History of the World According to the Movies: Part 25 – Colonial Empires

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Pardon my American bias, but perhaps the Last of Mohicans is perhaps one of the best known movies set in the French and Indian War. Of course, this war has other names but as far as the British and the French were concerned, it was a war over disputed colonial territory in both India and North America. And it was fought on a global scale lasting for nine years which Great Britain won big time. Yet, this was perhaps one of the most important conflicts in history, especially at a colonial stand point. Also, who could forget Daniel Day-Lewis as Natty Bumppo?

From the 1600s to just after World War II, the world had entered in an age of colonialism and Imperialism which had ushered an age of commerce, international trade, and globalization. The Age of Colonial Empires has two phases. The first consists of the colonization of the Americas and the second colonization of Africa, which is another post. While Spain’s influence in Europe was in decline due to the Spanish Armada Incident, losing a series of wars, aristocratic dominance, as well as generations of Hapsburg inbreeding that produced a series of feeble kings leading its ruling dynasty to die out and be succeeded by Louis XIV’s grandson (this really happened), it still enjoyed a flourishing cultural period in the arts during the 16th and 17th century as well as had a large Latin American Empire that was going to last them until the Napoleonic Wars (well, most of it anyway). And for quite some time between Napoleon and the French and Indian War, Spain’s American Empire possessed most of the land consisting of today’s United States as well as stretched as far north as Minnesota (mainly because the French gave up in North America and handed Spain the Louisiana Territory, but Napoleon would get it back once he took over Spain). Then you have France who had a major colonial empire in North America that reached from Eastern Canada to the Mississippi Delta. Of course, France would later be caught in an imperialistic war with Britain over disputed territory and then abandon its claims to North America in a conflict known as the French and Indian War. Yet, they would soon end up colonizing much of West Africa, Madagascar, and Southeast Asia. Then you have the British Empire which ended up to dominate much of the world at its peak  and is very much present in movies relating to colonialism or imperialism. Nevertheless, movies about the colonial empires seem to have unfortunate implications at times as well as historical inaccuracies I shall list accordingly.

Spanish Empire:

The Spanish Jesuits were involved in the struggle with the Guarani against the Spanish and Portuguese around the Guarani War following the treaty of Madrid during the 1750s. (Only the Guarani themselves fought against the oppression resulting in a three-year war against the Portuguese.)

Jesuit missionaries directly disobeyed Altamirano’s orders and stayed to fight with their converts. (No Jesuit missionary in Paraguay directly disobeyed Altimirano’s orders nor did they stay to fight with their converts. In reality, they actually surrendered control of their missions in 1754 but the Guarani refused to relocate. However, since Hollywood likes Indian-friendly white protagonists, the Jesuits in The Mission stayed. After all, you wouldn’t want Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons abandon those poor little Indians would you?)

Luis Altamirano was a cardinal sent by the Pope who was also a Jesuit. (He was actually a Jesuit priest sent by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Ignazio Visconti to preserve the Jesuit Order in Europe in the face of attacks in Spain and Portugal, especially in the face of the transfer of territory to Portugal which consisted of seven Guarani missions that were settled by the Jesuits and Guaranis in the 17th century. Sadly, they were only suppressed a few years later anyway.)

The Spanish Navy used captured Englishmen to man their galleys as slaves. (Galleys were used by the Spanish Empire but they didn’t man them with English Protestants {even if Spain did have an Inquisition}. Nor did they enslave their enemies either.)

The reduction missions were havens for Indians. (Yet, there’s an opinion out there that these missions were repressive theocratic city-states with a high degree of coercion and imposition on the local population. The Spanish mission system often used the Indian converts as enslaved labor as well as served as a mechanism of cultural genocide with thousands of Indians dying from overwork, horrid conditions, brutal treatment, and disease. Indian resistance and escapes were a frequent occurrence. However, at a historical standpoint, you can say that the Spanish Mission System was a haven for the Indians when compared to such institutions like plantation slavery or Nazi concentration camps.)

French Colonial Empire:

The French Foreign Legion consisted of entirely of foreigners, which was why they were such a good fighting force. (30% of the members were French who lied about their nationality. The real reason why they were so effective was their insane physical training, harsh discipline, and a strong sense of espirit de corp and brothers-in-arms.)

Anyone could join the French Foreign Legion. (In the early days since its creation yes, but not anymore, they do background checks, psychological tests, and physical examinations.)

