Friendship, Imperial Violence and the Law of Nations: The Case of Late-Eighteenth Century British Oceania

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 2014, 42 (4), pp. 645 - 666
Issue Date:
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© 2014, Taylor & Francis. This article examines the interrelationship of friendship and violence in European juristic traditions and in British scientific voyaging in Oceania. Drawing upon Roman texts and natural law treatises, it shows how friendship, meaning hospitality and trade, appeared as a right asserted by imperial nations, often with the backing of force. Moving from jurisprudence to imperial practice, this article examines the coercive elements of cross-cultural friendship in eighteenth-century British expansion into Oceania. It suggests that it was in the breach more than the observance that discourses of friendship came to the fore, specifically in resistance to first contact and in accusations of theft. Seen to be motivated by either violent or avaricious passions, theft and native resistance tore the bonds of human sociability asunder. I argue that the significance of friendship was twofold. First, in a context of inter-imperial rivalry, friendship signified native consent in claims of possession over land and thus ensured conformity to legal norms. Second, it promised a system of order governed by norms of affective restraint that could sublimate the passions of natives, voyagers and nations.
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