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Top 10 Historical Places In The British Empire

British Flag and Crown

At the absolute height of its power with a rather bossy looking Queen Victoria running the show, it was said that the sun never sets on the British Empire. By 1922, an entire fifth of the world’s population, or 458 million people were members of the British Empire, which didn’t happen over night of course - battles were fought, treaties signed and many young British men and women were sent around the world on long and extended, erm, "holidays" to keep things running... Our list of historical places of the once British Empire, are great to visit, and many of the countries in which they are, are now quite happy to be members of the Commonwealth and freely accept British tourists.

10. Battle of Quebec, 1775, Canada

Death of Montgomery

Our cousins over the pond would probably rather not remember this one, as it was the first major defeat for the Americans in the American Revolutionary War. Although we may not have won the war, this was an incredible battle, fought during a very cold and harsh winter. The picture to the right is a painting, by the historical painter John Trumbull, of the death of General Montgomery - who led the invading forces.

These days, Canada’s only predominant French-speaking province, Quebec enjoys a diverse atmosphere of mixed cultures, attractions and inhabitants. From theme parks to art museums, national parks to yearly exhibitions and festivals, this really is a place for everyone to enjoy... unless you do not have a soft spot for Ice Hockey that is - in which case we suggest you keep that closely to yourself!.

9. Demerara Rebellion, 1823, Guyana

These days in Guyana, you’re most likely to find a friendly local in a pair of Bermuda shorts and a straw hat willing to point you in the direction of the nearest beach cocktail bar. Back in time, before this sovereign state nation was a haven for eco-tourists, adventure seekers and nature lovers, it is widely credited with being one of the places where the movement for the abolition of slavery gained most of its steam. In August 1823, a slave by the name of Jack Gladstone and his father started a revolution after hearing rumours that papers from Britain had been sent to slave owners telling them to set their slaves free, but were refusing to do so. In a short period of time, nearly 10,000 slaves rose up against their “drivers”. This resulted in the state coming under strict martial law and saw Jack Gladstone's subsequent imprisonment and death of consumption. When news of this reached Britain, it invoked a huge public outcry against slavery, which saw 200 petitions reach parliament.

As the only English-speaking country in the South American continent, Guyana is culturally associated with Caribbean as opposed to its Latin American neighbours. Be it visiting the world famous ‘El Dorado Rum’ facilities, or driving along the world’s longest floating bridge, the humid climate and vibrant cultures are sure to be right there alongside.

8. Treaty of Waitangi, 1814, New Zealand

Before they were a formidable sporting nation with a fearsome pre-match war cry, New Zealand first had to become a nation. The Treaty of Waitanga is widely credited with making this happen. After Captain Cook came along and explored the living day-lights out of New Zealand in the 1800’s, more and more “Pakeha” (Maori for Europeans) began making their way to the two major islands making up New Zealand, and with them came lawlessness among the traders and settlers. To give the Maori’s protection as British Citizens and to stop the French from buying up more and more of the New Zealand land, the Treaty of Waitanga was put in place and signed by 500 Maori chiefs (13 of which were women chiefs) on the 6th of February 1840.

7. Opium Wars, 1839, Hong Kong

Hong Kong From Victoria Peak

The British Empire gained control over Hong Kong following the Opium War of 1839-42. Originally confined to only the governing Hong Kong Island, the British Empire eventually controlled the entire area of Hong Kong as a colony until 1997 (except during a brief period during World War 2, when Japan had occupied Hong Kong). The Opium War was fought over the Chinese Officials' displeasure with the outflow of silver and the spread of opium into China. With its burgeoning night-life and sights to see during the day, it’s no wonder Hong Kong is the up-and-coming destination in the now not-so Far East.

6. Anglo-Zanzibar War, 1896, Zanzibar

Perhaps one the silliest, but most definitely shortest of all conflicts in the proud British Empires history goes to the Anglo-Zanzibar War, which lasted a combined and grand total of... 38 minutes. Fought after Sultan Khalid bin Barghash decided to ascend to the sultanate following the death of the former and pro-British sultan, without permission from the British Consul (which he needed after a treaty was signed in 1886 stating so), Khalid was issued an ultimatum to step down. In a big sulk he locked himself up in his palace with his palace guard and refused point blank. The Royal navy opened fire on the Palace on 27 August 1896 at 09:00am and by 09:40am it was all over, with Khalid making a desperate flee to the German consulate and eventually escaping into German East Africa.

