By 1815 the British recognized that colonies occupied largely by settlers from the British Isles would most likely move toward independence, and therefore they sought to control the pace and nature of this movement in order to assure continued loyalty to the concept of a Greater Britain.
The colonies of settlement were originally rather thinly inhabited lands. The Europeans were not settling virgin land, however, and they had to displace a resident population. Though the settlers saw themselves as “civilized” and the indigenous population as “savages,” these were relative terms.
Scholars disagree over the size of the Native American population; earlier estimates that suggested 1 million have been scaled upward to 10 million to 12 million north of the Rio Grande and 80 million to 100 million south of that line. There is general agreement that the effects of “the Columbian exchange”—Europe’s diseases, firearms, and disruptive practices in exchange for the New World’s diseases, foods, and land—reduced the aboriginal population of the New World by 90 percent within a century of European contact.
In Tasmania, a large island to the south of the Australian mainland, the aborigines were totally wiped out. In Australia, the “blackfellows,” as the settlers called them, came close to meeting the same fate. On the north island of New Zealand, the Maoris fought guerrilla wars in the 1840s and 1860s in a vain attempt to exclude white settlers from their lands; their numbers shrank from 250,000 to 40,000 during the nineteenth century.