread adoptions were not a peculiarity of Japan and this mechanism can also explain why East Asian societies were landowning peasant societies. China also had high rates of adoption in addition to equal distributions of land according to surveys from the 1930s. Perhaps more surprisingly, adoptions were common in ancient Europe where the Greeks and Romans practiced adoptions to secure heirs. For example, Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire, was adopted. Adoptions were a natural means of keeping wealth under the control of the family.
Europe changed due to the church discouraging adoptions from the early middle ages, leading to adoptions becoming rarities by the 11th century. The church was partially motivated by theology but also by the possibility that heir-less wealth would get willed to the church. They almost certainly did not foresee that their policies would lead to greater wealth inequality during the subsequent eras.
Figure 1. Land Distribution under Differing Adoption Regimes and Impartible Inheritance
My study shows by simulation that a large portion of the difference in wealth inequality outcomes between east and west can be explained by adoption (see figure 1). Societies without adoption have wealth distribution that are heavily skewed with many landless households unlike those with adoptions. Therefore, family institutions played a key role in determining inequality which had huge implications for the way society was organized in these two regions.
Interestingly, East Asian societies still have greater equality in wealth distributions today. Moreover, adoptions still amount to 10% of marriages in Japan which is a remarkably large share. Adoption may have continued creating a relatively equal society in Japan up to today.
Compared to the UK and Western Europe, there are a limited number of studies on wages and standards of living in the Ottoman empire. For the Ottoman empire the only source that can provide regular wage data for industry are the Ottoman state factories established in the 1840s to meet the needs of the state’s growing and centralized military and bureaucracy. Limitations in the sources of data are explained by the relative absence of industrial wage series in the monographies on Ottoman industrial institutions, and that manufacturing mainly comprised small manufacturers who did not keep records. This paucity in data may change as the Ottoman Archives become fully catalogued. The main aim of this study is to construct a wage series using the wage ledgers of those working in state factories. Consequently, I examined four prominent textile-related factories: Hereke Imperial Factory, Veliefendi Calico Factory, Bursa Silk Factory, and İzmit Cloth Factory. Only the Hereke Factory offers a 52-year wage series between 1848-1899. The data for the Veliefendi Factory started in 1848 but are disrupted in 1876 as the factory was transferred to military rule; the same applies to the İzmit Factory, which was established in 1844, but transferred to military rule in 1849.
I created two separate daily and monthly wage series to determine how many days workers worked per month and how this changed during the nineteenth century. Thus, not only the workers’ potential wages but also the workers’ observed monthly wages can be analysed. Some groups of workers were eliminated from the dataset for a variety of reasons. For example, civilian officials and masters working in factories were excluded because of their relatively high wages. Conversely, because of their relatively low wages, I also exclude carpet weavers — mostly young girls and children. I preferred to use median values for monthly wage series to include as many workers as possible in the analysis. As with much historical data, the wage series created in this study are incomplete. To overcome this I complement data for the Hereke Factory wage series with data from the Veliefendi and Bursa Factories.
My results indicate that daily real wages increased by only by 0.03 per cent, per annum, between 1852 and 1899. However, the real monthly wages of Hereke Factory workers rose by 0.11 per cent, per annum, between 1848 and 1899, but by 0.24 per cent per annum using 1852 as a starting point. Monthly wages increased faster than daily wages, but at the cost of more workdays for workers. Average workdays increased by 0.44 per cent, per annum over the span of the period. Although the Veliefendi Factory provides a narrower wage series from 1848 to 1876, it supports this pattern. Limited, but prominent examinations of Ottoman wage history claim that construction, urban, and agricultural workers’ wages increased, albeit at different rates in the same period. How can we explain the increase in wages of other sectors when the wages of textile workers were stagnant?
Many observations on the Ottoman cities has shown that industrial production, particularly in the textile sector, shifted from urban to rural, or from craft workshops to houses, to compete with cheap British yarn and fabric in the 19th century. According to my calculations, imports of Ottoman cotton yarn increased by a factor of 25 to 50 in the 19th century. This trend was most pronounced after the 1838 Anglo-Turkish Convention, when cheap English products were imported into the Ottoman Empire, and Ottoman producers sought cheaper labour. Labour-saving machines both facilitated the export of British yarns and fabrics to, and lowered wages in, the Ottoman empire. Although the wage series for the Hereke factory, and, to a more limited extent, the Veliefendi factory provide evidence in support of this hypothesis, numerous studies on Ottoman industry in the 19th-century support the same argument, though without a wage series.
