Thwarting Imperial Agricultural Development: The Spectre of Drifting Sands, 1800s–1920s

  • James Beattie
Part of the Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series book series


Desert and spreading sands represented the antithesis of all that settlement promised. They were terrible, un-Christian, an evil to be remedied. Threatening not only settler economies, they also made a mockery of Christian injunctions to make land fertile, to turn land to productive use. Destroying productive land through deforestation, as previous chapters noted, impelled conservation and tree planting as well as the establishment of forest bureaucracies in some parts of South Asia and Australasia. Evidence that human activities were literally creating desert by encouraging sand drift elicited a similar language of fear. Officials and individuals viewed spreading sand as an ‘evil’ imperilling fertile plains and prosperity, but believed that environmental redemption could follow through well-organised reclamation. Acknowledging the role of humans in deforesting or overstocking coastal and inland areas, initiatives involved local measures—and occasionally legislation—undertaken by private individuals and local bodies. By the twentieth century, fears of sand drift contributed to the extension of state bureaucratic, legal and scientific solutions (not invariably successful) to meet a range of environmental anxieties. While couched as a response to concerns about the loss of agricultural land, most successful sand drift reclamation actually took place in urban areas, which had a higher rating value.


Soil Erosion Sand Dune Coastal Dune Colonial Government Reclamation Work 
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Copyright information

© James Beattie 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Beattie
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WaikatoNew Zealand

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