The British Period (1878 - 1959)

LEARN Tuesday, 08 September, 2015

The British Period (1878 - 1959)

The first British military forces disembarked at Larnaca on 8-9 July 1878, and on 12 July they arrived at Nicosia via Famagusta. The occupation of Cyprus was effected peacefully and on 22 July 1878 the first High Commissioner, Sir Garnett Woolsley arrived at Larnaca. From an international point of view, according to the Anglo-Turkish Convention of Istanbul, Great Britain was taking up the possession and administration of the island, but the jurisdiction over it continued to be vested in the Sultan. This international status continued until 1914 when the island was annexed to the British Empire. To avoid any misunderstandings with the Turkish authorities, the Cypriots continued to be considered Ottoman subjects until 1914. Initially, the British High Commissioner was responsible towards the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but after December 1880 the Cyprus affairs were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Colonial Office in London. With the British occupation, the internal administration of Cyprus was fundamentally reorganised. The executive power was in the hands of the High Commissioner who governed with the help of a group of senior British administrative officials. An Executive Council, comprising the highest British officials, had only a consultative status. The most significant change which the British occupation brought about in the administration system was the introduction, for the first time in the history of Cyprus, of some parliamentary forms through the establishment of a Legislative Council.

The British administration did not, however, mark the end of the exploitation of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots by heavy taxation. The main problem which gave rise to continuous political protests by the population of Cyprus since the beginning of the British occupation was the fact that the British had imposed taxes to cover the compensation which they were paying to the Sultan for the concession of Cyprus to them. This arrangement was provided for in the Convention of 1878 and meant that Cyprus, although under British occupation, would have to pay a tax of tribute to the Sultan. The amount of this compensation had been agreed in the Convention of Istanbul as eleven shillings and threepence! and had been calculated on the basis of the average of the surplus of collections over expenditure during the last five years of the Turkish occupation. According to a British official estimate of that time, the sum of the compensation corresponded to a taxation of 10 shillings (half a pound) per Cypriot (men, women and children), which was too high considering the incomes and the purchasing potential of the citizens at the time. In reality, the sums collected as above were never paid to the Turkish Treasury; they were actually used in repayment of the interest due to the British and French holders of the bonds of the Ottoman public loan of 1855, which the Ottoman Government had denounced in 1875-1876 and which thus had to be repaid by the guarantor governments of France and Great Britain. This arrangement implied considerable financial burdens and sacrifices for the Cypriots, who had nothing to do with the loan, and who continuously protested. The injustice done to them was repeatedly recognised even by British officials, including Winston Churchill who, as Deputy Minister for Colonies, visited Cyprus in 1907.

The development of the population of Cyprus in the four decades which followed the British occupation presents certain demographic and ethnological trends which substantially lead to the formation of the population features of modern Cyprus. This development emanates from the reliable figures of the official censuses of the British authorities, which were collected every ten years commencing from 1881. In total, the population of Cyprus presents a steadily rising trend. So, in 1881 the population reached the figure of 185,630, in 1891 209,286, in 1901 237,022 and in 1911 274,108.

From the above figures, we see a continuous reduction in the number of the Turkish Cypriots, due to a small emigration to Turkey after the British occupation. Besides, some basic changes in the infrastructure of the economic life of the island, during the first 35 years of the British administration (construction of roads, drying up of marshes, electrification, re-forestation) affected the social process both as regards the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots.

The Ottoman Penal Code was replaced in 1928 and in 1935 the principles of the British Common Law were enacted. In 1946 the important law on Immovable Property was introduced. Generally, the British courts were fair and impartial, justly winning the respect of the people.