Administrative and Police Surveillance over Polish Political Emigrés in Great Britain in 1831-1863
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The purpose of the article is to present a problem which pertains both to the history of Victorian England and the fate of the European émigrés who found refuge therein, and which at times evades the attention of historians. A careful analysis of archival material proves that although Great Britain was, and is, correctly recognised as the safest asylum for the political outsiders of 19th-century Europe, even there the authorities tried to enforce some sort of supervision. The titular question was discussed upon the example of Polish political refugees who stayed in the United Kingdom in 1831-1863, i.e.during a period described in Polish historiography as the Great Emigration. Comprising a relatively small group (their number rarely exceeded a thousand persons at one time) the Poles were subjected to dual surveillance. Its administrative side was entrusted to the Board of Treasury, which in 1834 provided modest material assistance to some of the refugees and subsequently tried to amass knowledge that would render possible its continuation or withdrawal. Police surveillance, which was carried out by Home Office services, possessed more of a contiguous nature and, as a rule, served political purposes. The determinants, methods and level of the repressiveness of those undertakings are discussed mainly upon the basis of documents of the Home Office, the Board of Treasury and the Paymaster General Office, preserved in the National Archives in Kew (formerly: the Public Record Office). The sources testify convincingly that the opinion about a total lack of government invigilation of foreigners in Victorian England was a mere myth. On the other hand, it remains indubitable that in comparison with other European countries of the period this type of surveillance and the ensuing repressions were minimal.
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