Female employees in the European Union (EU-27) earn, on average, about 85 per cent of the wages received by male employees. While some countries such as France and Sweden exhibit closer pay equality, women in Germany face a larger gap and receive just 79 per cent of the average male wage, according to the 2018 results from Eurostat 2020. How did this state of affairs emerge?
To understand contemporary pay inequality, it is vital to take a long-run perspective and look at the development of the gender pay ratio in Germany since 1913. An in-depth analysis of historical inquiry reports and publications by the statistical offices reveals that in 1913 women in Germany earned around 44 per cent of male wages. Although World War I led to a temporary increase in women’s pay in blue-collar occupations, this trend was soon reversed and the gender-segregated labour market was re-established following demobilization.
The interwar period brought about the most dynamic leap in gender relations during the 20th century. While in 1920 German women earned on average 45% of a man’s average pay, by 1937 this share had increased to 61%, a consequence of women’s occupational transition and the more progressive institutional framework adopted during the Weimar Republic.
With the growing number of white-collar jobs, young females had job opportunities that were better paid and more socially accepted than the work in low-paid domestic services or agriculture. That was an opportunity they took: from 1910 to 1960, women increased their share in those fast-growing occupations from 18% to 45%, while their share decreased in agricultural work. This trend most likely contributed to women’s wage gains relative to men.
During the Weimar Republic, a new constitution and a more progressive institutional framework fostered further equalization of earnings, especially in the white-collar occupations. In 1919, the Weimar constitution introduced compulsory schooling for all youths under 18 years irrespective of gender. For the first time, this law provided girls with the same chances to receive vocational education and an apprenticeship as their male peers. All youths that worked in commercial and industrial firms were obliged to attend vocational commercial school at least once a week for two to three years. Before the introduction of this law, employers hardly invested in girls’ apprenticeships because women were seen as transient employees leaving the labour force upon marriage. This non-gendered schooling obligation led to a dynamic convergence of vocational training between boys and girls.
In the post-1945 period, the gender pay gap decreased in Germany from 65 percent in 1960 to 74 per cent twenty years later. In contrast, Sweden took the lead among European countries and by 1980, the gender pay gap was just 14 percentage points. However, since the 1980s, the gender pay gap has stagnated in many European countries.
All in all, the long-run perspective shows that since the beginning of the 20th century Germany has persistently exhibited a lower gender pay equality than other European economies, such as Sweden, despite the important improvement observed in the interwar period. In the postwar period, the gap between Germany and Sweden widened further due to slower progress in the young Federal Republic. These results suggest that differences in gender pay inequality across countries can be traced back to historical roots that go beyond the developments in the past forty years.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, the average height of adult British men increased by 11 centimetres. This increase in final height reflects improvements in living standards and health, and provides insights on the growth pattern of children which has been comparatively neglected. Child growth is very sensitive to economic and social conditions: children with limited nutrition or who suffer from chronic disease, grow more slowly than healthy children. Thus, to achieve such a large increase in adult height, health conditions must have improved dramatically for children since the mid-nineteenth century.
Our paper seeks to understand how child growth changed over time as adult height was increasing. Child growth follows a typical pattern shown in Figure 1. The graph on the left shows the height by age curve for modern healthy children, and the graph on the right shows the change in height at each age (height velocity). We look at three dimensions of the growth pattern of children: the final adult height that children achieve, i.e. what historians have predominantly focused on to date; the timing (age) when the growth velocity peaks during puberty, and, finally, the overall speed of maturation which affects the velocity of growth across all ages and the length of the growing years.
Figure 1. Weights and Heights for boys who trained on HMS Indefatigable, 1860s-1990s.
