Emigration and 19th-Century British Colonial Settler Narratives
- Tamara S. WagnerTamara S. WagnerDepartment of English, Nanyang Technological University
Colonial settler narratives comprise chiefly fictional as well as autobiographically inspired or anecdotal writing about emigration and settler life. The 19th century saw an increasingly systematic mass migration across the globe that proceeded on an unprecedented scale. Global movements, including emigration and return, were facilitated by improved transport technology, new trading routes, and burgeoning emigration societies. A new market for writing about migration and the settler world emerged. The settler narratives of British colonizers present a valuable record of growing public interest in the experience of emigrants and settlers at the time. Whereas accounts of first-hand experience at first simply formed a central part of an expanding information industry and were promptly harnessed by pro-emigration propaganda, settler narratives quickly evolved into a diverse set of writing that consisted of (1) prescriptive and cautionary accounts, presented in narrative form, (2) tales of exploration and adventure, including bush yarns and mateship narratives, as well as (3) detailed descriptions of everyday settler life in domestic and increasingly also New Woman fiction. Equally important, writing produced within the settler colonies had a twofold relationship with British-authored literature, written at the imperial center, and hence participated in the formation of literary traditions on several levels. Exploring Victorian narratives of the colonial settler world helps map how genre travels and becomes transformed, shaping the literature of a global 19th century. These narratives provide a rich source of material for a much-needed reassessment of the diverse experiences and representations of emigration and settlement in the 19th century, while demanding renewed attention as an important part of literary history.