The French Foreign Legion did most of the fighting in wars France was involved in since its creation. (France’s regular army and colonial troops did.)

The Perdicaris incident consisted of an American woman named Eden Pedicaris abducted by the Berber bandit named Mulai Ahmed el Raisuli. (Actually Perdicaris was named Ion and a man with a reputation as a Greek-American playboy as well. His stepson was kidnapped as well. He also renounced his American citizenship in order to be a citizen of Greece. Hollywood probably changed this for a romantic subplot, but still…)

Raisuli was a virtuous Muslim freedom fighter. (Many historical accounts list he was a mixture of feudal bandit and political power player. One account records an incident when Raisuli’s brother-in-law planned to take a second wife; Raisuli stormed the wedding party and hacked the bride and her mother to death. In The Wind and the Lion, he’s played by Sean Connery who carries a romance with Candice Bergan’s character.)

Henri “Papillon” Charriere was a prisoner on Devil’s Island. (He’s documented to have been incarcerated at Saint Laurent, not Devil’s Island. He never served any time at the infamous French Guiana penal colony.)

The tragedy of French Colonialism in Africa was that it ended. (To the Algerians, the fact that French Colonialism in Africa ended was the best thing about French Colonialism.)

The British Empire:

The British East India Company:

The East India Company did business in the Caribbean. (They didn’t, but they did business in China though.)

Veerapandiya Kattabomman was a king of Panchalankurichi during the war he raged on the British East India Company. His arsenal had a lot of guns. (He was a Polygar chieftan, not a king, but he did resist British rule during the 18th century. Also, his arsenal only had a few guns.)

The Raj:

The British were benevolent overlords to the Indians in India. (Actually, they were anything but even though they did let them go to their colleges and serve in their armed forces. Same with other imperial nations.)

Caribbean:

Port Royal was a bustling metropolis as well as a clean and proper little English town during the 18th century. (It was destroyed in an earthquake around 1692 and subsequently rebuilt but not like it’s seen in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.)

Port Royal was built atop a hundred-foot basaltic cliffs. (It was built on a low spit of sand south of Kingston Harbor where the elevation is no more than 10 feet above sea level.)

The Royal Navy stationed 100 gun ships of the Line in the Caribbean in the early 1700s. (The English bases of that area couldn’t support ships that size at the time. Besides, the ships would’ve been much too big and deep drafted to be of much use in the Caribbean waters anyway. Not to mention, the Royal Navy only had six such ships at the time which were most likely situated at the British shores. Of course, Pirates of the Caribbean and other pirate movies have to depict large wooden war ships.)

Oceania:

The reason for the mutiny on the Bounty was Captain Bligh’s brutal treatment to his men as well as subject them to especially cruel and harsh punishments. (Actually Captain Bligh was one of the least violent than most captains in the whole Royal Navy at the time and only flogged 11% of his men {Captain James Cook flogged 26% of his men while Captain George Vancouver flogged 53%}. What his crew really had a problem with was the banality of his command {or maybe having a terrible personality, perhaps being too nice of a guy and let discipline go to hell} which doesn’t make for an entertaining movie. It’s said that he failed to speak his roles properly in the theater of his command as well as stuck and picked at the scabs he inflicted, which breached personal space as well as his intrusive rules and regulations. He also had an incompetent crew with most of the men being under 30, which brought upon his sharpness of tongue and short temper that kept the men on their toes, especially after the 5 month Tahitian vacation. In short, historians say he was nothing more than was a foul-tempered, highly-critical authoritarian with a superiority complex. Compassion and diplomacy were not his strong suits. Also, another reason was the fact that some of the Bounty crew had taken Tahitian wives including Fletcher Christian as well as their long vacation on the island which caused them to be overly sensitive to discipline but this is made apparent in the films. Bligh should not have given his crew a long vacation, which let discipline on the ship go to hell, especially since it’s said that he personally witnessed Captain James Cook being killed by Hawaiians before the Bounty voyage. The deterioration of Bligh and Christian’s relationship was also a factor.)

William Bligh was a captain during the Bounty voyage. (He was technically a Lieutenant but he had experienced mutinies before.)

Captain Bligh ordered a dead man flogged. (He never did this, ever. Also, out of his crew only 2 people died before the mutiny which consisted of a seaman and the ship’s surgeon. He never had men keelhauled either.)

