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Men and Manliness on the Frontier: Queensland and British Columbia in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

By Robert Hogg

June 30, 2015

Review By Laura Ishiguro

In Men and Manliness on the Frontier: Queensland and British Columbia in the Mid-Nineteenth Century, Robert Hogg examines the gendered expectations, manly identities, and lived experiences of British men in mid-nineteenth-century Queensland and British Columbia. Specifically, Hogg asks: how were mid-Victorian ideas of manliness reconfigured on the transformative colonial “frontiers” of Queensland and British Columbia? In seven chapters (including introduction and conclusion), he unpicks the knotted answers to this question in order to argue that British men both produced and navigated new expectations of manliness in relation to changing meanings of class, race, and violence in these colonial sites. Weaving together broad conceptual framing and the rich detail of individual lives, the book reveals both significant similarities between Queensland and British Columbia, and the diversity of men’s lived experiences in each place. In so doing, Men and Manliness on the Frontier demonstrates both the deep complexity and the deep connectedness of histories of gender, race, class, and settler colonialism across the mid-nineteenth-century Pacific world.

This book has much to offer to readers of BC Studies. Hogg’s rich attention to men’s lived experiences not only makes this an eminently readable book, but also helps to deepen existing understandings of mid-nineteenth-century British Columbia. Thanks to the work of scholars such as Adele Perry, the general parameters of Hogg’s British Columbian historical context should be well familiar: a nascent and tenuous settler colony in which British men’s daily lives deviated from metropolitan gendered expectations. Hogg’s generous use of men’s writing — especially letters and journals — enables him to flesh out a discussion of personal perspectives and experiences that both shaped and were shaped by broader discourse, policy, and regulation. In so doing, he illustrates the complexity and diversity of British men’s colonial experiences, underscoring that it is not enough to talk about “settler” as a singular experience or stable identity. This is a critical point that deserves further attention in the field.

Hogg’s comparative approach should also be intriguing for readers interested in colonial British Columbia. Throughout the book, he draws connections between men’s experiences in the two colonies, ultimately justifying the book’s multi-sited framing by suggesting that these were very similar places in the mid-nineteenth century. Although comparative colonial work on Canada and Australia is not unusual, the pairing of British Columbia and Queensland is much more rare. Given this — and the probability that many readers will be unfamiliar with one or both of the colonies in question — it is unfortunate that the only maps in the book are historical reproductions that are very difficult to read. That point aside, Hogg’s treatment of the two sites is impressively balanced for a comparative study, and raises important questions for further research and analysis. What do we make of such similarities? How and why might differences have mattered between colonial sites? And what do we gain by such comparisons? Although his comparison is thought-provoking, I would have liked to see Hogg explore its implications further, especially by engaging with such critical questions.

While further work could be done to this end, this is an accessible and engaging book overall. Through his attention to individual lives and his comparative framing, Hogg effectively demonstrates both the diversity and the striking similarities of manliness in British Columbia and Queensland, and in so doing, decisively rejects the value of simplified or romanticized “frontier myths” in either place. Ultimately, Men and Manliness on the Frontier is a compelling reminder that we cannot understand the pivotal mid-nineteenth-century years in British Columbia or Queensland without taking seriously histories of gender, the complexities of settler power, and the possibilities of trans-imperial comparison.

Men and Manliness on the Frontier: Queensland and British Columbia in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
Robert Hogg
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 232 pp.  $115. Cloth