To understand how growth changed over time, we collected information about 11,548 boys who were admitted to the training ship Indefatigable from the 1860s to 1990s (Figure 2). This ship was located on the River Mersey near Liverpool for much of its history and it trained boys for careers in the merchant marine and navy. Crucially, the administrators recorded the boys’ heights and weights at admission and discharge, allowing us to calculate growth velocities for each individual.
Figure 2. HMS Indefatigable
We trace the boys’ heights over time (grouping them by birth decade) and find that they grew most rapidly during the interwar period. In addition, the most novel finding was that for boys born in the nineteenth century there is little evidence that they experienced a strong pubertal growth spurt unlike healthy boys today. Their growth velocity was relatively flat across puberty. However, starting with the 1910 birth decade, boys began experiencing more rapid pubertal growth similar to the right-hand graph in Figure 1. The appearance of rapid pubertal growth is a product of two factors: an increase in the speed of maturation, which meant that boys grew more rapidly during puberty than before and, secondly, a decrease in the variation in the timing of the pubertal growth spurt, which meant that boys were experiencing their pubertal growth at more similar ages.
Figure 3. Adjusted height-velocity for boys who trained on HMS Indefatigable.
This sudden change in the growth pattern of children is a new finding that is not predicted by the historical or medical literature. In the paper, we show that this change cannot be explained by improvements in living standards on the ship and that it is robust to a number of potential alternative explanations. We argue that reductions in disease exposure and illness were likely the biggest contributing factor. Infant mortality rates, an indicator of chronic illness in childhood, declined only after 1900 in England and Wales, so a decline in illness in childhood could have mattered. In addition, although general levels of nutrition were more than adequate by the turn of the twentieth century, the introduction of free school meals and the milk-in-schools programme in the early twentieth century, likely also helped ensure that children had access to key protein and nutrients necessary for growth.
Our findings matter for two reasons. First, they help complete the fragmented picture in the existing historical literature on how children’s growth changed over time. Second, they highlight the importance of the 1910s and the interwar period as a turning point in child growth. Existing research on adult heights has already shown that the interwar period was a period of rapid growth for children, but our results further explain how and why child growth accelerated in that period.
By 1914, Egypt’s large agricultural sector was negatively hit by declining yields in cotton production. Egypt at the time was a textbook case of export-led development. The decline in cotton yields — the ‘cotton crisis’ — was coupled with two other constraints: land scarcity and high population density. Nonethless, Egyptian agriculture was able to overcome this crisis in the interwar period, despite unfavourable price shocks. The output stagnation between 1900 and the 1920s clearly contrasts with the following recovery (Figure 1). In this paper, we empirically examine how this happened, by focusing on the role of government investment in irrigation infrastructure, farmers crop choices (intra-cotton shifts), and access to credit.
Figure 1: Cotton output, acreage and yields, 1895-1940
The decline in yields was caused by expanded irrigation without sufficient drainage, leading to a higher water table, increased salination, and increased pest attacks on cotton (Radwan, 1974; Owen, 1968; Richards, 1982). The government introduced an extensive public works programme, to reverse soil degradation and restore production. Simultaneously, Egypt’s farmers changed the type of cotton they were cultivating, shifting from the long staple and low yielding Sakellaridis to the medium-short staple and high yielding Achmouni, which reflected income maximizing preferences (Goldberg 2004 and 2006). Another important feature of the Egyptian economy between the 1920s and 1940s, was the expansion of credit facilities and the connected increase in farmers’ accessibility to agricultural loans. The interwar years witnessed the establishment of cooperatives to facilitate small landowners’ access to inputs (Issawi,1954), and the foundation of the Crèdit Agricole in 1931, offering small loans (Eshag and Kamal, 1967). These credit institutions coexisted with a number of mortgage banks, among which the Credit Foncièr was the largest, servicing predominantly large owners. Figure 2 illustrates the average annual real value of Credit Foncièr land mortgages in 1,000 Egyptian pounds (1926-1939).
