A history blog written by Seaford College A level student Tom Hennessy. The primary focus is modern European history, but the blog encompasses an increasingly large geographical and chronological sweep. My Content includes articles about areas of interest, historical debates, autobiographical travel accounts, book reviews and pieces applying history to current affairs.
understand the culture of imperialism from the point of view of the people who
actually ran the British Empire, the Sudan Political Service is as good a place
as any to start. The SPS was instituted in 1 90 1 , and a regular system of
recruiting young university graduates was in place by 1905. These recruits,
unusually for the time, were chosen on the basis not of examinations but of a
series of interviews. It was the duty of the Sudan government agent in London
to sift through hundreds of application forms and letters of recommendation,
and then invite a short list of candidates to the selection board in
London.The service was certain of the
qualities needed if one was to be admitted to the SPS. Public schoolboys were
strongly favoured, as were athletes, and it was this particular feature which
gave rise to the saying that the Sudan was a country of 'Blacks ruled by
to the original Arabic name for Sudan, al bilad as-sudan, the Land of the Blacks, while 'Blues' referred to the
distinction of getting a Blue by representing either Oxford or Cambridge in a
match against the other university. Athleticism was greatly valued because of
the supposedly sapping nature of the climate.The Sudan Political Service was
regarded as the elite of the African Service, and enjoyed a prestige comparable
with the Indian Civil Service. It conferred even greater distinction, because
it was known that getting in was not simply a matter of passing examinations,
as was the case for nearly every other branch of the civil service. Service in
Sudan was very much about character and not merely brains.
Of the 46 recruits
taken on between 1902 and 1914 , 27 had a Blue from Oxford or Cambridge.
Because only between seven and ten people were recruited each year, the service
quickly gained a reputation for exclusivity and tightly bound camaraderie.
process in London was not particularly rigorous, but involved a series of
questions designed to show mental toughness; cranks and people with foreign accents
were firmly rejected.
to the Blue, preferably in a manly sport like rugby or boxing, as opposed to
hockey or soccer, a degree in Classics or History from either Oxford or
Cambridge was highly valued. In the early days, before 1914, the average man in
the service could be said to have a '2nd in History from Oxford' and a rugby
Blue. In an analysis of the 500 or so men who made up the service between 1902
and 1956, it was found that over 70 per cent were from Oxford and Cambridge.
70% were recruited from Oxbridge
Analysis of members
of the Sudan Political Service modifies and deepens notions of class in imperial Britain. A
third of the men who joined the SPS were the sons of clergymen. This shows that
the imperial elite was certainly not, as has been true of some other imperial
cultures, an elite of money or social status; rather it fanned a clerisy, noted
for its education and cultural values.The clergyman's son would have been educated at an independent,
or public, school, but did not expect to inherit much money or even land. This
needs to be remembered as a corrective to the simplistic popular idea that the
British Empire was run by the upper classes. Empire was largely a preserve of a
tiny elite, but that elite was middle class and professional; it was not
particularly aristocratic, in the sense of a landed, hereditary caste who enjoyed
wealth and power in Britain.