British Empire Timeline



The British Empire’s most successful endeavours were the colonization of much of North America and large parts of India. In North America and the Caribbean, the British fought with other imperial powers – particularly the French – for control. In the nineteenth century the British began focusing much more of their energy in Africa, gaining control over many countries and regions in the continent. Beyond this, the British were the first European power to claim Australia and along with France attained a powerful presence in the Middle East (e.g. Egypt).


1583:Newfoundland is claimed for England in the name of Queen Elizabeth.

1585-87:The English try to settle Roanoke Island off of North Carolina but encounter many problems. Settling the island was Britain’s first step in permanent colonial presence in North America. Colonists that arrive from England in the next decade find no trace of the previous settlement, and the colony here is ultimately unsuccessful.

1600:Britain establishes their East India Company, which becomes prominent in trade in India and the east.

1607:The first lasting British settlement in North America is formed in Jamestown, Virginia.

1608:The first “factory” (or trading post) is established in India in a town on The Bay of Bengal.

1609:Henry Hudson explores the inlet of New York Bay. During this year castaways from an English ship reach Bermuda and it becomes the first British island colony of the New World.

1613:A British East India Company ship becomes the first of the European empires to reach Japan.

1620:English pilgrims sail the Mayflower to the New World, reaching Cape Cod first.

1627:An English colony is founded in Barbados and grows rapidly.

c.1630:The English establish a colony in Guiana alongside rival French and Dutch colonies. At this same time Boston is selected for the site of the first English Settlement in Massachusetts.

1632-36:Maryland, Williamsburg (Virginia), and Rhode Island are founded by the British and assumed under their control.

1637:A war breaks out between English colonists and the Pequot. The war devastates the Pequot population and the British safeguard Connecticut as a British settlement.

1644:The British East India Company builds a fort in Madras.

1655:The British begin to settle in Jamaica and convert the island into a major slave market for the West Indies.

1661:A fort is built on an island in the Gambia river.

1664:The Dutch cede New Amsterdam to the British. Two years later its name is changed to New York.

1668:The British East India company is given a lease on Bombay, acquired through Charles II who received it from his Portuguese bride, Catherine.

1675:A war known as King Philip’s War arises when the Wampanoag native population rise up against the new England settlements.

1681:Pennsylvania becomes a colony that supports religious freedom. As a result, Mennonites among other religious groups immigrate from Europe to escape religious persecution and settle in the new colony.

1696:The East India Company builds a fort in the Ganges delta, which becomes Calcutta.

1732:A group of British philanthropists are given Georgia.

1751:The British maintain their stronghold in Southern India after a seven-week siege by the French.

1755:The British provide support to the Iroquois against the French in the Ohio valley.

1757:A battle ensues in Bengal after which the British take the colony.

1759:General James Wolfe captures Quebec from the French.

1763:In the Treaty of Paris France, the French cede all North American territory north of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi River to the British, except for New Orleans. In addition, Spain cedes Florida to Britain, completing British possession of the entire coast of North America.

1769-70:Captain Cook reaches New Zealand and then Australia. The following decade, Australia is used a place to detain convicts.

1775-1782: The American War of Independence is fought between the British empire and thirteen of its colonies in America. It was during this war that the Thirteen Colonies declared independence as the United States of America.

1791: During the American War of Independence, the Loyalist Party was formed (made up of people who still wanted to be loyal to the British Empire). After the Thirteen Colonies gained Independence, many loyalists left the United states and settled in Quebec. As a result, Quebec was divided into the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada, which was made official by the Constitutional Act of 1791.

1795:Britain seizes the cape colony in southern Africa.

1798:The British agree to protect Oman, securing themselves a place in the Persian Gulf.

1820:A large influx of British settlers arrive at Cape Town in South Africa.

1839:The British army invades Afghanistan, attempting to gain control by using a puppet ruler as the Afghan amir. In this same year Britain invades China.

1843:The British take control of the existing Boer republic.

1846:An Anglo-Sikh war breaks out and as a result, Kashmir and Jammu are ceded to the British.

1849:Vancouver Island is deemed a British crown colony, followed by British Columbia in 1858.

1853:The Crimean war begins when the Ottoman sultan declared war on Russia, believing he will receive French and British support.

1858:The East India Company loses their control as India is placed under direct control of the British government.

1867:Former colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario combine to form Canada, with Ottawa as the country’s capital.

1874:The southern portion of present-day Ghana becomes British territory, and is known as the Gold Coast.

1876:Queen Victoria assumes title of Empress of India.

1881:The British withdraw from Afghanistan.

1884:The Boer Republic gains independence from Britain.

1887-99:The British increase their presence and activity Africa, including countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zanzibar, and Zambia and Sudan. During this time, they also agree with the French on colonial boundaries in Senegal and Gambia.

1901:Six separate Australian colonies combine to form the commonwealth of Australia.

1907:New Zealand becomes an independent self-governing dominion.

1911:George V becomes Emperor of India. This marks a period of increasing British involvement and control in India and an Indian struggle to attain independence.

1947:India gains independence. The subcontinent is divided into the republic of India and Pakistan.

1956-65:Many African colonies gain independence, such as, Sudan, Ghana, Somalia, Malawi, Kenya, Zanzibar, the Gambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

1980:The former African colony called Rhodesia becomes independent and takes the name Zimbabwe.