Figure 2: Average annual real value of Credit Foncièr land mortgages in 1,000 Egyptian pounds (1926-1939)
Our work investigates the extent to which these factors contributed to the recovery of the raw cotton industry. Specifically: to what extent can intra-cotton shifts explain changes in total output? How did the increase in public works, mainly investment in the canal and drainage network, help boost production? And what role did differential access to credit play? To answer these questions, we construct a new dataset by exploiting official statistics (Annuaire Statistique de l’Egypte) covering 11 provinces and 17 years during 1923-1939. These data allow us to provide the first empirical estimates of Egyptian cotton output at the province level.
Access to finance and improved seeds significantly increased cotton output. The declining price premium of Sakellaridis led to a large-scale switch to Achmouni, which indicates that farmers responded to market incentives in their cultivation choices. Our study shows that cultivators’ response to market changes was fundamental in the recovery of the cotton sector. Access to credit was also a strong determinant of cotton output, especially to the benefit of large landowners. That access to credit plays a vital role in enabling the adoption of productivity-enhancing innovations is consonant with the literature on the Green Revolution, (Glaeser, 2010).
Our results show that the expansion of irrigation and drainage did not have a direct effect on output. However, we cannot rule out completely the role played by improved irrigation infrastructure because we do not observe investment in private drains, so we cannot assess complementarities between private and public drainage. Further, we find some evidence of a cumulative effect of drainage pipes, two to three years after installation.
The structure of land ownership, specifically the presence of large landowners, contributed to output recovery. Thus, despite institutional innovations designed to give small farmers better access to credit, large landowners benefitted disproportionally from credit availability. This is not a surprising finding: extreme inequality of land holdings had been a central feature of the country’s agricultural system for centuries.
Glaeser, Bernhard. The Green Revolution Revisited: Critique and Alternatives. Taylor & Francis, 2010.
Goldberg, Ellis. “Historiography of Crisis in the Egyptian Political Economy.” In Middle Eastern Historiographies: Narrating the Twentieth Century, edited by I. Gershoni, Amy Singer, and Hakan Erdem, 183–207. University of Washington Press, 2006.
———. Trade, Reputation and Child Labour in the Twentieth-Century Egypt. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Issawi, Charles. Egypt at Mid-Century. Oxford University Press, 1954.
Owen, Roger. “Agricultural Production in Historical Perspective: A Case Study of the Period 1890-1939.” In Egypt Since the Revolution, edited by P. Vatikiotis, 40–65, 1968.
Radwan, Samir. Capital Formation in Egyptian Industry and Agriculture, 1882-1967. Ithaca Press, 1974.
Richards, Alan Egypt’s Agricultural Development, 1800-1980: Technical and Social Change. Westview Press, 1982.
For a long time the plantation colonies of the Americas were seen as backward and undeveloped, dependent for their wealth on the grinding enslavement of hundreds of thousands of people. This was only part of the story, albeit a major one. Sugar, coffee, cotton, tobacco and indigo plantations were also some of the largest and most complex economic enterprises of the early industrial revolution, exceeding many textile factories in size and relying upon sophisticated technologies for the processing of raw materials. My article looks at the patent system of Jamaica and the British Atlantic which supported this system, arguing that it facilitated a process of transatlantic invention, innovation and technological diffusion.
The first key finding concerns the nature of the patent system in Jamaica. As in British America, patents were granted by colonial legislatures rather than by the Crown, and besides merely registering the proprietary right to an invention they often included further powers, to facilitate the process of licensing and diffusion. They were therefore more akin to industrial subsidies than modern patents. The corollary was that inventors had to demonstrate not just novelty but practicality and utility; in 1786, when two inventors competed to patent the same invention, the prize went to the one who provided a successful demonstration (Figure 1). As a result, the bar was higher, and only about sixty patents were passed in Jamaica between 1664 and 1857, compared to the many thousands in Britain and the United States.
Figure 1. ‘Elevation & Plan of an Improved SUGAR MILL by Edward Woollery Esq of Jamaica’
However, the second key finding is that this ‘bar’ was enough to make Jamaica one of the centres of colonial technological innovation before 1770, along with Barbados and South Carolina, which accounted for about two-thirds of the patents passed in that period. All three were successful plantation colonies, where planters earned large amounts of money and had both the incentive and the means to invest heavily in technological innovations intended to improve efficiency and profits. Patenting peaked in Jamaica between the 1760s and 1780s, as the island adapted to sudden economic change, as part of a package of measures that included opening up new lands, experimenting with new cane varieties, engaging in closer accounting, importing more slaves and developing new ways of working them harder.
