An impressive history
The British Empire gathered the colonies, protectorates, dominions, mandates and other territories ruled or administrated by the United Kingdom. At its height, it was the largest empire in the history of mankind and it covered around 34 millions square kilometers, which is almost one quarter of the Earth`s total surface land area. The British Empire was name the empire where the sun never sets because the sun was always shining in one of its territories.
The history of the British Empire was driven by the previous Spanish and Portuguese inventions in the Age of Discovery. Envious of the great wealth these empires have gained, Netherlands, France and England began to establish colonies and raise trade networks in Asia and America. King Henry VII commissioned John Cabot in 1496 to lead a voyage and discover a route to Asia through the North Atlantic Ocean. One year later Cabot made a successfully landfall on the coast of Newfoundland (nowadays a Canadian territory) but he thought he reached Asia, just like Christopher Columbus 5 years before.
The road of the British Empire was spread with many battles, wars, treaties and alliances with the main colonial powers at that time: Spain, France, Portugal and Netherlands. In 1603 King James VI ascended to the throne of England, and one year later he negotiated the Treaty of London, ending a long hostile period with Spain. Now that England obtained the peace with its main rival, all the efforts were focused towards establishing its own colonies overseas, rather than preying the other major colonial powers. The British Empire began to really look like an empire in the first part of the 17th century, along with the English settlement in the North America and the small islands of the Caribbean, and also with the establishment of the English West India Company. This period, until the loss of the Thirteen Colonies after the American War of Independence, was called the first British Empire.
At that time the Caribbean islands were England`s most important colonies. In 1604 England unsuccessfully tried to establish a colony in Guyana, probably for gold mining. Later, it managed to raise colonies in St. Kitts, Barbados and Nevis. These colonies adopted the sugar plantation system, widely used in the Portuguese colonies. In 1655, England annexed Jamaica from the Spanish and eleven years later they managed to colonize Bahamas. In order to benefit even more from their colonies, the English Parliament passed a law in 1651 which allowed only the English ships to trade inside the colonies. This law was not very well welcomed by the other colonial powers and it led to hostilities with the United Dutch Provinces.
Since 1718 around 1000 criminals were sent each year in America from England, as a penalty for the various crimes they committed. But after the loss of the Thirteen Colonies, England was forced to find another place to send its convicts. The attention was focused on the newly discovered Australia. Found by the Dutch explorer Willem Jansz in 1606 and named New Holland by the Dutch East India Company, Australia was never meant to be colonized by the Dutch. So, after James Cook discovered the eastern part of it, he named it New South Wales and claimed it for Britain.