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Q&A: An update on the British Empire's 'possessions'

British Empire's 'possessions'

What's left of the once-mighty British Empire's "possessions" worldwide and how does it compare to what it was at its peak?

Back in the 1920s, the British Empire was known as the empire "where the sun never sets" because it consisted of territories in seemingly every corner of the world.

At its peak, the British Empire encompassed more than 13 million square miles — almost a quarter of Earth's land. More than 450 million people lived on those lands, about 20 percent of the world's population at the time.

More than 50 countries fell under the British flag, according to research done by teacher and author Stephen Luscombe (british empire.co.uk/). The largest were Canada, Australia and India. Among the others were the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, South Africa, Tanganyika, Nigeria, Iraq, the Bahamas, the Falkland Islands, Honduras, the Irish Free State, Kenya, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Zealand, Palestine, Rhodesia, Uganda, Cypress, Bermuda, Barbados and the Cameroons.

The empire began contracting after World War II, as countries began to seek and win their independence. That movement culminated in 1997 with the handover of Hong Kong to become a special administrative region of China. In attendance that day was Charles, the prince of Wales, who later wrote: "Such is the end of Empire, I sighed to myself."

Today, the British Empire consists of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and 14 territories known as the British Overseas Territories: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekalia on Cyprus and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Total land area: A little more than 750,000 square miles, though 600,000 of that is Britain's slice of Antarctica.

That number may dwindle further. Scotland is making noise about independence. And the United Kingdom is currently in dispute over some of the territories: with Spain over Gibraltar; with Argentina over the Falklands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands; with Chile and Argentina over the British Antarctic; with Mauritius and the Seychelles over the British Indian Ocean Territory.

There are 16 countries formerly in the empire that now belong to the Commonwealth Realms: The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, Papua New Guineau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

Many of the other former British colonies belong to the Commonwealth of Nations. It consists of 54 countries, all of which used to be part of the British Empire except for Mozambique and Rwanda.

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Q&A: An update on the British Empire's 'possessions' 01/21/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 21, 2013 12:56pm]
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