A further finding of the article is that the English and Jamaican patent systems until 1852 were complementary. Inventors in Britain could purchase an English patent with a ‘colonial clause’ extending it to colonial territories, but a Jamaican patent offered them additional powers and flexibility as they brought their inventions to Jamaica and adapted it to local conditions. Inventors in Jamaica could obtain a local patent to protect their invention while they perfected it and prepared to market it in Britain. The article shows how inventors used varies strategies within the two systems to help support the process of turning their inventions into viable technologies.
Finally, the colonial patents operated alongside a system of grants, premiums and prizes operated by the Jamaican Assembly, which helped to support innovation by plugging the gaps left by the patent system. Inventors who felt that their designs were too easily pirated, or that they themselves lacked the capacity to develop them properly, could ask for a grant instead that recompensed them for the costs of invention and made the new technology widely available. Like the imperial and colonial patents, the grants were part of the strategies used to promote invention.
Indeed, sometimes the Assembly stepped in directly. In 1799, Jean Baptiste Brouet asked the House for a patent for a machine for curing coffee. The committee agreed that the invention was novel, useful and practical, ‘but as the petitioner has not been naturalised and is totally unable to pay the fees for a private bill’, they suggested granting him £350 instead, ‘as a full reward for his invention; [and] the machines constructed according to the model whereof may then be used by any person desirous of the same, without any license from or fee paid to the petitioner’.
The article therefore argues that Jamaican patents were part of wider transatlantic system that acted to facilitate invention, innovation and technological diffusion in support of the plantation economy and slave society.
This blog is part of a series of New Researcher blogs.
A large share of the working population in developing countries is still engaged in agricultural activities. In India, for instance, over 40% of the employed population works in the agricultural sector and nearly three-quarters of the households depend on rural incomes (World Bank). In addition, the agricultural sector in developing countries is plagued with low investments, forcing workers to rely on natural sources for irrigation as opposed to perennial man-made sources. Gadgil and Gadgil (2006) study the agricultural sector in India during 1951-2003 and find that despite a decline in share of agriculture in GDP in India, severe droughts still adversely impact GDP by 2-5%. In such a context, any unanticipated deviation from normal in rainfall is bound to have adverse effects on productivity and consequently, on incomes of these workers. In this paper, I study whether workers adopt migration as a coping strategy in response to income risks arising out of negative shocks to agriculture. And, if local institutions facilitate or hinder the use of this strategy. In a nutshell, the answers are yes and yes.
I study these questions in the context of indentured migration from colonial India to several British colonies. The abolition of slavery in the 1830s led to a demand for new sources of labour to work on plantations in the colonies. Starting with the “great experiment” in Mauritius (Carter, 1993), over a million Indians became indentured migrants with Mauritius, British Guyana, Natal, and Trinidad being the major destinations. The indentured migration from India was a system of voluntary migration, wherein passages were paid-for and migrants earned fixed wages and rations. The exact terms varied across different colonies, but generally the contracts were specified for a period of five years and after ten years of residency in the colony, a paid-for return passage was also available.
Using a unique dataset on annual district-level outflows of indentured migrants from colonial lndia to several British colonies in the period 1860-1912, I find that famines increased indentures. However, this effect varied according to the land-revenue collection system established by the British. Using the year the district was annexed by Britain to construct an instrument for the land revenue system (Banerjee and Iyer, 2005), I find that emigration responded less to famines in British districts where landlords collected revenue (as opposed to places where individual was responsible for revenue payments). I also find this to be the case in Princely States. However, the reasons for these results are markedly different. Qualitative evidence suggests that landlords were unlikely to grant remissions to their tenants; this increased tenant debt, preventing them from migrating. Interlinked transactions and a general fear of the landlords prevented the tenants from defaulting on their debts. Such coercion was not witnessed in areas where landlords were not the revenue collectors making it easier for people to migrate in times of distress. On the other hand, in Princely states, local rulers adopted liberal measures during famine years in order to help the population. These findings are robust to various placebo and robustness checks. The results are in line with Persaud (2019) who shows that people engaged in indentured migration to escape local price volatility.
