Colonies and colonisation in Bulwer Lytton’s The Caxtons, a strange story and the coming race

Bruce Knox

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Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, an eminently popular novelist, published The Caxtons in 1849. Though sub-titled A Family Picture and mainly concerned with domestic life, it included a lengthy disquisition on colonisation and emigration, its value to British society and its role in extending civilisation by spreading ‘God’s law, improvement’. His colonial example was ‘Australia’. A Radical MP in the 1830s, but opposed to the encroachment of ‘democracy’ and supportive of the Corn Laws, in the early 1850s Lytton turned to the Conservative Party. In 1858–59 he served as secretary of state for the colonies. In the light of his experience, his view of Australia and of self-governing colonies was modified, as A Strange Story (1862) shows. But in 1871, in The Coming Race, an elaborate satire on democracy and egalitarianism, he made a distinct addition to the colonial theme of The Caxtons. He did not doubt that ‘improvement’ and colonisation produced evidence of ‘the triumph of civilization’, but a metaphor embedded in the later novel indicated the inevitability of displacement of aboriginal inhabitants by Anglo-Saxon settlers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857-880
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • aristocracy
  • Bulwer
  • colonisation
  • colony
  • democracy
  • gentlemen
  • Lytton

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