History KS3 / GCSE: What was the role of money and trade in the British Empire?

British traders made fortunes from ships freighted with opium off the coast of China.

They helped themselves to the riches of India.

They planted new crops in their expanding colonies, like rubber in Malaysia.

The key factor in the development of the Empire however, was the demand for sugar.

Britain became the world capital of money.

On London’s trading floors, speculators bought and sold commodities from all corners of the Empire.

By the end of the 19th Century, more than half the world’s trade was financed with British pounds.

This clip is from the series Empire.

Teacher Notes

After watching the clip, students working in groups have 20 minutes to create an 'Empire Trading' game, which involves colouring all the major countries of the Empire red on a world map, marking the main trade routes and writing three or four chance cards for each trading centre or product.

Cards give opportunities for profit or loss. For example, demand for sugar increased - gain £100; fire in sugar refinery - lose £50. Or, costs of slave voyage £200 - but profits at auction £300; new railway speeds up trade in tea - gain £30; investment in London financial dealings - profit £500.

When games are complete, groups can compete with each other, by throwing dice and moving round the Empire along trade routes, given appropriate numerical journey times, picking up cards and keeping financial records on a profit and loss sheet.

Curriculum Notes

This clip will be relevant for teaching History. This topic appears in KS3, KS4 and GCSE in England and Northern Ireland. Also KS3 in Wales and National 4 and National 5 in Scotland.

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Was the British Empire a force for good? (Part 2)
What can cricket tell us about the British Empire?
What legacy has the British Empire left behind?
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Why does the British Empire matter?
Why was India so valuable to the British Empire?