French investors and engineers with the help of the Egyptian government had built a canal that linked the Mediterranean Sea with the Indian Ocean by 1869.
The British government had always been annoyed that their colonial rivals, the French, could control access from Europe to India.
In 1875 the British government acquired all of the shares owned by the Egyptian government (led by the Khedive) in exchange for reducing debts owed by the Egyptian government to British banks.
The British acquisition of shares in the Suez Canal played an important role in increasing European colonisation of Africa. This was because trade routes needed to be protected by large naval and military bases. As individuals explored the African interior and discovered valuable minerals and raw materials, the European colonial powers claimed large territories in order to keep the profits to themselves.
1876: The missionary journey of Mary Slessor to Calabar
Many British people went as missionaries to Africa during the 19th century.
They often connected the work of spreading Christianity with trying to bring an end to slave trading within Africa.
Many missionaries sincerely wanted to improve the lives of African people as well as changing their religion.
The famous British explorer David Livingstone wanted to eradicate the slave trade in Africa and he believed the best way to do this was by promoting commerce, civilisation and, above all, Christianity.
Mary Slessor, inspired by the work of David Livingstone, trained as a missionary in Scotland and then in 1876 she went to Calabar in the south-eastern region of Nigeria and worked to change some of the harsher social practices in the region.
Mary adopted a number of children whom she found abandoned.
She then lived in the Okoyong district and became a highly respected member of the community, serving as a judge in local courts from 1892 until her death in 1915.
1887: The intervention against JaJa of Opobo
Commerce with Africans was not as simple as preaching Christianity. In the same area where Mary Slessor was working as a missionary, in the south east of modern Nigeria, British merchants were developing very complex trading relationships with African producers of palm oil, which was used in a range of products.
The king of the city state of Opobo, King JaJa, became very important in the palm oil trade because JaJa and his African traders had direct access to businessmen in Britain. British traders were incensed by the special relationship he had with British businessmen and tried to undermine JaJa.
Eventually the British governor of the area of modern Nigeria, in which King JaJa traded, tricked JaJa into attending a meeting with him on board a British ship anchored off the coast, and then took him off on the boat to the Gold Coast colony.
He was then put on trial for a range of acts of treason and sentenced to transportation to the Caribbean for five years.
1893-94: The expansion by Cecil Rhodes from South Africa into Matabele territory
In 1893 Cecil Rhodes was already one of the richest men in the world through his successful diamond and gold mining operations in South Africa.
Rhodes was a strong believer in expanding Britain’s global empire and by 1894 had acquired the Matabeleland, which he named Rhodesia after himself (modern day Zimbabwe and Zambia) by first tricking the king of the Matabele into handing over territory.
When the Matabele realised Rhodes intended to conquer their land they went to war with Rhodes’ army of British mercenaries.
The Matabele warriors, armed with spears, were massacred by Rhodes’ army equipped with the latest weapons including rifles and the deadly Maxim machine gun.
1896-1901: The arrival of Indian workers to help build the Uganda railway
British expansion in Africa continued throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In order to promote expansion into eastern Africa, British companies began building the Kenya-Uganda railway. Indian labourers were transported to East Africa to help physically build the railway.