Banerjee, Abhijit, and Lakshmi Iyer (2005): “History, Institutions, and Economic Performance: The Legacy of Colonial Land Tenure Systems in India”, American Economic Review, Vol. 95, No. 4, pp. 1190-1213.
Carter, Marina (1993): “The Transition from Slave to Indentured Labour in Mauritius”, Slavery and Abolition, 14:1, pp. 114-130.
Gadgil, Sulochana, and Siddhartha Gadgil (2006): “The Indian Monsoon, GDP and Agriculture”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 41, No. 47, 4887-4895.
Persaud, Alexander (2019): “Escaping Local Risk by Entering Indentureship: Evidence from Nineteenth-Century Indian Migration”, Journal of Economic History, Vol. 79, No. 2, pp. 447-476.
While it plays a key role in theories of the transition to modern economic growth, there are few estimates of the quantity-quality trade-off from before the demographic transition. Using a uniquely suitable new dataset of vital records, I use two instrumental variable (IV) strategies to estimate the trade-off in Quebec between 1620 and 1850. I find that one additional child who survived past age one decreased the literacy rate (proxied by signatures) of their older siblings by 5 percentage points.
The first strategy exploits the fact that twin births, conditional on mother’s age and parity, are a random increase in family size. While twins are often used to identify the trade-off in contemporary studies, sufficiently large and reliable historical datasets containing twins are rare. I compare two families, one whose mother gave birth to twins and one whose mother gave birth to a singleton, both at the same parity and age. I then look at the probability that each older non-twin sibling signed their marriage record.
For the second strategy, I posit that aggregate, province-wide infant mortality rate during the year a younger child was born is exogenous to individual family characteristics. I compare two families, one whose mother gave birth during a year with relatively high infant mortality rate, both at the same parity and age. I then look at older siblings from both families who were born in the same year, controlling for potential time trends in literacy. As the two different IV techniques result in very similar estimates, I argue there is strong evidence of a modest trade-off.
By using two instruments, I am able to rule out one major source of potential bias. In many settings, IV estimates of the trade-off may be biased if parents reallocate resources towards (reinforcement) or away from (compensation) children with higher birth endowments. I show that both twins and children born in high mortality years have, on average, lower literacy rates than their older siblings. As one shock increases and one shock decreases family size, but both result in older siblings having relatively higher human capital, reinforcement or compensation would bias the estimates in different directions. As the estimates are very similar, I conclude there is no evidence that my estimates suffer from this bias.
Is the estimated trade-off economically significant? I compare Quebec to a society with similar culture and institutions: pre-Revolutionary rural France. Between 1628 and 1788, a woman surviving to age 40 in Quebec would expect to have 1.7 additional children surviving past age one compared to her rural French peers. The average literacy rate (again proxied by signatures) in France was about 9.5 percentage points higher than in Quebec. Assuming my estimate of the trade-off is a linear and constant effect (instead of just a local average), reducing family sizes to French levels would have increased literacy by 8.6 percentage points in the next generation, thereby eliminating most of the gap.
However, pre-Revolutionary France was hardly a human capital-rich society. Proxying for the presence of the primary educators of the period (clergy and members of religious orders) with unmarried adults, I find plausible evidence that the trade-off was steeper in boroughs and decades with greater access to education. Altogether, I interpret my results as evidence that a trade-off existed which explains some of the differences across societies.
Henry, Louis, 1978. “Fécondité des mariages dans le quart Sud-Est de la France de 1670 a 1829,” Population (French Edition), 33 (4/5), 855–883.
IMPQ. 2019. Infrastructure intégrée des microdonnées historiques de la population du Québec (XVIIe – XXe siècle) (IMPQ). [Dataset].Centre interuniversitaires d’études québécoises (CIEQ).
Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH). 2019. Registre de la population du Québec ancien (RPQA). [Dataset]. Département de Démographie, Université de Montréal.
Projet BALSAC. 2019. Le fichier BALSAC. [Dataset]. L’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.