The H.MS. Bounty consisted of impressed sailors. (Though impressed sailors were a very common thing at the time, the Bounty had no impressed sailors. In fact, Bligh actually chose most of the crew himself {mostly recommended by influential patrons} and many of those on board have previously been on other voyages including Fletcher Christian. But everyone on board was under 40. Still, most of the mutineers were lower ranking officers and seamen.)

Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian had a homosexual relationship. (Bligh was married with six children and there has never been much doubt about Christian being straight {since he couldn’t keep it in his pants}. They had more of a master-pupil relationship since they’ve been on voyages together before.)

Fletcher Christian was Captain Bligh’s second-in-command. (Sailing master John Fryer was officially {who actually remained loyal despite his displacement}. But Bligh and Christian had such a warm relationship that Christian is seen as thus and Bligh soon designated him as Acting Lieutenant, which would’ve gotten him promoted to full Lieutenant, if he just kept it in his pants during the 5 month vacation in Tahiti.)

The first thing Fletcher Christian and the mutineers did after the mutiny was sail to Tahiti. (They actually went to an island called Tabuai, south of Tahiti where the encountered immediate hostility from the natives.)

Fletcher Christian and the mutineers returned to Tahiti welcomed by the natives on the Bounty and told them nothing. (Christian basically told them a lie about Captain Cook needing supplies and Bligh decided to stay with him {despite that Cook had been killed by native Hawaiians in the 1770s}. But the natives were delighted to help the mutineers, gathered some supplies and natives before setting sail to Tabuai where they built a fort. But a fight broke out which resulted in several natives getting killed, including 6 women. So they decided to return to Tahiti again with 16 of the remaining Bounty crew electing to stay {and 14 those who remained in Tahiti would soon get caught, by the way 18 months later by the Pandora. Two would be killed in the meantime} while Christian and 8 other mutineers left the island for good.)

Fletcher Christian decided to burn down the Bounty at Pitcarin Island. (The decision to destroy it was a consensus of the mutineers because there was no to conceal it and they didn’t want passing ships to identify their island. However, it was Christian’s idea and not done without his knowledge.)

Fletcher Christian died on Pitcarin Island’s beach as the Bounty burned. (There are no beaches on Pitcarin and Christian died much later at the hands of the six Tahitian men {he previously kidnapped and enslaved along with twelve Tahitian women} during subsequent conflicts on the island along with 4 other mutineers. This, according to a diary by mutineer Edward Young.)

Captain Bligh was a much older man during the Bounty voyage. (He was in his thirties and would endure a couple more mutinies in his lifetime. He died as vice-admiral and served as governor of New South Wales. He died in 1817. Still, his voyage back to East Timor after the mutiny kind of demonstrates he probably wasn’t such a bad guy since he was accompanied by 18 of his men. Also, Fletcher Christian was 23, which explains a lot and and his physical description was said to be close to Clark Gable.)

Midshipman Roger Byam was a royal officer on the Bounty. (He’s a fictional character in the 1930s film but he’s based on a real person who was Midshipman Peter Heywood. However, despite being condemned to die and getting off on king’s mercy {thanks to being from an influential family that could give him a good lawyer}, he protested his innocence during the court-martial, saying that he was detained against his will. Oh, and by the way, unlike the Franchot Tone character, Heywood was only 15 when he signed on to the Bounty and was a distant relative to Fletcher Christian’s. Still, we’re not sure if he was telling the truth because he’s listed among the officers being treated for venereal disease along with Christian and that ship master John Fryer recalled to his wife that Heywood was one of the men who grabbed Bligh from his bed during the mutiny. Then again, you can also argue that Heywood was a typical horny teenage boy and let’s just say abstinence-only sex education will certainly not work on a 16 year old boy spending 5 months on an island with gorgeous and uninhibited women, especially after spending a year on a ship with a bunch of men {well, for the most part}.)

After Captain Bligh’s departure, only the mutineers remained on the Bounty. (4 were detained against their will for their needed skills and lack of space on the long boat. For instance, under Christian’s watch, the carpenter and the armorer were not allowed to leave under any circumstances.)

The mutiny on the Bounty helped bring about a new discipline, based on mutual respect between others and men, by which Britain’s sea power is maintained as security for all who pass upon the sea. (There was no change in Royal Navy discipline before or after the mutiny.)

Most of the natives who went with the Bounty mutineers left Tahiti willingly. (We’re not sure about that. One native survivor recalled being kidnapped.)