In the 21st century, this Indian Ocean archipelago of 800,000 inhabitants, and birthplace of rock icon “Freddie Mercury”, is characterised by its beautiful fringing coral reefs and the historical beauty of its own World Heritage Site - Stone Town. We highly recommend taking Amani Tours half-day walking tour through the historic quarter, which recalls the heyday of the colonial age.

5. Siege of Yorktown, 1781, USA

Cannons from the Siege of Yorktown

One for us to hand to the cousins over the pond (we’re still feeling a twinge about number 10 on the list). The Siege of Yorktown was a decisive victory for the combined forces of the American and French forces led by General George Washington and his French pal, Comte de Rochambeau. Proving to be the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War, the British Empire eventually had to hand America to the Americans. This has not stopped the USA from being awarded the cheeky and privileged title of being referred to as, “Our cousins across the pond.” Yorktown is the best destination to enjoy the experience of what the USA was like during the exciting years of the American Revolutionary War.

Part of the Historic Triangle of Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg, this town is any history buff’s dream. Bursting with pride of their heritage - with three museums, a victory monument and battlefield centre - Yorktown is the number one destination for those seeking to view the USA as it stood in the 18th Century.

4. Victorian Gold Rush, 1850, Australia

Originally a penal colony, Australia was little more than a rather large piece of land right at the very bottom of the British Empire; this was until the period between 1850 and the late 1860s when the discovery of gold led to a mass migration that only a gold rush can bring. In a mere 10 years, the population of Australia tripled and even “We-are-not-amused” Queen Vicky must have been pleasantly content with being in charge of what was at its time, the largest proportion of the world’s gold output.

Thanks to the gold rush, Victoria is today one of the power houses driving Australia’s economy as a flourishing tourist destination, totalling 1.64 million international visitors for the year 2011 within Melbourne alone. Wherever your interests lie, be it attending the Formula One Australian Grand Prix; enjoying one of the 250 events at Melbourne Food and Wine Festival; or escaping to the calm beaches of the Gippland’s, Victoria, it seems, was built to please.

3. Battle of Plassey, 1757, India

The battle of Plassey was one of the most important battles ever won by the British Empire - giving Britain control over much of the indies for the next century. Fought between the British East India Company and the Nawab of Bengal and his French Allies, the defeat of the Nawab ceded to Britain the control of the state of Bengal and also showed the French who were new to the area that Britain was here to stay, and stay they did until the Independence of India occurred in 1947.

As a major hub for the Information Technology industry, the state of West-Bengal has the third fastest-growing economy in India. Before the ‘raw-nature’ lovers roll their eyes, however, Bengal is at the foot of the Eastern Himalayas and home to the Sunderbans Wildlife Sanctuary (with one of the largest tiger populations in the world) - West-Bengal’s tourist attractions are as diverse as its culture.

2. Isandlwana, 1879, South Africa

A cairn to British soldiers at Isandlwana

You win some and you lose some; the battle of Isandlwana is definitely the latter. The battle which took place on an isolated hill in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa is to this day known as the worst defeat at the hands of a native army that the British Empire ever experienced. The South African navy has even named one of their frigates, the SAS Isandlwana, in memory of this impressive battle . Known now as one of the most beautiful places to visit in South Africa, with the Drakensberg Mountain Range, superb beaches and the opportunity to see the famous Big 5 (Rhino, Lion, Elephant, Leopard and Buffalo) - Kwa-Zulu Natal is one of the foremost destinations for tourists looking for an African escape.

1. Crimean War, 1853, Ukraine


The Crimean War began once Russia began to occupy territories that were previously under control of Turkey - known as the Crimea - these days, the Ukraine. This was maybe a tiff we should have steered clear from, as it wasn’t really anything to do with us, but being the biggest, baddest empire there ever was - we weren’t about to let Russia start expanding! Famous battles include the defeat of the Russian Imperial army at the Battle of Alma River and the infamous battle of Balaklava - where the cold climate led to special woolly hats being knitted in Britain and sent through to the British soldiers on the front-line. Gran’s have continued to knit these silly-looking - but so incredibly warm - items of clothing ever since.

Crimea today survives on its agricultural and tourism industries, of which both are at their highest peak. Contrary to popular belief, between early April and late October, the near-Mediterranean climate on Crimea’s South shore makes for the perfect vacation destination, which millions of Russians, Northern-Europeans and other foreign travellers take advantage of each year.

Last Updated: February 2012

Matt Wilke

Matt Wilke

Being fortunate enough to attend a boarding school in South Africa, Matthew not only learnt to appreciate nature, but also gained a deep respect for humour and military history. Once finishing his studies, he joined a military band which affords him the opportunity to travel to many countries and to see them from a different perspective from that of just a tourist.