First Colonial Conference

The First Colonial Conference met in London in 1887 on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. It was organised at the behest of the Imperial Federation League in hopes of creating closer ties between the colonies and the United Kingdom. It was attended by more than 100 delegates, mostly unofficial observers, from both self-governing and dependent colonies. India, however, was not represented.[1]

1887 Colonial Conference
First Colonial Conference.jpg
Attending representatives.
Dates4 April–6 May 1887
CitiesUnited Kingdom London, United Kingdom
ChairSir Henry Thurston Holland
(Secretary of State for the Colonies)
Precedes1894 Colonial Conference
Key points
Imperial co-operation, Naval defence, Pacific telegraph cable, Royal title

Among other things discussed, the colonies in Australia and New Zealand agreed to pay £126,000 per annum towards the Royal Navy to help pay for the United Kingdom's naval deployments in the Pacific. In exchange, the British government agreed not to reduce its Pacific Station without colonial consent.[2]

A proposal to lay a telegraph cable between Vancouver and Australia was approved. A Resolution to extend the Queen's title to "Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Ireland, and the Colonies, and all Dependencies thereof, and Empress of India" was also adopted.[3]

The conference was only a deliberative body and resolutions passed were not binding.[1] While this was the case and the conference itself was not established by law, it was seen as a formal step in the process of consultation concerning imperial policy and legislation.[4]


The conference was hosted by Queen Victoria, Empress of India and her Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, with Sir Henry Thurston Holland (Secretary of State for the Colonies) acting as chair and the Premiers and other representatives of various colonies as delegates. The colonies invited to send delegates were Newfoundland Colony, Canada, Colony of New South Wales, Colony of Tasmania, Cape of Good Hope, South Australia, the Colony of New Zealand, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, and Natal Colony. Various other colonies were invited to send representatives to the opening ceremonies but not participate as delegates. William A. Baillie-Hamilton, the Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, acted as Secretary to the Conference.[5] The delegates were only able to agree on the most general programs towards closer cooperation.[1]

In his opening address, Lord Salisbury cited the importance of mutual defense but also maintained his opposition to the creation of a federation, deeming it impractical.[1] He explained that attempts at constitution-making is not feasible because such imperial federation could not conduct its affairs from one center.[6] Some colonies also threatened to boycott debates about such measure.[6]

Nation Name Portfolio
  United Kingdom Sir Henry Thurston Holland Secretary of State for the Colonies (President)
Lord Salisbury Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Earl Cadogan Lord Privy Seal
W. H. Smith First Lord of the Treasury
Edward Stanhope Secretary of State for War
Lord George Hamilton First Lord of the Admiralty
The Viscount Cross Secretary of State for India
The Lord Stanley of Preston President of the Board of Trade
Henry Cecil Raikes Postmaster-General
The Earl of Onslow Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies
Sir James Fegusson Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
  Canada Sir Alexander Campbell Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
Sanford Fleming engineer
  Newfoundland Colony Sir Robert Thorburn Premier
Sir Ambrose Shea Leader of the Opposition
  Colony of New South Wales Sir Patrick Jennings former Premier
Sir Robert Wisdom former Attorney-General
Sir Saul Samuel Agent-General
  Colony of Tasmania John Stokell Dodds former Attorney-General
Adye Douglas Agent-General
  Cape Colony Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr Member of the Cape House of Assembly
  South Australia Sir John Downer Premier
Sir Arthur Blyth Agent-General
  Colony of New Zealand Sir Dillon Bell Agent-General
Sir William Fitzherbert Speaker of the New Zealand Legislative Council
  Victoria Alfred Deakin Chief Secretary
Sir James Lorimer Minister of Defence
Sir Graham Berry Agent-General
James Service former Premier of Victoria
  Queensland Sir Samuel Griffith Premier
Sir James Francis Garrick Agent-General
  Western Australia John Forrest Surveyor General and Commissioner of Crown Lands
Septimus Burt former Attorney-General
  Natal John Robinson Member of the Natal Legislative Council



  • Proceedings of the Colonial Conference 1887. Command papers. C.5091. London: Harrison & Sons for HMSO. July 1887. Retrieved 13 March 2020.


  1. ^ a b c d Olson, James S., ed. (1991). Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism. Greenwood Press. pp. 135–136. ISBN 0-3132-6257-8.
  2. ^ The Cambridge History of the British Empire, Volume 4. Cambridge University Press. 1929. p. 409.
  3. ^ "Gladstone's Motion Lost" (PDF). New York Times. May 7, 1887. second last paragraph.
  4. ^ Grotke, Kelly L.; Prutsch, Markus J. (2014). Constitutionalism, Legitimacy, and Power: Nineteenth-Century Experiences. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198723059.
  5. ^ "Proceedings of the Colonial Conference at London, in 1887: In Relation to Imperial Postal and Telegraphic Communications Through Canada". 1888.
  6. ^ a b Madden, A. F.; Fieldhouse, David Kenneth (1985). Settler Self-government, 1840-1900: The Development of Representative and Responsible Government. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 31. ISBN 031327326X.

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