The mutiny on the Bounty was a violent affair which happened during the early evening. (It happened in the early hours in the morning while Bligh and everyone else were asleep. Also, it was totally unexpected and bloodless.)

Almost all the tried Bounty mutineers but one were executed. (Only six out of the ten mutineers were sentenced to death and only three of them were hanged. Two received king’s mercy and a third got off on a legality. Four of the tried mutineers were acquitted. Four of the mutineers who were captured at Tahiti drowned on the way to England on the Pandora {a ship said to be worse than the Bounty}, which struck a feef and sank. Christian and eight of the mutineers kidnapped several Tahitians and went to Pitcarin. All but one would die before their fate would become known to the outside world.)

Captain Bligh returned to Tahiti specifically to find the men who mutinied against him. (Actually he returned to Tahiti on another breadfruit mission. The guy in charge to find the mutineers was a man named Captain Edward Edwards, who made Bligh look like a Boy Scout. Also, Bligh was there after the mutineers on Tahiti were found. Bligh wasn’t at the mutineers’ court-martial because of his Tahitian mission.)

Fletcher Christian was a decent man. (His credentials are rather questionable and his actions could be traced as the root cause of the problems on Pitcarin and all that entails. Still, as an officer, he was a skilled navigator.)

Admiral Hood presided at William Bligh’s court-martial. (He did preside over the court-martial of the alleged mutineers who returned to England.)

Australia was referred to its present name in the 1790s. (It would be referred as Australia only more than a decade later. At that time people called it “New Holland.” It didn’t become Australia officially until 1824.)

The Bounty mutiny was triggered by Bligh’s decision to make a second attempt around Cape Horn and hence circumnavigate the globe. (He was ordered to take his cargo of breadfruit to Jamaica via the Endeavor Strait, the Sunda Strait, and the Cape of Good Hope as well as embark additional plants en route. Another attempt to sail around Cape Horn would’ve endangered the tropical plant cargo due to the near Antarctic temperatures they would’ve encountered.)

The British Army confrontation of the 1854 gold miners’ rebellion at the Eureka Stockade in Victoria, Australia killed hundreds of people. (The official death count reads 27 names consisting of 22 miners and 5 soldiers. Yet, there have been wounded miners who escaped and died of their injuries later but their deaths are never attributed to the stockade involvement.)

Captain James Cook discovered Australia in 1770. (He led the first British expedition to Australia but other European explorers had been there. Also, you can say it was discovered by the Australian Aborigines themselves.)

Other:

The English brought “civilization” to the countries they occupied when they had an empire.

Foreigners from Africa, Asia, or the Oceania usually spoke in Pidgin English or Engrish. (Most of them spoke in their native tongues. If they knew English, they certainly didn’t speak like that.)

The Union Jack flag has been used by the British since the ascension of King James I. (It wasn’t used until 1801, yet you see it in almost every film featuring Great Britain before that.)

The British were the most benign imperial overlords. (Well, they were the most successful imperial overlords and weren’t as bad like King Leopold II’s Belgian Congo {well, any colonial empire can be seen benign in comparison}. However, this didn’t stop some areas of the world wanting independence from them.)

British soldiers wore white helmets with their regimental crest during active duty. (They wore plain cork helmets and basic uniforms. They didn’t wear the parade dress uniforms like you see on Zulu during the armed battle. That would be like wearing a tuxedo at a construction site.)

British grenadiers wore bearskin miter caps during the early 18th century. (These weren’t issued until 1768.)

The French and Indian War:

The 60th Regiment (the Royal Americans) were massacred during the French and Indian War because of their use of British military tactics. (They were raised in America and were trained to fight wars under conditions suited for such environment and used their training to their advantage.)

Major Robert Rogers’ Rangers portaged their whaleboats over a ridge during the Saint Francis raid. (They actually did this two years prior from Lake George to Wood Creek so they could avoid the French outposts along Fort Ticonderoga.)

Colonel Edward Munro was killed during the journey to Fort Edward and had his heart cut out and munched on by an Indian ally of the French. (Actually the guy was Lieutenant Colonel George Monro and he actually survived the massacre at Fort William Henry which left only 184 dead or captive {but he died three months later of a stroke}. Sorry, James Fenimore Cooper.)

Lieutenant Colonel George Monro was a widower with two grown daughters at the time of the Fort William Henry massacre. (There’s no record he ever married. However, Cora Munro was based on a real person named Jane McRae who actually did have a fiancée who fought for the British. Yet, this was in the American Revolution and she was killed. Oh, and in the book The Last of the Mohicans, she’s black {which means her and Alice didn’t have the same mom}.)

The Mohegans and Mahicans have been extinct Indian tribes since the French and Indian War. (Both are still around today and are federally recognized to boot.)

French-allied Indians attacked the British led garrison from Fort William Henry in revenge against Monro destroying a native village. (There’s no evidence of them attacking Fort William Henry for anything other than booty and prisoners, which they felt they had been denied by the French and were enraged that the British forces were allowed to depart after suffering a few casualties. Besides, the massacre only lasted only three hours with 184 dead or taken prisoner {though they did exaggerate back then with as many as 1500}.)

Mohawk Joseph Brandt was a chief during the French and Indian War. (He was 15 years old in 1757 and wouldn’t become one until towards the end. Also, he’d be a relatively unknown at the time working for Sir William Johnson.)

The Marquis de Montcalm condoned the Indian ambush massacre near Fort William Henry. (The Indians attacked the retreating British retinue against this guy’s orders and he was disgusted by their actions. Also, when he ensured that the British Forces at Fort William Henry be guaranteed safe passage, he meant it. Unfortunately, the Indians wanted some possessions and prisoners, which didn’t settle with him. Nevertheless, the Massacre at Fort William Henry was caused more by a conflict between European military etiquette and the customs of the French Indian allies. Montcalm was never going to make anyone happy no matter what he did.)

The Marquis de Montcalm was a terrible man. (Well, as far as The Last of the Mohicans is concerned because he was a French aristocrat, general, diplomat, and scholar as well as won a lot of battles against the British. Still, he wasn’t a bad guy since he did give generous terms of surrender to the British even if that pissed off his Indian allies.)

The British Forces were nicer to their Indian allies than the French. (They were just as notoriously bad to their Indian allies and were using them as pawns just like the French were {the British weren’t that nice to American militia units either as shown by Braddock’s defeat}. However, in The Last of the Mohicans it seems that Indians and settlers seem to coexist peacefully, but American history has shown us otherwise at times.)

The massacre at Fort William Henry began with an Indian ambush and slaughter at some distance from the fort. (It was more of a one-sided brawl beginning when the British left their entrenchments. The French-allied Indians {many who’ve been drinking} fell upon the provincial wounded {killing 17 of them}, seized British-allied Indians, black slaves, and female camp followers. They also killed and robbed paroled soldiers. Nevertheless, it was more of an attack on the militia at the rear column who weren’t protected by a small French guard. It lasted for a short time that most provincials panicked and ran.)

Around the time of the French and Indian War, the Huron Indians lived in a native village led by a great chief who could decide all. (They were Catholics who lived in mission towns adjacent to the French. They were also assimilated and pacifist and were nearly wiped out by the British as a result. Also, there’s no way in hell that they’d be allied with the French and not know anything about the fur trade which was probably the main reason any side had Indian allies in the first place.)

New York frontiersmen and Mohawk Indians were present during the siege of Fort William Henry. (The Mohawks had refused to scout for the British during 1756 and 1757. Yet, the British did have scouts consisting of Stockbridge Indians {including Mohicans} and New Hampshire frontiersmen who were certainly at the fort. Also, the fort was largely garrisoned by British regulars and American militia.)

The British and the Mohawks were enemies during the French and Indian War. (They were allies.)

The Saint Francis raid was a heroic act in which no Abenaki women and children were taken prisoner. (General Jeffrey Amherst may have ordered to spare women and children {though he’s known for giving Indians small pox blankets} but the history books are less clear whether Major Rogers’ men had followed it through {which is highly unlikely}. Also, the raid on Saint Francis was at 3 am and is not seen a heroic action {more like genocide} unlike what the film Northwest Passage depicts which is about Major Robert Rogers and his Rangers heroically wiping out an Indian village out of revenge {which is kind of true}. Northwest Passage‘s depiction of the British during the Saint Francis genocide would be an equivalent of casting American soldiers during the My Lai massacre in a positive light. Seriously, what the hell, Hollywood?)

Major Robert Rogers and his Rangers wore uniforms similar to what Peter Pan wore. (They just wore a simple green jacket. However, I don’t know if I’d want to see Spencer Tracy in a Peter Pan outfit.)

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